H.G. Matsyavatar Das

Monday, 24 August 2009

MRIDU (meek, gentle)

By Matsya Avatara Dasa

From the book: The 26 Qualities of the Spiritual Researcher

Other meanings:
sweet, peaceful
having a pleasant character
not harsh or rude

The virtues that we will study now are meekness and purity: we will analyze them by connecting them to social life as much as possible, and studying them closely also on the psychological level. Often when people speak of spirituality one thinks about something abstract, not well defined, and we also must admit that undoubtedly there is also an abstract kind of spirituality that is not useful to anyone. On the other hand the spirituality we are discussing here, as the focus of the Bhagavata teaching contained in Bhagavata Purana, Bhagavad-gita, Vedas and Upanishads, is extraordinarily concrete and represents the essence of life itself. The virtue we describe have innumerable applications in individual life also at the level of family and professional occupation, and the person that carries them has a beneficial and extraordinarily positive influence on all the environments around him. Even persons who carry serious character defects or personality disturbance have a negative and heavy influence, therefore we can state that such defects weigh down not only the individual that has them, but his family, co-workers, friends, and the entire community as well.
Mridu means sweet, meek, and meekness is a characteristic of enlightened people, a valuable quality of the soul; to possess it, the individual needs to have solved his problems - if not all, at least most of them.
It is not rare to see a pseudo-virtue that may externally look similar to meekness, but is actually weakness or shyness. Sometimes one who seems meek is definitely not so: he is creaking inside, even if he does not show it. A weak person seems to be meek only because he does not have the courage or the strength to affirm his own opinion, but genuine meekness is inner strength and a person who possesses it remains equal, undisturbed and kind in all situations. A really meek person moves in the world in a delicate way, walks almost on tiptoes, going through obstacles lightly.
Living in this world requires a lot of effort, because any action meets with resistance, including the simplest and most natural actions such as breathing, evacuating, digesting, obtaining the necessary in order to survive. One who is able to perform all these actions in a meek way, expressing this virtue especially in the relationships with others, must be considered an evolved person, who possesses one of the noblest qualities of the soul.
After we have ascertained that the person we face is not a weak or shy person, but a meek one, then we must consider that our interlocutor is a person of great value. When someone's projects of power, fame, sense gratification or wealth are modified or obstructed, if the person is not genuinely meek we will notice that he immediately changes tone, expression and attitude, because he does not have inner strength and thus he has a global collapse.
One who has realized a quality, mridu, is aware that people understand better if we relate to them in a sweet way. It is evident that in this case the presiding guna is sattvaguna. When rajoguna dominates, in the face of obstacles the reaction is passionate, nervous, impulsive, sometimes violent and destructive. When the personality is influenced by tamas, often the reaction does not even manifest because the individual lacks the power to understand what is happening.
A person who really possesses this quality is generally rigorous with himself and expects much from himself, well knowing that the journey towards the peaks of consciousness is very hard, but is just as tolerant towards others and always tends to encourage them, even when he needs to correct. The quality of kindness is considered so important that often we find puranic stories that highlight it; for example there is a rather famous one narrated in Bhagavata Purana, about the episode between the saintly king Ambarisha and the sage Durvasa. Thanks to the austerities he had performed, Durvasa had developed many siddhis1, but he behaved in a despising and offensive way against the generous and pious Ambarisha, to the point of exciting God's anger. In one of the verses in this story we read: “for a brahmana asceticism and knowledge are desirable assets, but if they are not accompanied by kindness they lead to degradation”2. Thus, even two jewels such as tapas (asceticism) and vidya (knowledge) get polluted or even transform into something that weighs down the consciousness if the person who carries them is not mridu.
Is it possible for anyone to adopt meekness as a way of life? Can a policeman be meek to an armed bank robber, or a magistrate be meek in front of heinous crimes, towards acts of violence that have damaged individuals and societies? Can a parent be meek towards a son that stubbornly keeps doing wrong, that repeatedly commits the same mistakes? Is it good to show meekness towards those who may mistake it as weakness and take the opportunity to keep indulging in deviant behaviors?
Meekness, too, like other virtues, is the result of a series of coordinated efforts performed consciously and deliberately, and is therefore a result that corresponds to a divine grace, a connection to the higher reality. It is not by chance that the persons who possessed this quality in the highest degrees were the saints described in the Scriptures. Yudhisthira Maharaja was famous for his meekness, although he was the world's emperor and frequently found himself in difficult situations. However the great souls, the masters, are such precisely because they are able to act in the world without losing their divine qualities, without staining them, without allowing them to fade away. These special personalities inform us that at the time when we need to be hard, strong, rigorous, we must be so only for the minimum required, so that we do not leave unnecessary agitation behind us. It is said that the Guru is as soft as a rose and as powerful as lightning: one quality does not diminish the other, and because we are on an absolute level they can perfectly live together without contradictions.
A father needs to correct his son, but if he does so correctly, meekness can return immediately after the correction, without creating a split or a drop in the quality of the relationship. Meekness can be substituted by another equally effective virtue when the situation requires it: a magistrate, a policeman, a father, a mother, an elder brother must sometimes intervene in a hard way. Meekness is not apathy or lack of responsibility; weakness is a fault, not a virtue. If at the time when a Guru is educating a disciple there is need to replace meekness with another virtue, he must do it. A meek person tolerates offenses towards himself, but not offenses towards God, the Master, or well-wishers. If rigorousness remains within dharma and is intended to support it, there will be no negative reactions: when we scold or punish someone, as much as the case requires it and with the intention of helping his progress, then it is very likely that this person will be grateful to us for his entire life. This is very different from punishing someone to gratify our own ego.
The citizens expect to live honestly, peacefully, serenely; the intrusion of thieves and criminals creates serious disturbance or even traumas, and the policing forces have been constituted to prevent that. In the name of meekness, a policeman or a magistrate cannot "let people be", just like a physician cannot neglect a festering wound: he must act even if that causes pain. In some situations meekness is madness rather than virtue; it also needs to be applied at the proper time, place and circumstance.
Stability in mood is an unequivocal symptom of mental health, in fact when an individual is affected by some psycho-pathology, one of the most obvious symptoms consists in mood swings. Contemplating the sense objects and depending on them is the cause of mental instability; the Vedic science can help us understand why. According to the Samkhya3 philosophy, probably one of the most ancient Schools of thought in this world, there are two archetypal energies: purusha and prakriti, spirit and matter. The universe is the result of their combination, and the embodied being, too, the jivabhuta, is nothing but a spiritual spark (purusha) encaged in a body made of matter (prakriti). The psychic structure is constituted by prakriti, matter, and is very sensitive to the energies that pervade this world. Vedic scientists made a great and important discovery that would be an extremely interesting concept for modern Western psychology: objects are charged with psychic energy, called pratyaya: a current of energy that from the psychic field of the objects stimulates the sense organs which in turn, working as transductors, transform the energy impulse they received into another wave length. If the individual is not stable, these psychic currents modify his psychic field in the form of vrittis, or mind waves. Vrittis are so powerful that they not only deviate but also attract and condition in an almost hypnotic way, leading the individual to believe they are factual, while on the contrary the individual is being overwhelmed by psychic currents.
The ancient treatises on Vedic psychology say that the mind takes the form of the vrittis that shape it, and someone who identifies with its fascinating play believes he is living the highest level of reality. Only one who is situated on a transcendent level, who has attained perfection in the self that goes beyond the body, the mind and the intellect, can remain stable in spite of innumerable currents of pratyaya or psychic energy constantly flooding his mind field. In Bhagavad-gita (chapter 2, shlokas 55-56), Arjuna asks Krishna a question:
"What are the symptoms of a person whose consciousness is immersed in Transcendence? How does he speak, and with which words? How does he sit, and how does he walk?" God, the Supreme Person, answers:
"O Partha, a man who becomes free from all desires of sense gratification generated by mental speculation and whose mind, already purified, finds satisfaction in the self only, is situated in pure consciousness. One who is not agitated any more by the threefold miseries or intoxicated by the joys of life, and is free from attachment, fear and anger, is considered a sage with a stout mind".
Mridu is the visible characteristic of this awareness and inner stability. The attempt to artificially search for happiness through the inadequate support of the body and mind produces frustration and agitation. When a person has become free from all desires for ephemeral gratification generated by mental fantasies, when the mind stops running here and there and is well settled under the control of the self, then the individual becomes stable and kind, too, because he is not goaded by the demands of the ego any more. This does not mean that we should think that the sage's personality is boring or shapeless; actually it has many characteristics and its own colors and peaks, just like a beautiful melody. In beautiful music or high-quality singing we find highs and lows, but they are all so well harmonized that they are almost undistinguishable because they all create pleasure. On the other hand, highs and lows in noise create irritation and sometimes headaches.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

VADANYA (magnanimous)

By Matsya Avatara Dasa

From the book: The 26 Qualities of the Spiritual Researcher

Other meanings:


Rupa Gosvami glorified Shri Caitanya Mahaprabhu by calling him maha-vadanya, supremely magnanimous, or greatly merciful. A really magnanimous person is benevolent towards everyone, not only towards human beings, what to speak of only to some human beings.

Generosity is a natural characteristic of one who is vadanya. There are two forms of generosity: one is about gifting things, and the other is about giving oneself. Bhaktivedanta Svami Prabhupada has explained that we can engage in devotional service by donating our intelligence, our resources, our time, and also by donating ourselves. Giving things is a gradual process through which we learn to donate ourselves: this is why dana is important. Dana means wealth, money, donation. Today everybody is obsesses by the idea of having or receiving, but in the light of the Shastra we can state that in order to have, we need to give: one who has given more will receive more. This is another example of symmetry.

If we have excess of something and lack of something else, this means that we have given much in one sense and little in the another sense, so if we want to receive more in the future we need to learn to give in the area of our shortcomings.

However, being magnanimous is not simply about being generous. It also means we have the tendency to great actions, great missions, and in spiritual realization the greatest thing we can do consists in offering, to those who want it, the opportunity of knowing oneself and to reconnect with the Divine. In order to do big things, we first need to become victorious over our wild ego, to tame our inner beasts; in this way we become more open to others, too. We become more understanding, more generous in a wider sense.

In his Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle describes the non-assuming greatness of a magnanimous person, who must be good and virtuous: "he does not become depressed because of criticism and does not become excited because of glorification: he is silent, and when he speaks, he does so in a soft voice." This closely resembles some passages of Bhagavad-gita that describe the sage or mahatma, the bhakta or devotee. Here is an example:

One who is impartial with friends and enemies, balanced in honor and dishonor, heat and cold, joy and distress, fame and infamy, always free from all bad association, always silent and satisfied about everything, unconcerned about his dwelling, fixed in knowledge and engaged in My devotional service, is very dear to Me1.

Vadanya is a person who is open to everyone, able to give to everyone. This does not mean we want to discourage those who give in a more "restricted" way, or once in a while, because this is good practice to learn to do more and better.

The highest and most complete sense of vadanya consists in donating oneself without reservations, being able to attain that state of consciousness where we think that the time we have been given is not ours to spend, but is intended to help others, that the body we have been entrusted with is not for us, but it is intended as an instrument to be used to help many people, that the intelligence we have been granted must not be utilized for selfish purposes, but to help others to solve their problems, and similarly also the fire in the stomach, agni2: we must become aware that it is intended to transform the energies contained in food not to do whimsical activities, but to spread the message of salvation.

A devotee eats, gets informed and acquires means in order to operate a primary transformation from the heavier material elements to the subtler and spiritual elements, just like a tree wants to offer its fruits and shadows to others.

Thus vadanya is a mahatma, a great soul that like an ocean receives thousands of rivers and does not get agitated, does not spill out, and never dries.

Some people become agitated for very small things, when anything does not go according to their own wishes: these people are the opposite of vadanya, they are kripana or narrow-minded, small and miserable. On the other hand, the magnanimous persons can receive the troubles of many and absorb them, sublimate and purify them without getting agitated; and they are also able to help those who suffer from those problems to integrate their personality.

In this case we have vadanyas that are not just great souls, but also have a great mind and great intelligence. In order to get to this platform one must take distance from mental dullness and the tyranny of one's own senses, not only from the sense objects.

1 Bg. XII.18-19.

2 Fire (see Latin ignis) and the deva of fire, through whose mouth the offerings of the sacrifice are consumed, accompanied by the threefold repetition of the word svaha (oblation).

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

The Basic Sources of Religious Traditions

Agliati (PI), Sunday June 28th 2009 16.30

Interreligious center of Agliati (PI)
Lecturer: Marco Ferrini, Founder and President of Centro Studi Bhaktivedanta

On June 28th Marco Ferrini (Matsyavatara Dasa), president and founder of Centro Studi Bhaktivedanta, held a conference on “The basic sources of religious traditions” at the interreligious center of Agliati (Pisa). It was the last meeting of the year, in a nice hermitage sunk in the green and sounds of a still uncontaminated Nature, where representatives of different religions gather to discuss universal themes and values which go beyond limits of space, time and culture.

The Vedas - Ferrini explained - express values which are to be considered legacy for all of humanity, as also declared by Unesco. These sacred texts teach efficacious methods and shiny ways to come to spiritual realization. The path goes through an harmony between earth and sky, in order to satisfy our highest ideals without neglecting duties and responsibilities we have here in the world.
Indovedic texts continuously remind us our divine nature and destination but at the same time they give practical teaching, to help us living in our “here and now”.
To deny the need of ideality means to deny life, because we all need freedom, justice, peace and love; life tends to transcend matter into which it is wrapped up. But in the name of ideality – Ferrini underlined – we should not choke our earthly needs, as if they are artificially denied and therefore not overcome, they take us back to matter in an undesirable way.
As in a huge painting, the Indovedic texts narrate the story of the human being between tragic fall downs and enlightening ascents, vile degradations and noble elevations of the soul.
Spiritual desire and faith are the engine of our transformation and inner elevation, Ferrini explained. Shruti and smriti texts teach how to transform our bad desires (lust, avidity, anger, envy) into a pure feeling of love: the original feeling every creature naturally and since ever tends to.
The Vedas explain that also here, by overcoming the limits of our bodily existence, we can learn to love God and all creatures in Him, by descovering in such a divine love the source of the highest bliss.
Particularly in the Bhagavata Purana, Ferrini said, we can read about the supreme value of bhakti, pure love of God, the immortal love free from all conditionings of the ego, which produces endless joy and represents the highest function of the soul. To rediscover and practise this divine love is the highest goal of human life.
In the course of his speech Marco Ferrini also mentioned some of the most important traditional works of Indian literature, like Itihasas, Dharmashastras, Puranas and Shad Darshanas.
The questions and answers part was an occasion to go more in depth with some interesting matters, for example the translation of sacred texts, the different forms of yogic meditation, the sacred wisdom of the Masters and the practice of compassion and charity.
The meeting ended up with a pleasant sharing of a vegetarian dinner in a joyful atmosphere centerd around common spiritual values and reciprocal respect and enrichment.

How to Make your Dreams come true

Perugia, Sunday July 5th 2009 16.00
Priori Palace - Piazza IV Novembre 16, Perugia
Lecturer: Marco Ferrini, Founder and President of Centro Studi Bhaktivedanta

Perugia, July 5th “How to make your dreams come true” is the conference theme held by Marco Ferrini (Matsyavatara Dasa) at the “Priori Palace in Perugia.
Before entering the topic of dreams, Marco Ferrini – with the support of quotations and remarks inspired by the Vedic literature and by some Greek philosophers like Plato and Aristotle – explained that emotions, thoughts and desires are man's main consisting features. “Man does not live by bread alone”, therefore the sensorial perception (sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch) is not to be considered the only source of knowledge and support for the human being. In fact so many information and experiences exist independently from external phenomena.

According to the Upanishads, for instance, there is not just one single state of consciousness allowing us to experience the material world. There are four states of consciousness: wake, sleep with dreams, sleep without dreams and a state of super consciousness (turiya). In all of them we perceive a part of ourselves. In the wake state, body, mind and intellect are usually active. While sleeping with dreams and even more without dreams, we go through a physiological phase which enables us to regenerate.
While dreaming, all the aspects and multiple personalities settled within our visible personality unfold and we can have access to the remote side of ourselves; as Freud said, in fact, “the subconscious is the symbol of the revelation”.
Eventually, during the turiya state of consciousness, the most difficult to reach, the human being fcan go beyond space and time. The four states of consciousness altogether are potentially part of the same personality.
This Upanishad description, according to Marco Ferrini’s explanation, reveals that the living being is much more complex than it may seem to be.
“Dreams can be programmed, taken care of and realized”, says the speaker. In addition to it we can also be active wittnesses or, on the contrary, we can be passive dreamers, “dreaming either with open or shut eyes”. As passive spectators, the tendency is an overwhelming oblio; as active observers instead, dreams carry welness and hope. “Dreaming is a positive project” to look at one’s own life in order to reach superior levels of consciousness. A lot of time was given to the audience to ask questions, which the speaker answered with the satisfaction of all.

NIDOSHA (free from defects)

By Matsya Avatara Dasa

From the book: The 26 Qualities of the Spiritual Researcher

Other meanings:

free from mistakes

Nidosha literally means free from defects. For a long time, probably from before the Age of Light, western thinkers have given up the idea that there could be someone who has no defects. Neo-rationalists have no more connections to metaphysics and for the modern psychologists the mind is the subject. On the other hand for the Vedic Rishis the extroverted mind, or manas, is matter, prakriti1, because the true subject is the purusha or atman, the immortal spiritual being. Manas, the mind, is not the subject but the object, it is an instrument that is to be used by the self. Nidosha cannot develop without this vision of life, if first of all we do not understand the difference between subject and object, and we identify with the body and the mind. One is squeezed by the vice of conditionings has a hard time even just to imagine that there could be someone who is free from them; we should not forget that the greatest conditioning is avidya2, non-awareness of the self.

Nidosha is the characteristic of a person who has become free from anarthas; he can still make mistakes but such mistakes are insignificant, and due to absent-mindedness. One who has not developed a sense of discernment puts these mistakes on the same platform of the structural mistakes, through which the individual becomes alienated from the self, from his own ontological identity, but these are two very different categories of mistakes. A liberated soul may be unsure if the street such and such is on the right or on the left, but this has nothing to do with those structural mistakes that make us slide into adharma3. What corrupts personality is a selfish attitude, known as kripana. Kripana is the opposite of mahatma4, in Latin magnanimus. The great soul has a wide vision, a deep understanding, a big opening, differently from the person who is tied within the narrow limits of the ego and has big inner blockages. The mental, affective and emotional blockages that are always generated by attachments must be de-structured, otherwise they condition our choices, behaviors and, in the long run, our character.

Through bhakti, the path of devotion and faithful love, these blockages are shattered. The spiritual master must be affectionate towards the disciple, know him deeply so that he can correct him, and in order to know him he must observe how he moves, listen to him also when he speaks to others, watch his way of eating, his way of relating with others; in this way he will be able to locate the psychic lumps that need to be dissolved, and to apply his therapy. Such psychic complexes obstruct the correct process of development for Bhakti, but the master intervenes with some words, with his own behavior, with his love, and gradually he turns the disciple into nidosha.

All material attachments generate conditionings, even the most innocent ones, like the attachment for ice cream or for comfort, and those of a sattvic nature such as attachment to family or preoccupation for the body's health. When I speak of excessive attachment I mean morbid, pathological attachment, that attitude that creates the terror of losing something or someone, the fear that what we have can go away. In this way the world becomes "objectified" and nidosha remains impossible.

Free as the wind, warm as the sun, delicate as a flower, tolerant as a tree, humble as a blade of grass, affectionate towards all creatures, devoid of ulterior motives and distinction: these are the nidosha persons. They feel the benefit of others is not different from their own, because they know there are no different goods in the world: good is one, and everyone can participate and benefit from it.

Thinking that our kith and kin have more rights than others, of that our children can be more important than the children of other people, that our Scriptures are the only valid ones, is a form of disease, a pathological form, just like believing there is one way only for spiritual realization indicates cultural and spiritual immaturity; bhakti is supreme but is found in all the paths of spiritual realization.

On the path of bhakti devotion is more intense and evident; it is like saying that mathematics has a central value in the Faculty of Mathematics, while it has less value in the Faculty of Archeology, but it is the same mathematics, more or less developed. Thinking that English has an absolute value in the Faculty of English Literature while it has zero value in Engineering is a limited way of thinking, typical of people who see the world in black and white and is incapable of seeing hues. Bhakti is like gold: in some mines there is more, in other mines there is less, but gold always has the same value.

If we associate with nidosha persons we can attain the state of nidosha, while by associating with persons who have numerous and deeply rooted defects, it becomes an impossible dream.

If we follow a serious and constant process of purification, the condition of nidosha can be attained, and in a short time, too.

In many cases the West is concerned with notionism, because in spite of its extraordinary development, it has not made adequate distinctions between theoretical knowledge and practical realization; professors themselves are often uninterested in practicing what they teach. Maybe they give information on the Hindus and describe their social habits, but they are simply external commentators. This is not true realized knowledge. Only by living it daily, by experimenting it in tangible reality, by applying it in all our choices, knowledge becomes fixed and internalized.

Nidosha does not depend on a ponderous accumulation of data, that do not necessarily correspond to the development of wisdom. A person may know many formulae, may have memorized a lot of theories, equations, verses, and can span from physics to chemistry to Sacred scriptures, but if that information has not become experience, practice of life, it remains barren. Nidosha is a state of mind, not a state of culture.

To take the path that leads to the state of nidosha, there is a condicio sine qua non: meeting a genuine Spiritual Master, a realized person who can direct, guide and inspire us. This is why it is said that one who meets the Spiritual Master has received the greatest blessing from the Lord; this meeting does not happen in each lifetime, and it can come after very long periods of aridity in our life. The texts of Tradition describe this meeting and give it the utmost importance; they celebrate it as a marriage between heaven and earth, as the re-establishment of the relationship between the human and the divine platforms.

What is the psychological type to which nidosha belongs? It cannot be categorized within the four divisions of Jung's psychological types. We could say it escapes the psychological mapping of modern psychologists because this individual has gone through a catharsis, a process of purification. Plato spoke of a philosophical catharsis, through which the individual becomes closer to the intellectual world. Aristotle spoke of a catharsis of aesthetics, through which the understanding of emotions takes us closer to psychology, and at the end of this path we discover that there is no aesthetics without ethics. Real aesthetics is the science of perceptions, and it reaches its peak, its maximum height, when it unites with ethics, otherwise perceptions and emotions become disorderly, anti-ecological and damaging for the very system of perception.

There is also a catharsis of a religious type, constituted by prayer, chanting, liturgy and rituals. The supreme catharsis, enabling the deepest and most definitive purification, is diksha5, or spiritual initiation.

1 Nature, constituted by eight elements: bhumi 'earth'; apa 'water'; anala 'fire'; vayu 'air'; kham 'ether'; manas 'mind'; buddhi 'intelligence' and ahamkara, 'distorted sense of the ego'. Also called apara-prakriti or inferior energy, it is the manifestation of the external potency (bahiranga-shakti) of the supreme Being, and works under the influence of time (kala). From prakriti the three gunas emanate.

2 Cosmic ignorance, lack of awareness of the individual in regard to his own ontological spiritual nature, constituted by eternity (sat), knowledge (cit) and bliss (ananda).

3 Opposite of dharma, ‘disorder, imbalance, lack of harmony, impiousness’.

4 Literally, ‘great soul’, enlightened or realized person.

5 'Spiritual initiation, consecration'. In the spiritual Tradition of ancient India, one cannot walk alone on the path of self realization; we need the guidance of a Guru, a person realized in that science within a succession of masters (Parampara). Spiritual initiation equals to a symbolic death to mundane life and a true rebirth to spiritual life; therefore the initiate is called dvija: twice born.