Om sahanaavavatu sahanaubhunaktu sahaveeryam karavaavahai
Om shanthi shanthi shanthihi
Om Shri Gurubhyo Namaha
Hari Hi Om
Why do we start with a Prayer?
Vikasa (name of the retreat program) means progress. Now when we say progress, we can look at two specific dimensions of it. One dimension is outer progress. Outer progress includes even our career progress and the path that we choose to take up in our lives. Another dimension is inner progress. Now these might be broad terms and this is one way to look at it, but as we go ahead, we will look at what progress exactly means — outer as well as inner. What does progress really mean? What are the various aspects to it? And how to achieve it? We will look at various tools to actually consistently deliver on whatever we envision for ourselves and the world around us. Towards that the first step is the prayer. Now prayer in the Indian tradition has always been the starting point. Why? It is simply this: prayer fixes the inner environment just as we fix the outer environment, to be conducive to whatever activity we are envisioning or planning. See, it is very pleasant outside today. Over a week’s time you will get more comfortable with this outer environment. Initially when you come in, it is uncertain, new, then over a period of time you get used to it. And this is a pleasant environment. You know, Rishikesh especially has been considered a very very powerful and conducive outer environment for so much progress to happen – both within and without. More within, because the kinds of people that came here were like us – seeking, questioning, enquiring. And we fix the outer environment to be conducive to progressing along the lines that we have envisioned. Likewise fixing the inner environment to be conducive is a very very significant step. In fact it is the primary step. On a normal day, you wake up in the morning, and first thing you see, it is cold, and you don’t want to come out of bed -” Today also I need to go to work. Today also I need to go to college.” How many of you feel this way? Almost everybody! Oh my God! [Laughter] So I am addressing the right crowd. “Today also I need to go college…che!” And when will that end? This ends when you get your degree but then a new thing starts!
A bigger menace starts — “Today also I need to go to office!” When will that end? Going by current standards, most probably there is no retirement for you all. I have retired. I am in my retired life [Laughter]. So we are starting with an inner environment that is negative. With this sort of an inner environment, all of us want progress, success and also satisfaction, meaning and happiness! When you start with this primary condition, you are on a self-defeating trajectory. You will never get where you wish to be. It is your wish, but you will never get there, because the primary condition itself defeats the purpose. And hence setting the inner environment, by paying attention to it, is so very significant. And hence with this prayer, what we do is, we fix our inner environment. How do we fix it? This simple prayer in Sanskrit, taken from the Upanishads, means –sahanaavavatu - let us live together. sahanaubhunaktu — let us have food together. sahaveeryam karavaavahai – let us put our energies together to achieve a common purpose. Tejasvinaava dheethamastu — let us get illumined with knowledge, together. But in the process of living together, working together towards a common cause, what happens? A lot of friction happens right? What you call as ego clashes or conflict of interests and conflict of ideas happen. Then you see, even something like planning a weekend getaway — “Hey, we should go here” …”Eh! No, that is boring! We should go there!” This can cause some heartburn. And hence maavidvishaavahai – may we not have any ill-feeling towards each other, because it is very easy to get an ill-feeling. Nobody wants it, but somewhere or the other, all of us encounter that. And hence we try to fix it, at least invoke the environment, where mavidvishavahai — in the process of life, may we not have any ill-feeling towards each other. That is the vision, that is the idea and that is very very important to have this an idea at least, as a vision, as an invocation. Because the inner environment, you can only invoke. How do you feel good? You invoke it. You cannot approach it any other way. So mavidvishavahai — in the process of living together, having food together, getting illuminated with knowledge together, yoking our energies together towards a common cause and working towards that common cause, may we also not have any ill-feeling towards each other. And that is progress on the outer dimension – working towards a common cause, living together and also progress on the inner dimension, where you are happy, satisfied and fulfilled. So both success and happiness need to go hand in hand.
Why do we chant “Shanti” three times at the end of the Prayer?
So we end with Om shanthi shanthi shanthi — three times. The first shanthi is harmony at the level of nature — the natural forces, called adidaivika. Because we see…for example, yesterday all the people who came by train would have recognized that a simple fog can delay your train to such an extent that it can become a last minute dash to another train, you know. And it is nothing great — it is just a fog. Today morning when we were coming by the autorickshaw- you would have seen the fog. The headlamp of the the oncoming vehicle is just not visible until it approaches about 50 meters and it is coming at full speed! So fog is not entirely in your control. Or let us say, a cyclone, or a tsunami. So many events are happening, all of which are called adidaivika. They are called natural forces. Forces not exactly in your control, but actually you can petition that. We will look at that as well, later. So the intention is to have harmonious natural forces, so that you can succeed in what you have taken up. Otherwise, if they don’t cooperate, it will be very tough.
The second shanthi, is for harmony at the level of what is called the adibhautika forces. Adibhautika is the society around us, the people around us. They are a powerful presence in our lives. Many of you face this when you do something different in your house. You close your eyes for 5 minutes for meditation, and you will see all these forces at play, and that too if you do it right in your hall, with all your relatives around you, you will get to first hand experience adibhautika! [Laughter] All sorts of obstacles will crop up all of a sudden! Everything might be going smooth and suddenly you will see all these obstacles crop up. People start looking at you differently, you know. A Swami Vivekananda happening in someone else’s house is okay. But in one’s own house, it is unacceptable, you know! If the societal forces do not cooperate, there is no way to succeed. So we see that these are adibhautika. The social forces play a major role in our day to day lives. When we recognize this, we definitely want harmonious social forces, harmonious people around us, because they can throw us off our track. And that is the second shanthi.
Now, everything might be perfect, the adidaivika forces and the adibhautika forces might be harmonious, but if you are not able to do what you wish to do, for whatever reason, then it is bad, very bad. That is why the third shanthi, for what is called adhyatmika. Adhyatmika means…let us say you sit here, but you feel sleepy, for whatever reason. That is very natural. Or you are fidgeting and somehow you are not able to pay attention to this discussion. It is not wrong or right — this is not the reasoning. It is there and it is an obstacle to what you have taken up. You have chosen this path and it is an obstacle on that path. What do you do? That is adhyatmika. Or let us say there is some irritation. Someone has said something and that is irritating your mind so much that you are not able to pay attention to what you have chosen. The irritation is on inside your mind -”Aaaargh!” You keep on remembering whatever irritated you. That is adhyatmika. And hence at all these three levels you need shanthi – harmony, for you to achieve progress. Otherwise true and lasting progress is a mirage. It does not happen.
How do these forces impact our lives?
How do the natural forces impact our lives? See for example, we were interacting with some people who had been hit by the tsunami in 2004. Everything was going fine in their lives and all was perfect. They had good families, they were doing well in their businesses and everything else in their life was going on fine. One moment, the tsunami hit, the next moment, they had nobody left! The entire lives had been broken apart, just washed away. Just washed away! All that they knew of themselves had been washed away. That is the power of nature, what we call adidaivika. When you bring this into your conscious recognition, you actually see these forces and processes at play. And this recognition also instills a certain level of gratitude within you. The ground on which we stand has not been built by us, you know. You recognize that intelligently. And that instills a certain sense of gratitude and you wish for these forces to be harmonious. You will do whatever you can towards not destabilizing that. Now what we call as ecological damage is destabilizing such forces, right? Maybe we have done it in our ignorance, but still it is destabilization. You would never purposely do that. You would at least introspect. So that is adidaivika. Adibhautika refers to the social forces — the people around us. The people play a major part, even for small things. I used to jokingly say …one of my students wanted to build six-pack abs. So that is very good, everyone should aspire for it! [Laughter] There is nothing wrong, it looks good, it makes you feel good, it makes others look at you and say,”Hey! Very good!” Even if it is not true appreciation, still you can brag about it, at least for that it is worthwhile! But it is some serious investment — sustained investment. It does not happen overnight. In just one day, by simply thinking,“Okay this single bag has to become six-pack.”, it does not happen. You need some sustained input in that direction — there is an intention, a focussed intention and the putting in of effort to make that happen. And then you will see your desire come true. But in the process of putting in effort, you will see that you will also have transformed, you know. That is the key thing. But setting his mind to working towards that, what happened? Our guy announced it to his friends. Poor guy! So what will happen if you tell your friends about your ambition? You announce your desire in the hostel. So everybody will cooperate in making that happen for you right? [Laughter] Our guy keeps an alarm to wake up at 5:30 am in the morning, and what did his friends do? They just flipped the alarm needle, instead of 5:30 am, it was pointed at 1:30 am [Laughter] So that is the first set back. Then there would be other things like,”Hey, let us watch some movie man. Why are you struggling so much. How many people have six pack here, show me? Nobody has six packs. That is a utopian dream.” Pursuing your ambition requires great strength, to be able to continue trying even after such discouragement and distractions. That is called mano bala. Mano bala means strength of your mind, inner strength. And the key aspect is enthusiasm — protecting your enthusiasm, against these adibhautika forces. These are all adibhautika forces. It is not that you are against them. Your friends might do it for fun, but if you give in to such discouragement, you will not have progressed any further from where you are. You would have seen this in normal operation in your daily lives. So when I say protect, it is not about building up a fortress and going into a shell and getting ready to fire at anyone who comes near you. This is not protection; this way you will lose out on friends — on friendship, on the meaning of life and on relationships. So what is required is a balance.