Sunday Service: The Four Stages of Inwardness

Upanishadic Wisdom

Week of Dec 27, 2015 – Jan 2, 2016

Divinity in Four Easy Steps

by Peter Kowalke

There’s this line in the Katha Upanishad that succinctly outlines the path to God through our own awareness.

“Beyond the senses is the mind, beyond the mind is the intellect, higher than the intellect is the Great Atman, higher than the Great Atman is the Unmanifest.”

That’s pretty concise. Let’s expand.

The first step is turning inward and ignoring the vast universe of stimulus coming from our five senses. Touch, taste, sight, sound and smell help us explore the world outside ourselves, but this is a distraction when searching for divinity. Divinity is contained in the world around us, but our five senses can’t perceive it; we’re like ants trying to conceptualize an elephant when we rely on our outward senses. So the first step is looking inside ourselves, not outside.

This is an easy step, but hard to sustain; I like thinking, but I’m constantly pulled back to the sense world by people around me, my job, my iPhone, the itch on my leg. Still, I can overcome these distractions.

The next step is focus, also known as engaging the intellect. This also is relatively easy. We must not just think, we must focus on finding divinity. Pickle is a valid topic for finding God, but only if we focus on it with divinity in mind. Lovers are valid topics for thought, but only if we think of them in terms of divinity. This is how prayer works—it focuses our mind on God, which helps with locating and understanding divinity.

We must separate the wheat from the chaff, basically. Ignore the line noise. Stay on topic. Discern.

This is my spiritual strength, actually. I enjoy love, and I give myself completely to it. I’m also stubborn. So everything I do is in the service of love; like a silent meditation uttered throughout the day, I focus on it with almost every breath. And because love is mysterious and has a strong connection to divinity, I’ve stumbled into its relation to God. So now I am always finding God in things when I pull the mind back to love. I stay focused, even when I’m not trying.

The big leap is the third step, going from intellect to “the Great Atman.” Once we’ve begun searching for divinity, we must find it. In ourselves.

In Vedanta-speak, “Atman” is our soul. It is that higher part of ourselves that is timeless and beyond birth, death and change. Our body is born and dies, or mind gets filled with good and bad ideas, our will gives in to our base nature or rises above it. Beyond all this is our timeless essence, our Godliness, the part of ourselves that makes us unique and can be seen at birth and in our last breath. This is Atman.

Well, sorta. Atman actually is our soul plus the souls of everyone else, because really we’re just part of one larger soul called God. So Atman is our collective soul, which is the same thing as our individual soul when the confusion over this sense of “I” is cleared up.

Which is exactly what the third step is all about.

(Read more)


Video of the Week

Vedanta and Buddhist Meditation

Peter Kowalke, an assistant secretary of the Ramakrishna Vedanta Association of Thailand (RVAT) and founder of American Vedanta, gives a brief workshop on Buddhist meditation as it related to Vedanta.

Finding lasting happiness. Applying the Bhagavad Gita to daily life. Learning about the history of Vedanta in the U.S. These are some of the topics covered at American Vedanta’s YouTube channel. We curate a list of spiritual videos that will help advance your spirituality and expand your mind. When wanting spiritual videos, give our YouTube channel a look.

We also recommend other resources such as Booksaudio lectures and web sites, among other resources.


Spiritual Fitness

Do You have a Spiritual Routine?

Vedanta, if not practical, has no other relevancy. The key to practical Vedanta is an individualized spiritual routine.

There are six components of a good spiritual routine.

Swan1. Find a Community. If you have an existing church, temple or mosque, attend regularly. If not, join our Facebook group and see our list of recommended spiritual organizations.

2. Seek Guidance. Find a mentor within your existing spiritual community or contact us for a referral.

3. Attend Spiritual Services Regularly. If you don’t live near an appropriate spiritual community, we offer a weekly spiritual talk delivered by email, Facebook and Twitter. We also host a regular Vedanta Dinner for those who live in the New York City area.

4. Incorporate Individual Study. We keep a list of books and resources for your individual study needs.

5. Take Responsibility for Your Spiritual Life. Read our talk about listening to your own inner compass and contact us when you have a question that your spiritual community isn’t answering adequately.

6. Leverage Rituals Thoughtfully. As an example, read our essay about the power of saying grace.

Our longer talk about spiritual routine can be found here.

Happy Sunday! Peace be unto you. Peace be unto all.

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