H.G. Matsyavatar Das

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Segments of Life: Looking at Death Under Another Prospective

By Matsya Avatara Dasa

Nowadays the great innovations of medical and scientific science can maintain patients alive, even those that in the past were given no hope to survive. These innovations can prolong the patient’s existence artificially even knowing that they will never regain acceptable health and life conditions. This situation is commonly called over-medication. The definition of cerebral death, since the end of the sixties has allowed for the development of transplant surgery. Before that time, the extraction of organs from a patient with a heartbeat was deemed a felony. Among this scientific and social debate there are ever more crucial questions. Up to which point is it right to keep alive a body that is worn out and unable to grant a minimum of dignity to the psycho-physical entity called person? What is the line that marks the decisive boundary between the unavoidable medical assistance and the over-medication?
The recent story of Eluana Englaro and other similar stories such as those of Piergiorgio Welby and Terry Schiavo, made the whole world think by highlighting the urgency of a serious thinking.
The incomparable value of freedom and of the sacredness and dignity of life and respect to all creatures should be a common patrimony in every social body regardless of its scientific or individual religious orientation. This should be true not only toward human beings but also toward every living being. Life must be protected in each of its manifestation. In the complex human, social and scientific context, it is becoming ever more important and urgent to offer information and teaching on the process of dying and also on the post-mortem phenomena in accordance to medical-scientific prospective but also in accordance to spiritual, humanistic and existential prospective. It should be done by sensibly operating with sincerity so that each person can build, without intrusion or cultural prejudices a clear vision of his will and give and explicit and clear indication through a biological testament and other useful instruments that society indicates and uses for this purpose. We can have better opportunities to self-determine our present and our future if we open ourselves to a deeper comprehension of the death phenomena by taking a distance from various taboos and from the many things removed by the collective imagination that usually hamper a mature elaboration. In fact, only by growing in consciousness we can grow in responsibility and freedom.
For this purpose who is writing has been personally taking care of those so called “incurable” patients and of those medical personnel involved with the taking care and assistance of these patients. He does this by offering instruments of reflection based on the sociological, psychological, philosophical and spiritual Hindu-Vedic tradition. This tradition can significantly extend our perception and conception of the individual and of the death event. We can understand how to extend our perception, through a continuous string of considerations intimately connected among each other and we can also find them in the text: Psychology of the cycle of life – Experience beyond birth and death” (edizioni Centro Studi Bhaktivedante www.c-s-b.org). Let’s not only wonder what to do with the organs of a body that has reached the end of this life. Let’s also think of the future of that person that lived in it and that in accordance with the Hindu-Vedic prospective will continue his existence even after he has left that physical body. How can we help that person still imprisoned in that suit that is now worn-out? How can we stimulate him to prepare himself to abandon it? How can we orient the evolutionary journey that will begin after his clinical death is confirmed?
The answer to these questions is important not only for those that work in the medical field but also for every individual. Welcome, assistance and accompanying are three key concepts in this area.
The meaning of welcoming is meeting the other person, opening not only our arms but also our heart and our mind. The meaning of assisting is intervening with sensitiveness by becoming emphatic and listening to the modalities and the needs of others. The meaning of accompanying is being by the side of a person, without preceding him, but staying almost behind him, being a humble and affectionate person and stimulate him to proceed. Accompanying means staying sensibly alongside and helping him to reach his destination by providing warmth, goodness, empathy, compassion and mercy.
The Hindu-Vedic tradition doesn’t use psychotherapeutic techniques, but offers teachings toward the development of a cosmic vision of life, man and the world that doesn’t concentrate on the resolution of psychological discomfort but on the elevation of a global consciousness. This allows those who apply it to re-discover the entirety of their nature on the bio-physical-spiritual level and express all of their most noble potentialities and aspirations by facing even death in an inner-peace state.
Why does death exist? Who or what dies? How can we prepare ourselves? What does dying consists of? How can we assist a terminally ill person? How can we interact with his family and with medical personnel? By asking ourselves these questions we can reach surprising intuitions, sometimes they make us feel beyond the changing flow of this shining and deceiving world (Veda define it maya which means illusory).
The first question to ask ourselves is: when the objective cure-doctor-medication is no longer reachable, what can we do to take care of the person? Can we transform a traumatic even such as death into an evolutionary experience? The answer is Yes!
The phenomena of death is usually lived as the end of everything, dissolution, disappearance, with tonalities that go from resigned to dramatic all the way to desperate. However, according to the Hindu-Vedic philosophical-spiritual tradition death doesn’t exist as an entity, but only as a concept or a moment of transaction from a segment of life to another. Through a consciousness journey, every human being can learn to “live” it by perceiving that his identity is different from the one of the body and discovering in front of him a new phase of his eternal existence to be projected constructively.
Bhagavad-Gita (II.20) says: “The living being is not born, nor will die. He is eternal. He doesn’t die when the body is destroyed. Tagore writes: we walk when we lift our foot just as much as when we put it down. Like daybreak prepares the new day that will later reaches the sunset, the sunset, through the night, will lead to a new daybreak. Life goes on incessantly and if we understand its evolutionary sense and finally its arcane transcendental meaning, we can overcome even the greatest fear, the fear of death and realize the immortality of our essence, and give a new hope to the deep aspirations of every living being toward authentic freedom and happiness, beyond the limits of space and time.
Renate Greinert, Cerebral Death and Donation of the Organs, the doubts and inquires of a mother that has donated her son’s organs. Macro Editions 2009.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

SHANTA (serene, peaceful)

By Matsya Avatara Dasa

From the book: The 26 Qualities of the Spiritual Researcher

Other meanings:

having control over the mind impulses

This is a special, universally valid virtue. Shanti means "serenity, peace, quiet" and one who possesses such characteristics is called shanta. The effects of this virtue are very relevant on the physiological, psychic and spiritual levels. This state of mind is rather easy to attain but it is almost impossible to maintain unless in presence of the condition called yukta, that is to say unless the individual is situated in Yoga, a state of consciousness that enables him to be and remain connected to the Reality.

Several times we have mentioned a higher level of reality that we call Spiritual Reality; the connection with this level enables us to remain shanta. We have already seen, while analyzing some of these qualities, that around such qualities there is a constellation of pseudo-qualities. A person who has satisfied a material desire, for example, can appear to be shanta but he actually is not, because when the same desire returns stronger than before because it was not satisfied in the proper way, it will produce greater agitation and anxiety.

The dictionary gives different meanings for the two terms, anxiety and anguish; the different is not in quality but in quantity: a growing anxiety becomes anguish. The intensity defines if a state is anxiety or anguish. Some events are capable of generating anxiety in themselves.

Now let's try to separate the wheat from the chaff, the serenity and inner calmness that is a pearl of the character from pseudo-virtues that are the result of fatigue or satisfaction of a material desire but that disappear when the ego returns to its original strength and the need shows up again and even greater than before, causing anxiety due to the impossibility of fulfillment.

It is not easy to tell the difference between real virtues and pseudo-virtues. Unfortunately today we see an even worse phenomenon, because while the inability to see the spiritual qualities of an individual is perfectly normal, in our society people even mistake defects for virtues. For example some parents do not want to have a generous child, they want him cunning, and this end up to be a disaster for the parents themselves, who will have to suffer because of their selfish son. They do not say so explicitly but they have been the ones who wanted the son to become what he is now; they did not want him to grow and progress, but to remain a slave, and they encourage him to become tied to money, impressing the anxiety of profit on him. The "Money God" has many worshipers, because this is part of the mainstream mentality. Today those who are not trained to know a higher reality have problems in seeing the inner qualities, but even renunciation to the objects of the world is seen as abnormality, almost as a disease; one who is not attracted by sex, does not dress in a particular way, does not go on holidays in the typical way, does not run here and there madly, is considered sick. The need for God is seen as a neurosis even by a pseudo-scientific section of literature; Freud stated that religion is a form of neurosis, probably because this was his experience - anyway in the world there are many examples of neurotic religionists, just think about 11th September 2001.

Let's go back to the need of satisfying our desires. Think about the night roaming of youngsters on Saturday evenings, so many people die on the roads, looking for what? For the satisfaction of their needs; they are running in the wrong direction, but the desire is the same - to satisfy a need. Very often the problem is due to loneliness, usually with a strong implication: the fear of remaining alone with oneself.

When a person looks for company and finds it or he believes he has found it he becomes quiet, but it is a temporary situation and has nothing to do with shanti, that implies enjoying the good company of one's self. According to our level we may be in the company of ourselves or in the company of God; we are connected to a higher reality. When a person is afraid to remain with himself, he desperately looks for company and if he does not find it, or if he is not satisfied by the company he finds, he keeps going around without a solution and without a hope to obtain what he needs, because the does not know where it is, or how to find it.

Anguish is a more intense emotional charge than anxiety. Anxiety is caused by the fear of not being able to satisfy a need, but when this is satisfied only in an artificial way it returns, with the two possibilities of being fulfilled or not; if there is no fulfillment, anxiety grows into anguish. If on the other hand it is truly and genuinely fulfilled, it will not return, or better, it will return weaker and weaker. Thus through direct experience the individual understands that a need that is fulfilled in the correct way will become weaker and will not cause anxiety, because we know we can satisfy it in the correct way. Shanta is the result of satisfied needs. What is their nature? Psychology comes to our help indicating that affections are the most complete and widest field of human needs, therefore shanta is primarily the result of satisfied affection. Affection is the sum total of all the psychic processes or the entire living experience. Shanta is a healthy person with a healthy mind.

In our course on comparative Indo-Christian studies (the compared texts were specifically Bhagavad-gita and New Testament) we have seen that this virtue is present in both Traditions, and is precisely possessed by persons who have developed the same qualities in spite of belonging to cultures that are so distant from each other.

In Bhagavad-gita V.29 it is said that by recognizing the Lord as the supreme Enjoyer of all sacrifices, as the Lord of all the worlds and Friend of all creatures, one attains shanti, peace. When we are harmoniously connected to the cosmic project and its supreme planner, the effect is that nothing is worrisome or cause of agitation any more.

Child psychology describes this state of tranquility in the relationship between father and son; when the child keeps his father's hand he is not afraid of anything; even if around him he sees apparently dangerous things happening, his father's hand is sufficient to give a sense of security and peacefulness. Another example is given about the calming effect of mother's voice on the child, irrespective of what the mother is saying; similar results can be obtained by stroking or hugging.

Any trace of identification with the body or the mind modifies our state of consciousness and the structured sense of the distorted ego, or ahamkara, prevents us from accessing the complete development of shanta. In some measure, everybody can develop a certain measure of serenity, but it is always something transitory, connected to temporary situations. On the other hand, shanti has a special character: it is stable and does not depend on external circumstances.

Bhagavata Purana (X.1.2-8) confirms that when a need is satisfied in an artificial way, it will come back even stronger, like a fire that seems to be extinguishing when we throw more wood on it, but then rises stronger and higher than before. The connection with performing devotional activities and hearing stories about the divine plays represents the royal path to extinguish the fire of the desires that can never be truly fulfilled in this dimension of existence, because what we are pursuing here is almost always a form of hallucination. This is affirmed by great sages and by the Sacred Scriptures of all times and cultures.

Only through sadhana, discipline, we can decontaminate the mind from conditionings. By decontaminating our deep mind we also purify the feelings that vastly condition our lives from their deep seat. Because of the material influence, the embodied being is naturally conditioned; being conditioned is normal. What is not ordinary is to overcome conditionings, and in fact in order to do that we need a transcendent action - this is also Jung's opinion.

Although shanti or inner peace is a valuable attainment, it corresponds to the first step in the staircase towards spiritual realization; it is the beginning of the journey. We could say that it is a point of arrival and departure at the same time, a coincidence, a turning point. It is a state of mind that corresponds to the first of the rasas and favors the further and more mature development of the personality.

In all lives we find attachments that disrupt the levels of serenity. This is not a planet suitable to live serenely; it is not possible to become happy with the mundane ingredients. We can attain bliss in this life too, but not with the physical or mental objects of this world. I perfectly realize that this statement is a heavy blow for those who have greatly invested into matter; on the other hand it is better not to generate false hopes. Living and experimenting divine virtues is possible and desirable, but the necessary condition is to be connected to a Higher Reality.

A great Master said: "You are in the world but you are not of the World". If we are connected to the spiritual platform we can live states of mind that are not characteristic of Maya's energy even while we live in this world. Maya promises happiness but then does not give it. Each pleasure we catch with great effort is followed by a painful consequence. As Gita1 explains, intelligent people take their distance from some so-called pleasures because they know that soon they will transform into pain, acute sufferings and conditionings; rather they taste the pleasure that is created by the development of virtues, which is closely connected to reality.

Matter is illusory in the sense that it generates illusion, not because it is non-existing. It is a mirror that produces many distorted images, but the mirror exists. To attain the state of shanta we need to understand matter as divine energy and "live" it in connection to the Supreme, without wanting to enjoy it selfishly and delusionally.

1 Bg, V.22.