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Becoming a More Spiritual Person Part 3

Part 3 of 3 - Bodhinatha continues his second class during Guru Purnima, talking more about not making the same mistake twice. Using the yamas and niyamas as a reference point for improving our behavior and becoming a more spiritual person, Bodhinatha takes a close look at cultivating the practice of giving generously and selflessly, dana, without thought of reward. This helps us overcome the innate selfishness which comes with being human. There are many forms of giving - money, in kind, time, imparting spiritual teachings, religious feedings and hospitality to guests. Lastly, Bodhinatha introduces the upcoming India Innersearch.

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Questions? Bodhinatha is the successor of "Gurudeva," Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami. If you have questions on subjects about spiritual life you will find answers in Gurudeva's books and teachings. Learn about ways to study these teachings by visiting The Master Course site or writing to

Unedited Transcript:

An example I give when we give the full talk on mistakes is, we have a back driveway that has holes in it, ruts. It is easy to drive along and bounce, you know hit the holes. Driving along there, is a couple of holes that are easy to hit.

If we are committed to this principle of not making the same mistake twice, when we hit that hole the first time, we say, "Okay, how can I not hit it in the future?" It is just a natural response. We have cultivated that quality in us to admit immediately, "Okay, I made a mistake. How can I avoid making it again?" Because we don't have any emotions that goes along with the idea that we made a mistake. If we still have that emotional reaction, if we feel bad then we cannot be self-reflective and feel bad at the same time. If we feel bad, "I should not have done that," we lose the chance to be immediately self-reflective. But, if we replace that with being self-reflective, we are committed to avoiding it in the future, then it is a natural reaction. We hit the hole in the road and say, "There is a hole in the road. From now on into the future, I am going to drive on the other side of the road, when I get to this point and therefore not make the same mistake twice."

So that is a commitment to improving our behavior. It is a wonderful commitment. It is taking advantage of this principle of learning from our mistakes by totally changing the attitude that we should not make mistakes.

People write in and say, "I made this mistake, I have got this weakness." Part of what I say is, "Well, if any of us were perfect, we would not have been born in the first place. The fact that we are born shows we are not perfect. We will make mistakes. So, we need to anticipate making mistakes and then when we do go through the four steps. Apologize if necessary. Do penance if necessary. But, for certain learn from it, so that we can at least try to avoid doing it again and hopefully successfully avoid that."

As our last example, we are using the 'Yamas and Niyamas', Hinduism's code of conduct. Use these twenty principles as a reference point for improving our behavior, becoming a more spiritual person.

So, yesterday we were looking at the yama of non-injury and harnessing the tendency to injure people. The niyamas are the opposite. The yamas we want to do less of, we are trying to master them, whereas the niyamas we want to do more of. These are religious practices that we want to do more of in our life.

Today we are looking at the niyama of dana or giving. Dana is to be generous to a fault, giving liberally without thought of reward. Approach the temple with offerings, visit guru with gifts in hand, donate religious literature, feed and give to those in need, bestow your time and talents without seeking praise. Treat guests as God. That is Gurudeva's explanation of dana.

Here are some examples. First example. Near where a family lives there is a Hindu temple where they worship regularly. Every time the family visits the temple. They are always sure to put a generous offering into the temple hundi. The family also regularly visits a swami at his ashram that is nearby. Each visit they are sure to bring a cash offering of dakshina, as well as, an offering of flowers and fruits.

Second example. An orphanage sends its staff to visit certain families once a year to ask for a donation to help feed and clothe the orphans who live there. As the request is only yearly, the husband makes an especially large donation once a year.

Third example. A wife is very conscious of the principle that the guest is God and when guests are in her home, always invites them to stay and join the family for the next meal.

Fourth example. A Hindu Society prints religious literature which it distributes free at all the major festivals. Each piece of literature is sponsored by a different family and has their name on the back. Certain members of the Society regularly sponsor these pamphlets each year as a way of spreading knowledge about the Hindu religion.

All of the niyamas focus on expressing the refined soul qualities within each of us. In the case of dana, giving, the divine quality we are expressing is giving to help others without any thought of reward, such as recognition or future favors.

Sometimes people give for one or both of those reasons. They are giving as long as their name will go up on a plaque on the building. "I built this building", recognition. Or they are giving as a barter. They are doing something nice and they are expecting something back in the favor. They give to the temple, then the temple buys from their business or something. So that kind of giving is not really the spirit of selfless giving.

So, dana or true selfless giving effectively lessens the instinctive tendencies of selfishness, greed, avarice and hoarding.

That is important. We are born selfish and we have to work at becoming less selfish and the less selfish we are, the more spiritual we are. But there is an innate selfishness in being a human being and we need to overcome that and one of the ways of overcoming it is giving things away. Because there is a tendency of everything we get, we cling to it. "It is mine, I may need it." But giving things away helps overcome that instinctive self-centeredness, selfishness, greed, avarice and hoarding.

Here is a story to further illustrate dana.

A devotee worshiped regularly at a temple. There were always a number of beggars outside the temple and the man would pass them by purposely, ignoring them. One day, he felt compelled to give some money to them. He noticed that afterwards he felt uplifted by this simple act. From then on, he would always be sure to give to the beggars before entering the temple and each time he felt the same upliftment. This joy he felt in helping the beggars inspired him to start a monthly mass-feeding at the temple which the beggars and others who lived near the temple now attend each month.

Here is a list of different forms of giving. Sometimes we think of giving as only related to money and therefore we can only afford to give so much money so we only give so much, as much as we can afford to.

But there are many other forms of giving that don't require any money or require very little money.

In our modern world, the most common form of giving is a gift of money. We make cash gifts whenever we visit temples and ashrams. We can also make something with our hands, which is an in-kind gift. For example, we have a carpentry shop at home and on weekends, we make furniture that we donate to orphanages and homes for the elderly. So that is in-kind giving.

A third form of giving is giving our time. That is free. We help out at the local temple by cleaning the floors and other areas once a week.

Another form of giving is imparting spiritual teachings. We purchase religious literature and give it away during major festivals. Jnana dana.

A fifth form of giving is religious feeding of the masses called annayagna or simply yagam. We sponsor a monthly yagam at a large temple in our city covering all the costs.

Another form of giving is providing hospitality to guests. We offer them a seat and serve them a beverage and insist they stay for the next meal.

This is our last self-reflection here, we want to take five minutes and list some ways in which we can increase our giving. As I say, it does not have to involve money. Giving time, for example, is one way we can all give more and the more we are able to give to others, the less selfish we are.

Gurudeva has a wonderful statement about happiness. He ties that in quite nicely. He says, "If you want to be happy, make others happy." It is that simple. The more selfish we are, the more prone to unhappiness we are. But a simple way to experience happiness is just to make others happy.

Let us take five minutes and see if you can figure out some practical ways, that you can practice giving, increase your practice of giving without emptying your pocketbook.

It is time to conclude. The overview of our initial talk in our two classes is the Guru's job. Gurudeva likes the word job! "The Guru's job," he would say, "is to encourage you to try harder and make some suggestions as to how you can do that. That is his job, to never let you just sit there and be content with what you have achieved. But continually strive to achieve more, become a more spiritual person."

The yamas and niyamas are very useful points for looking at our behavior. As we suggested, once a year look at them closely when they come around in the 'Living with Siva' lessons. Starting in the last part of April towards the last part of June every year, we have a natural opportunity when we get our daily lesson on the yamas and niyamas to look at it and see, "Gee! How can I improve? In what small way can I do even better than I am now?"

Just those twenty principles offer a lot of guidance in becoming a more spiritual person. We also look briefly at fulfilling vratas. There is a wonderful way in doing that and the very important principle of learning from our mistakes. What to do when we make a mistake and how to use it as something to improve our behavior, rather than to make us feel bad about ourselves.

We will be continuing this subject. Any of you going on our India Innersearch, we will offer lots more. We are just scratching the surface here. We will work out a more detailed and comprehensive presentation, which touches all the major areas for the Innersearch.

It is a very easy Innersearch for India. India can be a very difficult country to go to, if we go on a traditional pilgrimage, a lot of hardships involved. But this is not that. It is not a cruise ship but somewhere in the middle, between a cruise ship and a hardship pilgrimage! We are going to the nicest hotel in Madurai and staying there for about a week. Then the second nicest hotel in Thanjavur, so that we can avoid as much traveling as possible. It is very tiring in India when you are constantly changing hotels every day or two. A lot of energy goes into that. So, we are trying to stay in one place for seven days in the first instance and about five days in the second instance. Visit all the temples around plus have a balanced program of classes in the morning, temple visits either in the morning or the afternoon and then a cultural program in the evening. We are going to present a variety of cultural experiences, different forms of dancing and singing, Vedic chanting are some of the items that are on the program.

That is something to look forward to and we have the next Guru Purnima also for here.

Thank you all for coming and coming to the class and working on yourself to feel you are a better person.