“In India, three things are especially important for spiritual development: Dan, which means ‘charity’; Yaggy (lit.’sacrifice’) – in our ancient Hindu tradition we perform ceremonies with a pit where a sacrificial fire is made – the fire burns and purifies so it is a symbol for us in yoga also; and Tap, ‘lit. austerity or penance’ – I am taking about sitting in a meditation posture for practice. When we understand the deeper meaning and the connection between them, they can help us to become more at peace with ourselves and the world.
“In the developed world today, many people are atheists. There is disillusionment with the church and religious dogma, and many people have no idea how to relate to an abstract idea like “God”. Yet many are searching to connect with their inner selves in order to find peace in their daily lives and relief from worries and stress.
“We have all heard the expression “Charity begins at home”, but perhaps we do not know what it really means. Charitable giving is advocated in the holy scriptures of all major religions as part of spiritual development, and they emphasise that the most important thing is the spirit in which we give, not the act of giving. It would be false charity to give ‘with ego’. The ego, or human mind, is powerful and only wants to be gratified with more material things.
“Charitable giving helps both the giver and the beneficiary, because money plays such a major role in today’s materialistic world. It is important to donate some percentage of what we earn to a charitable cause. Without giving, the mind becomes attached, even bound, to money and material possessions, causing all the more pain when their temporary nature becomes apparent. Therefore, the practice of non-attachment is essential for spiritual development.
“Consider for a moment the donation box in a church or temple. There is a small slit through which to put in money. The box does not express appreciation or judgement. It does not need to, because when we give in this way, our gift is accepted and welcomed. Genuine gifts are given silently, secretly and anonymously. Whether a donation is big or small does not change the fact that it will help and benefit someone.
“Then I was talking about Yaggy, (in the context of that sacrificial fire) and Tap, to sit in a meditation posture:
“Fire is a powerful energy. It not only gives comfort and warmth, it has the power to burn and destroy, but also to purify. It has no shape as such, and yet the flame always rises, it never goes down. We have to feed a fire if we want to keep it burning.
“When we are born into this world and when we die, we are lying down. In yoga, the sitting posture is a symbol of life. Sitting on the floor in a cross-legged position, which is ideal for meditation, is known as Tap.
“Giving the mind is also a form of charity, or Dan. In India,
we believe that, although helping others is beneficial, the greatest form of charity is to take pity on our own Self.
We can do this by sitting in meditation, devotion or prayer, and ‘donating’ our mind to the fire, or to God, thus benefiting our spiritual development.
Photograph by Alexander Bock
We do not have to buy or prepare anything in order to do this – it just takes a small sacrifice of time. Whether we are willing to give minutes or hours is a matter of free choice and up to each individual. Once again, the one thing that is important above all else is the spirit in which we give of ourselves – how much we can surrender, and give from the heart. This will determine how much we can discipline ourselves to concentrate.
“Even if we have never prayed or practised meditation, if we spend just five minutes twice a day every day – for example, upon waking and before sleeping – it can make a big difference to our lives.
“Some people choose to give their mind in prayer to ‘God’, ‘Lord’, ‘Our Father’. Others think of ‘the Creator of the World’ or just ‘the Universe’. The name is not important, but it must mean something to you. We can ask for help and guidance, and whether our current circumstances are good or bad, we can trust that a higher force or energy is always in control and put ourselves in the hands of grace.
We can give thanks for the day ahead, and look back at the blessings of the day that has passed. When you ask for help with all your heart and are willing to surrender your mind and listen for an answer, you will receive it – of this there is no doubt.
“Or you can think that you are giving your mind to an internal fire with the power to purify, uplift and comfort – a fire that can neutralise anger and jealousy, not to mention destroy stress and fear. We can give our mind to the fire by acknowledging the gift of life, and by giving thanks for our breath, and for grace. Or we can simply sit with our eyes closed and offer our mind to the image of a fire with single-minded concentration. Thoughts will arise in the mind, but rather than following them, keep returning your concentration to the inner fire. This is a simple meditation technique.
“Yoga is an ancient science based on universal principles. It is non-denominational. The result of ‘donating’ your mind to that inner fire can be tested – it is not a matter of belief, but of practice.
“With just a little meditation practice or prayer in this way, you will notice a difference in your state of mind. You will become more relaxed; have more confidence, sensitivity and integrity.
We all have the potential to live more peaceful, productive, happy lives and to remain balanced even as we jump over the hurdles and work through the challenges that life throws us. It is a matter of diving deep beyond the thoughts and worries of the mind in order to find that inner silence. The chatter of the mind creates waves like the ripples on a clear pond, yet when stillness takes over and the ripples cease, we are able to see below the surface. We start to access our natural intuition and find who we really are, not who we perceive ourselves to be through the filtering system of our past experiences, culture or beliefs.
“Nothing is possible without practice. We can make a start by spending a few minutes every day remembering the importance of charity: not just the kind of giving that will benefit others in their daily lives, but also the internal charity, which is of priceless value to ourselves. Enjoy the journey!”
From a talk by Guruji (Yogi Prakash Shankar Vyas)