See the end of this review for a chance to win a copy of Karma – The Path of Action.
My brown parcel of one DVD for review arrived while I was rutting my way through a gnarly space in my life.
I shelved the DVD, needing to find the Right Space to watch and comment on it.
That Right Space never arrived.
However, swayed by the deadline to write a review, I pulled the first DVD out of its box and set up a small window on my laptop so that I could listen as I went about clearing emails and updating my blog.
Within minuates, Swami Govindananda had my full attention.
Swamiji the Great Story Teller
Swamiji is a clever story teller. An expert story teller. I’d recently spent an evening with the graduates of an international story telling workshop where the ‘techniques’ of engagement with the audience were on show.
For these recent graduates of story telling, the tools of narration, body language, eye contact … pause… and voice inflexion had a slight awkward overdone quality to them. Swamiji, it was readily apparent, had all the naturalness and innate passion for telling a great story.
Swamiji starts each talk on the DVDs with five minutes of chanting. As he sings out the first note, it is like a wind has entered my own breath and I breathe fuller and deeper. His voice is the sound of a river flowing through valleys and out into the vast plains and fertile grounds. I picture sound receptors all over my body standing to attention.
I am curious as to the direction these talks will go. I’ve never had a formal explanation of Karma before, and certainly not the yoga of it. My prior understanding was the plain-spoken cause and effect of action and the motivation behind that action.
Defining Karma Yoga
Swamiji defines Karma as action, and Yoga as union with the Supreme. So the one who follows Karma Yoga attains perfection through the dedication of their actions to God.
Or put another way, it is union with God through action.
That means whatever we see, whatever we feel, whatever we think, whatever we touch; it is all done as an offering, even to the extent of cleaning our teeth.
God consciousness means to be absorbed in the remembrance of God, so that everything we do is to please our beloved Lord.
A path of devotion
This definition sounds rather devotional to me; the act of which had, until recently, been a little feigned for me.
When I was in India, I often visited Ramana Mahashi’s shrine for the puja ceremony each morning; I loved the ritual of this action as white robed men poured milk over Shiva’s lingum. I even walked around the shrine as others did, enjoying the meditative pace. But I fell short of prostrating myself; that deep reverential act was void of meaning for me.
It wasn’t until I started reading the poetry of Rumi and Hafiz – those iconic Sufi poets – that I understood that even I have a natural and divine yearning for the Beloved. Once I understood my yearnings were in fact never intended for mere mundane love, I started pointing that momentum of energy back to the Divine. The path of devotion – and making holy every action – started sitting with me more comfortably.
It is that same yearning that I sense Swamiji is pointing to in his talk. It is the love that does the work. It is our natural tendency to love that which is greater than us.
Swamiji uses names like Krishna and Supreme Being, but really the name we insert (God, Goddess, Universe, Higher Self …) serves only as the name that fires our heart.
Every thought has a consequence
Swamiji presses the point; it is not just our actions that must be devotional. When we think that every thought that we have creates a consequence, creates a ripple, and that every thought we have subtly affects the external world – as well as creates impressions on our own mind – then hearing a discourse on how we might best conduct our life seems entirely necessary.
To be honest, I’d shied away from contemplating Karma as it related to my motivations, understanding at some level that the implication of this way of living would require a level of sainthood that seemed unattainable: could I really be held accountable for every thought I had? That sounded like hard work and a fast ticket to hell!
Swamiji says yes, and this is a near sainthood behaviour. But he lightens our load by offering the discourse on Karma Yoga, stepping us through the motivations of action that are expressed by humanity and showing us which paths lead us to what consequence.
Swamiji indicates all this ‘know-how’ knowledge exists in the Vedic scriptures, but – he warns – when we focus on the rules and regulations of scripture, or for that matter being morally good, then the best we can hope for is a place in the celestial heavens at our death. God realization is not there.
The aim is to reach God-realisation
The aim of the soul, Swamiji states definitively, is not to be found in the celestial heavens.
If you seek the rewards of heaven, you will attain them. But you will remain in the mortal existence of birth and death, and you will keep on rotating until the aim of life is attained; which is the Love Supreme of God.
In essence, these series of talks are about God realization. Through an engaging monologue of stories and anecdotes, Swamiji presents what his beloved guru, Sri Maharaji has outlined as the most accessible way for modern humans to reach God realization:
Mind must be on God with loving thoughts, consecrating your life to God, then you are in the purest consciousness.
Consecrating your life to God
I shy off a little when I hear words like ‘consecrate your life to God’ having only ever encountered it in religious circles. I was curious to see if Swamiji could create traction here for me.
Swamiji, like the Sufi poets, views the act of consecrating your life as a natural expression of Love.
When we fall in love with God (or what I call “life”), we make holy all our thoughts and deeds to this Supreme Being. Then we are on the path to that which goes further than the celestial heavens. We are already on the path to God Realization.
In a recent NLP journey session, through the process I revealed to myself that the hehaviours I felt contradictory in my life – that I perceived as working at odds with each other – were in fact propelling me towards one unified goal: to be living in God Consciousness.
So to hear Swamiji speak with utter confidence about what my soul wanted wasn’t a big leap of faith. Quite the contrary; it was wholly affirming.
There’s no greater service to yourself, and the world for that matter, than concentrating your thoughts on God.- It is the highest good you can do for your mind.
Seeing the big picture
It helps, illustrates Swamiji, to have a big picture of your life. To be conscious that this life has divine purpose, and therefore, that this life can be consecrated to that divine purpose, means we don’t get swamped by the mundane details of our small life.
Ah, those mundane details of my small life.
Yip, there was a gnarly tangle of emotions for me when I started this article as I sought to find what a congruent life might look like for me.
One thread of that tapestry is my livelihood; it’s a big question mark as I find myself needing to move away from my self-imposed sabbatical of writing, into a more sustainable livelihood.
I’ve been experiencing waves of anxiety at the thought of entering back into the ‘real world’ which had gradually, in its last incarnation at least, crushed all the creative juice out of me.
Being a part of the World
So it was a head-on crash of sorts, to hear Swamiji insist, of all the paths available to us in God-realisation, it is those yogis that stay within the community, not the ones that withdraw as I had done, that offer the greatest service.
My self-imposed sabbatical served a very necessary staging post for me in so many ways, but I can feel the energy changing, with a more outward facing energy stepping in to my life.
I have no idea what that will look like, but it seems that knowledge is not necessary. Right in this moment it does not matter what I decide to do, so long as I put my self out there and perform whatever I do with devotion. Swamiji affirms:
A Karma Yogi remains in the community, and because of the way that they live their life, by the examples that they set, the rest of the community has the opportunity to witness, to learn from, and to come into contact with the Karma Yogis.
Swamiji concludes his talk stating the best path for God realization for modern humans is for us to remain in the community and living a life devoted to God. Because, he says, it’s better for us that we learn how to love God while being in the world; to see our own character, weaknesses and strengths. And just as importantly, the world will benefit from us being there.
Swamiji in person
I really enjoyed Swamiji’s DVD satsang, the way he engages and presents, and makes accessible a huge depth of Vedic knowledge to someone like me, with very little exposure to these greats texts.
It will be a real pleasure to sit with him in person – when he comes to Wellington – and hear more Vedic knowledge and how I might apply that wisdom to my life.
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