Meera interviews Vijaybhai, a Hinduism teacher at the Swaminarayan temple, Kenton, Harrow, on the path of Bhakti yoga.

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1 Spirituality and Hinduism Hinduism is a pluralistic religion, allowing many pathways to God. In this programme four students want to find the answer to the question: Which is the best pathway to God? Meera interviews Vijaybhai, a Hinduism teacher at the Swaminarayan temple, Kenton, Harrow, on the path of Bhakti yoga. Q: What exactly is Bhakti yoga? In Hinduism we have many possible paths to God. The word yoga actually comes from the word yuj which means to join - so to have a union with God. There are actually four paths and Bhakti yoga is one of the paths for joining with God, union with God. Bhakti yoga is a 1

2 path taken by people who I would say are emotional in nature and have natural love for God, who are naturally drawn to God. I hope that helps. Q: Okay, so what do the people who follow this path aim for? Just to clarify, actually no matter what path you take the aim is union with God, union with the ultimate. In the idea of Bhakti yoga many tools can be used to achieve union with God, but it actually focuses more on devotion and using natural things you see every day to help you with devotion to God. So that s the aim of Bhakti yoga: to be one with God, or at least to link with God and you can say that nothing else matters to you more than being with God. That s Bhakti yoga. Q: How would one follow this path of devotion? Devotion is a simple word, but there are so many things you can use to follow this path. One thing to remember is that in Hinduism generally everything can have a spiritual angle. For example, if you use art you can draw from the heart, show love for God, all music, all dance - so many tools you can use. So the idea of Bhakti Yoga is to use things from everyday life to link to god. You can have Bhakti yoga through devotion to God, Bhakti Yoga through music, chanting, worship through puja where you use artefacts. You can think of God in many ways as a friend, someone you serve, you can think of God as a child as well. When you love a child there is nothing you want back. So we have very may tools you can use to help you on the path of Bhakti yoga. Q: Can you give an example of chanting? In Hinduism everyone can choose a form of God as they see fit, so the rule is this in Hinduism that you make God in your own image to relate to him better or her better. So you can think of God as male, a big figure you can serve, or a female- energy - there are no set rules - you can choose any kind of figure you want. Some would believe in Shiva, some in Krishna, some in the goddesses we have Parvati. So for any image you choose you try to build a relationship with it. One way of doing this is by chanting the name. It makes you focus on the image and brings out your intense love for God. So for example if you follow Shiva you d say Om Namah Shivaya, Om Namah Shivaya or if you are a follower of Krishna 2

3 you d say Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna for example. So there are all these ways of chanting and whoever is believing in that image can chant that name to build a relationship with that image. Q: So what do you personally like to do when you are praying and worshipping God? It s a challenge to do everything every day and remember God - it s quite tough. The Gita actually says there are 4 kinds of bhaktas or devotees. One is the kind of lazy one who worships God once in a while when he needs him he worships God because he is in trouble or once in a while his exams are coming up. Another kind of bhakta is suspicious - what is this God thing? He is curious and he goes to the temple because he is curious and he wants to get knowledge of what God is. Another I d say likes wealth: if I pray to you can I get this much wealth or can I get A stars? In Hinduism God is fine with that he likes all kinds of bhaktas. The last one is jnani the wise one. That is the person who loves God for the sake of love, nothing in return. That is the kind of stage you want to get to. Every day I do things like if I listen to music I try with that music, even if it isn t linked to God, I try to use it with my spirituality because these are some very good tools we have it gives you peace or makes you a more lively person. And you can use that. Or if you do art you can use art as an example to link to beautiful things. I do puja as well, I try to use natural artefacts, for example water, which is a kind of vital thing - a symbol for purification. I can use fire as worship to show the omnipresence of God. So all these kinds of tools you can use. Light means removal of ignorance so use the forces of nature - you can see it all round you. So the idea of Bhakti is not just go into the temple and pray to the image, use all the things around you to help you. I try and use it but we live in a very materialistic world it s quite a challenge to try and do it all the time. But it clicks in my mind do something for your spirituality. So I try to build my spirituality, it s quite personal, but you can use your own ways and means to help in your path to Bhakti. Q: What exactly goes through your mind when you are practising and carrying out Bhakti yoga? 3

4 When I am using various artefacts or looking at an image of God I try to focus on that image and express my love for that image. Obviously I know it isn t really God but it s a tool I use because the abstract God is so hard to visualise, so I use that image as a tool to help me focus on, and for five minutes think about God, because something always comes in and distracts you. So through experience and practice you can build intense love for God. But yes lots of things run though your mind but the idea is to still try and focus on the image and express your spirituality. Q: What sort of emotions do you feel when you are practising Bhakti yoga? The main emotion I feel is love and it s love for everything not just God. Because when you show intense love for God it automatically overflows to everything to mankind, to nature. It just comes automatically. So when you say God in Hinduism, everything in this world is made in the essence of God. So it just comes naturally as you practise this and you feel closer to God and feel love for everything and that is perhaps the most interesting part of it. Q: Which is the best path to follow? It s very difficult but can I just say that the good thing about the Bhakti path is that it actually allows you to express the infinite in a finite form, which is okay in Hinduism. So the Bhakti path is one of the easiest paths. So even if I do like the ideas of the other paths I see the Bhakti path as the starting point to go to these other paths. So there are times I have lots of questions what is God? and the Bhakti is not enough and I have to use other paths to help me. But generally I would say that the Bhakti path is a very good starting point for me and helps me to go towards God. Ramana interviews Krishna Thakrar, director of Education and Hinduism teacher, Hindu Centre Wellingborough, on the path of Jnana yoga. 4

5 Q: What is Jnana yoga? Well Jnan yoga is one of the pathways to find god that is actually described in the Bhagavad Gita. It is a path of knowledge, a path of intellect, where one would use their powers of reason, their powers of thought to find God and that is the path of Jnan. Q: What type of person would choose this path? The kind of person who would choose this path is one who would use their intellect, someone who really likes to think a lot, who likes to reason and through a process of reasoning they actually find their way towards God. Someone who is clever, likes to think, but also someone who is also very humble, so when they are finding their way using reasoning they have no agenda so all the thought process is impartial. So it is someone who is clever, likes to think, but is very humble at the same time. Q: What do you mean by humble? Someone who is humble cares about others, is soft at heart, doesn t criticise others or think negatively and is very positive at the same time. Q: How would I follow this path? First of all you have to have the right character that s built into you and most people are born with this character. So you have to have the right character which allows you to think, to reason, to go through a process which allows you to inch towards finding God. At the same time you need to develop some qualities and they are what we call vivek and vairagya. Vivek is what we call discrimination. By discrimination what we are talking about here is the power to be able to discriminate between what is real and unreal, what is permanent and temporary. Because what our scriptures say is that the permanent is God, the ultimate reality, and what is temporary is our bodies - we are born, we die and it is discriminating and saying our body is the temporary one and what is permanent is what is within ourselves - the 5

6 ultimate. And so that is one of the powers you have to develop. The other is what we call vairagya that is dispassion. You have to develop the power of living an unattached life. What that means is you must detach yourself from the hustle and bustle of this life so when you are actually thinking, you have don t have any attachments at all. So these are the two qualities you do need to develop if you want to follow this path. Q: So what does Jnana mean to you? Jnan actually means knowledge, it is the knowledge that there is an ultimate reality which although is within myself is also out in the cosmos, in the projection of the universe and Jnan means I must find a way of reaching that ultimate reality, the self-realisation we talk about and it is the knowledge we need to actually get there. That is, to me, Jnan. Q: Do you mix this pathway with another one? Normally people choose more than one pathway so it is possible you are a thinker but you also want to do things for your fellow human beings or society in which case you may mix your thought process with doing something for somebody else, so you can actually mix another pathway with Jnan absolutely, not a problem at all. Q: What do you do personally? 6

7 Personally I actually follow a mixture of paths knowledge is something I do enjoy reading scriptures and trying to analyse them. It is something I have developed over the last few years, but if I look throughout my life I have actually followed Karma and Bhakti together, which you find most people do. Q: What elements of Jnan do you most do? I read scriptures - I actually read the writings of many of our saints, the analyses they give us of our scriptures and I try to analyse what they teach us. That is what I do in Jnan but I think I am a long way from finding that elusive God. Q: When you are practising Jnan yoga what is going through your mind? My mind goes through phases when I start I am concentrating on the words that I am reading, but as I get into the reading or the thinking, my mind focuses first of all on whoever has given that talk or whoever has been writing that book and focus it onto myself - as to how that relates to me in this life. Q: What emotions do you feel when you practising your faith? The emotions I feel are twofold: one is a sense of satisfaction that I have actually done something, but the greatest is a feeling of inner peace. Once I ve done some Karma or Bhakti I feel inner peace and that is very tranquil to me - it actually relaxes me a lot. Q: Which path is the best path? First of all there is no wrong path, all of them are correct, all of them are the best path - it depends on yourself and your character. If you are focused on reasoning and your intellect, then Jnan is the best one for you. If you have the character for any of the other ones then they are the better ones for you - they are all correct, they are all best, best for you. 7

8 Roshni interviews Meena Chabria, a practitioner of Raja yoga from the Sindhi community, on the path of Raja yoga. Q: What is Raja yoga? Raja yoga is a royal pathway to God, an experiment to find God and is a first hand experience for a person to find God. Q: What type of person best suits Raja yoga? One who is contemplative by nature and one who wants to experiment to find God and one who thinks of God as his essential nature, that is atmen. Q: What is atmen? Atmen is seeing yourself as one with God, a reflection of God. Q: If I follow Raja yoga what am I aiming for? You are aiming for enlightenment, union with God. Q: What would I have to do if I wanted to follow the path of Raja yoga? You d have to do meditation, and meditation is like controlling your mind and body. To control your body you need to do Hatha yoga and to control your mind you have to keep your body still for a long period of time and once your body is still it reflects God. Q: What is involved in Hatha yoga? In Hatha yoga you do exercises to make your body strong and healthy, and it also stills your mind and once your mind is still it reflects God and that s enlightenment and union with God. That is what Raja yoga is, the royal pathway to God, and you ve achieved it, your experiment to find God. Personalities like Swami Vivekananda and Buddha followed this path. 8

9 Q: Where is the best place to go? Ideally the best place would be a quiet place and it should be clean and neat and you can put some incense and you can sit with some light clothes, loose clothes, and sit with your eyes closed and try to relax and try to control your body and mind. Q: What does Raja yoga mean to you? It means meditation and is an experiment to find God. It s a very difficult path and it may take many years to achieve it. Q: Is Raja yoga the path you normally take? Not necessarily all the time - it could be other paths combined with this path - Bhakti yoga, Jnan yoga, Karma yoga - all 4 combined together. I follow at different times different yogas. Q: Which do you prefer? I do prefer Raja yoga and Karma yoga. With Raja yoga you are very much in control. You can sit down and you can practise. With Karma yoga you are working all the time to do something good for yourself and for others. Q: What s going through your mind when you are meditating? When I start meditating all sorts of thoughts come in my mind but I just ignore them and let them pass by and slowly calm takes over and the mind gets still. 9

10 Q: If you ve had a very busy day how can you get to the state of calm? It does take a bit of time if you ve had a busy day. The best way is to do a bit of breathing exercise to calm your mind and slowly it takes over and it will still your mind and you can practise Raja yoga any time. If you keep doing it regularly you will get the habit and you can switch on and switch off whenever you want. Q: What emotions do you feel while you are meditating? I feel very relaxed, very calm, positive thoughts - which is really good. It also makes me happy and I feel very much in control of my emotions. Q: After you ve meditated do you think it changes your view of life? It definitely changes my view because I m a different person after meditation. After meditating you are less aggressive so it keeps you calm and cool and that is very helpful for everyone. Sonia interviews Jay Lakhani, director of the Vivekananda Centre, on the path of Karma yoga. 10

11 Q: What is Karma yoga? The word Karma means action so the word Karma suggests the pathway of making spiritual progress through activity or through action. Q: So the type of people that get drawn to Karma yoga are active people? Yes indeed the people who are drawn to the path of Karma are those who would like to perceive God as underpinning the whole universe. People who are drawn to Karma yoga like to see God reflected in the eyes of every living thing, especially men and women. So those people wish to interact with God by doing activities for the good of society. You see Hinduism is a pluralistic religion which encourages people of different temperaments to progress to God or to perceive God differently. There are many different approaches that are promoted in the Hindu religion. For example some like to relate to the ultimate reality as a personality drawn to the idea of God as a Vishnu, Brahma or Shiva etc. Some Hindus like to think of God as a principle that underpins this reality, and things you experience are nothing but a manifestation of God. The clearest manifestation is in living things. And the most transparent of these is men and women. And you see god sparkling in the eyes of those you come across, especially mankind and they like to work for the benefit of mankind. Q: But people who follow Karma yoga, do they have to see God as a principle or as a personality? The way these people like to practise Karma Yoga is to say, let us do activities which are God-centred rather than self-centred, so they try to do activities which will grind down their egos, and the way you do that is by doing work for others, not to live for ourselves, but beginning to live for others they come across. So the idea behind Karma yoga is to do a lot of activity, do not be lazy at all but be active. But the way you do your activity must be God-centred not ego-centred: the idea is to not work for my own benefit but work for the greater society. Q: How would I follow this path? 11

12 Action is better than inaction, Krishna says in the Baghavad Gita. It is better first of all to lead an active life because even if you want to say I am not really keen to be active, your mind is always active anyway. So you might as well use this activity in order to progress spiritually. So the way you translate this into practice is to say first let me look after myself and my family, but now let me extend this to the people I call my own and take on more and more people so rather than just being ego-centred and looking after me and my little family I say how can I benefit this society as a whole? So you start by looking after yourself and your family then extend this to take on the realisation that the greater world is your family. So this is how you progress spiritually. Q: Doing charitable activities might lead you to feel good about yourself, become egocentric because you are doing good for others. How do you differentiate between the two being egocentric and being charitable? That s a very good question. You are saying that maybe helping others will generate more ego in yourself I am such a charitable and nice person - and you could become more egocentred while you are doing good for others. The answer lies in a deeper understanding of 12

13 the philosophy of Hinduism. This thing which manifests itself in me also manifests itself in every human being, this thing which is expressing itself here is also expressing itself in every human being we come across. So when you are helping someone who is down you are not truly doing charity you are helping yourself. So this is how the Hindu philosophy explains that when you are giving a helping hand to someone else Karma yoga says it is not an act of charity as there is no ego involved, you are simply helping yourself. Q: So what does Karma yoga mean to you? Hindu is a pluralistic religion, allowing different people to make spiritual progress in their own different manner. Some like to relate to God as a personality behind the universe, but people like me feel this is a limited way of viewing God. There must be a more cosmic, a more universal way of thinking about God. And the way we like to think about God is as one being who has taken on all of these forms, all these living things, all these men and women, and is acting and interacting with us. So for us it is best to see God with open eyes, not by closing our eyes and thinking about God sitting up in heaven, but by opening our eyes and looking at every human being, and seeing him reflected in their eyes. In this way we see our God and interact with our God with open eyes. Q: When you are practising your yoga what is going through your mind? Every time I interact with human beings, with people in schools, colleges, wherever, I look into the audience and I am looking for my God shining in the eyes of every living thing. So I am retelling myself, refocusing my mind to look at human beings not as some kind of material beings but as spiritual beings shining and looking at me through all these bodies, so this is how I translate Karma yoga into practice. I am seeking god in every living thing I encounter. Q: When you are undergoing Karma yoga what emotions do you feel? Tremendous exhilaration. The Hindu religion says spirituality isn t a matter of belief, it must be experiential it must be possible to experience God now not in the hereafter, so when I practise Karma yoga I wish to experience God, get closer to the God I believe in, the sum total of mankind, so when I am reacting to this living God in front of me I feel exhilarated, it is an exciting experience. Q: Is it the same type of experience when going through all yogas? The unique thing about Hinduism is that it allows people to perceive God differently and to make progress towards God. So different Hindus will approach finding god here and now not in the hereafter. And even though they use different practices the final experience, the final exhilaration is the same - different yogas lead to the same final experience oneness with God. Q: If you spend your life doing charitable and selfless acts and you don t find God why would this be the case? 13

14 If you are practising religion and if at any stage you begin to feel weaker and weaker something has gone seriously wrong. The main proof that you are making spiritual progress is that it should bring tremendous dynamism, tremendous excitement, tremendous strength to what you are doing. So if you are successful you will soon know about it and if you are unsuccessful something has seriously gone wrong. If you begin to feel weak and not making progress, re-examine the pathway you are using to make spiritual progress. Q: Can you use pathways together or do you have to use a specific pathway? Even though there are 4 major pathways in Hindu philosophy, the Hindu religion says we can never really follow one on its own, we always use a combination of pathways. So for example I may be following Karma yoga but at some moment in my daily life I may be using devotion and think about my mentors who are exciting me, interesting me in my religion. I might take on a devotional attitude or spend some time in contemplation and meditation. So I might use a variety of different pathways, so even though I focus on the Karma pathway, I might incorporate other pathways in my daily life. Q: Which yoga is the best one? The Hindu Religion says there is no best at all the pathway which suits your temperament, fits your background, appeals to you is best - best for you but not necessarily for the rest of mankind. After talking to the experts the students decided that there was no one best path. People could choose the path that best suited them and their lifestyles. In reality most people tend to use a combination of pathways to reach God. 14

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