Volume 8 - Issue 06
JUNE 2010
Other Articles
 
spiritual questions and answers
PART 19

By Prof. G. Venkataraman
 

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Since Heart2Heart started in 2003, readers have very often written to us seeking answers to many spiritual questions. We have answered them at times through appropriate articles in H2H. However, there are still many that have to be explained carefully and in detail. And in the recent past, a lot more queries have arrived on varied topics concerning spirituality and personal growth.

We have now meticulously compiled and categorised these questions, and Prof. G. Venkataraman has offered to answer all these queries in a structured and systematic way as a series on Radio Sai as well as in H2H. In this way, these answers now remain always on our website as a ready reckoner on spiritual doubts. This is a suitably adapted transcript of one of the talks of this radio series bearing the same name.

 

Loving Sai Ram, and greetings from Prashanti Nilayam. In the last few articles in this series we have dealt with many questions related to the theme ‘Spiritual Practices’, and in the present article let us take another one on this same topic. Someone asked,

“How does meditation remove mental and physical suffering?”

 

This is a good question. There are three key phrases in this question, namely, (i) physical suffering, (ii) mental suffering, and (iii) meditation; and the question is related to how these three aspects are connected. The best way of understanding the answer to this question is to first try and grasp a few fundamentals. Take physical suffering; all of us know that pain is connected largely with the body.

When we get hurt, some part of the body is injured and that part of the body sends signals to the brain saying, “I need help! Send it quick!” The brain is then supposed to do something about the problem and find a solution – that is why the capacity for pain has been built into the body by God; it is like a warning siren.

Let us now go one step higher and consider a procedure like surgery. You all know what surgery is; it is a highly intrusive process, involving cutting up portions of the body, no doubt for a good cause, like say removing a cancer. However, cutting the body always causes pain and in the old days when anaesthetics were unknown, surgery was literally murderous.

These days, things are different. At the start of the procedure, the patient is given an injection or something like that and made to lose consciousness. What happens is that certain centres in the brain that respond to signals of pain sent by the nerves from various parts of the body are made inactive; and when that is done, even though the nerves might send frantic signals, that part of the brain at least remains non-functional and the patient feels no pain.

When the procedure is over, the patient is “woken up” and slowly, as the effect of the anaesthetic wears off, the patient begins to feel pain, which is when doctors administer pain-killer medicines. We all know this.

Now why did I bring it up in the current discussion on Spirituality and Spiritual questions? For a very good reason, which is to highlight the connection between the body, the senses, and the organs of sense perception which are embedded in the brain. If we keep all this in mind and go back to the question, we could rephrase it as: “Can meditation help in overcoming the sensation of physical pain?” And the short answer to that is “Yes”. The question now becomes, “How?” That is what I shall try and deal with next.

“Laymen glibly talk about the Mind, without knowing what exactly the form and shape of the Mind is. Words like Mind, happiness and Bliss are abstractions which have no existence in space and time. Nevertheless, they subsist in a special sense. Though they do not exist in form, none can deny the fact that they are real individual experiences.”

The word meditation appears to mean different things to different people; I shall, for obvious reasons, take the Spiritual point of view that I have discussed in earlier talks in this series. Basically, I shall assume that meditation involves becoming intensely focussed on God; if that process is taken to its limit one then goes into a sort of trance, where one loses body-consciousness. If you like, trance is like Yogic anaesthesia! In that state, one would not feel bodily pain or, for that matter, even mental pain associated with tragedy, etc.

The question might be asked: “Forget trance; that is like self-induced loss of contact with the outside world, that is to say, losing consciousness without the aid of anaesthetics. Is it possible to be fully conscious or aware of what is going on in the world, and yet not feel physical pain?” The short answer to this question is: “Yes.” There is a reason why I am making the assertion.

 

Many of us may be aware, in 2003 Swami suffered the first of two fractures in His leg; I was there when it happened in Brindavan.  However, when the fracture actually took place, no one knew about it, except Satyajit, a former student of Swami, who is blessed to serve Bhagavan 24/7. Swami forbade him from telling anyone.

In fact, all access was barred for about 18 hours, and it was only around 4 p.m. on the following day that three or four people were permitted to enter Swami’s room in Trayee Brindavan. At that time they did not know that Swami had suffered a fracture; all they knew was He had fallen down and injured Himself.

It was only later when x-ray examination was literally forced upon Swami that it became evident that He had actually suffered a major fracture.

Now I have suffered a fracture of the arm many years ago, and I can tell you that it is a very painful affair. Clearly, Swami must have felt terrible pain, and it is astonishing how He put off for 18 hours any examination, when almost all of us would be screaming for help, right from the moment of fracture. Later, Swami explained how He handled the situation.

He said that at first He did feel shooting pain but soon began dissociating Himself from the body by reminding Himself that He is NOT the body; that shut off body-consciousness, and Swami said that the sensation of pain disappeared. I believe Swami has described all this in one of His Discourses.

 

So, the short answer to the question under consideration is that meditation can indeed help one to switch off the sensation of physical pain. The question might still be asked, “Leave aside that Yogi-like situation that Swami can easily achieve but most of us mortals cannot. We only do daily light meditation or whatever, and the question is if one of us suffers a fracture say, would we feel less pain by meditation?” I cannot give a definite answer to that but could only make guesses.

However, I think I can say that if does try serious meditation, then the focus involved in meditation could divert attention enough as to make one feel the pain to a lesser degree; this is certainly true where mental pain is involved.

That said, I do admit that physical pain is not all that easy for most of us to get rid off by the kind of meditation that we normally engage in; it could help to mitigate the pain perhaps, but I am not too sure it would allow one to escape it completely. I hope that what I have said answers the question posed to least to some extent.

Let me now move on to the next question which is:

If one has true devotion, do the others come as a result automatically?

Frankly, I am not able to understand this question. I must add that all the questions that we received were processed by a group of people and I do not know for sure whether they rewrote the question for the sake of clarity and in the process inadvertently made a mistake somewhere. All I can do is to deal with the question as I have it before me and do the best I can.

First of all, what does one mean by true devotion? I have a certain definition for it, based on what Krishna says in the 12th Chapter of the Gita; however, I do not know whether the questioner uses the term in that sense or in some other sense. That is my first point. Next, what does the questioner mean by asking “do the others come as a result automatically”? What exactly is meant by the words “the others”? I hope you are able to appreciate my difficulty. Assuming you do, let me now try to address the question as it stands, to the best of my ability.

 

Let me begin by stating that as far as I am concerned, if one has true devotion, then one would have what Swami calls Total Understanding. What does that mean? It means being aware that God is present in everything, everywhere, all the time. If one really has this feeling all the time, then one’s actions would automatically be in tune with this realisation. What does that mean? Well, for me it means the following:

One sees every other person as not different from oneself, and indeed verily as God Himself, though in disguise. Next, seeing God in the person, one feels nothing but Pure Love and simply cannot hurt the other person in any manner. This means that Pure Love motivates ALL the actions of the person concerned, and when that happens, then automatically the entire spectrum of Love manifests in the action. And what does that spectrum consist of?

Well, the spectrum goes all the way from Truth to Non-violence. That is precisely what Swami Himself says. If you recall, He says that Sathya (Truth) is Love in thought, Dharma (Righteousness) is Love in action, Ahimsa (Non-Violence) is Love in Understanding, and so on.  

So, to put it in simple terms, if one is really devoted to the Lord [say in the sense Krishna describes in the Gita], then automatically that person is in full resonance with the Lord all the time. In turn, this means that all the shades of Divinity radiate from the person; indeed, Krishna Himself says that where virtues are manifest, there one can see the effulgence of Divinity.

Thus, if one has, as the questioner asks, true devotion, then surely all the aspects of Divinity would show up in the actions of the devotee concerned. I do hope I have in some manner, managed to respond to the question. It is likely I have not done that, in which case I trust I would be forgiven, considering that the question is not quite precise, at least to the extent I would have liked it to be.

 

Let us move on. It appears that I now have to shift gears and deal with a new topic which is all about mind-control. This clearly is a very important topic and also a somewhat difficult one to deal with since many become very uncomfortable the moment the phrase mind-control is mentioned. The point is that the Mind is a very powerful instrument given to us by God Himself, next in power only to the Atma; in fact, as Swami often reminds us, the Mind is a child of the Atma.

The Mind as given to us by God has the flexibility to make decisions the way it wants; that is to say, it has the option to decide on any particular issue based on the diverse inputs it gets from the external world alone, or it can get its primary guidance from the Atma, to which it owes its existence.

That said, at the practical level the Mind does tend to get influenced far more by worldly considerations rather than Spiritual considerations; that is because many believe that Spirituality is really not primary and therefore cannot be considered all that important. In fact, we have got so used to this worldly orientation, that we simply cannot accept the advice of the Wise to practice mind control. In short, what I am trying to tell you is:

  1. Whether we like it or not, mind-control is a very important topic.
  2. Therefore, we have to face the issues involved and simply cannot afford to shove the topic under the rug using one excuse or the other.

Coming to brass tacks, under this topic, there are 17 questions listed. However, when I scanned the questions, I found there was a bit of clustering. There were 3 questions which were basically of an introductory nature. After this came 9 questions that dealt directly with mind control, what it does, why it is needed, etc.

There are five questions dealing with how much regulation of the Mind helps in the control of anger, and a few other odd questions. I feel therefore that instead of answering the seventeen listed questions one by one, it might be better to deal with clusters as identified above. I hope you agree with this approach; in any case, after I am through, I am sure many would actually support my way of dealing with the topic.

“Men are not aware of the potentialities of the Mind. The Mind is the cause of all our sorrows and joys. The powers of the Mind are indescribable. In one moment, it can be a total blank. In the very next, it can blossom enormously. The Mind is the cause of both good and bad.” 

Perhaps, I could use the remaining time for making some general remarks on the topic of Mind and Mind Control, drawing of course heavily from what Swami has said. Let me start with the following, which makes clear that though the Mind is an abstract entity, the feelings and thoughts it creates are something we can experience and cannot simply deny. This is what Swami says:

“Laymen glibly talk about the Mind, without knowing what exactly the form and shape of the Mind is. Words like Mind, happiness and Bliss are abstractions which have no existence in space and time. Nevertheless, they subsist in a special sense. Though they do not exist in form, none can deny the fact that they are real individual experiences.”  

Stressing that the Mind is not the body, Swami observes:

 

“The Mind is not related to the body; it transcends the body. It is associated with Universal Consciousness. Men are accustomed to treat the Mind as a part of the body. This relates only to the memory activities of the Mind. The Mind is made up of thoughts and doubts. But the aspect of the Mind associated with the Divine Atma transcends the body. Consequently, it is only when the ordinary thought processes are extinguished that Divinity within can be experienced. The Consciousness that goes beyond thought is a reflection of the Atma.”

Hope you were able to follow that. Now what is the relationship of the Mind to the senses? Swami has the answer:

“It has been said that along with the five senses of perception, the Mind may be considered to be the sixth sense. But it is not just another sense equal to the other five; in fact, it is the Master of the senses.

“If there were no Mind, neither the motor organs nor the sensory organs would be able to function at all. For these various senses, the Mind is in the position of the controller; it acts as the bridge to the inner life of the person.”

The power of the Mind is immense and concerning this, this is what Swami has to say:

“Men are not aware of the potentialities of the Mind. The Mind is the cause of all our sorrows and joys. The powers of the Mind are indescribable. In one moment, it can be a total blank. In the very next, it can blossom enormously. The Mind is the cause of both good and bad.” 

The last remark of Swami is extremely important. There are many problems in the world all over the place, and as I am preparing this script, the world is reeling under a huge, unprecedented market meltdown. And do you know what has caused this problem? Almost everyone has agreed that it is due to unbounded greed - greed on the part of not only rich bankers and so on, but also ordinary people who, deluded by illusory promises, succumbed to various rip-off proposals by investment bankers, mortgage firms, etc. It was unbelievable greed all round, something that happened because people in huge numbers simply cut loose from their moral moorings, and became reckless; and now, people are paying for it all in many parts of the world! Amazing, is it not?

The actual facts associated with the problems that the market faced are quite complex, so complex and opaque that even experts are not able to understand. But this much all are aware of; people in large numbers thought they could easily have a free ride and suddenly discovered that is not possible. The point that I wish to make is the following: In one of the classrooms that I use for my classes, there is a saying by a wise man that hangs from the wall which says: “The Mind has infinite capacity to delude itself.”

 

Yes, the Mind is so powerful that we do not need anyone to fool us; in fact we can fool ourselves, and that precisely is what delusion is all about. So the discussion we shall be having in the next couple of articles is very important, since they go to the very root of the matter. In other words, we cannot talk of Spiritual Progress, etc., without bringing in the Mind and discussing the critical role it plays. And without steering the Mind properly, any talk of Sadhana etc., is meaningless.

In case you are not convinced, let me point out the following. Consider the issue of terrorism, in particular in India, where recently a group of young Muslims were detained in Bombay. When questioned, they said that they do not accept the Islam that they had learnt when they were young; rather, they believed in a version that was taught to them in a training camp so called, which was really a terrorist camp – what I am trying to say is that these young people had allowed themselves to be brainwashed.

This is happening all over the world, including, interestingly enough, in Pakistan. I heard in a radio program recently, many people in that country complaining that thanks to a highly vocal but fringe minority of radicals, the majority of people who believed in Sufi Islam which accepts saints, mysticism and all that, were being terrorised into submission to ideas that they found appalling. 

And, on an entirely different plane, instead of realising and appreciating the stark truth behind the economic meltdown, many leading proponents of totally unrestrained free-market economy said, greed is actually good and is what creates wealth and plenty!

 

So, there you have it! Every single misconception is the direct result of the Mind being misguided. And when that Mind belongs to a person with power and charisma, history itself can change course – one example, namely Hitler, is enough to prove that.

At the same time, let us not forget that one person can equally well change the course for the better, and that is Swami. As I end this article, I would like all of us to feel assured that though from many angles these might seem like the worst of times, this is unquestionably the best of times because Swami is with us.

It is not enough, however, merely to say that Swami is here and that all problems would vanish as if by magic. They would not; every one of us has to pitch in and do our bit. And what is it that we can do? That was clearly spelt out by Swami in a discourse He delivered just two days before Sivarathri 2009 and on that festival day itself.

In one word, it is Atma Viswasam. In practical terms, it means the Mind must turn towards God, and place total and unconditional faith in Him. That really is what true Bhakti (devotion) is all about. I hope those concluding remarks would help you in appreciating that the topic we are now about to explore is of utmost importance.   

That’s all I have for you now and I do hope I have given you enough to think about! Thank you for being with me. Jai Sai Ram.

  

Dear Reader, how do you like this series? Does it help you in any way? Do you have any spiritual questions which need clarification? Please feel free to write to us at [email protected] mentioning your name and country. Thank you for your time.

 
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