Tag Archives: Vedanta

Exploring Your Universe IV


With the dialogue between our junior explorer and internal Observer established, we may be given a clear picture—a Hubble quality picture—about what is really going on inside of us.  This is one of the main purposes for the space created by a dedicated, personal practice.  We begin to see ourselves and our wholeness as never before.  The dialogue we establish with our cellular bodies will actually aid us, as we learn how to discern our wants from our needs.  This new picture assists us in making conscious choices and fine-tuning our lives so that we may become clear about where we have been, where we are going, and where we would like to travel.

Once we have a clearer picture about what our internal Universe is like, we have the luxury of consolidating our time and energy around the brightest stars of our concern.  We may even begin to entertain the traditional, twin yogic questions:  Who am I?  And, why am I here?

The second item of intense personal focus has to do with making regular inquiries about why we are here—or how we are designed to serve.  And, the manner in which we are designed and called to serve is as individual as the manner in which we experience the world.  As a travel tip on the path, it becomes critical that we cease expending precious energy on judging others as they traverse the road they conceive they need to be traveling.  Instead. we must learn to focus on turning off our own auto-pilot buttons while listening for cues on how to proceed along our own singular paths.  We will be shown how to come alive with our individual lifestyle choices.

There are other Universes to discover and places to explore.  We each have a current, working truth to speak.  Be patient as the relationship with your internal Universe begins to unfold.  And, remember, the most important dance partner each of us will ever have and meet resides inside.


Exploring Your Universe III

It is in the space created during our personal practice that a dialogue opens, between our junior explorer and our mature Observer.  What do we discover as we enter onto this path?  Different traditions have different names for this phenomenon.  In Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is the Stillpoint.  In Sufism it is the Essential Self.  In Mahayana Buddhism it is the bodhisattva.  In Christian mysticism, it is the Light of Christ.  In Vedic tradition, as in yoga, we come to know the Atman or the Self.  And, when we touch this driving life force, we also learn that this is where the seat of our integrity resides.  This is where we discover our current, working truth.

There is a wonderful Zen Buddhist tale which bears consideration.

A retired academic leaves his teaching duties to enter into monastic life.  The Monastery’s Zen Master greets him, placing a tea kettle on to boil.

“Why do you come here?” the Zen Master asks the academic.

“I wish to achieve Enlightenment, honored Sir,” the professor replies.

“Ah, yes. I see,” the Zen Master responds, continuing to prepare the tea.  “How do you think Enlightenment is achieved?” the Zen Master asks.

“I don’t know.  I came here so you could teach me,” the professor explains.

The Zen Master begins to fill the academic’s cup with the freshly brewed tea.  The tea comes to the cup’s brim, and still the Master pours.  The tea soon fills the saucer, until the saucer is overflowing.  The hot tea begins to spill over the table and onto the floor.

Pushing his body back from the low table, the professor leaps up shouting, “Stop. Stop.  The cup is already full!”

The Zen Master replies, “Yes.  And, so too, is your mind.”

Thus, exploration, genuine exploration, of our personal Universe, through the lens of our internal Observer, requires us to empty ourselves out daily.  This means letting go of old miscommunications that rankle, forgiving past hurts, scraping the crust from our hearts caused by nursed resentments, and otherwise cleaning out our emotional house of pain.  Because, when we finally let go, the petty things going on locally and socially outside of us will also give way, and we will be able to focus on two things.

Exploring Your Universe II

More often than not we as Americans, and philosophically as Westerners, walk through our days, half asleep, reenacting habituated living patterns, bouncing from one sense pleasure to the next.  Think: morning coffee (caffeine) to sweet-roll snack (sugar) to main-meal pasta (carbs) to afternoon chocolate snack (I would note here that chocolate for many bodies is akin to hitting the ball out of the neurological baseball park) to, perhaps finally, dinner with a glass of wine or martini (alcohol).  And, we do this all only to fall into bed at night, wake up the next morning and hit the repeat button on our lives.  But, there is another way.

In Vedic tradition, (I prefer not to use the term Hinduism because it is a colonial label for Sanatana Dharma—what the Indians would call their own religious tradition—the Eternal Way or Law), most especially in The Upanishads, there is a profound distinction made between pleasure and joy.  Pleasure is finite, fleeting and linked to the stimulation of the body’s senses.  Joy is infinite, enduring and stems from the actions taken by a mature and compassionate heart, which is moving in coordinated awareness from a seat of pure intention and for the greater good.

You are the Universe.  You are whole.  You are of everything that was and will be.  You are made to be creative, full and vibrant.  We are made to affirm life.  We all simply need to wake up.

There is a quotation from the book, The Jew in the Lotus, by Rodger Kamenetz, which documents the visitation of a delegation of Jewish Rabbis invited to visit His Holiness the Dalai Lama.  Rabbi Yitz Greenberg is quoted as saying,  “God’s will is for us to learn how to affirm our full truth [while] doing full justice to the other, not partial justice or twisted justice or a secondhand treatment.” (p. 49)  In basic terms, this means that we must acknowledge that there are seven-and-a-half billion people on the planet today having at least seven-and-a-half billion different experiences of what it is like to be on planet earth.  Or, from the perspective of a Sankhya adherent, “There are a great number of Universes whirling about and bumping up against one another daily, as we all go about the business of finding our Way.  We must learn to be respectful of one another as we travel through time and space.“

Yet, how many of us could do full justice to another person’s truth—another person’s wholeness or world view—when most of us do not even have a solid perspective or command of our own?  This is the point at which we in the West, might turn our heads East or look to some of the traditions of First-Nations’ peoples, where the majority of spiritual traditions offer willing individuals the tools necessary for serious self-exploration.  This is the point at which an unflagging commitment to a dedicated, personal practice becomes critical.

If we remain with the examples provided to us through Vedanta for methods of self-exploration and for waking up, the first option asks us to approach each day and all of life with reverence and devotion (bhakti yoga).  The second option asks us to reference daily inspirational literature that encourages an attitude of humble awe in us (jnana yoga).  And, for secular humanists, this means appreciating the exquisite beauty in a well-designed double-blind study.  The third option asks us to sit quietly within ourselves, while evening our breathing until our consciousness follows calm suit, encouraging meditative self-reflection (raja yoga).  In the fourth option, we choose to serve others—or one of the Earth’s many environmental systems—selflessly and without attachment to outcome (karma yoga).  And, through these practices or a combination thereof, we will be able to connect to more readily to the internal Observer.  Finally, in the fifth option, we may honor and strengthen the body, preparing a place of residence and receipt for our highest Light or the Self (Atman)—the powerhouse of personal integrity, which then grants us the keys to our own unfolding (hatha yoga).  If we choose to work through the body (and, in my experience, the body is one of the most direct routes to exploration of our internal Universe), any solo, repetitive physical activity that enlivens us—swimming, running, yoga, tai chi, rowing, kayaking—all constitute acceptable forms of personal practice.

Exploring Your Universe I

Once, while dining at a favorite ethnic restaurant, featuring a full luncheon buffet, a new bread item appeared next to one of the buffet’s regular bread offerings.  The new bread item was a puffed, triangular pillow with a buttery texture and an herb infused batter.  After having procured my second helping, my dining companion asked me what I thought about the new bread.  I proceeded to describe, in great enthusiastic detail, exactly what I was experiencing—the subtle flavors of the complex mix of herbs, the bread’s creamy or buttery texture with carefully crisped edges along the pillow’s golden crunchy seams, which contrasted sumptuously with the bread’s still soft and warm main body.  Gastronomically, I was enchanted to say the least.

So, my dining companion, with whom I share many preferences and tastes, walked up to the buffet  to procure a sample.  Upon returning to the table and sampling the new bread item, my companion observed rather flatly, “I don’t know, Julian; I am not having the same sense experience that you described.”

In one of India’s six orthodox philosophical systems, Sankhya, upon which Ayurvedic medicine’s approach to healing is based, each person is considered a Universe unto him or herself.  There may be trends, categories of types, or combinations thereof—think apple, pear, or string-bean body types with matching profiles regarding temperament or disposition.  Nonetheless, and ultimately, we are each entirely unique.  And, the manner in which we experience the world is solely our own.


When I read about current scientific findings, I enjoy taking Sankhya’s philosophical point of view with me.  In one of the alumni magazines coming through our home, there was an article about how we taste food.  As it turns out, the broccoli eschewing crowd, which accounts for approximately twenty percent of the U.S. population, actually rejects this delectable and nutritious crucifer, among other cruciferous vegetables, because these individuals possess a heightened sense of taste in the bitterness category.

Food scientists postulate that the evolutionary reason for this heightened acuity around bitterness has something to do with the fact that many plants, poisonous for the human species, fall into this specific taste category.  Thus, the hypothesis is that people, who reject bitter foods, and their progeny, are more likely to have survived over the long haul of human evolution because they would have avoided bitter, poisonous plants.  Yet, in Ayurveda, there are several bitter plants which are consumed fairly regularly because certain bitter plants are known to cleanse the blood.  Foreign travel has taught me that our sense of taste is not only determined by our biology but also by our cultural training.  In India, people are encouraged to eat safe, bitter vegetables with an awareness about when such a vegetable might be appropriate for its balancing and healing properties.  And, such truly bitter foods are usually eaten with relative emotional equanimity.

Yet, how many of us can muster emotional equanimity at will, in the name of rebalancing our bodies or in the name of engaging in exceptional self-care?  Or, like a crew of good yogis, how many of us can call forth our own reliable internal Observer, with a capital “O”—upon command and in pursuit of the exploration of body, mind and spirit, which are some of the components within our personal, internal Universe?


Spirituality: Setting the Tone II

Found in teaching circles, the concept of setting the tone describes a phenomenon in which a group of people take on the primary emotions, attitudes, opinions or sometimes even an ethical stance displayed by a leader.  And, although this concept is usually used to discuss leadership-group dynamics, it also applies to us as individuals internally as we explore the workings of our singular personalities, whenever we are faced with dilemmas or decisions.

In situations where we are facing dilemmas or difficult decisions, we have the luxury of being able to step back and watch the various components of personality take positions on how best to proceed.  During this process, we may feel inwardly fractured or confused.  But, there is a unifying force which can guide us through the dilemma-solving process and toward resolution.


In Vedanta, students are encouraged to develop a dialogue with the internal Observer.  The internal Observer is that component of a person’s personality which is universal and timeless.  The Observer is more concerned about “us” than it is concerned about “me”.  In most cases the Observer, when it is given its due position, will choose what the majority of spiritual traditions would consider an optimal choice in any given dilemma or decision, barring considerations regarding cultural differences.

Acess to the Observer is best cultivated through voluntary phases of silence, where we learn to watch the activities of the mind and its decision making processes.  The Observer is also available to us through breath awareness and wih a reduction in social distractions.  When we begin to experience a single-pointed focus in conjunction with a consistent experience of Stillness, then we will know we have found the Observer.  And, the internal Observer is the component of personality that should set the tone for our days and our lives, rather than any other external or, potentially, unreliable personality or force.