Self-Education

Foreword

So long as we don’t realise our own mistakes and drawbacks, there is no hope for our progress.

Forget about recognising one’s own mistakes, there are some who argue that their follies are indeed the very standards of wisdom and right living. Now, bothering about such asinine people would be our folly!

We often hear big words such as National Upliftment and World Peace floating around in the air nowadays. Even though there is so much talk about National Upliftment and World Peace, decadence in society and disturbance in people’s lives are steadily on the increase. Why is this so? There is in fact an interesting reason for this – every person has formulated his own plan for national upliftment; everyone has his own blueprint for establishing world peace! Instead, if each person strove to uplift himself and make himself a better person by ‘Self-Education’, he would have the sooner obtained the intoxication of inner peace. A nation comprising of such individuals will certainly be progressive and secure. A world comprising of such peaceful nations alone can be safe and secure. But, can everyone really steer their minds along the path of self-development? That is the big question!

Swami Purushottamananda

  1. Self-Education: what does it mean?

Educating oneself is Self-Education. Wherever you find progressive individuals, you will see this phenomenon of Self-Education! Yet, this is a very rare term. When we see the rapid rate of decadence of human society today, we realize the urgent need of popularising this invaluable concept of Self-Education. If a man does not use the knowledge and information gained from elders, from books, from the world-wide web and from teachers, for his own betterment, then, all the time that he spent in formal learning during his student-hood has indeed been in vain. For, as a wise man once said, ‘Your education is what you remember and use after your schooling is completed.’

A man must learn self-control and self-regulation by means of Self-Education. And consequently, he must manifest a sterling character. Unless that happens, no matter how learned he is, or how many books he has mastered, or for how long he can talk on subtle and abstruse topics, he is but a talking textbook, and nothing more.

Self-Education! What does it mean? It is the education one gives to oneself; one voluntarily corrects one’s own mistakes. One may have all the education that schools, colleges, books and the Internet can impart. But, all that education doesn’t necessarily mean that one has control over one’s own mind! One should be able to control and regulate the various forces of lust, greed and anger that rise up inside one’s own mind due to the influence of the outside world. And own needs to suitably train oneself to have this inner control and inner regulation. That is Self-Education. One may be an expert on the topic of moderation. But, while eating, say in a marriage party or in a feast, he that can control his intake, without any external supervision, is truly Self-Educated!

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  1. Scope of Self-Education

It is undoubtedly true that the forum which imparts education is school and colleges. And by education, we generally mean ‘Academic Education’. But there is seems to be a disconnect between today’s education and today’s society! The present society, which is the most complex structure that history has ever witnessed, is the outcome of an entirely different type of education that occurs in an entirely different forum – i.e. Self-Education. Even the incredible achievements of science and technology of the modern age are the outcome of Self education.

Do you ask how? Man has two inherent traits in his nature. One is his curiosity. The other is his capacity to think. The outside world with its infinite variety goes on fuelling his curiosity, endlessly. Consequently, questions of ‘what, why, how and why not’ start arising in his mind. The introductory education and training obtained in school and college enable him to think independently. This thinking sharpens his curiosity further. The sharpened curiosity further intensifies his thinking. Intense thinking makes his mind concentrated. On whichever subject our mind becomes concentrated, we gain mastery on that subject. Culture develops thus. So also does all development occur with regard to science and technology.

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  1. Boon to society – bane of the society

We need to understand one aspect with regard to the term ‘Education’. Generally when we use the word education, we use it in its positive sense alone. However, the fact is that, just as there is ‘good education’, there is ‘bad education’ too! Don’t we see people who have been literally trained to be rogues? Perhaps this sort of training is more pervasive in today’s society! Even though a person is academically well qualified, if he lacks an ethical life, he is but a rogue. But if academically well qualified persons lead a good moral life, they are indeed a boon to society. Then there is the stratum of society that has the uneducated, untrained people too. These are harmless folks, and not a bane to the society, unlike the trained, educated rogues.

In this way, when we analyse today’s society, there are people who train themselves to be good influences on the society, and there are also those who train themselves to be a curse to society; the former are a boon to society while the latter are the bane of society. The most surprising aspect is that, even though our schools and colleges impart the same content of education to one and all, some turn out to be good people and some turn out to be bad. What could be the reason for this? The reason lies in ‘Self-Education’! In other words, the difference lies in the education that one effectively gives to oneself! People who were inherently of a good nature, opened themselves up to good impulses and finally turned out to be good. Consequently, they blossomed out to be boons to the society. People, who were inherently of wicked nature, welcomed all sorts of evil influences onto themselves, filled themselves up with ideas and feelings of hatred and vile. Consequently, they turned out to be a curse to the society!

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  1. Who else but us?

No matter how much education you obtain from schools and colleges, your personality is actually crafted only by the education you ultimately give to yourself. When we say this, many may find it hard to digest. But if you calmly think about it for some time, it will become clear to you.

For instance, the teacher may have taught a lesson in the class very nicely. But, if you don’t study the same lesson again when you return home, you will never be able to understand it at all.

You may be taking music lessons from the greatest living Ustad. But, in order to be able to bring out the raga from your own voice, aren’t you the one that has to spend hours upon hours practicing the notes and unravelling the subtle nuances of the raga?

The instructor in the Gymnasium may teach you all the exercises possible. But aren’t you the one that has to repeatedly and regularly do those exercises, burn the fat and build your muscles?

No matter how much we hear about virtues and values, about morality and etiquette, no matter how much we read about them, no matter how many seminars and workshops we attend on these topics, when we deal with our fellow human beings, aren’t we the ones that have to strive hard to manifest these virtues, values, morality and etiquette in our inter-personal dealings?

The Guru may have imparted the highest teachings on spiritual life and may have even demonstrated Samadhi – the greatest achievement possible in human life. But aren’t we the ones that have to practice self-control, scrupulously follow the rules and regulations prescribed by the Guru for Yoga Sadhana, and delve into meditation with a concentrated mind? In short, aren’t we the ones that have to train and discipline our minds by means of Self-Education and finally taste the divine bliss of Self-Realization?

Can anyone else do any of these for us, by proxy, vicariously??

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  1. Self-Education and Self-Realization

Here are two words. Both contain the word ‘Self’ in common. But the meaning of the word is quite different in each case. Self-Education means the training of one’s inner faculties. So, in this case, the word ‘Self’ refers to one’s inner faculties. Now, this term ‘inner faculties’ is called ‘Antahkarana’ in Sanskrit, and technically it has four aspects which are Manas, Buddhi, Chitta and Ahamkara. {All these are Sanskrit terms again, and they need some elaboration. While English, the language of the West, has one word – ‘Mind’ – to denote the various activities of our inner faculties, Sanskrit has four different terms to denote the four distinct functions that our inner faculty performs. When we see something, we have a host of images in our mind’s eye rise up from within, trying to match what we saw with what lies already in our memory. This memory is called ‘Chitta’. The images that rise up from Chitta are analysed in a mental platform, generally referred to as the mind’s eye. This platform is called ‘Manas’. There, in the Manas, rapid comparison of images occurs and finally the best-fit is found. The faculty of our mind that decides the best-fit is called ‘Buddhi’. When Buddhi decides the best-fit image, the Ahamkara claims that ‘I know what this is; this is a tree.’ Although it takes quite long when we express this process in words, the whole thing occurs with a split second. All these four different activities are clubbed together and called ‘Mind’ in English. In India, however, we have isolated them into four distinct terms. It must however be borne in mind that this doesn’t mean there are four separate organs within the mind; it is the same mind [or Antahkarana] that performs these four distinct functions in rapid succession, resulting in an integral experience of perception in us.}

It is only when we closely observe the innumerable vagaries of these four functions of our mind that we realize the need, the urgent need, of imparting a training to our mind. Not otherwise. It is only when we impart the right training to these four faculties of our mind, and properly discipline them, that we will be able to meditate meaningfully on our Self with full concentration. When we reach perfection in this meditation on our Self, we achieve a vision of our own inner core. And that is what is called Self-Realization! But it is to be noted that ‘Self’ here does not refer to the mind, the inner faculties. Self here refers to the self-luminous, self-sustaining consciousness that is the basis, support and foundation of the mind. Self-Realization is considered by Indians to be the highest, i.e. the most meaningful achievement possible by human beings.

Although it is true that sustained Self-Education results in Self-Realization, there is need to give sufficient attention to three associated activities called Self-Observation, Self-Introspection and Self-Examination! In fact, strictly speaking, Self-Education bears fruit only when it is executed in these three aspects! So we need to study these three steps in more detail.

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  1. Self-Observation

As we have already seen, the word self in this context means ‘Manas, Buddhi, Chitta and Ahamkara’, the inner faculties in all of us. Therefore, Self-Observation means closely and constantly observing the different activities and doings of our mind. This is also called ‘Atma-avalokana’ in Sanskrit. How our mind behaves when we interact with others, the circumstances, the reasons and the manner in which it behaves, the various consequences in each case – these are the main aspects of Self-Observation. Further, one realizes how vast and time-consuming this seemingly simple job is, only when one starts doing it in right earnest!

What is the necessity of Self-Observation? And what is the benefit of doing it? In order to know these, we need to be merciless with our Self-Introspection, the next phase of our Self-Education! And our Self-Introspection has to be done in very minute detail!

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  1. Self-Introspection

When our Manas, Buddhi, Chitta and Ahamkara deal with various people, under various circumstances, due to various reasons, what all happy, meaningful interactions occurred and what all soured, unhappy interactions occurred, and why and how such consequences occurred – the procedure of knowing this in detail is called Self-Introspection. There is a need to analyse this above statement in greater detail and understand its salient points. Why? Let alone great ideals such as Self-Realization or the mystical vision of the Self, even to achieve peace of mind in daily life, and to maintain good mental hygiene, and shape a meaningful personality for ourselves, we need to understand these points. For instance, let us consider just one aspect: Various people! Family members, relatives, neighbours, friends, unknown people in shops, buses and trains – we constantly meet, deal and interact with all of them. Now, through what do we interact with all these people? Through our Manas, Buddhi, Chitta and Ahamkara. What is the nature and tendency of our mind? Probably a bit strange, in the sense that it is not wholly predictable! What again is the nature of their minds? Probably stranger! When such chaotic, highly unpredictable minds interact with each other, imagine the kinds of thoughts and feelings that are exchanged, the quality of love and affection that is mutually transferred, and the intensity of anger and hatred that cross over mutually between them! Imagine how ruffled our mind would become after a dozen such interactions in a day! In the midst of all this confounded confusion, don’t you think that our mind will lose the basic qualities needed for leading a spiritual life? If it doesn’t satisfy the basic requirements and cannot tread the path of Sadhana, where comes the question of achieving Self-Realization and enjoying the bliss thereof? Therefore, we must take great care to ensure that we interact only with people of very good character. With the rest, it ought to be ‘thus far, no further’. Thus only can we protect the equanimity and sanity of our mind. For, it is only with a strong, balanced, sane mind that we can walk along the path of spiritual Sadhana. Now, don’t you see the utter necessity of Self-Introspection?

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  1. Self-Examination

Examining our own mind is what is meant here. When should we conduct this examination? Let us explain using an example: Let us suppose that a wad of currency notes, say about ten thousand rupees, is lying in a room. And we must be alone, with not a soul around us. This is the time of our Self-Examination! If not even a single wave of possessing those notes arise in our mind, well, then we may have cleared the Self-Examination safely! A much more terrible, hazardous situation for Self-Examination would be when a person of the opposite sex bedazzles our eyes. It is very easy to be philosophical about the whole sexuality issue. Many may sermonize saying that the danger doesn’t lie in her or him. It is rather the inherent libido that ought to be blamed, etc. Whatever be the argument, but, when he comes face-to-face with her, or she comes face-to-face with him, that too in a lonely, secluded place, then this Self-Examination becomes a veritable acid test! If, under such a supremely tempting situation too, our mind does not get clouded with animal instincts, well, we may have certainly passed the self-examination safely!

There is one more subtle issue here. After we engage in systematic spiritual practice for some years, it may appear as though our mind has come under our control. But never ever believe that to be the case. Why? Treason is mind’s basic nature. It will convince you into believing that you are the master, and then when you lower your guard, it strikes back with full force and proclaims its suzerainty over you! That is its nature. That is the reason for the inexplicable fall of innumerable spiritual aspirants and ascetics in the face of temptation! If we wish to avoid such a fate, then we may have to be more careful about faring well in the small, seemingly insignificant tests that are part of our daily affairs. Slowly, these silent, daily victories will build up our inner strength. And thus, in due course of time, we may develop the gigantic strength required to face and successfully overcome the trial by fire.

We could keep on multiplying examples like this to explain these three concepts of Self-Observation, Self-Introspection and Self-Examination. But, it would be more beneficial if the reader could recall suitable situations he/she has faced in his/her own life, apply these principles and see if they make sense. I believe this would be a much more effective way of understanding these vital principles.

In this context, it is useful if one more issue is clarified. These three activities that we have described above i.e. Self-Observation, Self-Introspection and Self-Examination are actually a kind of spiritual practice. The mind of the common masses is in general, outward bound. Therefore most people observe only others! They analyse others. They examine others. But spiritual aspirants, who have firmly decided to directly see their own inner core of consciousness and enjoy the consequent divine bliss, cannot afford this luxury of observing and judging others. Instead, they have to constantly observe themselves, analyse themselves, examine themselves and impartially evaluate how much they are progressing towards the spirit. And if their objective, impartial self-evaluation should reveal some chinks in the armour, then remedial steps must be instantly taken. In this way, we ought to march forward rapidly with single-minded devotion towards our chosen goal of self-realization. Why rapidly? Isn’t it enough if we are making progress gradually, one may ask? Speed is of the essence if we have to hoodwink the world-bewitching Maya, the alluring power of this universe, from ensnaring us, as it ensnares everyone else around us! Relentless aggression on the path of Yoga is the only remedy. A slow, half-hearted approach will make us stumble on the strait and narrow path of Yoga and fall prey to Maya.

We may offer an invaluable suggestion here. Just as the speed of our spiritual practices increases, so should the intensity of our Self-Observation, Self-Introspection and Self-Examination! Why so? Somewhere deep in the dark, inaccessible recesses of our mind may lie hidden a subtle desire. This demon may wake up, totally unknown to us, catch us completely unaware, and push us into the abyss of a new psychological complex. Such a situation is not entirely hypothetical in spiritual life! By the time we try to find out what it is and where it came from, it would have wreaked sufficient or even irreparable damage! If we plan to safeguard ourselves against such eventualities, we don’t have any other alternative to intensifying our Self-Education by means of Self-Observation, Self-Introspection and Self-Examination. This intensification is not an option, but an imperative.

When we become experts in this wonderful science of self-correction by means of Self-Education, this very mind – which is now more powerful than an elephant in rut, which is now more fickle than a stormy wind, which is now more mischievous and restless than a monkey – will come completely under our control. A mind which has thus been brought under control can be easily concentrated. And armed with such a concentrated mind, we can become whatever we wish to be; if we wish, we could be a scientist with access to the secrets of this physical world; or we could be a prophet with free access to the realm of Spirit!

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  1. Role of discernment in Self-Education

What is beneficial, what is baneful; what is helpful, what is harmful; what is permanent, what is temporary; the faculty that helps us discern these vital differences is called ‘Viveka’ in Sanskrit. When translated into English, most people use discrimination for ‘Viveka.’ At least the thinkers of the late 19th and early 20th century did that. Today, however, this word ‘discrimination’ has obtained a totally different connotation. Hence the word ‘discernment’ would be more apt. We will use the word discernment to mean the Sanskrit term ‘Viveka’.

He who has nurtured this faculty of discernment in himself is said to be a wise-man. He who hasn’t is an idiot. The Sanskrit terms for wise-man and idiot, as used in this context are ‘Viveki’ and ‘Aviveki’. We would prefer the use of these Sanskrit terms since they are technical terms and mean something specific, as described above.

What an ocean of difference between a Viveki and an Aviveki! An Aviveki brings innumerable problems to oneself. A Viveki is able to successfully extricate himself from every problem that comes to him! An Aviveki is utterly blind to all the countless opportunities open before him that could bring him success in life. A Viveki on the other hand is able to carve out a separate path for his own success. Using his awakened faculty of discernment, he is able to create opportunities for his success! Oh, what a difference!

How does one awaken this most important faculty of discernment? Just as a blind man tries to ‘see’ with the help of one who has eyes, similarly, by approaching a Viveki, we must learn how to awaken the faculty of discernment in ourselves. Moreover, we must mercilessly analyse each and every problem that we have faced in our lives and try to identify the root cause of those problems. When we do this painful exercise, each trial and tribulation will impart an invaluable lesson for us and thus will our faculty of discernment open up in us too!

Just as we analyse our failures, so also ought we to analyse our successes. This is most essential! Why? When we face problems and failures, we are jolted out of our stupor and we become alert quite naturally. But when success after success comes ours way, either due to over-confidence or arrogance, there is a greater chance of becoming complacent and lowering our guard! It is then that our success will turn out to be our failure. This seems to be the general rule in the world.

There is yet another very subtle issue here. Although there is no second thought about the necessity of developing higher qualities in ourselves, it must be noted that when we try to develop fine moral qualities such as non-violence, forbearance, etc., we ought to be very careful. For instance, people who are extremely forbearing are called ‘Softies’. Everyone takes advantages of them and this is a common experience! So, when we impart Self-Education to ourselves and try to manifest the higher moral values in ourselves, we must also earnestly try to train ourselves not to be cheated by others! Similarly, when we find that others may harm us, we must ‘hiss’, as Sri Ramakrishna taught us, and learn to keep such harmful people at a safe distance from ourselves.

We must highlight a very interesting point in this context here. Apart from the care we need to take in order to avoid getting cheated by others, a much more present danger is from getting cheated by ourselves! In the guise of duty, many compromises with the moral ideal and spiritual ideal impinge themselves on us. Even though it is our own desires that impel us to certain actions, we strongly justify them as the call of duty, and thus we cheat ourselves every day. We give ourselves the lie on a daily basis. And the most frightening thing is that we do this without even being aware of it. In this way, a hunger for name and fame and social prestige eggs us on to engage in various kinds of social service and even spiritual ministrations. We may even show great enthusiasm in vigorously spreading the message of the great prophets such as Acharya Shankara, Buddha, Swami Vivekananda and others. But in many cases, it is crass name-blazoning and a blatant attempt at enhancing one’s own social prestige that masquerades as the ‘pure’ urge to spread the divine message. In fine, it is most difficult to unravel the real motive behind our various actions. Even if we realize it, it is almost impossible to let go of self-interest. Our entire being revolts against such a renunciation, so to speak. Therefore, along with discernment, we stand in urgent need of dispassion too. The path of dispassion is dark. So we must walk along that path using the blazing light of discernment to light up our path. This is indeed the crux of Self-Education.

Spiritual aspirants stand in urgent need of imparting such a Self-Education to themselves. Not only is it an urgent need, but such a self-training is also indispensable! The Katha Upanishad doesn’t mince any words when it says – Spiritual life is like walking on a razor’s edge! Just imagine! What a terribly difficult task spiritual practice is!! It takes a lot of serious training if one has to be successful along the path. And all that training, one will have to give to oneself. None else can.

Therefore, by using Self-Education, we need to awaken our faculty of discernment urgently. And then again, with that awakened faculty, we must engage in further Self-Education! But, without the awakening of a sense of discernment, (mind you, not the entire faculty, but a basic sense of what is right and what is wrong, what is permanent and what is temporal), Self-Education cannot begin at all. And without Self-Education, this vital faculty will never open up in us! What is the way out of this vicious circle?

The remedy is this: In the beginning, as much as possible, we must impart Self-Education to ourselves and facilitate the progressive blossoming of the faculty of discernment. Later on, when the faculty opens up in all its glory and starts shedding its full blaze of light all around us, we can march forward towards Self-Realization speedily and reach the goal!

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  1. Role of prayer in Self-Education

Self-Education is entirely centred on self-effort. Self-effort is not only essential, but also indispensable. But, as our own effort progresses, we start to realize something very, very strange. And what is that? We start to feel that, no matter how intelligently we use our own energies to train ourselves, once in a while, we stand in need of assistance from some higher power. Especially when we face some knotty situation that does not get resolved no matter how sincerely and how intensely we apply ourselves to it! Now, what could that higher power be? The grace of God! It is only the tornado of God’s grace that can dispel the thunder-clouds of irresoluble problems that spiritual aspirants face time and again! Nothing else can. Therefore it becomes imperative that prayer finds a prominent place in the overall scheme of Self-Education.

Even though God’s grace is omnipresent like the air we breathe, if it has to become an active factor in our spiritual life, prayer has to be incorporated into our spiritual praxis. Turning up our heart filled with fervent feeling to Him, praising Him again and again, gazing upon Him fondly for His protection, waiting upon His arrival in our heart – the importance of these practices can never be over-estimated! Or, we could also pray in this manner: “O my Lord, I am constantly striving to obtain a vision of thee; I am striving sincerely. Despite such sustained effort, certain obstacles in my path terrify me, hinder me, and stop my progress! I am slowly realizing that my efforts are insignificant in overcoming these gigantic obstacles! O my Lord, your grace alone can remove them for me. Please bless me. Please fulfil my efforts and grant me your vision.

There is no hard and fast rule that prayer has to be done in this fashion alone. As Sri Ramakrishna points out, God is our very own. We belong to Him and He belongs to us! There is none nearer to us than Him! So, we can be frank with Him in our prayers. We can obtain the help we need from Him by frankly baring our hearts before Him. If He is really our very own, wouldn’t it be possible to interact with Him with genuine openness? If we are really spiritual aspirants, wouldn’t our behaviour be naturally sincere and genuine? The prayer that wells up from a sincere and genuine heart is bound to be heard by Him! It is bound to touch Him and move Him! And it is bound to elicit a fitting reply from Him!

Just take a look at one of the prayers that our ancient Rishis used to offer:

Bhadram karnebhih shrunuyaama devaaha;

Bhadram pashyemaakshabhiryajatraaha.

 ‘May we be able to hear only that which is auspicious through our ears! May we be able to see only that which elevates our being!’

This is a most wonderful prayer, indeed. If we hear inauspicious, i.e. vulgar, sensually arousing sounds, our mind, which is by nature unstable, will become restless like a monkey. Isn’t that so? If our eyes see inauspicious, i.e. vulgar, sensually arousing sights and things, our mind which is already restless like a monkey, will start getting out of control, like a monkey in heat! Would that be surprising at all? Therefore, along with imparting self-training to ourselves, it would be most beneficial if we could incorporate this exquisite prayer of the ancient Rishis into our spiritual praxis.

If this mind loses its balance and gets out of control, it is extremely strenuous and difficult to bring it back on track. Therefore the greatest care has to be taken to ensure that the mind takes in no stimulating sensual inputs from the ears and the eyes. Hence the ancient Rishis took so much precaution in this respect, in the form of an extraordinary prayer. This foresight of those ancient Rishis is really astounding! We may sincerely resolve that we shall not hear any unbecoming sound. That’s alright. But what do we do if any untoward sound impinges itself upon us, without our seeking? We may wholeheartedly resolve that we shall not see any untoward sight on our own. But again, if such an untoward sight were to inadvertently fall on our eyes? So, in cases which lie beyond our puny purview, the only wise thing would be to seek the assistance of our Lord by means of a genuine prayer! There are many reasons why our mind gets perverted, why it gets disturbed. Of all of those reasons, the inputs from our eyes and ears are by far the most influential! Therefore the Rishis prayed:

‘May we be able to hear only that which is auspicious through our ears! May we be able to see only that which elevates our being!’

Now, there is another plausible scenario too. Even though our eyes don’t bring in any objectionable input, nor do our ears bring in any objectionable input, our mind itself could imagine the most horrid images and create a rotten, reeking morass within us! What could be the remedy for this? We may study all the scriptures and keep the company of the holiest people, and yet, impure thoughts may continue to assail us without any respite. How could we resolve this problem? Prayer again is the panacea. Our ancient Rishis discovered the wonderful ‘Gayatri Mantra’! This is a most effective mantra. There is no other mantra more effective than this pure Gayatri Mantra in dispelling the darkness in the mind, and inspiring the most exalted, most elevating thoughts and feelings in our mind. Those who haven’t traditionally received the Gayatri Mantra need not worry on that account. They may get the same benefit by praying in this fashion: ‘O most kind Mother Gayatri, I salute you with deep devotion. Please bring in light within my Buddhi and awaken my power of discernment.’ The language of the prayer is not of any consequence. What matters is whether there is faith and devotion behind the words being uttered!

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  1. Who is the teacher who imparts Self-Education?

Is there ever any education without a teacher? Can there ever be any learning without a student? So, with respect to this Self-Education, which can lead us up to the empyrean heights of spiritual self-realization, don’t we then need a qualified teacher? Well, we certainly do. But, any and every teacher can never be able to impart this most wonderful of all educations! Why? It is after all, a matter concerning the inner personality of an individual. The syllabus has to be determined after entering deep into the psyche of the student. Who indeed can discern the inner workings of the heart of man? So, the fittest teacher, the only teacher qualified to impart Self-Education is the inner-most spiritual self of man and no one else. This inner-most spiritual self in man is called ‘Antaryamin’ in Sanskrit. So, the Antaryamin is the only teacher who can impart Self-Education.

Truly, the visible personality of a man is completely different, or rather, could be completely different from who he actually is. Inside, hidden from the view of the world, who really knows what he thinks, feels and wills! We are able to merely see the tip of an iceberg only here, from the outside. The inner person is a most incredible combination of innumerable psychological impressions. Much more wonderful, incredibly subtle and unimaginably delicate is the case of a pure soul who is preparing himself for realizing the spiritual ideal. The Self-Education that has to be imparted has to be in consonance with these hidden impressions. Who else but the Antaryamin can do so? Never can this be done by an external person.

Now, who is there today who is free from the existential conflicts that constitute the modern world? Who is there who does not have to, or has not ever, faced his due share of work-a-day obstacles in today’s world? Most get sucked into the whirlpool of the complexities of modern life and fade into oblivion. Some rare ones raise themselves above the situations and overcome the obstacles that pave their way. Now, this warrants a question: Why did the former meet oblivion? And why did the latter come out not only unscathed, but also victorious? Here lies the secret. The Antaryamin is ever present in everyone. But, the multitudes never pay any heed to the ‘still small voice’ of this Antaryamin. We don’t have to search hard for instances for this fatal mistake committed day-in and day-out, all around us. Youngsters who give a piece of their mind to their elders, students who don’t give a damn to what their teachers say – how many such instances do you need today? Such transgressions indeed seem to have become the order of the day. The Antaryamin keeps on giving timely advice to everyone at all times. But, most choose to ignore it. And Satan, who keeps waiting for this fortuitous moment, when the soul has rejected the ‘still small voice’, approaches the decadent soul, speaks to him enticingly in his honey-dew, dulcet voice, and seizes him completely. He tempts him with endless distractions. Now, these hapless people are not Nachiketas[1], to realise that although these juicy temptations seem beautiful now, they are fatal in the long run! So, they sink and go into oblivion. But, a few rare ones, like Nachiketa, are discerning enough to value the keen words of the Antaryamin, and do not allow Satan to approach anywhere near them. So, such fortunate, discerning souls, achieve fantastic progress in this very life and reach the pinnacle of perfection right here, right now. So, if we pay heed to the inner voice of our own Antaryamin, which He gives for our own good, our own welfare, our progress is inevitable.

In this connection, Swami Vivekananda makes a very interesting observation. He says, “Even if we go to a temple and prostrate before the Lord there and pour out our heart’s problems before Him, you must note that the solution ultimately flashes from within ourselves and from nowhere else!” We ought to meditate over this statement of the great Swami!

Then there are the famous instances of Archimedes, Pythagoras, Newton and others. They were all stuck with their particular problems for many days and weeks and went on thinking very deeply about them. Then finally, one fine day, they had the solution revealed to them, from within their own minds. The solution flashed like a streak of lightning inside their own minds and they had found the solution to their particular problems. These instances of inner inspiration are today well-known and have become the stuff of legends. But, how did these things become possible? They never went to any temples for seeking solutions. They never supplicated to any god. Yet, the solution flashed within them. This was the inspiration of their Antaryamin! This is the unique teaching process followed by the Antaryamin! A teaching that takes the form of inspiration!

Well, that was the story of scientists. If we see the instances of the spiritual success stories such as the saints that attained Brahma Jnana or Realisation of the Divine Godhead, doesn’t it make you wonder as to which external Guru may have obtained for them their supreme achievement? They all may claim discipleship under some Guru. Many of them may even be profuse in offering their heartfelt devotion to some human Guru. But, when they obtained Brahma Jnana or a vision of their Ishta Deva, from where did they obtain it? From whom? Did their Guru bring God and place Him before them? The Upanishad proclaims most categorically:

Yam evaisha vrunute, tena labhyaha!

Atman reveals itself to him whose Atman dwells incessantly on the Atman!

Those of us who are new to spiritual life may raise many questions here! ‘Atman reveals itself to him’ – why has this been expressed like this? What could it mean? Why is the Atman expressed in neuter gender? If so, what is the Atman? What then is the Lord or Paramatman? What is God? Who is God? Narasimha, Rama, Krishna, Buddha, Christ, Allah, Durga, Kali, Lakshmi, Saraswati, etc. – who are all these gods and goddesses? Truly, to give sufficiently elaborate replies to all these questions based on the testimony of our scriptures is a job that is tougher than actual realisation of the Atman! Moreover, most often, we raise these questions purely out of a general curiosity. This curiosity can be satisfied by referring to the respective books that deal with those topics in detail. However, if the questions ‘What is the Atman?’, ‘What is Paramatman?’, ‘Who is God?’ come from the depths of our heart, then we will be restless to know the answers to these questions. And what is the nature of that restlessness? When questions arose in the minds of the scientists mentioned above, day and night they strove to find answers; such must be our restlessness too! Then, just as their own Antaryamin supplied them with their solutions, so too will our own Antaryamin solve all our questions and satisfy us too.

Sri Ramakrishna asked, ‘Mother, are you real? Do you really exist? Or are you just a figment of a poet’s imagination?’ He however didn’t just ask these questions and remain satisfied. He was restless for a reply that would satisfy his soul. Then, Mother Kali granted him Her beatific vision. But how did She grant him that vision? Did that idol walk and come to life? Or did She emerge from that idol and manifest Herself before him? No. As a result of his intense restlessness for a viable solution to his doubts, his mind that had dwelt day and night on the subject, got so concentrated that it attained a state called ‘Samadhi’. Samadhi is the state of mind that refers to the very pinnacle of concentration. The very tip! His inner eye opened! In that blessed state, he saw the Antaryamin in the form of Mother Kali. Therefore Sri Ramakrishna said that the Antaryamin is the real Guru.

Then there is the instance of Sri Ramana Maharshi. He asked himself, ‘Who am I?’; ‘Who could this I be?’ He dove within himself in search of a satisfactory answer to this question. The question of his own identity grasped him to such an extent that his mind attained the supreme state of concentration. And the Antaryamin woke up within him! Consequently, he clearly understood who he really was; and so too did the whole world!

A question may be raised here: If our Antaryamin Guru is really within us, why then are we still ignorant? Why hasn’t our wrong behaviour not yet stopped? Shouldn’t he dispel our ignorance and make us wise? Well, the fact is that the Antaryamin Guru is indeed leading all of us from ignorance towards knowledge, from darkness towards light and from the temporal towards the Eternal, but slowly, very slowly! Some may ask that if this is actually so, why then do we not realise the movement? The reply would be that in due course, the Antaryamin Guru will indeed make us realise it. And when he makes us realise it, we too will continue to march onwards with the express knowledge that we are making forward progress. Just observe the entire process of natural evolution of living beings. Since the Antaryamin has to lead the soul from dense darkness, for a long time, the movement happens in the region of ignorance itself. In the scheme of the soul’s journey to its destiny, it has to pass through innumerable experiences of birth and death, joy and sorrow, praise and blame, gain and loss, before it starts to revel in its own self-luminous glory. These experiences bring the soul to realise the terrible nature of these dualities of life. It is precisely because the soul doesn’t realise the horror associated with ignorance that the soul tries to find some kind of joy in its ignorant state itself. Doesn’t the all-knowing Antaryamin know this? Therefore, the Antaryamin allows the soul to wallow in ignorance for as long as it wishes to! Freedom is a divine state! But when the soul lies satisfied with the semblance of joy associated with ignorance, it doesn’t even so much as cast a glance towards the blessed state of freedom. Doesn’t the Antaryamin know this? But this is an incontrovertible, established fact: When the soul has had enough of the dualities of life, the Antaryamin invariable leads it towards the ocean of Bliss. But if a soul wishes to march speedily towards freedom, then it will have to pray intensely to the Antaryamin. For, as Jesus Christ has said, ‘Knock and it shall be opened; Ask and it shall be given.’ Knock on the door of liberation. Then it is opened for us. Ask for the Bliss of freedom and then it shall be granted to you! It is a fact that unless we ask for something in the proper way, nothing will be given to us. As Sri Ramakrishna puts it so wonderfully, if a child doesn’t cry, even its own mother doesn’t breast-feed it! And he himself demonstrated how to gain Her grace and vision by weeping and crying and moving Her to satisfy the thirst in his soul.

Spiritual aspirants may ask a question here: ‘Should we pray to our Ishta Deva or to our Antaryamin?’ But, if they think deeply over this question, their own Antaryamin will answer them, ‘Your Ishta Deva and I are one and the same. We are two forms of the Indivisible Absolute Being.’

To summarize the entire argument presented here: Our Antaryamin has been our soul-mate from time immemorial and continues to be our soul-mate. He has been with us through all our previous births and has been exposing us to various kinds of new experiences, allowing us to learn ever new lessons along the way. The same Antaryamin, who formally taught us in the form of the external, human Guru, inspires us from within at the right moments and has brought us up to where we are today. But his work isn’t over yet. Until we realise that we are identical with Him, His relentless inner ministrations continue, His inner teaching and training proceed unabated, unhindered! We offer our heartfelt salutations to that Antaryamin Guru, who is Kindness Incarnate!!

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  1. Self-Education: it’s utility

There is a saying that even a fool would not do anything without a particular purpose in view. So, if we do not highlight the results expected out of Self-Education, if we do not highlight the end to be achieved, if we do not highlight the purpose of Self-Education, readers may perhaps fail to realise its immense utility.

Isn’t the term ‘Self-Education’ itself self-explanatory? Self-Education is a technique of correcting our own faults and mistakes, and thereby raising ourselves to higher and higher levels of perfection. But what we have to nonetheless keep in mind is that in this raising ourselves to ever higher levels of perfection, we have to patiently climb many, many steps assiduously, and will invariably slip and fall many, many times. Because, one cannot graduate in Self-Education by learning things by heart, or by copying, or by any other means of cheating rampant in today’s system of education! The Graduation Certificate in Self-Education has to come from within the student and not from some system outside of him! Take for instance, efficiency. This is a great quality which can be truly appreciated only when seen in a perfected personality. Now, let us analyse – can we gain efficiency by cheating? But then, it is a different thing if people become very efficient in the art of cheating itself!! However, this kind of efficiency is never uplifting in nature; on the contrary, such efficiency will surely hurl us headlong into self-destruction!

If our mind has to rise to higher and higher levels of evolution, we have to nurture great qualities and renounce the baser qualities. Who doesn’t know this or agree with this? But if we analyse our own mind, we find it to be made up of a very strange mixture of very queer hopes and desires, tendencies and motives. When such is the situation, how can an easy-going, luxury-loving, decadent mind give attention to developing great qualities? This is exactly where the use of Self-Education comes in! Very gradually, the mind will have to be trained in the secrets of self-control and self-discipline, for control and discipline is the very core of education. The base mind has to be punished and then reformed into an exalted state. Self-control and self-discipline – what better punishments can a roving, unruly mind have than these? When the mind becomes controlled and disciplined to some extent by such Self-Education, it will calm down fairly and will reach a state where it can think and analyse with a cool objectivity. Once this stage is reached, further Self-Education becomes quite easy.

How exactly can we educate ourselves? As already explained above, we have to forcibly restrain the innumerable desires and endless chain of unruly thoughts – what is the nature and quality of those thoughts? Where will these thoughts lead us, say, a decade hence? Are they exalted thoughts and desires? Or are they base and degraded? Or again, are they merely fanciful, absolutely useless and of no comprehensible consequence on our personality? – We have to mercilessly put our mind to test; we have to immediately throw away base, degrade or useless thoughts, feelings and motives, as if it were poison. We must remember that only a fairly calm and controlled mind like explained above will be capable of distancing itself from harmful and useless thoughts! Because, a common man’s mind, i.e. an undisciplined, uncultured mind will not realise which is harmful or useless, and even if it does, it will not have the Viveka to mercilessly renounce it. People with such minds will invariably have to face the terrible consequences later on.

There is another subtle point to be noted here. Just as it is important for persons endowed with a disciplined mind to renounce base desires, it is equally important to ensure that they don’t allow good desires to grow and become unwieldy. ‘Ati sarvatra varjayet’. See that nothing grows out of proportion. Ravana let his lust grow out of proportion and dug his own grave. Hiranyakashipu let his anger grow out of proportion and dug his own grave. Duryodhana let his greed grow out of proportion and dug his own grave. We ought to keep these stories ever fresh in our mind! It was just lust alone, anger alone, greed alone that destroyed these persons in each case. Letting these passions grow out of proportion killed them. It is said that if one takes poison in limited quantities, it becomes beneficial to our health and if we take nectar in unlimited quantities, that itself poisons us. So, in order to avoid these passions from growing out of proportion, Self-Education is most essential.

Saints and sages, gurus and elders may advise us all they wish. They may try to help us in every way. But, during those moments when we are alone, all by ourselves, certain intolerably impure, perverted thoughts, feelings and images may arise within us. These may be associated with or followed by extremely stimulating situations for ourselves. They may gather sufficient strength and energy to drive us to the very limits of our self-control. In most of us, we may then be driven to even commit acts that are to our own moral and spiritual detriment! But those of us, whose power of discernment has been awakened by means of sustained Self-Education, will devise some way or the other to retain their composure and protect themselves from a fall. If this isn’t one of the greatest benefits of Self-Education, then what else could be?!

Just as our body becomes very strong by means of systematic exercises, just as our personality becomes well-rounded by means of systematic moral training, there is a very tangible result we obtain by means of rigorous, systematic Self-Education too. When we impart Self-Education to ourselves, with right earnest, assiduously correcting the innumerable mistakes we commit, our mind develops a strength that makes it invincible to any adverse influence, internal or external! It becomes infinitely powerful! With such a mind, we may win over the entire world, if we wish!! Or we may endear ourselves to the Lord of the entire Universe, if we so choose.

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Appendix – A

Shreyas – Preyas

In the Life of Swami Vivekananda written by his Easter and Western disciples, an interesting experience that he used to have during his youth is described as follows:

During his youth, two strikingly dissimilar visions of life would come up before his mind’s eye as he would go to sleep. One was of a life of ease and luxury, the life of the senses, of the enjoyment of wealth, power, name and fame, and along with all this, the love of a devoted wife and family; in short, the worldly life. The other picture was of the Sannyasi, a wandering monk having no possessions, established in the consciousness of the Divine Reality, drifting in the current of God’s will, eating only such food as chance might bring, and resting at night with the sky for roof, in the forest, or on the mountainside. He believed himself capable of realizing either of these ideals, and he often pictured himself in one or the other, for he felt these two were within him, two painters, one, the spirit of desire, the other the spirit of renunciation. But the more inward he became, the clearer became the picture of renunciation, while the worldly one began to fade until finally it disappeared. Thus the spiritual self of Narendranath gained mastery, choosing the renunciation of desire – the only way to the vision of God.

When Sri Ramakrishna was engaged in his incredible spiritual Sadhana, he had obtained the Eight Yogic Powers mentioned in the scriptures, powers such as Anima, Mahima, Laghima, Garima, Prapti, Prakamya, Aishwarya and Vashitva. If a person were to obtain even one of these Eight Yogic Powers, he is certain to become world-famous. Therefore, most spiritual aspirants who do stumble upon these Powers, fall a prey to the consequent fame and fall from the ideal. But, Sri Ramakrishna categorically rejected these Powers, which look so useful and enticing at first glance, but which ultimately lead to one’s spiritual downfall! He strongly stuck to his chosen goal of Self-Realization and was able to see through the hollowness of these Powers. Moreover, we may also recall here how Sri Ramakrishna had bluntly refused to accept the ten thousand rupees donation [which was an astronomical amount in those days, we must remember!] that a wealthy businessman of those times, Sri Lakshmi Narayan Marwari, wanted to make to him.

Even Holy Mother Sri Sharada Devi too had her share of temporal temptations, if we may use the term in her context. Sri Ramakrishna himself had sent Sri Lakshmi Narayan Marwari to her, telling him to see if he could convince her to accept the donation. But, Holy Mother surmised ‘If my husband doesn’t want the money, what will I do with it?’ Thinking like this, she sent him back to Sri Ramakrishna. Later on, when Holy Mother had gone to the holy Rameshwaram Temple on a pilgrimage, the Raja of Ramnad arranged that Holy Mother would be shown the treasures of the Deity of the Temple. He further prayed to the Holy Mother that she should grace him by choosing one of those ornaments for her personal use! Remembering her poor relatives in her native village Jayrambati, she could have easily selected at least a diamond necklace. But she declined the offer!

Yajnavalkya, the great Rishi of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, once called both his wives, Katyayani and Maitreyi, and told them: ‘I have decided to renounce this world and take to monastic life. I will divide all the movable and immovable assets that I possess equally between the both of you and go.’ Then Maitreyi asks her husband, ‘My Dear, even if I were to lord over this entire Earth, would I be able to attain the Eternal through that? Can I thereby become immortal?’ Then Yajnavalkya replies, ‘…Yathaivopakaranavataam jeevitam tathaiva te jeevitam syaat, amritatvasya nashasti vitthena iti.’ i.e. ‘No. If you become rich, your life will be similar to the other innumerable rich people of this world. Therefore, immortality cannot be obtained through wealth at all.’ Then Maitreyi says, ‘That wealth by means of which I cannot become immortal, what indeed shall I do with that wealth? Therefore, O Dear One, teach me the Eternal that you have realized in yourself.’ In reply, Yajnavalkya famously says, ‘Maitreyi, you have been very dear to me. Even now, I shall tell you what is really dear to me and really beneficial to you. Come, sit down by my side. I shall teach you the science of Brahman. Meditate with an undistracted, concentrated mind on what I say to you now.’ In this manner, Maitreyi chooses the beneficial over the pleasant that came by her.

There was one more glowing example of a person who renounced the pleasant and chose to go for the beneficial in his life. That was Nachiketa! His story has been immortalized in the Katha Upanishad.

Nachiketa was the son of Vaajashravas. Nachiketa’s father performed an extraordinary ritual. The name of the ritual was ‘Vishwajit’. Cows were to be donated as a part of this ritual. But the cows that were actually earmarked for donation to the Brahmins were all unfit for ritualistic purpose. In fact, they were unfit for any purpose. They were all old, sick cows, reduced to skin and bones, with their teats dried up. The young boy Nachiketa observed this anomaly. He was not one to stay quiet having observed the mistake, because Shraddha had entered into him! He laments in his own heart that his father will attain a joyless state of existence after his death, if he donates such worthless animals as a part of the ritual. So he reasons that the whole error that his father was committing by this kind of half-hearted donation would be compensated for, if his father could donate him to some worthy recipient. With this idea in mind, he approaches his father and asks: ‘Father, to whom will you donate me?’ Vaajashravas gets angry at this impertinent question. But he controls his anger, ignores Nachiketa and continues to pour oblations into the sacrificial fire. But that kind of indifference would not stop Nachiketa, for, Shraddha had entered into him! This is a most extraordinary refrain in this Upanishad:

Tam ha kumaaram Shraddhaavivesha!’

Shraddha had entered into that boy!

Shraddha is the key to all knowledge. Shraddha is the secret of every success.

O Shraddha! With you, I am everything. Without you I am nothing!

The scriptures have extolled Shraddha in various ways. ‘Shraddhaavaan labhate Jnanam’ [One who has Shraddha obtains knowledge], ‘Shraddha hi paramaa gatihi’ [Shraddha is the best means of attaining a goal], ‘Yo yacchraddha sa eva saha’ [The degree of refinement of a personality is directly proportional to the degree of Shraddha one possesses]. Thus have the holy books sung the glory of Shraddha. This Shraddha had entered into Nachiketa, who was still but a boy. Therefore his entire personality was brimming with Shraddha, as it were, explains the Upanishad. Such a boy, filled with Shraddha, could not possibly tolerate the half-hearted ritual that his father was performing. In order to protect his father from the evil effects of such half-hearted efforts, he approached him a second time with the same question: ‘Father, to whom will you donate me?’ What he actually meant was ‘To which god will you donate me?’ Vaajashravas was now boiling with anger. Before him was the scorching sacrificial fire! Within him was the searing heat of anger! Despite such an incendiary situation, Vaajashravas controlled himself and continued with his oblations. But, would the boy keep quite? No. He dared to broach the topic a third time: ‘Father, to whom will you donate me?’ This was too much for Vaajashravas to bear. The chains of self-restraint gave way and he thundered, ‘Here! With this oblation to the sacrificial fire, I have offered you to Yama, the Lord of Death!’ We must appreciate that in those days, words meant a lot. When someone said something, it meant exactly what he said. No further interpretations or ratiocinations were necessary. So, what he said came to pass. His young boy fell dead on the floor! Nachiketa entered the portals of Lord Yama’s world, the world of the dead. But Yama was not there that day. He was probably visiting some other world at that time. Nachiketa had to wait for three days. When Yama returns, he sees that he has a young guest! Seeing a bright young boy standing at his door, waiting for his return, Yama says with concern in his voice, ‘O Brahmin Boy, you are worthy of my respect for two reasons – one, that you are a scion of a virtuous Brahmin family; two, that you are a welcome guest in my house. And you have stayed in my house without food and rest for three days! I offer my salutations to you, belated though it is. And peace be with you. I shall give you three boons for each night that you stayed here hungry, waiting for my return. Please ask for anything.’

Nachiketa then replies: ‘O Lord of Death, may my father’s anger on me disappear, and when I return to him, may he be able to recognize me as his own son. May this be granted to me as the first boon.

‘O Lord of Death, fire is the means of attaining heaven in our tradition. Teach me in detail about fire. May this be granted to me as the second boon.

‘O Lord of Death, after a man dies, some say he continues to live in other worlds, while some others contend that he ceases to exist. What is the truth about this? What happens to the soul after a man dies? Kindly grant this knowledge to me as the third boon.’

The Lord of Death fulfilled the first two prayers of Nachiketa. But he hesitated about the third boon! He suggested that Nachiketa should ask for something else as the third boon. But Nachiketa remains stubborn about his prayer. Yama then places before Nachiketa some very tempting offers.

‘Ask for sons and grandsons who will be illustrious and blessed with a long, healthy life. I will grant them to you instantly. Ask for thousands of livestock, war-elephants and steeds, even a massive kingdom. I will grant them to you instantly. Ask for a very long and eventful life. Ask for everything that men hold dear in this life. I will instantly grant them all to you. I shall grant you the best chariots equipped with the most wonderful music systems; I shall also give you the best maidens waiting upon you in attendance; get served by those maidens to your heart’s content. But, O Nachiketa, my boy, don’t ask me about what happens after death or about the Atman!’

Who indeed among men would be capable of resisting temptations such as these! People who sell their souls for just fifty or a hundred rupees – what resistance can we expect from such people to these incredible temptation that gods like Yama and others have to offer?! But then, this question doesn’t arise at all; because, Yama wouldn’t offer such high-priced bonanzas to everyone. For the masses, the only gift Yama gets to offer is death! But Nachiketa’s case was totally different. He wasn’t one to hanker after petty things. What he needed was something grand, something truly beneficial, something that would render his human birth utterly fulfilled. What he desperately sought was Atma-vidya, the Science of the Self! Therefore, when the great Lord of Death himself promised to grant him immeasurable wealth, with vast kingdoms to rule over, along with the best of maidens to serve him, Nachiketa’s famous reply was:

Shvobhaava martyasya yadantakaitat sarvedriyaanaam jarayanti tejaha;

Api sarvam jeevitam alpameva tavaiva vaahaastava nrityageete!

‘O Great Leveller, each and every incredible thing that you have on offer to me is ephemeral, momentary; I know this very well. Moreover, they destroy a person’s Dharma, Veerya, discernment, vigour and longevity. Therefore, these beautiful chariots, these enchanting maidens along with their song and dance – keep them with you; I don’t need them!’

Na vitthena tarpaneeyo manushyaha lapsyaamahe vitthamadraakshma chetthvaa;

Jeevishyaamo yaavadeeshishyasi tvam varastu mey varaneeyo sa eva!

‘O Great Leveller, all these wealth and glory never satisfy the soul! Moreover, having had the good fortune of seeing you in person, I am entitled to all this and much more, as a matter of course! You have also offered to grant me a long life. But this very post of the ‘Lord of Death’ that you hold now will one day come to an end. So, a boon granted by you too will one fine day come to an end and I will have to die! Therefore, I don’t need any of these wonderful things that you offer me. Kindly grant me the prayer that I asked for as the third boon.’

Ajeeryataam amritaanaam upetya jeeryan martyaha kvadhasthaha prajaanaan;

Abhidhyaayan varnarati pramodaan atidheergho jeevitey ko rameta?

‘O Great Leveller, gods, the denizens of the highest worlds, are supposed to be beyond aging, beyond the strictures of social hierarchy. But there is a joy way higher than the joy experienced even by those denizens of the highest worlds! We, of the mortal world, have to become old and die one day, no matter how long a life you grant us! Who indeed would then wish to remain engrossed in the most temporary joys of this mortal world?’

Hearing the mature words of supreme discernment from such a young boy, Yama, the great Lord of Death, was completely taken by surprise. He was also very pleased to behold such a unique boy. Having rejected the most intense temptations, this boy had firmly decided to go for the Science of the Atman! How could Yama not be pleased with such a rare soul, indeed! With great affection, he makes the boy sit beside him and proceeds to impart the subtlest of all sciences, the Science of the Atman:

Anyacchreyo anyadutaiva preyaha; te ubhe naanaarthe purusham sineethey;

Tayoh shreya aapadaanasya sadhu bhavati heeyatey arthaad ya u preyo vruneethey!

‘O Nachiketa, there is such a thing called Shreyas. There is a totally different thing called Preyas. Their utilities too are completely different. Great benefit accrues the man who chooses Shreyas. The one who chooses Preyas fails to attain life-fulfilment.’

The various incidents that we described above help us to clearly understand what Shreyas is and what again Preyas is. That which brings us the greatest good is Shreyas. That which is most pleasant to our mind and senses is Preyas. Since a paramour brings joy and happiness to our senses and mind, Sanskrit has a word for paramour, called ‘Preyasi’. Again, since a legally wedded wife opens up the path for life-fulfilment, the Sanskrit word for wife is ‘Shreyasi’. There are two highways along which men walk to lead their lives – the path of Pravritti, and the path of Nivritti. Worldliness is Pravritti. Spirituality is Nivritti. Marriage, children, wealth, property, power, social status – these are very dear to most people. Therefore these have been called ‘Preyas’. Yama, the Lord of Death, reveals a secret that those who choose these things that constitute Preyas fail to attain life-fulfilment. What do we mean by life-fulfillment? Becoming free, right here and now, even while living, is to be understood as life-fulfillment. This has been termed as ‘Moksha’ in our scriptures. Failing to achieve Moksha means the person will be subjected to repeated births and deaths. For, person will have to be born until he achieves life-fulfillment. However, Yama says that the greatest good comes to him who chooses Shreyas. What does that mean? That means, he will be freed from the repeated cycles of birth and death, and will attain the supreme joy consequent of attaining life-fulfillment. Then, Yama continues:

Shreyasch Preyascha manushyametey tau smapareetya vivinakti dheeraha;

Shreyohi dheerobhipreyaso vruneetey preyo mando yogakshemaat vruneetey!

‘Both these Shreyas and Preyas approach every human being during the course of one’s life. He that is wise and mature, analyses both of them, applies his discernment on both the options, introspects rightly about his priorities and chooses Shreyas by rejecting Preyas. But the so-called ‘worldly wise’ fool counts only the immediate requirements of his senses, ignorantly neglects to faint call of the Eternal, and chooses Preyas.’ Note that Yama calls the latter a fool! And he continues:

Sa tvam priyaan priyaroopamscha kaamaan Abhidhyaayan Nachiketotyasraaksheehi;

Naitaam srunkaam vitthamayeemavaapto yasyaam majjanti bahavo manushyaaha!

‘O Nachiketa! You have analyzed rightly. You have discerned the extremely short shelf-life of the things that appear endearing and have rejected Preyas. Most people get sucked into the whirlpool of lust and money. By rejecting their path, you have chosen what is eternally beneficial to you, indeed!’

We must appreciate the beauty of this entire conversation. Yama had voluntarily offered all sorts of goods and enjoyments. Even for a moment, if Nachiketa had considered, ‘Oh! All these are invaluable gifts offered by none other than the Lord of Death himself’ and had accepted them,….instantly, Yama would have classified him along with the rest of the ‘fools’!

There is yet another interesting point here. Lust and money are not just the curses of the modern age. Even in the days of the Upanishads, these have tormented human beings to no end. This is clear from Yama’s words. Yama has called it the ‘Vitthamaya Marga’; the Path of Vittha. Vittha is Sanskrit for money. The Path of Vittha symbolically means the path that leads to the repeated birth and death of a person. It had been decided long ago that life-fulfillment, or liberation of the soul, is impossible by means of any of our achievements in this world.

Yama further continues:

Sarve Veda yat padamaamananti tapaamsi sarvaani cha yadvadanti;

Yadicchanto brahmacharyam charanti tat te padam sangrahena braveemi;

Om ityetat!

‘O Nachiketa! That goal which is described in all the Vedas, that goal which is the culmination of all sorts of Tapas, that supreme goal which is the reason why all spiritual aspirants practice Brahmacharya, I shall tell you about that goal in brief – it is Om’.

Etadyevaaksharam Brahma etadyevaaksharam param;

Etadyevaaksharama jnaatvaa yo yadicchati tasya tat!

‘This syllable [i.e. this syllable called Om] indeed is Aparabrahman; this syllable indeed is Parabrahman. Aparabrahman means the manifested form of Parabrahman. In other words, all that we perceive through our senses is the Aparabrahman. It is also called Prakriti. There is however a subtle distinction here. Even though Prakriti is the manifested form of Parabrahman, Prakriti is not exactly this world that we see. A very gross form of manifestation of Prakriti is this world that we deal with in our daily lives. Prakriti is the causal form of this world. Parabrahman is beyond all senses. Parabrahman is beyond mind. It is pure consciousness. One has to understand that Om is symbolic of both Parabrahman and Aparabrahman. Having understood that, if one meditates on Om, he gets whatever he chooses.’

Etadaalambanam shrestham etadaalambanam param;

Etadaalambanam jnaatvaa Brahmaloke maheeyate!

‘This Om, which is symbolic of everything, is indeed the best means of attaining to Brahman. This Om, which is symbolic of everything, is indeed the greatest. He that understands Om as the symbol of everything achieves distinction among even the saints.’

The words that we seem to have proliferated in this article like Atman, Paramatma, Brahman, Parabrahman are all equivalents. They are synonyms. Nachiketa started out to know about the Atman. Yama spoke to him about the Parabrahman. He further taught him about the syllable Om. He taught Nachiketa that when Om is meditated upon as symbolic of both Atman [the imperishable reality in the human soul] and Parabrahman [the imperishable reality in this entire world], Nachiketa would get the answer he sought for.

Nachiketa, who had rejected Preyas, obtained this wonderful Shreyas and attained life-fulfillment.

***********

 

 

[1] See Appendix-A

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Author: Swami Vedatitananda

Monk of the Ramakrishna Order

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