a) What does spiritual practice mean?
b) Why should I do it?

a) Spiritual practice means such practices as would help us to become aware of and finally realize the true nature of our self which is pure consciousness, eternal and also the substratum of the personality.

b) Spiritual practices along with practices for physical, mental, intellectual and moral development will make our personality balanced and holistic; thus we attain a state of steady joy, peace and wisdom and our life is fulfilled. Even with spectacular material achievements it is difficult to get steady mental peace and joy, which everyone craves for, without doing some sort of regular spiritual practices, like meditation selfless and merciful services to others, etc. [Please also see answers to other questions in this section]

When I pray to God, how can I pray for everybody's
well-being, such as in the time of universal suffering
from a massive natural disaster?

When you pray to God for everyone's welfare in a general way, then say the following prayer mentally:Let auspiciousness befall everyone; let everyone be happy; let everyone be peaceful;
let everyone be perfect.

If you pray for a particular person having trouble first visualize his condition and pray accordingly. When you pray for the victims of a huge natural disaster, you may say the following prayers:
a. A prayer for the peace of the souls of the deceased
b. A prayer for the peace, comfort, and wellbeing of the relatives of the deceased and other victims
    who are still surviving, but have been suffering
c. A prayer that normalcy is restored as early as possible

What is the best method of meditation, e.g. best timing, duration, breathing, concentration, etc.?

Sit straight and don't move or fidget. Close your eyes. Take a few deep and rhythmic breaths. Watch your mind for a while and finally concentrate on a holy theme. Morning is the best time for meditation. The time, place and duration (at least 20-30 minutes) should also be fixed.

Our Society has published a step by step, guided meditation CD titled Dhyanam, which one could follow initially. Also, please see other answers to questions on meditation.

What basic preparations for meditation should one take?

a. Regulated food, work, rest and entertainment
b. Strong motivation to continue the practice and to have patience.
c. Chanting or listening to hymns.
d. Reading selected holy books e. Also, please see answers to the other questions on meditation in this section. [Please also visit our 'Discourse Text Gallery' pages for: 'Meditation: Why and How'

How should one practice meditation to get enlightenment?

If you want to experience enlightenment through deep meditation, you have to first devote at least 1 hour to meditation both in the morning and in the evening/night daily; get connected with God/your Atman through repetition of your mantra as much as possible; work with a prayerful attitude; and also lead a balanced lifestyle. Slowly the period of meditation should be increased. Also, please see the answers to the other questions on meditation. Finally, you should also consult an experienced spiritual teacher for further detailed instructions.

How can I make meditation an everyday habit?

a. Create strong motivation in yourself through deep introspection and understanding, that just
    as food is most important for your physical health, meditation is most important for
    your mental health and spiritual wellbeing.
b. Include time for meditation in your daily schedule.
c. Don't take breakfast or do any other jobs until you do your daily meditation for at least
     20-30 minutes.

What is the difference between spiritual healing and spirituality?

Spiritual healing is oriented toward addressing diseases of body and mind, and in seeking relief from such ailments by engaging practitioners of occult powers through a financial arrangement. Spirituality, on the other hand, is something quite different.

I've heard that it is better not to meditate after
mid-night, but due to my work I cannot be home
at an appropriate time. Is meditation while commuting
by train okay? Or should I just skip meditation?

If you can ignore what's happening around you, and don't feel stressed about missing your station, you can surely meditate on a train. However, it is preferable that you mediate everyday at the same time and the same place in a quiet atmosphere. So it is better to meditate in the quiet atmosphere of morning at home. Your time of returning home may not be fixed but the time to go out for work is generally fixed. So if necessary decrease about 20-30 minutes from your sleeping time as it does not really affect your physical health. But 20-30 minutes of meditation will do tremendous good to both your mental health and spiritual well being. It will also help you in your work and relationships.

Many thoughts intrude upon my meditation and it becomes hard to concentrate. How should I deal with this problem?

Appearance of random thoughts during meditation is quite common. While you sit for meditation first watch your thoughts as a witness, which you are, or think of your thoughts as white clouds floating across a blue sky. This will help to control your thoughts, and their number will also gradually decrease. Then focus your mind on a spiritual theme and continue to meditate. Occasionally do some introspection about your purpose in life and self-analysis during meditation hours. Devote at least 20-30 minutes to each session and more during holidays.

How can I continue the peaceful mood that meditation
gives me throughout the day?

Repeat the holy name of God or your mantra throughout the day as much as possible and perform your work in a worshipful attitude (Karma yoga).

I meditate everyday thinking that I am surrendering to God. But sometimes I feel uneasy, and ask myself, 'Is this really
the right thing to do?' What should I do?

The more we become free from our egotism, the more we can surrender to God and depend on Him, which really makes us free from worries and makes us peaceful. Practicing egolessness should go along with the practice of surrendering to God.

What is this discrimination that is regarded as an
important spiritual discipline in spiritual practices?

Discrimination is to first understand the difference between the finite and the infinite, between the relative and the absolute, between the changeable and the changeless, then to judge each object and perception accordingly, and focus on the eternal, infinite, absolute and changeless entity known as 'Reality' or 'Brahman' (in Hinduism).

Discrimination can be practiced both in the path of knowledge (Jnana) and the path of devotion (Bhakti).

There is a second kind of discrimination necessary for spiritual life, discrimination between the good ('Sreyas') and the pleasant ('Preyas'), that is, between those things which lead us toward liberation and those things which keep us bound to the world.

Can you give some examples of discrimination?

1. Discrimination according to the Path of Knowledge (Jnana)
    a. The body, vital energy, senses, mind, intelligence, memory, and 'ego', which I possess, are
       made of matter and are transient and finite. I am not the body-mind complex, nor am I affected
      by its functions. I am Pure Consciousness, eternal, infinite, free, pure and blissful.By borrowing
      consciousness from the consciousness, which is my real 'I', the body-mind complex functions.

    b. All inanimate objects of this universe with different forms and names are made of matter
      and are transient and finite. The substratum of this universe is, however, Pure Consciousness
       at the macro level, which is eternal, infinite, pure, and blissful.

    c. The nature of the pure consciousness at the individual level and the macro level is the same,
       which is Existence, Knowledge, Bliss Absolute.

2. Discrimination according to the Path of devotion (Bhakti).
    a. The body, mind and intelligence which I possess are not really mine; these are gifts from
       the Lord. It is the Lord who is operating through me, as He is the operator and I am His
       instrument. The results of the works, which He does through me, also belong to Him. My family
       is also a gift from the lord. He wants to get my service through my family members in
      whom He lives.

    b. My relationships with family and friends are restricted to this life alone, while my only eternal
       relationship is with God.

But why should I discriminate?

If we do not practice discrimination, we become attached to the transient things of the world, including our body and family members. Such attachment brings in its wake bondage, suffering and various negative emotions like pride, anger, and jealousy, and we become totally peaceless in the long run. So the purpose of discrimination is to shift our focus from the transient things of the world to the eternal, and to transcend our relationships with others, which will make our life full of peace and joy.

But I am afraid that if I don't feel any attachment
to my family and friends, my heart will be dry and I
shall lose the motivation to do my duties toward them.
In other words, is love really possible without attachment?

Absolutely. And this is the key-point here. Presently, our love is full of attachment; hence we should practice discrimination, as much as possible, to free our love from attachment. There are many examples of love without attachment in the lives of great householder devotees and, of course, saints; and this love motivated them to serve others even at great cost to themselves.

However as it is difficult to eliminate all kinds of attachment all at once. If we can at least eliminate the selfish aspect of relationships, as well as feelings of expectation, we can remove many of the harmful effects of attachment.

What is renunciation? Is it possible for us, who are householders, to practice it?

Renunciation is giving up the attachment to fleeting things of the world, so that in pursuit of the eternal, we can focus more on the eternal than on the temporal. While monks are required to practice both external and internal (mental) renunciation, householders can practice mental renunciation by practicing detachment–that is, being like a lotus leaf, which is in the water, but not dampened by it.

What is 'ego'?

The word 'ego' is often used to mean vanity or pride. Such pride and indulging in excessive self-importance induce one to ignore or belittle others, which causes one's downfall. However, the deeper meaning is that because of ego, we become conscious of our identity as a person distinct from others.

According to Hindu philosophy, our being as a person has many aspects or levels for example: physical body, senses, mind, intelligence, etc.; 'ego' is one such aspect or level from which emerges our feeling of 'I-ness' and 'my-ness' related to our body, mind, etc., our family and friends, and also our personal belongings in an exclusive sense.

This 'ego' is the starting point of our delusion and attachment leading to suffering as this 'ego', under the influence of 'Maya' (spiritual illusion) falsely identifies itself with the transient aspects of our being, the body, mind, etc. Nevertheless, when this 'ego', through spiritual disciplines and discrimination (for details see Answer number 55), identifies itself with the Self, which is Pure Consciousness and eternal, or with God as His devotee or child, and gets established in that state, enlightenment follows. Consequently all one's sufferings come to an end and one experiences a state of bliss and peace.

When I do spiritual practices like meditation and Japa
I consider myself as a devotee; then the next moment
when I busy myself with many worldly duties, I feel I have become a worldly man. These two feelings, evidently contradictory, create a dichotomy, confusion, and conflict in me, that always torments me. Is there any way to reconcile them?

Whether a particular work should be considered spiritual or worldly is determined by its purpose and the way in which it is performed. Even meditation, if practiced with a temporal motive, cannot be called a spiritual practice that may bring spiritual benefit. On the contrary, if worldly duties are performed in a spiritual way (Karma-yoga) and with a spiritual motive, such worldly duties cease to be worldly and are transformed into spiritual practices bringing spiritual benefit. Thus, to a spiritually awakened soul there is no distinction between spiritual practice and worldly duty also by being in constant communion with God even during work. Consequently, every work, irrespective of its nature, worldly or spiritual, is transformed into the spiritual alone.

If we do not pray, or if we do not ask directly,
will God never hear or know our wishes?

As God is omniscient, He knows our innermost thoughts, wants and problems. Some devotees have such a tremendous faith in and dependence on God, that they don't ask God for help, believing that God will send help when and if it is really necessary. With such deep faith in their hearts, they do their duties and are at peace even at the risk of great loss. But most devotees, who do not have such faith and dependence, ask God for help through prayer, and there is nothing wrong about it.

How can I find my Guru?

If you are an earnest seeker of God and crave for finding your `Guru` to lead you in the spiritual path, pray to God sincerely; God will definitely respond to your prayer.

What is initiation and Mantra?

Initiation is a ritual in which the Guru formally initiates the disciple into spiritual life. In the Hindu tradition initiation is called 'Diksha'. During initiation the Guru or spiritual teacher imparts a Mantra, a sacred and mystic formula, to the disciple, which the Guru has himself received through the succession of Gurus. Such a Mantra must have the potentiality of enabling a disciple to have God/Self realization.

By repeating the Mantra regularly with faith and sincerity, and by focusing on the deity indicated by the Mantra, a devotee gradually becomes pure and peaceful, and his love for God is increased; and finally, he realizes God.

If one decides to call on God, should that person
give up even some hobbies that give enjoyment?
If it is too hard to give up such hobbies, is it better
to just reduce the time one spends on hobbies?

No hobby (for example gardening, music etc.) is basically bad and is rather welcome, provided it is not unethical, is practiced within limits, and does not make us forgetful of God.

My family is against my spiritual way of life;
what should I do?

If you are convinced that spiritual life is good for you and that you are not disturbing your family members at all by your spiritual practices, or ignoring your duties to them, you should quietly ignore their objections. Nevertheless, avoid confrontations on account of their objections; rather pray to God for them. If you are sincere the same people who raise objections to your spiritual life now may begin to inwardly appreciate you, or may even change their views about your practices sooner or later. They may even get interested in them by witnessing your example.

There are those who cannot attend discourses
because they are very busy. Are there any ways
to help them to lead a spiritual life?

The Internet is really helpful in such matters. For example, if you cannot attend our weekly or monthly meetings, you can at least listen to the talks or read the texts of discourses by visiting our homepage where these are regularly uploaded. Moreover, a CD on guided meditation or devotional songs, and spiritual books, will be helpful to lead a spiritual life. To learn more regarding our programs and services, please visit our "shop" page.

I cannot sing Bhajan at daily prayers offered at the Vedanta Centre. Is it an effective spiritual practice for us, even though most of us do not understand the meanings of those songs?

Devotional songs, hymns and Sutra chanting have been considered helpful for mental peace and spiritual progress according to various religious traditions of the world. If it is difficult for you to sing devotional songs at our center because of a language problem, try to concentrate on their meaning, which are generally provided in English. Otherwise, receive their holy vibrations and think of God during Bhajans.

If I want to make an altar in my room, which direction
should it face; East, West, South or North?
If I make the altar, should I purify the picture?
How would one do that?

Though there are certain rules for making an altar according to an orthodox Hindu tradition, there would be no harm, if you make one according to your convenience. God does not really value such secondary things; what He values is genuine devotion to Him. You need not purify a picture or portrayal of God or incarnation of God, as it is already pure.

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