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Seeing the World as an Ashram for Making Spiritual Progress

Our view of the world is colored by our state of mind. How can one act in an evil way if they are the soul? Do you think as you leave home: I'm going to an ashram? When you return, do you feel you made spiritual progress that day? The world is impermanent; see the permanence inside yourself to find security and happiness. Making spiritual progress by: Fulfilling Dharma, Resolving Karma, Selfless Service. Six basic practices: Seeing God in Those We Greet, Volunteering, Expressing Appreciation, Helping Newcomers, Offering Hospitality, Making Encouraging and Complimentary Remarks.

Unedited Transcript:

Good morning everyone. To particularly welcome our off island guests. Nice to have you with us.

In our routine I give a short talk as the next event. This is a subject we covered recently so those who live on the island will say: Yes, he said that two or three weeks ago. So it's a review for you because it's one thing to know something and it's another to fully put it into our lives. So, in one of my talks, I think it's on the talk on karma, it talks about the dietitian who graduates with honors and straight A's and in her daily life eats junk food. Not applying what we learn necessarily. Even though we score high academically, we don't necessarily put it all into practice.

So, that's for those of us who live on the island, it's a review. And the idea of the world and the world and nature of the world, we were looking at it a few weeks ago. This is from a larger piece on karma yoga so it makes reference to karma yoga in a few places. And that's why cause it's drawing out of a larger talk.

A concept quite interrelated with the nature of work is the nature of the world. Interestingly, as our concept of work changes so too does our concept of the world. How can the world be categorized? Really and in of itself, it has no inherent characteristic. It all depends on the state of mind of the viewer.

So, I have a quote from Swami Krishnananda of Divine Life Society, Rishikesh, he says: "We see outside what we actually are inside."

So, what's in our mind colors how we describe the world. It's not actually a quality of the world; it's a quality of us that we're projecting on the world.

So as we know, teenagers are my usual example of the world is a place where we party on the weekend, right? Designed to have fun. Others, the world well there's no question about it; it's a place to become wealthy. That's the whole purpose of the world as we go out there to make a lot of money. Some people go out there to become famous. Others are rather trepidacious of the world; they see it as containing a lot of evil.

Focusing on that part of it...

(Did it fall off? Okay. Too many garlands. Occupational hazard, there too many garlands, too many garlands.) [laughter]

So, to a spiritual person it's none of those. It's a spiritual place. We have two quotes on that.

Swami Vivekananda says: "The world is a grand moral gymnasium wherein we have all to take exercise so as to become stronger and stronger spiritually."

That's a good one.

And Yogaswami, that's the quote we usually use: "The world is an ashram, a training ground for the achievement of freedom. Each one does his part according to his own measure. There is nothing that is evil."

So for anyone who's not familiar with that idea -- there is nothing that is evil -- in Gurudeva's teachings the idea is that: The inherent nature of everyone is their soul. We're all the same. Our inherent nature is the soul. So, how can someone act in an evil way if they're the soul. Well, as we know it's because the soul isn't residing by itself; it happens to be living in a physical body. And that physical body has an instinctive nature and an intellectual nature. And that instinctive nature can reach out and harm other people unless we've brought it under control.

So, the person, or the inherent nature is the soul. And the soul simply needs to learn to control the instinctive nature if it hasn't done so already. And then, the person's behavior becomes quite acceptable.

It's an interesting idea and "The world is an ashram" and it's good, there's two times of day to check on that. When you're going out the door in the morning is that really what you're thinking, that: I'm going to an ashram. Are you thinking that you're going to work, are you thinking you're going to school, are you thinking you're going shopping, are you thinking you're going there. You know, what are you thinking you're going to? And then, when you're come back afterwards do you feel you were in an ashram. Do you feel you made some spiritual progress that day or not? Or was it just another stressful day out there and you managed to survive and make some money and that's that. But spiritual progress, that wasn't on your mind at all.

So those are the two times of day to try and see if you're actually holding this perspective. It's a perspective.

The related concept brought up here is the idea: Well the world's illusion. We read that in certain Hindu books of course, we know in Gurudeva's teachings we don't run into that a lot. In some of the deeper talks where he's talking about his experience of contemplation, he talks about the unreality of the world from that perspective. Well, on a day to day basis, when we're actually out there, we can't be thinking it's unreal. In Gurudeva's teachings he stresses it's unreal mainly because it's impermanent. It's always changing. There's nothing in it you can grab onto that'll be the same, necessarily, in the future; it's always changing. There's no permanence to it. Therefore, you can't rely on it to provide you with security and happiness. You have to find those things inside yourself because, they'll be there one day in the world and then something happens: You have a hurricane, you have a financial crash and it's gone. So we don't want to be totally dependent upon the world for our security or our happiness because it's unreliable.

So an example I give is you know, imagine a school boy or a school girl going to school and saying: This is illusion. You know. What's the motivation to learn? You know, I'm learning an illusive fact about an illusive world. So, of course, school children generally don't think that way but when you, you can get the idea in your mind that the world is illusion and a good way to take it out or put it into the right perspective is something practical like that.

On a day to day basis we can't hold that as a thought. It's not helpful. It's just a perspective in deep meditation we get into once in a while. We see the unreality, the impermanence verses the permanence that's inside of ourselves.

Once we have the idea that the world is an ashram and we're going out the door, not to work, not to school but we're going to an ashram. The question comes up. Well, what do we do to make spiritual progress? We're out there. What do we do? In other words, when we go to a Guru's ashram we know what to do. We attend the puja. We attend the homa. We sit under a tree in a quiet place and meditate. You know, it's obvious what to do in a Guru's ashram to make spiritual progress. What do you do in the ashram of the world to make spiritual progress?

Well, I list three here.

First one is obvious: Fulfilling Dharma.

That's what we're doing out there. Going to school from the Hindu point of view is fulfilling dharma. Going to work to support our family, to support ourselves and live a religious life is fulfilling dharma. Being of service in the community, as best we can from the job we hold, for example, political jobs. Don't necessarily pay a lot but they provide an opportunity to help one's community. So, some people are providing community guidance in what they're doing. All of that has to do with fulfilling dharma.

Second one is: Resolving Karma.

So we're not going to touch on that one this morning; that's a topic in itself.

Third one is: Being of Service.

Selfless service, helping others. That's the one we're going to look at this morning. So, one way we an turn the world into an ashram is, when we go out there, taking advantage of the various opportunities that come to us to be of help to other people.

Well, what constitutes selfless service? Simple idea. Doing something for someone else you don't have to do. That's what I call selfless service. It's voluntary action. If you're at school you're taking some time to befriend some new students who just moved to the area. You don't have to do that. You could ignore them. But you're trying to be nice and help them. Help them get oriented to the school. At work there are some new colleagues coming in. They're kind of this way and that; they don't understand everything. You take time to help them understand the workplace. That's selfless service because you don't have to do it. You're helping, you're doing more than you're getting paid for or you're doing more than the school requires. Simple way of looking at it.

Well we have a list of six basic practices. There's many more than that but they touch different ideas.

Well the first idea is: See God in Those We Greet and the People We Meet.

Make sure you're seeing God in there even if you don't like the person. And of course, I always say start with, if you're not good at this start with the people you like. Work up to the one's you don't like. So we can see God in everyone.

There's a wonderful quote from Yogaswami. He says: "See God in everyone." Don't call this man a drunkard, that man a womanizer, etcetera etcetera, etcetera. "See God in everyone." The seed is there meaning: There's a little bit of God in everybody. Because that's our essence. That's who we are. We are a soul. Even if that Godliness, that divinity of our soul isn't manifesting in the person's actions, it doesn't mean it's not there. And part of our job is to encourage it, meaning everyone's job is to encourage other people to express more of their divinity not less of it. We want to encourage them to express more of it so one way we do that is by seeing God in them. They may not see God in us and may not like us but if we see God in them, then it gives us the right attitude toward the person. We naturally want to help them. Cause that's God. God's there. Don't we want to help God when we meet God? Well God's in everyone.

That's an interesting idea.

Second one is the one we were talking about: Volunteering.

Doing things we don't have to do, volunteering. And there's a related idea of menial service. Doing the tasks that are really the difficult ones, you know. Cleaning the bathroom when you don't have to; picking up after somebody else when you don't have to. Doing the humble tasks helps us become more humble. Because part of the challenge in living the human body is the ego, the pride. I'm the smartest, I'm the best, I'm better than that person. We have that tendency and that's that pride that comes with the strong ego sense has to be reduced as part of our spiritual practice. And the simple way to do that is humble tasks.

In the longer talk that this comes from it gives the example of Mahatma Gandhi's in his ashram. People would come to his ashram to become more spiritual and expect teachings and this and that and he would put them to work doing the humble chores, running the sewing machine. Things like that. And lots of people would just leave; they weren't ready to be humble. And if someone was kind of reluctant he would show them how to do it and help them practice simple tasks. And that was his way of training is: Let's do simple things; let's become a more humble person and that way we'll be more spiritual. So he was really starting at the beginning.

Third opportunity, this is stressed a lot in Gurudeva's teachings: Expressing Appreciation.

We don't normally think about it as a way of helping someone else but it is. It's a very core way of helping someone else. When they do something that deserves recognition to express appreciation for it. It encourages them to do more of it and if they have a self concept which isn't totally solid and strong then it strengthens their self concept, helping them in that way.

And the fourth one, we talked about it: Helping Newcomers.

There's always a steady flow of newcomers. It's still a world of people moving around a lot more than they used to. So, newcomers in the neighborhood, at school, at work, at the temple. Taking time to acquaint yourself with them and help them get oriented and maybe even inviting them to your home for a meal to show appreciation till they get more settled.

And that relates to: Offering Hospitality.

The guest is God. A wonderful way we can all be of service and even if you're in school you can invite new friends home and serve them the cookies you baked the day before. Be the host even though it's your parents' home to people your own age and practice that aspect of being of service.

Sixth one: Making Encouraging and Complimentary Remarks.

This really impressed me which is different than appreciation. Appreciation is when you really know someone and then they've done something and you're interacting. Making complimentary remarks is for something more casual: a store clerk, a waitress, a waiter, a hotel clerk. Really struck me. We were traveling and it was somewhat late for us; it was past ten, you know. Monks go to bed at nine so if you're up past ten it's late. I think it's around 10:30 we were checking into a hotel in San Francisco and the person in front of us was unhappy about something and giving the hotel clerk a bad time. And you could tell the hotel clerk was a little frustrated. So, we just were ourselves and were pleasant and complimented the person and they perked up and were happy to have a kind person there say something appreciative.

So, there's more opportunities for that then we realize. In Hawaii it's more common but you go to a place like New York and you don't get that many compliments. People are more detached from one another shall we say. They're more in-drawn for good reason. The environment is rather harsh. And anyplace where there's a harsh environment you kind of in-drawn and you don't relate as you would in Hawaii just with friendly casual remarks to the people you meet. We often say we have the most polite traffic in the world here, you know. People are always waiting for one another, Oh you go, when, and then you go, you go. Part of the aloha spirit. Very different than a big city.

So that gives an idea. In other words, it's more than just doing a physical task. It has to do with how we relate to people, what we say. We have opportunities to say very nice things to all kinds of people that will be accepted. You can't say something that would be out of the culture, out of the context, but complimenting a waitress, a hotel clerk is something we have lots of opportunities for and we don't take them. Complimenting them for something they deserve of course. Not in an unreasonable way. And in that way we're uplifting people and we're being of help as part of our experience out in the world and turning it into an ashram.

Thank you very much.

[End of transcript.]