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The responses to these questions came from the texts of the books, Yoga and A Call to Liberation by Swami Chidananda.

Q-1 : If this mind/body is not the ultimate reality, is there something much higher? What is the definitive reality of this life?

Ans : There is one great Reality, the Cosmic Being that is the source and origin of countless millions of universes. It is the non-dual Reality, present and hidden as the subtlest of the subtle, beyond the senses, and something that the mind cannot comprehend. That Reality is the centre of your being and is your eternal identity. This little 'I' of our personal ego that pushes and pulls us, that twists and turns us and shoves us down, is not our true 'I.' 

Great enlightened saints and seers have given us the task for this life-Arise, awake and attain illumination. The whole of the process of your being and doing, thinking and acting should be this process of arising, being awake and alert, and attaining illumination. Then alone we are living. Call it brahma-jnana, call it Christ-consciousness, call it satori, call it the Supreme Tao, call it nirvana…It is the one, supreme, non-dual experience that liberates you forever from the bondage to yourself. It liberates you forever from this dream of being bound to a non-existent conglomeration of names and forms that is this universal appearance. This is the one and the only message-this is the one and only teaching.

Q-2 : What is a true guru actually, and how might I be able to recognise such a person?

Ans : These great ones, these enlightened saints worthy of being called "gurus" have reached the final goal, they have liberated themselves forever, and now they have turned back and are engaged in illuminating and liberating others. They have done everything that has to be done, attained everything that has to be attained, and they have no more wishes, and they revel in a state of supreme satisfaction. Their hearts are full; they desire nothing. But if you want an explanation from your point of view, then you can say that they do have one thought, one intention, one desire and that is that all sincere seeking souls who are in quest of the supreme goal may attain that goal. There is a spontaneous intention of supreme love and goodwill that all may be established in the great state that they have attained by the grace of God.

If we are able to see in a human individual manifestations of holiness, of sanctity, of purity, of nobility, of goodness, and loftiness of conduct, character, nature, sentiment, thought, feeling and action, if we see something out of the ordinary-something of those qualities that we have been taught to associate only with God-then we may say that such a person is a living manifestation of the divine. We begin to realise, "God I have not seen, but godliness I have seen. All the qualities attributed to God, I see in an extraordinary measure in this human being." The guru is such a being. He or she becomes a visible God for us. God reveals Himself through the guru. 

Q-3: How can I be a good disciple to my guru?

Ans : We have to provide a way for the guru to give what he wishes to give, and that is through devotion to the guru, where there is no place for the ego. But if the thought comes, 'I have got great devotion for the guru and am a great disciple,' then finished, that devotion is cancelled and nullified. You yourself must become the very embodiment of that love and devotion, but there should be no awareness of some person having that quality of devotion. The very purpose of the guru is to remove the separate I-consciousness, the consciousness of being a separate entity. Thus, true devotion to the guru is egoless.

The greater the growth of devotion and the greater the reverence for the guru, the greater is the inflow of the guru's grace. The greater the desire to carry out the ideals of the guru and follow his instructions faithfully, the greater is the inflow of the guru's grace. Swami Sivananda was never tired of saying, "Obedience is better than reverence." True devotion to the guru is not mere sentiment. It has to have an iron will behind it, an immense strength. When such guru-devotion is there, such great desire to carry out his teachings, then illumination automatically descends from the guru to the disciple. The illumination in which the guru is established comes like a spark flying from one end of an exposed wire to another. It is that heroic devotion to the guru, where there is the greatest love and reverence combined with the highest obedience-that becomes the great channel for the inflow of guru's grace. 

Q-4 : How can I stay focused on my spiritual practices and stay fully engaged professionally and in other duties as well?

Ans : We have forgotten our real nature-we need to remember and reassert it. Begin your practice from the mental plane. Vedanta is a complete divine psychology, and it can be used to refocus the direction of the mind. You must remember your lost heritage, your real nature, and reassert it again and again. It is a sort of autosuggestion. For this method your hands and feet are not required, you can let your body be engaged in any activity throughout the day, but you need not forget the ultimate truth of your existence. You unbrokenly carry on the divine current of Atmic assertion of "I am That," and this will slowly develop from a mere aptitude to a higher devotion and then to an integral part of your practice. As you think, so you become.

For this autosuggestion, there are two obstacles: the impurities of the mind and then also the vices that have bedevilled humanity. Two methods are prescribed for overcoming them. One is thinking of the opposite. This is a method in which by constantly denying the presence of that which you wish to remove and asserting the presence of that which you wish to gain, you grow into the nature of the virtues, and the vice disappears. The other is the law that positive always overcomes negative. Therefore, a set of positive assertions is prescribed to assert your true nature, and through this your identification with the mind and the senses is lessened. You are pure Atman, not the names and forms. Your essential nature is Satchidananda-this you must assert.

Q-5 : How does one lead the divine life in a practical way?

Ans : Divine life is a life based upon yoga and pervaded by the spirit of Vedanta. It is made up of selflessness, service, sadhana and self-realisation. So yoga and Vedanta form the very fabric of divine life, or the stuff out of which divine life is made, and naturally the more we know about it, the more we are reminded about the important aspects. Knowledge is necessary, yes, but the most important thing is the living of it. Divine life has to be lived in the mind and in the heart. Yoga has to be achieved here (pointing at his heart). Everything proceeds from within oneself. Whatever you are, you cannot run away from yourself. If you think that something outside yourself is an obstacle to you, you can run away from it or avoid it, but even if you run away, you take your senses, habits, your likes and dislikes and all the aspects of your mind with you. Unless one delves within and tries to understand the inner machinery, one cannot practice sadhana successfully.

Q-6 : What are the broad principles of yoga?

Ans : Truthfulness, compassion, purity-these are the broad things which have to cover our entire life down to the most minute details. A sadhak cannot afford to forget this detailed living of divine life, and his whole life, especially in the beginning, should be characterised by restraint. He should restrain his tongue-he cannot just eat anything, in any amount, at anytime he likes. The quality of food that you take, its quantity, and the time you take food-all are important. You should sleep only a little, you must talk only a little, and you should move only a little, meaning, don't waste your energy. So, all gross things that merely pertain to the body should be kept to the minimum, and all the higher aspects of sadhana should be given proper place in your daily routine. Gurudev said, "Do japa a little, do asan a little, do kirtan a little." That doesn't mean that they should not be done too much, but that everyone of these items is essential, and all must find a place in your daily life.

Therefore, remember these: non-cooperate with the mind; do not fulfil desires when they arise; nip the thoughts in the bud; have daily introspection and self-analysis; do not justify what you discover in the mind and give a reason for it. Again, lead a life of self-restraint, and back the whole thing up with positive sadhana like meditation, japa, asana and pranayama. Ultimately, I conclude by recalling for you the two great instructions given by Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita-vairagya (discrimination) and abhyasa (practice). Develop vairagya towards all sorts of worldly pleasures, and follow faithfully the practices mentioned earlier; you will be able to progress on the path of yoga and Vedanta, on the path of divine living. 

Q-7 : What is the role of faith in the spiritual life?

Ans : The great saint and philosopher, Sankaracharya, has laid down shraddha (faith) as one of the fundamental vehicles for spiritual practice. If everything could be understood by analysis and enquiry, then why did he stipulate faith as one of the keys? If an aspirant has no faith in the teacher or if he doubts what the teacher is saying, how can he learn anything at all? Even in our daily life, faith is indispensable. If somebody cooks some food for you, you have faith that they have not put poison in it. You go to a doctor and take the medicine he gives you, without thinking that it might be poison. 

Similarly, it is reasonable to put faith in the words of those who have seen the Truth, because they say, "I have experienced the Truth, so you can also experience the Truth, provided you do what I have done. Experiment for yourself, and then see whether you attain the same result or not." They give us an assurance that we can also experience the highest Truth by following the proper path. Tulsidas said that faith is like the handmaiden of the queen. If anyone wants to see the queen, he has to be led finally into the queen's quarters by the trusted handmaiden. All our reasoning and theoretical knowledge will take us only up to a certain stage. Beyond that they cannot help us, but only faith can help us in attaining the Supreme Experience. Faith is necessary for all aspirants, whatever their path may be.

Q-8 : What does the eight limbs of Yoga involve?

Ans : The eight limbs of Raja Yoga are: yama, niyama, asana, pranyama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. Out of these, the first four are the preliminary stages. The yoga proper starts from pratyahara, or abstraction of the mind and the senses. Yama is the cultivation of certain virtues. Niyama is the following of certain daily observances. Asana is the acquisition of perfect steadiness of pose and pranayama is the discipline, control and regulation of our gross physical breath, which is connected with the inner subtle nerve-currents. The purpose of the asanas in raja yoga is different from hatha yoga, in that the asana in raja yoga means holding any one steady pose for the purpose of meditation. Pratyahara is the withdrawal of our senses and mind from the external objects of this universe, and dharana is the fixing of the mind on the object of meditation. Dhyana is mastery over dharana and continuous, unbroken fixing of the mind on the object of meditation. Dharana is sporadic, but when you have attained mastery over it, you are able to fix your mind upon the object of meditation steadily for a long time. In the depths of meditation you transcend the lower, physical consciousness and you experience the highest super-consciousness. This is called samadhi.

Raja yoga helps us first to control the gross, physical body and then step-by-step it leads us on to the control of subtler sheaths; the pranic sheath, the mental sheath, the intellectual sheath, the bliss sheath, and it takes us to the eternal, ever-perfect Self, which is beyond all these sheaths. Thus the approach is made, starting from the most external, the physical body, to subtler and subtler bodies. Raja yoga is then a very scientific and logical method of inner purification and self-perfection.

Q-9 : What exactly does tapas (austerity) involve?

Ans : Tapas actually means blazing, burning and conveys the meaning of something fiery or filled with intense heat. Tapas or fieriness-what exactly does it infer? Fire is the most wonderful purifying agent in the world, and it illumines, so these two aspects you must keep in mind. So tapas is an intense process that burns up impurities in the nature of man and fills him with the radiance and purity of spiritual consciousness. It is purification and illumination of a person's personality, and anything done towards this end can legitimately be called tapas. So tapas may vary from individual to individual, but there are certain universal weaknesses common to all. Everyone likes to take a lot of food, so fasting is a universal method of self-control. The sex-impulse is also a universal passion; therefore a rigid vow of chastity would be a severe kind of tapas. Trying to control impure sentiments and feelings of the mind is also great tapas. It purifies the nature as nothing else can do. But it may be that the greatest tapas is sticking to the truth. If a man sticks to the truth, he will know what trials and tribulations it takes him through. But all in all this is meant to say that anything that brings you nearer to the truth is a tapas, and it may take any form. 

Q-10 : What is the purpose of life?

Ans : It is given only to the rare blessed few to be given the opportunity of talking about God, of listening to spiritual discourses and to enjoy the satsang of sages like Gurudev. Blessed is the tongue that utters the Lord's Name, the ear that hears the Lord's glory, and the eye that beholds the lord's vibhutis.

Life is not an end in itself. It is a means to an end-God-realisation. Life is wasted if it is not utilized for God-realisation. Man fulfils his purpose only if he thinks rightly, if he uses his discriminative faculty to the best advantage, and applies himself to sadhana for the realisation of the eternal reality. Even though this body is considered a great hindrance in many respects, it is the vehicle with the help of which the jiva is able to soar into the realms of Infinity. Even the gods aspire to take a human birth, for they can attain Self-realisation only through a human birth. Why should we at all aspire for God-realisation? Because this world in which we are born is full of misery, every object here is fleeting. We cannot get eternal satisfaction and bliss in any object here. God-realisation alone can confer on us the freedom from all miseries and the attainment of the supreme bliss.

Having attained this human birth, therefore, it should be our constant endeavour every moment of our life to attain this through intense sadhana. We should be ever burning with the desire to get ourselves released from this bondage of samsara. In order to sustain life, we may have to engage ourselves in vyavahara (mundane dealings); but we should not think that vyavahara is all. We should realise that our main purpose here is to do sadhana for Self-realisation and that vyavahara is only incidental. We should constantly discriminate between the eternal, permanent reality, and the ephemeral phenomena. We should shun sensual pleasures. God is our all-God is our father and mother.

This is the path to Self-realisation. God descends only into a pure heart. We should strive by every means in our power to purify our heart. First purify thought. Purify your speech. Purify your sight. Purify your actions. Purify your motives. Think only sublime thoughts. Let no evil or vulgar or untruthful words escape your lips. Do good. Serve all with great devotion. Do not be egotistic. Thank the person who gives you a chance to serve the Lord through him. Have a regular programme of sadhana. Evolve. Purify the heart. Attain Him in this very birth. 

Q-11 : What does memory involve in yogic philosophy, and how do we improve it?

Ans : In order to understand what memory is, it is necessary to know what the antahkarana (inner instrument) is. The term covers all aspects of the mind. The chitta is the basic mind-stuff; just as cotton is the basic stuff of which the cloth is made. When it thinks, this thinking aspect is called manas. When it correlates experiences and discriminates, it is called buddhi. When it indulges in individualistic assertion and when the basic thought of 'I' is held in the mind, it is called ahamkara. These four together form the antahkarana.

When the manas and ahamkara function together, their combined work is called determination. The ego is there, it thinks a thought with great deliberation and pushes the thought in a particular direction. This is will power. When the idea is strongly supported by the ego, it is will power. When the manas and the ahamkara delve into the chitta in order to bring out some thought that is there in the unconscious aspect of the mind, it is called memory. When the emphasis is greater on the ego and less on the manas, it is called determination. When the emphasis if greater upon the manas but less upon the ego, then it is memory.

All the three-manas, chitta, and ahamkara-function in memory. Manas is the most important principle. Chitta lays itself out as a passive actor in this drama. The ego gives the impulse, and then the idea comes up. Sometimes in spite of the greatest effort of the ahamkara and the manas the idea does not come up. It may be a recently submerged fact, and the mind and the ego try their best to bring it up, but they fail. There are other cases or happenings of thirty years ago and the thing is submerged, but with the least effort, it comes up. How the chitta gives up the ideas submerged in it, no one really knows. Sometimes you give up trying to remember things in despair, and it spontaneously comes up! To improve memory, you have to undergo a process of mental training and improve your concentration:

Exercise #1: Let your friend take 10 or 20 different things and put them on a tray. Cover it up. Uncover it for just one minute. Look at it for that one minute. Immediately cover it up again. Take a piece of paper and a pencil and jot down the things you saw. Allow yourself five minutes to recollect all the things. Then check your list with the things in the tray and see how many you have omitted.

Exercise #2: Let your friend arrange those things in some order. As in the previous exercise, uncover the tray and look at it for a minute. Now try to jot down the names of the things in the very order in which they are found on the tray.

Exercise #3: Try to meditate upon a particular thing and the associated ideas in a particular order. For instance, take the subject "chair," and your thoughts might run as follows: 'This was a big tree, it was in a jungle in the Himalayas, a contractor must have cut the tree, the timber was sold to a merchant, he cut it into planks, a merchant engaged a carpenter, the carpenter has laboured upon it and cut it into various sizes. Then he has taken nails and driven them in at the various joints, so the chair has taken the proper shape, and afterwards the carpenter has polished it, and then placed it on a showroom floor. Now I have purchased it, and it is a very comfortable chair!' Now try once again to repeat the same process in exactly the same sequence. This exercise will enable you to train the mind to go over a particular set of ideas in the same order, by building up a chain of association of ideas. Do it in the reverse order also.

Exercise #4: There is a different form of the same exercise. Here the emphasis is more on association of ideas than concentration on one object. Take a flower for instance. Your thoughts would run: "It is a sweet-smelling flower, fresh water is extracted from it, Muslim queens used to bathe in rose water, Muslim ladies wear purdah, purdah system has been abolished in Turkey, Turkey is a westernised nation, the influence of western values is strong in India, and so on. Now try to go over the same ground in the same order.

Deliberately try to remember faces, names and dates. Great men have had their own way of memorising names and faces. When a new name is mentioned to them and a new person is introduced to them, they will during the course of their conversation go on repeating the new name several times. Then the name will stick in the mind for a long time. Meditation and pranayama strengthen memory. Various herbs also promote memory. Japa is an excellent aid to memory. If you keep your general health perfect, your memory also will be strong. 

Q-12 : What is the best daily routine for a neophyte in spiritual sadhana?

Ans : Gurudev insists that from the very commencement of our sadhana we should hold before the mind the ideal of integral and harmonious development of all aspects of the personality. As man is not a one-sided being, the development should not be lop-sided. Man has a head, heart, a hand-a body, mind and soul-he has the intellect, emotion and the will. Gurudev says that every sadhaka should realise this truth and strive to develop his entire personality in a harmonious manner. One should have the heart of Buddha, the head of Sankara, and the hand of Janaka.

Therefore, the sadhak's daily routine must contain elements of all the four yogic paths. The mainstay of the daily routine should be the spiritualization of the entire life of the sadhak. The goal of life should be ever remembered. This goal is the attainment of God-realisation. Whatever be the external form of the sadhak's life, the aim of his life should be God-realisation. A little japa, a little kirtan should invariable find place in the daily routine. Gurdev has the greatest faith in the Lord's name. If you are of a devotional temperament, a little worship should also be there: have a small altar, light a candle, offer a small flower and do a brief puja. This is important. Then comes asana and pranayama; a few minutes practice of these two keep the body healthy. Study of religious books should not be neglected. Mediation is no doubt an advanced yogic practice, but it is never too early to begin meditation, and however imperfect the practice may be at first, one should be regular in the effort.

Another important item of the daily routine is self-analysis. The sadhak should take practical and effective steps to eradicate his vicious qualities and grow in virtue. He should aim at attaining perfection in the ethical practices of yama and niyama. The aspirant must daily search within himself for the traces of lurking evil and eradicate them. A very big slice of the time of the sadhak should be devoted to selfless service. The essential thing in this is the attitude and devotion. If you can selflessly serve the sick and the poor it is very good. But if that level of service is not available to you, you can keep up that attitude of devoting all your duties to God throughout the day. This is the 'easy sadhana" of Gurudev: think your house is a temple; feel the world is a manifestation of the Lord. Feel that your office is a shrine of the Lord; see God in all. This way, you can dedicate yourself to the work completely; you may plunge into the work, and yet you may be doing the highest sadhana. Start the day with prayer, during the day whenever you get a little leisure say, "Lord, it is all an offering unto You." Never miss an opportunity to serve humanity.

This completely covers the field of the sadhak's daily routine: some items of the devotional type to develop the heart, some items of selfless service to purify the heart, some items of raja yoga and then some of jnana yoga to lead to ultimate Self-realisation. The sadhak should always feel that his real "home" is elsewhere-in God-and this world is a wayside inn, where he is staying for a short period. He should cultivate dispassion, and also he should discriminate and choose the path of the good in preference to the path of the pleasant.

Q-13 : What would you say are the most essential of the spiritual practices?

Ans : The central practice, the central sadhanas in all yogas is a constant abidance, a constant wakeful abidance in the goal you are seeking-which is the Reality. That which you seek being already part of you, being your innermost Self-to be aware of your abidance in It and of Its abidance in you is the central essence of all yogic sadhana. Dwell in God; this liberates us from all sin, from all ignorance and from the notion that I have not attained God yet and that I must attain Him in the future. If He dwells within you, what is the meaning of saying that I have not attained Him? If He is far distant, there is a meaning in saying that I have to attain Him, I have to strive, and I have to draw nearer. But when we are told and believe that God dwells in the heart of all beings, where does the notion come from that He is someone that has to be attained after a long journey? To shed this wrong notion and look within are needful. Awareness and consciousness are at the centre of my being. In Him I dwell at all times. Everything that exists is within Him and in everything that exists, that Supreme Being exists.

You as a human being are the one unique being who can reflect upon this and become consciously aware through a purposeful awareness, created by contemplation and spiritual practice. Only the human individual can enter into conscious awareness of this great fact, the central truth of all existence. In the ultimate context, all yogas and forms of spiritual practice are meant to accomplish this-to reach a state where all other awareness recedes and give place to this one central awareness. To abide in this awareness and to keep striving to keep up this constant awareness is bhakti. It is spiritual life. 

Q-14 : So much is written these days about the potential of the human being. What exactly does that 'potential' mean to you?

Ans : Gurudev, for example, was an extraordinary combination of selflessness, service, devotion, divine love, prayer and worship, but he was also a combination of discipline, self-control, conquest of mind, concentration and meditation. He was a person of great austerities, a singer of the divine name, a bhakta, a jnani, a super karma yogi and one who had mastered his mind. How did this happen? On the one hand, he was like any other person. He was educated, had a profession and a successful career. What is it that made him a world figure; what was it he did that set him apart? God gave him something, and he put it to the best use. He carefully cultivated it. In the thirteenth chapter of the Gita, Lord Krishna makes a significant statement to Arjuna: "This body is known as the field." A field is a place, an area, which has the potential to produce a certain harvest. If you labour, if you do the needful to arouse this potential, then it will bring forth many useful things. This means that we have to have a deep desire to put whatever we have been granted to the highest use, to do all that is necessary, to labour hard, to provide it with that triggering factor, and to do all that is necessary to bring out what it is capable of bringing out. And this body, this human personality is a field capable of producing a rich golden harvest, provided we diligently work upon it and put to the highest and best use whatever has been received.

This should be our objective. But then, we must be fully aware of one significant fact about this field, which is that our body, mind and personality are neutral-neither good nor bad. What this potential for producing will give you depends upon what you put into it, how you utilise it. It is like your echo. Whatever you call out, good or bad, comes back to you. Whatever you create is what you have. What are you presently engaged in? What is the quality of your secret thoughts, seemingly unknown, but known to the Being who indwells you? Your future, your destiny, what you produce for yourself and others, depends upon the quality of your hidden thoughts and the various attitudes you cultivate towards the world and the things and beings that are in the world around you. These thoughts can make you happy or miserable. They can create within you light or darkness, heaven or hell. Therefore, be wise. Be aware of this fact. Be your own greatest benefactor. May your right labours, in the right direction, with the right intention and the right objective be your own greatest benediction, your own greatest blessing.

Decide. How will you work? What will you bring forth from this field that God has given you? This the field cannot decide. It is the one that labours that has to decide. If you make the right use of this field of the human personality for the good of all and for your own highest blessedness, then there is no power on earth that can deny you what is due to you, that can prevent you from getting what you have worked for.

Q-15 : In the Bible Jesus says, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God." In Hinduism, is there the same idea of spiritual rebirth?

Ans : Water is a universal cleansing agent, so it means getting rid of impurity and having purity of mind. You have to emerge as a purified being. That is also the symbol behind baptism-a cleansing and getting rid of all sin and emerging sinless, spotless, and pure. Fire is also a universal purifying agent. When Sita returned from Lanka she proved her purity by stepping into a roaring fire and emerging unscathed. Not a hair of her head or even her garments were singed by the blaze as here spotless purity was proven. Our fire ceremony also symbolises a thorough burning away of all dross, of all that is impure, all that is contrary to Divinity. This is why it is a symbol of the same rebirth Jesus referred to two thousand years ago.

It is a rebirth from passion to purity; and then from gross earth consciousness and material consciousness into a state of spiritual consciousness-a rebirth through the water and the Spirit to emerge as a new being, aware of oneself as connected with the supreme Universal Soul. Thus, it is a rebirth of your very identity, a dying to the old self and being born into a new identity where you know of yourself only as related to the Eternal Being. For the spiritual aspirant, there should be a daily rebirth, a daily re-emerging into a new awareness, and a higher state of purity-a leaving behind of all that is undivine and emerging into a new state of shining purity and total divinity. Again and again there should be a rebirth until you become like the Being you wish to attain. You become like Brahman, like the pure divine Being, as you were when you abided in Him eternally.

Thus, each daybreak should constitute a call to rebirth for a discriminating and discerning soul; but what about nightfall? When night falls, the world disappears. You turn away from your involvement in this false appearance and you go into the silence of the One without a second. You return back into your original state to emerge refreshed. If physical death is a dying, entering into deep sleep is a temporary dying, for it is everything that death is except that biologically there may be respiration, circulation, etc. The difference is that at the ultimate death, when you 'wake up' you wake up into another dimension, whereas here in this recurring daily death in deep sleep we emerge back into the original set-up.

In addition, when you wake up from this temporary death called deep sleep, you wake up into a new reality. If you stand by the bank of the Ganges, each moment you are seeing a new river. Even so, every morning you are seeing a different universe; you are in a changed world. Waking up should constitute a rebirth into divine life, which means a rebirth in to total truthfulness. If there has been slackness in your practice, in this new birth there should be no more slackness. If there is any pretence in your practice, there should be no more pretence. Therefore, may we be reborn not once, not twice, but again and again until there is no longer any necessity or need for any such rebirth.

Q-16 : How are we to best utilise our daily life in order to make it a form of spiritual practice?

Ans : In whatever environment and situation we have been placed by the will of the divine, the factors present in it are necessary for us at this given time and place to enable us to work towards our perfection. For, each one of us has many things to be overcome, renounced and discarded; and a particular situation is given to us as an opportunity for liberating ourselves from that which is holding us back from progressing towards our divine destiny. If we thus understand life with a true spiritual vision, then our entire reaction to things that come to us day by day will be a creative reaction: "God has given this circumstance with a definite plan and purpose. In what way can I gain from this situation, benefit myself and surge ahead? It does not come without meaning." Each situation comes because that is the need for that day.

Our outer life and our inner spiritual life of japa, meditation, introspection and concentration have a close, connection and are necessary for each other. Our inner spiritual disciplines need to be tested for their authenticity each waking day. Daily life is an opportunity provided for us to exercise the spirituality gained during our inner studies, reflection and meditation. It is the testing ground, so that each day our progress is really ours. We have made it our own by having tested it, proven it and possessed it. Until it has been tested and proven, it is not our own, it does not become part of us. Every spiritual step forward becomes assimilated into your nature when it is thus exercised. That which is exercised actively becomes firmly grounded, permanently and truly your own. Thus there is an indispensable connection between your daily sadhana and your daily life.

It is in the context of daily life that you are able to actively exercise and test your spiritual progress. It is in the context of your daily sadhana that day by day the quality of your daily life is enhanced and enriched-it becomes further elevated to higher dimensions of refinement. Ultimately this process culminates in a total divinisation of your being and doing, your actions and reactions. May we thus see this unified nature of our inner and outer life and not see them as two separated aspects. They are not two; they are one integrated and unified process of spiritual evolution. One who perceives this becomes a totally balanced individual. He becomes truly possessed of the knowledge of the art and science of living life as one unified process of evolving day by day spiritually. May the grace of the divine enable us to see ourselves as what we are and to see our life and our environment for what they are. Thus, may this dual knowledge become a means of your steady spiritual progress and evolution into ultimate illumination.

Q-17 : Could you explain a bit about the law of karma?

Ans : Everyone today knows about the law of karma and experiencing the fruit of action. It was once the possession of the East, but it is now a global insight. Everyone knows that this great spiritual law of cause and effect pervades human life. It is also duplicated in the physical world of gross material sciences. You bring into being a certain cause; it brings into being a certain result. You sow a seed; it produces a plant of its own kind. Even so, in the psychological and psychical realm, if you manifest friendliness, the world becomes friendly to you. If you manifest hostility, the world responds in a like manner. The world is like a mirror. What you give comes back to you, and so it is said, "Whatever a man sows, that he will also reap." Every day this law of cause and effect is demonstrated before us, but we never pay attention. We do not understand the implications of what we see happening. We do not realise that we make our life by the way in which we keep on producing causes-mental, verbal, and physical.

If we are wise, we shall ever exercise discrimination. For instance, "My mind is harbouring this thought. Next moment it will propel me to engage in an action corresponding to this thought. What will be the effect of this action upon my spiritual life?" Thus an aspirant thinks of the consequences of his action in relation to the reaction it is likely to bring into manifestation. This is the hallmark of the wise seeker, for that is the one supreme task in his life. He is engaged in moving towards the sublime goal of God-realisation. Therefore, he engages in all such actions that will enhance his progress towards the goal, and he will abstain from all such acts that are likely to detract him from the fulfilment of the quest. One should live in the light of the awareness of this great law, which is our greatest friend, which is the sure guarantee of success in our spiritual life. It can help us steer clear of many avoidable difficulties. If properly understood and properly applied in the living of our life, it is the one thing that can ensure us that we will attain the goal without fail. It is a law that is the outcome of the great wisdom of the Universal Soul-for the highest good and benefit of Its own part, the individual soul.

What we strive for, we get. What we do not strive for, God may grant us or we may not get it. Therefore, we should pray to the Lord, "Grant us inner spiritual strength to resist temptations and to control the mind." We must work hard to develop inner strength that will help us to resist temptations and to control the mind. Thus will our knowledge of karma become fruitful and effective in success, in attainment, in glorious fulfilment. God bless us all to become strong in the Spirit, to make the flesh also partake of this inner strength and to be obedient to the call of the Spirit.

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