Asha Praver

Letters from Asha

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Ask Asha: How to Stop Overeating

[You can ask your own question here.]

Question

I listened to your talk on Karma, and among so many other wonderful points I 'heard' was a mention of food/overeating as being low on the spectrum of material -spiritual energy or vibration. I would like to hear more about this topic on a spiritual level-this is a trap of mine. Thank you.

D
from US

Answer

Dear D:

Your attachment to food puts you in good company. As a young monk, Swamiji said to Master, “Help me to overcome my attachment to good food.” Master replied, “When ecstasy comes, everything goes.”

In other words, we do have to eat. And to prefer food that is pleasing to the palate does not rank that high on the list of things that bind us to delusion. In fact, Swamiji has said, the body seems to absorb better food that it enjoys eating.

You may have noticed, if you have visited Ananda, that the meals are delicious. We often joke that food is the last “legitimate pleasure” of the yogi! The deliciousness of the food at Ananda, however, is within a healthy spectrum: vegetarian, fresh, carefully and consciously prepared.

We don’t have to be fanatical about what we eat. Both Swamiji and Master have cautioned against a diet that is too extreme. Master recommended what he called “proper eatarianism.” Find a simple diet that works for you, he said, preferably vegetarian or mostly vegetarian, with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, and then don’t give the matter more thought.

Food is not a path to God-consciousness. Merely purifying the body will not liberate the spirit. A pure heart, not a pure stomach, opens the doorway to divine consciousness.

If your attachment to food, however, moves from a mere preference for good tastes, to a wanton disregard of the rules of health, then it does need to be taken seriously.

Anything that we do that is against our own long-term interests has to be overcome. To consistently eat wrongly — too many sweets, fats, red meats, starches or whatever your particular weakeness is — will jeopardize your health. Self-evident.

It takes time each incarnation in a human body to grow up, to find your path, to begin to practice and make spiritual progress. Once you get all that in place, to give up or incapacitate that body prematurely (compared to what would happen if you follow the rules of health) is unfortunate. You may lose years of this incarnation merely struggling against pain, lethargy, or other disability. It may be impossible to meditate, do Kriya, serve, or in other ways work dynamically for God-realization.

Yes, of course, any experience can be used for spiritual progress. But the body is enough of an obstacle already. Why make it worse?

However, karma cannot be dismissed with a mere wave of the hand. We spend a long time getting into these delusions and it takes comparable effort to get out of them.

The obvious question is why do you act against your own interests?

In his wonderful book, God Is For Everyone, Swamiji explores a fundamental premise of life. Everything we do has two motivations: to experience happiness and to escape pain.

The question you need to answer is what happiness do you expect to gain, or what sorrow you expect to avoid, by acting in the way you do? This is such an obvious starting point, I presume, you have already explored it.

I can only suggest that you try to answer the question at the highest level you can. Understanding that your passion for ice cream, for example, is really a longing for God, can make even your Kriyas an antidote to over eating.

Whatever you decide, however, has to be completely sincere and deeply linked to your actual feelings. It won’t work to just band aid a spiritual platitude over a real life problem. Even if your deepest motivation is superficial compared to the Infinite, it is not superficial to you. Divine Mother understands and She will help you.

There is no set “karmic reason” why a person over eats or does anything against his own interests. You have to ask yourself not merely, “What am I doing?” but “What is the effect on me of this action? What attitude or feelings does this action bring out of me?” The answer is always individual.

Here is another way to overcome this tendency. In meditation, once you have entered a peaceful state, center yourself, without resistance, in the fact of your tendency to eat wrongly.

Then lift your consciousness to the spiritual eye. At that point, feel as deeply as you are able the vibration of Yogananda, the freedom of his spirit. Merge your vibration into his, bringing with you your wrong attitude toward food.

You will find that in his presence your tendency will simply dissolve. You can’t be with him and also hold to that vibration. Do this repeatedly and you will find a great change in your consciousness.

In the middle of his Sunday service on May 22, 2011, Swamiji talked about this way of overcoming difficulties. You may find that helpful.

Blessings,
Nayaswami Asha

[Questions and answers from other Ananda ministers worldwide can be found on the Ask the Experts page of Ananda.org.]

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Ask Asha: When a Loved One Digs Themself Into a Pit, Do What Works

[You can ask your own question here.]

Question

I have been dealing with my mom for over 20years over man issues. She has married another man that has taken all her money and has left her broke again. She will lose her house and everything at the end of the month. Her debt is so high there is nothing I can do for her. My brother will help with the car payment, so she can at lest have a car. She has emotionally drained me, don’t know what to do for her. Also, I can really let it affect me. Any suggestions? I do practice yoga and kriya.

DB
from US

Answer

Dear DB:

Master sometimes said, “God gives us our relatives, but thank God we can choose our friends!”

We have this sentimental idea that our families should be places of warmth and comfort. But Master said sometimes we are drawn together into families so we can “fight it out at close quarters.”

You have to assume that having such a woman as your mother is karmically appropriate. That the challenges that she has put in front of you are just what you need.

Although it is difficult to accept, clearly some kind of necessary balance is taking place, either with her as an individual, or in a general way for you. The beginning of freedom from this is to not feel that you are being treated unfairly.

Don’t misunderstand. I don’t mean that your mother is behaving well or that you have to go along with all her craziness or jeopardize your own well being in the name of helping her.

You still have to behave appropriately. And appropriate also includes what is right for you. There is enough modern psychology these days about the negative effects of “enabling” that I don’t have to reiterate that here.

Obviously, your mother does not want to hear your good advice. So it would be wise of you not to keep offering it. The point is to help her. If she isn’t ready to change, all it does is exhaust and frustrate you to try to change her against her will.

Difficult as it may be to stand by and let her crash and burn, it may be the only way she will learn this hard lesson. Her soul is guiding her into these hard times so she can learn the consequences of her wrong thinking.

My relationship with my parents bears no resemblance to what you have been going through, but there is a point where my experience may help you. At the end of their lives my parents suffered from physical and mental debilities. It was very hard to watch.

Because of the understanding I have of life and death, I thought it would be fine to pray to Divine Mother to take them out of those bodies and into the astral world. Something about that prayer, though, felt wrong. Finally I realized I was motivated mostly by my own discomfort and inconvenience and only secondarily was I thinking of what would be best for them.

Still, I was quite dismayed by their situation. I want to be completely sincere in my prayers, so to say, “Thy will be done,” just didn’t work for me. I had a lot of frustration and sadness that had to be included in my conversation with Divine Mother.

So I began to pray to Divine Mother in this way: “I don’t know what You are trying to teach them, but whatever it is, You need to get on with it! They may be doing fine, but I am not! I don’t think I can go on much longer in this way. You have to give them the openness, the wisdom, and the courage to receive whatever it is You are trying to give them! And please, do it now!”

I didn’t have a set wording, but that was the gist of the conversation. As you can see, I didn’t even try to make my side of the discussion pretty. Talking to God in this way about them completely changed my relationship to my parents. Their situation did not miraculously improve. In fact, it continued to deteriorate for several more years. But I had stopped resisting. Divine Mother and I were working together for their spiritual salvation, and that made everything different.

I also found this way of praying greatly increased my faith that everything was happening as it was meant to happen and I didn’t have to try so hard to “fix” it. Which of course meant I didn’t have to run around doing things as much as I had before, which made everything easier. I could just love them, accept them, and let their karma flow as it had to flow. It didn’t bother me the way it did before.

I hope this helps. This is obviously a very difficult situation for you. I will keep you in my prayers.

Blessings,
Nayaswami Asha

[Questions and answers from other Ananda ministers worldwide can be found on the Ask the Experts page of Ananda.org.]

Friday, June 10, 2011

Ask Asha: Does Kriya Give or Take Away Joy?

[You can ask your own question here.]

Question

[Another question in response to a previous letter: “In marriage, is celibacy or sex more appropriate?”]

How does Kriya relate to having a physical incarnation at all? Does an intention to transcend sex conflict with God’s purpose in having sexuality a core part of creation?

Kriya lifts us from the lower to the higher chakras. But isn’t the goal to experience all the chakras? And wouldn’t that include “spiritually disciplined” (not promiscuous) sexuality?

For those who want families and sexual relationships, isn’t Kriya going to take them away from that? Is Kriya only for older people who are past that stage?

I am older now, but if I incarnate again, I’ll have a young body. I am hesitant to take up Kriya since it may interfere with that young body’s incarnation.

Sincerely,
S.

Answer

Dear S:

The answer to all your questions is simple: God is no tyrant and His nature is bliss.

Step by step God leads us from present joys to even greater joys.

As Mahatma Gandhi put it, “Don’t even think about giving up a pleasure until you have replaced with a higher pleasure.”

The practice of Kriya does not separate you from bliss; it draws you deeper into it. This is not a dogma; it is an experience.

Spiritual development is directional. What is forward or backwards for each individual depends where he or she is standing on the spectrum of awareness.

Those things we may enjoy as children -- sticky sweets, for example -- are less appealing as our tastes mature.

It is the same with the many “pleasures” of life. What seems at one stage of development to be the apex of enjoyment -- sex, drinking, or even anger, jealousy, and greed -- will gradually be superseded by something more expansive, enjoyable, and profound as our awareness expands.

As for experiencing all our chakras (and not just the spiritual eye, as you put it) the answer is that the essence of all the chakras is included in the spiritual eye.

The fulfillment we imagine we will find through material security, sexuality, power, etc. is all found in divine consciousness. “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you.”

But whether you or any other person are interested in seeking first the Kingdom of God, or seeking God at all, is a decision you have to make for your self, based on your own experience.

After many incarnations of joys and sorrows, we begin to long for lasting fulfillment. And with that desire comes also a seed of faith in the possibility of fulfillment. That hope inspires us to conduct the right experiment, i.e. to begin to follow some spiritual path.

It goes one step at a time. And each step follows naturally on the experience you gain from the step you are now on.

It is not an intellectual debate. It isn’t about having your questions answered and all your doubts resolved.

The divine meal is spread before you and when you are hungry, you will eat.

Blessings,
Nayaswami Asha


[Questions and answers from other Ananda ministers worldwide can be found on the Ask the Experts page of Ananda.org.]

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Ask Asha: Gifts vs. Obligations

[You can ask your own question here.]

Question

[Written in response to a previous letter: “In marriage, is celibacy or sex more appropriate?”]

I am not sure you are intending to open this topic up for general discussion. My viewpoint is that when couples enter a state of matrimony, they do agree to provide marital gifts to one another. These are gifts, however, we lovingly bestow and not necessarily obligations.

K.

Answer

Dear K:

This letter has generated more comments than any other letter I’ve written. So I am happy to continue the discussion.

The heart of your comment seems to be in the last sentence, “gifts...we lovingly bestow and not necessarily obligations.”

Friendship, Master tells us, is the highest relationship we can have with one another because it is the only relationship free of all compulsion. Even though mother love is viewed as the most selfless -- the mother sacrifices her own body to give life to her child -- still, there is an element of compulsion.

Once conception occurs the child will grow within her. Her free choice is gone (putting aside the question of terminating the pregnancy). And once the baby is born, again, a compulsion takes over. If mother and father do not care for the child, the child will die.

Wives and husbands develop duties and expectations and, obligations, as you call them, to provide for one another in certain ways. This is especially true if they have united to produce and raise children. But even if they are alone together, sex, as just one example, becomes part of the “contract,” so to speak.

Traditionally, one earns money and the other takes care of home and children. Even if these things are done in a spirit of equality, lovingly, and selflessly, still, a level of roles to be played almost always sets in. This isn’t necessarily bad; it is just a fact.

Friendship, however, is formless. Nothing compels us to be friends except a sincere desire to do so.

In the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna calls Arjuna “friend.” Master in his commentary tells us what a high compliment this is. Jesus in the last days of his life elevates his disciples to the level of “friends.” Even between guru and disciple, friendship is the ideal.

When we contemplate human love, especially romantic love, in the abstract, the idea of love freely given is naturally attractive. Many people seize upon this as a fundamental principle of relationships -- never compelled, always free. And they are not wrong. Friendship is the most solid foundation for a life-long partnership.

The question is, “What is freedom?”

The ego tends to define freedom as the ability to do whatever it feels like doing. Applied to romantic love this means we are together as long as it makes us happy to be together and then we freely allow one another to follow the heart wherever it may lead.

It sounds good until one heart feels the relationship is over, or must change in fundamental ways, and the other heart is not in tune with that idea. Then theory hits reality often with a heart-rending thud.

The problem is, freedom is not of the ego. Freedom is of the soul. No matter how much we indulge our egoic desires they will never give us the satisfaction we seek. It is not the way we are made.

As St. Augustine put it, “Thou hast made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.”

This, of course, is a long treatise in itself. I refer you to Swamiji’s book, God is for Everyone, as just one place where these ideas are explored in depth.

The point here is that eventually, even in our romantic relationships, if the relationship is going not only to endure, but to be a source of ever-increasing happiness and spiritual growth, the focus has to shift from “What do I want?” to “What can I give?”

It is more blessed, Jesus tells us, to give than to receive. By blessed, he means blissful. As a person matures, he gradually learns that the satisfaction he hoped to find in freely indulging his ego can only be found by transcending it.

For the ego itself is the antithesis of freedom, because it binds us to the never-ending cycle of likes and dislikes. Transcending the ego is to be even-minded and cheerful in all circumstances. Even more, as Master puts it, to “stand unshaken amidst the crash of breaking worlds.”

From the outside, it may look as if a person is bound by obligations and duties. But from the inside, if those responsibilities are willingly embraced as the appropriate dharma for that individual, then there is no sense of bondage but only the free will offering of the heart.

(Dharma are those actions and attitudes which lead to expanded consciousness and spiritual freedom.)

Naturally, not every one can rise to this level of freedom. It takes practice. The divine reason why we are compelled into relationships of all kinds is so that we can experience, and experiment, and learn -- over many incarnations -- how to find the fulfillment we seek.

Learning how to love is a long-term project. It has to develop from inside. It is not a set of external behaviors that we impose upon ourselves. We must be realistic and sincere.

As Swamiji put it, just staying together as a couple for a whole lifetime, for example, is not necessarily a spiritual victory. There must also be inner growth and the expansion of true love. Merely to endure is not the same as to transcend. Sometimes change is necessary. It is an individual matter, not a dogma where one size fits all.

That is what I was trying to explain in the letter about sex and celibacy. The dogma here is that giving up sex is inherently the right thing to do. I wanted that man to understand the implications of his actions.

As Master put it, we have to be “practical in our idealism.” That man has taken on certain responsibilities and the way to freedom for him now may be through the performance of those duties, not by repudiating them.

Blessings,
Nayaswami Asha

P.S. On our website there is another letter called “Love vs. Attachment” that you might find interesting.


[Questions and answers from other Ananda ministers worldwide can be found on the Ask the Experts page of Ananda.org.]
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