Complexity and Simplicity – Br. Shankara

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December 8, 2019

December is a month for study of Karma Yoga, a spiritual path leading to the abandonment of selfishness. As a karma yogi, you practice offering your actions and their results, as well as your perceptions, thoughts, and feelings to the Divine Presence.

Even before fully knowing this Presence, you hold firmly to the belief that the Presence is within each person or other living being that you interact with or serve. Working and abiding in this spirit, you are increasingly able to release attachment to your activities and their results. This is the freedom promised by Karma Yoga.

As Sri Krishna tells Arjuna in Ch. 2 of Bhagavad Gita:
“Even a little practice of this yoga will save you from the terrible wheel of rebirth and death …”

This month we’re exploring spiritual teachings that promise you freedom from the small, dark prison of self-centeredness. We are told that there is a life of bliss and joy, beyond all our pain and suffering. And we hear that to live this life, you should learn to surrender your actions and their results, and be of noble character.    

John R. Macduff, a widely read 19th Century Scottish preacher and author, wrote:
“Character is the product of daily, hourly actions, and words, and thoughts; daily forgivenesses, unselfishness, kindnesses, sympathies, charities, sacrifices for the good of others, struggles against temptation, submissiveness under trial…”

Yet, can you actually act, speak, and think like that? Life seems too complex and demanding: Aren’t you constantly busy, nearly overwhelmed by duties, concerns, conflicts, and situations that require an immediate response? You may even suffer constant psychological pain. Doesn’t it sometimes feels like you’re barely hanging onto your sanity by your fingernails?!

Great Teachers gently tell us this need not be so. Swami Vivekananda once wrote to a deeply troubled friend: “Herein lies the whole secret of Existence. Waves may roll over the surface and tempest rage, but deep down there is the stratum of infinite calmness, infinite peace, and infinite bliss.”

Hanging on by your fingernails …
Infinite calmness, peace, and bliss …
Two different levels of reality.

The first is the realm of mind, where — as Sri Sarada Devi said — human beings are “endowed not only with goodness, but with profuse quantities of materialism and vanity.”

The second is the province of the heart, with its powers of love and compassion, and its insight into the spiritual nature of our sisters and brothers in human and other forms.

In this talk, we expand on what is meant by these two statements, and discuss how the practice of Karma Yoga can tame your restless mind and open your joyful heart.