The Difference Between Sympathy and Empathy
August 6, 2014
What is the difference between sympathy and empathy? And which is the more important quality to develop on the spiritual path?
A simple way to understand the difference is that sympathy is when we feel pity or sorrow for someone else’s misfortunes, whereas empathy is when we understand and share the feelings of someone else.
Empathy is more important to develop on the spiritual path since one is able to feel the connection with someone who is suffering rather than just feel sorry for someone. Of course we also need to emphasize non-attachment so we are not caught in the potential whirlpool of emotions.
Perhaps a better quality to emphasize than empathy or sympathy is “compassion.” If someone shows kindness, caring, and a willingness to help others, they’re showing compassion. This is a much more active engagement of our energy in supporting others.
Why Do Animals Suffer?
July 28, 2014
Dear Gyandev: Why do the animals suffer? Someone answered me that they don’t have an ego and therefore do not suffer, and I know that neither do they have karma. I’m not sure, because clearly they feel physical pain! Why is there suffering and torture of animals, such as in slaughterhouses and hatcheries? I can understand a personal pain or suffering as an action-reaction? But how is the law of animal life, that without karma, any animal can be a victim of any painful torture by anyone?
When animals experience pain, usually it’s simply nature taking its course: the animal has an accident or gets attacked by another animal. Neither ego nor karma nor torture is involved; instinct rules the animal world, and they are locked into a fixed progression of expanding consciousness.
The relationship between human beings and animals is different, because humans have some degree of free will. That can be lead to abuse of animals or to kindness to animals; either one results in karma for the human being, but neither stems from any karma on the part of the animal.
Because our planet is currently at a relatively low level of spiritual advancement, there will be misuse of free will. Killing animals for food may or may not be misuse of free will—one can easily imagine examples of both—but certainly torture is a misuse. In a higher age, these things won’t happen as often. And in a very high age, they won’t happen at all.
In any case, what we perceive as suffering in animals is the result of our projecting onto the animals how we would feel if we were in the same circumstances. It can be different for animals, for they are not as attached to their bodies as humans are, so they do not suffer as much as humans do when bad things happen to them.
I hope this explanation helps satisfy the mind, although no explanation can comfort the heart that sees other creatures in pain.
Choosing a vocation
June 9, 2014
Respected Guruji, I am currently an Engg. student but unable to pass exam as I don’t feel curiosity and interest while studying the subjects, as I am on my verge of changing my career, will meditation help me to recognize my talent and work with that, if yes, then how?
You are certainly asking the right question, one that more people should be asking as they embark on adult life and career!
Meditation — more specifically the intuition developed through meditation — can help you to find the right career. Paramhansa Yogananda addressed this exact question:
One thing that must be your first concern: you must find your vocation. By contact with the Cosmic Vibration in meditation, you will be led to the goal, you will be led to the thing you ought to do. Concentrate upon that thing, make yourself proficient in that.
Success in a career depends on doing something that interests you — something that you are avid about.Yogananda pointed out that the interests that we have when we are young are often (not always) coming from our past lives and samskars, uncolored by peer pressure or the pressure of society and parents.
I found that comment interesting because when I was in high school I was torn between two careers which both expressed interests that I was avid about: writing and gardening.
Later in high school I had an inner experience which confirmed quite clearly the direction for my life, and I made the strong decision at that point to spend the rest of my life and career as "a yogi seeking God" — even though I had never even met a yogi at that point in my life or knew how I could make a "career" out it! I think that if I had gone to my high school career guidance counselor, or to my parents, and told them I had decided on a career, they would have thought I was crazy.
But I did trust my strong inner guidance and it turned out to be the right thing for me to do. But what is also interesting is that two of the things I’ve most enjoyed doing as an adult, and which have been part of my 'job' at various times, have been gardening and writing (my first fourteen years at Ananda were spent as a gardener). So there is something to the idea of tuning in to true interests that you had when young.
In the meantime, until you know what that is, you still must act in this world and put out energy in some direction. As a friend once put it, "You can’t steer a parked car!" So yes, meditate on what is right for you. But also start acting in small ways on your interests to see if they can lead to a career.
If you can find a vocation that you are absolutely avid about, and spend your life refining and perfecting that skill, you will be so very successful on many levels, including happiness.
I'll end with more words of wisdom from Yogananda:
Selection of your vocation must be in accordance with your inner interest, instinctive inclination, and intuitive meditative guidance. Do not try to seek success in a business that you hate.
Who Was Greater: Arjuna or Karna?
May 28, 2014
Around 1989 in India TV serial the Mahabharata was broadcast and has had a tremendous success. Now also a TV serial is launched which is fairly successful. Two characters stand out. One is Arjuna and the other Karna. Karna died in the war with Arjuna years later. These two gentlemen left the world and also left behind a legacy of scholars more aggressive than them continuously debating on who is the greater warrior of the two. What were Yoganandaji‘s views on Karna?
Paramhansa Yogananda stated that the major characters in the Mahabharata were actual historical figures, so the question of who was the greater warrior is not moot. And it would be interesting to know Yoganandaji’s assessment, given that he said he was, in a former incarnation, Arjuna! However, I am not aware of anything that Yoganandaji may have said about the historical Karna.
In any case, much more meaningful to a devotee are the psycho-spiritual qualities that he said the two characters represent in each one of us: self-control (Arjuna) and attachment (Karna). Attachment is a formidable force, and while self-control is a vital element in overcoming it, self-control alone is not sufficient: we need not only to engage other of our positive qualities—above all devotion to God—but also to ally ourselves with divine grace.
So on an inner level, one could say that attachment is a "greater warrior" than self-control. But that proves nothing about the martial merits of the two historical figures. Such outward comparisons will have to remain a question for spirited—and forever inconclusive—debate.
Resolving Old Events in One’s Life
March 31, 2014
I’ve been meditating for more than a year now, and I notice that I find myself going back to the past, to events that I believed were long resolved. Even to the point of questioning whether my mother was a “good” parent. But I find my mind resurrecting things long forgotten. What does this mean — that deep down I resent my parents?
You don’t mention what technique of meditation you are practicing so I can’t respond directly to how your meditations and past memories are connected. However, you can trust if there are long forgotten memories surfacing, they need your attention and awareness.
Probably all it means is on some level you haven’t healed these memories and the relationships linked with them. Ask your higher self in meditation what is trying to happen with these memories and then be receptive in your heart to receive the answer. It’s important not to judge the answer or react to it in any way. Just be receptive and follow the truthful wisdom of your own higher self.
In Divine Friendship,
Is the Mahabharata Authentic?
March 25, 2014
Is the Mahabharata written by Vyasa 100% authentic and true? What were Yoganandaji‘s views on this? If its not 100 % true can any evidence be offered?
Paramhansa Yogananda said that the main characters in the Mahabharata were actual historical figures, and that there was indeed such a conflict over a kingdom. Yoganandaji further stated that Arjuna was one of his own earlier incarnations, that Babaji was Krishna, and that James Lynn (Yoganandaji’s most advanced disciple) was Nakula.
While Yoganandaji said that the bare essentials of the story do reflect historical events (you can visit Kurukshetra, after all), even a cursory reading of the Mahabharata shows that (a) the vast majority of it is not history, but rather spiritual allegory or overt spiritual teaching, and (b) even if it were history, that aspect would be of little value compared to the immense spiritual value of the Mahabharata’s teaching.
May the blessings of the masters who consent to play these roles in the outward drama of this world, be with you always.
Being the “Silent Observer”
March 25, 2014
I find it quite helpful at times to be the observer of my mind, thoughts and feelings, watching them pass like a movie and not giving them any attention (just as we learn in meditation). This helps us to not get attached and to control our reactive process. And even though Swamiji mentioned the term “silent observer” in his book “Demystifying Patanjali,” I would very much like to know if Master recommended this technique and if it is in tune with the teachings. Thank you.
Paramhansa Yogananda did indeed recommend this technique of being the “silent observer.” He taught that in meditation, specifically in the Hong-Sau Technique, to emphasize this approach. He also encouraged this approach when we are involved in the various activities of daily life.
His quote, “be calmly active and actively calm” expresses this point of being centered in the calm, undisturbed essence within, while being actively engaged. It also refers to being in the “active” watchful state while in meditation.
In his poem, “Samadhi,” from his book of prayers and poems, Whispers From Eternity, Yogananda offers these words to describe this watchful state of being the silent observer:
Samadhi but extends my conscious realm
Beyond the limits of the mortal frame
To farthest boundary of eternity
Where I, the Cosmic Sea,
Watch the little ego floating in me.
Overcoming Intense Challenges
March 13, 2014
I am a 40 year old man. I have been meditating from 13 yrs . Also I have been masturbating for the past 22 years since I am not married. My life is in danger; I have no career, I have large debts, and I am dependent for basic needs on others. I am in a position where I can’t even commit suicide. I am a lover of the great Yoganandaji. Please help and guide me.
No matter what challenges you face, try to always feel God’s presence with you. To make this real, it’s important to meditate with techniques that will take you deeper into your soul qualities. You don’t mention what type of meditation you practice, but the techniques which Paramhansa Yogananda taught are very valuable in helping us find our source in the Divine. Here is a link that may be helpful to you: Kriya Yoga
In regards to sexual challenges, such as masturbation, it’s important to try to catch your desires as soon as they surface in your awareness. At that point you need to shift your awareness and energy, to something that is positive and uplifting, such as listening to uplifting music or feeling God’s presence. Chanting is another very powerful way to shift the focus.
Another suggestion is do something physical such as exercise; I would recommend Yogananda’s Energization Exercises or the yoga asanas. What these accomplish is that you are able to dynamically engage your energy in a positive direction which you can feel as a reality and not just hope for the best.
It’s also very important to be in the company of other spiritual truth-seekers. As Yogananda said, “environment is stronger than willpower”. The magnetism of other devotees will help you in your own efforts. Praying to God and Guru for guidance and support is important as well. Let your mind constantly be in the blessings of divine grace.
Being able to stand on your own two feet is a basic requirement if you want to move forward with your life. Take the next steps in front of you: find a job where you can direct positive energy; find a way to pay down your debts, even if it’s in small increments; feel a confidence within you that God is giving you support in all that you do so you needn’t be dependent so much on others. Pray to God and Guru and be open to the flow of grace and guidance that they offer.
Blessings on your spiritual journey.
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