Preface

Focus on what happens now and truth will be revealed. 

This text is about Life. It answers the basic questions: Who are we? What are we here for? It covers enlightenment, God, compassion, love, unity, being present, and how yoga philosophy and the Bible attempt to explain them.

Writing and reading about these issues can quickly become an intellectual activity. It is important to understand that this is not the purpose of this text. This text is written to encourage us to experience the state of enlightenment. Just talking about it is not experiencing it. People can write a book about love without knowing where to find it, just by listing all the things they have heard from others. The idea is to experience love, unity, etc. The good news is that they are our birthright, so we are all capable.

There is a second word of caution necessary. There are many techniques that can help evoke the experience. However, it is of no use collecting these techniques and walking around with a bag full of knowledge about techniques. The techniques have to be applied to make them effective. Every technique is useless if it is not applied. This text contains many exercises that help us experience the goal of life. We have to make the commitment to ourselves that we will do these exercises. Making this commitment is far more difficult than it seems. Let me share how I found out.

In 1995 I started exploring yoga in the yoga school 'Blikopener' in Tilburg, Holland. I remember vividly how my teacher Hans 't Hart told us students that we would probably not use the techniques he offered us, but only gather them, thinking "Great! A new technique! I am sure I will apply that some time." Spending quite some time and money to take his classes, I rejected that statement as silly. But whatever technique he offered us, I thought it was not useful enough to spend time on. He would for instance urge us to read a book backwards. And I did not do it. I only kept it as an option.
In 2000 I was living in Gurumayi's ashram in South Fallsburg, New York. In the fall of 2000 she started a new initiative: Premotsava. Its importance to the ashram was clear from the beginning. Yet, it was not very clear what it entailed. Premotsava started in the Music department. Her students were encouraged to chant in a new way: focused. We were given many points to focus on: e.g. pitch, breathing, a conductor, and pronunciation. So what was new about it? Wouldn't every member of every choir on this planet learn these things? And what had this to do with yoga? These questions raised my interest.
On top of that, Premotsava was my chance to be closer to my teacher Gurumayi. As an ashram staff member it did not happen often to me that I could be in the same room as Gurumayi. Like all other staff members, I wanted to be with her very much. The only way for me was to be one of her musicians. About 50 musicians were trained intensely to chant in the new way. We would spend every hour available to us to practice. All live chants were cancelled for months in a row, to let us musicians practice. Gurumayi sent us her best teachers: professional conductors, singers, and experts in posture and physical well-being. It was as if the whole ashram community was focusing on one thing for months, and I had the great good fortune to be in the focus point. It was overwhelming.
All Gurumayi asked in return was to pay attention and to give all we had: not to hold back in any way. And that was what I did. Competition has always made me going. And I would do anything to be one of Gurumayi's lead chanters. So whatever her teachers asked me to do, I did it with everything I had. I made sure my body was in good shape so that I could easily concentrate. I practiced whenever I could. And when there were auditions or rehearsals I fully committed myself. This went on for about 10 months, during which I was quite successful in getting close to Gurumayi. During these months I started to notice that I had changed. I slowly but surely became more aware of me living. I started to count the number of times a day I became aware of my existence, and tried to stay in that state of awareness whenever it happened. I came to understand that this was the state I had read about, and even had written about to my family and friends, without having experienced it. Then I realized that I finally had done what it takes to experience this state: I had applied the simple techniques given to me.

I used to let myself become unconscious during a chant. I used to become unconscious (most of the time) during meditation. I used to be unconscious during my daily life. I still need to do that when I am tired. But whenever I can, I want to be alive. I want to know what's happening. I want to wake up in the morning looking forward to the adventures life will present to me. And then I want to live them fully. Whatever I can enjoy I wish to enjoy consciously, in gratitude. Life is awesome and I don't want to miss a second of it.

Introduction

Why write this down?

When I started the journey back to realization of who I am, I was somewhat frustrated by the lack of guidance. So many people were willing to help, but few seemed to really know what they were talking about, or be able to give practical advice. I promised myself to do what I had done so often in my profession: analyze it to the bone and then write it down clearly.
During my discoveries I noticed that what others had written about the truth was not so bad after all. It was me who had difficulty in understanding them, rather than them having a difficulty in explaining it. I had simply not fully understood their explanations because I had not experienced the state they were describing.
If so many others had already done a good job in describing the state of enlightenment, why make yet another attempt, adding yet another explanation? Of course, the promise to explain it myself was made. What really made me go for it, however, was the realization that the more I tried to explain, the more I needed to understand, the more I discovered. I also learned that the truth can be expressed in many ways, and that there is fun in finding new ways presenting the same truth. The truth is never boring. So the challenge became this: to study and explain life as best as I could.
The discoveries did not come quickly. Even though it took only four months after the conscious start of my journey to experience love, it took many more months to acknowledge that I had the tendency to project it on other people. It took five years before my level of understanding was high enough to be able to explain my understanding to others. It took another two years to recognize the goal of my journey, to know what I was looking for. And now, ten years after the start, I am still learning. I like learning. I like being a student of life. I like discoveries. And writing them down and being grateful about receiving them often trigger new insights. Maybe at one point I will know that I am done with it and let it all go.
So here it is, life explained in simple words. No poetry, no riddles, just plain explanations.

Understanding

In order to understand something, it is often helpful to have several perspectives, to look at the object of interest in different ways. Therefore, it helps to study observations of others. In this text, the Bible and yoga - i.e. the Yoga Philosophy as explained by Patanjali - are discussed to get different perspectives on life.
Observations of others may be confusing, though. One of the fascinating things about life is that many have attempted to explain Life and so many have only partially succeeded. The Bible is an example of this. The intention of the authors was most probably profound, and yet so many have misinterpreted the text. The misinterpretations are amusing, even though they have led to lots of suffering. So including different perspectives is good to find the truth, provided that these perspectives are correct and correctly interpreted.

For whom is it written?

This explanation of Life is useful for anybody interested in the basic questions of Life: who am I, what am I here for, etc. Nothing that is written here needs to be true, so always verify the content by observing your own life: Consider each statement as an option and then verify it in your own life.

Great teachers

There are many who have helped me understand Life. Like anyone else I have learned by interacting with other people. So I have had many teachers. Some of them, however, have greatly enhanced my understanding. These are Gurumayi, Osho, and Hans 't Hart. I thank Hans for preparing me for the experience, Gurumayi for revealing it to me, and Osho for helping me understand.

Remember that a teacher can only help a student start the learning process. It is up to the student to complete the learning.

Warming-up Exercise - Mind Stretching Even though the material presented in this text is meant to free you from the mind, it is helpful to stretch the mind a bit before starting that process. A stubborn, rigid mind is less ready to accept a new perspective than an open, flexible mind.
Here are seven paradoxes. Find the truth in them. Imagine you are sitting next to a friend and you are supposed to explain each paradox to him or her as if the paradox were yours. Take your time. Watch your thoughts while you contemplate them. Rejecting them or judging them in any way does not help in explaining them.
  1. To be able to command, learn to obey
  2. To be able to attain, learn to give
    Three variations:
    • to be loved, love others
    • to learn, forget
    • to be rich, give up
  3. To become free, surrender
  4. To accept yourself, accept others
  5. To become one (with all), detach
  6. To find, stop looking
  7. To be, give up existence
How does that feel? Observe the effect of whatever you do. Always.

Demystification and Curiosity

It is quite common to tell amazing stories about people who have become awakened. This is a good thing and a bad thing. It is good because it makes people curious: they want to know what's so special about it and consequently they investigate it. Our curiosity motivates us to look for something.
It is bad because the stories are often wrongly interpreted or simply not true. Therefore they are confusing or even misleading. By making the state of enlightenment appear so special, we push it away. Even if Jesus actually walked on water, it is not part of being awakened. Being psychic is not a prerequisite for being present. Demystifying the awakened helps bringing their state within our reach. So rather than think it's special, think it's within reach. It could happen today. It could happen now.

Doing the practices

In the first years of my search for "the truth" my teacher Hans 't Hart gave his students exercises to do. They were really weird, e.g. reading a book backwards. He also told us that it was likely we would not do them. We would collect exercises rather than practice them. And he was right: I never did any of his exercises.
Years later I felt the urge to really go for it and I sold my house, quit my job, and travelled to America to live in an ashram of Gurumayi. After about 10 months she started a new initiative. It entailed chanting in a new, focused way. At first I did not get what was so special about it. Now, in this ashram there were about 50 people who were candidates for chanting in programs with Gurumayi. I had not had any direct contact with her and only occasionally had she appeared in public. So I was very motivated to be among the happy few selected for these programs: I could finally be close to her! The training was intense and long. For months we chanted with great focus every day. After months and months of intense listening, giving it all I had, I noticed that I had come to love these intense trainings and rehearsals. It took another year of this practice before it happened: I woke up in the middle of a chant. I became aware of my existence.
Only then did I realize that I had finally broken the habit: I had given all I had to a practice, and had kept doing it.

The book 'I Am That' presents dialogues that Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj had with people who were looking for answers to the basic questions of life. Time and again he tells them what they need to do to experience what they are looking for. And every time they reply: "Why would that work?" Can you imagine that? They have travelled around the world, spent thousands of dollars and lots of time, and then, when they get the answer, they question it. Why not simply do what the teacher says and see what happens?

The Goal of Life

Is this all there is?

Like many others I spent quite some years in my life looking for something that would interest me for a prolonged period of time. I could get quickly bored by everything. At times I would get desperate, feel the lack of fulfillment, and ask myself whether this was all life had to offer.
Now that I have found what it means to be awake, I can only conclude that previously I just failed to pay attention. I lived on automatic pilot, like a zombie, only waking up shortly at spectacular events. It was like I was sitting in the theater of my life being completely absorbed in petty thoughts, missing all the beauty and excitement of the show. Now and then I would realize that years had passed without me having much memories of them. Growing old, wasting time.
When the question "Is this all there is?" now arises, the answer is "Yes, and I love it!" I can look at life, see all there is, and get thrilled by the sheer abundance of life. This change of perspective came with awakening. The abundance (not necessarily in wealth, but in experience, enjoyment of life) that comes with it fills me with gratitude whenever I realize it.

Being dead or asleep vs. being alive or awake

People can be 'awake' or 'asleep.' When they are 'awake' they know what they are doing; they realize what's happening to them. When they are 'asleep' they don't. The word 'asleep' in this context does not refer to the non-activity that is typically performed in a bed. The word 'asleep' is used because it is common in this context. There is a reason for this: waking up from a good night's sleep and opening one's eyes in the morning is as dramatic a change in consciousness as waking up (switching from being 'asleep' to 'awake') while doing one's daily activities.
Another word for asleep is 'dead.' The latter word is a bit confusing too because it is used for people who have completely finished their life on this planet. The reason it is used as an alternative to 'asleep' is that people who are 'asleep' are not really fully living. They are absorbed in their mind and do not realize what's happening to them. When they see something they either ignore it completely or start having an opinion about it (which is another way of ignoring it). So, basically, they are ignoring life, and hence one could say they are not really alive. This is amazing because life is so beautiful and the thoughts that many people nourish instead are utterly boring - most often they have been thought before. The mind produces endless streams of similar thoughts and most people cannot get enough of them. Their thoughts are like the Sirens in the Odyssey - almost irresistible and potentially lethal.
The shocking thing is that most people are 'asleep' most of the time. It takes a lot of time to even recognize the state of being 'awake' as special. Not because it is so mundane, but because it is often over before it is recognized. For instance, we see the sky and we realize for a moment its vastness. For a split second we are aware of its momentous glory. But then the mind takes over; we think again about what's next on our to-do list. We have not yet mastered the skill of staying 'in the moment.' We would be filled with joy and love if we could simply stay there. But we are conditioned to consume (and be consumed by) the next thought.
People who have taken the effort to break away from the mind and practice staying 'awake' all have reported the same experience: They see the world full of sleep-walking people, who don't know that they are sleep-walking.

You may wonder how we know whether we are asleep. The answer is: we cannot. We only know that we have been asleep when we wake up. Also, we know that we are awake when we are awake. Consequently, until the moment that we wake up and realize it, we cannot understand what waking up means.
The moment we wake up, some determination is needed to get up and pay attention to the world around us. If there is no sense of priority, it is likely that we turn around and sleep in again.

Other ways to name the state of being awake include: being aware, being conscious, being enlightened, being alert, being vigilant, or simply being. None of these completely describes the state; together they give a flavor of it. Other names for being 'asleep' are: being ignorant.
Sometimes the state is referred to as 'a higher state of consciousness.' Even though it is not inaccurate, this term is not very descriptive. It could be called a 'deeper' or 'brighter' state of consciousness as well. None of these, however, is as descriptive as the term 'being awake.'

The first time

The first time we realize we are awake is very special. We never forget this particular moment. It is a moment that hits us by surprise and is likely to be followed by the stunning realization that we have been asleep all the time. These realizations are so profound, so deep, that they are hard to describe.
The impact of the realization is similar to the impact of the realization Malcolm has in the movie "The Sixth Sense" by M. Night Shyamalan. Note, however, that this does not mean that this movie necessarily gives us the realization of being awake.

References in yoga/Sanskrit

For those who have a background in yoga philosophy the use of these metaphors is familiar. Here is an ancient Sanskrit prayer:
Asatoma Sadgamaya
Tamasoma Jyotirgamaya
Mrtyorma Amrtamgamaya
meaning
Lead me from falsehood to truth,
from darkness to light,
from death to immortality.

References in the Bible

Here are some applicable Bible quotes:
  • Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. - Ephesians 5:14
  • Behold, I tell you a mystery: we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. The trumpet shall sound and the death shall be raised incorruptible[1], and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. - I Corinthians 15:51-54
  • So be on your guard, not asleep like the others. Stay alert and be sober. Night is the time for sleep and the time when people get drunk. But let us who live in the light think clearly, protected by the body armor of faith and love, and wearing as our helmet the confidence of our salvation. - I Thessalonians 5:6-8

References in Art

  • To be, or not to be: that is the question:
    Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
    The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
    Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
    And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
    No more; and by a sleep to say we end
    The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
    That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
    Devoutly to be wish'd. - William Shakespeare - To be, or not to be (from Hamlet 3/1)

Exercises

Here are some exercises. They are meant to create the right mind-set. You do not need to do them all now. But do the ones you chose to do without holding back. Give them everything you have!

Exercise 0 - The realization's impact
If you have not done so, watch the movie "The Sixth Sense." What realization do you get?

Exercise 1 - Noticing the gaps
Go for a walk of about 10-15 minutes to a place where you can sit down or rest. Preferably it is a route you know well. When you have arrived at the destination take time to recall everything you remember from the walk. Since you know the route, you can systematically verify being at each place between the start and the end of the walk. Notice that some of the places are missing. Wonder why.
Before you walk back, make the intention to remember every step, to take in every spot along the route. When you arrive recall what you can remember of the second walk.
You may notice what causes the gaps in your memory. It's not your memory that is not functioning, it's you being asleep, i.e. caught up in the mind. You may (maybe after additional walks) realize what thoughts were so attractive that they distracted you from observing the items along the route.

If you remember what you were thinking at specific spots you do not need to do this exercise anymore. It is not about not thinking, it is about realizing what is happening. Realizing what is happening in your mind is a great accomplishment. If you can observe your mind (rather than get caught up in it) you can easily tune to something else.

A variation of this exercise is to recall at the end of the day what has happened.

Exercise 2 - being asleep vs being awake
The metaphor of being asleep vs being awake is helpful in recognizing the awakened state. Let's write down as many similarities as we can think of. Take time to do this. Once you are done, read all the similarities listed below. Try and understand them one by one.

Similarities include:
  • We realize it when we wake up (however short the realization is); we don't realize it when we fall asleep.
  • When we are asleep, things happen that we are not aware of. When we are awake, we experience what's happening. Consequently, we remember only the things that we realized were happening.
  • People who are awake can see that others are asleep; people who are asleep cannot see that others are awake. Cf. John 1:5.
  • People who are awake can intentionally wake up people who are asleep. People who are asleep cannot.
  • When we wake up and we are interested in what's to come, we get up; when we are not interested, we rather sleep in. So we have a choice, depending on our mindset.
  • When we are asleep, time jumps: we realize that time has gone when we wake up (however shortly). When we are awake, it is as if time slowed down. Even though time slows down, there is not the faintest sense of boredom.
  • Upon an unexpected event we are more likely to wake up.
  • When we are asleep we cannot choose what we experience.
  • People who are awake can instantaneously connect with other people who are awake but can not do this with people who are asleep. People who are asleep can not connect with others at all. Cf. Philip [55].
  • Before we go to sleep, we can pray that we wake up at a certain time and, if we are not too tired, we will wake up at the requested time. So to some extent we are able to control waking up. Once we are asleep, though, we have no way to change the wake-up time.
    We should not be surprised if we wake up a bit before the requested time, though.
The last item in the list above gives us an indication of how we could control waking up. A prayer is a request for awareness. It is more effective if it is done with conviction, imagining the request already been fulfilled. Therefore, if you want to become aware at a specific moment, for instance when you leave the house, imagine opening the door and stepping outside and becoming conscious of your being at that time. Hold that image for a while. Next time you leave the house you will wake up just before you leave the house, unless your are so occupied by the mind that nothing could distract you from it.

Exercise 3 - waking up twice
Just before you go to sleep, ask God to make you remember the next morning to wake up twice. Ask that when you open your eyes you will become aware of your existence. Moreover, ask that that awareness will stay for a while. Imagine lying in bed, fully present.
The next morning your prayer will be effective. As soon as you open your eyes you will remember the prayer and it will happen: you become aware of your existence; you realize that you are living. Hold on to that awareness by enjoying it fully and being grateful for it. Always thank God for becoming aware; it is the best way to make clear you want more of it.

In time, you can ask this at any other time of the day. However, you really have to pause to get the benefit from it. If you are not ready to receive it, you will drop it immediately, without even realizing what you are dropping.

Exercise 4 - the witness state
The metaphor of being a witness to what's happening (i.e. in the audience of the play of life) is helpful too in recognizing the awakened state. Again, let's write down as many similarities as we can think of. Take time to do this. Once you are done, read all the similarities listed below. Try and understand them one by one.

Similarities include:
  • It is created for my entertainment. It makes me forget the time.
  • The scriptwriter has a rich life experience. He is the kind of creature I would like to meet and know better.
  • The more I understand it the more I enjoy it. Seeing the perfection of it is most joyful.
  • It is fun discussing it with someone who understands it as well.
  • Each scene has a function, a reason of existence. All pieces fit perfectly together. If I do not want to see a part of it, I decrease the fun of the experience as a whole. If I miss a part of it, it may be more difficult to understand the movie. So I better stay awake and focus on what's happening.
  • It is unpredictable and yet recognizable.
  • It makes me forget who I am and yet teaches me more about myself. It contains hidden lessons about life. Realizing these lessons adds to the experience.
  • I can accept the course of events in it or not, I can hope it will end like this or like that, but it is just like it is. Trying to change it is a waste of energy. If I can accept it the way it is, the joy is supreme. So I cannot change the course of events. I can only change my experience of it. Once I accept that I can only watch and are able to do that in amazement, I can enjoy it all.
  • It can be watched several times without getting bored.
  • The more I can identify with the people playing in it, the more I enjoy it, provided that I can still experience it all as a play.
  • If it becomes too scary or I get too involved, it helps to step back (detach) and realize that it is only a play.
Exercise 5 - being a student
Seeing yourself as a student is also helpful in understanding life. How many similarities between life and a school can you think of?

Similarities include:
  • Concentration or paying attention is necessary to learn. Distractions are to be avoided.
  • Sometimes it easier to stay focused when we are part of a group of students who all have the same goal; aligned consciousness amplifies the ability to concentrate.
  • Students can learn from other students.
  • Once you have learned something, you have the tendency to explain it; either to yourself or to others.
  • When you start you may think you'll never succeed. But once you have finished you may think "That was not too difficult."
  • There is always more to learn.
  • Sometimes you need to take a break and relax.
Exercise 6 - playing a game
To understand life, seeing yourself as someone playing a game is helpful too. How many similarities between life and a game can you think of?

Similarities include:
  • Realizing that it is only a game helps you detach from it and relax. It may even help you perform better in the game because you can see more clearly what opportunities there are. However, too much detachment can have a detrimental effect: it alienates other players and may lead to lack of concentration. The best way is to keep realizing that you are a player and give it all you have as long as the game lasts.
  • The best players do not worry about what could go wrong.
  • Exercises help making one a better player.
  • Studying the actions of great players is very inspiring.
  • A seasoned coach is worth a million.
  • Reading about a game is a completely different experience as playing it yourself.

Now what?

In the years before I knew what awakening was, I had read about it and even written about it. At times I had even wondered whether I had found enlightenment already. After all, I was quite tolerant, disciplined, and knowledgeable.
After I had woken up, however, I realized I was only a beginner. After years of looking I had finally stumbled into an experience of the truth. I had learned what I was looking for. I had an understanding of the goal. But most of the time I was not there. So now the real work could begin.
The real work is concentration. The means to get to the awakened state is concentration. And the way to stay there is concentration. The first step, however, is recognizing the state.

The awakened state

It is not easy to describe the awakened state. Each word seems to be too limited to describe it. Here are some. Put them all in a cup, shake it, and enjoy the taste. The awakened state is weightless, peaceful, satisfying, relaxing, spacious, serene, all-embracing, and full of love. It makes us feel connected and at one with all there is. Like a pal or loving parents, this state is always available, and the only thing that keeps us from embracing it is our own agenda.

Here are some exercises that help to get into that state. Before you start, make sure there is nothing that disturbs you. Be ready to focus your attention on what's happening now. If you'd rather take a nap, do that first.
All exercises are extremely simple. Anyone can do them. But not everyone can do them with full attention. Can you be focused?

Exercise 1 - intense listening
Take your favorite piece of music that is relaxing to you ('Messiah' by Georg Friedrich Haendel works for me). Listen to the long notes.
Restart the piece of music; now realize that you are listening to the long notes while you are listening.
Notice the shift in awareness. Breathe it in. If you do it well, you'll hear the music echoing in your mind throughout the succeeding day(s).

Exercise 2 - walking consciously
Take a walk. Realize your existence while walking. Check in with that realization each step. Can you make it to the next tree or the next corner while being aware of your existence?

Exercise 3 - be still (and witness)
Go for a walk (again). Take a route without obstacles. Now, imagine that you are still and the world is moving (as if you are watching a movie made by someone else walking). Observe the complete picture: from the left corner of your left eye to the right corner of your right eye. The picture is fuller and (hence) the exercise is easier during a walk in a forest or park, where there are trees. Concentrate on the trees moving, and then on you seeing the trees moving.

Exercise 4 - watch the breath
Watch the breath. Then realize that you are watching the breath. That is, not only know that you are breathing in (and out), but know that you know.

Exercise 5 - do something illogical on purpose
Gently pinch the skin behind your knees and flare your nostrils. Observe what this does to your awareness. Or, simply imagine the pinching and flaring. Again, observe.

Exercise 6 - focus
Design your own concentration exercise. Then practice it with all you have.

All it takes is intense concentration on what's happening in the present moment.

Exercise 7 - trigger and support the realization
Do something, it does not matter what. What matters is whether you know what you are doing, that is, whether you realize what you are doing. We can make it happen. For instance, breathe in and out and mentally and gently repeat "I am breathing in" and "I am breathing out." Or sing a song and repeat mentally "I am singing." The thought "I am singing" is not an affirmation nor is it meant to be repeated mindlessly. It is meant to trigger and support the realization of what is happening.

Group focus and concentration

Concentrating together with another person or in a group can enhance the practice and increase the chance of success. There are some caveats here, however. First of all, we must make sure that we as well as the other persons come together for the exercise and intend to give it all there is.
Second, we must know the effect of the exercise: it can make us fall in love. If we do not know this we may conclude that we have fallen in love with another person. That would trigger the tendency to focus our attention on the other person rather than our love, our own state. In other words, another person may become a distraction rather than a supporting fellow-student.

There is no reason to avoid loving other people, however. The right way is the middle way: neither falling in love with and becoming attached to a person, nor rejecting a strong connection with other people. That way will take us to a life in which we can be in love with many people - literally: we can be in the state of love while being with one person, and the next moment we can still be in the state of love in the company of another person. What this takes is a recognition of the powerful natural magnetism there can be between people and not misinterpreting this as a strong hint that something permanent needs to happen.
The skillful student does not fear this attracting force nor does she let it unbalance her. Like a paraglider who makes use of gravity to propel her towards her goal, she uses the force. Controlling it, she turns into a propellant that what could make her fall.
In practice this means enjoying the company of others, enjoying the unity that concentration (in this case in a group) evokes, possibly expressing this joy and realization of unity in words or by hugging, and then leave it with that: as soon as we leave the practice room, we keep the fellow students out of our mind.

Having said that, the best way of practicing concentration is in a group that has come together with the intention to practice concentration.

Here are some ways to practice chanting texts (like the Guru Gita), some of which require a group (or an audio recording):

Exercise 1 - intense listening (1)
Give all your focus to one instrument in the ensemble (typically a harmonium). Hear every nuance, every grace note, every change in volume or pace. Make it your highest goal to chant perfectly in sync.

Exercise 2 - intense listening (2)
Listen to your own voice, while chanting. Then turn your focus to the voice of another person. Then back to your own, and so on. Forget everything else in the world. Make sure your voice and the voice of the other person become one.

Exercise 3 - chant with conviction
Find your favorite verse and read the translation aloud. Then read it again, but now imagine that you want to express the beauty and wisdom of the verse. Notice how much more the verse becomes alive by expressing conviction. Now read the Sanskrit text, as if it is an exciting story. Do not hold back; give it all you have. Make sure to emphasize important words. Finally, chant the verse as expressively as you can. It does not matter that you do not know the meaning. What matters is that you chant with conviction.

Exercise 4 - count the verses
tally counter Get a hand held tally counter and count the verses while chanting. That is, whenever you notice that a verse starts, increment the number. Alternatively, click for each verse in which you have consciously heard the voice of another person as well as that of yourself. Try to catch all verses (and do not cheat - you can't click after the verse has ended). It may take a while before you can stay present during the whole chant. After each practice notice the change in awareness.

I discovered this method when I was sitting in the back of a hall where the Guru Gita was chanted. It was my job to count the attendees of the chant. The tally counter I got for that turned out to be a great tool to keep my attention focused.


Exercise 5 - make eye contact
Sit facing another person. Chant alternately. Whenever one of you is about to stop chanting and the other is about to begin, look each other in the eyes, smiling. This requires great concentration. Whenever you are about to end a line, look up while chanting the last words. Whenever you are silent, read the first two or three syllables of your next line, look up, and wait till the other person looks you in the eyes. Start chanting these first syllables and continue reading the text in the book.

Exercise 6 - chant with love
Focus on the love in the heart. Breathe as if the air is going straight in and out of the middle of the chest, at heart level. Feel the love. Be grateful.

At one point during the chant (or during any concentration exercise) we will become aware of ourselves doing what we are doing: we realize that we are doing something while we are doing it. Then it is time to switch to the ultimate concentration exercise: to stay there.

Exercise 7 - Realize what we are doing
Chant while knowing (realizing) that you are chanting.

There is some research that confirms that choral singing boosts mindfulness.

Waking up & staying awake

The exercises mentioned above can help us waking up. Even though it may take a while, they do work.
What to do to stay awake? Focus on something interesting that does not involve the mind. When we have reached the point where we can feel love at will we can do this anywhere. We can sit on a stationary bike at the gym and meditate on love. When we have reached the point that we can realize what we are doing and can stay there, we better do stay there.

At any time, some discipline and moderation can be helpful. Here are some tips:
  • If we can stay away from stimulants like coffee and chocolate for a while (at least a week), taking a bit of them will boost our concentration power. It will actually become a preview of the next stage in heightened wakefulness.
  • Eating too much makes us feel sleepy. Learn when to stop.
  • Find out what food or food combinations make you sleepy. For me, it's wheat, corn, and dairy. Once I had learned this, it was easy to drop them out of my diet. Nothing is worth losing concentration power!
  • Too much work, or too much exercise deprives us of energy. Again, we have to know our limits.
  • Staying too long in bed is also detrimental to our concentration power.

The Goal of Life

The goal of Life is being awake. It means knowing what is happening. It means being aware of what options there are and noticing the consequences of one's actions. It means being able to reject mental tendencies (i.e. being free from them).
Moreover, knowing what is happening means being able to learn from one's mistakes. It means becoming a more loving person. It means learning to take into account the needs of all people. It means making the world a better place.
Being awake also means being able to fully enjoy life. The one that can be present while eating apple cake can enjoy every bite fully, while the sleepwalker will only shortly notice the first bite and then the empty plate when it's gone; in the mean time he will be caught in the mind. The awakened one will be satisfied while the sleepwalker will have the empty feeling of someone who has been promised something but who never really got it.

Breaking habits

Mental habits are very powerful in two ways: they are hard to recognize and they are hard to break. They are so common and prevalent that we hardly notice them anymore. Like the three characters in the movie "A beautiful mind" that do not really (physically) exist, mental habits are hanging around most of the time and we assume that they are a part of our lives. We engage with them most of the time even though they make us lose our sense of reality. But we do not need to.

Kashmir Shaivism defines three basic mental habits that are common to humans:
  • I am separate from God
  • I am worthless
  • ...
A myriad of other habits are triggered by these basic three, e.g. "I will never succeed," and "they are worthless." The way to break these habits is to radically think the opposite:
  1. Cut off the thought, mercilessly.
  2. Turn your back to it and look in the opposite direction.
  3. Nourish an opposing thought with all you have.
For instance, if we find ourselves thinking negatively about another person, we have to drop the thought immediately, find a positive memory about the person, and then dwell into it. If we think we cannot succeed, we have to imagine our success, as if it already happened.

Gurumayi is a master at dissolving mental habits. In her ashram there are quite some women who fear they are too old for getting pregnant. Think about it. How could this be solved? How could their conviction of being unable be dropped? Well, there are a lot of hard-working couples with children in the ashram. Gurumayi asks the childless women to take care of the children in the ashram. This gives relief to their parents and makes it easier for the childless women to imagine they have a child already. The latter makes it more likely they will actually get one because it makes them drop the blocking mental habit.

Application

How can we apply living consciously in daily life? Let's look at a few common situations.

Giving attention

Have you ever been in a conversation when your thoughts drifted away? Wasn't that embarrassing? The moment you noticed this you probably immediately drifted away again by judging yourself about not paying attention, or justifying it in some way. Wouldn't it be much more joyful to be able to stay with the other person? Why is that so difficult? Our thoughts seem to be so interesting that they distract us from what's happening.
Being available, being fully present is very important in relationships. When we see that the other person is listening we feel a bond. When we see they are not, we we might as well go away.

Just do it (1)

Life is full of hints on how to perform better. If only we could listen to these hints ... For instance, once I was packing for a holiday. To challenge myself and to build self-confidence, I did not start packing till 1.5 hours before I had to leave. I kept asking myself: "What do I need to take with me?" At one point the answer came: look in your shopping bag. I rejected that idea. What could there be in my shopping bag anyway. So I asked again: "What do I need to take with me?" I realized that it would be sunny, so I would need my sunglasses. Where did I leave them? Then I knew: I remembered putting them in my shopping bag. If only I could listen to the first hint. It would save so much time.

Just do it (2)

Whenever we make a mistake it is necessary to admit it to ourselves to allow us to learn from it. Admitting it enables us to have the intention not to repeat the mistake, and this intention will prevent us repeating the mistake at the next opportunity. Admitting the mistake to ourselves makes it possible to apologize to anyone else involved in the mistake.
Now, even though this is easy to explain and understand, it is difficult to put it into practice without awareness. Without awareness, there is the tendency to become defensive, deny having made the mistake, close the door to learning, and get stuck into repeating the mistake. With awareness, there is the clarity that enables us to see the truth, the motivation to break through the pattern, and to enjoy the freedom of moving on.

Listening

When I am solving a (computer programming) problem I often do not have a clue how to start. And when the ideas come they seem to pop up out of nowhere. All I do is concentrate and keep asking: "How can this be done?" Is there really anything that I make up myself or is everything just abundantly available all the time for me when I am quiet enough to listen?

Becoming aware of patterns

Awareness can be very helpful in daily life. For instance, you may notice that you sometimes become angry about silly things, while at other times you can tolerate a lot. Awareness can help you find out why. You may find a pattern, e.g. (1) I have a lot to do; (2) I want the work to be finished now; (3) I ignore my body which urges me to pause; (4) I feel exhausted; and (5) I become irritable very easily. Being aware of what's happening can be an early warning system and help break a pattern.

If we nourish thoughts about someone we are, whether we know it or not, preparing for the next encounter. So we better make this preparation positive. Having negative thoughts makes it very likely that upon the next encounter we express these thoughts. Once we have become aware of this tendency, we can learn from our mistake: catch ourselves upon the first negative thought and choose to think about the person positively.

Get the ball rolling

Once we have started practicing awareness and noticed the results (increased awareness), we have initiated a process that nourishes itself. We realize that doing awareness exercises causes us to wake up more often, which motivates us to invest time in these awareness exercises.

Discover life

Once we have periods that we are awake, there is plenty of opportunity for learning. Each time we realize something, we learn about life. Each time we are present, we gain understanding. In one way or another we may find out that life is quite entertaining and that, like a play, it's all set up, just for us. This new perspective can put us at ease: rather than freaking out we can enjoy the ride, even though we are fully involved.

To illustrate this I would like to share an understanding that is probably common. Several times during my life I was struggling with an obstacle that would not go away. The first time that I remember it was pain in my back. I got so stiff in my lower back that I hardly could put on my pants or ride a bike. After years of struggling with it I finally decided to start practicing yoga. The practice did not only take away the pain in my back, but yoga became the way of life that offered me many breakthroughs in understanding and appreciating life. So what initially seemed an obstacle caused me to look for the right path. Was this a coincidence?
Well, at the same time, I started to get more and more skin irritation. During the day I had a hard time keeping myself from scratching, and while at sleep in bed I could not stop myself from opening up the wounds of the night before. With some help I found out that I had food allergies. The skin irritation was a great motivator to abstain from wheat, barley, potatoes, mushrooms, peanuts, vinegar, and many other food items that my body obviously could not handle. Here, too, the obstacle turned out to be a road sign pointing to a better life. My better food habits promise me a longer and healthier life.

Insights like these come to us because of increased awareness. Having gained the ability to step back and observe what is happening, we can more easily see a pattern, understand, and appreciate what's happening. Together with an established theory about life we can slowly but surely see that the theory is indeed a true description of all that exists.

Integration

There are several techniques available that help us practice awareness. Not surprisingly, they all require us to focus on something happening in the present moment. Examples are Meditation, Hatha Yoga, Alexander Technique, and Non-Violent Communication.

Meditation - mind awareness

...

Hatha Yoga - body awareness

...

Bates Method

The Bates Method of eyesight improvement ...

Alexander Technique - body awareness

...


Bates Method
 

Non-Violent Communication (NVC) - connection awareness

Using NVC we communicate with awareness of our own feelings and needs and those of our communication partner(s), so that we stay connected and hence can come to an agreement.

An example of inadequate communication, where it's about who is right:
She:  "You drive too fast."
He: "Honey, I always drive like this and I have never had an accident."
She: "It's only a matter of time and you will cause an accident."
He: "That's not true."
An example of NVC:
She:  "Driving at this speed makes me feel afraid. I have a need for security and peace of mind."
He: "When I hear you say my driving makes you feel afraid I feel sad because I want to take care of you."
She: "Would you be willing to make me feel secure?"
He: "Of course I do. (Adjusting speed.) Is this speed comfortable to you?"
The second conversation may seem scripted at first but it is certainly possible (after some training) - I was the "He" in both of these conversations.
In any communication, acknowledgement is key. Lack of acknowledgement leaves the impression of not being heard, which undermines the communication. Acknowledgement is not possible without intense listening to our own feelings and needs and those of our communication partner(s). Requiring concentration, NVC is a great vehicle in practicing greater awareness.
 

Choice or no choice

The question may come up whether we are free to make choices. If we all are free to choose, how can anything be predestined and how can anyone or anything be in control, let alone almighty?

The answer starts with the question: Who is we in “Are we free to choose?” If we stands for The One and Only Almighty, the answer is yes although S/He tends to play by the rules (laws of nature, for instance). But for the most of us, most of the time, the answer is no. We may have different options, but we are not really free to choose. We are predestined to choose the one option that seems most attractive to us, given all our previous experiences, including our knowledge of the consequences of choosing any one option.

If we are not really free to choose, are we then responsible for our choices? And why would we even worry about the consequences of our choices?

To answer this question, we may use a metaphor. Consider a main character in a movie, who is about to make a major move. Should she worry about the consequences? Should she plan her approach and make thoughtful choices? Of course she should. If she didn’t she would not be brave but reckless. But as soon as we step out of the movie and see what is happening, an actor playing a role in a movie with a fixed script, we’d agree that the actor would not need to worry and has no choice but to follow the script. So at the same time there is choice and no choice, responsibility and no responsibility, making mistakes and not making mistakes, depending on the perspective.

In life (this play of consciousness), ultimately we have no choice and are not responsible, but if our character is to be successful it better make the right choices and learn from its mistakes. So driving recklessly because “everything is predestined” is making the character in the movie more likely to crash and die, even though the script writer is in control. Therefore, the tendency to drive recklessly is unfortunate.

How does this translate to spiritual practices? If everything is predestined, and hence our experiences of enlightenment are predestined, then why do spiritual practices? In the same way, the tendency to do spiritual practices is a fortunate one, to be grateful for. If you find yourself interested in enlightenment, consider yourself blessed. If you are so interested you are willing to invest in spiritual practices, consider yourself most fortunate.

What spiritual practices are most effective? The answer is already given in this text. If we focus on what is happening now (long enough) we become present. This practice is always available because the present is always available. Anyone can focus on it at any time. If it happens, we are simply fortunate. It’s not our choice. It’s us being blessed.

Prayer

Pitfalls

There are some common pitfalls on the spiritual path that are to be avoided.

Looking in the wrong direction

In the beginning we may not know what we are looking for. We may know that we want something but do not know what it is. It is likely that we make up some criteria that would help us recognize that what we are looking for. These criteria are often inaccurate and therefore mislead us: We may encounter our heart's desire but not realize that we have found it. Here are some examples.
  • We may think that enlightened people have special powers, like reading other people's mind, knowing what happens somewhere else, or predicting the future. When we are looking for these special powers, we may not see them in enlightened beings and therefore reject them as advisors, even though they could help us. Moreover, we may not see our own development because we measure our progress in terms of special powers.
  • We may think that enlightened beings are always saint-like. We may have an idea about them being ideal in some way: always coming on time, never angry, never sad, getting up early, always disciplined, etc. These criteria are very individual: They tell more about ourselves than about the enlightened being. If we have trouble getting out of bed and we do not like that, we may attribute "getting up early" to the ideal person.
    Then we may force ourselves to be more like this ideal, wasting time and energy. (This is not to say that discipline is not helpful. However, discipline for discipline's sake is not helpful.)
  • We may think that we should reject life's pleasures. We may think we can only reach our goal by renouncing every enjoyable part of life: no relaxing on the beach, no good wine, no sex, no snacks. If we think this way and we see someone enjoying life, we may reject them as well, even though they may help us find our goal. And we can reject ourselves very easily whenever we take a snack, triggering guilt and emotions that take us out of the present. (This is not to say that fasting cannot be beneficial; it cleanses the body and improves will-power. However, fasting is not the goal.)

We overdo

At some point we may have found a tool that helps us, for instance, dieting, exercising, doing stretches, or taking Hatha Yoga classes. We try it and we find that it works: we feel better.
Then we start overdoing it. We try and excel in using these tools. We may exercise so much that we injure ourselves, or we may just think that exercising itself is the goal. We may think that excelling in Hatha Yoga is the way to go.

We intellectualize

We may have learned essential pieces of the puzzle and then become scholars, proud of our knowledge.
  • We have to acknowledge that we want to be awake. We may have the tendency to project that on others and wonder why others are not awake or even feel urged to awaken others. This is fine as long as it does not put ourselves asleep. Visiting others with the intention to awaken them or teach them something is a sure way of not being present.
  • Once we have learned something we may be inclined to contemplate it over and over again, talk to others about it, discuss it, make a point. This is useless. Even though understanding itself is an important tool in waking up, the goal of the process of awakening is not to become intellectually superior. It is, as Osho says, about existentialism, being. Being eloquent about enlightenment does not make one enlightened.
  • Sometimes people learn that ultimately everything is predestined and they decide that they therefore don't need to be involved in anything anymore. They sit back and watch the game. That's not smart. It's like playing a game of chess, realizing that it is only a game, and then concluding that it does not matter who wins. It is quite likely this person will lose. Now, it's great to realize that life is a game (with lots of unpredictable turns). Nevertheless, we have to play it well. We have to be involved. The masters of the game give it all their attention, while knowing it is just a game.

Benefits

Being awake has many benefits. Here are some.

Detachment

It can be hard to be around particular people. Sometimes they "push our buttons," and before we know it we are irritated by them, or even fighting them. When we are awake we still have the same old buttons we had before, and for a while they may still be pushed like before, but we have a choice on what happens next: we can choose what's best for us. This may mean that we just drop it there, that we forgo any reaction, however attractive it may seem. It could mean we do react but learn from the experience by being aware of the consequences. It could also mean that we take time to plan correcting the situation.
We do not take offence. We simply see that someone else is offending. We may choose to express our perception, or we may not. We (in our role in the play of consciousness) are free to choose.

Understanding

A variant of detachment is the ability to better understand life. Once we have acquired the ability to step back from what's happening to us, we can see things from different perspectives. Sometimes this leads to a better understanding. And sometimes this understanding is then so obvious that it is amazing that it was not clear all the time.
An example. Creationists insist that God created the universe and mankind. Evolutionists argue that life evolved over billions of years. When we are asleep (and want to have an opinion about it) we tend to choose one of the two. But when we are awake we are able to step back and see the validity of both: why couldn't God be in control of the evolution? That would make both views right.

Fast learning

When we are present, we know what we are doing and we are aware of the consequences. Consequently, we notice the effects of our actions, and we can learn from them immediately. We do not need to repeatedly encounter the same situation to get the lesson that we have to learn. We choose, we see, and we learn.

Peace of mind

By not seeing contradictions but unity, there is no need for internal arguing, i.e. making one's case over and over again just to be right. When we make up our mind about something by choosing one particular option as opposed to another, our mind has the tendency to find all the reasons why our choice was right. It feels somewhat good to be right, so there is no reason to stop doing this. Except ... getting caught up in the mind makes us restless. Seeing unity avoids that. As a matter of fact, it is a certain way to acquire peace of mind.

Acceptance

We may be inclined to dislike something we encountered in life. This is fine if we see this as an opportunity to learn, rather than a justification to reject someone or something. Too often we find ourselves rejecting something because we don't like it, while the only thing that deserves rejecting is rejection itself. Someone can be rough around the edges, but so is a knife; that is no reason to reject it. It's a reason to be careful and learn how to handle it, or, indeed, avoid it. Holding on to dislikes, we hurt ourselves (i.e. our Self). Acceptance, on the other hand, opens the door to love.

One way to accept a situation is to look at what is good. One could object that this is easy to say but hard to do when something has evoked irritation in us. Someone who is awake, however, is aware of the irritation and knows that this is the perfect time to ask "What is good about the situation?" If we focus on the answer, acceptance is near.

Truly meeting each other

Whenever we encounter someone, we would like to truly meet them, to be present with them, to feel connected, or better, to feel united, one. Naturally, our eyes meet. When we are detached, open-minded, we truly see each other. When we are not, we quickly look away. When we truly see each other we are drawn into the present moment and we truly meet.
It is said that in some countries when two people meet each other, one says 'I see you' and then the other replies 'I am here.' Indeed, when we truly see each other we experience presence, the presence of God.
When A. R. Rahman accepted an Oscar in 2009 he said "I chose love and I am here." A profound statement at a great moment.

Self-confidence

Living consciously involves a lot. It means being aware of the consequences of one's actions and of the cause of our actions. After a while there can be only one conclusion for those of us who live an awakened life: everything goes according to plan. There is nothing to worry about. God creates all the drama for us and we live it.

Appreciation of life

How can we appreciate eating if we cannot focus on the taste of the food? How can we enjoy a beautiful piece of music if we cannot take the time to really listen to it? How can we appreciate the drama of life if we do not pay attention? Can we appreciate watching a movie in a theater if we don't pay attention?
Without presence, there is no appreciation of life. With presence, the richness of every moment of life reveals itself.

These fruits of yoga are not only fruits, they are tools and guides on the spiritual path as well. Each of them can be turned into an exercise.
For instance, next time we encounter someone, let's make an effort to look them in the eyes and stay there. Let's watch what is does to our state. Or, when we notice we dislike something, we can immediately turn our attention to the dislike (rather than its object). We must be careful not to dislike ourselves because the dislike happened, though. Then, let's look at why the dislike occurred; instead of generalizing it, let's make it as specific as possible: what aspect causes the dislike? Then let's ask ourselves why.

Accepting what is

Life is a gift (or did you buy yours)? Aren't all ideas gifts too? (If you grow and harvest your ideas somewhere, please tell me how.) And our effort, isn't it rooted in our willingness or interest to make an effort? Where does this willingness or interest come from? Right. These are gifts as well; some people got them and others did not. Background is a gift. (Or did you chose yours?) Intelligence, patience, kindness, health, you name it, all gifts.

So being proud of your effort is as silly as being proud of having rich parents, or having been born in America, or getting a bike as a birthday present. (Or do you think the seed that falls on rock and never sprouts is just lazy and with some more effort it would do great?) We all come to life with a bag of advantages and disadvantages, talents and handicaps, and we all make the best of what we have.

With this perspective there is no pride and there is no shame, and there is no need to be someone else. There is doing what looks best, and learning from the experience. There is compassion and there is gratitude. 

Enjoy and be grateful. Every moment.

Rediscovery

When I ask my little girl what is most important in life she will roll her eyes and give the answer I taught her: Paying Attention.

When I then ask her why, she does not need to think. "Without paying attention you cannot experience anything or learn anything or enjoy anything." And then I go "And ..." which makes her say: "And without all this you miss out on being grateful for all you learn and all you enjoy. Can I go play now?"

Apparently God wants to rediscover this over and over again.

In the flow

Once we are present we can consciously make choices and learn from our experiences. We can learn what our talents are and where we excel. We can learn what we like and what makes us uncomfortable. We can see what interests us, and how we can make the most out of our lives. But ultimately we cannot avoid the conclusion that we do not choose our preferences and we do not choose our circumstances, and therefore, conscious or not, we are not in charge of our decisions. With this realization there is no room for blame. There is no room for sin. There is room for improvement, using what is given to us.

What commandments?

Several religions have their commandments. For instance, the Christians have the Ten Commandments:
  1. You shall have no other gods before me
  2. You shall not make for yourself an idol
  3. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God
  4. Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you
  5. Honor your father and your mother
  6. You shall not murder
  7. Neither shall you commit adultery
  8. Neither shall you steal
  9. Neither shall you bear false witness against your neighbour
  10. Neither shall you covet your neighbour's wife
  11. You shall not covet your neighbor's house
(There are not 11. There are ten. People cannot agree on how to count them.)

What to do with these? All of them makes sense. Not because God would punish us if we did not follow them - God initiates everything and is in control of everything. God can only punish itself.

These commandments are good advice on how to avoid distractions from being present. For instance, if we do not honor our mother and father, we allow disruptive thoughts in our mind to grow. Before we know it, we are engaged in an inner dialogue that's not only totally useless but seriously detrimental: it takes away the experience of what's happening now.

Is there any better advice? Is there any advice that goes beyond dropping all detrimental thoughts?
  • Acknowledge each other's existence
  • Bring out the best in others and in oneself
  • Learn from every experience
  • Accept everything as God's will, even your strong urge to make a difference
  • Stay focused
  • ...

A theory about life

Some people after years of studying the earth and life on it come to the conclusion that the earth and its inhabitants can be seen as one organism. Some people even claim that they can experience this oneness. What if we took this as a premise? What if we included the whole universe?
That would make the universe one organism. Let's call that organism God. God is everywhere, and so is the universe. It would make us human beings all children of God because we all conceived in the universe and are all made of material of the universe. Since everything happens in the universe, the universe is almighty - after all, there is nothing else but the universe. The same can be said about God, being the universe. Whenever we want to pray, we can only pray to the universe.
The universe is the cause of everything. Everything happens within the universe. If the universe does not want something to happen, it won't. If it does, it will. If something happens (or not) it is because the universe wants it so.

etc etc

Does this theory help us understand life better?

...

Changing perspective

The spiritual path is all about changing perspective. First there is the insight that a lot of what we never questioned to be true may not be true at all. Then we become open for new ideas and become interested in the philosophy of life. And then we learn that many of these ideas that have been around for ages actually do describe the truth, and we learn to see our own life as an example of that truth.

Here are some examples.

God is the greatest tantrist

What is tantra? Tantra is constraining in order to stimulate. It happens everywhere. An orchid grows faster in a small pot. Blind people learn to listen better. Voluntary moderation in consumption makes us appreciate consumption. Pruning a rose makes it more beautiful. Tantra is getting the best out of all living organisms. Like a teacher who gradually increases the complexity of the material he offers, God helps us to grow by creating adversaries. How do we grow? We grow when we learn something. Having the attitude of a student, always eager to learn, we grow.

In Section 'Discover Life' there are examples of how adversaries make us learn and grow.

Are we divine?

We like to play. In our plays we submit ourselves to all kinds of rules that limit our capabilities. Yet, we have fun. We entertain ourselves this way. Could it be that God like us plays for fun? One might object that God's play can be cruel: people suffer and die. But in many plays (e.g. chess) players suffer and die too. We can watch two boxers fighting and can get really excited about it. We can make up a whole world of football players in which it becomes extremely important to move a piece of leather forward. That is, until the playing time is over; after that it does not matter at all where the piece of leather goes. We prefer watching Reality TV, real joy, real suffering, to watching things made up, acted, fake.
Could God, just like us, make up his own rules and then watch what happens? If so, are we so different from God?

Does God only watch? Or does he want to participate? What about us? Don't we want both?

Life Principles

Zonder weerstand geen kracht - ... creates strength or ... is the mother of strength, if you like (gravity, growing bones, ...)

Direction creates unity (magnetism, Alexander Technique, music conductor, teamwork, ...)

Do we need a guru?

Aaaaahh, don't we love these controversial questions? Well, the answer isn't a simple yes or no.

First of all, we need to know what we mean by the word 'guru.' A guru is simply a teacher who can guide us on the path to enlightenment. Here are some prerequisites for someone to be our guru:
  1. We can trust the guru completely.
  2. The guru is enlightened: he has experienced the awakened state and he knows how to get there.
We need to be able to trust our guru because there will be a time (we hope) that she gives us a command. If we don't trust her, we may end up questioning her command rather than obeying her. (For instance, if she says we must intensely listen to our neighbor when we chant, we may simply ignore her request because we question how that could help us.) Obviously the guru needs to be able to know what he is talking about. It's not easy to describe being awake, let alone how to get there, if one has not experienced it.

Unfortunately, these prerequisites do not help us to recognize a person who can play the role of guru for us. If we are already awake, we do not need another person to be our guru. And while we are still asleep, we cannot see whether another person is awake. Moreover, it is impossible to know for sure whether we can trust another person.

So what to do? Do it alone, even though there may be people around who could give valuable advice that would potentially dramatically shorten the time needed to get the experience of awakening?

The question "Do we need a guru?" is the wrong question. We already have a guru. The question is: Are we willing to obey him (or her)? Our guru is our conscience. It's the soft voice inside us that whispers advice to us. If we are willing to be silent we can hear it. If we are willing to listen to it, we get to know everything we need to know. How can we learn to listen to this inner guru?
  • We have to learn to listen carefully. We have to pay full attention to what's happening in our mind. Only when we are able to observe what's appearing in our mind without getting affected by it and automatically reacting to it, can we distinguish the inner guru and choose to obey.
  • We have to quiet the mind, by meditation, chanting, and staying within our limits: learning not to want more than we can handle.
  • We have to recognize that inner voice, and ignore the other. The other voices (or ideas, tendencies of the mind) are typically demanding, loud, impatient, and tiring. They tend to repeat themselves over and over again. The guru's voice, however, is soft, gentle, and compassionate. If we do not listen to it, we don't feel bad about ourselves; maybe a bit sad, but not bad.
Another word for the inner guru is God. He acts like a parent who wants the best for us and loves us unconditionally. If only we could listen all the time ...

Our inner guru may guide us to an outer guru who can help us to get to know our inner guru more thoroughly. Over time, we learn to appreciate our guru more and more, because (s)he teaches us how to live our life. We may start calling our inner guru by our outer guru's name. And sometimes we may even call our guru by our own name. 

Am I enlightened?

If we have to ask, we are not.

Yoga

Yoga is concentration

When I first read this (in a tiny booklet given to me by my Yoga teacher Hans 't Hart, "Yoga Aforismen van Patanjali," a publication of Stichting Theosofie, Almere, Holland) I rejected it. Concentration? No. Yoga was about finding love in our heart, about truth and understanding God's creation, about tuning in to inner guidance, about being kind and compassionate, about finding our own limits, about acceptance, about getting the best out of ourselves. I argued that as a college student and knowledge worker I must have concentrated a lot. If concentration was what it took to proceed in yoga, then I would have been an advanced yogi. I would always know what to do, always be gentle, easily get along with everyone, etc.

The second time I could have learned that yoga is concentration was during a summer course I took at the American Sanskrit Institute in 1997. My teacher Vyaas Youston integrated concentration in his classes. He was so vigilant that he could wake up me up the moment I lost concentration; that is, before I had noticed myself! He gave us specific focus points so that we could practice concentration all the time. And he even told us that this was exactly what the essence of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (some of which we translated during the course). Even after this intense training and direct teaching, I was not able to connect the dots.

Now, years later, Thank God I know better. Yoga is indeed all the things mentioned above and more. And it all starts with concentration. What good is it to be able to find the love in our heart if we lose it the next moment because of a distracting thought? What good is it to know how to be kind if there are so many other things on our mind that seem to request all our attention? What good is it to hear our inner guide if there is so much other chatter in our minds that keeps us from listening to it? If we cannot concentrate we cannot achieve anything. Concentration wakes us up. And concentration keeps us awake.

Patanjali

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali give a detailed description of the states we can be in. Next to this, they give prescriptions on how to get to the awakened state. They were designed for brevity and accuracy, not for clarity, however. Therefore they may not appeal to everyone. Here is an explanation of some of these sutras.

1.1 - Those who pay attention learn the truth.

Often this first sutra is translated as "Now, yoga is being explained" and therefore overlooked and merely seen as an introduction. As if Patanjali would waste a sutra on such trivial a notion. It's much more likely that he followed the tradition of making the first sutra and the first word a summary of the whole text, just like the Bhagavad Gita is about dharma and Ksemaraja's Pratyabhijnahrdayam is about consciousness. He encourages us to study the now even more than to study yoga. Even if we want to study yoga we have to focus on what's happening now because only those who focus on the now can experience yoga.

In other words, someone who lives in the present moment (i.e. is awake) realizes what is happening and can learn from it. What is happening? Life is teaching us life; the process of growing understanding of life and realization of our true identity as expressions of God in the divine play is being explained. That is, for those of us who happen to pay attention.

It is important to realize that Patanjali's sutras do not only describe what happens to those of us who are present. Next to describing presence, it prescribes how we get there. In our journey towards enlightenment we may want to see life as designed to lead us there. Life teaches us the purpose of life. If we have the great good fortune of paying attention to its lessons, we'll succeed and reach the goal. More on this later.

1.2 - Yoga is the process of gaining freedom from the mind.

The mind is very entertaining. We tend to get absorbed in it, and take everything projected on it as the truth. Not everything we think is true. What happens in the mind may not always be relevant or helpful.

There are simply habits of thoughts, mostly triggered by the perception of something. The same patterns are repeated over and over again over the years.

The process of becoming free from what happens in the mind is called yoga. Note that there is no reference at all to making the mind still. There is no claim that we can make the mind thoughtless. There is a promise that we can get free from thoughts, i.e. that thoughts won't necessarily affect us anymore.

The mind can be our friend. It is a key instrument on our path to enlightenment. Focusing on what we perceive now sometimes means focusing on what we think, without necessarily being affected by our thoughts. When our thoughts are hurtful, however, we may want to think of alternatives in order to neutralize old destructive thought patterns. We may notice where these thought patterns come from, and how they affect our actions. This way, watching the mind becomes an exercise that strengthens us on our path to enlightenment.

1.3 - When yoga is taking place, we are in our awakened state.

Being free from the mind and established in the awareness of being is the same as being awake. The periods that this is happening can be short.

1.4 - When it is not taking place, we are caught in the habits of the mind.

It is either or. Either we are 'awake' or we are 'asleep.'

1.5 - Being caught in the mind is not necessarily painful.

Here Patanjali warns for a common misunderstanding. Being awake does not mean being joyful; being asleep does not mean suffering. Being awake means realizing what is happening; what is happening can cause joy or pain, or none of the two. Being awake also means being aware of the consequences of what is happening, and of the results of one's actions.
Being caught in the mind (e.g. in sweet memories or romantic fantasies) can be joyful. All of the mental habits are potential distractions: they can distract us from our true being, viz. the awakened state.

1.6 - The five habits of the mind are right knowledge, wrong knowledge, fantasy, sleep, and memory.

Here Patanjali describes what kind of mental habits occur. In his model, there are five. Together they act like a TV set with five channels: a memory channel, a fantasy channel, etc. We are inclined to stare at the TV and get absorbed in what is presented to us. Sometimes the channels are switched but strangely we do not notice it; we keep on watching as if nothing has happened. Once in a while we realize that we could turn the TV off and that that would even be beneficial to us, but it is so entertaining that we spend most of our time staring at it anyway. The TV channels do not even offer new material. To the contrary, most of the time we see old shows we have watched many times before. At some point someone may turn off the TV and we suddenly realize that we are in a room watching a TV set. Chances are high we don't know how to handle this and we quickly seek refuge ... by switching the TV on again.

Let's look at what is presented to us in the mind that keeps us from being aware.

1.7 - Right knowledge is a result of direct cognition, deduction, or the scriptures.

The first habit of the mind is to repeat our current understanding, reason about it, or contemplate the teachings on life. Reading this text for instance will have ripple effects on the mind: the ideas will echo and provoke other thoughts and inner arguments. At some point we may be so convinced that we know the truth that we try to persuade someone else of it (possibly in our mind only). Even though we may be right, it's still a habit of the mind: we are not enjoying the present.

1.8 - Wrong knowledge is having a false idea about something.

Our opinion on something does not necessarily need to be true. A false idea about something can occupy our mind just as well.

1.9 - Fantasy is making up an image.

Daydreaming or worrying about something that could happen are habits of the mind that fall into this category. They clearly keep us from realizing what is happening now.

1.10 - Sleep is the habit of the mind of being empty, without thoughts.

Indeed, being thoughtless is not to be confused with being awake. Having an empty mind without realizing it still means not being aware of what's happening in one's consciousness.

1.11 - Memory is recalling past experiences.

The last habit of the mind Patanjali distinguishes is memory. Contemplating something that has happened in the past obviously makes it impossible to focus on what's happening now.

The thought patterns can be recognized at any time. For instance, when we start playing a CD with our favorite music, we probably make a vague attempt to listen to it. But very soon the music, although still playing, merges into the wallpaper and we resume being absorbed in the mind. We can think about what has happened that day, what we think about that based upon our background, recall some old stuff, have an empty mind for a while, fantasize about what could happen, etc. All this time we are not aware of our existence, or what's happening around us. Now and then we may hear a few notes of the music, but not enough to get us to really listen to the music, let alone realize that we are listening.

Luckily, Patanjali also tells us how we can get free from the mind.

1.12 - The habits of the mind are overcome by means of practice and non-attachment.

Now that we know what the habits of the mind are, Patanjali turns to how we can get free from them. This is a key sutra.
We need to practice to become free from the mind. What do we need to practice? Patanjali explains this in the next sutra.

1.13 - Practice is making the effort to stay there.

Patanjali does not say where we have to stay. Maybe we simply have to stay, i.e. to concentrate. Indeed, prolonged focus evokes the awakened state. And once that state has arrived, we have to make the effort to stay there, in that state in which we know (realize) what we are doing.

1.14 - When that is practiced continuously and with devotion, it becomes firmly grounded.

So in the long term there is success, provided that it is done without holding back. It's not a Friday afternoon activity. It's a 24-7 activity, and we have to give it all we have.

1.15 - Non-attachment is knowing the skill of not clinging to objects experienced or described.

The non-attachment mentioned as the second tool to overcome the mind (see 1.12) means that while keeping our attention focused, we have to remain aware of us paying attention, by not getting caught up in what's happening. We remain detached. We play our role while being fully aware that we are playing it.
In the awakened state there can be a thought coming up about what has happened before or what we have read. We can see it coming from far. We do not even need to verbalize it to recognize it. Once we chose to engage in it, we have lost the awakened state; suddenly our expanded state collapses. Non-attachment is not paying attention to these thoughts.
Non-attachment means that we can fully enjoy life while being able to accept that what we enjoy can disappear instantaneously; if we need to, we can drop it immediately. We take life as it is; we do not resist it. It is the ideal student attitude: interested in whatever the teacher offers, trusting that it is part of the curriculum, necessary to complete the class.

This does not mean we renounce everything. Rather, we fully and wholeheartedly embrace what is now. This, again, does not mean we force ourselves to tolerate everything. When action is asked for, we act.  
 

1.16 - The ultimate non-attachment comes from knowing oneself.

Once there is the understanding that the universe is one living organism, an expression of God, and that God defines everything, including our thoughts and feelings, there is only observing and the realization of existence. Just like we can watch a movie while accepting the plot, we can watch life. We can also explore our own role while playing it. In this new perspective on life a villain is still a villain, but we understand that this is the role they have in the cosmic drama. We understand that they do not know what they are doing because they are asleep. For the moment they would wake up they would stop being a villain.
Whenever we realize we have made a mistake ourselves because we were not paying attention we can drop thinking about it because we know we are still learning; we are on our way to being awake all the time. At the same time, we can make the intention to not make that mistake again and get even more eager to stay awake, which motivates us to do our practices.

1.21 - The intenser our longing for the awakened state, the more likely it will happen.

For us to enter the awakened state, we must want it. If we give other things priority, we will discard the awakening when it is in front of us. See Jesus' remarks on children and the Parable of the Ten Virgins.

2.28 -

2.29 -

Satchidananda

The awakened state is characterized by sat-chid-ananda, the bliss of the awareness of being. (Often this is translated as "being-consciousness-bliss" or "existence-knowledge-bliss absolute," without any explanation.) Anyone who has recognized this state has experienced that the awareness of being in itself is delightful. The term "Satchidananda" describes the goal as well as instructions on how to get there. Simply by becoming aware of our existence (in other words, by realizing that we exist) can we experience the bliss that comes with this awareness. All it takes is focus. So we can (learn to) tune in to love whenever we want to.

Seven Sutras on Presence

1. Presence is realization of being

To be fully aware of one's existence, and one's ability to witness what's happening, is the ultimate experience. It does not matter so much what is happening as realizing that one is witnessing it.

2. Presence evokes joy

The joy is the joy of the awareness of being, or saccidananda. It is feeling light, expanded, all-inclusive, and totally at ease. When we are present, every breath fans the love in our heart.

3. Presence is contagious

Anyone who has been around an awakened being knows this. A look in their eyes is unforgettable. As a matter of fact, a meeting with anyone who does not have something else on his or her mind, who pays full attention to you without pursuing anything else, can pull you into the present moment.

4. Concentration yields presence

Concentration here means prolonged focused attention. It does not require a serious, forceful, strenuous effort, but a relaxed yet determined willingness and an easeful mastery of what needs to be done. It can be a very simple task.

5. Mental habits disrupt

Mental habits disrupt both presence and concentration. Patanjali has categorized the mental habits (or vrttis). Even contemplating the awakened state and describing exercises to accomplish it can be mental habits.

6. Concentration requires will power

It's not enough to know techniques intellectually. For instance, knowing that watching the breath is a great technique to become present is of no use unless one actually applies this technique. To actually do a practice requires will power. Once you have made yourself do the practice, don't hold back! Give it all you have. "Fake it till you make it" works as long at it involves concentration.

7. Intention focuses will power

No distraction can fool a determined person. The intention to focus pulls one through difficult moments: when the choice of distraction comes, the right thing to do is obvious. Without an intention, the distracting thought seems more interesting.
This applies both to when we are present and when we are not.

As you think, so you become

This profound truth may have many interpretations. One practical one is this.

When we use a knife to carve a line in wood, the line will get deeper and deeper with each move. With each move, it gets easier to stay in the groove, and harder to get out of it. A thought is like that: it is carving the mind. Each time we think the same thought, it gets harder to think differently.

An application of this is to avoid thinking negatively about someone else. For if we do, we actually increase the likelihood that next time we meet this person we will express negativity to them. Obviously, this won't improve our relationship with them. So especially in relationships with people who are close to us, it is important to nourish pure and positive thoughts about them. These thoughts, too, are likely to be expressed, however subtly.

Finding love everywhere

The first time I discovered love inside myself was Sunday December 10, 1995. I was sitting on the couch drinking some coffee. I had made sure I did not have anything to do during that weekend. It had allowed me to do exercises that quiet the mind during Friday evening and during the whole Saturday. There was nothing for me to do on the whole Sunday. I liked drinking some coffee. I had recently moved to a new house which I liked very much. And then, I fell in love.
It happened so unexpectedly that I did not know how to react. I noticed the love but did not know how to handle it. So I thought I had fallen in love with my cup of coffee, the only object that was in my awareness. It took weeks to understand this experience. It took months to understand that it does not require another person to experience love. We just need a shift in our awareness. Quite often, another person is the cause of that shift in our awareness, but it can also happen all by itself. When it happens, at first there is the tendency to project the love on someone else (or something else, like the coffee up in my case). However, that tendency is not necessary. Love can come all by itself and can be all by itself.
Once that understanding has settled in love simply requires a shift of awareness, and we can do that at will. For me, it helps to focus on the middle of the chest (at heart level) and imagine a funnel there through which I breathe in. That's all it takes. With each inhale I bathe in love and with each exhale I relax. It's available for anyone, anytime, anywhere. A 24x7 inexhaustible source of joy.

A New York Times article describes a way to fall in love. The author interprets her experiencing her inner state with falling in love with a person simply because the other person is instrumental in the experience.
 

The Bible

Introduction

The Bible is not a study guide about how to reach the goal of life, yet it does contain valuable information to those able to see it. It has many references to Malkhuta Delaha - the 'kingdom of heaven' or the 'kingdom of God' (Matthew 19:23). Malkhuta can also be translated as 'reign' and hence Malkhuta Delaha is the state in which Thy Will Be Done, in other words, the state in which we realize that we live in God expressing itself and that we ourselves are part of that expression. This awakened state in which we are aware of what's unfolding now (in each moment) is the goal of life. And therefore it makes sense to study what the Bible says about it.
This text quotes the Bible[2]. (Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION (R), Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.

The kingdom of heaven

There are many verses that refer to the awakened state. Here is a selection.

Matthew 19:23

"it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven."
Being rich, one is likely to be afraid of losing what one has, or to be wanting more. Contentment is a prerequisite for awakening. Gratitude is its companion.

Matthew 21:43

"the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit."
Being awake is not necessarily an endless state. Being awakene implies being virtuous. Acting against one's conscience triggers an inner argument that causes the loss of the awakened state.

Matthew 18:8; Mark 10:15

"Unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven"; "anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."
The amazing thing is that the awakened state knocks on our door far more often than we realize. Most often we do not want to be disturbed. "Not now!" If we pay attention at all, we tend to look through the peep hole for just an instant and then we turn to our next activity, before even recognizing the supreme guest. Our agenda does not allow us to invite the awakened state into our lives. We are too busy, or too tired.
But young children, they are ready to receive a gift in the moment it is offered.

Luke 17:21

"... the kingdom of God is within you."
It is an inner state (in which we are aware of our existence).

Parables explained

Several parables start with "The kingdom of heaven is like ..." followed by some characteristic description. Therefore these parables are interesting: they tell us something about this inner state.

Parable of the Weeds - Matthew 13:24-29

Do we need to concern ourselves with people who do not live righteously? Not if they do not harm us. We better leave them to God. Judging them and trying to get rid of them (pulling the weeds) would rather backfire on us: we would lose the awakened state. In the awakened state we 

Parable of the Mustard Seed - Matthew 13:31-32; Mark 4:30-32

The awakened state has little impact on our lives and on the world when it is small like a mustard seed; it is missed (overlooked). But when it is nourished it can be cultivated into something that lasts long and uplifts our lives and the lives of many others.
Moreover, the essence of the lasting state is the same as that of the momentary realization.

Parable of the Yeast - Matthew 13:33

The awakened state causes a ripple effect. People touched by it are uplifted and they in their turn uplift others.

Parable of the Hidden Treasure - Matthew 13:44

The awakened state is priceless and invaluable.

Parable of the Unmerciful Servant - Matthew 18:23-35

Just like God, the awakened ones treat others as their own children, and give them what they need, just like they would like to be treated themselves. Once they have seen an act of virtue they realize it and, since they know what they are doing, they can chose to apply that themselves.

Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard - Matthew 20:1-16

For the awakened one everyone is equal. Granted, some work harder, some seem luckier. But that in itself does not make them worthier.

Parable of the Two Sons - Matthew 21:28-32

To enter the state one has to obey one's conscience. If for instance an apology or offering one's help is needed, it is counterproductive to find reasons not to do so. Reasons can always be found, but in the reasoning the awakened state is lost. So following one's heart is key to the awakened state.

Parable of the Tenants - Matthew 21:33-43

If we can't lead a virtuous life the awakened state will be taken away from us.

Parable of the Wedding Banquet - Matthew 22:1-14/Luke 14:15-24

The awakened state can be reached by all human beings, that is, we all have the potential. Yet, not everyone will reach it.

Parable of the Ten Virgins - Matthew 25:1-13

People with a pure mind are able to offer their attention any moment: the light is the light of their attention. Therefore, when the awakened state happens to them, they can stay there, not distracted by old mind-stuff. They can be present at will.

Parable of the Talents - Matthew 25:14-30

The awakened state is our birthright but also a responsibility. The idea is to grow it, not to let it linger. Use it or lose it.

Parable of the Sheep and the Goats - Matthew 31-46

To obtain the awakened state, to obtain unity consciousness, we have to bring out the best in others and ourselves; we have to treat each other as God. We have to recognize God in each other.

Cf. Mark 9:37: Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.

...

Parable of the Sower - Mark 4:3-8

Some people are eager to learn about the awakened state. Others are not. So don't expect anyone to go for it. But when somebody does, and the person accomplishes the awakened state, more will be inclined to embrace it, just like a mature plant carries the seed for other plants.

Parable of the Growing Seed - Mark 4:26-29

Once the idea of awakening has taken root in somebody, it grows all by itself.

...

The Beatitudes explained

The Beatitudes are listed in Matthew 5:3-10. Let's see what they tell us about the state of the awakened one.
Jesus teaches here the essence: what it takes to become enlightened, to live in the kingdom of heaven.
  1. "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
    The awakened state is for those who can take life as it is (without objecting it), who take it moment by moment. For them, "What would Jesus do?" is a great tool to take the right action. It teaches them how to live from the heart, always doing what is right. Because of this they have learned to trust their heart, and they never have to regret their own actions, for in the moment of choice they chose what their conscience told them to do. They see themselves as an instrument in God's hands, and ultimately realize that all is God's will.
  2. "Blessed are those who mourn: for they will be comforted."
    The first step towards the awakened state is to realize that it is not experienced all the time while knowing it exists. Therefore, the mourning is the motivation for seeking awakening. Without it, there is no chance of finding it. The mourning makes us determined to give priority to finding the kingdom of God. It is the prelude.
  3. "Blessed are the meek: for they will inherit the earth."
    Those who know that nothing happens unless God wants it follow their heart without mental agony. Consequently they can fully enjoy worldly experiences, i.e. they inherit the abundance of life on this planet. With the perception that we are not in control, we receive the gifts of life on earth in gratitude.
  4. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they will be filled."
    Freedom is certain. It's our birthright. Once we start living from the heart, uplifting the world wherever and whenever we can, we will be fulfilled.
  5. "Blessed are the merciful: for they will be shown mercy."
    The awakened ones are able to forgive themselves and others and in that way can accept themselves as they are. They know very well that most people are asleep most of the time. Therefore they don't blame them for making mistakes. They remember very well the time they were asleep themselves, and that they owe it to God's grace and nothing else that they were awakened. Their self-acceptance leads to total acceptance of life as it is, to love. This is the ultimate gift, the liberation from suffering.
  6. "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they will see God."
    Those who have purified their minds and are not affected by their thoughts, opinions, mental habitual reactions, see the truth: that God is in everything.
  7. "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they will be called sons of God."
    Those who create peace and harmony in themselves (by doing practices that stimulate awareness) are approaching the state of liberation. It's just a matter of time that they realize that God created them and takes care of them.
  8. "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
    The ones that are persecuted for righteousness have made the conscious decision to live righteously, that is, from the heart. And they are willing to take the consequences for it. They stand in their own truth and are not shaken by adversary. They constantly look for how their lives teach them how to stay awake. Consequently they live more and more consciously and become fully awakened.
  9. "Blessed are you, when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me."
    Those who have the discrimination to distinguish untruth from truth and follow their heart consciously are blessed.
  10. "Rejoice and be glad: because great is your reward in heaven: for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
    Knowing the truth is one thing. Living it is another. Living it, being tested by life itself, firmly establishes one in the truth. Each time one experiences steadfastness on the spiritual path, growth, and increased spiritual maturity, there is joy and gratitude.

The Kingdom of Heaven - a summary

The awakened state is an inner state (Luke 17:21) that is invaluable (Parable of the Hidden Treasure) and available to everyone (Parable of Wedding Banquet). Yet, not everyone will be open to it (Mark 10:15) and not everyone will achieve it (Parable of Sower). It can grow into a great boon for mankind (Mustard Seed).
To get there, one has to follow one's heart/conscience (Parable of the Two Sons, Matthew 21:43); we have to bring out the best in others and ourselves (Parable of the Sheep and the Goats) and practice contentment (Matthew 19:23).
In the awakened state, we treat everyone with love, as if they were our own children (Parable of the Unmerciful Servant).
It is called "Kingdom of Heaven" because in this state we understand (and embrace) that nothing happens unless God wants it - not even our own thoughts.

Compassion and ignorance

According to Luke 23:34 Jesus said "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." This is a beautiful expression of compassion, especially because at that time Jesus was crucified by them. The true master has compassion for he understands ignorance. There cannot be blame in the heart of the one who is awake, just like one cannot blame the blind for being blind.

Common confusion

Jesus has taken away the sin of the earth

The traditional interpretation is that people lived in sin; then Jesus came and somehow took away their sins; but unfortunately people resumed their sinful way of living.
Another option is that before Jesus people thought that sin was part of their life. Then Jesus came and tried to explain to them that sin does not exist. Because God is almighty there cannot be sin. Assuming the existence of sin implies rejection of the omnipotence of God.

Jesus offers us victory over death

The traditional interpretation is that we all die, but if we believe in Christ we will receive eternal life in heaven, that is, after life on this planet.
Another option is that Jesus offers us an understanding about life that helps us to stay awake, i.e. to know what we are doing at any moment in life. In that way he helps us to conquer the tendency to get caught up in the mind (i.e. to die). In other words, he offers us a way to conquer death.

For where two or three come together in My name, there am I with them. Matthew 18:20

The traditional interpretation is that if people come together to pray to God, He will be with them.
A more generic interpretation is that whenever two or more people come together to practice concentration, it is likely that they evoke attributes of the awakened state: love, unity, lightness, and peace.

Taking things literally

Sometimes it is hilarious to see how the Bible is misunderstood while it is very clear. Here are some examples.

Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing - Luke 23:32-38

Someone like Jesus who understands that most people do not know what they are doing most of the time, and knows that God is omniscient, asking God for forgiveness is superfluous. For someone who knows that everything that happens is nothing but God playing, asking God to forgive is absurd. What Jesus is doing here is show us how to handle adverse situations which, on the surface, seem to be caused by other people: don't blame the blind for not seeing; don't blame the deaf for not hearing, don't blame the cripple for not being able to move.

Then he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. - I Corinthians 15:6

Here the terms alive and asleep are clearly presented as opposites. The common interpretation is that 'asleep' is used metaphorically, meaning 'dead' in the traditional sense, i.e. having left the body. Why would the writer even mention that some have died? Who cares? What he wants to say is that most of the people who witnessed Jesus' appearance remained aware of their existence for a long time. The latter interpretation makes the sentence a truly valuable one.

more ...

The Gnostic Bible

Introduction

Studying the Gnostic Bible can give a better understanding of what enlightenment is. This understanding helps to recognize it in oneself. For those who have recognized the awakened state, the texts are wonderful riddles that are fun to solve. The texts are taken from The Gnostic Bible, Copyright (C) 2003 by Willis Barnstone and Marvin Meyer; Shambala Publications, Inc.)

The father's kingdom

The father's kingdom describes (living in) the awakened state. The knowledge we have acquired so far about this state helps us understand these texts as well.

Thomas - 76

The father's kingdom is like a merchant who owned a supply of merchandise and found a pearl. The merchant was prudent. He sold his goods and bought the single pearl for himself. So with you. Seek his treasure that is unfailing and enduring, where no moth comes to devour and no worm destroys.

Knowing the awakened state and being able to live in it is more precious than anything else. Cf. Matthew 13:44

Thomas - 96

The father's kingdom is like a woman who took a little yeast, hid it in dough, and made large loaves of bread. Whoever has ears should hear.

Living in the awakened state is a boon to mankind. It uplifts. The benefits proliferate from person to person. Cf. Matthew 13:33

Thomas - 97

The father's kingdom is like a woman who was carrying a jar full of meal. While she was walking along a distant road, the handle of the jar broke and the meal spilled behind her along the road. She did not know it. She noticed no problem. When she reached her house she put the jar down and found it empty.

When we live in the awakened state we do not pay attention to what we carry in our mind (opinions, knowledge, memories); we do not even bother that we are losing this mental burden. Over time, our mind becomes more and more empty. So our journey does not make us acquire things; it rather makes us lose things we don't need.

Thomas - 98

The father's kingdom is like a person who wanted to put someone powerful to death. While at home he drew his sword and thrust it into the wall to find out whether his hand would go in. Then he killed the powerful person.

Our obstacles on the path to the freedom of the awakened state are our mental habits. When we are in the awakened state we realize that we have to practice freeing ourselves from these habits (by meditation, focusing). This practice happens when our environment is not demanding anything of us. Then, when we face circumstances in life in which we could easily fall back into our habits, our practice bears fruit: we have learned how to be steadfast and hence conquer the powerful habit.

Thomas - 107

The kingdom is like a shepherd who had a hundred sheep. One of them, the largest, went astray. He left the ninety-nine and looked for the one until he found it. After so much trouble he said to the sheep, "I love you more than the ninety-nine."

If we wish to find God, we may be better off not staying in the herd. Finding God is a quest, something that needs an unconventional and sometimes a somewhat illogical approach. If the herd would take us there, there would not be any incentive to do something special for it, would there?
This is not to say that it could not happen in the herd. It is not necessary to quit one's job, leave one's family, and go wander in the wilderness. But it may very well be necessary to see what we have as temporary, as things that do not define us. And it is certainly necessary to question and investigate. Not to question in order to find a reason to reject the new, but to question whether the conventional approach is the best one. Then we are more likely to find God who loves us all (cf. Luke 18:29).

Thomas - 109

The kingdom is like a person who had a treasure hidden in his field. He did not know it, and when he died, he left it to his son. The son did not know about it. He took over the field and sold it. The buyer was plowing and found the treasure, and began to lend money at interest to whomever he wished.

Some people do not know the treasure they have inside. Others find it and share it with everybody who is open to it.

Thomas - 113

His students said to him, When will the kingdom come?
Yeshua said, It will not come because you are watching for it. No one will announce, "Look, here it is," or "Look, there it is." The father's kingdom is spread out upon the earth and people do not see it (cf. Luke 17:21)


At times we all are in the awakened state. It can happen any time. Some stay there long enough to recognize it and fully enjoy it. Most people don't. Nevertheless, we all have access to it. Anytime. Wherever we are. For it's within us.

Other educative pieces

Philip [55]

Jesus loved her (Mary) more than his students. He kissed her often on her face, more than all his students, and they said, "Why do you love her more than us?" The savior answered, saying to them, "Why do I not love you like her? If a blind man and one who sees are together in darkness, they are the same. When the light comes, the one who sees will see the light. The blind man stays in darkness."

Two persons in the awakened state connect deeply simply by looking each other in the eyes. This connection evokes love. Apparently (see also Luke 10:42) Mary was enlightened too, and Jesus and her shared this deep connection and love. His students, however, were still asleep, and therefore could not experience (were blind to) this. Hence, they did not understand the love Jesus and Mary felt for each other.

Flaws in Religions

Often people introduce religious rules with the best intention, but fail to explain why a rule is supposed to be necessary. After a while, the reasoning is forgotten and what's left is a rule that restricts people for no apparent reason. Let's look at some of these rules.

Fasting

As has been explained above, the ultimate goal of life is to become fully present. The major obstacle to becoming fully present is mental activity that distracts us from what's happening here and now. So rather than fully enjoying the present moment, we tend to get caught up in the mind. Wouldn't it be great to find a way to quiet the mind?

Anyone who has tried a fast will have the same experience: after a few days of not eating at all the eagerness to eat goes away. This is counter-intuitive: one may expect that the urge to eat would increase over time. But this is not true. After a week without food, we wake up early in the morning and have no urge at all. Everything seems perfectly fine. We can lie there the whole day and feel no tendency whatsoever to get up and do something. Minutes can go by without any thoughts. Now and then there is the realization that there is no incentive to do anything, and there can be some amazament about that. But apart from that, there is nothing. We have conquered the mind, it seems. Our body has switched to a state of minimal activity, of not spending any energy, simply to survive given that there has not been any nutrition in days. Our mind is still, but we are left without joy, without contentment, without love.

At some point we decide that the experiment has taken long enough. We start eating again. The body changes to a normal state, and the mind switches on again. The first meals, although small, fill us with gratitude. We enjoy every taste, every texture. We feel alive! How could we ever have eaten without this awareness? Unfortunately, the experiment has not made us more aware, at least, not in a lasting way. We had some realizations due to the new experiences, but now the mind has switched on again and within a few days everything is back to what it was before the experiment.

After a few days we look back. Have we gained anything? Well, we have learned what fasting does to us. But we have not accomplished anything lasting. We have not found a sustainable way of silencing the mind. By taking away its energy we can silence it, but in this way we also take away the energy that gives us the joy of living.

We may have gained a sense of empowerment, though. By means of our will power, we were able to silence the mind. By forcing ourselves not to eat we showed that we were stronger than the mind. Having some power over the mind may inspire us to do another fast. It may inspire us to do it regularly, even to convince our family, our friends, our community to fast regularly. And then, it may become a rule. Centuries later people don't fast because it gives the experience of a silent mind, the experience of some power over the restless mind, and the (temporary) joy of eating conscoiusly, but because some spiritual leader fasted centuries before. We fast because that's what we do.

Respecting the Day of the Lord (or taking a break)

For decades Catholics were not supposed to work on Sundays. That blunt rule led to the usual inconsistencies: their very spiritual leaders, their priests, did work on Sundays. Changes in society at the end of the twentieth century have exposed this rule as impractical. Still, the initial intention was good; it was just the rigidity of the rule that made it obsolete.

Most probably, initially some spiritual leader realized that it is a good thing to retreat regularly from work, step back, and contemplate life. Contemplating life's basic questions often raises interest in finding out what the goal of life is, how we can be more conscious and not take life for granted, and how we can enjoy life more and get the best out of ourselves. However, just realizing this is not enough. The realization must cause an action: we must commit to actually do it, to actually retreat regularly. The most obvious solution is to institutionalize it and have as a rule that everyone not work on Sundays. In this way we all support each other.

Unfortunately, after a while the reasoning behind having the rule is lost, and we adhere to the rule because the rule is ours. We don't work on Sundays because we are not supposed to. Once society takes away that rule, we have lost our day of retreat because we have forgotten long ago that that was the original intent.

Not eating meat

Living consciously

Living in abundance



Exercise 1 - Beauty
Beauty comes in many forms. To become aware of this, count the number of ways someone can be beautiful. Look at people and see what's unique to them and strikes you as beautiful. Is it the way they walk? The color of their hair? Their voice? Etc. Then look at your list. Imagine how life would be if you were aware of this abundance everywhere.

Fundamental Advice

The first thing I taught my children was to answer the question "What's the most important thing in life?" If you asked them they'd immediately answer "Paying attention." And then they would roll their eyes because I have asked it too often. I hope they understand that without paying attention there is no experience and hence there is no joy and no learning.

The second most important thing I would like my children to understand is that of perspective. How can we deal with everything that happens in our lives? Is there a guiding priciple that can make us move past anything with gratitude? I think there is. It is the perspective of never-ending growth. Instead of labeling events or emotions as positive or negative, we can focus on what we can learn from them, or on what the experience teaches us we can improve. Then, even if something awful happens we can use it to make sure it won't happen again, if possible to anyone, or we can help establish understanding on how to mitigate its effects should it happen again.

And with this perspective of always being ready to learn something new we cultivate paying attention, which enriches life and ultimately leads to the fulfillment of it.

Summary

The world is an expression of God. This One Universal Organism is continuously evolving in innumerable ways. God is in the stars, in the earth, in nature, in our thoughts, feelings, and all our experiences. It is Her nature to express Herself in the form of human beings as well. In this form, She limits herself to a body and mind, and conceals Her true omni-present nature.
Therefore, in the form of a human being God gets the idea that he is alone in this world, that he is imperfect, and that he has to survive in some way. As a matter of fact She is playing a game of hide and seek. Very slowly She reveals Herself to Herself: She lets the human being (Herself in another form) realize who he is. That is done by a series of insights, experiences, and realizations which are part of the life of that individual human being. The process of revelation, of understanding, of merging back into God, is called Yoga. Now, Yoga is happening all the time. It is part of life. Many individuals do not see it yet, but at one time they will. The first realization that there is more in life than they thought is a very moving experience. It is the start of a spiritual journey. It is a moment of grace. The spiritual journey is accompanied by an increasing number of moments of awareness. Therefore, the start is also called an awakening. It is accompanied by an increasing appreciation of life and by an increasing awareness of love (the nature of God).
So the path to the goal (realization of who we are - an expression of God) is similar for each individual. Yet, each one experiences it in his own way. After all, each one lives his own life. Nevertheless, each life is predestined, including every minute detail, every single thought. It is simply part of the evolution of God.
Once this process has started people start seeing their lives as a play. They see their life as a movie that is made for their entertainment. This movie does not include only external events, but also thoughts and feelings. So they start being aware of being the audience of this movie and more and more detach from what is happening. They de-identify with their role in this movie. This detachment gives peace, and allows them to keep more and more the vision of the truth: that all is an expression of God, and that God is experiencing Herself through them.

One last Exercise
Write a book about your life experience.

Links

Do you need further reading or community?

[1] "the death shall be raised incorruptible" - When we awake, we start realizing what's happening to us and what choices we have. Naturally, we learn how to do the right thing; we reject wrong doing not because of any law imposed by society but because our own conviction and willingness to live righteously. By knowing what we are doing, we learn to live virtuously.
[2] This text highlights some excerpts of the Bible and ignores other. This indeed implies that some pieces are more valuable than other pieces when it comes to understanding enlightenment.

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Wordle: Enlightenment for Everyone