NARADA MUNI DAS: We've just concluded another series-- the 4-Part Series of Becoming A Force For Good. Like last time, we have people that have seen the series and have posted questions so we're going to read these questions for Acharya das to answer and I'll start off. This first question is from Alexandra from Australia, but she has asked quite a few questions in this one question so maybe we'll just take it bit by bit.
ACHARYA DAS: Okay, sounds like a good way to do it.
NARADA MUNI DAS: Alright. She started off--she says, “Hello, Acharya das. I wondered about a couple of things you spoke about in your last set of classes which I'm hoping you would clarify for me. The first question I had was about the title of the class in this set, Is envy stealing your happiness? So I wondered if the opposite can also happen? That happiness could steal or take away a person's envy.”
ACHARYA DAS: Namaste, Alexandra. So, in short, of course, the answer is yes. But in answering these questions, it's important to understand that we're speaking from a spiritual perspective or spiritual angle of vision and what that means is happiness - as understood and chased after and pursued in different ways in the material world - has a sort of, like, a meaning to people. When they think of happiness they're thinking of things in a very specific idea or concept. And as we've discussed when we talked about happiness in general that there are actually---according to the Vedas, different types of happiness and there are examples given; we had some quotes from the Bhagavad-gita that there is a happiness which in the beginning can taste like nectar and later can become like poison. And it arises simply from the contact of the senses with the objects of the senses - seeing, tasting, smelling, and all different types of hearing, all different types of sensual activity. The nature of that happiness or any happiness that you think that you derive from it---number 1, it is not permanent. It has a beginning and definitely has an end. But beyond that, it is absolutely not fulfilling and everybody that is honest will admit that; that, “Yeah, I was really excited by something. I got really jacked up,” or, “I was really going for it,” or whatever. But at the end of the day, my take-away was I was not fulfilled. I may have put on a brave face and took tons of selfies and posted them or I may have told everybody "Yeah it was great!" you know and everything. But when you're alone in your bed and it's kind of like, "Was it really that big a deal?" you know. It filled up a little space for a while.
So material happiness is not really considered true happiness from a spiritual perspective because of its temporary nature and because it cannot completely fulfill. Spiritual happiness arises from this awakening of my true spiritual identiy of being really in contact with myself and then developing as a result of that a different perspective of this world and the experiences related to this world. But even beyond that, from a profoundly positive and transcendental experience of--and this is not an exaggeration, unlimited joy.
So when you ask a question, "Can happiness steal or drive away envy?" and of course the answer is yes if we're referring to a spiritual happiness. Sometimes people think that if they've got enough stuff, if they're having enough good experiences, they won't be envious anymore and that is not true; that is not the case because nothing of these experiences can actually fulfill.
Envy, in and of itself is an admission. We must recognize that it is an admission that, "I am so incomplete; my life is actually lacking so much that I'm looking and looking around and looking what other people have and what they're doing in their lives and I come to think that if only I can have that then somehow my life will be more perfect, if not, completely perfect; I will actually feel some fulfillment and some satisfaction, and it's not the case. So the condition of envy is the result of the material condition, the material conception of life that we are living in and as long as one lives in that material conception, you cannot escape the feeling of dissatisfaction, this hole that you are trying to fill up.
I was watching, what's his name, John Goodman, a small interview---he's a famous actor and comedian and he's had like a massive weight problem in his life and he's sort of come to grips with it and in this interview, he's revealing that he's actually dealt with a number of addictions, different kinds of substance abuse as well as this food thing, and he's got to a point in his life where he's sort of getting things kind of squared away and he's a little bit more in control of his life and feeling a little bit more balanced and better about things. But he did speak about the fact that this emptiness that you're always feeling and always looking to fill it up, you're always looking to fill that empty space.
So envy automatically is going to manifest if we are chasing, chasing material happiness. A person that lives maybe a little bit more controlled and subdued type of life, they're living more in the mode of goodness, they will not experience this as much as others who are actively chasing happiness. People that have learned to accept life for what it is, who actually have a greater purpose and are living with a different sort of focus in life aren't bothered as much by those who are aggressively and actively seeking to become happy. If you are aggresively and actively seeking happiness through the material world of material experiences, it is unavoidable that you will experience envy. You willl be looking at others and thinking their life is more perfect, their experience, their possessions are more fulfilling, that's kind of like what I need; and it's absolutely not true. That is another illusion. So this is actually the downside to the whole social media experience because it really aggresively induces this conciousness of envy of others. And there's so many studies out that's showing how destructive it is.
I'll try to keep the next one short. [Laughs/Laughter]
TANDIS: Thank you.
ACHARYA DAS: I mean they’re big subjects and you can't just deal with them in a fluffy sort of way and the fact is that majority of people that hear these things, they will feel that, "Yeah, there is an element of truth to it," but because you are living in a different headspace, you're living in a different type of consciousness, it's sort of like, it takes a little while to sort of like actually understand it particularly in relation to your own life.
NARADA MUNI DAS: Another question here is, it's an add-on, it says, "And if we want other people's stuff because we think it will make us happy to have what they have, then if you start feeling satisfied inside, is that a first step on the path to being free of envy and to being happy?"
ACHARYA DAS: It would be easy to say yes but I'm going to say no. Not from the conclusion but from the point of view that it's the first step. Yes, the more satisfied you are, the less you are going to envy others. That's a fact. But being satisfied or more satisfied is not the first step. Something is needed to change in your life; some really foundational stuff is going to have to change in order that you might come to experience increasing satisfaction. So we can't say that the satisfaction is the first step; that's getting pretty close to the conclusion.
You know there’s this is really interesting concept in the Vedas, in the yogic teaching, and there is this word "atmarama". This word "atmarama" is an amazing and wonderful word. Atma, atma means the self, the true self, who I am - meaning not the body but the spiritual person within. And "rama" here means the enjoyer, one who is enjoying. So it literally could be understood to be spiritually self-satisfied; to be self-satisfied meaning you are not in want of anything. You have come to the position to realize that you have everything that you are looking for; it actually resides within you. The fact that you are a spiritual personality, death is not a possibility---you will never die. You cannot experience pain; your body can but the spiritual entity does not. You are not subject to the laws of material nature; your body is but not you. You become free from fearfulness, you become free from anxieties; all of these different types of stuff. And when you begin to experience the joy that comes from the awakening of actual self-realization and the cultivation of an intimate connection with the Supreme Soul, the actual Lord of your heart, it is so transformative that a person could exist, for instance, in a condition of great physical discomfort and poverty even; like the yogis have wandered off and lived in the caves in the mountains or whatever. The genuine mystics, the genuine spiritual personalities, it didn't make any difference to them whether they were in a cave or in a palace because their world was an internal world that they were completely immersed in. That while they go through the external motions of their life and everything, there is no want, there is no want whatsoever.
There is a wonderful story in the Mahabharata and it is also recorded in the Srimad Bhagavatam or the Bhagavat Purana and it speaks of a great warrior king who is a great saint as well; his name was Yudhisthira. Yudhisthira, he lived an amazing life. I mean he was such an attractive personality, he was a powerful warrior king engaged in this enormous battle to create an environment of righteousness where people could live very peacefully and everything and he lived his life as a king. He was so loved by his people that if he went into the street, people would fall to the ground. They went on their knees or even prostrate themselves, they would bow to him. And it’s kind of like, oh my God! You know, this is like so far from “idol” worship of stars or you know, this funky crazy stuff or kissing up to some politician or something. Here they saw an actual spiritual personality that was so concerned, deeply concerned about the welfare of his subjects and all living beings. He lived, he’d committed his life to their welfare. People out of profound respect and appreciation would bow before him.
So he lived in unimaginable wealth surrounded by all this and the adulation and love of so many people. But when he felt that he had come to the point of fulfilling the responsibility of that part of his life – it was a very stable kingdom and environment, there was a successor who could reign in his place - he made the decision to now spend the remainder of his life completely focused on his spiritual service and his spiritual quest. And he just simply rose up in the middle of one night and removed all his rings and ornamentation and everything. He stripped down to his underwear, this very simple underwear that they would wear and begun walking out of the palace. When the guard saw it, they just like cried out and woke everybody up. And when people heard what was happening they rushed to follow him and they were crying and begging him not to leave. And it’s described that he did not even look back. Like when a person has gone to the toilet in the bushes and then, you know, (laughs) puts something down and walks away not looking back to where they had come from. (laughs). I mean, that example was pretty much used. And he just walked. He only stopped once to bend down to pick up a torn cloth that was discarded in the street to wrap around himself and continued walking; and the people wailed. And he paid no attention to them. His duty was fulfilled.
So this was clear manifestation of not just some artificial renunciation. It didn’t—it wasn’t like he had to give up all the stuff that he loved. He was simply acting out of a sense of duty and a sense of service to all people and to God. And when the time was finished for that particular service, he simply got up and left and everybody was totally shocked.
So we’re talking about this really amazing—you know, the yoga scriptures are filled with these wonderful stories about such personalities. And when you hear about them and we look at in our own line of teachers, they’re just like such extraordinary individuals who are living a genuinely spiritual life because of their deep immersion in this tremendous inner satisfaction and fulfillment. They do not feel to be in want of anything other than the need to continue to serve in whatever way is required; in service to the Lord within their heart, to God, and to their fellow living beings.
So I lied; I promised a shorter answer. (laughter) I don’t think anybody is complaining. This is wonderful, wonderful subject matter.
NARADA MUNI DAS: Continuing with that, Alexandria is asking, “If so, how can we get to start feeling satisfied inside?”
ACHARYA DAS: How do we start? Yeah, so this is a good question. How do we start to get to this point of feeling satisfied inside?
You know, it’s going to be two main things that are going to be involved. One has to do with the cultivation of spiritual knowledge, knowledge which guides us in our life, guides us as to how to look at things and how to make decisions. Knowledge that also comes from--we find it within these yogic scriptures, we will hear it from spiritual teachers. I have the tremendous fortune of having two profoundly wonderful spiritual masters or teachers that have affected my life so tremendously. They changed everything for me. And so the need to seek out genuinely spiritual people and to take guidance from them, this is a verse also from the Bhagavad-gita that,
In order to learn the highest truth one should approach a spiritual master. One should inquire from him submissively and render service to him because the fully realized souls have seen the truth.Bhagavad-gita 4:34
And so they’re able to pass it on. So that is part of the spiritual process. But the most foundational thing that a person needs to do is to engage in a genuine spiritual process. So you noticed generally, at the beginning - although we didn’t do it today, but maybe later - the beginning of our talks we do this kirtan which is this chanting of this transcendental sound. When this becomes something that you habitually do in your life, you develop this good habit of engaging in this form of meditation, you become purified, not because of yourself but because you are putting yourself in the proximity, right next to an all-purifying agent, this transcendental sound. And it purifies the heart and mind and it brings about spiritual realization. You begin to see with clarity what it is that--you see the truth. You don’t just hear a spiritual truth and understand mentally. You will actually come to see the reality of this.
I’ll just read it; there’s a verse from the Bhagavad-gita. It is from the 6th chapter and it’s the 8th verse of the Bhagavad-gita, and it says:
A person is said to be established in self-realization and is called a yogi, a true yogi (or mystic} when he is fully satisfied by virtue of acquired knowledge and realization. Such a person is situated in transcendence and is self-controlled. He sees everything - whether it is a pebble, stones or gold - as being the same.Bhagavad-gita 6.8
This is an extraordinary verse and perhaps at some time we can speak more in detail about it because it--there are many things to appreciate and understand there. But—so the cultivation of spiritual wisdom, yogic wisdom, and the process of this meditation upon this transcendental sound. Other things that are going to be transformative and make it so that the person’s life changes and that we all equally have the opportunity to attain the status of being an atmarama or one who is fully self-satisfied.
NARADA MUNI DAS: Continuing on with her questioning. She poses, “The other question I had was about the last class you gave to do with the spiritual approach to economics and the environment. You said words to the effect that at present the people are serving the economy but it needs to switch to have the economy serving the people. I’m not old enough to have lived in an economy where the economy serves the people, i.e. before, Edward Bernays started to change things around. Can you please describe what kinds of things would be different in a system where economics serves the people?
ACHARYA DAS: No. I’m not going to do that. (laughs). I’m not going to it because it’s actually a really big subject; number one. Number two is I am not an economist. By virtue of my spiritual association and practices from hearing what I’ve heard from my spiritual teachers, and from the Vedas, I know what is a good situation. And it is true that we have a situation where everybody is just pretty much serving the economy instead the economy serving people. But in modern history, I don’t think that there has been any time when we saw such a situation. And you cannot--we have to understand that the economy--we cannot retool things and just artificially control and manipulate things and think it will have a desirable result. There has to be a broader acceptance of at least a certain percentage of the population that the way in which everyone is heading right now is not only not ideal, it is far from it and factually probably quite detrimental for our happiness, for our peace, and for any real lasting benefit. And for individuals and society, then to choose to begin to alter their personal course in life. Then that begins to have a multiplier effect that begins to have an effect on the people that are the leaders of society determining where things are going. But it cannot be a top-down thing. It has to be more people embracing a spiritual lifestyle, more spiritual understanding. Then there is some hope for improving things like that.
TANDIS: Okay this next question is from Scott from New Mexico. “Thank you for your series on ‘Doing good in the world’. I was very interested to hear your talk on envy stealing one’s happiness and how the growth of advertising has developed a culture of envy. There are, there are some people that don’t seem to keep running after consumer goodies, at least once they have reached a certain level of material comfort. But how does one deal with the fear of losing what one has and the guilt over having so much more than the majority of the people in the world?”
ACHARYA DAS: Maybe I’ll ask if I can have this. Actually there seems like about 3 questions in here. So Scott you’ll have to excuse me if I don’t agree with everything.
My personal experience in life and from what I know from a spiritual perspective and from spiritual teachers is that envy is never satisfied. Envy of course springs from intense longing or desire for happiness or for experiences, or things, which is broadly termed as lust. And in the Bhagavad-gita it’s described as the all devouring enemy of mankind. That lust is never satisfied and it burns like fire. So this is a spiritual truth. It’s not that people think, “Oh, if I get enough stuff then I’ll be okay. I’ll be satisfied in my quest,” or ,”My hunger for things will decrease.” That is not a reality. It may happen to some people. And when it happens to an individual where they begin to sort of like mellow out in this mad pursuit of things it comes about because of something that has happened in their life. And they have had a shift. A shift of direction. It has not come about from reaching a certain level of consumption and having a certain number of goodies. That does not--That never satiates.
If anybody has slowed down this mad rush to get things or whatever, it’s not because of having a certain amount of stuff. It’s come from a shift in their own life somehow; the way that they are looking about or looking at and thinking about things.
He mentions about the guilt of having so much more than the majority of people in the world. You know, this is actually wonderful when a person has that type of experience. It’s clearly--it clearly indicates that there has been some transformation and they feel empathy with others. Generally the quest for material happiness hardens us against all—it makes us so that we tend to empathize less. And the more we go down that road the more easy it is for us to use others and to abuse; that follows that. So when a person has this shift where they begin to think that I am very fortunate. For whatever reason I have so much more than others and they think what can I do?
They are generally driven towards the execution of what’s categorized as Karma yoga. And in this Karma yoga process they begin to utilize at least a percentage of their wealth or possessions or whatever to try and alleviate the suffering of others or directed in some spiritual or humanitarian sort of cause. And in doing so it sort of like really awakens a kind of happiness in them that they have never experienced before. And that’s kind of like, “Oh wow this is--You know it’s just a wonderful experience.”
So then the other question dealing with, or the other part of the question in dealing with the fear of losing what one has. It is--This is like (laughs) this is a really amazing situation. This anxiety or fear--People generally experience in life in three ways. One is I want something. I want an experience. I want a relationship. I want, whatever. I want something. And in this desire to have this thing in the hope that I will become more happy or fulfilled. Then I feel this anxiety that perhaps I will not be able to get what it is that I want. And so I’m plagued with this anxiety - will this person actually love me, will I be able to get enough money, will I get the promotion, will I attain this, will I be able to do this, will I be able to go on this--whatever. And then there is this anxiety because you want something and you are afraid you may not be able to get it.
Having got that which we desired I am now experiencing the potential, the fear of potential loss. What if this person leaves me? What if someone steals my goods? What if, you know—I mean there are just endless things that happen in life where things that we are holding dear to us are taken away. And because we know that this in our heart of hearts to be reality. So even when we have required something we are still in anxiety. The shift has now become an anxiety that I’m going to lose this and I’ll become unhappy. I’ll become sad or unfulfilled or whatever.
In the third situation when someone actually loses something that they valued or held closely to them. Then you’re overcome with the kind of anxiety of if only I have not done this. If only that didn’t happen. If only this didn’t happen. If only it wasn’t like this then I would still have it.
And so if we look at the anxieties that people experience in life, they are generally divided into those three broad categories. And before you get what you want you are in anxiety. When you’ve got it you are still going to experience some anxiety. And then when you finally lose it again you are in anxiety. So it’s like something is not really working here very well. So but that is a natural situation. It’s something that is very natural and should be expected and occurs because people are—they have concluded, wrongly concluded that a relationship, an object, a situation, the way people look at me, or whatever, anything related to this world will somehow fulfill me, will somehow give me what it is I am looking for. And that is not the case. A person needs to live a spiritual life with a feeling of spiritual fulfillment and all the other stuff, it comes and goes. And sometimes I get a little bit of a buzz off it. Oh that tastes nice. Oh that didn’t taste very nice. But I’m not going to lose the plot over some material experience. We realize the transitory nature of things, just coming and going.
Okay I think we covered that one.
NARADA MUNI DAS: Jane from Berkeley, California. She says, “Dear Acharya das, thank you very much for your ongoing classes. In your talk on racism you mentioned self-esteem in relation to being overweight and compared it to having self-esteem issues in relation to the race of one’s body.
ACHARYA DAS: Okay can we just hold on there a second. If you have come to understand that I was equating these things then I apologize for not being more clear but I don’t think that I was actually equating these things. We were talking on the subject, if I remember, of—can I just borrow this for a sec? Yeah, on racism. And, and as part of the explanation in dealing with the topic of racism we spoke about self-esteem. And that the whole idea of self-esteem, it actually is—there are many different parts to it. And one of the things that people look at is the way your body looks - in terms of whether you are considered pretty, or handsome, or very plain, or disfigured even, whatever. And things like the size and body type that you have, you know, the nature of a complexion or so-called racial extraction or what; people associate all these different things with the subject of self-esteem but it’s not correct that I would equate all of these things together - one equals the other. It’s not the case at all. So I just wanted to clarify that issue.
NARADA MUNI DAS: As someone who has ranged from overweight to obese and less frequently slim I have experienced how this can affect how people relate to me and how I feel about myself but that’s different from feeling either pride or shame based on the color of my skin. Because I made myself fat with my eating it’s not just something I’m born with and so feeling bad about my behavior and my body which reflects that seems to make sense. I just wondered if you can expand on your comments in relation to that and perhaps at some stage discuss this skewed relationship with food that seems so common.
ACHARYA DAS: Jane, please allow me to speak very frankly. The problem, the actual heart of the problem that was being discussed is actually being manifest in the question and this is what actually becomes quite difficult for people. The difficulty of—you know, you can’t be something that you’re not. If you see the world a certain way, if you have a certain type of consciousness you cannot just erase that.
In the process of cultivating a deeper understanding and appreciation of life and things, we have to make sure that we don’t overlap material consciousness and spiritual consciousness and I’ll give you an example. When Jane states, “but that’s different from feeling either pride or shame based on the color of my skin,” and talking in relation to eating problems. “Because I made myself fat with my eating. It was not something that I am born with and so feeling bad about my behavior and my body which reflects that seems to make sense.” Well, the heart of the problem is when you say, “I made myself fat because of my eating.” Who’s the “I”? Who is the “me” that is being spoken of here? Are we talking of the spiritual being that resides within this body which is only a vehicle? The spiritual being, the atma, does not become fat from the consumption of food by the body that the body is using. If it was termed that I didn’t make myself fat. Right? Because of emptiness, wanting to fill up an emptiness inside then my tendency to overeat made my body fat. Okay, that’s absolutely, perfectly correct. But if I say, “I made myself fat,” what you’re doing is perpetuating the problem and creating a situation where you can never become free from it.
It is precisely this misconception that “I am this body” and how that misconception is played out in so many different ways. For instance, if I have a male body or I have a female body then I firmly believe, “I am a male.” or “I am a female.” Already you have an enormous problem by this firm conviction and not being able to have any distinction in your own mind and in your life between your body and yourself. If I think I am white, or I am Asian or I am black or I am, you know whatever, again this strong statement and adopting this as your actual identity is the very cause of so much suffering and so many problems in this world and we set ourself up to be unable to escape. In this case we’re talking about, you know, the tendency to eat more than necessary.
When we adopt the idea that the body is me and therefore the emptiness I feel within my heart of hearts is arising because of this body and mind then obviously, I’m always going to be engaging in activity to try and fill that hole but I am going to do it in relation to this body. There is no way out, there is no escape. Like you know, I mentioned earlier John Goodman and this interview I saw where he spoke about his struggles with being way overweight and then the use of different substances, how, he was saying you know, his realization is that all addictions are pretty much the same thing. It’s this attempt to fill an empty hole with something that cannot fill it. And I’m going like, “Okay, well that’s really amazing that you’ve come to that conclusion,” and it’s wonderful and I applaud him. But of course then the question is is what is it that you are going to do to fill up that hole? You know. And that has largely to do with this cultivation of a deeper understanding or appreciation of who you actually are. So the idea of getting into a discussion on equating this problem with perhaps this problem with perhaps this problem and then people can disagree and fight over those issues. People can say that to equate being overweight due to overeating is the same as, you know, racism, you know, it’s just like we don’t want to—this is the wrong approach to discussing the problems and it does not lead us to an actual solution and an actual understanding.
This is such a wonderful, it is a foundational spiritual truth that in our life we are discarding constantly. Every time I use the pronoun “I” or “we” or “us” or “they”, invariably I am speaking of some material conception. The idea that I am this body and someone else is their body. And this is the problem and I am not saying we get rid of language and we try to come up with a new language. No. It’s a question of coming up with an understanding. And so in talking about these issues don’t say that I overate and therefore I became fat. No. You know, “I had this emptiness within which led me to do something to try and fulfill it by eating to fill up that empty space. As a result my body became very overweight and because I was identifying with this body when people shun me or make jokes about me because of the way my body looks, I feel offended like they’re talking about me.” They can’t even see me. They don’t even know who I am. You know, it’s necessary to frame these things. It’s not semantics. It’s necessary to frame these things very clearly so that we can understand and appreciate them and in a practical way try to live a more spiritual life. So, I actually know there was, I could see there’s few more but we’re going to probably we’ve run out of time so we’re going to—I think.
NARADA MUNI DAS: I was hoping we could practice—
ACHARYA DAS: Yeah sure.
NARADA MUNI DAS: Mantra meditation.
ACHARYA DAS: Sure, it’s always the perfect way to close things out.
TANDIS: Thank you very much.
ACHARYA DAS: You’re very welcome. Thank you very much for presenting these questions that people have had. And it’s nice when people actually question because it gives you the opportunity to speak in a way that’s often more personal because it’s related to people’s personal lives. So thank you very much again.
Thank you very, very much for having me and hope to see everyone with our next series that we’re doing on the Bhagavad-gita. Thank you.