Thoughts on Islam

by Charlie Feldman (Prana)
Because Vedanta says that all religions are paths to God, I have tried to see how various religions could be founded by actual avatars or prophets. I have had a problem with Islam, because, while Christians have fought many aggressive wars, I have felt that they have done so despite what Jesus said, whereas Muslims’ aggressive wars seem to be because of Islam, and not despite it.

I read The Heart of Islam by Seyyed Hossein Nasr. This book has cleared up some of my confusion. I know that he does not speak for all Muslims, but what he says makes sense from the point of view of Muhammad being an enlightened soul. Nasr says that the Quran states that the only justified war is a defensive war, and that there should be no compulsion in religion. He says that when people want to fight an aggressive war, they use whatever ideology will appear to give legitimacy to their efforts, be it religious or political.

If this is the case, it means that when Muslims have fought aggressive wars or tried to compel people to convert to Islam, they are going against the Quran. Nasr says that the Jewish and Hindu scriptures have as much advocacy of war as the Islamic scriptures, and that we in the west single out Islam due to prejudice.

I can see now that Muhammad may have had a revealed message that was later misinterpreted. Nasr says that Islam is a religion of peace. Now I can feel more confident that all religions are paths to God, and their founders were enlightened souls.

Salaam, Shalom, Pax vobiscum, Shanti

Reading vs. Meditation

by Charles Feldman (Prana)
I was just looking through some of my old Cheri Huber books, and I don’t remember which one she said this in, but she essentially said that people tend to prefer to read spiritual books because they feel inspired by them, and they tend to avoid meditation because they are likely to fidget in meditation, yet it is meditation that removes suffering from our lives. She did say that reading spiritual books is a precursor to meditation. Cheri Huber is a Zen teacher and author in California, who has written many books.

Essay on The Real and the Apparent Man, Chapter 16 of Jnana Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

By Patrick Horn (“Rishi”)
Swami Vivekananda says, “The one theme of the Vedanta philosophy is the search after unity. The Hindu mind does not care for the particular; it is always after the general, nay, the universal. ‘What is that, by knowing which everything else is to be known?’ That is the one theme. ‘As through the knowledge of one lump of clay all that is of clay is known, so, what is that, by knowing which this whole universe itself will be known?’ That is the one search. . . .” This quest for transcendence need not be an unconscious motivation that misses the mark. While the common man will mistakenly seek for unity in enjoyment of objects or association with a group, the spiritual seeker desires to know God and become absorbed in that Presence.

There are many obstacles to perception of Truth.  First, the body and the work required for its survival and comfort. Also, the ignorant and confused mind with its many fantasies, preferences, and selfish tendency toward personal aggrandizement and calculating gains and losses. Third, social situations, from the subtle pressure of ancestors and error-as-custom to the more direct influence of our family, friends, and colleagues to effect conformity to norms and taboos. The unthinking crowd’s collective wrong emphasis results in superstition (misinterpretation) and nihilism that denies Truth and stigmatizes its witnesses. The built environment does not encourage contemplative inquiry: there is distracting noise of electric media and machines whose only virtue is their speed.  There is a cultural epidemic of mindlessness and mindwandering that is exploited by a sick economy which preys upon physiological needs and psychological desires. The marketplace offers a variety of false identities in the stereotypical roles of consumer lifestyles. The custodians of wisdom, the schools and the religious institutions, have few qualified guides and true masters, and their message is bastardized into a commodity promoted as a cure for misfortune, love problems, and failed health. Many come to the Truth, not for Truth itself, but as an avoidance of pain and suffering.

Many incorrectly assume that Truth is only possible for ascetics in forest retreats or hidden in books to be studied only by the learned. Swamiji wished that these ideas and ideals would become the common property of the whole world, and for this purpose, he outlined an program of education aimed at Freedom. The perception of Truth requires intellectual training and personal discipline. This is not the superficial acquisition of information or grandiose mental acrobatics but the transformation of character in accord with timeless principles. A disciple must have a strong desire to hear the teaching of a Master, to serve a genuine authority for the rare opportunity to hear the lessons, to memorize and consider the instructions, then apply the ideas, or not. Next comes a refined command of the concepts and more nuanced discrimination before a complete entry into the Reality. Many students delude themselves in believing that a glimpse of Truth is the same as being established in the vision of God.

Essay on The Atman: Its Bondage and Freedom, Chapter 15 of Jnana Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

By Patrick Horn (“Rishi”)
 Swami Vivekananda says, “According to the Advaita philosophy, there is only one thing real in the universe, which it calls Brahman; everything else is unreal, manifested and manufactured out of Brahman by the power of Mâyâ. To reach back to that Brahman is our goal. . . . The Atman in bondage is called Jiva. . . . Projected from Brahman, it passed through all sorts of vegetable and animal forms, and at last it is in man, and man is the nearest approach to Brahman. To go back to Brahman from which we have been projected is the great struggle of life.” For most people, infatuated with material enjoyments, this struggle is passive and unconscious. Only a few great souls struggle consciously to attain freedom.

The ancient Sankhya system of Kapila is the companion to Patanjali’s yogic method. It was studied by Pythagoras and imported into the Alexandrian school and European Gnosticism. There are two main principles: purusha, the changeless witness, and prakriti, the material phenomena subject to three conditions of rajas (creation), sattva (preservation), and tamas (destruction). The first manifestation of prakriti is mahat, or intelligence. It is sometimes translated as buddhi, which in mankind is discrimination, or the determinative function.  There is no consciousness inherent in it; consciousness itself (purusha), independent of mechanical processes, illumines the mind, the senses, and the objects of perception like the sun is reflected in a jar of water.

If the reflection of the sun in a jar of water wobbles, the sun itself does not wobble. It is a false attribution of the ahamkara, or identity-making function, which wrongly attaches to modifications of prakriti rather than the immutable knower. The reflected self is then bound to mental processes, bodily organs, physical conditions, and ruled by attraction and aversion to various objects and experiences. The mental apparatus (antahkarana) includes deliberation, memory, emotion, and will. There are five receptive organs (ear, skin, eye, tongue, and nose) corresponding to five sense perceptions (sound, touch, vision, taste, and smell) and five elements (ether, air, fire, water, and earth). There are also five action organs (mouth, hand, foot, genital, and anus).

The gross physical form, evolved from minerals to plants to animals, is the instrument of the jiva’s experience and dominated by the ahamkara and desire. The jiva’s lack of discrimination and ignorance of Brahman causes suffering and grief. The Vedic religion teaches how to renounce impermanent happiness and become content in God-realization. This is not possible for the seeker of sensuous gratification and difficult even for the academically erudite. The perfect knower of Brahman is a rare soul who remains in this world to lead others to freedom. They are exemplars of human potential, divine incarnations with nothing more to know and nothing more to gain. They are free from all prescriptions and prohibitions. These seers attained the Supreme Truth. They are beyond skepticism and doubt with no need to argue or debate. The mystic vision of a liberated soul gives authentic knowledge of the universe and the indisputable existence of God.

Essay on The Real Nature of Man, Chapter 2 of Jnana Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

By Sravani Bhattacharjee

However engrossed with this world we might be, a time comes when we begin to question its very subsistence.  We rush to grab enjoyment and pleasures, fame and fortune, acquire as many physical objects as possible . . . but with the passing of time those very objects lose their luster, they fail to give us happiness anymore.

And then we confront death. A near and dear one in our lives passes away to the other shore, leaving all belongings (even the body) behind. And that makes us ask – what happens after death? Is that “the end” or one continues to exist after death? It also makes us “see” the impermanence of things, of this world, and of life itself, as we had perceived it till then.

That’s when religion truly finds a place in our lives.

In religion begins our quest for the Eternal . . . something above and beyond our sense limits. We start seeking goodness, justice, righteousness, well-being, and bliss. The concept of heaven takes shape in our awareness – an “other world” where everything is better than our present experience. We dream of a life after death in heaven where all our longings are satiated. We worship a greater being or God who can grant our wishes.

This dissatisfaction with our present condition is rooted in the concept of our degeneration from a higher state of existence, which is a central theme found in all religions.

Religion assures that although we degenerated from our pure, perfect state, becoming perfect is our goal and can be attained. 

Our inner longing for perfection finds expression in all our desires, pursuits, as we strive to evolve and reclaim our lost glory. 

Evolution happens only in the material plane. The amoeba as matter evolves to a Buddha over the ages.

We are identified to our material existence – consisting of body, mind (thoughts, memory) and intellect, whose contents just like in a flowing river, are constantly changing.

Then how do we get the continuity or permanence of our individuality?

Vedanta gave that answer ages ago. 

Our changeful existence and experiences subsist on an unchanging substratum, which is the “real individual.” Much like a screen on which a movie is projected. We perceive both as “one,” though the screen alone is unchanging.

There is no evolution of that real “I,” also known as the Self or the Atman. 

Mind is where time, space, causation and thence the entire creation emerges from and subsists.

Even the gross universe is a condensed form of subtler thoughts and we are caught in this apparent world of names and forms, trying desperately to live happily forever, but never succeed.

Is there a way out? 

As the answer, Swami Vivekananda gives us a strong “call to action.”

Practice. Listen to the Truth repeatedly – that you are the Self – unchanging and beyond all bounds.

Meditate on that incessantly. And then a day will dawn when you realize who you REALLY are.