Reaching Our Fullest Potential with Vedic Spirituality, by Stephen Knapp

These days fewer people are interested in taking up anything that they cannot immediately apply to their lives. The common question is: “What is this going to do for me?” Or “What am I going to get out of this?” So if we cannot relate the purpose of Vedic culture or its spirituality to people today, especially to the youth, then it is not likely they will take an interest. Yet, everyone is interested in gaining more out of life, or reaching their higher potential, which, actually, has been the purpose of the Vedic system from time immemorial. Yet we have either forgotten that, or have failed to present that purpose properly. So this is one angle we can use to impress the importance of Vedic culture and its spiritual philosophy to people today.

Everyone should want to reach their highest potential. But to do this we also need to focus on our spiritual potential, which is actually a way to become much more refined, developed and useful than merely focusing on our material possibilities, or only developing marketable skills for earning a big paycheck.

The Sri Isha Upanishad, Mantra 11, explains: “Only one who can learn the process of nescience (or material knowledge) and that of transcendental knowledge side by side can transcend the influence of repeated birth and death and enjoy the full blessing of immortality.”

One point here is that through the advancement of material knowledge we do not solve the problem of our reincarnation or being completely free from repeated birth and death through numerous situations in this material world. We have no idea how many lives we have lived, nor how many more we will go through unless we add the study and application of spiritual knowledge to our lives. What is the point of this human existence if all we do is find better ways to eat, sleep, have sex, produce children, and advance our economic development and living condition? And then we simply repeat this pattern life after life? For what? Animals work in the same way, and often times with fewer problems. So what is the difference?

The way to solve all of the problems of life and to perfect this existence is the prime opportunity of human life, which is to become advanced in spiritual knowledge as well as in our material occupation. One without the other is incomplete. This is the only way we can reach our highest potential and not merely work at attaining success in a temporary material profession.

Spiritual knowledge is also the means to attain real happiness, especially through realizing our true identity, and thus become fulfilled by our real mission in life. It is also the means to attain a permanent blissful life after we leave this body. If we forget our true identity as a spiritual being, we will think that this body and this life, and everything connected with it, is the all in all. We will think that the happiness of this mind, body and senses is the complete goal of everything we are meant to do here in this world. But this is like being caught in a dream, attached to clinging to a hologram, a false conception of life. No one is truly happy in such a fleeting situation since the happiness therein is always being interrupted by different forms of suffering, or stress, anxiety, worry, concern, and of course disease, old age and death. No one wants that because that is not our real nature, it is not our real identity, but it is forced on us from the beginning of simply having a material body. The human body is a wondrous machine, a means to accomplish the goal of life, but it is still a machine that we are situated inside. It is not who we really are, like a driver in a car. We may have a fabulous and beautiful car that we are proud of, or an old clunker we are ashamed to be seen in, but in either case we are only the driver. We are not the car itself. So we must realize who and what we are and regain our spiritual identity beyond the body we have, and also realize our connection with the Supreme.

Real happiness is possible to experience when we rise above the limitations of our material condition and misidentification as a temporary material being. The modern trend of material civilization is to increase our material pleasures, which has brought about the false aim of life and the goal to acquire more money, more facilities, more consumerism, more manipulation of nature, etc. Whatever it takes. This has also brought about more problems in politics, economics, international relations and intrigue, lack of cooperation, and increases in corruption, pollution, the constant threat of war, terrorism, new diseases, a decrease in natural foods, and so on. And people call this progress? Is this any way to live? Is this the trend into the future?

Therefore, it is best to use this body and mind to live simply with an honest career and then cultivate spiritual knowledge and help others do the same.

INDIVIDUAL BENEFITS

1. Everyone wants to find joy and happiness. For what other reason are you working or studying? We are working to acquire money, security, a better future for ourselves or our family, or to make improvements in our occupation. Yet, we need to clearly understand that spirituality is the key to real happiness. And by that I mean the happiness that reaches the soul, and not that which merely occupies the ever-changing demands of our mind and senses. It is through spiritualizing our lives that we can change our attitude to joy, and not look at things with the humdrum attitude of “Another day, another dollar” or something similar. This is not unusual because we often see that without spirituality life becomes empty and without real purpose or any deep meaning. By adding spirituality to our lives, it often improves our attitude and is reflected in every other area of our life, including job performance, relations with others, family cooperation, our flexibility, the way we handle problems or inconveniences, and the way we may even inspire others to do the same.

2. Spiritualizing our lives means to spiritualize our consciousness. It is through such spiritual awareness that we can recognize the transcendental essence of all beings. We are all spiritual in nature, but this remains invisible to us as long as we do not uplift the vibratory level of our consciousness. So if we want respect, and if we feel that people need to increase their appreciation and love for each other, this can easily be accomplished by recognizing the similarity we have with one another on the spiritual level. It is through spirituality that can most easily change the selfish interest we have toward ourselves and our clan to a broad or universal love.

Most problems between people or countries or ethnic groups reflect the lack of love, compassion and understanding we have for each other, which is the essence of the Dharmic principles we need to be follow.

3. Spirituality also offers an uplifting view of life. Once we are truly spiritualizing our lives, whatever troubles we have begin to appear as if they are only an interesting play of energy in which we are temporarily involved. We can see that such difficulties are not actually part of our real identity. They are only going on around us and we take them seriously only to the degree that we feel they are affecting us and our bodily or mental happiness. In other words, they affect us to the degree in which we are in the illusion.

Spirituality gives us the courage and lightheartedness to face the difficult situations in life, or the drama around us, and to realize we are different from such externals. By this I mean that we can perceive that we are spiritual beings that are interacting on the temporary material platform. Therein whatever joy or sorrow we experience comes and goes like the winter and summer seasons. It is temporary and that is all we can expect from it because that is all it can offer. But without spiritual understanding, we take these temporary ups and downs and the pursuit for material happiness very seriously. So if we want more than this, or something deeper, we need to reach our real identity through the spiritual path.

4. Spirituality teaches us the art of living, but also the art of dying. This is the means by which we recognize the temporary nature of life and that we must always be prepared for death and for attaining the best position in our next existence. It is considered that without such preparation our life is not complete and we have not used it properly, regardless of whatever else we may accomplish.

5. Spirituality means that you see the big picture. And what is the big picture? It is that this life is but a moment on our great path toward self-realization. That great path encompasses many lifetimes. Each one is like a flash of lightning in the span of eternity. So our progress through the big picture evolves around and depends on our spiritual development. That is all we carry with us from one life to the next. Whatever material assets we attain in this life ripens in this one existence only, whereas spiritual progress is viewed over many, many lifetimes. Whatever spiritual benefits we are experiencing now may have been developed many lifetimes ago. Similarly, our spiritual practice today may provide us with benefits in this life as well as many lifetimes that may follow.

The big picture is that all you have ever been through, including so many lives before this one, has brought you to this very moment. You are the son or daughter of the past, the product of all your experiences and actions. But you are also the father of your future, starting from this particular point in time. It is up to you to decide what to do and where you will take yourself from this point onward. Your possibilities are endless, and spiritual development only increases the possibilities that you have.

6. Genuine spirituality also means that we accept responsibility for ourselves, what we do, how we affect others and our environment, and how we have the power to change our situation. So if we want to improve such things, then we can find that the basis of Dharma and genuine spirituality is also the foundation for the improvement of everything in this world, starting with our own sphere of influence, however big or small that may be. However, we need to emphasize that such spirituality is above the conventional form of religions, which are often dogmatic and based on the emphasis of local traditions and ethnic recognition. This means that their foundations are not the Universal Spiritual Truths that are found in Sanatana-dharma that can be applied to everyone, at anytime and anywhere in this universe. Real Dharma means those spiritual principles that can be applied directly to the soul or real identity of the living being regardless of the temporary material condition or status in which he or she is presently found.

GLOBAL BENEFITS

Just as there are individual benefits to the practice of spirituality in one’s life, naturally there are also blessings that will manifest on a global level.

First of all we have to understand that lust is public enemy number one. Most of the crimes that are committed in the world stems from individual or collective lust. We see around us that many advertising campaigns are based on invoking the desire to acquire something. This desire is based on satisfying the mind and senses for one’s own selfish happiness, and this pleasure is called lust. And we must look within ourselves to see how much lust is there and how to be free of it.

If it is allowed to grow, this lust can develop into a covetousness over land, possessions and power. If we want something, we may work for it honestly, or we may make schemes involving corrupt activities to acquire it. If this sort of lust increases amongst people, the whole planet becomes chaotic. And when the rulers of the planet exhibit such tendencies, then there is no chance for peace in the world, as we can plainly see. Therefore, the collective practice of spirituality can help rid the world of such lust and its various damaging effects.

We must also understand that the two prime factors that keep the world from being united is the presumption of racial superiority and the desire to conquer and convert. These are the antithesis of Dharmic principles. But how many religious paths do we see that incorporate the idea of conquering regions of the world through religious conversions, or that even rejoice in the number of converts they have established? This is not the way of true spirituality.

So it is time for a new breed of humanity, a new species of human beings. This doesn’t mean a new genetic code. It means the appearance of a new level of consciousness, a new level of awareness in which the principle of Dharma is a natural part of life and a natural part of our respect toward each other. And the freedom to pick one’s own level of spiritual development that one needs in this lifetime. This is the world of Vedic Dharma.

Vedic Dharma is full of possibilities. It is open for the individual to develop as he or she needs to. It allows for a person to start at whatever level is best for him or her, and set the goal of one’s spiritual development that they find most suitable. Dharma does not involve teaching a dogma that must be adhered to in order to be saved, or suffer the threat of going to hell and eternal damnation if you don’t fit the mold. That is too limited for the Universal Spiritual Truths found in Vedic Dharma. We have to keep in mind the “big picture,” as previously mentioned. This means that spiritual progress is usually made over many lifetimes, and that this one life is only a small portion of the path we are on.

We also have to be a clear channel through which the unconditional love from God flows through us toward everyone else. To do that we also have to recognize the Divine in all species of life. That can be done only through the serious application of spiritual principles.

The point is that the more spiritual you become, the more you can perceive what is spiritual, and the more the spiritual strata becomes a reality to enter or experience rather than a mystery to solve. Plus, the more you spiritualize your consciousness, the less confused you will be about what is your true identity and, thus, the true purpose of life. It is an automatic process that the more spiritual you are, the more clear is everything else. If society could increase in the number of people who are evolving in this way, naturally the whole world will improve accordingly.

HOW DO WE DO THIS

So how do we manage our time to include the necessary spiritual practice? Spiritual practice means two things, the sadhana and the study. The sadhana itself can mean your meditation, your chanting of japa such as the Hare Krishna mantra, reciting your prayers, or doing your puja or worship. The value of this is often underestimated. What it does is incorporate the spiritual vibration into your consciousness. It raises the frequency level in which you perceive and operate. The next part is to do the study, reading the spiritual books to educate yourself in the tradition and your understanding of spiritual knowledge and of the importance of your Dharmic practice. Such books may include the Bhagavad-gita, Upanishads, Puranas, etc.

So as we do this on a daily basis, we will naturally carry that spiritual consciousness with us wherever we go. For example, you may have a special room where you do your spiritual activities, and if you are burning incense, you might carry the scent with you in your clothes. Then wherever you go and whenever you smell the aroma, it makes you think of the atmosphere in your special room. When that happens you may feel the same uplifting mood that you felt when doing your spiritual practice in your room. So we have to learn how to carry that special atmosphere in our consciousness throughout the day.

So if you are convinced as to why we should spiritualize our lives, then we have to make spirituality as one of the main foundations of our life. It must be viewed as a corner stone upon which we build everything else. So it must be one of the main ingredients in our daily schedule.

You have a life with only so much time, which means you must be careful with how you spend it. An example is that your life can be represented by a glass of water. The glass can only hold so much, and once it is filled, that is it. You can’t put any more into it. So how will you fill it? If you have an assortment of stones, sand and water, what will you begin to put into it first? If you fill it with small stuff, then you will not have any room for the big things, the important items. So first you put in the rocks, or those things which are the most important. These may include school, work, family, but also your spiritual practice. These are four stones. So put those in the glass before you put in anything else. Then in between the stones will fit the sand, the small stuff. And even in between the sand will fit the water, the smaller and less important things. But first always include and make time for the important items, the rocks or foundation of your life, and spiritual practice must be one of them.

So you should set aside a couple hours or more in your daily schedule to do your spiritual practice. If you take an hour, then you can divide it into a half-hour for your sadhana or meditation, and another half-hour for your study. Then as you develop, increase that. Spiritual life is like a train that runs on two tracks, and your sadhana and study together provide the necessary tracks for smooth progress for that train to keep on a rolling. The early morning is always the best time to do this. But some time in the evening also may be suitable for you. However, whatever time you choose, it is necessary to continue with it. Like a daily shower, you can’t stay clean unless you do it everyday. Similarly, you can’t stay spiritually purified or uplifted and enthused unless you are steady at it in your daily schedule.

Furthermore, you may never know when you will need your spirituality. You may need it when dealing with others, settling disputes, carrying out your family duties, and so on. But most importantly, you will never know when you will meet with the final test when you die. That certainly separates those who are prepared from those who are not. I had a friend who spent all of his time on his college studies. Then with only six months left to go before qualifying for his Ph.D., he died in a car crash. Of course, it was completely unexpected. So you never know when death may strike. So the point is that you continue to make your plans for this life and take care of your responsibilities, but also make time for your spiritual development, which prepares you for everything else, this life and beyond.

The final point to remember is that any path of accomplishment requires self-sacrifice, no matter whether you are attempting to acquire material benefits or spiritual advancement. We are always looking to develop our future, no matter whether it is with a better job, a nicer home, or financial security for our family, or other things. But if you can reach that strata where there is no more sacrifice, no more war, no more difficulties, but instead find universal love and understanding and cooperation, don’t you think that is a sacrifice worth doing? Don’t you think that is an endeavor worthy of attempting? Don’t you think the knowledge of this is worth spreading to let the whole world know of it or how to reach it?

There is no reason why we cannot bring an increasing amount of the spiritual atmosphere to this earth planet. We can indeed change things here and bring improvements in so many ways. But we need to start with ourselves first, and that depends on our spiritual practice and the spiritual principles we incorporate into our own lives, which can bring about deep and personal spiritual realizations and insights. From there it can spread through our sphere of influence, however big or small that may be. We all want peace and cooperation, but you will never get that as long as we see and operate according to our differences, which will always be there on the material platform. So we must rise above that to a higher level of reality, the higher dimension. And this dimension is all around us. All we have to do is train our mind and consciousness to be able to tune into it so that it opens up to us. Then through our continued spiritual development we can enter into it. That is the ultimate advantage of spiritualizing our lives and making time for it. And to do that most effectively is why the process of yoga has been provided and described by the great rishis and Vedic literature.

Plus, the easiest yoga to perform, especially in this age of Kali-yuga, is bhakti-yoga, the yoga of devotional love aimed at the Supreme Lord. This also includes the Yuga Dharma, which means the most effective path for this age, which is the chanting of the Lord’s holy names, especially as found in the Hare Krishna Maha-mantra. This is what should be studied, practiced and shared to provide the most practical level of spirituality for everyone. Then our higher potential in life can be attained and our superior purpose can be accomplished.

The Prison of Religion And the Freedom in Vedic Culture, By Stephen Knapp (Sri Nandanandana dasa)

        The reason why I call it “The Prison of Religion is that religion, when used improperly or without the real essence of spiritual truth, can also be a way of confining and restricting people of their understanding of the universe and themselves, and higher spirituality through the use of fear, guilt, violence, and the oppression of anything that shows a different view than what is being indoctrinated into society through a particular religion. It has been the most militant of religions that has suppressed the ancient avenues of reaching higher levels of understanding our multidimensional nature. Thus, by mere blind faith in whatever the church or priests are giving us, or allowing us to know, we are kept in a lower consciousness than what is really possible. In this way, higher realms of thought, wisdom, love, and knowledge are kept away from the masses. After all, knowledge is power, which means your ignorance is my strength. To keep power over others, the church and other religious institutions have systematically abolished a wide range of spiritual and esoteric knowledge that would, otherwise, give mankind the ultimate freedom. And because people who understand their true spiritual nature and the power that lies within them become impossible to manipulate, it is necessary to keep this knowledge hidden. So the idea would be to keep the truly spiritual knowledge concealed while creating and perpetuating a religion, or a standard of “science,” that keeps people bound by the above mentioned factors: fear, guilt, violence, and intimidation.

        To tread outside the accepted jurisdiction of knowledge or understanding, or outside the rules of the institution, will bring fear. Questioning the present system, or doubting its effectiveness, or desiring to know more about God or whatever else you would like to understand than what the church provides, will bring guilt, at least for those who consider themselves dedicated followers. In this way, some churches or religions have tried to make such ancient sciences as astrology, yoga, meditation, or the deepest understandings of the soul, and much more, to look evil or even absurd, and, thus, be dismissed, or preferably even outlawed. We need to understand and recognize this pattern, which is used in numerous places in the world.

        In this regard, reports have been given about how huge libraries and collections of ancient and esoteric books have been destroyed or were kept out of circulation from the public. This indicates the methodical removal of various levels of spiritual and metaphysical knowledge from society, while claiming that anything other than the established doctrine of the church is satanic, evil, and hell-bound. The Christian Inquisition, for example, was a wonderful method of producing this effect. Even today we can see how some people are so influenced by this tyrannical tendency that they still are afraid of looking at anything other than what the Church condones. However, most of these people are totally unaware of the “pagan” heritage found in Christianity or Judaism, which makes it very similar to pre-Christian ways, but with a different name. It is practically the same medicine yet in a different bottle. To remove this understanding from public knowledge, it became necessary that whenever Christianity or other militant religions conquered a country or culture, the first thing that was done was to capture or destroy all of the ancient sacred texts, or the ways of its worship, such as the temples and deities. However, any organization that destroys the ancient knowledge and historical records of a civilization is never going to present the true history of the world, or the spiritual wisdom of any previous culture. In this way, the view of history is controlled and the population is kept in ignorance and under subtle restraint. And the people who are allowed to understand any of the truth are those of the elite or who are already in power.

        By taking a look at the history of the conventional or western religions, for example, a person can see to what extent such an institution will go to maintain power and control, especially when it feels threatened by what it does not understand. Furthermore, the dark history of some of the religions, for example, represents the fanatically narrow-minded side of it that has continued to the present day in the form of fundamentalists thinking that if a religion or culture is not Christian, or is not Islam, then it must be of the devil or against God. Or at least its followers will not go to heaven. Such fundamentalistic people are often ready to dismiss or criticize other spiritual paths and cultures without understanding them. They may see a ceremony or ritual of another religion and immediately say it is heathen or devil worship or Satanic, without realizing that it is the worship of the same Supreme Being that they worship.

        The point is that all people have to have the freedom to find themselves to the fullest extent on whatever path it takes, providing it is a bona fide or genuine path. So how do we make sure we can continue to have this freedom? By understanding each other and the different cultures of the world and the various paths of self-discovery. And by recognizing the value that they have to offer, as we find in the Eastern traditions, such as Sanatana-dharma. We must also bury our preconceived prejudices that are based on our immature feelings of superiority because, spiritually speaking, we are all the same. We just have to attain that spiritual vision to see the reality of it. And the path we take to do that is the only difference among us.

        One problem with the religions that primarily are based on belief and faith is that they can become an effective means of manipulating the masses who follow it. If you can convince people to believe that by doing something they can go to heaven, then you can get them to do almost anything. For example, Pope Urban II implied to the soldiers who were going out on the first crusade that if they died in the name of Christ, they would ascend to heaven and live in the association of God. Thus, they rode out to fearlessly and mercilessly conquer the “heathens” or non-believers, and were willing to die to reach heaven.

        This is the same effect we see with the Palestinian youth, that if they die in the name of Islam they will immediately go to the seventh level of heaven and take pleasure in wondrous gardens in the company of beautiful virgins. The more fantastic the heaven, the more hope and conviction will be seen in the followers. It is a pattern that anyone can begin to recognize once you are aware of it.

        Another problem with this is that the beliefs that are given to you to accept often change with time, or according to the needs of the church or mosque to keep a congregation. As explained in an issue of Newsweek magazine (August 12, 2002), the concept of heaven has changed with the ages. “Dante saw heaven as the universe, and Thomas Aquinas thought of it as a brilliant place, full of light and knowledge. In the 18th century, Emanuel Swedenborg imagined heaven as a tangible world, with public gardens and parks.” Nowadays you can imagine heaven to be whatever you need it to be. This gives impetus for you to do whatever you feel you should do for your beliefs, and have it justified by your religion. However, in actuality, in the Bible, the Koran, or Torah, there is little in the way of specific information of where or what is heaven. And this leaves much for the imagination, and allows the priest or Imam to say almost anything about it, which is then gobbled up by the gullible followers.

        Another problem with religious processes that rely mostly on faith and belief is that peer pressure and the need for conformity and acceptance or approval stifles and restricts one’s ability to develop or inquire to one’s fullest. We often see children tolerated for their deep and thoughtful questions on spiritual themes, while the adults fear to reveal their ignorance of the topics, or will even stifle a child’s inquisitiveness, or anybody else’s if they seem to ask too many questions. So such religions act like self-policing institutions wherein individuals are not encouraged to develop their own spiritual realizations or ask too many questions, or show any doubts or uncertainties regarding the teachings. They are encouraged to leave it up to faith and the dictates of the institution. They are told that we are not meant to know certain things, and that faith alone in a particular savior or the power of the church is enough to take you to heaven. But if you lack faith or question it, or do not follow the dictates of the church or scripture, you will not go to heaven. You will not receive God’s grace. Thus, you must look good in the eyes of the church authorities and your fellow members or there will be no room for you, and, thus, you will be sent to hell.

        The second kind of fear is the fear that you may be wrong, or the church and its doctrines may be wrong, or there may be weaknesses in its philosophy. So people become defensive of their beliefs, defending it like life itself. Thus, they condemn and criticize those who are of other religions without trying to understand them. Sometimes you can observe this amongst the sects in the same religion. We already see so many divisions within Christianity, as well as Islam and Judaism. And each one often feels they are the only ones that are true followers of Jesus or Mohammed, and all others are going to hell. So it can become extremely divisive even within the same faith, which then leads not only to quarrels but also to war, terrorism, and so many needless killings.

        In fact, some people of particular religions may feel it is their God-given mandate that when someone is a so-called non-believer, he should be converted and “saved” at whatever cost, and then deprived of any freedom to follow an alternative view. A person in another religion may brand “nonbelievers” as infidels, and thus feel it is his duty to convert, destroy, or even kill such a person. In either case, they may use coercion, manipulation, or simply take advantage of poor and vulnerable people to bring them over to their faith. And in both cases, the people of these religions feel they are doing God’s work, and that they are justified in what they do.

        The premise that all spiritual knowledge must be connected with one distinct or localized savior is itself a stifling factor in allowing individuals to progress in spiritual understanding. There is so much more that could be learned if they did not feel that if something is not connected with their particular savior or scripture, then it must be evil, Satanic or wrong. In this way, if it is not in the Bible or Koran, for example, they refuse to acknowledge the value of any additional spiritual knowledge if it comes from a different culture or source. Thus, they act with fear or contempt toward anything outside their own sphere of familiarity or acceptability, or like people who are proud of their own ignorance and narrow-mindedness.

        The straightjacket of Western theological dogma keeps a person from looking at additional resources that could supply answers for questions not considered in western thought, or at possibilities that are elementary in Eastern traditions. What is wrong with learning newer ways of connecting with our higher selves, and with each other and with God? What is wrong with allowing our hearts and minds to expand with new vibrancy, new insights and confidence? Why not allow ourselves new hope and understanding in regard to the purpose of the universe and the nature of God, even if we look to different sources of knowledge? Why not allow ourselves to take up the path that provides the means for direct perception of spiritual reality? Who knows what additional information we can add to what we already know, or newer ways to incorporate and develop ourselves into people who are better and more aware and spiritually developed. This is natural for those who participate in the Vedic system.

        In light of this it is interesting to point out that in 1991 a letter was released from the Vatican to the Bishops which criticized zen and such spiritual practices as yoga and meditation. The letter was written by Cardinal Ratzinger, who is now the Pope at the time of this writing, but the document was also approved by Pope John Paul II. The letter warned against the sensations of spiritual well-being that one gets from practicing yoga or meditation, and said that this could lead to schizophrenia, moral deviations, or even psychic disorders, and degenerate to a cult of the body. Now on what basis do they make these claims? Are they simply using fear tactics to dissuade people from investigating such paths? Of course, if one improperly practices a complicated form of yoga, such as kundalini-yoga, there may be some adverse affects. But for the most part, yoga and real transcendental meditation means to fix the mind and become absorbed, at least for certain lengths of time, on that which is transcendent, which is God. This is real spirituality. So what is wrong with this when this is the goal of any spiritual path? Why would they issue such a letter, unless they are once again simply trying to condemn every other form of religion? If this is the case, this signifies that they are not really interested in true spirituality or in helping people with spiritual advancement. They are more interested in control over their flock. Yoga and meditation have existed for thousands of years before Christianity ever came along. Why should people not look at other cultures to get answers and experiences that are not found in conventional Western religions? The reluctance to do so is merely a reflection of the fear and misunderstanding that people have. Nonetheless, many Christians have risen to new levels of understanding biblical teachings by studying and practicing various aspects of the Vedic path.

        We have to remember that a true religion paves the way for everyone to become spiritually aware, and to establish his or her own relationship with the Supreme. And the Vedic system is an ideal means for supplying that. If a religion is not based on the higher principles of self-realization, but is merely based on dogmatic rules and regulations that it forces on others, then it becomes a trap based on fear, guilt, oppression, and intimidation. One must not be afraid to break free from such a trap. It is greater to see God’s love manifested in many sages belonging to different traditions at different times and places, among different people. Thus, the Vedic spiritual knowledge is for everyone and can assist anyone in their spiritual development. After all, if I, a Westerner can do it, then anyone can do it.

THE FREEDOM IN VEDIC CULTURE

        It is refreshing to see that you usually do not have the kind of divisiveness or criticism that is described above in the Vedic system. It is much more open and provides the individual the freedom to pursue the level of experience that he or she needs for his or her own development and still be a part of the Vedic process. You can especially see this at such huge gatherings as the Kumbha Mela festival where millions of people come together from all aspects and schools of thought within the Vedic fold. It shows that anyone can pursue their own level of spiritual development and inquiry without being restricted from within an institution or church. One can become a part of whatever line of spiritual thought or practice one needs to be in and still be considered on the Vedic path, though there are various systems that bring a person to different levels of development, consciousness, and higher perception.

        For these reasons, India must remain the homeland of a living and dynamic Vedic culture. This will allow the world to retain some of the deepest knowledge and methods of attaining the most profound spiritual insights that have been known to mankind. Thus, India should defend itself from the risk of further partition or divisions of its land. If India is divided up any more, and portions of the country are taken by others, Vedic culture could dwindle or even be lost over the long-term, except for small colonies of Vedic practitioners here and there. This may indeed be what many people would like to see. Yet, if Vedic culture is lost, the world will not even realize the treasure of human development that will disappear. Then such deep spiritual knowledge and insights will begin to permanently fade away from society.

        Once India and Vedic culture is diluted or stamped out, along with other decreasing numbers of indigenous traditions within it, then in time the whole world will be fitted with the straightjacket of Western thought and strict monotheistic religion. Thus, it will be more easily controlled by the establishment, whether that be government or religious, etc. Then individual freedom for the pursuit of higher understanding and spiritual happiness will be limited to the constraints as dictated by whatever regional monotheistic views reign in that area.

        The Vedic culture and philosophy offers deep insights into spiritual knowledge that can be found no where else. It provides for levels of thought and knowledge of the soul and the Supreme and the spiritual reality that are hardly matched elsewhere. I can safely say this because I, having been raised a practicing Christian, also seriously studied in depth all the major religions, and continue to do so, before having studied and then taking up the Vedic path. The Vedic philosophy clearly outlines the processes by which a person can uplift or purify one’s own consciousness to perceive for themselves the spiritual strata and recognize one’s true spiritual identity, which is the essence of all spiritual progress, and from which all further development grows. Many are those noteworthy sages and saints of the past who have followed this path successfully, and left profound teachings for the rest of us. For this reason, Vedic culture is the last bastion of deep and genuine spiritual truth and freedom. It is a culture that allows full liberty of investigation for the individual to practice and reach the highest levels of spiritual perception known to humanity. This is also why it should be clearly understood and preserved for the benefit of all.

The Power of a United Hindu Community, By Stephen Knapp (Sri Nandanandana dasa)

        [This is the strong keynote lecture that I gave at the Hindu Unity Day Festival (Hindu Sangathan Divas) onJuly 10th, 2011at the Hindu Temple Auditorium inFlushing,New York. This was very well received by everyone who wanted to meet me, shake hands, have photos taken, or talk to me about what I had to say. The event was shared with Dr. Subramanian Swamy as Chief Guest and Kamal Kumar Swami as the additional speaker, both of whom I had met before at an event in Tirupati for protecting Hindu temples from government control. However, this is the complete version, which is a few paragraphs longer than what I presented at the festival.] 

          Namaste. It gives me great pleasure to be here, and I especially thank the organizers of this important event for inviting me, namely Arish Sahani and Narain Kataria. I am honored to be here. And I thank all of you for attending.

          First of all, for those who may not know that much about me, I’m a Hindu, a follower of Sanatana-dharma, or what I prefer to call a Dharmist, and aKrishnabhakta. And I will be one until the day I die. No one can stop that.

          Vedic culture and its spiritual knowledge saved me, it saved my life and gave me the real purpose for being here and what to do while I am here in this world. And now this is all I do—my spiritual sadhana and practice, my speaking engagements, and writing over 20 books so far to help spread and explain the importance of this Vedic spiritual knowledge to as many people as possible. This is all I’m living for. This is my only motivation. I also help manage my localKrishnatemple inDetroitas the Chairman of the Board, which can involve all kinds of things. I’m also the president of the Vedic Friends Association. I’m also a direct disciple of His Divine Grace Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, which is how I got my name Sri Nandanandana dasa. So I’ve been doing meditation and chanting the Hare Krishna mantra for over 40 years. And all of this has only deepened my conviction of the profound nature of the Vedic system of spiritual realization.

          And I will tell you, I love what I do. I love being a Hindu, I love being aKrishnabhakta, a follower of Santana-dharma. I love following the Bhagavad-gita, and I love writing books about various aspects of Vedic culture and telling other people about it and what it has done for me, and what it can do for them.

So, I like to share with others the good things I have found in life, and now that I=ve found Vedic Dharma, I like letting others know more about it. But I=ll also fight to keep it, and to keep my freedom to follow it. Why should I let anyone else take it away from me when it took 20 years of my life to find it? I wasn’t just born into it, I had to look for it. It is a karmic privilege to be born into Vedic culture, so do not take it for granted. But by working to preserve and protect it is also my way of being a good Hindu. And this is what I call being a Vedic Ambassador.

          We need more Vedic Ambassadors, or those who can easily and willingly share the good points about Vedic culture and its philosophy, traditions, and its deep spiritual knowledge with others, especially those who are curious, and there are many who are looking for this spiritual knowledge, but they just don’t know where to look. So we need those who can also tell their story of how Vedic culture has improved their lives or had a positive affect on them. That is not so difficult, and many people like to hear the story of someone’s life and how they have grown or developed.

          So, in this way, let us all be Vedic Ambassadors, persons who are not afraid to say they are Hindu and then share it with others.

I’m also aKrishnabhakta becauseKrishnawanted action from Arjuna, not a passive and apathetic person that runs away from battle or does nothing. But he wanted Arjuna to stand up and take a stance for defending Dharma. This is the whole reason whyKrishnaspoke the Bhagavad-gita, to motivate Arjuna to become free from the illusion and stand up and fight for defending and preserving Sanatana-dharma so others can also take advantage of it. This is my motivation.

          Everyone can do something and we need to understand that if everyone does a little, then something great and miraculous can happen. Because let’s face it, being a follower of Sanatana-dharma is also a freedom. This is a freedom, and sometimes you have to work to protect your freedoms or you will lose them when someone else takes them away. History has shown this time and time again.

Some people, however, ask how I can feel so strongly about this when I was not born inIndia, not born a Hindu. But that is only because they do not see the big picture. And what is the big picture? That this is not our first or only life in this material world, and that I obviously had a previous birth inIndia. Anyone who knows me knows that I must have been a Hindu, aKrishnabhakta inIndiain a previous life. Now I’ve taken birth inAmericato continue my mission of helping preserve, protect and promote Vedic Dharma. I=m only taking up where I left off from my previous existence. That is why I=m so comfortable when I go to India, and so far I have traveled through all of India except for the three small states of Tripura, Meghalaya, and Mizoram. That is also why I=m so comfortable around all of you. You are my Indian and Hindu family.

However, now it is time to increase our efforts to work together and make Hindus a concerted force that is recognized by everyone. Of course, we know this is not easy and is going to take time, but the sooner we all get started, the sooner we can accomplish it. But there are those of us, such as those I am sharing the stage with, who have already been working on this for years. We only ask that you all make a stand to join together, to make a powerful and strong Hindu community.

          Vedic culture has been changing the world throughout the ages. For example, many have offered their respects to the Vedic culture, such as Henry David Thoreau who said: “In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagavat Geeta, since whose composition years of the gods have elapsed, and in comparison with which our modern world and its literature seem puny and trivial.”

          Or Arthur Schopenhauer: “There is no religion or philosophy so sublime and elevating as Vedanta.”

          And, of course, Ralph Waldo Emerson who mentioned, “I owed a magnificent day to the Bhagavad-Gita. It was as if an empire spoke to us, nothing small or unworthy, but large, serene, consistent, the voice of an old intelligence which in another age and climate had pondered and thus disposed of the same questions which exercise us.”

Many other quotes could be included but you get the picture. Vedic culture will continue to change the lives of many people, but we can accelerate this positive change the more we unite and the more we work together. Let us all move forward in this direction and become the great force we were meant to be, and that this world needs.

This means that we must be good Hindus, good Dharmists, followers of Vedic Dharma. And that means that we must follow our principles, uphold the yamas and niyamas, and observe our traditions. Is that so difficult? I don=t think so. But that means we also need to be educated in them. Let us not relinquish or let go of our standards because of too much Western influence. We must know what they mean and their real purposes. Let us interact with Western society, as we already do, but let us not forget who we areBwhat is our real identity. The fact is that more Westerners than ever before are adopting the ways and philosophy of Vedic culture, whether it is through yoga and meditation, or adapting the philosophy of karma and reincarnation. Many are those who want to follow this path. I=m an example of that, and there are many more out there, and many more who want to but don=t know it yet. We need to be willing to share it with them. That itself is a great contribution to the world from the Vedic path. The more we uphold our principles and let others know why they are important, the more they will also adopt our ways.

For example, I have one Indian friend who is a strong vegetarian and would always hide his meal when he took it to work so no one would see it. But then someone started asking questions about it, so he had to explain why he was a vegetarian, and included information about the Ayurvedic reasons and benefits about the spices we use, like tumeric, cumin, and others. In a short while, most of his work crew, which consisted of 80 other workers, became wild about Indian vegetarian cooking. Then he also did the same thing with explaining the benefits of doing the Surya Namaskar, after which nearly half of his co-workers started practicing it. So what is the difficulty? All you have to do is share what you already know, and people will become interested. 

This is also why real Hindus need to be educated in their culture to realize how profound, deep and special it is, and what knowledge it contains. Then they will be proud of their culture and follow it. After all, we have nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to be afraid of. We are representations of and participants in the most profound and oldest of all spiritual traditions and cultures, and it has the deepest of all spiritual knowledge. The only thing is that many people don=t know that. I dare say that many Hindus also do not fully know how deep and profound it is because of lacking the education of their own path. This needs to change. And this lack of knowledge is the prime reason why Hindus inIndiamay convert to some other religion.

To help make this change, we also need to understand that it is a fact that without proper measures of defense and promotion of our culture, you cannot give proper protection to it. It is a tough world and things have changed. Most wars in this world are now 80% intellectual. We now have to use our intelligence to show what our culture is in order to really protect and preserve it from those who are always trying to demean and criticize it. We must understand that apathy is an enemy. Apathy, the tendency to do nothing, is our greatest enemy. We must conquer our own apathy where we find it. This, in fact is the teaching of Lord Krishna to Arjuna in the Bhagavad-gita, as previously stated. Are you are follower of the Bhagavad-gita? Are you a follower of Sanatana-Dharma? Then we must conquer our apathy and take a stand for doing something to maintain Vedic Dharma.

We have to be fearless to protect and promote Vedic Dharma. I am honored and proud to be on the same stage as Dr. Subramanian Swamy and Kamal Kumar Swami, who are examples of the fearlessness of which I speak. I am honored and proud to be in front of all of you, and I am honored and proud to be called a Hindu, aKrishnabhakta, a follower of Sanatana-dharma. We should all be honored and proud in the same way and willing to work together. We don=t have to proselytize, but we can all share the benefits of what our culture has given to us and to the world.

For example, in Secunderabad nearHyderabad, a few years ago there was aKrishnatemple the government wanted to move in order to widen the road, but all the local Hindus came together with a big demonstration to protest, and the state government backed down. This shows what can be done and what has been done when Hindus unite, and shows what we must continue to do. Then people will take us more seriously and reconsider before they simply get up to offend Hindus and think there will be no reaction. People will hesitate before taking Hindus lightly or making us upset. But we have to have the determination to make a stand. And once we begin to work in this way, we cannot stop but must continue for the long-term, and never stop until the goal is reached.

          Sometimes just by doing a little endeavor we don’t know and may even be surprised at what doors of opportunity will open for us. Sometimes all it takes is that we just start, step one foot in front of the other, and suddenly we step into a force, a current of energy that lifts us along like nothing we have experienced. Like a reciprocation from something that is far greater than we are that assists us to do things in ways that far exceeds our own expectations.

          You have no idea how many times this has happened to me, and I’m sure many of you know exactly what I’m talking about. So can you imagine what would happen if all of us stepped forward in unity for the Dharma and open ourselves to that opportunity to make a difference? Plus, the more we all step forward to do something together, the easier it gets for everyone.

It is one thing to say we are united, and quite another to work and act united, engaged in concerted efforts as one community to protect, defend and properly promote our culture. It should not matter whether we are Vaishnavas, Shaivites, Brahmanandis, Shaktas, or Bengalis, Gujaratis, Tamils, Rajasthanis, or Americans, or any ethnicity, because when one aspect of the Vedic tradition is threatened, demeaned or unnecessarily criticized, then it is to the whole culture that is under attack. We must see it that way. We must step forward and be strong Dharmists, and make a stand for our tradition and its future.

          Sanatana-dharma is universal. It is actually beyond the universe, it is spiritual. We are essentially all Dharmists. It goes beyond all materialistic labels and definitions, and that is how we should act as united Hindus, followers of Santana-dharma.

          Such materialistic labels and identities are part of the illusion, maya, and Sanatana-dharma is meant to lift us out of the illusion and into reality, the ultimate and supreme reality. Working in this way and helping each other as well as all is real unity.

So, let us also support each other in friendship, in Dharmic brotherhood and sisterhood. Let us not become divided by minor or superficial differences or labels, but let us gather and see our unity, our similarities as spiritual beings, all parts of the Supreme Spirit. That is the ultimate teaching of Bhagavad-gita and the Vedic shastra. That perception of reality is becoming increasingly rare these days in society, but it is an inherent principle and basic reality of Vedic Dharma and Dharmic civilization. That is why I call it the Last Bastion of deep spiritual truth. It goes beyond basic moralistic ethics and gives you the higher principles of self-realization. It gives you direct access to the Absolute, the Supreme, not only by descriptions but by offering the methods by which we can perceive and directly experience it by spiritualizing our consciousness. It gives us one of the last hopes for world peace. Let us not forget that and also help each other raise our consciousness and maintain that spiritual vision of who and what we really are. That will also pave the way for a truly united Hindu society.

There is no greater need for Hindu unity than right now, since there are forces that are also gathering that are trying to work against us. The problem is that it is in our nature to respect everyone, but not everyone wants to return the same respect back toward us. In fact, there are those who would like to see our complete extinction, the complete demise of Hinduism or Vedic culture if they could, such as we have seen inPakistan,Bangladesh,Kashmir, and so on. How long does it take before it becomes obvious that we must stand together even if only to preserve and protect what remains of our culture, and preserve and protect the homeland of our culture, Mother India, Bharathvarsha.

We must also recognize those people or groups who mean to do us harm, or even wish for our extinction, and then defend ourselves and our culture from their attacks, whatever they may be. But we need to be pro-active and develop plans, not merely wait for something to happen and then show some knee-jerk reaction. There are many who know this and already working in this way, but can you imagine if the whole Vedic community acted in this way together and supported such plans? It would have profound effects. We must look to see what we need to do and where we need to be in our measures to preserve and protect Vedic Dharma in 5 years, 10 years, or 20 years, and make pro-active plans to accomplish those goals. Major industrial companies do this, other religions do this, so there is no reason why we should not do this. Many of the more detailed action plans I have developed can be found in my book, “Crimes Against India: And the Need to Protect its Ancient Vedic Tradition.”

We still have a sizable population of nearly one billion Hindus around the world, but have you ever wondered why we are still not as formidable a force as we should be? In places likeAmerica, Indians, most of which are Hindus, are one of the wealthiest ethnic groups in the country. We are certainly gathering influence here in many ways, and many are those who are entering politics and gaining influential positions, but we still have not become as formidable a force in the world as we could be. Why is that? It’s simple really. It’s because of a lack of organized effort, too much apathy, but primarily a lack of unity amongst us.

With a united force, we could more easily see to it that laws in government are passed that help defend Hindus rather than take our freedoms away. If we were a united and pro-active force, politicians would be scrambling to get our favor. We would get respect from politicians. We would create a greater recognition on the importance for them to acquire the Hindu vote, especially inIndia. We could also have more control over the media that today thinks that being secular means to be anti-Hindu. We would get non-Hindus or critics of Hinduism to feel that they cannot just say any damn thing against us because we won’t do anything about it. We need to be a force to be reckoned with, a force that is watching what others are doing for or against us, and listening to what they are saying about us, and be ready to stand up and do something about it when it is unjust.

          We must unite around a common set of values, concepts and traditions that can be the universal uniting factors for all Hindus. This does not mean we give up our distinctions, lineages or paramparas, but that we focus on uniting on the basis of what we can all easily agree on, such as the basis of the Bhagavad-gita. Everyone knows the Bhagavad-gita, and should know it. There are all kinds of knowledge within it. But the thing that many people seem to forget is that the Bhagavad-gita is a call to defend Dharma. It is a call to action. That was one of the motivating factors for Arjuna from Lord Krishna. That Arjuna must not run away to the forest simply to meditate, which is what he wanted to do, but he must stand up and fight to defend Santana-dharma. And we must do the same because as we can plainly see all around us, that without it the whole world is falling into hell and confusion. As exhibited by the Mahabharata, sometimes when all else fails, you have to stand up and fight to protect Dharma and its spiritual principles.

          We must also have the attitude that no Hindu is left behind, at least no sincere Hindu. A true Dharmic leader or Vedic Ambassador will feel this in the core of his heart. Everyone is a part of the whole, the complete. We merely have to awaken that completeness within ourselves. When everyone shares this vision amongst the whole community, then it becomes extremely powerful. When everyone is imbibed with spiritual unity, then the spiritual vibration is no longer something to seek or acquire, but it is something to witness, to experience, and we should bring together all like-minded people to work in that unity and to expand that spiritual vibration, that higher energy that exists within us all. 

          Everyone in the Vedic community must see all other Hindus as Dharmic brothers and sisters who are eligible to make the same spiritual progress as anyone else. Why? No Hindu left behind. That means everyone is eligible to enter the temples, everyone is eligible to practice its customs, everyone is eligible to participate in the core identity of being a Dharmist. Everyone should feel they have a place and are valued and have something to contribute. This is the basis of enthusiasm, which everyone should feel. This is the power a united Dharmic community. No Hindu is left behind. When this is established, it creates a most positive atmosphere in all who participate, it creates a very positive future, and it creates a winning team in which many others want to join. Everyone wants to be on a winning team, and then feel they can stand up and do their part. Then we all become very powerful in our ability to change this world, and bring in and manifest the spiritual vibration for one and all. Then we all become a part of that uplifting force, which is the ultimate destiny for all humanity, which is also described in the Vedic shastra, like Bhagavad-gita.

          This is also, if I may say so, one of the main principles of what Kamal Kumar Swamiji is doing on his padayatras inIndia. He goes everywhere, whether it is the villages, the streets, the dusty roads, even the houses of the Hindus, anywhere it takes to inspire everyone to remain a part of the Vedic family, and then work together to help preserve it. I have seen it. I have been with Kamal Kumar Swami in Tirupati for this very reason, and I applaud his work, and many others should be going out to reach the people in similar ways.

          This is the ideal of no Hindu left behind, and the Dharmic leader and Vedic Ambassadors know how to instill this unity for everyone to take a stand, become involved and to defend and preserve the culture and all who participate in it. Any apathy amongst Hindus is what must be given up and left behind as we all gather momentum to make sure we all have our freedom and facilities to follow the principles, the customs, and the traditions of the Vedic path. 

So to wrap this up, we have covered a number of points, such as:

We all need to be Vedic ambassadors.

We must be educated in the profound nature of our culture.

Practicing the Vedic tradition is a right and a freedom which must be protected.

Apathy is an enemy.

Everyone can and must do something.

The Bhagavad-gita is a call to action.

No sincere Hindu left behind.

We must become united and work in concerted efforts, and become a formidable force for Vedic Dharma.

          So how do we do this? We must become united under common principles, such as the teachings of Bhagavad-gita, united for stopping cow slaughter, united to stop the deceitful conversion practices that try to take people away from Vedic culture, united for such things as saving the sacredYamunaRiver from all the pollution that is killing it. We should also be united to stop the corruption in Indian politics, and united to keepIndia the homeland of a dynamic and thriving Vedic tradition, united for preserving all aspects of the Vedic spiritual knowledge, and for passing it to the next generations. We should be united for the protection and promotion of the glorious character of Vedic culture that everyone can appreciate. Who among us cannot join and be united for these points? And the more people who participate and work together, the easier it is for all of us. The more we work in such concerted efforts, the more we establish a unified, global Vedic community.

It is said that the war of Kurukshetra, the war to uphold Dharma, lasted 18 days, which changed the world. If all Hindus, Dharmists, gurus, sadhus, bhaktas, etc., etc., all over the world ever really and truly united and worked together as a single force, we could change the world in 18 days. Isn’t that a goal worth working for? Isn’t that a goal worth fighting for? That, my friends, my brothers and sisters in Dharma, is one of the primary purposes of my life. This is all I’m living for. This is my vision, but we all have to share the vision. And I will work with anyone who shares that vision. In this way, we can stand united, and in this way we stay united.

          So, if you help me and I help you, if you wish me well and I give you my best wishes, and we all work together like that, it creates an atmosphere of strength and positivity. It makes our future very bright and full of potential. And if everyone does a little something to help, fantastic things can happen. Many people will become attracted and want to be a part of it. So let us all work together, encouraging each other and become more united as Hindus, followers of Sanatana-dharma, and show the world the great contributions that the culture of Vedic Dharma has given and continues to give to all of humanity. If we take care of Dharma, Dharma will take care of us. But we have to take the first step. Together as united Hindus we can do this. That is the potency and power if we stay together, stand together and work together as a united, global Vedic community.

 

Thank you very much.

Dharma Rakshati Rakshita

Jai Sri Krishna

Jai Hind