The Way Back Home
An extemporaneous talk by
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
The Way Back Home
The day you feel the whole world is your home, the sky is your ceiling,
the earth is your floor, and every tree is your garden,
then you are really home.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
The Way Back Home
Why have we all come here? We have come together to listen to something, to hear something, right? This is called Upanishad, one of the ancient ways of having a session of knowledge. “Upanishad” means sitting close, sitting near—not just physically but also mentally, in spirit. A superficial curiosity is not Upanishad: “Let me go and see what’s happening here.” When you go to an exhibition just to kill time, or go to a lecture just to listen to something, half the time you are there the mind is elsewhere. This is not Upanishad. Upanishad is a willingness, an urge to know, a thirst for knowledge, for truth, for reality. A true inquiry—with this Upanishad begins.
So what topic do you want to discuss today? What is it you want to know? Upanishad begins with a question. Knowledge is so vast, but what do you want to know at this moment? Ask and knowledge will flow accordingly.
Response from the audience: What does it mean to be of service to God?
Go ahead. Anybody else? Any topics?
How to live in the present moment?
How to successfully overcome stress?
Can you learn to see God in people whom you don’t like?
Is it possible to be happy all the time?
Finding mental peace.
What is the right formula, right? Anything else?
What is love?
Is there a God at all?
Why do we not come from a place of love?
Why take a guru?
How can we eliminate suffering in the world?
What if I say I don’t know anything about any of these topics, then what shall we do? You know some quality of the different topics that you requested. You already know something about them, don’t you? And there are libraries full of books, so that at any time you can research any subject, right? So what shall we do now?
OK, I’ll ask a question. What is the first act that you did when you were born?
Audience: Breathing. Crying.
Crying? No. First you inhaled, didn’t you? The first act of life is inhaling and the second act is crying. And the last act of life is?
Exhaling and making others cry. Between this first act and last act of life, during the whole of life, we breathe in and breathe out every moment, don’t we? Yet we have not attended to our breath fully. We are not conscious that we are breathing.
Through the ages the effort has been to control the mind to be more stable and feel good all the time. How do you handle this mind? Mind is very abstract. You cannot tie it down to a place. But there is something that links the mind and body and that is our breath. Every emotion has a particular pattern of breath. When you are angry, your breath moves differently than when you are focused, serene, calm, happy. With the help of the breath, agitation, restlessness, fear, anger, tiredness, anything can be brought under control. The mind can be calmed through the breath.
See what is happening in the mind right now. As I’m speaking a few sentences, your mind is saying, “Yes, yes,” or, “No, no, how can that be?” Are you all aware of this phenomenon? It’s happening right now. When you become aware of your own dialogue, then you have a fully aware consciousness. It doesn’t matter what I say—you may agree or disagree—but if you are aware of what your mind tells you, then you have a mature state of mind. Information you can find in books. Knowledge about your mind, awareness, this needs to be pointed out.
Certain Questions indicate maturity of mind. “What is life? What is the purpose of life? What do I want?” These are very important questions. Don’t be in a hurry to find an answer for these questions. Anyone who knows the answer will not give it to you. If anyone tries to answer you, just walk away because they do not know. This very question is sufficient to take you deep into yourself.
“Where am I?” I consider this question to be vitally important. Do we know where we are? We know we are all here in this hall. Everyone knows that right now. Do you know you are in Washington? You are somewhat aware of that. Do you know you are in the U.S.A.? Not consciously. You are not remembering that. Are you aware you’re on planet Earth? Have you ever thought about it? I am on the planet Earth. And this planet Earth is part of the solar system. I am in the solar system. The solar system is just a dot in the Milky Way. I am in the Milky Way.
Nobody remembers that he or she has come to this planet. Do you see what I am saying? This is awareness, pragya, awakening. We are awakening ourselves to the reality of where we are. We are in this Milky Way, in this solar system, on this planet Earth, in Washington D.C., in this body.
Where am I in this body? Just you close your eyes for a couple of minutes and find out. Am I in the head, in the nose, in the hand, in the heart—where am I in this body? Something clicks. You are able to perceive that you are nowhere and you are everywhere in your body. Have this awareness of yourself from the microcosm to the macrocosm, smaller than the smallest and bigger than the biggest, and a shift in the quality of awareness happens immediately, instantaneously. And it is this awareness that can eliminate stresses and sorrow from life. This awareness is called wisdom.
What are you made up of? Bones, flesh, blood vessels, blood. Underneath the skin is a different world, but this is not in your awareness. Do you see that? Do you know that there are fifty thousand types of bacteria housed in your intestines? Fifty-thousand types of bacteria! They have their own electrical system, water and sewage system, everything. There is township inside your body. What are we? And who are we?
Now, just remember or imagine how many people are in this world—five billion, six billion people. Six billion people with six billion minds and each mind has a thought at this moment. And in the next moment it is a different thought. There are three, four, five hundred of us here, and in each of our minds some thoughts are coming and they are vanishing. In the next moment another thought is coming and it is vanishing. Every second new thoughts come and they go. Just as the water in the ocean produces many waves, the life force is producing many thoughts and many ideas. Many waves are coming up in the consciousness. Can you open yourself up to this reality?
We need to understand the phenomenon of thought. If somebody is thinking negative thoughts about you or is not on good terms with you, just know that there is a lot of stress and strain in them. Then it’s finished. Then your mind remains undisturbed by someone else’s imperfection.
Or perhaps you are bothered about some thought you have in yourself. Either you are angry at yourself or angry at somebody else. With opening into this awareness, this will not happen. You will laugh at all this phenomenon that is happening, and then a smile will dawn in your life that nothing whatsoever can take away from you. Such peace is worth attaining. It’s not very difficult.
Is it possible to be happy all the time? Yes, it is a simple thing. Attend to your breath. Just a little bit of attention on the breath releases all the toxins and emotions stored in every cell of the body. It’s very simple—there are breathing techniques you can do for five, ten minutes every day. [These techniques are taught in the Healing Breath Workshop designed by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. For more information on the Workshop, refer to the back of this booklet.]
Your soul has a rhythm and your feelings have a rhythm—at a particular time you undergo some feeling. And your thoughts have a rhythm, have a pattern. And then your breath has a rhythm and your body has a rhythm. A harmony between all these rhythms is what is brought about in Kriya. [“Kriya” here refers to Sudarshan Kriya, a breathing technique taught in the Healing Breath Workshop.] That is bliss. When are you happy? When these rhythms are in harmony. When there are many noises, you have chaos. When noises are in harmony, you have music. Isn’t it so? In the same way, life is either in bliss when all rhythms are in harmony, or it’s disturbed, chaotic.
Every living being wants happiness. And everyone wants love, wants to be loved and to give love, right? But do you know something? Love is the cause of all misery. If there is love, there is jealousy. If you love something very much, you are jealous about it. Love is the cause of anger. If you love perfection, you’re angry at imperfection. Love is the cause of all the misery, pain and problems in the world. Can there be a love which is free of all this misery? This has been the search throughout the ages.
Either be indifferent or be in love and go through all the suffering. Is there a third way? Is there any hope for being in love and not facing misery? Yes, it is through awareness. When you raise your consciousness and become more aware of the sensation that is happening in the body, you will see that the sensation changes. An intense sensation that is painful and an intense sensation that is pleasurable both become blissful. Love and pain are very closely related. I usually refer to the symbol of Jesus on the cross. The cross is pain; Jesus is love. One is with the other. The transformation of this pain into bliss and love into bliss is what happens with awareness. Watch for this.
It is the same with doubts. You know that at some times you have doubts in the mind. At those times do some breathing exercises to increase the energy level in the body and you will see the doubts disappear. More clarity comes to the mind and confusion goes away. Have you noticed that doubt is always about something that is positive? You never doubt anything that is negative in life. You never doubt someone else’s anger or your own anger. You don’t say, “Wait a minute. Am I really angry?” You never doubt your depression—nobody ever doubts their depression—but when you are happy, you doubt. “Am I really happy? Is this what I want?” If someone says to you, “I hate you,” you don’t doubt that. If someone says to you, “I love you very much,” you ask, “Really? Are you sure?” And you try to see if they have some motive behind what they say. There is a doubt about love. Instead why not doubt negative behavior? It’s not really negative. Out of stresses, out of some circumstances, the person is acting like that. If we can doubt in the negativity of people, we can come close to reality. Do you see what I am saying?
We take it for granted everything is a hoax or everybody is a fraud, and then we try to find somebody whom we can trust. Then it becomes so difficult in the world for us. The definition of joy in Sanskrit is “the expansion of mind.” I am sure we have all experienced this. Whenever we are happy, we feel that something in us is expanding. The experience of sadness brings contraction of mind. Meditation is a technique for expanding and relaxing the mind. Whenever we are relaxed, we are expanding automatically. Whenever we are joyful, whenever we are in love, there is an expansion.
It’s worth knowing this expansion in life. Then nothing can disturb us or take the smile away from us. Otherwise small things can throw us off balance. Someone speaks a few words, and that sound comes and hits our ears and our head starts boiling. It’s not worth letting our mind, our life undergo such suffering. Do you see that?
Someone asked how to see God in a person you don’t like, in someone you hate. Have you noticed how it feels to you when you think about somebody you don’t like? Very awful, isn’t it? All their negativity reflects in your body. Whomsoever you think of, you imbibe that person’s vibrations. And when you hate somebody, you are prone to think about them a lot. So the best way is to see them as void. Don’t try to see God in them; just see the void, the empty space. If there are a lot of stresses, the empty space is not reflected properly. Then you will have only compassion. You will be able to say, “Oh, poor person, I see why he is behaving like that.”
All feelings come from a void. All thoughts come from a void. Just find out what the source of thought is. Whether it is an invention, an intuition, some poetry, or a discovery, where does it come from? All thoughts come from a space, a void, deep inside. Be with that void. A new dimension will open in life.
I’m not telling you that you will always love everybody. It’s not possible because love is not an act, it’s not something you can practice. It is something that happens to you. You have no choice in your like or dislikes. Do you have a choice? When you go to a supermarket and you start looking at items on the shelf, you like certain things and you don’t like certain things. Your likes are not something you think up or manufacture in yourself and then experience. It is the same with love. It’s easy to say, “Love everybody.” How can you love everybody when you do not love yourself fully?
Love is not an act; it is the very state of our being. In deep meditation, we see that everybody is just void and everybody is part of ourselves. Then the flow of love happens naturally. It’s not superimposed. It’s not a cultivated, artificial love. It’s something that is very natural. Love is the state of your existence. You can’t but love.
Somebody asked a question about religion—I remember now.
Every religion and every prophet who has walked on this earth have contributed tremendously. It’s immeasurable. We cannot put a value on it. And all this belongs to you. Everything that is under the sun has come from one source, the Divine. Jesus has taught about love; Buddha has taught about compassion; Krishna, joyfulness and wisdom. So if you limit yourself, “Oh, I am Christian, I’ll take only to Jesus,” or “I am a Hindu, I take only to this philosophy,” or “I am a Buddhist, I have nothing to do with anything else,” then you are missing out on a lot. You own them all.
Different teachings have blossomed to suit different people and the needs of different times. In all religions there are three aspects: one is values, another is practice, another is symbols. The values are common to all religions. The teaching may seem contradictory, but it is not; it’s complete. The values are the same while the practices and symbols are different and that is the charm of it. There is diversity. God likes variety. It’s good to have different approaches, but all the teachings belong to you. You are the son or daughter of this creation, of the Divine. All that the Divine has provided belongs to you.
Knowledge or wisdom is neither mine nor yours nor anybody else’s. It belongs to all. And when you are ready to see this, then you will see mentors everywhere. You will learn something from a tree, a bird, and every human being you come across. Every person you meet will be your mentor.
There are two different things—religion and spirituality. Spirituality is the essence, the substance of religion. Religion is outer ritual and habits, a way of life; spirituality is the quest for the source of life, going back to the source, knowing deep within us we are part of divinity. I often say religion is the banana skin and spirituality is the banana. People throw out the banana and hold on to the skin.
Spirituality is that which makes you very simple, natural, child-like. What is most valuable in the world is being intelligent and maintaining innocence. As the intelligent person becomes more and more intelligent, he tends to become crooked. The innocence of an ignorant person also has no value. And the crookedness of an intelligent person also has no value. But if you can develop these two things, the value of heart and also the brain—and it is possible—that I consider as the perfect health.
Response: Must I completely eliminate ego to love unconditionally?
Who could eliminate ego? If you think that you have eliminated your ego that is a bigger ego. “Oh, I have eliminated my ego.” It’s like saying, “I am the most humble person in the whole world.”
Take a look at ego. What is ego? In ego you do not feel a sense of belongingness. A wall comes between you and somebody and you want to impress them. Then a stress or tension gets created in your nervous system. This feeling of separation, of having an identity separate from existence is ego. A state of non-relaxation is ego. In feeling at home, being natural, easy, there is no ego.
Question: Sometimes I feel a sense of barrenness—loss of joy. Is this just a phase? Does the innocence, the spontaneous joyfulness return?
Of course. Sometimes you will feel sadness and other feelings may also come up, but they are just passing. Put your attention more on the breath and the sensation in the body. See that every emotion has a corresponding sensation in the body, and the sensation in turn creates that same emotion. Do you understand what I am saying? An event created an emotion inside you. And the emotion again creates a similar type of atmosphere around you. So this cycle goes on. The only way to break the cycle is to observe the sensation as sensation, de-linking it from emotions. It is simple, very simple. If you meditate just a little while, you will understand that. It’s clearer on an experiential level.
Question: If life is infinite and I have been living eternally, then why is it that I have forgotten my past lives?
Unless your mind gets thoroughly established in the present moment, you do not remember past lives. And when your mind is so thoroughly in the present moment, any remembrance, any memory of the past doesn’t matter to you anyway. You ask me if life is infinite and eternal. These are the words you have heard or read. You know you are there now. Don’t worry about eternity. Just experience this time. Don’t even worry about God. Understand yourself. Understand this time. Experience the moment.
Do you know what time is? Have you experienced time? Can you experience this moment, this time? Experiencing time is one of the most precious things in life and we often miss it. When we are happy, we never experience time. We don’t feel time at all. Time just flies. And when we are unhappy, we feel time is dragging. Even then we are not focused on time, we do not experience time.
If you can experience time—this moment, this moment—you will understand God because this moment is so deep, so infinitely deep. You will see what that is which has been called as God. It’s your very nature, the depth of your nature. It is something from which you can never be separated. Separation from God is impossible. Even if you wish it, you cannot go out of God. So right now, it’s better just to be with the here and now.
Question: What is truth and how is it related to love? What is love?
Love is something that has been experienced by everybody. There is not a single being in the world who does not know what love is, has not gone deep into it. You already know. Sit and think about it. Look into it. Be more aware of it and more will be revealed to you. It’s no good reading books about love. That will only bring more concepts in the mind.
When we are loaded with stresses and strain, we are unable to perceive love in its pure form. So when you get rid of your stresses and tension, you simply are love and you come from that pure space of love. Do you see what I’m saying?
Now, how to get rid of the stresses? How can you be tension free? Look at your tension. Isn’t it about what happened yesterday? The day before? Ten years ago? You’re holding on to the past which is gone. All your anger is about the past, isn’t it? Can you get back the past? At any moment, see what your mind is doing. The mind is going to the past, is angry about the past, or is anxious about the future, isn’t it?
Do you remember ten years ago? Just look back and see. Weren’t you anxious? Five years ago, weren’t you anxious? “What will happen?” But you have moved on through life, haven’t you? By looking at your own life, you can see it was useless—a waste of time, a waste of energy—to be anxious about the future: “What will happen? What will happen?” When this oscillation of mind stops, that is when you get in touch with the source of energy that you are. Live in the moment. Now.
Question: How can fear of death be overcome?
Only two ways—one is by dying, the other is by meditating.
Question: How can we know what is right for us to do when we feel confused or upset?
When you are confused, whatever choice you make, you feel another would have been better. There is a Chinese proverb that says: When you feel confused, take a pillow and go to bed. So we follow that principle. What else can you do? When you’re upset or confused, no decision feels right and there is always regret—the mind undergoes constant regret. That becomes a poison in the system that reduces the strength of your immune system. Every moment the mind is vacillating either to the past or to the future. You’re angry about the past which is of no use. It has all happened. It’s done, finished. Or you’re anxious about the future. “What will happen tomorrow, the next day, Thursday?”
Living your whole life in anxiety or anger is not a very wise thing to do. You accumulate a build-up of anger from small things and you regret and regret and regret. You’re on the freeway and you’re stuck in the traffic and you say, “Oh, I should have taken another freeway, some other road.” You reach home. Even then you say the same thing. “I should have taken another road.” You are home and you are still regretting! That regret gets stirred into the DNA, the whole body. So little by little, drop by drop, your regrets in life build up and one day you blow up. If you do a little bit of yoga every day, Kriya and meditation, then you’ll get rid of the stress of the day that day. There’s no accumulation. It leaves you alive and joyful.
Question: How can I keep focused on God’s love?
By being grateful for whatever you have.
Question: Is there a need for a master?
We know we need friends. We want people around us whom we love, who love us. We need things. We need entertainment. We need this, we need that. But we question if we need a master. How is it possible? When you need directions to go somewhere, you have to stop in a gas station to ask which road to take. A journey which is so abstract is almost impossible without a guide. That’s why Jesus said, “There is no way to the Father except through me.” There is no other way. Jesus said this, Buddha said this, and Krishna said this. It has been said all through the ages, over and over again. Without a master, the journey is not possible.
But you don’t have to worry in the beginning. “Oh, I have to choose a master.” No. Just start like this. You will find a master when you become grateful, when the path which you have walked has brought you home. Then you will recognize somebody as master.
When this idea of different personalities dissolves in our minds, that’s when we see who the master is. As I am, so is the master. He is part of me and I am part of him. We are all nothing but void. It’s all void speaking and void listening and void sitting and void walking and void getting angry. It’s one consciousness performing so many actions. When this knowledge gets firmly established in consciousness, then we are home.
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