Finding our place in the natural order

These times, perhaps more than ever, call for a re-examination of our relationship with the world — with nature. How has humanity come to be so clearly adrift and to lose sight of the essential interconnections that were once understood and cherished?

We are part of the worldwide web of nature. This complex structure of interdependence linking all of life on earth is as inescapable as it is sophisticated. It is essential to our survival, a fact that humans once recognised and celebrated in rock carvings and cave paintings, in poetry and prose. Now, however, we appear to have forgotten the essential sacredness of life.

To list the problems is to risk being overwhelmed. On land and at sea, among freshwater supplies (barely 3 per cent of the earth’s total water) and mineral deposits, we are over-exploiting resources and leaving behind a trail of destruction and pollution. Agriculture, industry, even how we take our holidays, have become unsustainable and deeply damaging to the planet — yet this is our home!

From the spiritual perspective, it is not simply our connection with the earth that has failed. So has our connection with the divine. We have forgotten who we truly are. This explains the hunger for wealth, material possessions and status, and for relationships that rarely bring lasting happiness. Blown here and there by the winds of neediness, fashion and opinion, we come to rest for a while yet cannot explain why something always seems to be missing.

Once we find our way back to our inborn connection with the Supreme we understand who we truly are. We realise the greatest happiness and contentment is found within. With the awareness of soul-consciousness, material success and possessions, external validation and recognition, lose their place of primary importance. We have discovered — or rather, rediscovered — the route to true fulfilment filled with self-respect and respect for others.

With this changing consciousness there comes a vision of how we can impact the earth for the good. Our energy affects everything and everyone around us: Through meditation and a genuine commitment to channeling our energy positively, we can join with others to raise the collective consciousness. This uplifts the vibrations in the world.

As we recover a sense of our place in the web of nature, neediness and emptiness simply dissolve. We understand that, as trustees, we carry a responsibility to care for the earth’s well-being and to use resources mindfully and unselfishly. Further, we have a duty to husband the planet’s resources fairly, and yes, to care for the birthright of generations as yet unborn.

We can take practical steps, living simply, reducing our consumption and impact on the environment, and working with and learning from others to spread the message. We have the power to make change happen!

Sylvia Ismail, a writer and editor with a background in public affairs, radio broadcasting and journalism, is a student of Rajyoga with the Brahma Kumaris.

This is an opportunity for transformation

Looking at the world right now, we wonder if this is a time of crisis or opportunity. We all understand that we are living in precarious times, and we all recognise the need to rise, support and help others.

Spiritual traditions share insights into principles and practices that will be helpful in doing this. We all are aware that love can do magic. Every faith tradition has emphasized that time spent in silence, prayer or meditation develops one’s inner power and capacity for love. The power of love will increase our capacity to serve and support those in need. Ignorance of love allowed violence to erupt against the human family and nature itself.

From a spiritual viewpoint, the current circumstances hold an incredible opportunity for transformation.

Transformation of the self and transformation of this planet. Looking at time from a linear perspective, it feels as if we are approaching the end of an era. We are totally unsure of what comes next, if anything at all. However, looking closely, we can see that days, months, seasons and nature itself moves in circles and cycles. Interestingly, there is not a straight line to be found in nature. Humanity has always gone through periods of light and darkness and there was always a new beginning. Seeing time in a
cyclical way offers hope for the future and teaches us humility and compassion. This is the most critical period in history, and time is asking humanity to take the lead in a transition to move from the lowest to the highest, from negativity into goodness, truth and beauty.

Humans do have an incredible potential to bring change to the world. We have to open our hearts and minds to the divine and reconnect with our eternal self – the soul. This interaction will liberate us and set free our creative potential. Once we visualize a better world, we soon realise that compassion, love, peace and joy are among the most essential qualities. Mind is above matter!

The world is definitely at the turning point where soon the darkness will end and there will be a world of light, a better world in which there can be truth, justice, love, happiness and peace for all. Let us join hands in this task and create a beautiful world.

B.K. Jayanti is the director of the Brahma Kumaris’ services in Europe.

Meditation enables us to help the world

Meditation shows me what I have to do for the world. It’s not so much my actions as the thought behind them that counts. I do need to act, but it is the purity and goodness in my actions that will make the world a better place. God gives me the strength to act in this way, with pure motivation.

Meditation teaches me a life of simplicity so that I am not draining the earth of its limited resources. I learn how to use my own resources, including both physical and spiritual assets, in a worthwhile way. As my link with God deepens, I feel I am earning a huge fortune in the spiritual sense, recovering my purity, creative power, and contentment. I sense that unlike physical wealth, this is a fortune that will last into eternity.

Meditation gives me the power to follow a path of truth. It brings out shared aspects of human consciousness that are deep and true but become submerged beneath more shallow concerns. It enables me to become a better person and to contribute that quality to human affairs. As people change in this way and come back to living by higher values, we can expect social systems and structures to change in that direction too, because it is human consciousness that gives rise to these systems.

My experience of God through meditation and the purification that occurs through this connection automatically serve the world around me as the quality of my thoughts, words, actions, and vibrations improves.

Among all the world’s troubles, one that is perhaps recognized as the most catastrophic is the destruction of the earth’s ecosystem. When human consciousness became separated from God, a process began in which we progressively lost respect for ourselves and the world around us.

We have been exploiting and violating nature, destroying the fragile ecosystem that supports life, and today there is a question about the future of the planet. Many feel helpless in the face of the forces that seem to be sweeping us further toward disaster.

Through meditation, we can help bring about renewal in nature. The problems are so great that it might seem our thoughts could never be more than a drop in the ocean. However, human consciousness created the destructive forces, and now God needs us to align our consciousness with divine truth to restore order.

 Extract from ‘God’s Healing Power’. B.K. Jayanti is the director of the Brahma Kumaris’ services in Europe.

Who is thinking – the soul or the brain?

There is a new wave in the world of science, a wave that is pushing forward the frontiers of conventional medical and scientific views of the world. The most exciting aspect of it is that it connects with ancient spiritual understanding about the exact nature of being human and living on this earth.

The basic component of this understanding is that mind or consciousness is primary, and the material world, and physical laws that govern how it operates, are put in place by mind. The science does not tell us exactly whose mind is doing this job. Some of the ancients would have called it the mind of nature. The religiousminded would say it is the mind of God. The scientists who are promoting this new wave of thought refer to a universal consciousness.

But what is clear is that by bringing mind to centre stage, an entirely new way of understanding ourselves and the world is on offer that may resolve some long-standing weaknesses in the materialistic world view.

For example, despite decades of research, neuroscientists have been completely unable to explain how the chemical and electrical activity of the human brain can give rise to the beauty and complexity of experience. The philosopher David Chalmers termed this “the hard problem” of consciousness.

Consider instead that the beauty and complexity of mind comes first, and creates a filtered, individuated mirror or reflection of itself through the brain, and the problem greatly lessens. It is much easier to construct a theory of how consciousness gives rise to matter, than the other way round.

This idea is supported by the discovery that the brain is “plastic” – it changes with every thought and feeling we experience. The phenomenon still astonishes neuroscientists, who cannot understand how the brain can change itself. Again, once we realise that we are not our brains, but units of consciousness – souls – the problem disappears

Similarly, a discovery by the pioneers of quantum physics that matter requires the mind of an observer to “see it into being” has puzzled physicists for a century. It does not make sense if you consider matter as the primary reality, and mind as a phenomenon emerging from the complexity of the brain.

This problem also disappears when we recognise, as Dr Paul Brunton put it in his 1943 book, The Wisdom of the Overself: “Life has planted us in a universe of thoughts which we have mistakenly taken to be a universe of matter. The whole thing is an appearance in consciousness. The world which seems to be presented from the outside to the senses, is actually presented from within, by the mind.” Brunton spent many years in Asia, studying Indian and other ancient texts.

Research into ‘near-death’ experiences has helped to confirm that when brain and body become uninhabitable, the core of our being does not end. Many accounts describe a blissful expansion of consciousness, as if the soul flies like a bird freed from a cage. The experiencer is often reluctant to return!

Such individual stories are supported by studies of what happens in the brains of volunteers given mind-expanding drugs. Contrary to the belief that parts of the brain would be seen to light up as the subjects went into an altered state of consciousness, experimenters in the UK found the opposite – what they called “decreased activity in the brain’s key connector hubs, enabling a state of unrestrained cognition”.

In the case of most activities, modern scanning techniques usually show activation in multiple parts of the brain, according to the tasks undertaken and the thoughts and feelings experienced. But that doesn’t mean the brain activity is causing the experience. The brain does not “compose” our thoughts and feelings, just as a radio does not compose the music we hear through it.

The radio metaphor only takes us so far in understanding this new, post-materialist science. The added factor about the brain is that as well as receiving, it records. As we grow mature, and enter adulthood, these recordings are what makes it possible for us to perform so many functions without having to learn them afresh every time.

But this vital function becomes an obstacle to our happiness and health when our brains become stuffed with memories or ideas of a worldly or painful nature, and we leave no room for spiritual experience.

It all adds up to powerful scientific support for the understanding that when we meditate successfully, we bypass tired old patterns of thought recorded in our brains, and enter a realm of unlimited love and wisdom. This then supports, guides and enriches our everyday lives.

Neville Hodgkinson is a UK-based author and journalist, and a long-time student of Rajyoga.

What constitutes elevated action

At every moment I have a choice over how I respond. Even if I am restricted in words or actions, I have a choice over how I think and feel, and those thoughts and feelings are the seeds of my actions, or my karma. As is the quality of the seed, so is the fruit. Some seeds bear fruit quickly, some more slowly. In fact, thoughts and feelings are actions in themselves because they have an effect on me and those around me. They also determine the quality of my actions. For this reason we have to consider the consequences of action in the long term.

It is easy for us to understand the seeds of negative actions. We identify five gross vices — greed, anger, desire, attachment and ego — and many subtle vices such as jealousy, impatience, disregard etc. Sometimes the subtle vices can go unnoticed in the short term, or even pass for virtues, but in the longer term they cause suffering. For example, I may help someone, but if I want their love and respect in return, a state of co-dependency may develop, and in the long term that will weaken us both.

So, what constitutes elevated action? Action which is a step beyond the usual ‘good deeds’ that I can do; something which brings about a deeper change.

Elevated karma is karma that will bring about positive change in the self, in the environment around me, and ultimately the world. It is karma that is done with true spiritual awareness, an awareness that affirms the spiritual identity and original qualities of the self. The Brahma Kumaris affirm the spiritual identity of the soul as an infinitesimal point of light that resides in the centre of the forehead, and we practise ‘soul consciousness’ as a way of moving beyond the ego or identification of the self with role, position, wealth, status, relationship, and even gender. This is a true state of nonviolence; the state where the inherent qualities of the soul are motivating every thought, word and action. This is elevated karma.

Another dimension to elevated karma is that once the inherent goodness is awakened in the self, then the next step of connecting or aligning myself to a greater Source, a Supreme Being, happens in a very natural and powerful way. The source of my power is no longer just human power but also Godly power within the self. In affirming the existence, and then relationship, with a Supreme Being, the quality of karma comes to a completely different level. The return of such karma is manifold. God’s love, peace and power will come to me. Entering into karma in this way can also mitigate the effects of negative karma already created.

We do not live in isolation, and our actions have an influence on others. We cannot teach by words, but through our lives. The philosophy of karma can promote social justice, but the method is not to fight against something that we feel is not right, but to rather focus our energy on creating something new that can be an inspiration for change in our world.

 (Excerpt from a talk at The World Congress of Faiths.) Maureen Goodman is the Programme Director for the Brahma Kumaris UK, and BK NGO representative to the United Nations in Vienna.

Making the mind your friend

Our thoughts shape our experience of life, colour our view of the world, and affect our physical health. They also create the atmosphere around us, through our vibrations. We all have experience of the racing mind seemingly running away with us. Make no mistake, negative, critical, or angry thoughts have real power. Yet we should not try to stop them; it will just not work.

Instead, recognizing the active and lively nature of the mind, we should aim to harness our thoughts, and direct our energy, positively. This is so important in the current circumstances since the more positive the mind, the more it helps boost the immune system. Dadi Janki taught that thoughts, breath and energy are connected. You may notice that when you are upset or worried, the mind is racing, your breathing is shallow, and you quickly feel tired. By contrast, when you are calm, the thoughts are slower, more meaningful and carry a powerful energy, and physical vitality is increased.

The key to having control over the mind is to understand who I truly am. Identifying with the physical body means taking on shifting and fragmentary identities based on external circumstances and conditioning such as gender or culture, occupation or values. These roles distract and clutter the mind with mistaken perceptions.

The practice of meditation guides me to wake up to my true identity as a spiritual being, a soul. I understand that although I play many parts in daily life, they do not define me. Developing the awareness that I am a stable and constant soul provides an anchor to help me live in the world as it is. It also unlocks rich inner resources as I move away from the effects of external conditioning and follow the path to rediscover my original state as a being of peace, love and wisdom. Self-respect increases and, as I navigate through life making conscious choices based on inner wisdom, my thoughts, words and actions change. So, too, does the impact they have on others. The journey takes time, honesty and courage.

The mind is like an ocean, sometimes stormy on the surface, yet still, silent and filled with beauty in its depths. Exploring the inner recesses, we discover more recent thoughts and experiences, and also the stored memories and long-held attitudes that have formed our personality traits. By using the intuitive capacity to discern what will be useful and what should be discarded, we begin to clear away the clutter in the mind. Akin to the intellect yet connected to the heart, the intuition is a sure guide in deciding what to keep and what to leave behind. The deeper our exploration through meditation, the nearer we come to reaching the true, original self, and to setting ourselves free. We discover we are beings of strength and peace, filled with unconditional love and wisdom, and deep inner joy.

These qualities make up our inherent goodness and they are present in all of us. We only have to find them.

Maureen Goodman is the Programme Director for the Brahma Kumaris UK, and BK NGO representative to the United Nations in Vienna

Serving humanity with the energy of the heart

One of the biggest calls to humanity at the current time is the call for compassion. But what does it really mean, to be compassionate? It clearly is a strength that helps us see the needs of others, but it would not be real compassion to let our own hearts bleed because of the suffering of others. It does not help to mistake sentimentality as compassion. Feelings of great sorrow damage the heart and eventually destroy compassion.

We need a strong heart to be of value to others, and to know how best to behave in situations of suffering.

At the other end of the spectrum, some harden their hearts excessively, usually as a response to hurts and pain that they were not equipped to handle. There is no need to blame ourselves for this, but we do need to understand. Hard hearts can appear powerful; they get things done, they often ‘win’, but they cut themselves off from other people and lack consideration and perception of the needs of others. This can lead to disaster, on both a personal and national level. Hardening of the heart cannot last for long without serious consequences to health, both individual and in society.

The heart is an amazing organ with vibrational structures that link it with the brain and the rest of the body, and even beyond. Ground-breaking research at the HeartMath Institute in the US has shown that it generates a powerful electromagnetic field that can be detected several feet from the body, and is directly involved in intuitive reception. What is going on in our own heart influences those around us, and also determines the kind of energy, being generated by them, that we “tune into”.

This has to do with a phenomenon called the resonance effect. A heart that is hurting is more likely to pick up negativity from others, while a heart pulsating with its natural, intrinsic rhythms of peace, love, and compassion will remain strong. We will then be better able to see the situation clearly, and know how to help.

The power of the heart’s field increases when there is coherence within, with physical, mental and emotional energies all aligned.

The world is in turmoil at present, and the need for strong, resilient hearts has never been greater. For this, we need to take good care of ourselves. Rajyoga has taught me two powerful ways of doing this.

One is to practise the understanding that we are spiritual beings, who come from a pure spiritual source that is full of the strength I want in myself. Learning how to connect with this purest source of peace and love takes care of both heart and mind, and restores an energy that allows me to relate to the outside world in a more giving, less dependent way.

Then, as I learn to live in this way, it is as if many more blessings come my way from others, so that my own hurts continue to be removed.

D a d i J a n k i , t h e 104-year-old head of the Brahma Kumaris, who passed away last March, once said: “The entire work of the BKs is all about the head and the heart: this heart of mine is filled with happiness, and this head and brain are cool.” The care she took throughout her life to keep heart and mind connected to the divine enabled her to share this strength with countless others.

Neville Hodgkinson is a UK-based author and journalist, and a long-time student of Rajyoga.

How to live a compassionate life

To live compassionately is to direct the flow of our energy to support and care for both, others and ourselves. We are nurturing and loving, as well as protective and strong. I describe this as the “yin and yang” of compassion and self-compassion.

The challenging times we are living through call on many of us — especially healthcare workers — to draw deeply from our inner reserves. We need a special wisdom and sense of perspective, and a method to prepare ourselves, to face daily challenges.

As a consultant psychiatrist and Chair of the Janki Foundation for Spirituality in Healthcare, I have long understood that healthcare professionals especially need these capabilities. At the Janki Foundation, we have developed an app — Happidote — to support them. It provides tools, such as short meditations, to help users stabilise and prepare to face difficult situations by taking brief periods of time to withdraw into peace and silence, and recharge.

Our empathy for people who are suffering demonstrates sensitivity to, and feeling for, others; but as we resonate with their pain, we risk being caught up in a draining emotion that can affect us negatively.

By contrast, compassion is a positive energy that uplifts and helps others to come out of their suffering. Brain scans show that when we practise being compassionate, letting the energy of this feeling flow from ourselves, we are engaging a different part of the brain from that involved in feeling empathy.

Self-compassion is essential to our well-being. It is the same energy that we can give others when they are suffering, but directed inwards to nurture and comfort, provide protection and build strength for ourselves. When faced with others’ suffering, it may guide us to set limits as to what we can do for them, and to work through our own feelings of fear and pain.

Learning how to turn love and compassion inwards also helps to calm the “inner critic”. This internal voice can trigger the same neurophysiological responses as external stress factors. The more we create a habit of self-criticism, the more we add to the risk of developing physical signs of stress, including high blood pressure and ulcers.

Meditation guides us to observe and understand our inner conversation — the tone of voice, the words we choose, and the energy with which we respond to our pain. While we can learn to alter our thought patterns through cognitive behavioural therapy, the way to transform them is by meditating deeply.

It is a way to recognise our thoughts and feelings, without denying or suppressing them. Observing in silence, creating a distance from what is going on in my mind, I decide which thoughts to let go, and which to pursue. The more I practise, the deeper I can go, tracking back to a place of safety and peace.

I understand that I am a soul with everything I need within, connected with the Supreme Soul, an energy I come to know, love and recognise is always there to help me in my life. I am peaceful, loving, powerful and clear — this is the real me.

Dr Sarah Eagger, a long-time practitioner of Rajyoga, is Chair of the Janki Foundation and a retired consultant psychiatrist formerly at Imperial College, London. Her book, Stillness in the Storm – 7 tools for coping with fear and uncertainty, was published recently.