Purity & Concentration

I will be placing before you five ideas today. These five ideas are very important for understanding the main ideas of today’s topic – Purity & Concentration. You see, I will not be speaking to you about Purity & Concentration per se, because, most of us assembled here already have a rough idea of these two concepts. I will try to fill in the gaps in our understanding regarding these concepts.

As I said, we all know sufficiently enough about Purity and Concentration. Yet we do not seem to grow in these two character traits. Why is that?

  • Principle of Gradation in Ideals:

Let us place a KG kid, a School boy, a College student, a Masters scholar, and a Research scientist, say for instance, Einstein, in a line, all standing one beside the other. We ask each one the same question, ‘What are you doing?’ The KG kid will say, ‘I am studying’. The School boy will say ‘I am studying’. The College student, let us hope, says ‘I am studying’, because, now-a-days, most students take admission in Colleges, not to study, but to “set right” the College and the University! Let us hope to get a good College student, in which case, he will certainly say ‘I am here for studying’. Next, we ask a Masters student the same question, and we will surely get the same answer. You see where this is going. Lastly, a true Research scholar like Einstein will also say, ‘I am studying this universe; I am learning how it works.’

Please notice that all of them are saying the same thing. But, what a world of difference lies between a KG kid saying ‘I am studying’ and an Einstein saying ‘I am studying’!

None of them is false. All of them are correct. We understand all of them are correct because we clearly understand that there is a gradation in the act of learning. Learning is not an absolute action. It has innumerable steps, innumerable gradations, and innumerable stages. And each of them is indeed called by the same name – learning. You may qualify it with words like lower learning and higher learning, but you will all agree that each one of them is indeed doing the same thing – learning. Thus, they are all doing same thing, although there is a difference in degree and not in kind.

We urgently need to understand this concept, especially with regard to ideals such as Purity. There is a clear gradation in ideals. Ideals are not absolute. To some extent we may consider that the lowest end and the highest end (as we understand them now[1]) are absolute, but there is a spectrum of ideals in-between. They are graded.

A School Inspector visited a school once. He went to Class-X and asked the students how many districts are there in West Bengal. He wanted to hear the correct answer which is 23. Since three new districts had been recently formed, he would also have been happy with the answer 20. But the students replied, ’75, 83, 64’ etc.! The answers were way off the mark. He was angry and asked the teacher to explain. The teacher said, “Sir, you should have seen them last year. They were in 250s and 300s. I have brought them down to the 60s and 70s. In a year or two, I will bring them to the correct number.”

So, do we understand that when a student is focusing entirely on his studies, a soldier is focusing entirely on fighting the enemy and defending his country, a doctor is focusing entirely on his surgery, saving the patient and healing the sick, a mason is focusing entirely on laying bricks and constructing a building – all of them are essentially as pure and as focused as a monk practicing unbroken Brahmacharya for the sake of God Realization? I do not mean that they are all equal, but, essentially the same. They are all like that string of KG kid, School student, etc. that we lined up.

There are grades in the level of purity and focus each one can achieve in one’s life. We must note that the action, per se, is not related to what level of purity or any other ideal is achieved. In fact, Vedanta holds that any action can assist us in manifesting the highest ideal in our personality. We shall deal with that concept some other time. Now we will try to understand this concept of gradation in ideals. Somehow we tend to think that these ideals such as Purity, Self-realization, God-vision, etc. are some absolute states of existence. They are not. They have infinite grades. You can imagine them as a continuum, or as a spectrum. On the one extreme, we exist. On the other, great souls like Buddha, Swami Vivekananda and Sri Ramakrishna. The in-between distance separating us from these great souls has infinite lower ideals of Purity, Self-realization and Visions of God, which we all will have to progressively conquer and move ahead. Each of these lower ideals can grow into the one next to it in the hierarchy till it culminates in the manifestation of the ideal we see in these great souls.

Sri Ramakrishna was a married man. He worshipped his own wife as the Divine Mother! We all understand this manifestation of the ideal in Sri Ramakrishna as ‘Purity’. Well, that is one extreme of the spectrum. Can you understand that raising a family, being loyal to one wife only, your entire life, is the same ideal manifested on a little lower level? Can you understand that when a student rejects a distraction of playing video games and immerses himself in single-minded study of his subjects, that is also a manifestation of the same ideal of purity, of course, on a much, much lower level? When we understand this connection, we will start making progress in manifesting these ideals in our own lives.

A man took his son to be admitted in Shantiniketan. He asked in the Office, “What all do you teach here?” The Officer was proud of his Institution and explained, “We have a school; then we have a multi-disciplinary College, where we teach the Arts, Science and Commerce; we have Masters in various disciplines; we also do Research in cutting-edge areas such as Microbiology, nano-technology, etc.” The man was impressed. He asked his son to be admitted into the Ph.D course in Microbiology. The Officer wanted to meet his son. He was a boy of 4 years! The boy’s father could not understand that he had to be admitted into the KG School, first of all. He would study diligently, year after year, passing each class, moving ahead into College, then Masters and then into Ph.D course! He could not be admitted directly into the Ph.D Course! This is the mistake we all make.

There is a beautiful Sufi story. A Sufi saint was very hungry. He went to a road-side hotel and asked for Roti and Tarka. He ate the 1st roti. He was still hungry. He ate another one, and another one till he ate the 5th Roti and he was satisfied. He went to pay the bill. Each Roti cost Rs.5, so he was asked to pay Rs. 25. He started abusing the Hotel owner, “You cheat! I will pay only Rs.5! You should have given me the 5th Roti first. In order to make money, you gave the useless 4 Rotis and now you want Rs.25?” This is the mistake we all make. The extreme form of the ideal, we all understand. It alone appeals to us. What about the intermediate steps? Who will achieve those?

A young Engineer was attending a job interview. After the interview was over, the interviewer asked him, “Do you have any questions?” The young man asked, “Sir, what will be the salary?” The interviewer said, “You are a fresher. We will put you on two years’ probation, during which period, we will pay you Rs.10,000 per month. After your probationership is completed, we will put into the Rs.16,500 scale. Understood?” The young Engineer replied, “Yes Sir. I will join after two years.”

Let us do our allotted duty, sincerely, devotedly. We will continue to do this till the next higher stage opens out to us. This way, stage by stage, we will one day reach the highest.

Swami Vivekananda says[2], “When you are doing any work, do not think of anything beyond. Do it as worship, as the highest worship, and devote your whole life to it for the time being. Thus, in the story, the Vyadha and the woman did their duty with cheerfulness and whole-heartedness; and the result was that they became illuminated, clearly showing that the right performance of the duties of any station in life, without attachment to results, leads us to the highest realization of the perfection of the soul.

It is the worker who is attached to results that grumbles about the nature of the duty which has fallen to his lot; to the unattached worker all duties are equally good, and form efficient instruments with which selfishness and sensuality may be killed, and the freedom of the soul secured. We are all apt to think too highly of ourselves. Our duties are determined by our deserts to a much larger extent than we are willing to grant. Competition rouses envy, and it kills the kindliness of the heart. To the grumbler all duties are distasteful; nothing will ever satisfy him, and his whole life is doomed to prove a failure. Let us work on, doing as we go whatever happens to be our duty, and being ever ready to put our shoulders to the wheel. Then surely shall we see the Light!

Right now, if we desire to achieve the highest, it will end in frustration, which is what we see in most people around us. We tend to think in absolutist terms. We aim directly for the final stage. We don’t realize the value of the stages preceding the final stage. There is a reason we fail to do this.

Compared to the highest stage, the preceding stages look like errors. Take Purity for instance. We all understand the manifestation of this ideal in a monk’s personality. A monk looks upon all women as his own mother. He is thus able to eschew all sexuality in himself. That is the main reason why people look worshipfully at a monk. We all understand this ideal easily. This stage of the ideal of Purity is called ‘Akhanda Naishtika Brahmacharya’. Now, the step lower to this is – looking upon all women, except one, as your own mother. There will however be one woman, his lawfully wedded wife, with whom the person will have sexual relations. This is an ideal of Purity, recognized by our Scriptures, and called by the term ‘Eka-patni-vrata’. Now, compared to the stage of ‘Akhanda Naishtika Brahmacharya’, this stage of ‘Eka-patni-vrata’ appears like a compromise or an opposite state of existence, or degeneration, or even as hypocrisy or ‘adjustment’ as we call it today! Today’s child plays with dolls, and tomorrow he grows up to rule the entire nation as the Prime Minister, let us say. Do we hold the Prime Minister to be a lesser man because he played with dolls as a child? Of course, if the present day Prime Minister were to play with dolls and while away his time, that would indeed be pathetic. The ‘Eka-patni-vrata’ ideal of purity is indeed a compromise and hypocrisy, and a fall, if a monk were to adopt that ideal. But, if a married man were to realize the ‘Eka-patni-vrata’ ideal of purity and raise himself to the next higher ideal of ‘Akhanda Naishtika Brahmacharya’, wouldn’t that be progress?

Recall Sri Ramakrishna’s repeated exhortation as recorded in the Gospel[3]: “You should not renounce woman, completely. It is not harmful for a householder to live with his wife. But after the birth of one or two children, husband and wife should live as brother and sister.

What is most interesting to note is that our ancient scriptures speak of this kind of purity also as Akhanda Brahmacharya! In the Ramayana, there is an incident. Ravana’s son Indrajit had to be killed in battle. Indrajit had a boon that he could only be killed by one who was established in the ideal of Akhanda Brahmacharya. And do you know who killed him finally? It was Lakshmana! He was a married man, and yet he was established in this high ideal! Purity therefore has many subtle shades. We have Akhanda Naishtika Brahmacharya, which means the person will be pure in thought-word-deed all his life. Then we have the Urdhvaretas Akhanda Brahmacharya, which means the person has had a couple of kids and thereafter has been pure in thought-word-deed. This is the ideal that Sri Ramakrishna spells out so beautifully in the passage quoted above. The other name for this ideal is Eka-patni-vrata, or Pativrata Dharma. Then we have the Upakurvana Akhanda Brahmacharya, which means the person is pure in thought-word-deed for a certain period of his life, such as a student. This is the reason why every student was called a Brahmachari in ancient India and the word student and Brahmachari were synonyms. This person doesn’t follow Akhanda Brahmacharya all his life, which would have made him an Akhanda Naishtika Brahmachari. He follows Akhanda Brahmacharya for some time in his life. Then he marries and begets children. Thereafter, he again takes up the practice of the Akhanda Brahmacharya. And now he raises himself to the ideal of Urdhvaretas Akhanda Brahmacharya. Note however that in every case, the ideal has to be Akhanda, which means ‘unbroken’. How is it unbroken if he can get married and begets children? The Akhanda stands for alignment of thought and deed, a vital point which we shall see a little later. As and when we are practicing the ideal, our thoughts, words and deed must be in unison. You can’t have a fractured personality where thoughts are on one path and deeds are elsewhere.

Look at the following words of Sri Ramakrishna[4]: “To sit with a woman or talk to her a long time has also been described as a kind of sexual intercourse. There are eight kinds. To listen to a woman and enjoy her conversation is one kind; to speak about a woman is another kind; to whisper to her privately is a third kind; to keep something belonging to a woman and enjoy it is a fourth kind; to touch her is a fifth. Therefore a sannyasin should not salute his guru’s young wife, touching her feet. These are the rules for sannyasins. But the case is quite different with householders. After the birth of one or two children, the husband and wife should live as brother and sister. The other seven kinds of sexual intercourse do not injure them much. A householder has various debts: debts to the gods, to the fathers, and to the rishis. He also owes a debt to his wife. He should make her the mother of one or two children and support her if she is a chaste woman.

Many serious persons have asked me if Sri Ramakrishna is making a ‘concession’ here for the married man. Let us understand that there can be no concession in spiritual life. But there can certainly be more than one path to achieve the same ideal! So, no matter what the social status of a person is, the culmination of the ideal of purity remains the same. But the path to realizing that ideal various depending on the social status adopted by the person. Hence, if one is a monk, a particular path is prescribed. As Sri Ramakrishna specifies so beautifully, “To sit with a woman or talk to her a long time has also been described as a kind of sexual intercourse. There are eight kinds. To listen to a woman and enjoy her conversation is one kind; to speak about a woman is another kind; to whisper to her privately is a third kind; to keep something belonging to a woman and enjoy it is a fourth kind; to touch her is a fifth. Therefore a sannyasin should not salute his guru’s young wife, touching her feet. These are the rules for sannyasins.” If one is a married man, the path to realizing the very same ideal is a different one. Note that Sri Ramakrishna does not say that the highest ideal itself is different. But, the path for the latter is indeed very different. “But the case is quite different with householders. After the birth of one or two children, the husband and wife should live as brother and sister. The other seven kinds of sexual intercourse do not injure them much. A householder has various debts: debts to the gods, to the fathers, and to the rishis. He also owes a debt to his wife. He should make her the mother of one or two children and support her if she is a chaste woman.

Anyway, what is required urgently is this – people steadily progressing in manifesting higher and higher stages of a particular ideal. We shall have the maturity to understand that these people have struggled and succeeded and have not failed. It is progress in human evolution even on a personal level, and not retrogression and therefore personal failure.

We say this understanding is urgently required because, today’s education system and new means of accessing information have enabled millions of people to intellectually grasp the highest ideals. However, such is the irony of human existence that this heightened intellectual understanding does not enable these millions in understanding the principle of gradation in ideals! Regarding Purity, almost everyone here in this Hall today clearly recognizes the value of the Ideal manifested in Sri Ramakrishna or in Swami Vivekananda. But, most of us are unable to link up our present state of existence with that highest manifestation of the ideal. As a result, we spend our entire lives in frustration. We have witnessed the highest ideal, but we are unable to live up to it. So, our entire life is spent in hating ourselves for not being able to live up to the highest ideal. And that is the bane of Indian society. We have to recognize the validity of each stage of the ideal, and not get caught up in the blaze and glory of the highest ideal only. Swami Vivekananda very beautifully pointed this out repeatedly in his lectures, when he said:

If one studies the Vedas between the lines, one sees a religion of harmony; One point of difference between Hinduism and other religions is that in Hinduism we pass from truth to truth – from a lower truth to a higher truth – and never from error to truth. The Vedas should be studied through the eye-glass of evolution. They contain the whole history of the progress of religious consciousness, until religion has reached perfection in unity.[5]

I fully agree with the educated classes in India that a thorough overhauling of society is necessary. But how to do it? The destructive plans of reformers have failed. My plan is this. We have not done badly in the past, certainly not. Our society is not bad but good, only I want it to be better still. Not from error to truth, nor from bad to good, but from truth to higher truth, from good to better, best. I tell my countrymen that so far they have done well – now is the time to do better.[6]

You must remember that humanity travels not from error to truth, but from truth to truth; it may be, if you like it better, from lower truth to higher truth, but never from error to truth. Suppose you start from here and travel towards the sun in a straight line. From here the sun looks only small in size. Suppose you go forward a million miles, the sun will be much bigger. At every stage the sun will become bigger and bigger. Suppose twenty thousand photographs had been taken of the same sun, from different standpoints; these twenty thousand photographs will all certainly differ from one another. But can you deny that each is a photograph of the same sun?[7]

Man never progresses from error to truth, but from truth to truth, from lesser truth to higher truth – but it is never from error to truth. The child may develop more than the father, but was the father inane? The child is the father plus something else. If your present state of knowledge is much greater than it was when you were a child, would you look down upon that stage now? Will you look back and call it inanity? Why, your present stage is the knowledge of the child plus something more. Then, again, we also know that there may be almost contradictory points of view of the same thing, but they will all indicate the same thing. Suppose a man is journeying towards the sun, and as he advances he takes a photograph of the sun at every stage. When he comes back, he has many photographs of the sun, which he places before us. We see that not two are alike, and yet, who will deny that all these are photographs of the same sun, from different standpoints? Take four photographs of this church from different corners: how different they would look, and yet they would all represent this church. In the same way, we are all looking at truth from different standpoints, which vary according to our birth, education, surroundings, and so on. We are viewing truth, getting as much of it as these circumstances will permit, colouring the truth with our own heart, understanding it with our own intellect, and grasping it with our own mind. We can only know as much of truth as is related to us, as much of it as we are able to receive. This makes the difference between man and man, and occasions sometimes even contradictory ideas; yet we all belong to the same great universal truth.[8]

It is too often believed that a person in his progress towards perfection passes from error to truth; that when he passes on from one thought to another, he must necessarily reject the first. But no error can lead to truth. The soul passing through its different stages goes from truth to truth, and each stage is true; it goes from lower truth to higher truth.[9]

We do not progress from error to truth, but from truth to truth. Thus we must see that none can be blamed for what they are doing, because they are, at this time, doing the best they can. If a child has an open razor, don’t try to take it from him, but give him a red apple or a brilliant toy, and he will drop the razor. But he who puts his hand in the fire will be burned; we learn only from experience.[10]

Spiritual giants like the Avataras and Prophets reveal various stages of the spiritual ideals. The extreme ideal for the monks was revealed long ago in the Upanishads. There was however nothing similar for the married man, as such, until Sri Ramakrishna and Holy Mother Sri Sharada Devi revealed the extreme stage of the ideal of Purity for the married people. We must be very careful not to get confused here. The ideals for the monk cannot be the same as the ideals for the married man. No, that would lead to social chaos and personal degeneration. Depending on what lifestyle one wants to follow, different stages of same ideal are applicable. But, there is a clear connection in these stages of the ideals. One grows into the other and in the end, they will culminate in the monastic ideal, which is indeed the highest manifestation possible. Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Sharada Devi remained married throughout their life; but they were able to manifest a level of purity that was totally monastic in nature. Not only did they manifest it, they were able to get some of their disciples such as Tarak Nath Ghoshal, Rakhal Chandra Ghosh, Jogendranath and Durga Charan Nag to manifest the same level of the ideal of Purity.

Recall that in the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna had declared, “Dharma-aviruddho bhuteshu Kama asmi”. The Lord Himself had declared, “I am that desire in all human beings that is not opposed to Dharma[11].” Sri Krishna said it very plainly; he is himself manifesting as lust and desire, which are unopposed to Dharma; that means unopposed to a lifestyle which assists in personal evolution of man. In the scheme of evolution of human beings, personal tendencies matter. Some will be able to live without any of the major human emotions and urges playing any role in their entire life. Many there are who seek human emotional support. These people constitute human society everywhere. These people recognize and adopt rules and regulations to live by. Human beings everywhere, at all times, have exhibited this ability to conform to rules and regulations regarding personal and social life. This sort of existence leads to concrete personal growth over a period of time. That is the Dharma that Sri Krishna is speaking of here. So, basically what Sri Krishna is saying is this: there are well-defined means of experiencing all those urges in our life, which, ordinarily speaking, we would consider as ‘Impure’. Human beings have innumerable urges – hunger, sleep, recognition by peers, prestige and status in society, possessions, enjoying through various senses, procreation, etc. Strictly speaking, all these urges constitute Impurity. So, if we wish to achieve Purity, we need to eschew all of these. That is the ordinary understanding. What Sri Ramakrishna & Sri Sharada Devi showed in their lives, what Sri Krishna said in the Bhagavad Gita is – we need not eschew all of these urges at once, because for most of us, it is impossible to do so at once. We shall enjoy all these urges, but strictly within the rules and regulations stipulated by every society. We must realize that these rules and regulations are ubiquitous and never universal.

So, we will be able to transcend the lower ideals and reach for the next higher ones by following this scheme of life. How do we transcend the lower ideals? We will deal with this idea in another article. Suffice it to say that deification is the central idea in this process.

  • Faith in the Law of Karma:

This brings us to the next idea I want to explain to you today. We must develop a faith in the Law of Karma. What do I mean by this? We must believe that we can put in effort and gain results commensurate with the efforts we put in. Every culture, every civilization, every society has some version or the other of this Law operative within its framework. As we sow, so shall we reap. No pain, no gain. Our efforts have a direct correlation with shaping our lives.

Do you know where the problem lies? Most of us are products are circumstances. Our Will has no role in shaping our lives. The reasons for this state of affairs in India are many. Centuries of political slavery, millennia of Caste restrictions on individual creativity and social upward mobility, millennia of social security from the Caste system independent of personal efficiency, and general weakness and laziness in individuals are some of the reasons that Swami Vivekananda identified and addressed.

It is interesting to note that Swamiji identified one more reason which has direct bearing on the topic we are discussing today. That is – the impact of Buddhist reformation of Hinduism. Swamiji opines that when Buddha said that the goal of life is Nirvana and the only path to Nirvana is through monasticism, he laid the seeds of the national degeneration that we see today! What this means is very interesting: Married life has no fundamental meaning. All the activities that people engage in – family, occupation, economic activity, political activity, wealth generation, nothing has any value, if you have to finally let go everything and embrace monastic vows! This idea has seeped deep down into the national mind. But then, not everyone can renounce everything, all at once. Desire for enjoyment is not so easily given up, no matter even if Buddha, Jesus or Sri Ramakrishna preaches it! Hence the urge to enjoy remains within, but simultaneously, the ultimate futility of all actions is also drummed into us through the ages.

As a result, we have today developed a defeatist mentality, a fatalist attitude towards life. We feel we can get a particular result only if that result is “given” to us. Our efforts do not matter. We have developed elaborate justifications for our wonderful attitude. Take the case of students. Why won’t the boys study hard? What is the use of studying! The seats/jobs are finally bagged by those who have ‘connections’; if your father is rich, you can settles properly in life, else, there is no hope. Or they talk of Fate and destiny. They bring in Astrology and similar hocus-pocus ideas! Ideas like these are the direct consequence of not having faith in the Law of Karma. Take up any situation and you will find our people giving you a dozen reasons why it can’t be solved; hardly does anyone come up with solutions. We have internalized the habit of expecting results in our lives without spending the requisite amount of energy or time for the same. Personal effort is considered meaningless. Everything in life, be it material prosperity or spiritual growth, has to come from somebody as a gift. That is the mindset right now. Naturally, the direct fallout of this national attitude is that we look down upon anyone doing well in this world. If there is a man who works hard, we make fun of him. Earning money is seen as unethical. Generating wealth by hard work is considered as immoral. When the ideal of monastic poverty is imposed upon everyone in society, when such an ideal is praised to the skies day and night, and everyone in society feels he has to either aim for that or he is a failure in life, this outcome is quite natural.

Many guardians come to me and say, “Maharaj, please place your hand on my son’s head and bless him.” I do not understand this. That boy won’t study. He had no faith in the fundamental law of cause and effect, but he has faith that my placing hand on his stupid head will lift his marks up! Amazing! Young boys come to me and say, “Maharaj, I can’t control my mind.” What the hell can I do about it? It is his mind. If he can’t control it, who can? They read some stupid thing about some holy man blessing some other yet-to-be-holy-man in some book and how that blessing led to complete control of his mind. They think we should do the same thing! What madness!

This mindset has to change urgently.

And the fun is – the opposites look alike! The fully developed man and the imbecile look very similar from outside. There is no way to distinguish superficially between a wise man and an idiot. And quite often, the wise one has to accept defeat at the hands of the fool!

Listen to a beautiful story in this connection: Many, many years ago, back in the Middle Ages, the Pope was urged by his advisors to banish the Jews from Rome. They said that it was unseemly that these people should be living unmolested in the very center of Catholicism. An edict of eviction was drawn up and promulgated much to the dismay of the Jews who knew that wherever else they went they could only expect worse treatment than was meted out to them in Rome. So they pleaded with the Pope to reconsider the edict.

The Pope, a fair-minded man, offered them a sporting proposition: Let the Jews appoint someone to debate with him in pantomime. If their spokesman won, the Jews might stay.

The Jews met to consider this proposal. To turn it down was to be evicted from Rome. To accept it was to court certain defeat, for who could win a debate in which the Pope was both participant and judge? Still, there was nothing for it but to accept. Only, it was impossible to find someone to volunteer for the task of debating with the Pope. The burden of having the fate of the Jews on his shoulders was more than anyone man could bear. Now when the synagogue janitor heard what was going on he came before the Chief Rabbi and volunteered to represent his people in the debate. “The janitor?” said the other rabbis when they heard of this. “Impossible!”  “Well,” said the chief Rabbi, “None of us is willing. It is either the janitor or no debate.” Thus for lack of anyone else the janitor was appointed to debate with the Pope.

When the great day arrived, the Pope sat on a throne in St Peter’s square surrounded by his cardinals, facing a large crowd of bishops, priests and faithful. Presently, the little Jewish delegation arrived, in their black robes and flowing beards, with the janitor in their midst. The Pope turned to face the janitor and the debate began.

The Pope solemnly raised one finger and traced it across the heavens. The janitor promptly pointed with emphasis towards the ground. The Pope seemed somewhat taken aback. Even more solemnly he raised one finger again and kept it firmly before the Janitor’s face. The janitor thereupon lifted three fingers and held them just as firmly before the Pope who seemed astonished by the gesture. Then the Pope thrust his hand into his robes and pulled out an apple. Whereupon the janitor thrust his hand into his paper bag and pulled out a flat piece of matzo-bread.

At this the Pope explained in a loud voice, “The Jewish representative has won the debate. The edict of eviction is hereby revoked.”

The Jewish leaders promptly surrounded the janitor and led him away.

The cardinals clustered around the Pope in astonishment. “What happened, your Holiness?” they asked. “It was impossible for us to follow the rapid thrust and parry of the debate.” The Pope wiped the sweat from his forehead and said, “That man is a brilliant theologian, a master in debate. I began by sweeping my hand across the sky to indicate that the whole universe belongs to God. He thrust his finger downward to remind me that there is a place called Hell where the devil reigns supreme. I then raised one finger to signify that God is one. Imagine my shock when he raised three fingers to indicate that this one God manifests Himself equally in three persons, thereby subscribing to our own doctrine of the Trinity! Knowing that it was impossible to get the better of this theological genius I finally shifted the debate to another area. I pulled out an apple to indicate that according to some new-fangled ideas the earth is round. He instantly produced a flat piece of unleavened bread to remind me that, according to the Bible, the earth is flat. So there was nothing to do but concede the victory to him.”

By now the Jews had arrived at their synagogue. “What happened?” they asked the janitor in bewilderment. The janitor was indignant. “It was all a lot of rubbish,” he said. “Look. First the Pope moves his hand like he is telling all the Jews to get out of Rome. So I pointed downwards to make it clear to him that we were not going to budge. So he points a finger to me threateningly as if to say, ‘Don’t get fresh with me.’ So I point three fingers to tell him he was thrice as fresh with us when he arbitrarily ordered us out of Rome. The next thing, I see him taking out his lunch. So I took out mine.”

Like I said before, opposites look alike! The fully developed man and the imbecile look very similar from outside. But what an ocean of difference exists between them, really!

You have heard of Henry Ford. He was a great Engineer and invented the Assembly Line Manufacturing system and revolutionized manufacturing of Cars. The General Motors Company that he founded is one of the most successful industries of the world. He had the habit of walking along the beaches of New York every morning. One day, while he was on his morning walk, he saw a young man sleeping in a boat on the shore. Ford was deeply disturbed seeing this young man snoring in the morning. He kicked him awake and shouted, “Aren’t you ashamed, sleeping into the morning?” “Well, Sir, what should I rather be doing?” asked the hapless young fellow, rubbing his eyes. “Get to work.” “And…?” “Earn money, save some money for your old age, make a name of yourself.” “And…?” “Then you can enjoy your life!” The young man said, “I was actually doing that, until you woke me up!” This is the terrible tendency I am trying to explain. We wish to achieve the final stage, bypassing all intermediate stages and that too, without any effort on our part!

Anyway, we were speaking of the importance of self-effort in shaping our own lives. If we work hard, using our brains, we can achieve what we desire. We don’t need gifts from others. The entire universe is ready to give us our results, if only we exert ourselves. Nobody has special claim or monopoly on any achievement. If we strive hard, anyone of us can achieve what any other man has already achieved. This belief in one’s own capacity to raise oneself has to be awakened within each one of us urgently in India. This belief is vital for making any progress towards the ideals of Purity or Concentration in our lives. In the ancient Indian society, this belief was called ‘Dharma’. A person who so believed was called ‘Dharmika’, a righteous man. It is in this sense we must understand Sri Krishna’s words to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, “Svalpamapyasya Dharmasya, trayate mahato bhayat”.

We must learn how to deal with our mind. You know, Swamiji once said, “Men are taught from childhood that they are weak and sinners. Teach them that they are all glorious children of immortality, even those who are the weakest in manifestation. Let positive, strong, helpful thought enter into their brains from very childhood. Lay yourselves open to these thoughts, and not to weakening and paralyzing ones. Say to your own minds, ‘I am He, I am He.’ Let it ring day and night in your minds like a song, and at the point of death declare ‘I am He.’ That is the Truth; the infinite strength of the world is yours. Drive out the superstition that has covered your minds. Let us be brave. Know the Truth and practice the Truth. The goal may be distant, but awake, arise, and stop not till the goal is reached.[12]

Each statement in this passage is a powerful mantra. I draw your attention specifically to the words, “Let positive, strong, helpful thought enter into their brains from very childhood.” Do you want to understand the meaning of these words? Listen to a story:

Once there was a king, who was losing his hair and was getting bald. He announced that a doctor who would cure him of his baldness would be rewarded handsomely and if a doctor tried and failed, he would be killed. Many doctors lost their lives. The situation became ridiculous. The Prime Minister then stepped in. He gave the King a bottle of oil and said, “Your Majesty, this is magical oil. It cures baldness. Use it for one month in the morning and luxurious hair will grow again on your head. There is, however, one small condition you need to manage. Never think about mangoes when you apply this oil on your head.” The King was very happy. Next morning he was about to apply the oil on his head and then remembered the advice of his Prime Minister. He must not think about mangoes. Ah! But the pictures of ripe, big mangoes came to his mind. He felt angry with himself and threw away the oil he had taken in his hand. He would try the next morning. Again the same situation! One month passed like this and he was unable to apply the oil at all!

Do you understand what happened here? The mind has a very strange characteristic. It simply cannot understand the words ‘Don’t’. It doesn’t understand negative language. Our mind responds only to positive ideas! The king went on telling his mind ‘don’t think of mangoes’ and all his mind did was to first think of mangoes and then remove the pictures of mangoes from the mind! The king could have translated that condition to ‘let me think of apples before applying this oil’, and he would have succeeded!

We must train ourselves to deal with our minds properly. Merely wishing about a particular state won’t do. We must know how to get our mind to actually work on that idea. Some boys here in the hall asked me yesterday about distractions that accompany adolescence and how to get rid of them. Look at the technique I showed you here. You can’t tell yourself ‘I will not be impure’ and become pure. That is impossible. You must not give your mind any opportunity to recognize any impurity at all. Immerse yourself in your duty, in what you are supposed to be doing in your station of life. That is the way to Purity. You must know the tricks of the trade and then you must apply yourself industriously to it. That is how growth happens. Merely wishing for growth leads only to frustration.

  • Have a clear Goal:

Many students ask me how to develop Will-power. You see, they are serious students. It is not a time-pass question they are asking me. Distractions can be overcome and one can get immersed on the job at hand only if one has sufficient Will-power. Only a clear goal can give us Will-power. Please note the words I have used: A Clear Goal. What do I mean by this? Supposing you have a vague goal such ‘I will be a good boy’, it won’t work. Nobody has an idea as to what constitutes a ‘good boy’. I enjoy reading Calvin & Hobbes cartoons. You should see the dilemma he faces during Christmas time! His parents have told him that if he isn’t a good boy, Santa Claus won’t bring him gifts on Christmas Day. And he faces dozens of temptations for mischief each day! How does he deal with them? He keeps on shifting his definition of ‘good boy’ and appoints a lawyer to plead his version of ‘good boy’ to Santa Claus!

So the goal has to be concrete. There must be clear deliverables and not vague terms in our conception of our goal. Again, the goal cannot be the highest goal we have set our eyes on. We will never be able to reach that from where we are. We will have to break down that high goal into a series of smaller, achievable goals. These smaller goals must be achievable by us on a daily basis. Daily personal victories are important. Each such victory strengthens us in our struggle. Otherwise, we will be like the Absent-minded Professor taking a taxi ride. An absent minded professor once entered into a taxi in a great hurry and told the driver, “Go as fast as you can.” After some time, the professor realized that he hadn’t told the driver the destination. He asked him, “Did I tell you where to go?” “No Sir. But I am going as fast as I can!”

  • Focus:

From the deliberations we have had till now, we understand the following points: We need ideals. Ideals are the magnets that draw our soul and consequently shape our personality. It is easy to understand the highest manifestation of any Ideal. But our drawback is that we are very often unable to connect the highest Ideal with our present state of existence. In other words, there is a clear distance, insurmountable, between the highest ideal and where we are now. So, we need to identify a dozen smaller ideals which together accumulate and build up into the highest ideal. When we do identify such smaller ideals, we are often foxed by how contradictory they all appear, and we are unable to understand how such self-contradictory ideals ever sum up to the highest ideal, which has no blemish at all! Yet, that is the only way forward for all of us. We do not have any other way forward. So we need to understand how to talk to our own mind so that we can coax out the result we want from it.

Anyway, the most important smaller ideal, the most important immediate ideal is to train ourselves to do the work that is nearest at hand. This brings us to the idea of Focus. I hold that Focus is more important than concentration in our lives at present. We need to concentrate on the smaller ideal, but never losing sight of the higher and next higher ideals at the same time.

Listen to a story: A Father went up to a mason who was doing some construction work and asked him what he was doing. He looked up with irritation and said, “Can’t you see, Father, I am laying bricks. I put one brick here, put some mortar on it, then lay another brick, and so on.” A little farther away on the same site, another mason was also working. The Father asked him the same thing. This man, however, said, “Father, I am building a wall.” Yet farther away, on the very same site, yet another mason was doing the same job. The Father asked him too, the very same question, “My man, what are you doing?” This mason replied, “Father, I am building a Cathedral.” Notice that all three masons were doing the exactly same job – put one brick in place, apply some mortar over it, check its straightness, then place another brick, and so on. But the third mason had a very clear focus on where his work was headed.

A lion was once training his young cub in the art of kingship. The lion said, “My son, we are the kings of the Jungle. We are the strongest.” The cub, with its little round eyes asked, “Is that so? Really? Are we stronger than a deer, with all its elaborate antlers and all?” The lion roared, “What! A deer? Uh! We eat that poor animal for our food!” A little distance away, in that same Jungle, there was indeed a deer grazing. The cub had seen it. The deer also had seen this father-son duo discussing something, and it was alert. The cub asked its father, “Can you show me that you are indeed stronger than that deer over there? Can you catch him?” The lion felt sorry for his little son and started running towards that deer. The deer immediately sensed the danger and started running away from the lion, and soon escaped to safety. The lion had to return to his cub, disappointed, but with its head held high. The cub could not understand the entire thing. The lion said, “Look, there is an important lesson here for you. I was running to show you that I am stronger than the deer. The deer was running for his life.”

Focus lets us connect the small actions we do right now to ‘running for our life”, to the highest ideal. If we lose sight of the end in view, we do not make sense of what we are doing right now. We feel that our present actions are meaningless. No, they are not meaningless. Each small act we do now adds up and leads us to the highest, if we are able to correctly align our present actions to the end in view. Supposing I keep my eyes on a point A, and start moving towards that point from where I am right now; my feet have to be perfectly aligned with my line of sight. Once that alignment is done, give it time, place one foot before the other, repeatedly, and I will be at point A. Now, consider the following scenario. My eyes are on point A. but my feet are slightly turned away from that line of sight, say by a couple of degrees only. At the starting point, none of us will be able to discern this deviation. But, give it time, place one foot before the other repeatedly, and in a few hours’ time, I would have ended up at point B, which is a few kilometers away from point A! Note that the angular distance of a mere two degrees at the beginning ends up with a few kilometers separation over time.

In English, we have two words, focus and concentration. In Sanskrit however, the one word Ekagrata is sufficient for both these English words. Eka means one; agra means pointed. Thus the word refers to a mind that is one pointed. It is a mind that doesn’t have many branches. The mind thinks, it feels, it remembers, it decides and it gives the command for action. Thus a one-pointed mind will have all these different functions aligned.

Focus is what helps us evaluate whether we are moving in the right direction or not. Focus helps us diagnose whether our thoughts and actions are aligned to each other. If that alignment is missing, we may have our eyes on the highest ideal all the while, but we will end up very far away from it after a couple of years! That is what happens with many of us on the spiritual path of self-improvement.

Many guardians come to me and say, “You know, Maharaj, my son studies all the time.” But I ask, if he really studies all the time, why are his grades so poor? What exactly does studying mean? Sitting before an opened book? What about the mind? What about his attention?

Attention gets distracted. Many of you sit for studying with your mobile phones nearby. Just when you have started entering the subject matter, there is a ‘ping’ sound from your phone. Some notification has arrived. You simply can’t control the urge to see what it is. Your intentions are really very good; you will just see what it is, and close the phone, and resume studying. But, that notification opens up another world and you end up spending 30 minutes on Facebook or Twitter! Is concentration the problem here or focus?

How do we overcome distractions? This is a question asked to me by many youngsters. Have you watched how lions hunt? I haven’t seen it in real life, but I saw it on a National Geographic video long ago. Let me explain what they do. The lion marks its prey, say a deer. The deer is grazing grass peacefully. The lion walks stealthily towards the deer, crouching so that the deer doesn’t see any movement. Generally the lion walks from behind the deer. Remember, it is the Jungle this is happening. Many dried twigs are lying on the ground. The lion’s paw steps on one such dried twig, and it breaks. There is a sound that comes from that twig breaking. That is not a natural sound of the Jungle. The deer is very alert to the natural sounds of the Jungle. This was not a natural sound. This sound comes only when some animal steps on a twig and it breaks. The deer knows that. It immediately stops eating, looks up and around. The lion too realizes the mistake it made. It just freezes in its tracks. The stalemate goes on for a few minutes. When no further unnatural sound comes, the deer relaxes and goes back to its grazing. The lion then lifts its paw to its mouth and bites hard till blood comes out! Do you know why it does this? Since that paw is wounded, it will not place it fully on the ground and no further unnatural sounds from breaking twigs will scare the deer away!

This is called Tapas in our Hindu Scriptures. This is the only way to overcome distractions. Can you punish yourself for digressions? If others punish you, you become angry. Why don’t you do it yourself? That is the path for self-improvement. We saw how to deal with wrong thoughts in our mind, in the bald king’s story. Now we see here in this lion’s example how to deal with our wrong actions. This is how we slowly grow.

  • Responsibility:

The last point I wish to place before you today is – Responsibility. Let me tell you a story to explain this very important point.

You all know that Bhagawan Buddha, before he arrived at the Truth, was an earnest seeker by the name Siddhartha Gautama. One summer day he was walking in the forest and he came upon a beautiful lake. It had cool, clear water and he felt like taking a bath. He slowly entered the water, had a bath, felt refreshed and as he was about to come out of the lake, he saw some beautiful lotus flowers in bloom at the far end of the lake. He went near the flowers, bent down and smelled the heavenly fragrance of the flowers. Then he came out of the lake and started wearing clothes.

At that moment, a Yaksha, a demigod materialized before him. The Yaksha said, “Say, young monk, how dare you enter my lake without obtaining my permission?” The Yaksha berated Gautama for quite some time. Gautama’s head was bent down in shame. He wanted to say that he had no idea that the lake had a caretaker, but he never got a chance to put in a word; the Yaksha was relentless in his scolding.

In the meantime, a King’s nobleman rode up to the lake on horseback. He too saw the cool, clear waters on that hot summer day, tied his horse to a tree, tore his clothes apart and jumped into the lake. He splashed around for a long time, making the clear water all murky. When he had finished his sporting in water, as he was about to come out, he too eyed the beautiful lotus flowers in bloom. He went to the corner of the lake, roughly plucked a handful of flowers for his sweetheart at home, came out of the lake, wore his clothes and rode away.

All this while, Gautama was thinking, ‘I did nothing in comparison to what this nobleman is doing and I was berated so badly; perhaps the Yaksha will strike this man down dead any minute now!’ But, when the nobleman went away safely, Gautama said to the Yaksha, “Well, Yaksha; I now understand you. I am a gentle person and hence you scolded me to your heart’s content. I saw that you did nothing to that nobleman. Of course, how could you? He is a big, powerful man.”

The Yaksha’s reply is worthy of our meditation. The Yaksha said, “Gautama, I scolded you because you proclaim to follow a very high ideal in your life. That nobleman is an ordinary man, with simple goals in his life. I am happy that he didn’t urinate in my lake. The standards of behavior are different for you and for him.”

So, higher the ideals we aim to achieve, greater is the responsibility in our thoughts, words & deeds. This is one point we tend to miss. We wish to achieve the higher status associated with the higher ideals, but wish to enjoy the benefits of the child! Or, it may be that deep down in our heart we know the greater responsibility that entails with the higher ideals, and that may be the reason why we seldom grow! Who would want greater responsibilities in our actions? Wouldn’t it be great if we only got the higher privileges and status associated with the higher ideals without the attendant responsibilities?

So, there is a need to develop the habit of taking our responsibilities seriously. You see, we have basic problems, and we dream of big things! We cannot study properly, something that we have to do as students, and we wish to grow spiritually. That is the reason Swamiji said so beautifully, Let us work on, doing as we go whatever happens to be our duty, and being ever ready to put our shoulders to the wheel. Then surely shall we see the Light!

*****************


[1] I say this because the higher spiritual ideals are revealed to us in the personalities of Incarnations and Prophets. And with each new Incarnation, we get higher and yet higher ideals. Hence, I say ‘as we understand them now’. We do not know what further ideals will be revealed by the Incarnations who will come later.

[2] Complete Works: Vol-1: Karma Yoga: Ch-IV: What Is Duty?

[3] See, for instance: Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna: Entry on 23rd Oct 1885: Chapter: The Master and Dr. Sarkar; You will find this same instruction repeated in the following entries: 9th March, 1884: Chapter: Rules For Householders And Monks; 6th Dec 1884: Chapter: Bankim Chandra; 22nd Feb 1885: Chapter: The Master’s Birthday; 23rd Oct 1885: Chapter: The Master And Dr. Sarkar; There are indeed many more places in the Gospel where Sri Ramakrishna mentions this idea. The constant repetition of this instruction tells us how much of importance Sri Ramakrishna gave to this idea.

[4] Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna: Entry on 6th Dec 1884: Chapter: Bankim Chandra

[5] Complete Works: Vol-6: Notes Taken Down In Madras

[6] Complete Works: Vol-4: A Plan Of Work For India

[7] Complete Works: Vol-4: Christ The Messenger

[8] Complete Works: Vol-2: Practical Vedanta: The Way To The Realization Of A Universal Religion

[9] Complete Works: Vol-1: Vedanta As A Factor In Civilization

[10] Complete Works: Vol-9: Sayings And Utterances: Mr. Thomas J. Allan’s reminiscences

[11] Dharma is one of those Hindu terms which have multiple layers of meaning. What we have described here is one meaning. Later on, we shall show that this very term also means ‘belief in the Law of Karma’ with regard to one’s own life.

[12] Complete Works: Vol-2: Jnana-Yoga: Ch-II: The Real Nature of Man

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Author: Swami Vedatitananda

Monk of the Ramakrishna Order

One thought on “Purity & Concentration”

  1. From truth to truth.
    It granted a sigh of relief swamiji. Your idea helped to visualise that there is a path that exists, and not a case of one ‘leap of faith’ , after another.

    Like

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