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Gita on Character Building
Human body is only for attaining God (Paramatma). etc. Therefore, if one becomes determinate on the one aim of God Realization, then man will turn towards God. On turning towards God, good qualities-good conduct come on their own, and character building begins to take place. However, if man forgets about God Realization, and begins to hoard worldly possessions and enjoy sense pleasures, then he falls down in character. He who loses his character, is not even worthy and deserving of being called a man.“Par drohee par daar rat par dhan par apabaad |Te nar paanvar paapamai deha dhare manujaad ||(Manas 7/39)Bhagavad Gita’s entire spiritual instructions are for building character. Previously, Arjuna’s sentiment was to fight the war, therefore he invited Lord and accepted Him in the form of a charioteer and became ready to enter the battlefield to fight. However, Lord’s intent was to see to Arjuna’s eternal good (salvation). Arjuna said that place the chariot in-between both the armies so that I can see who is present to fight me with both hands. The Lord, did exactly as told and placed the chariot right in between both the armies and said, that see the members of the Kuru dynasty (1/21-25). On hearing the word, Kuru dynasty, Arjuna suddenly became conscious of his family, affiliated with his body. He became frightened by the thought that all of them will die and thus turning away from his duty, said – I will not fight. To turn away from one’s duty is the main obstacle in character building. The Lord said – O’ What are you doing? It is your duty to fight, therefore giving up attachment and cowardliness, stand up to fight (Gita 2/2-3).It is only to engage man in the path of duty that Bhagavad Gita manifested. It is only in renouncing your rights and properly performing your duties that character is developed, whereas on neglecting your duties the character is destroyed. God says – “Na tvevaaham jaatu naasam….” (Gita 2/12) - Here the Lord begins His spiritual instructions and first deliberates on the body and the indweller, the perishable and imperishable. The point is that leaving aside (not paying attention to) the perishable things, pay attention to the imperishable. By doing so, character building takes place.There is one very important point, that when the aim is of the imperishable, the perishable things will come on their own. You will not have to undergo suffering for them. But if the aim and focus is of the perishable, the imperishable essence will not be attained, and one will have to worry and make an effort for the perishable. And further ahead Lord says, that see toward one’s innate duty, therefore it is only beneficial to fight the war of righteousness for a Kshatriya. (Gita 2/31). The point is that it is only by fulfilling duty that man progresses, and by going towards non-duty he takes a fall. The main thing in fulfilling one’s duty, is to renounce desires, proprietary interest and attachment. The meaning of renouncing these is that one should not have the aim of “jada”, the inert (insentient). Previously the body etc. were not ours, later on as well, they will not remain ours and at present too they are separating from us every single moment. If this kind of alertness is awakened then the aim will not be of the inert and the senses, the inner faculties will be restrained and controlled on their own. In self-control itself is the building of character. In lack of control and lack of restraint, progress is curtailed and with that the character falls.In the beginning of the third Chapter, Arjuna asks that why are you engaging me in these most sinful acts? Lord says – though these appear to be very sinful on the surface, than too one must fulfill their duties by giving up selfishness, proprietary interest, egoism, and desires. By doing so, the dreadfulness does not remain, only the action remains. Actions can be various according to one’s varna (order of life) and ashram (stage in life), but the terribleness, the filth, the passion , all lead to one’s downfall, and it arises due to desires. Keeping desires in the forefront if one reads and shares with others the spiritual messages (with the aim of money or other things), it is considered demoniac tendency and one cannot escape sins; even on listening and sharing spiritual truths, good character cannot be developed because desire is the root of all sins (Gita 3/37). However, if the aim is God, then even though engaged in worldly duties and activities, then too good character will come in them. Therefore, in the third chapter, Lord gives great emphasis on renouncing desires and doing one’s duty. Similarly, in the fourth chapter it has been said that when there is no desires, when there is no sense of pride in doership, then all actions become inactions, in other words, even while doing karma, man is not bound; because his aim is to go towards God. In the fifth chapter also says to fulfill one’s duty -Yuktah karmaphalam tyaktvaa shanatimaanoti naishthikim |Ayuktah kaamkaarena phale sakto nibhadhyate || (Gita 5/12)“He who is a Karmayogi, who by abandoning attachment to the fruit of action, attains everlasting peace (God Realization); whereas, he who acts with a selfish motive, being attached to the fruit of actions through desire acquires bondage.” Fruits (objects) are the kind that will be born and will later perish, but the desire for them is what is binding. Desire makes one fall in character. When character takes a fall, there is lack of peace and whereas building character, one attains peace. The moment there is ill feelings in the mind, one experiences lack of peace. And the moment there is good feelings within, peace immediately follows.If you are attentive, then it is every man’s experience that the more that he renounces the perishable, that much peace, joy, equanimity, good qualities, continue to come in him and the more that he desires the perishable things, that much lack of peace, discord, anguish, burning infliction, and bad qualities arise.In the sixth chapter also, it has been said to engage in God having “That” as the aim. That God is present and pervading everywhere. He who sees Me (the Universal Self, God) present in all beings and sees all beings existing in Me (Paramatma), I am never out of sight for him, nor is he ever out of my sight.Yo maam paschyati sarvatra sarvam cha mayi pashyatiTasyaahum na pranashyaami sa cha mein na pranashyati || (Gita 6/30)That man who sees other’s sorrow and happiness as his own happiness and sorrow, he is an eternal yogi -Aatmoupamyena sarvatra samam pashyati yorjuna |Sukham va yadi vaa dukham sa yogi paramo matah || (Gita 6/32)He who has the sentiments - Let there be no sorrow such a one attains God (Paramatma tattva). How can the suffering of all come to an end? How can all be happy? One who has such sentiments - their character is the highest of all. Further when the conversation lead to bringing the mind under control, then the Lord revealed about study and practice “abhyaas” and detachment “vairaag” (Gita 6/35). In other words, there too the talks are about removing the mind from the world, and engaging it in God. When talking about progress in the life beyond this world, there too the same has been intellect is only in God, he is considered the best among the yogis (Gita 6/47). He who walks the path of God, if his spiritual practices comes to an end in the middle and he dies then too he will be benefited, he will attain misfortune (Gita 6/40). Those who do work for the welfare of all, even if their work is left incomplete, he will be benefited. He whose mind and It is only eminent to be engaged in God.He who is not devoted to God, God calls him an evil doer (Gita 7/15) and he who is devoted to God, he is called virtuous (Gita 7/16). The point is that he who walks the path towards God are called virtuous and benevolent, and he who walks the path of the world is called an evil-doer. Further ahead it is said that he whose actions are pure, whose character is great, they become unyielding in their spiritual pursuits and do worship and devotion of God (Gita 7/28).
In walking the path towards God, remembrance is the key point. In the beginning of the Eight Chapter, on questioning by Arjuna, the Lord said that he who leaves this body while remembering Me, he attains Me - of this there is no doubt. (Gita 8/5).
Because whatever the sentiments and feelings that are recollected at the time of leaving the body, that alone he attains. (Gita 8/6) Therefore God says, that keep in mind and remember Me at all times - “Sarveshu kaaleshu Maamanusmara” (Gita 8/7). Then God said something extra-ordinary that he who remembers Me at all times, for him I am easily attainable.
Anayacheta satatam yo maam smarati nityasah |
Tasyaham sulabh paarth nitya yuktasya yoginah || (Gita 8/14)
To remember God is a divine trait. It is innateness the root of good character. The meaning of being in remembrance of God is - that remembering and recollecting the innate relation that we have with God, that very relationship, is the one only real relationship. I do not have a relationship with the world. I have only assumed a relationship with the world, therefore this relationship does not last. It is clearly seen that the relationships we have in this birth, they were not there in the previous birth, and they will not be there in the next birth. In the same way this world is constantly changing, but God is the same, as Is, and I myself am also the same. Therefore my relationship with Paramatma is eternal. Remembering this itself is recollection and remembrance (smruti). Thinking can also be of the world, but “smruti” can only be of God. On having such recollection and remembrance, good character is axiomatic.
He who is inclined towards God, becomes the best of all. There is greater gains among those who walk the path of God with aim of God, than the gains that come from Vedas (holy texts), sacrifice, austerities, charity, visiting holy places, fasting etc. (Gita 8/28).
Therefore inclination towards God is considered to to be the sovereign of sciences (king of all knowledge), most mysterious, supremely holy, most excellent, directly realizable, endowed with virtues, very easy to practice and imperishable (Gita 9/2). God finds Himself to be so easy to attain, that “he who with devotion offers a leaf, a flower, a fruit, water etc. I partake in that thing., (Gita 9/26). Therefore, whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer in sacrifice (yajna), whateer you bestow as a gift, whatever you do by way of penance, dedicate it all to Me, then you will be freed from bondage of actions having good and bad results; and freed from them you yourself having completely surrendered shall attain Me (Gita 9/27 – 28).
Whether a man is evil or good – he must not worry. The main point is that that he is engaged in God. On becoming engaged in God, his bad conduct cannot last. He can very quickly become righteous and he attains eternal peace (Gita 9/30-31) . Women folks, Vaisyas, Sudras, and even those that are born of sinful wombs taking refuge in Me, attain the Supreme God. (Gita 9/32-33). However many different “jaatis” that are present, of these externally there is the separation due to nature, but from within all are a part of God. Therefore in worldly relations, the importance is of conducting one’s self according to one’s “Varna,” but in the path of spirituality, there is no importance of “varna” etc. because in the form of divinity (being a part of God), every one’s true nature is pure and all are equally entitled to God. God says, that “Fix your mind on Me, be devoted to Me, adore Me, prostrate to Me, thus making yourself steadfast in Me, and entirely surrendering to Me, you will reach Me.” (Gita 9/34). The point of all this is that only be engaged in Me.
In the tenth chapter on Arjuna’s pleading, God described His super human powers and His Universal form. The essence of what He said - “I am all pervasive in the World. Wherever you see something extra-ordinary, (glorious, brilliant, powerful), know it to be a manifestation of a spark of My splendor” (Gita 10/41). That specialty is due to Me alone. The point is that wherever whatever you find brilliant, abundant, remarkable, there too, the sight should turn towards God. There after he says “what is the reason for you to gain detailed knowledge? I stand supporting the entire Universe, with a single fragment of Myself.” (Gita 10/42) On hearing this, Arjuna, desired to see that Universal Form of the Lord, in Whose single fragment is the entire Universe. The Lord bestowed Arjuna with “divya chakshu” (special divine vision) to behold this sight. * On seeing the divine vision, Arjuna became perplexed, became filled with fear, became charmed. Then God said that this is your foolishness. I am the same One, then why are you fearful?
In the twelfth Chapter, Arjuna asked “he who worships the Imperishable and the Unmanifest and he who worships God with attributes (bhaktimarg), which of the two are better versed in yoga? (Gita 12/1). The path of the Imperishable, Unmanifest (jnana marg), are using their own effort, but in the path of “bhakti” the dependence is on only God. In the path of the Imperishable, divine attributes, discrimination and detachment etc. have to be acquired, but in the path of devotion, on taking refuge in the Lord, divine qualities, good attributes and conduct are automatically and naturally acquired (Gita 12/7). Therefore God says that “you give your mind and intellect to Me alone, there upon you will live in Me alone.” (Gita 12/8). God says - the devotee who is living in Me alone, is most dear to Me. As such, all the beings are dear to God, but he who takes refuge in God, he is most dear to God. Simply by being devoted and engrossed in God, good qualities and conduct come on its own, without any effort.
In the thirteenth Chapter, God describes the path of knowledge (of the Imperishable), and while he describes good qualities such as “absence of pride” (amaanitva) etc., he brings up “Unswerving Devotion to Me with sole dependence on Me alone” – ”Mayi chaananyayogen bhaktiravyabhichaarini” (Gita 13/10). In the Fourteenth Chapter also there is talks about devotion “bhakti” - “He who worships Me with unadulterated devotion, rises above the three modes and becomes eligible, for attaining Brahma”. (Gita 14/26). It is only due to affinity with attributes (gunas) that demonaic traits are born, due to which births in higher and lower forms take place. On walking the path of Divinity (God), one rises above the three modes.
In the fifteenth chapter God reveals His extra-ordinary glories and radiance and says that I am the Supreme Personality (Supreme Soul) over both the “Insentient” (Perishable) and “Sentient” (Imperishable Embodied Soul). (Gita 15/16-18). He who knows Me as the Supreme Personality, the Highest Person, is “sarvavid” the knower of all, and he worships Me, with all his being. (Gita 15/19). Divine traits naturally manifest in him who is devoted to Me and worships Me. Therefore in Sixteenth Chapter, God gives the description of “Divine Traits”. But, he who has become distant from God, who only wants to nourish his own body, to engage in sense enjoyments and in hoarding, demoniac tendencies manifest in him. God elaborates at great length those demoniac traits in the Sixteenth Chapter. He says, Divine traits leads to liberation, whereas Demoniac traits lead to bondage. (Gita 16/5), and such a person attains birth through 8.4 million different wombs (Gita 16/19) and goes to hell. (Gita 16/20).
In the Seventeenth Chapter, the Lord describes the three modes - of goodness (sattvic), passion (rajasic) and ignorance (tamasic). Even on seeing this, the goodness and divine sentiments are among those that have a disinclination for the world and inclination towards God. They rise above the sentiments of passion and ignorance. Thus those who perform the acts of sacrifice, penance and various acts of charity for God, then such acts are of the mode of goodness and they are liberating. (Gita 17/25). However if they are done for the world, i.e. with aim of honor, fame, pleasure, rest and relaxation etc. and sacrifices, austerities, charity etc. done with negligence and ignorance, then they become of the mode of passion and ignorance.
In the Eighteenth chapter, God elaborates in great detail, Sanyaas (Sankhyayoga) and “tyaag” (Karmayog). In the end God concludes that leave dependency of all dharmas, and only take refuge in Me.
“Sarvadharmaan parityajya maamekum sharanam vraja |
Aham tvaa sarvapaapebhyo Mokshayishyami maa suchah || (Gita 18/66)
All the work in the world, all accomplishments, all progress, all is encompassed in that one – “sharanagati” (taking refuge in the Lord”. God says that all the sins that are there, evil qualities and conduct, I will free you from these. You do not worry. By My grace, the divine traits will come naturally, on their own.
Just as a child that stays in his mother’s lap, gets provided for, is nourished, taken care of and he grows, similarly, on taking the refuge in the Lord, all the good traits and conduct will come unknowingly. Building of character will take place on its own.
In this manner, in the entire Gita if one sees then there is only one point - walking the path towards God, i.e. becoming inclined towards God. The aim of going towards the Lord is itself an aid in preventing the fall of one’s character. All evil qualities and conduct come from desire for sense pleasures and hoarding. Of this, the importance of money and dependence on it, leads to the worst downfall. By this, man’s character goes down. When character takes a fall, people talk ill of him and he is dishonored.
A man who has fallen in character, he is lower than even animal and those dwelling in hell; because animal and hellish ones are suffering the consequences of their past actions, and are moving towards human birth, but by incurring sins, a characterless man, is moving towards animal life and hell! Association of such men is the kind that will lead to downfall. Therefore it is said -
Baru bhal baas narak kar taataa |
Dusht sang jani deyi bidhaataa || (Manas 5/46/4)
Therefore for improving your character, become inclined towards God, that is – I am God’s and God is mine. I am not this world’s, the world is not mine.
The mistake that man makes is that which is not his, those thing that belong to the world, he considers them as his own, and that which is actually his, i.e. God, he does not accept as his own. As such, if it is seen, the things of the world are his only for proper use. But for himself, God is his very own. Because the things belong to the world, therefore they have to be offered to the world for serving and man himself is God’s, therefore he must surrender himself to God. Neither he has to take anything from the world, nor does he have anything to take from God. If something is to be taken, then let that be God Himself.
By desiring things of the world, one establishes a relationship with the world. Desire arises from attachment, i.e. desire arises by considering the body, wife, son, wealth, etc. as mine. Now if we think and accept the body, wife, son, wealth etc. as our own, can we say we have an independent right over them? Can we keep them as long as we like? Can we stay with them forever? If the answer is No! Than what is the difficulty in getting rid of the sense of mine-ness? By leaving the erroneously accepted sense of mine, desires will not arise. When desires do not arise, automatically there will be a feeling of mine-ness with God; because God is eternally ours from time immemorial and God is ever-attained. On having sense of mine-ness with God, feelings and conduct will be purified.
Body, wife, son, wealth, house, various possessions, are they real or unreal – this doubt may arise, but our relationship with them is unreal, of this there is no possibility of doubt at all. On knowing the unreal as unreal, the unreal relation is renounced very easily and on becoming inclined towards God, the eternal relationship with God is automatically awakened. Thereafter good character and conduct comes on its own and man becomes a role-model of good character, in other words, his character becomes one that is worthy of respect.
Yadyadaacharati shreshthasttdevetaro janah |
Sa yatpramaanam kurute lokastdanuvartate ||
Whatever an ideal person does, he is followed by others, as well. Whatever standard he sets, the world follows the same.”
A person of good character is never dependent. An ideal person is entirely independent, capable, eligible and entitled.
Narayana ! Narayana !! Narayana !!!
From "Kalyaan Path" in Hindi by Swami Ramsukhdasji
It is human nature to take the support of one or the other. Every living being wants to get the shelter of someone, wants to make someone his support. Why is there this sort of nature? It is so because the being is the inseparable part (ansh) of the Supreme Lord (Paramatma). If he takes the support of only the Lord, then he will have no need for any other shelter. But till he gains resort of the Supreme Self, he goes on seeking shelters one after the other. He needs to take God’s shelter, but instead he takes the support of various others. He seeks the shelter of wealth, of his abilities, his strength, his family, his knowledge, his talent and skills, but these shelters do not last.
Only God’s shelter should be sought – this idea seems to make sense in mind and understanding, but we do not give up other shelters! Though you are not bound in giving up others shelters, rather you are altogether free, yet by taking special support and shelter of others, and by continuing to gain consolation and pleasures there from, an illusion has arisen in the heart that how without this support or how by giving up this shelter you will be in a position to live at all! How will you be able to sustain? How will you be able to manage your livelihood? By the surging of this kind of emotion, a sort of cowardice has taken root in the mind, that you cannot leave their shelter!
Whose support is there when we are under the spell of deep sleep? No one else’s dependency or support is there, not even of God’s! In that state, there is a certain sort of semi-unconsciousness, a kind of swoon. In that state, the shelter of the world is automatically given up, but that of ignorance (moodhataa) persists. Thus it is a sheer illusion that we cannot live without someone’s shelter. Or, else, tell me on whose support do you exist or live during deep sleep? In deep sleep “shushupti” you exist even without or in absence of world’s shelter or support.
Please be kind and do pay attention to this one point of great importance. We do not get as much happiness from depending on the world, as we get in sleep from leaving the dependence on the world. The extent of joy and freshness that we experience, the energy that we accumulate from leaving the dependency of the world, these do not come from taking the support of the world. What to speak of conservation of energy, it is exhausted away! By continuing to depend on wealth, family, intellect, abilities, etc. you become restless, tired, and exhausted. Your energy is used up, and then you leave every one and fall off asleep. And while sleeping you once again regain the energy. In this manner, by sundering of worldly shelters a distinctive and refreshing power will grow in you. And by taking the shelter of God, boundless will be the strength, so limitless will be the power that no fear or anxiety will ever haunt or trouble you! For this reason alone it is said -
“yam labdhvaa chaaparam laabham manyate naadhikam tatah.” (Gita 6/22).
“Higher than this there has been no real or great gain at all.” There is no higher gain than this, nor can, nor shall it ever be! But this will occur only on giving up all the ephemeral or perishable shelters of the world. The mistake which is often committed is that you do not give up the shelters which are believed and known to you as being perishable. You repeat and recite the Divine Name of God, you meditate, you sing God’s glory and contemplate on spiritual matters, but simultaneously you keep shelter of the perishable things! Without totally relinquishing the shelter of the perishable world, one cannot entirely and in toto take the shelter of God. Without seeking complete support (of God), total power cannot be secured.
There is no dearth or paucity from God’s side. To the extent you seek God’s shelter, to that very extent you will get consolation, power and gain. You will undoubtedly get illimitable power if by totally giving up the shelter of the world, you depend on God alone for everything.
Where is that God? In this regard, may I tell you one thing that He is in the heart of all beings’ – “sarvasya chaham hrdi samnivistah” (Gita 15/15); “isvarah sarvabhootaanaam hrddeserjuna tishthati (Gita 18/61). He is the Indwelling Spirit of all the beings; but the difficulty is that the being looks only outward, he does not look deep within. You regard yourself that “I am”. Of that “I-ness,” Atman (Self, Spirit) is the support; and God, the Supreme Self, Supreme Spirit is the shelter even of the Atman – mamaivaamso jivaloke (Gita 15/7). Your Atman is an inseparable part of the Paramatman. You (amsa) are in one “ksetra” i.e. body and your “amsi” (God) is in all the bodies (ksetras) - “ksetrajnam chaapi maam viddhi sarvaksetresu bhaarata.” (Gita 13/2). The Gopis said - “na khalu gopikaanandano bhavaanakhiladehinaa mantaraatmadrk” i.e., “you are not mere the child of Yashoda, you are the witness to the Inner Self of all the beings, of all the bodies in living and inert forms, whether they be gods, demons, ghosts, or spirits or be they the residents of hells or heavens, devotees or meditative and contemplative seeker of Truth or God-loving fellows. But how are You here, when you are all these?”
“Vikhanasaarthito vishvagupte sakh udeyivaan saatvataam kule” (Srimad Bhagwat 10/31/4) - “you appeared when Brahmani prayed to you”. Why did he pray? “Visvaguptaye”
i.e. he prayed for the protection of the universe. For, Thou alone are the saviour of Creation, none else has this power to protect. Besides, you have “appeared” – not born – in the Yadava clan “udeyivaan saatvataam kule”. When the sun rises, no body says that the sun is born, because the Sun is present even before it appears to rise in the eastern skies! Likewise God descends in divine ways. He is not born like our bodies are born.
Mind, intellect, senses, body, individuals, things, objects, money, wealth etc., nothing belongs to you, nothing stays with you; every moment it is parting from you, and yet you seek their shelter! Here in lies your mistake. Relinquishing the shelter of such things, please seek the shelter of God alone - “maamekam saranam vraja” (Gita 18/66). “Tameva saranam gaccha sarvabhaavena bhaarata, tatprasaadaatparaam saantim sthaanam praapsyasi saasvatam” (Gita 18/62).
Seek the shelter in Him alone, wholeheartedly. By His grace you shall attain supreme peace (total unconcern from worldliness) and eternal abode. We are all free in seeking the shelter of God, no one is dependent. None is incapable of taking His shelter and support.
This very moment you “can” seek the shelter and support of God, because He is with you and you are with Him. Neither He can ever be separated from you nor can you be ever separated from Him. If He parts from you, then there will be two Gods; one He, and the other one you. His indivisibility, omnipresence and supremacy will be disintegrated. His significance will not remain if he separates from you. He cannot, therefore, be separated from you. Nor can you be separated from Him. Yes, you may regard yourself separate from Him, but you cannot be separated from Him. Similarly, you can certainly regard yourself dependent on the world and seek shelter of worldly goods and materials, but cannot be dependent upon them for all time. You took the shelter of wealth, family, friends, intelligence, ability, power etc., but could you and can you really be dependent on them permanently? You know it, believe it and yet you seek their shelter. What an illusion! What an error! It is so because such supports will not last. Therefore, turn your back upon them all and seek only God’s shelter. Do not take the support of anyone or anything else. Make use of wealth in the best possible manner. Do all work but trust only in the ever-abiding shelter of Almighty and Eternal God. The Saints have said:
Pativrataa rahe pati ke paasaa
Yom saahiba ke dhiga rahe daasaa.
i.e. “Just as the chaste wife lives under the shelter of her husband, so also the devotees of the Lord live under God’s support and shelter only.”
Jagajjanani Janaki used to pay great respects to her parents-in-law much more than her regards for her parents-in-law much more than her regards for her own mother and father; but when her Lord Bhagavan Sri Ram left for the forests, she gave up even the in-laws. King Sri Dasharatha said to such an extent that if Janakadulaari stayed back in Ayodhyaa, his life would be saved; and yet she chose to live for and with Lord Sri Ram. She could not think of staying or living without Lord Sri Rama. How can moonlight remain in absence of the moon? How can the daylight remain without the sun? How can the bodily-shadow live without the body? So also, no Jiva (being) can ever live apart from God. But, since he seeks the shelter of the world, alienating himself from God, he time and again suffers misery. If he did not take the support of that which is going to separate, and takes the support of that which will stay forever with him, than he will undoubtedly be greatly benefited and joyful.
Please, decide right now and once and for all, that you will not take the shelter of the world. You earn money, do all the work that is to be done, but do not make wealth and world your life’s resort or shelter. So far you have taken much from the world, so you work for the world to repay your debt to it, not to seek it’s shelter now. As a matter of fact, the world is not worthy of being a shelter, for it is constantly changing. It changes with such dynamic speed, that we cannot see it twice. Only that which changes is called “samsara” - “sam sarati iti samsaarah”. As God is Mercy Incarnate – “prabhu murati krpaamayi hai” (Vinaya-Patrika 170/7), so is this world change incarnage. There is noting in it except change. You have wrongly regarded worldly as worthy of your shelter. Now turning away from it, only take shelter of the Lord’s Lotus feet, right now! Yes! Just now!
“Mere to Giridhar Gopa, dooseron na koyi”, “ek baani karunaanidhaan ki, so priya jaake gati na aan ki.” - Do not take the shelter of others. With complete sentiments take total refuge in the Lord. “Tameva sharanam gaccha sarvabhaavena” (Gita 18/62), “Sa sarvavidbhajati maam sarvabhaavena” (Gita 15/19); “Sarva bhaav bhaj kapat taji moho param priya soyi” (Manav 7/87 Ka). Verily indeed, your kinship with God is self-evident and profound. Yoke yourself not with the changing world – this is the entire thing. The only thing! That is all there is to it!
From book "Be Good" by Swami Ramsukhdasji
नारायण ! नारायण ! नारायण !
An Easy Spiritual Discipline
!! Shri Hari !!
While giving lectures to the children of the demons, Prahladji says – what effort is required in realizing Paramatma (God, Supreme Being) ? - “koti prayaasosurbaalakaah?” (Srimad Bhagwat 7/7/38)
There is one point that one must remember regarding sense objects that, things of this world are not present in all places and at all times. For attaining these, one has to make significant effort. However God is present at all places, at all times, in all beings, and in all situations. There is not a place, time, individual, thing where he is not present. For his attainment all that is needed is intense longing. Just like we have a particular object in our possession, then it is on looking at it that we are able to see it! But to see God, it is not essential to even look in a particular direction, because Paramatma is outside, inside (within-without) and everywhere. Therefore, one can attain Him simply by longing to attain Him!
In realizing God, no effort is required. In this, the only requirement is a deep thirst, a want. And even this want is not difficult. In reality, this need is present in all human beings, naturally and on its own; because man feels something lacking within him, but the mistake he makes is that he wishes to fulfill the deficiency with the aid of the world. All things in this world cannot be acquired by all, they never have and they never will be and even if they are acquired, then too they will not remain with you. Even if the things remain, then, you will not remain. There will definitely be separation from it. Before too there was separation and later on too there will be separation. In between the union is only perceived, it is not there as such. Then too we consider our relationship with those things and desire them, this is a very big mistake.
You have considered yourself to be one with the body, this body is me and this body is mine, this is the main mistake! You are not the body! If you were the body, then you would not die at all and if you died, then you would take the body with you. After dying the body (dead) remains right here, and in that body too we are present. But neither the body goes with us, nor the body stays with us. Therefore accepting that you are the body is a mistake and to consider the body as ours is also a mistake. We cannot keep the body, the way we wish to keep it. We have no control over it, then how is it ours? If the body is not ours, then this money, wealth, glories, family etc. how are they ours? Therefore, what is the difficulty in accepting that this world is not ours? Only God is ours. It has become difficult to regard the thing that is in fact ours – God, as our very own, because we regard the world as ours.
The scriptures say that Paramatma (God) is our very own and the world in not our own - your experience tells you this. At this time though you may not believe this, you are unable to accept this; however do not lose your self-assurance. Do not think that we are unable to accept this at this time. Though it is not believed at this time, but in fact, “I am this body” this is not so. Stay firm with this point. Whether you believe or not, whether you experience it or not, do not worry about it; but do not make this point worthless.
This body is not me, and it is not mine – this point is true, and I am God’s and God is mine, this point is also true. Even on being true, it is not accepted, then this is our weakness. How can our non acceptance make the truth become false?
Questioner - How do we end up making this false?
Swamiji - Whatever we see through our senses, intellect, we consider it to be real and our own; by this the point becomes false. Due to this, even if we are unable to give up sense of mine-ness with those things, then so be it; but “body and world are not mine” this is the truth – that much you must honor. If you don’t see God, then so be it, but God is ours and we are God’s, this point is true. Even if Brahmaji says that “See you are of the world and the world is yours, you are not God’s and God is not yours,” then too clearly say that “Maharaj! We will not listen to your point” So be it, even if we have not experienced this so far, even if it is not entirely sunk in; but this is the truth! God Himself has said - “Mamaivaansho jeevaloke” (Gita 15/7) “this being is a part of Me alone” Saints and great souls have also said so - “ishvar ans jeev avinaashi” (Manas, Uttar. 117/2) Therefore I join my hands and pray to you, have mercy on me and accept this point today. Even if there is no change in you upon acceptance, there is hunger and thirst just like before, there is likes and dislikes just like before, but please do not make these talks false. We are only God’s - accept this, thereafter whether you experience or not , whether you are awakened within or not, do not worry about this. In the end, this point will become firm; because this is the truth.
It is the absolute truth that “Only God is mine, there is no else” (mere to Giridhar Gopal, doosero na koyi.) What is the difficulty in accepting this? You certainly know how to accept. Just as you accept someone as your friend, your Guru etc., similarly you also know about not accepting, just as initially you accepted yourself as a bachelor, but on getting married, you no longer saw yourself as a bachelor, but you begin to accept yourself as a married man. If you leave the household life and become a “sadhu”, then you stop considering the house, the family as your own, and you begin to regard the Guru Maharaj as your very own. Therefore you already know both – about acceptance and non-acceptance. Everyone has knowledge of acceptance and non-acceptance. Now apply this knowledge by engaging only in God, and not in the world.
The mistake we make is that while listening we accept, but then we trivialize it. Whereas that which is not true, we begin to accept it as true. One more mistake we make is that brothers-sisters say that we forget this point. Really speaking if you have firmly accepted this, then even if it is not remembered then so be it. Without remembering, you accept that you are at present in Vrindavan. Has any brother-sister completed even one “mala” repeating that “ I am in Vrindavan”? Just one time you accepted that you are currently in Vrindavan, then do you have to try to remember time and again? Is there any doubt about? When someone asks, you immediately say that you are in Vrindavan. Similarly, without remembering too, the point remains within. When you start to believe that you are in Haridwar, then this will be considered a mistake. Therefore I do not regard the not remembering as a mistake. “I am God’s” - if this is not remembered then it is not a mistake; but the mistake is when one accepts that “I am not God’s and I belong to the world.”
After accepting one time with a true heart that you belong to God, then if you don’t remember at all, so be it. Now what is to be remembered is God’s name. Repeat His divine Name (japa), remember Him, Sing His glories, meditate on His divine play, meditate on His form - these are to be done. After accepting God as your very own, let it be. But do not doubt that you are God’s. Whether you a believe or not, whether you experience or not, do not be concerned.
Many people say that what difference has this made to your life? Even if there are no changes, that is, no change in measurement, no change in weight, no change in color, no change in mannerism, no change whatsoever, then too it is OK! However “I cannot accept, I cannot remember, I am not capable, I don’t have the rights, I am not the proper recipient, I did not meet a Guru, I did not meet any saint, the times are not good, it is the age of Kali yug; the environment is not proper; associations are not good” - by talking about these, do not make trash this point. By applying various tactics, if you continue to make this point trashy, then you will not attain perfection. However, if you do not scrap this point, then surely you will attain complete knowledge. This attainment can be in a few days, months, or it can take years. If you continue to indulge in worldly pleasures, then it will take very long, but in the end you will attain that complete knowledge.
Those who work in the fields, they sow the seed in the fields and feel at ease. That seed gives birth to a sapling on its own. If time and again one takes out the seed to look at it, then the seed will never germinate. There is a story. There was a mango grove. The monkeys were eating mangoes from there so the gardener threw stones at the monkey and scared them off. While going each of the monkeys took one mango in their mouth and one in each of the hands and began to run. The monkeys had a meeting that this evil gardener is not letting us eat the mangoes! Some wise monkeys said that how can they let us eat mangoes from their own groves? If we also have a mango grove, then no one will refuse us from eating mangoes from there. They thought that we have the mango seeds, why don’t we grow these. All we have to do is sow the seed, water it then the grove will be ready, and we will eat plenty of mangoes! On consensus from all those that were present, they decided to proceed. They sowed the mango seed on the bank of a river nearby. Now, time and again they removed the seed to look to see whether the mango had started growing or not, and then they would re-plant it! Till dusk, they kept removing the seed and replanting it! Can a mango grow like this? If you want to farm, then sow the seed, water it, and become free of all worries. That which is not there right now, it will most certainly germinate and appear as sapling; then that which is the truth, why will it not materialize? We are God’s and God is ours – this is the truth and it is spontaneously realized. What is the effort required in accepting this? What force is needed? Do you need some knowledge? Do you need some abilities? The simple straight-forward point is that we are God’s and God is ours; we do not belong to the world, and the world is not ours. Now, do not root is out, like the kernel. In other words, do not test it that are there any changes in us or not? When the seed germinates, the plant will also grow, later on the mangoes will also grow and it will all be great! However have mercy and do not overlook this point. This is a very easy means of God Realization and there is nothing else to be done. Simply, “I am God’s and God is mine.” Do not waiver from this firm determination.
This brother sitting here, first regarded himself as a bachelor, but now he is married therefore he now says that he is not a bachelor. Now if someone asks, are you married? Then will he say, wait a minute, let me think; this year I did not get married, the year before also I did not get married, but twenty years ago I got married, Yes-Yes, now I remember, I am married! Why do you not say so? Because once married, it is done. This is acceptance. Even if someone asks in deep sleep, then too you will say that you are married. Similarly, “ I am God’s and God is mine” this will be remembered without attempting to remember. There will be no mistake in this. A mistake is when you will think that I am not God’s, and God is not mine; because my conduct is not proper, my behavior is not good, Do not raise such obstacles. Even if there is no faith, no trust , no remembrance of God, no changes for the better, life has not improved spiritually, even if nothing whatsoever has happened, then too do not scrap this acceptance (maanyataa), that I am God’s and God is mine.
I have even asked those great men in my eyes and they said, that those men that accept God as their very own, the responsibility of making Himself known to them is borne by God. The reason is only God can make Himself known, we cannot know Him. Where we are incapable, there God’s capabilities come to use. This is such a great point that “ I am God’s and God is mine, I am not the world’s and the world is not mine.” You have the capability of accepting this! Whatever abilities you have, that much you apply. That which you do not have, God will fulfill those. “Sune ri meinne nirbal ke bal Ram.” In those things that you are powerless, there, God’s powers comes to use. However, in those things where you are able to apply your powers, if you do not apply that strength then in this the fault is yours, the responsibility for this is not on God. You accept a few people as your own and others you do not accept as your own - why do you not apply this ability towards God? Whatever you are capable of doing, that is the extent of the hope that God has from you. That which you cannot do, God does not expect that out of you. What do you hope from a little child, do you expect that he carries a heavy bag of wheat flour and bring it home? You only expect as much as he can do. Then does God lack even that much honesty? Will God tell you to do the things that you cannot accept? That which you can accept, you must accept that! That is it! This spiritual discipline that I have shared with you today, is so easy, and so straight-forward and all can do it. Whether someone is a learned and educated person, or uneducated, whether it is a brother or a sister. Whether you have good conduct or bad, whether you have good qualities or bad qualities, whether you are a gentleman or a evil man, however you are, all can simply accept this.
It has been said for a chaste (pativrata) wife -
Ekayi dharma ek barat nemaa |
Kaayam bachan mana pati pad prema ||
(Manas, Aranya. 5/10)
This is my husband, on having a firm acceptance of this, however may be the husband, she will become a chaste wife. Was Ravan a great and extra-ordinary man? However, Mandodari being a chaste wife, followed her “Dharma” properly, whereby she was able to get to know the greatness of Lord Ram, whereas Ravan, even on being told, did not listen! Where did Mandodari gain so much knowledge? This knowledge came from “pativrata dharma”. Can God say that your husband is not of good conduct’ therefore you will not attain salvation? No, He cannot say so. If his conduct is not proper then what are we to do? We have abided in our “pativrata dharma” properly, then God will give it’s full glories - “Binu shram naari param gati lahayi” (Manas, Aranya. 5/18). The responsibility to attain that eternal and highest state, is not on her. That responsibility lies on the scriptures, the saints and on God. She fulfill her “pativrata-dharma” then she is abiding and fulfilling the commands of the Rishis-Munis, Saints-great souls, and God; therefore they will have to give her salvation. If the husband is not capable, then how is it his fault? Mother and father got her married so he became her husband. Her fault will be when she does not follow her “pativrata-dharma”. Similarly “I am God’s and God is mine” - this point, if you do not accept then it is your fault. But if you want to accept from within and you are unable to do so, then don’t be concerned. Apply your complete strength. At the very minimum, do not accept the opposite, do not trash this point. This is an extra-ordinary point that has been shared with you.
I am God’s and God is mine” - only accept this much, then further along what should happen will happen on its own. After accepting this, become free of any uncertainties and ambiguities. Now whatever effort is needed, you do. Do divine name repetition, chant the Lord’s divine name (kirtan), do satsang, engage in spiritual studies, go to the temple, behold the Lord. Do not do any actions that are opposed to God and the scriptures. To the extent that is within your control, as much as you can do, that much you should do. Do not waiver on this point, whether unfavorable times come or favorable; whether someone approves of you or opposes you. This is the truth; thus we have accepted it ! Accepted it once and for all.
Now a question can arise that if we do so, but thereafter do not attain God, then what? The answer to this is that till now, in so many years, what great work have you done, which will be short-changed? If it happens it will be gains only. From all of you present here, any of you tell me, what will be the loss? There will be no loss, and I do not deceive! There will be only gains; because this is the truth, and the truth will ultimately be realized as the truth. How long will a false thing last? By regarding this body and this world as our own, will it become ours? They have never been ours and will never be ours; however, if you regard them as yours, you will have to suffer and you will have to cry! Instead of being deceived by it, and later on accepting it as true, it is better to accept on my saying. Tell me what deception will it lead to? And if you are deceived, then you have been deceived so many times so far, therefore one more time be deceived by my saying! However if amongst you all, if any of you see this as a deception, then tell me brothers! There is no deception oin this whatsoever. Besides gains, there is not the least bit of any losses. Not only do I say this, but God Himself has said this - “mamaivaansho jeevaloke” (Gita 15/7) and Saints and great personalities have said so – “Ishvar ansh jeeva abinaashi” (Manas, Uttar 117/2). Therefore accept, grab hold of this point with a firm conviction. This is the principle that has been agreed upon by saints. Saints and Great Souls have done so and seen for themselves and they have showered us with their grace by writing this down, and to reveal it. Just as some father, earns a lot of wealth, and gives it to his son, then what effort did the son have to go through ? Similarly, this is the wealth earned by the Saints and Great Souls, which they are giving to us. Now it is our duty to protect it, not to waste it. It becomes worthless upon looking at it and doing. You regard as real, those things that are seen with your senses and intellect and the things that are done, but you consider the words of saints and great souls as imperfect. This is a mistake. That which is seen is not there. Actions are not permanent and their fruits are also not permanent. Thus depending on them, by dishonoring the Truth, do not choke the Truth. Do not cause violence to the Truth. By violating the Truth, the Truth is not harmed, rather we are harmed, we only take a fall. Truth will always remain the Truth. Truth will never be wiped out - “Naabhaavo vidhyate satah” (Gita 2/16). If you do not abide in it, you will not benefit. Therefore, accept the point that - “I am God’s and God is mine”. This point is a very easy, but of a very high stature. It encompasses everything.
Narayana! Narayana !! Narayana !!!
From "Bhagwaan se Apnaapan " in Hindi by Swami Ramsukhdasji
The 30 Cheapest Places To Travel In 2017, if your new year resolution is to Travel
Time to start packing your bags: 2017 is shaping up to be a banner year for budget travel. The dollar is enjoying historic highs — meaning your money goes much further in many destinations around the globe — and according to an American Express Global Business Travel report, airfares are expected to fall in 2017.
1. Mazatlan, Mexico
Why: The current exchange rate ($1 = 20.69 Mexican pesos) makes Mexico one of the most affordable destinations.
For the frugal traveler who wants to enjoy more culture than they might in the Riviera Maya, my top pick is Mazatlan. As the shrimp capital of Mexico and a foodie paradise, Mazatlan is teeming with awesome eateries and fresh, interesting dishes. Hotels (including all-inclusive properties) are extremely inexpensive and authentic since most aren't part of the huge chains. El Cid Marina has awesome pools that are perfect for families, great food and huge rooms. (Rates are as low as $100 for a family of four.)
You can also enjoy superb dining at a top-notch restaurant like Casa 46 for less than half what you'd pay in the United States.
Side note: Sinaloa (the state where Mazatlan resides) grows the bulk of produce in Mexico, so Mazatlan produce is unbelievably cheap as a result. You see this reflected in top restaurants all the way down to street markets.
2. South Africa
Why: In South Africa, the exchange rate is in our favor, but so is the fact that it's a developed tourist destination with a solid infrastructure. In spending a month in Cape Town earlier this year and relying on Uber to get me to and from meetings, activities and lunches, I averaged under $20 in transportation per day — a major win.
Hotels are cheaper, too: Take a standard room at Taj Hotels & Resorts in New York, and you are out about $786 a night, whereas in Cape Town, a room at a similar luxury property costs $266. Remember, South Africa is in the Southern Hemisphere, so seasons are the opposite: Consider going in low season (our summer) when hotels and safari lodges are even less expensive.
Airbnb and private villa rentals are also reliable and cheap options in the major cities. Travelers should also consider booking domestic airfare in advance for the greatest cost savings, since flights on South African Airways can sell out quickly.
The best value of all is the wine: Travelers can order a glass of one of the best locally produced varietals for less than the cost of a can of soda. For more information on travel in South Africa, watch "Michaela's Map: First Timers' Guide to Southern Africa."
3. San Juan, Puerto Rico
Why: The best way to get a deal in the Caribbean is to travel during the low season (end of April through mid-December) to destinations that have direct and frequent fights from your gateway; plenty of hotel inventory; and economies that aren't euro-based.
Puerto Rico fits the bill, and I'm a big fan of San Juan, which I think is seriously underrated as an easy and affordable getaway, especially for visitors from the East Coast of the U.S. Old San Juan oozes charm, and if you stay within the old city's two-square-mile radius you won't need a car rental to access great restaurants, sightseeing and shopping.
U.S. citizens can save themselves the cost of a passport since it's not required to visit, and since the U.S. dollar is the legal tender, there's no money lost on currency exchange. Hotel Casa Blanca and Villa Herencia are two of my favorite high-style/low-cost boutique hotels.
Why: Europe is on everyone's list of value-added trips this year and for good reason — the exchange rate is more favorable for American travelers than it has been in years. But the destinations I most dream about and long to return to are in South America, a destination that has long given travelers great value for money.
In Chile, I love Santiago for its vibrant food and wine scene — think tucked-away wine bars, delicious tapas and hip hotels in a beautifully chaotic city. For a lesser-known and truly special corner of the world, I love the small lakeside town of Puerto Varas. It is part of the lakes district in Chile and the northern start of Patagonia.
It is easy (and cheap!) to rent a car and explore this area. There is a surprising German heritage, so you'll see signs for "kuchen" (cake). With Puerto Varas as a hub, you can explore great places within a two-hour drive from the city: going to the top of a volcano, exploring waterfalls, finding the best cakes and food.
This area sees very few American visitors and everything is CHEAP. It's one of those places I almost want to keep to myself, but it's so special that I can't.
Why: With the U.S. dollar strong against the euro right now and the economic crisis in Greece keeping prices lower than other parts of Europe, it’s the perfect time to visit the beautiful island of Crete. Crete is a foodie dream come true.
A place where farm-to-table isn’t a new fad, it’s a way of life. The people here often live to be well over 100 years old so they must be doing something right! With truly stunning natural beauty (like Balos beach) and locals that welcome tourists with open arms, you are bound to have the trip of a lifetime and save a few dollars at the same time.
Why: For many, Morocco is the ultimate dream trip, and yet cost tends to keep most from visiting. But what you might not know is that it's one of the most affordable African countries, particularly when comparing flight costs. R
eaching Marrakech from cities such as Lisbon, Madrid and Paris may only set you back $40 to $100 roundtrip with many budget airlines. And this past Black Friday, flights from New York were a mere $400 roundtrip.
Food is by far my main reason for visiting as often as I do, and typical meals can range from $2.50 to $15 for two, which includes appetizers, entree and unlimited mint tea. For vegetarians and vegans, the country is especially great, as veggies are cheaper than meat and fresh fruit smoothies are barely $1.
Souvenir shopping can get a bit intense when you realize leather goods such as wallets, handbags and weekenders run from $5 to $60. (A shopaholics dream!) When it comes to accommodations there's something to fit everyone's budget, my favorite being Riad Yasmine (only $80-$160 per night).
For those looking for Moroccan luxury while still on a budget, my go-to is Riad Kheirredine, which will have you living like a queen without breaking the bank and even provides a cell phone during your stay to ensure guest safety.
Why: Modern conveniences and history collide in Belize. It's a perfect place to take a budget romantic vacation. Many of the four-star hotels offer extras, like bicycle rentals, included in their low rates, as well as Belize's excellent local wines.
Some affordable resorts to check out are George Hardie's Las Vegas Hotel in Corozal (Northern Belize) and the oceanside Royal Caribbean Resort in San Pedro along Ambergris Caye. Both can be booked for under $100 per night.
Meals are also crazy cheap, but delicious. Two can eat at an upscale restaurant for less than $30, and much less at an everyday venue.
Why: Affordable upscale accommodations, cheap and remarkably healthy food and beautiful sights make Vietnam a standout among budget-friendly South Asian destinations.
Eat your way through historic Hanoi, kayak in the emerald waters of Halong Bay or relax in ancient Hoi An and the nearby beaches. There are clean, safe accommodations to fit everyone's wallet. In Hanoi, my favorite is the Tirant Hotel, near the old town, where you can bag a room for less than $70 a night.
Don't miss the Hanoi street food tour: For just $20 per person, a guide will lead you on foot or by scooter through backstreets, markets and footpaths.
You will eat like the locals and learn the names and ingredients in the dishes so you can order them again. And be sure to take the time to sip a bowl of steaming "pho" noodle soup in restaurants, push carts and food stalls, where a street meal and a beer can cost the same as a caramel macchiato at Starbucks.
9. Costa Rica
Why: Costa Rica is the one of the most biodiverse places on the planet and to be able to see this on a shoestring is an incredible opportunity.
There's a ton of national parks to explore, for instance, that only cost a few dollars to enter. Once there, you can then enjoy free self-guided walks that won't cost you a cent, but will deliver some great encounters with amazing wildlife like tapirs, monkeys, sloths and macaws.
Manuel Antonio and Corcovado National Parks are two of the best. Public transport is also super cheap in Costa Rica, with buses generally less than $10, even for an eight-hour ride. This makes traveling between destinations in this compact country very affordable and means you can see a lot in a short amount of time.
In addition, budget accommodation in Costa Rica — even at some of the best surf beaches — can be as little as $6 per person. And a "plato tipico" (local dish) can be enjoyed anywhere for as little as $2-3.
Why: Portugal is a pocket of affordable travel in contrast to the rest of Western Europe, especially if you get off the highways and take the back roads (where you can also avoid tolls).
A bottle of delicious port and a plate of the day with a glass of wine can be found for around €5 each. Nowhere else in the world can its "California Highway 1 meets Tuscany" landscapes be enjoyed on such a budget, especially now that the dollar is strong against the euro.
Why: Although Ecuador is not quite as inexpensive as Peru to the south, it’s an easy and affordable destination to travel to, especially if you stay a bit off the beaten path. It’s a short cheap flight from Florida with budget airlines like jetBlue and TAME, and accommodation is pretty cheap.
Shop at your local market and you can get a week’s worth of groceries for $10. And Ecuador has lots of variety; from surf beach towns like Montanita, to the volcanic Banos with famed hot springs at the gateway to the Amazon basin, to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Cuenca in the high Andes, there’s a lot to see. The bus systems are good and domestic flights cheap and plentiful. F
ind a free accommodation option like house-sitting or volunteering, and your trip can be even cheaper.
Why: Barcelona is ranked right up there with cities like Paris and London as one of the most popular European cities, but it is by far the most affordable. This is thanks to low-cost tapas restaurants, endless free attractions and affordable things to do.
Have a meal of tapas and wine at El Xampanyet for around €10-15. Soak up the rays on the beach at Barceloneta. Get lost in the La Boqueria Market.
And take the tram up to Tibidabo (only €5) for sweeping panoramic views of the city; it's also where you can experience a vintage amusement park and a gorgeous cathedral.
13. Where: Guatemala
Why: Often bypassed in favor of nearby Costa Rica, Guatemala is unique unto itself in Central America. And because it's a bit more "off the path" in the region, it's also easy on the budget and a nice place to splurge.
The villas and hotels rimming Lake Atitlán have all the beauty you could want for a small fraction of the price you'd pay in Europe or elsewhere. From the lake, you can then delve into the country's unique culture by visiting the indigenous markets and villages in the Guatemalan highlands.
Lush Atitlan is a gorgeous, affordable place to stay in San Marcos La Laguna, the prettiest and most culturally interesting of Lake Atitlan's villages.
14. Bonaire & Curaçao
Why: In the deep Southern Caribbean, Bonaire and Curaçao are always out there on the edge of everyone's Caribbean consciousness. Both are known for scuba diving, but also for other water sports, hiking and amazing secluded beaches.
Vacation villas that let you live like a local are plentiful and affordable on both islands, but chain hotels like the Renaissance Curaçao Resort & Casino are an option on Curaçao (great if you're using points).
Bonaire gets its very first chain hotel at the end of 2016 when a Marriott Courtyard opens.
15. Las Vegas
Why: If you can avoid the slots, there are lots of free things to do in Vegas: The Flamingo's flamingo habitat, the fountains and conservatory at the Bellagio and the outdoor movies at the Container Park are just a few.
You can also find many places for cheap eats if you are willing to get off The Strip to do so. Check out the nearby Crown and Anchor, which serves up delicious British favorites, and Ninja Teriyaki Sushi 2 Go for fresh-made amazing sushi rolls in a no-frills setting.
Why: Sadly, the average income in Cambodia is about $950 per year. What does this mean for international travelers? Your international airfare might be expensive, but once you are in Cambodia, you can live well. Tuks tuks (a combo bike/taxi) and food cost just pennies. Even international hotel chains and luxury river boats down the Mekong are more affordable than other Asian destinations.
Before visiting, I suggest doing your homework to support luxury companies like the Shinta Mani Resort, whose foundation plays a large role in its community, building water wells, schools and farms and providing the best healthcare in the country to its employees. Culturally conscious companies like Aqua Expeditions sustainably introduce their guests to the communities along the Mekong River, including the floating markets and the farmers in the rice fields; the company can even arrange a conversation with a local Buddhist monk to discuss the significance of his journey from childhood to monkhood.
Why: If you're looking into an exotic long-haul trip, Bali offers a ton of high quality experiences for a great value. You can easily stay in a private villa overlooking stunning rice paddies with a private pool for around $50 per night. (Airbnb is a great way to go).
However, if you want to splurge a bit but not go overboard, a stay at a high-end luxury resort will still cost you less than a stay at a luxury resort, for example, in Maui. Not to mention, spa and transportation costs are quite low relative to other exotic locales, as well as the amazing and healthy food options that end up being a fraction of the cost elsewhere in the world.
Why: The weakened euro has made any trip to Europe more affordable, but this is especially true in Greece. The struggling economy craves tourist dollars and makes it known with affordable pricing on everything from hotels to food.
In Athens, you can book a three- or four-star hotel for well under $100, like 360 Degrees, a nice and modern hotel with a huge breakfast buffet included and an awesome location directly on Monastiraki Square.
Throughout the countryside, prices may be even better. Best of all, you can sit down to an amazing Greek meal with drinks (Mythos or Ouzo?), appetizers (Saganaki, anyone?) and entrees of your choosing for less than half what you'd pay in the States. Heck, you can pick up Souvlaki or a gyro for $1-$2. Souvenirs are insanely cheap, too.
Why: This forgotten corner of Europe is a wonderfully off-the-beaten-track budget destination in an otherwise very touristy and expensive continent.
With fantastic beaches along its coastline, including the fishing port of Saranda, Albania gives visitors the chance to enjoy the Mediterranean waters for a fraction of the usual price. Accommodation starts from as little as $5 per person and fishing trips or boat rides to the nearby islands are similarly well priced.
There's also some fascinating historical sites across Albania that are either free to enter or cost only $2-$5. From the moutainous medieval town of Gjirokastër to the Roman ruins at Butrint, this is a diverse and very different side of Europe, which is definitely worth visiting before the crowds do.
20. San Luis Potosí, México
Picture a perfect class III white water rafting experience through a limestone canyon of turquoise waters, a visit to a living garden of eden, complete with art sculptures, hidden pools, butterflies and waterfalls, a hike to the largest known cave shaft in the world, which you can rappel into, and a series of waterfalls for cliff jumping.
Top this all off with a plate of homemade tacos and a local beer for $2, and you've got yourself a piece of adventure paradise on a budget.
Still very much under the radar to anyone outside of Mexico, San Luis Potosí could be compared to Costa Rica in terms of adventure and Cambodia in terms of affordability. Since Election Day, the dollar has been especially strong in Mexico, offering an even better excuse to travel south of the border.
21. Quebec City, Canada
Why: Take advantage of the weak Canadian dollar and travel north for a 25% discount on prices.
Enjoy a slice of Old Europe without the jet lag or the cost of a transatlantic flight. Indulge in some of the best French food outside France — steak-frites, oysters and pastries at a bargain price. Stroll and shop in the narrow cobblestone streets of the picturesque Old Town and enjoy night parades and ice canoe races during the colorful Winter Festival in January and February.
22. Buenos Aires
Why: One of the world's most intoxicating cities, Buenos Aires has only grown in popularity, but it's still relatively cheap compared to European and Asian capital cities. There are many green parks, French-inspired architecture, late-night dancing, custom leather shops and fantastic food.
Taxis are relatively cheap (around $5-8 a ride), but you should also walk for miles in all of the distinct neighborhoods, like Palermo (try Salon Canning, a super casual milonga, or dance hall, after midnight). Must-try cheap eat in Buenos Aires: anything dulce de leche. It is everywhere — inside crepes, drizzled over grilled bananas and in gelato.
Tip: Bring a ton of American cash and you'll get better deals in many places. For example, I bought my custom leather jacket at a shop called Uru Recoleta (close to the famous Recoleta Cemetery) and was able to buy it for much less than using my credit card because I brought American dollars.
On Sundays, the place to be is the San Telmo market for browsing leather, antiques, watches, jewelry and more.
Why: While Haiti still remains under the radar as a travel destination, many people have been flocking to the vibrant country, and I can see why: The island provides all the stunning Caribbean characteristics without the high costs. Outside of holiday seasons and the later part of the summer, flights from New York range from $300 to $500, and even cheaper when flying from cities in Florida.
The real gem is how cheap the hotels are, with many starting at $50 to $150 per night including airport transfers. Even the newest Marriott Port-au-Prince will only set you back $130 to under $200 a night for larger rooms.
One of my favorites is Wahoo Bay Beach, which has epic mountain and ocean views from its stunning pool and rooms. You can take small boat tours around the area for a couple of dollars per person. Lobster, conch and crab can be caught right from the water and prepared for you without costing more than $10.
24. Santa Catalina Island, California
Why: Santa Catalina Island is one of my new favorite places. It is way more than a weekend SoCal jaunt. Hotels are quaint and average under the $200 per night mark. The Avalon Hotel is a charming choice. It’s right in the center of town, making it an easy walk to almost any activity. There is plenty to do, like kayaking, scuba diving, snorkeling, ziplining, hiking or just beach sitting.
The Catalina Island Museum is a must-visit stop to get the full story of the island's fascinating history, including its Hollywood connection. Food and shopping choices are extensive.
And you don’t need a rental car. Getting to the island is easy: Catalina Express Ferry whisks you to there from three different ports, Long Beach, Dana Point and San Pedro. I prefer Long Beach because flights there are often lower priced than neighboring LAX.
Why: With 17,000 islands, you are bound to find the ideal paradise to suit your travel and budget in Indonesia.
There are stunning untouched beaches that offer world-class snorkelling and scuba diving in Raja Ampat, fascinating Unesco World Heritage Sites dating back to the 9th century in Yogyakarta and — everywhere you turn — the friendliest locals. In Raja Ampat, we found a homestay that included breakfast, lunch and dinner — plus it was right on the beach for around $29 USD per person per night. For more, see Food Fun Travel's "Bali Food Guide."
Why: The entire Balkans region is an excellent option for budget travel, and if you haven't been before, I recommend starting with Bulgaria.
From wine country to snowy peaks to the Black Sea coast, it's an adventure playground that every budget can afford. In Bulgaria's wine country you can get a full winery tour with multiple tastings plus bread and cheese for about $5 (check out Villa Melnik winery), take a hike through Bulgaria's famous sandstone pyramids and then sleep in a beautiful authentic style hotel like Zlaten Rozhen with breakfast included for about $30.
27. Cusco, Peru
Why: Most people who pass through Cusco are en route to the very popular Machu Picchu, but you should make sure to spend a few days, maybe even a few weeks in this colorful city. Not only is the city absolutely stunning and oozing with culture, most accommodations range from $20 to $100 a night. Peruvian textiles are extremely affordable and the vibrant colors are stunning.
Eating out in Cusco can be extremely cheap, if you know where to eat. Restaurants are quite affordable compared to most American and European restaurants, but street food here is the real winner. I'm personally addicted to ceviche and can't find it cheaper than $15 for a small portion in the states, but in Cusco's San Pedro Market you can find ceviche plus Peruvian fried rice for only $3.
On my last trip, I had steak and ceviche nearly every day and never spent more than $15 for two including a drink and soup.
Why: Meagen Collins: This ancient European country is starting to grab the attention of travelers from all over the world. Georgia has so much to offer — beautiful scenery, unique culture and tradition everywhere you look, and the food will leave you drooling for more.
Add to that the fact this country lays claim to being the birthplace of wine (winemaking here goes back 8,000 years) and you have the ultimate new travel destination.
In Georgia, you can get a full meal plus copious amounts of wine for two people in a higher end restaurant, with live entertainment and still spend less than $30 — total. But get there fast: Word is getting around about this little gem and it won’t be tourist-free for long.
Why: This country is one of Africa's best budget travel destinations, with some extremely affordable accommodation situated along white sand beaches and next to an azure ocean. (Check out Villa Sands or Terraço das Quitandas.)
There's great scuba diving, too, and you can easily feel like a millionaire here for nothing! For more ideas, see Big World Small Pocket's "17 Incredible Budget Travel Destinations Still On My List (That Should Be On Yours Too!)."
30. Dallas, Texas
Why: Dallas is often overlooked, but packed with fun, food and great places to stay at prices far below the national average. (The city was voted the most affordable destination in the U.S. last year by Priceline and continues to remain a great value.) Downtown buzzes with excitement and culture, and the nearby Design District is exploding with eclectic shopping for home décor.
The high-rise Omni Dallas has rooms with stunning floor-to-ceiling views of the city starting at just under $200, putting you in the center of the action. With a rental car, you can fully explore everything the city has to offer. Look at fringe cities like Grapevine and Plano for the charm of small towns of yesteryear with main street shops and eateries.
The Gaylord Texan Hotel in Grapevine is convenient to DFW airport and offers full-out luxury at rates around the $200 mark.
The only technique to learn something new
By James Altucher
I had a friend who wanted to get better at painting. But she thought she had to be in Paris, with all the conditions right. She never made it to Paris. Now she sits in a cubicle under fluorescent lights, filling out paperwork all day.
Someone stole $90 million from a company I was involved in. I'm a poor judge of people. The company collapsed.
Some things I can't learn. I tend to like people too much.
So it's hard for me to be a good judge of people, no matter how much I try. So I find other people who are good at judging people and I ask them to help me.
Don't force yourself to learn something if you don't want to or it's not a natural talent.
What's the role of talent? Very small. But you have to start with it. Talent is the seed of skill.
How do you know if you are talented? If you loved it when you were ten years old. If you dream about it. If you like to read about it. Read the below and you'll know what you are talented at.
Trust me when I say: everyone is talented at many things.
￼ This story is from James Altucher's website. He let us it after we asked nicely.In the past 20 years I've wanted to learn how to do some things really well. Writing, programming, business skills (leadership, sales, negotiating, decision-making), comedy, games.
So I developed a ten step technique for learning.
1. LOVE IT.
If you can't start with "love" then everyone who does love will beat everyone who "likes" or "hates".
This is a rule of the universe. The first humans who crossed the arctic tundra from Siberia to Alaska in -60 degree temperatures had to love it. The rest stayed in the East Africa Savannah.
The very first day I wrote a "Hello, World" computer program I dreamed about computers. I woke up at 4am to get back to the "computer lab" and make even bigger programs.
When I first started to write every day, I would write all day. I couldn't stop. And all I wanted to talk about with people were different authors.
When I was 10 years old I wrote a gossip column about all my fellow 5th graders. I read every Judy Blume book. I read everything I could. I loved it.
Most of my friends got bored with me and soon I was very lonely. Except when I was writing.
2. READ IT.
Bobby Fischer wasn't that good at chess. He had talent but nobody thought much of him.
So around the age of 12-13 he disappeared for a year. He did this later in his 20s.
But at 13 when he came back on the scene he was suddenly the best chessplayer in the US, won the US championship, and became the youngest grandmaster in the world.
How did he do it? He barely played at all during his year of wandering.
Instead he did two things:
a) he studied every game played in the prior century. In the 1800s.
When he came back on the scene he was known for playing all of these antiquated openings but he had improvements in each one. Nobody can figure out how to defeat these improvements.
In fact, the final game of the World Championship many years later, in 1972 when he was playing Spassky, he brought out his 1800s arsenal to become World Champion.
Spassky desperately needed to win to keep the match going. Fischer needed to draw to win the title.
Spassky started with a very modern attacking opening ("The Sicilian") But then around 13 moves in, all of the commentators watching gasped.
Fischer had subtly changed the opening into an old-fashioned very drawish 1800s opening called "The Scotch Game." Spassky didn't have a chance after that.
b) He learned enough Russian to read the Russian chess magazines. At the time, the top 20 players in the world were all Russian. The Americans didn't really have a chance.
So Fischer would study the Russian games while all of the Americans were sitting around with openings and styles the Russians already knew how to defeat.
Consequently, when Fischer competed in the US championship in the early 60s it was the first complete shutout, all wins and not a single draw.
Studying the history, studying the best players, is the key to being the best player. Even if you started off with average talent.
3. TRY IT. BUT NOT TOO HARD.
If you want to be a writer, or a businessman, or a programmer, you have to write a lot, start a lot of businesses, and program a lot of programs.
Things go wrong. This is why quantity is more important than quality at first.
The learning curve that we all travel is not built by accomplishments. It's only built by quantity.
If you see something 1000 times, you'll see more than the person who sees the same thing only ten times.
Don't forget the important rule: the secret of happiness is not "being great" - the secret is "growth".
If you only "try" you'll get to your level that is natural for you. But growth will stop and you won't be happy.
4. GET A TEACHER (PLUS THE 10X RULE).
If I try to learn Spanish on my own, I get nowhere. But when I go out (and now marry) someone who is from Argentina, I learn more Spanish.
With chess, writing, programming, business, I always find someone better than me, and I set a time each week to ask them tons of questions, have them give me assignments, look over my mistakes and tell me where I am wrong.
For everything you love, find a teacher and that makes you learn 10x faster.
In fact, everything I put on this list, makes you learn 10x faster. So if you do everything on this list you will learn 10 to the 10th power faster than anyone else.
That's how you become great at something.
5. STUDY THE HISTORY. STUDY THE PRESENT.
If you want to learn how to be a GREAT programmer (not just good enough to program an app but good enough to be GREAT, study machine language.
Study 1s and 0s. Study the history of the computer, learn how to make an operating system, and Fortran, Cobol, Pascal, Lisp, C, C , all the way through the modern languages of Python, etc.
If you want to write better, read great books from the 1800s. Read Hemingway and Virginia Woolf and the Beats, and the works that have withstood the test of time.
They have withstood the test of time. versus millions of other books, for a reason. They are the best in the world.
Then study the current criticism of those books to see what you have missed. This is just as important as the initial reading.
If you want to study business, read biographies of Rockefeller, Carnegie, the first exchange in Amsterdam, the junk-bond boom, the 90s, the financial bust. Every Depression. All the businesses that flourished in every depression.
Read "Zero to One" by Peter Thiel. Watch "The Profit" on CNBC. Read about Steve Jobs. Read about the downfall of Kodak in "The End of Power".
Don't read self-help business books. They are nothing. You are about to enter a great field, the field of innovation that has created modern society. Don't read the average books that came out last year.
Step up your game and read about the people and inventions that changed the world into what it is today.
Read how Henry Ford had to start three car companies to get it right and why "three" was the important number for him.
Read about why Ray Kroc's technique for franchising created the world's largest restaurant chain. Read how the Coca-Cola makes absolutely nothing but is the largest drink company in the world.
Write down the things you learn from each reading.
6. DO EASY PROJECTS FIRST.
Tony Robbins told me about when he was scared to death on his first major teaching job.
He had to teach a bunch of Marines how to improve their sharpshooting. "I had never shot a gun in my life," he said.
He studied quite a bit from professionals but then he came up with a technique that resulted in the best scores of any sharpshooting class before then.
He brought the target closer.
He put it just five feet from them. They all shot bullseyes. Then he moved it back bit by bit until it was the standard distance.
They were still shooting bullseyes.
Richard Branson started a magazine before he started an airline. Bill Gates wrote BASIC before his team wrote Windows.
E.L. James (and yes, I'm including her) wrote Twilight fan fiction, before she wrote "50 Shades of Grey".
Ernest Hemingway never thought he could write a novel. So he wrote dozens of short stories.
Programmers write "Hello, World" programs before they make their search engines.
Many chess grandmasters recommend you study the endgame first in chess (when there are few pieces left on the board) before you study the other parts of the game.
This gets you confidence, it teaches subtleties, it gives you greater feelings of growth and improvement - all steps on the path to success.
7. STUDY WHAT YOU DID.
The other day I threw everything out. Everything. I threw out all my books (donated). I threw out all my clothes.
I threw out old computers. I threw out plates I never used. I threw out sheets I would never have guests for. I threw out furniture (four book cases) and my TV and old papers and everything.
I wanted to clean up. And I did.
I found a novel I wrote in 1991. 24 years ago. It was horrible.
For the first time in those 24 years, I re-read it. I studied what I did wrong (character unrelatable. Plot too obvious. Deus ex machina all over the place).
Someone told me a story about Amy Schumer, one of my favorite comedians. She videotapes all her performances.
Then she goes back to her room and studies the performance second by second. "I should have paused another quarter-second here," she might say.
She wants to be the best at comedy. She studies her every performance.
When I play chess, if I lose, I run the game into the computer. I look at every move, what the computer suggests as better, I think about what I was thinking when I made the bad move, and so on.
A business I was recently invested in fell apart. It was painful for me. But I had to look at it and see what was wrong. Where did I make a mistake. At every level I went back and wrote what happened and where I might have helped better and what I missed.
If you aren't obsessed with your mistakes then you don't love the field enough to get better.
You ask lousy questions: "Why am I no good?" Instead of good questions: "What did I do wrong and how can I improve?"
When you consistently ask good questions about your own work, you become better than the people who freeze themselves with lousy questions.
Example: I hate watching myself after a TV appearance. I have never done it. So I will never get better at that.
8. YOU ARE THE AVERAGE OF THE FIVE PEOPLE AROUND YOU.
Look at every literary, art, and business scene. People seldom get better as individuals. They get better as groups.
The Beats: Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and a dozen others.
The programmers: Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Ted Leonsis, Paul Allen, Steve Wozniak and a dozen others all came out of the Homebrew Club
The art scene in the 50s: Jasper Johns, De Kooning, Pollack, etc all lived on the SAME STREET in downtown NYC.
YouTube, LinkedIn, Tesla, Palantir, and to some extent Facebook, and a dozen other companies came out of the so-called "PayPal mafia".
All of these people could've tinkered by themselves. But humans are tribal mammals. We need to work with groups to improve.
Find the best group, spend as much time with them, and as a "scene" you become THE scene.
You each challenge each other, compete with each other, love each other's work, become envious of each other, and ultimately take turns surpassing each other.
9. DO IT A LOT.
What you do every day matters much more than what you do once in awhile.
I had a friend who wanted to get better at painting. But she thought she had to be in Paris, with all the conditions right.
She never made it to Paris. Now she sits in a cubicle under fluorescent lights, filling out paperwork all day.
Write every day, network every day, play every day, live healthy every day.
Measure your life in the number of times you do things. When you die: are you 2 writing sessions old? Or are you 50,0000?
10. FIND YOUR EVIL PLAN.
Eventually the student passes the master.
The first hedge fund manager I worked for now hates me. I started my own fund and his fund went out of business. My evil plan was ultimately to be better than him.
After all of the above, you find your unique voice. And when you speak in that voice, the world hears something it has never heard before.
Your old teachers and friends might not want to hear that voice. But if you continue to be around people who love and respect you, then they will encourage that new voice.
There's that saying, "there are no new ideas." But there are.
There are all the ideas in the past combined with the new beautiful you. You're the butterfly.
Now it's your turn to teach, to mentor, to create, to innovate, to change the world. To make something nobody has ever seen before and perhaps will never see again.