Friday, August 27, 2010

Swamishri & Youths: A Colored Perspective

We all know the timeless question that surfaces on password reminder questions, icebreaker activities, and when we are choosing a car,

"What's your favorite color?"

Red, green, blue, fuchsia - we all have our preferences... and so does the rest of the rest of the world. It turns out that just as different cultures have different belief systems and practices, they too have differing views on color.

Designer David McCandless hints at this idea with his infographic, "Colours in Culture" (right). Using this handy tool, we can decode many things...

Take, for instance, this styling salesman sailing down the street in his streamlined scooter.

So while we Americans may see this black suit a symbol of authority & style, the Japanese perceive it as bad luck. The South Americans would rather recommend red, a symbol of success.

That's also why the Native Americans and Chinese would prefer this scooter as a symbol of their success. Not to fret this time though as the Japanese are in agreement with us - red is all about excitement.

With red and any other color for that matter, they are universal; be it लाल or rojo or red, it's still the color and its emotional reaction to it that motivates this bull to action.

Similarly, our emotions - anger, sadness, joy - are universal. It's no wonder that the people who understand this tenet are remembered by history as the ones who connected the dots.

Did Martin Luther King, Jr. get it? Just ask the 250,000 people who came out to hear him speak in the summer of 1963 - something we all know as the "I Have a Dream" speech.

However, there's more to this picture than meets the eye - what is it about these individuals that separates them from the rest? Do they have access to an infographic, "Emotions in Everyone"? 

Nope, but they possess something much more valuable - empathy. Dr. King understood the plight of his people and inspired them to act. For us, at our age, our beloved guru, Pramukh Swami Maharaj, understands our problems and our dilemmas and inspires us to act. 

Skeptical? Take a look at the prasangs provided in the presentation. Eternal Virtues also serves as an additional resource as the instances where Swamishri's empathy manifests amidst problem after problem prove infinite.

In short, Swamishri's ability to make emotional connections makes him an instant celebrity. Impressive yet is that he connects to children without candy and to us without creating platinum CDs.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Kantihi & Ojaha: KO

Knockout, commonly abbreviated as KO, can refer to many things, as noted by the all-encompassing reference, Wikipedia.

In boxing, it is the criteria for winning and entails one participant being "unable to rise from the canvas within a specified period of time, typically because of fatigue, injury... loss of balance, or unconsciousness." These cats seem to get it real well.

In basketball, it refers to a mini-game where two people try to make a basket first. If the first person to make the shot began shooting after the other player, then the other player is "knocked out."

And of course, who could forget, video games where it just means somebody (Pikachu in this case) took you out?

But did we know that there's one item missing on the list on Wikipedia - that exists beyond the authors' realm of knowledge? Yep, we're talking about on the spiritual level (as we generally do in sabha).

In this context, KO refers to kaantihi (God's divine beauty and splendor) & ojaha (the resulting divine glow and radiance), and for the perfect example, we look no further than our guru, Pramukh Swami Maharaj, as we continue this series of ghostis on Eternal Virtues

Wait a second - Swamishri is all about non-violence, so how can we even compare him to a violent term like knockout? Well, a knockout is a case-closed situation - either you're up and awake or you're out of the ring. Similarly, Swamishri's KO induces a novel spiritual experience upon any newcomer - his divinity knocks out the mayik traces from our senses... WAY out of the ring. 

Let's take Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam's quote at the beginning of the syllabus. 
“I feel a very strong and divine aura in his presence. I feel at peace in his presence. I forget about all my worries and difficulties. He truly loves people unconditionally.”
Just in his presence, Dr. Kalam felt such a relief. Clearly, Swamishri's KO clues us in on the fact that he's no ordinary individual. In fact, the effect is far greater than we could imagine as stated by Sadguru Sant Swami.
"Shastriji Maharaj's personality and aura reminded one of Bhagwan Swaminarayan. There wasn't the slightest difference. As I look at Pramukh Swami Maharaj, I notice that his persona and aura are identical to that of Shastriji Maharaj. Shastriji Maharaj's eyes were powerful. No one could look into his eyes with confidence. They would always lower their eyes. Even his opponents would praise his work. Pramukh Swami Maharaj is exactly the same."
Even enemies felt the shear power of Swamishri's KO at work. The feelings of anger and hate borne by maya found no refuge in those who directed their thoughts towards the Satpurush.

This chapter in Eternal Virtues reflects this power through the words of a diverse cast of observers - from the "Multimedia Man" of Europe to an American airport worker to even a Chinese Christian! And while these words may wet the audience's appetite, their own words will make the greatest impact. Be sure to engage them in the discussion outlined in the syllabus.

  1. How have we felt Swamishri's divine aura - be it in his presence, in doing his darshan, or even doing his smruti? Prasangs are the best way to illustrate these observations, and make the ghosti solid.
  2. While we have experienced this KO once or many times over, we cannot seem to duplicate this experience or even feel it regularly. Why? How can we overcome it? (HINT: Think about what Swamishri's KO does to our senses and what we can do to enhance the effect.)
For the second question, let the audience discuss and brainstorm. There's no fun in the obvious!

In short, let's remember. Swamishri's beauty knows no words; it's just a simple KO, giving new meaning to the phrase, "drop dead gorgeous."

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Astikyam: The Big Picture

Hello Karyakars,

Let's start this week's ghosti off with a challenge. Can you guess what the following pictures are depicting (two left, one right)? (HINT: They are all from nature).

Each of these were recognized in 2008 by the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History as a part of an annual photography contest... 

Ok, not quite. Honestly, how can three 100x100 pixel pictures be featured in such a top-level museum?

Truth be told, these pictures to the left are mere snapshots of the actual photographs (links below).

The top one is a waterfall from Milford Sound, New Zealand. The one on the right is the eye of an olive baboon. And the last one is a spotted dolphin photographed off the coast of Tokyo, Japan.

So what does this have to do with our ghosti? Well, when provided with the snapshots, we struggled with discerning a waterfall, a baboon, and a dolphin; however, once we recognized the bigger picture, we made sense of the snapshot.

Let's step back from this exercise, and let's think for a moment. We struggle in life when we get caught up in its details, yet Pramukh Swami Maharaj does not. 

Thus, in sabha this week, let's ask:
  1. What exactly does our guru see?  
  2. How is it that he is able to see it?
  3. How does that impact others?
We can turn to this week's divine virtue, Ãstikyam (આસ્તિક્યમ), to shed some light on the first question. By definition, “Astikta is the belief that God exists.  God influences astikta in the hearts of his devotees. God is the source from which an aspirant develops true conviction in God. You cannot form a sentence without a subject. Similarly, God is the sole basis of spirituality.”
Basically, Swamishri sees in every breath, every second, and every moment a chance to serve God. The prasangs from p. 238 to 245, shows us his astikta through his immense bhakti for Thakorji.  In essence, Swamishri’s each physical step follows the murti of Harikrishna Maharaj.  

As we see from the moments in his life, even in good times and bad, Swamishri never ceases to have anything but complete faith in God. Here are some words by Swamishri that give us a glimpse into his understanding/samjan.

  • “Faith is the key to success. Faith is the key to a happy life.”
  • “Always remember that that Bhagwan Swaminarayan never left and is never going to leave. He will be present through the Gunatit Sadhu forever...”
  • “...God, the Gunatit Sadhu and all the akshar muktas are always with us. We must keep that firm in our minds. They are with us while we eat, sleep, talk, and perform any other activity. If we don’t have that understanding we will always feel lonely. With that understanding you will be comfortable wherever you go...”
  • “Faith is the source of strength in life. The faith that God is always manifest. That he is always with us.”
So we have a basic understanding of what Swamishri sees along with what enables him to see it, so that brings us to the third question. One way that Swamishri inspires astikta in others is through mandirs - places where we can experience God and thus develop faith, as described by the prasangs from p. 245 to 248.  Mandirs are “havens for spiritual and cultural activities”, and instill astikta in all those around them.  Just ask Mahendradas Amin, Bipinbhai Kotak’s son, or architect Satish Gujral - they are all living embodiments of how astikta has transformed them.

Finally, as we close, we ask ourselves, “What thought process can we develop in our minds that will give us the stability that Swamishri has?”

Faith in God is first and foremost, but since we cannot develop that overnight, we can also look to the following to enhance our spiritual progress .

In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey gives us the qualities that prevail in successful people which are outlined for us below (click for full version).

TED speaker (biochemist-turned-Buddhist-monk) Matthieu Ricard also shares his views on happiness and distills “habits of happiness":
“...somehow, consciously or not, directly or indirectly, in the short or the long-term, whatever we do, whatever we hope, whatever we dream, somehow is related to a deep profound desire for well-being or happiness...”

What day-to-day positive habits do you employ to maintain true understanding and awareness necessary to maintain faith?  How do you increase your own connection with the Satpurush?  
Happy Presenting!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Keep Trying

We try to avoid sports analogies since - well they are used all the time and seem cliche. Sometimes however they really do hit the button. We start a series of post looking at purush prayatna - the idea that we need to keep trying. Enter Derek Redmond and his dad at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Hailing from UK Redmond was favored to win the 400 meters. He did not win a medal but he won the hearts of everyone around the globe - he finished with his dad.

Many people remember this moment as part of olympic lore. This is the essence of purush prayatna - to keep trying even if you know you are not going to win. When we read all the niyams in the Shikshapatri and contemplate all the vasana we have to overcome as listed by the Vachnamrut - it seems daunting. Maharaj has said that he does not want us to have an imperfection even as small as a sesame seed in order to attain Akshardham. So why even try? The idea here is that Maharaj and Swami will help - we just have to keep trying.

So what of Derek Redmond? Well he was featured in a Visa Commercial and part of Nike Courage commercial. Two years after the Olympics he was told by a surgeon he would never run again or represent his country in sport. However after coming to terms with the loss of track and field as a career, he turned his attention to other sports he enjoyed. After several trials at basketball clubs, he secured a place on the Great Briton basketball team. He sent a signed photo of the team to the surgeon that had assured him he would never represent his country in athletics again. After playing basketball professionally, he turned his attention to rubgy and managed to reach division 1. He represented his country in three different disciplines of sport. He simply kept trying. He always had the help of his father.

In order to attain Akshardham, become brahmroop, attain Maharaj's raajipo - all we have to do is keep trying. There will be set backs, we may fall down - but just like Derek Redmond, we have our father and Guru to help us back up and move forward.