Archive for January, 2011

Snakes and Ladders

by Vikas Chawla
I read a blog post by our dear president, Mr. Michael Fischman, where he describes his experience of being on the spiritual path as being akin to playing a video game ( It makes a good read (I have a lot of respect for Mr. Fischman as a writer. He pours his heart out). I found the analogy interesting. Believe me, I love video games ( BTW, “Angry Birds” and “Plants vs. Zombies” rock. “Unchartered Territory” is not too shabby either.). I am pretty good at them too (although my wife is definitely better at them than I am). However, for me, another analogy comes to mind.

I think of the spiritual path more as “Snakes and Ladders”. We all go back to paradigms that we are used to from our childhood and that is one of the games I grew up playing. We did not have to fight any villains or zombies, just cast the dice and watch our fate.

Firstly, being on the spiritual path is itself a game of fate (roll the dice, baby!). I, for one, had no longing for a Master or a spiritual path while I was growing up. But here I am following the Master like a puppy. Who knows how that works! You can chalk it up to rocking good karma! or just great kismet (fate).

Then, being on the path is like a roller coaster ride. It is sometimes five steps forward and two steps back. The moments spent with the Guru, elevate you. Sometimes after a Silence course, a hollow and empty meditation, the mind is so serene . Or you could be watching a sunrise/sunset or just being with a sensory experience and transcend and the consciousness gets lifted to new heights.

On the other hand, some days are not so hot. You lose your temper, you get irritated by the mundane work you have to do in the office, relationships bother you and if nothing else, you find some fault with the foundation or the money it charges for its courses or the direction it is taking.

After being on the path, the contrast seems much more and on some of those days you feel you have regressed.

In a metaphorical sense, “snake” represents awareness. The only reason we fall is when we lose our awareness. Once the awareness is lost and a mistake has been committed, regretting our mistake causes guilt and anger and it is a vicious cycle. Then we start blaming the path, our practices and finally the Guru and it is downward spiral from thereon.

Our next pitfall (snake) is that we as humans, start comparing ourselves to our peers and judging. “He has been doing Kriya for the last 20 years. He is a teacher but see how he is behaving. How come Guruji has made him a Part II teacher (in our minds a promotion (ladder))?”.

When we are playing the game, we are constantly comparing ourselves to the other people playing it and looking to see who is ahead of us. All that this does is it takes away from the joy of playing and adds either fear or jealousy or worse still, pumps up our ego.

Vikas and his wife, Aparna

However, the amount of time you have been playing, or where you are on the board, is no barometer of how close you are to reaching the goal or how evolved you have become. IMHO, the label that has been given to you “Part I teacher”, “Part II teacher”, “Rishi”, “Swami” has nothing to do with it either. In fact, the label makes you a “someone” which can only inflate your ego and make things a wee bit harder. All that this comparison and judgment does is add to the negative spiral.

In the minds of most seekers, the number of years of spent doing Sadhana (practice, that is, meditation and yoga) or being on the path is a sign of spiritual evolution. In our limited minds, we think that we can meditate ourselves into enlightenment

This reminds me of an anecdote.
An old Zen Buddhist story tells of a student intent on becoming enlightened as soon as possible. So he mediates very hard each day.
One day his teacher came by …
Teacher: “What are you doing?”.
Student: “I’m meditating to become enlightened.”
Then the teacher picked up a tile and started to polish it.
Student: “What are you doing?”.
Teacher: “I’m polishing this tile until it becomes a mirror”.
Student: “You can’t polish a tile into a mirror!”
Teacher: “You can’t meditate yourself into enlightenment!”

Guruji gives a slightly different analogy. He says that our Sadhana (practice) is like polishing the glass of the window. You can polish it as much as you want but the sun will start shining in the room only when it is the right time. The sun will rise, the clouds will be dispelled in their own time and the sun will shine through and you have no control over any of it. The only thing you can control is making sure that the window is squeaky clean.

Similarly, the only way to attain the goal is through the Grace of the Master

In the words of our Master, the spiritual path is a path of “soapy steps”. I see this all the time. Some people are so dedicated to the Master, are very strong teachers and then they totally disappear. Some people appear, in our limited awareness to be so “evolved” and then poof, they are gone

The only way you can lose in this game is if you stop playing it. It may seem hard at times, we may feel like we are making little or no progress but the key is to keep on rolling the dice (doing our Sadhana ) and make sure that our windows are clean. When we catch even a glimpse of that unbounded awareness it gives us such hope and joy and the enthusiasm to play the next round. When I feel beat, I just catch a darshan (sight) of my Guru and it gives me the impetus to continue. If we lose our awareness and fall a few steps, it is time to pick ourselves up and get moving again (remember, it is mainly the ego that gets hurt when we fall ). And, if you see your fellow Sadhak (meditator) fall, it is time to drop the judgment and help him/her. Personally, I have made this mistake once when a very dear friend of mine needed me the most and due to my little judging mind I did not reach out.

Whether you consider it a video game or a game of snakes and ladders, just remember you are just playing against yourself and most importantly it is just a game.


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Art of Living will celebrate its 30th anniversary this year with a huge cultural festival in the Olympia-Stadium in Berlin. With the goal of promoting peace among the people of the world the festival will celebrate the diverse cultures of more than 150 countries. The different cultures will showcase their dance, music, literature and food. There will be a group meditation for peace and harmony. A Yoga theme park will allow participants to experience the powerful impact of yoga as a way to improve physical and mental health as well as to create inner peace. The event will take place on July 2-3. Everyone is invited to participate.

For details, check out the website at World Culture Festival 

Here is a video invitation to the festival.


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by Vikas Chawla 

Swami Vivekananda classified service into four types.
a. Physical Help (Anna Daan) : Physical help is related to the physical self, or body and takes the form of giving food, clothing, building a shelter or anything that is related to upkeep of the body.

b. Saving Life (Prana Daan) : Saving a life, healing or extending it by medical means. For example, helping or doing service in hospitals, hospice centers and old age homes.

c. Giving Knowledge (Vidya Daan) : Relates to providing education and making people self-sufficient. It relates to making them stand on their own two feet. It goes a little further than just providing education that sustains you. It also encompasses education that creates responsible and morally strong students who have a strong sense of viveka (discrimination ). Building of Tribal Schools is a clear example of this.

d. Spiritual knowledge (Jnana Daan) : Awakening people to the goal of self-realization. That is, giving them knowledge so that they become more aware of their self and helping them along the path of realizing their true potential. It means helping them in answering some key questions in life which a lot us are looking for answers to: “Who are we?”. “What is the purpose of life ?” In means helping them get in touch with their true self.

In the words of Swami Vivekananda:
“The gift of spirituality and spiritual knowledge is the highest: the next gift is the gift of secular knowledge; the next gift is the gift of life; and the fourth is the gift of food”

This statement forms the basis of my understanding of this blog post. Over the years with Art of Living, I have always wondered why we as a organization talk so much about Seva (Service) and do not get involved much with service projects for the local community.

All knowledge needs to be taken in context. I am not speaking about helping the victims of Tsunami and not talking about the need to build tribal schools in tribal areas. We have done work after 9/11. We have done a considerable amount of work in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. I am referring to doing social work in the USA when the situation is normal.

Which category of the four mentioned above, do our courses fall under? You know the answer to that question. We have very limited amount of bandwidth, resources and volunteer hours in any chapter. Given the choice, it is the most opportune use of the volunteer resources to help in spreading the knowledge and giving them a glimpse of their self, getting them in touch with something that they have never experienced before.

However, I will add to the above statement the fact that every chapter is different. We will involve more people and the local community if we do something for the community. This is a decision that the local teacher and the chapter has to make.

Another thing I will like to address in this blog post is the attitude and agenda behind the service we do. A lot of community projects that have been initiated by the volunteers have a hidden agenda about spreading the knowledge. People can see through this and projects like these will not bear the best results. Any service projects that we as volunteers or as a Foundation undertake has to come from a pure space of giving

However, for me personally the answer is clear, to pursue with undivided attention the goal of spreading the knowledge and ensuring that people from all walks of life have access to the precious “Sudarshan Kriya” and “Art of Meditation” and more importantly get the chance to experience the vastness of the MASTER. Let us all participate in giving people the gift of “Jnana Daan”.

Please keep in mind that this is applicable mainly in US and the western world which does not lack food, medical supplies and provides ample opportunity for education. The paradigm totally shifts when you move to the third world (or not so wealthy) countries. When we talk about these countries like India we need to take responsibility in providing food, shelter and mainly quality education in addition to providing the knowledge of the Self.
Inspired by an article titled “Dimensions of Service” by Swami Yuktamananda in “Hinduism Today”


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