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!

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[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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Inauguration of Vivekananda Auditorium

Inaugural Address at Chotokhelna Surendra Smriti High School, Maligram, Purba Medinipur

Honorable MLA Dr Manas Ranjan Bhunia, Respected Dignitaries on the Dais, Respected Headmaster Sri Gourishankar Maity, Learned Teachers and dear students:

Before I start, I have two special requests to you students: first, I do not want anyone of you to speak amongst yourselves. I have come all the way from Belur Math. That’s a two and half hour journey one way. I have come to speak to you specially. I have something very specific to tell you all. I do not come here again and again, you see. So I want complete attention from all of you. Secondly, I want all of you to sit straight. Do not slump your back like old men. Sit straight. If you follow these two instructions, I promise I will keep my speech short. If you don’t, I will speak for maybe one or one and half hour! Thanks.

Today, we inaugurated the beautiful Vivekananda Auditorium. You will all be using it from now onwards. Imagine, the next time you have such a program; you will not have to sit like this in the sun. You will all be sitting inside that beautiful auditorium. That is very good.

Whose name does the auditorium bear? Yes, Swami Vivekananda. Who is this man? Who is this Swami Vivekananda? Why is this Auditorium dedicated in his name? He was no freedom fighter. He was no philosopher. He was no scholar. He was neither a scientist. Then why is he revered in this fashion? You find an Auditorium coming up here. Elsewhere you have a school coming up. Somewhere else, there is a college. Yet in another place, there is a University. All dedicated to Swami Vivekananda. What was so special in him that everyone, everywhere wants his name to be associated with their work? Let me tell you a story.

A man once wanted to purchase a talking bird, something like a parrot. He went to a pet shop. The shop owner showed him a bird and said, ‘This bird costs Rs. 25,000.’

“What! That much! Why?”

“Well, Sir, this bird can talk and operate a laptop computer. But, look at that bird over there. It costs you Rs. 50,000.”

“Good Lord! Rs. 50,000?!”

“Yes. It can talk, operate a laptop and can program in C++. But, do you see that bird in the corner over there? Well, that costs you Rs. 1 lakh.”

“Don’t tell me! What does it do?”

“To tell you the truth, I don’t know what it does. But these two birds call him ‘Boss’.”

Similar is the case with Swami Vivekananda. It is difficult to say what his specialty is. But, this much is true. The top people of every field call him their ‘Guru’. Take Netaji Subhash Bose, Gandhiji or Aurobindo Ghosh. These are some of our greatest freedom fighters. They all revered him as their Guru. Consider Sir J C Bose or S N Bose or Nikola Tesla. These great scientists of India and abroad consider him to be their Guru. President Sukarno of Indonesia, our Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi, Narendra Modi, etc. all consider him their Guru.

Swamiji said some extremely important things for you all, especially students. He had the greatest hope in you all. He used to say, “My hope is in you, the youth of India.” He also used to say to students like you, “On your work depends the coming of the India of the future.” Look at this statement. On our work depends the formation of the future India; how is that? Are we up to the mark? Are we on the right track? Just a little while ago, I saw that your teacher had to shout repeatedly over the microphone for you all to sit down and be quiet. Why did he have to repeat it? Is it his personal program? If you had felt that this program was yours too, that you too were an integral part of this school, would he have had to repeat his instruction?

I will tell you in a nutshell what Swami Vivekananda expected out of you all. He has said many things. But today, I will tell you a single statement of his, which, if you memorize, and put to action, will influence you all your life. A single statement of Swamiji. He once said, “What India needs is Western science coupled with Vedanta, with Brahmacharya as the guiding motto, and Shraddha or faith in oneself.” Repeat this statement after me. What are the four things Swamiji asks us to do? Get acquainted with Western Science. Good. Then, along with that, we must not become atheists, materialists, nihilists, or communists. We must have Vedanta. We must have our religion. You will get sufficient Western science from your school and college. That is enough. Being born in India, you will automatically get enough and more religion too. But, you must temper it with the wonderful, catholic ideas of Vedanta. Keep it in mind as something you need to do in your free time. Get acquainted with the broad ideas of Vedanta. Your conception of religion will then not become fanatical or intolerant towards others. Then there are two words he uses – Brahmacharya and Shraddha. What do these mean? I wish to spend some time on these two words.

Brahmacharya is not meant only for monks. Everyone, every student must know how to practice Brahmacharya. What does that word mean? It simply means ‘self-control’. Have you heard of the famous ‘Marshmallow Experiment’? In the 1960s, a scientist from Stanford University took some small kids and did an experiment. He took one child at a time and kept him in a room. He placed a small sweet in front of the child and said, “Look here. There is a sweet in front of you. I will be gone for about ten minutes. If you eat that sweet when I am gone, you will get nothing. If you wait till I return, then I will give you one more piece along with this.” He did this with many kids. Each case was video recorded. Some kids didn’t even wait for him to leave the room. They just gobbled up the sweet then and there. Some kids waited patiently for his return. Some displayed great conflict. ‘Will he return at all? What if he doesn’t? Will I lose even this one in my greed for another piece? What if he is a cheat? What if he does return and doesn’t keep his word?’ this man then studied the way these kids’ future unfolded over the next fifteen years. It is amazing – what he discovered. He found out that the kids that had displayed self-control and had waited for his return, all ended up as great achievers – some became senators, doctors, etc. All had sufficient higher education. All were earning a huge income. All the kids that were impulsive ended up as losers in adult life. This self-control is what Swamiji means by Brahmacharya. You are unable to sit without shaking your hands and legs for even 10 minutes. Tomorrow you will become a doctor. You expect me to get operated by you? Why, your hands could start shaking when you are trying to cut me open!

Then there is one more word – Shraddha. ‘If one man could do it, why can’t I?’ This idea is Shraddha. ‘I have done my duty. Now the result will come.’ This faith in oneself, in one’s own actions, is called Shraddha. Listen to a story. Once there was a great famine. It hadn’t rained for a long time. The village elders decided to conduct a grand Yajna to appease to rain god. Every person in the village was to participate in that yajna. In one house, the father started from his house along with his family to go to the site of the Yajna. He found that his little son ran back into the house. When he came back, he asked him why he had gone back. The little boy replied, “I went back to get an umbrella. I didn’t want to get wet in the rain.” See? That is Shraddha. The little boy believed that the Yajna would bear fruit. We all study. Then we complain that we do not remember what we read. Why is this? We lack Shraddha in our own studies. When we develop Shraddha, our life becomes interesting.

Remember these few points. You are all local boys and girls of this place. All your life, you will keep coming to this place. Each time you see this building, you will be reminded of its name ‘Vivekananda Auditorium’. Each time, you recall that name ‘Vivekananda’, you will recall this statement of Swamiji. “What India needs is Western science coupled with Vedanta, with Brahmacharya as the guiding motto, and Shraddha or faith in oneself.”

I pray to Thakur, Maa and Swamiji that each one of you grows up to be a great individual. With this prayer, I end my speech.

Did I not keep my word? I thank you all for keeping silent and listening to what I had to say. Remember, when your school program happens and guests come, these guests will be keenly observing you. Look at your Headmaster, Sri Gourishankar Maity. Not just his words, his entire body language exhibits humility. But, I am not going to judge your school by looking at him. I look at you all. I will judge your school’s quality by looking at you students. Similarly with all other guests who will come to this school. They will judge the quality of your school by observing you, your behavior, your demeanor. So, it is essential that you regulate your behavior in such a way as to impress the guests. That is what will grow tomorrow as national consciousness. Your relationship with your school today will flower into your relationship tomorrow with the entire nation. I once again pray to Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother Sri Sharada Devi and Swami Vivekananda that they guide you all in your life.

Om Shantih, shanthih, shantihi.

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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.

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[1] See Appendix-A

Human excellence through Yoga

I extend a warm welcome to you all at Ramakrishna Mission Shilpamandira. Before I start off with the subject, let me give you a brief introduction about our Institution.

Ramakrishna Mission is a monastic organization. Belur Math, which you visited today morning, is its headquarters. Swami Vivekananda established this organization over 100 years ago. Swamiji was a great visionary. He wanted that his organization would have to engage in the field of core education on a national basis for regeneration of India. Mind you, this was during the height of the British Empire! He specifically wanted technical education to be imparted to Indians. During the 1st World War, a technical training institute was established here in Belur Math with the help of the British Govt, mainly to aid them in training people for the war. That grew to be Shilpamandira, which today has three units. We run a diploma college in this campus. We have another campus where we run a skill development center and a computer training center for giving employable skills to unemployable youths. Belur Math also has two ITI Schools here which are looked after by Swami Gunindranandaji, with whom Mr. Arasan and Mr. Nath here are associated. Since he is busy with some pre-occupations, he requested me to handle today’s session. So much about our institution; I mentioned all this in order to make you feel ‘at-home’, since you all are engineers too.

What is human excellence?

Now, coming to our subject – human excellence; you all have just had your lunch; it is very difficult to concentrate on abstract topics after a hearty lunch, you know. So, let me start with a couple of stories that will set the mood for a more detailed discussion on this abstract subject.

Once upon a time, there was a wood-carving artist in China. He was extremely famous for his incense-stick holders, which were used in temples and monasteries and palaces. Those incense-stick holders had elaborate carvings and each of them was a piece of art. The King once placed an order for preparing the best incense-stick holder with this artist. The artist said he would get it ready in one month’s time. At the end of one month, the King met the artist in his workshop. On the table before the King lay an exquisitely carved incense-stick holder. The King was pleased. But the artist said that the piece was faulty and hence he would need one more month for creating a new one. The King looked minutely at the so-called ‘faulty’ piece and couldn’t discern any fault at all. But the artist said that there was one particular curve which had developed a hairline crack when he was chiseling it. Again, the King couldn’t locate that crack, so he announced that he was satisfied with the work and would take it with him. The artist went inside and returned with a hammer and smashed to pieces the incense-stick holder that lay before the King. The king was aghast! When he asked the cause for this unreasonable behavior, the artist replied, ‘Your Majesty, you may not have been able to locate the fault. But I know where it is. And I will never have peace of mind knowing that a faulty creation of mine has entered the world!’ This is human excellence.

A small boy once entered a shop and wanted to use the pay-phone. But it was too high for him. So he dragged a carton box and stood on it and started dialing a number. The owner of the shop, an elderly person was observing what was happening. The boy’s call got connected.

‘Hello, am I speaking to Mrs. Adams?’ The old shop owner couldn’t hear the other side of the telephonic conversation. ‘Listen, Mrs. Adams, I was wondering if you need a helping hand with your lawn.’…. ‘Oh! You already have a person coming over and doing your lawn. But I must tell you I am very good at mowing lawns. Moreover, I will also clean and wax your car for free.’…. ‘If you wish, I could also paint the fence for you during summer if you hire me for the lawn.’… ‘Are you sure you don’t need a new hand?’…. ‘Fine talking to you Mrs. Adams; you have a good day.’

With a smile the boy got down from the box. The old man called him near and said, ‘I am impressed, my boy. I could hire you.’ The boy said, ‘No sir. I am already employed. In fact, I am the one working for Mrs. Adams. I just wanted to find out if she was happy with my work.’ That is human excellence.

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, high ideals such as human excellence call for great commitment; it entails great responsibility. We will need to clean up our act thoroughly before we embark on journeys that lead to such high ideals. Such high ideals will be achievable only of we are really serious about those ideals.

In India, we have always encouraged discussions on human excellence from time immemorial. I will present before you some ideas of Swami Vivekananda in this connection. I will have to use some time to explain certain concepts that Swamiji speaks of before we attempt to understand his ideas regarding human excellence.

Swami Vivekananda’s conception of human excellence:

It can be said that man has four faculties in him. Every man can Feel. The love that binds a family together arises from this faculty of feeling. We all can feel a huge variety of emotions. Then there is the faculty of Reason. Every man can think logically; idea A leads to idea B and then to ideas C & D, and so on to its logical conclusion. All of us can exercise this faculty. We all also have the curious faculty of Intuition. Don’t we all recall instances when we just saw a person and we knew that he was good, or bad? We didn’t arrive at this conclusion through a series of logical reasoning based on information we knew about him. the conclusion just flashed in our minds. Similarly, many of us get premonitions about something that’s going to happen a little while later, again, as a flash in our minds. Then there is the all too common experience of deja-vu; we visit a new place and suddenly we feel that we have been here before. This is the faculty of Intuition. We all have it. It is not developed, but we all have it. That is the root of the terms we use in daily language such as ‘gut feeling’ or ‘sixth sense’. Lastly, we all feel the urge to Work. All of us have the irrepressible urge to create. Unless we create something all the time, we will simply go to pieces. All human beings therefore have to work. I don’t mean the salaried job here by ‘Work’. Even breathing is a work; even thinking & dreaming is work; there is simply no escape from Work.

Although we all have these four faculties in common, they are all not equally developed in all of us. In fact, we differ from one another with regard to the degree to which we have developed these four faculties in ourselves. The present day education that we all get in common develops only the faculty of Reason. Family serves to develop the faculty of Feeling to some extent, although that is also reducing with the formation of nuclear families with dysfunctional relations among its members. The faculty of Intuition is left completely uncared for and even neglected as something of a superstition in the present age! And the faculty to work? The less said the better. We all work, but nowhere are we giving any training about ‘how’ we ought to work. It is all by trial and error, a hit-or-miss procedure, largely!

The science of human excellence:

Anyway, the idea is – whenever anyone among us succeeds in developing any one of these faculties to a great extent, we end up with an example of ‘Human Excellence’. Look at Rabindranath Tagore. He saw the same world that we all see and used the same words that we all use. But his faculty of Feeling was highly refined. Who refined it for him? He did it himself. Did he do it consciously? Most probably not, and hence he couldn’t pass it on as a science for others to pick it up after him. Or, look at Albert Einstein. His faculty of Intuition and Reason were developed to an incredible extent. Hence he shines today as an instance of human excellence. How did he develop these faculties? Who helped him? Nobody can answer that. So, the long and short of my argument is – until recently, we believed that human beings can reach excellence only be chance. No one could develop it as a science, in a systematic way. I say until recently, because Swamiji explodes that myth! Swamiji was the first person, who said about a 100 years ago, that there is a science that can help us develop each of these faculties to the fullest. And along with that, he raised the benchmark of human excellence by adding that true human excellence lies in developing all these four faculties simultaneously in the same person! The four faculties of Feeling, Reason, Intuition and Creativity can be developed by following its corresponding science which are Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Raja Yoga and Karma Yoga.

It will seem obvious that whatever be the faculty that you wish to develop to its limits, the systematic procedure for doing so is called ‘Yoga’. What is the idea here? Let me explain Swamiji’s conception of man in order to explain this wonderful conception of Yoga. Man has a body. Body is visible to all of us. Man also has a mind. Mind is not visible but we can infer it. The four faculties that we mentioned earlier belong to the mind. Swamiji points out that apart from the body and the mind, man also has another aspect of his personality which is ‘Consciousness’. For our purpose, we may understand consciousness as awareness. All of us are aware. We are constantly channelizing this awareness. Say for instance, when we entered this room, we were aware of that irritating drone of the air-conditioner. Slowly, as the class progressed, we no longer directed our consciousness towards that noise but instead channelized our awareness towards the ideas that I have been raising here before you. Consequently, we did not hear that drone. But the sound waves from the air-conditioner have all along been impinging on our eardrums and yet we did not hear it at all! There is a science, a systematic set of procedures and processes that can help us gain a control over how to and where to and when to direct this consciousness, and thereby develop any faculty of our mind that we wish to. The present day education that we all get in schools and colleges and universities helps us to direct our consciousness only towards our faculty of Reason, as I mentioned earlier. That is why we keep hearing sentences such as ‘Pay attention to what I am saying’, ‘Where is your attention?’ in schools. That is what the teachers are mainly doing – trying to teach the students to consciously direct their attention.

Anyway, regarding our main topic of human excellence, Swamiji specifies four independent such sciences for developing the four main faculties of human beings. He further specifies that if a man can educate himself in a harmonious blend of these four sciences, then he will be able to develop all these faculties in himself, blossoming out to be a unique type of person, a truly universal man.

Practical Vedanta:

I am going to present before you such a blend, with an emphasis on Karma Yoga. Why the emphasis on Karma Yoga? You see, the other three Yogas require you to retire from your active life in the world and dedicate yourself especially to those sciences. Else, you won’t be able to exhibit the desired results that are the outcome of those paths. Take Bhakti Yoga for instance. You need to accept a particular form of God and get the mantra associated with that form from an authorized practitioner. You will then need to learn the elaborate procedure of ritualistic worship and engage in it sincerely. You may fill up the rest of your waking hours with activities that are centered on that deity such as singing Bhajans, doing Japa of that mantra, making preparations for the ritualistic puja, reading the life & exploits of your deity, etc. Or, take Jnana Yoga for instance. You will need to sit with an authorized practitioner and study the Upanishad-texts. Then you will need to meditate for long periods of time on the conclusions arrived at by the commentators of those texts. You will need to isolate yourself from all interactions that run counter to those conclusions until your will be able to experience those conclusions in your own life. I ask you, how many of you are ready for that kind of dedicated practice? And since you cannot do that, does that mean you must be deprived of any opportunity for self-improvement, leading you to higher levels of human excellence? Hence I present Karma Yoga to you, since it enables you to work out your own development towards human excellence in the context of your daily life. You do not need a new social setting for this Yoga. What you need is a new outlook towards work. You are Naval Engineers. You will design ships. You have been doing it and will continue to do it. From now on, you will continue to do it as an offering of love to God. That is the first condition this Yoga puts on you. The second condition it puts is – from now onwards, you will refrain from indulging in any sexual activity, diverting that energy into the design and repair job that you do.

Karma Yoga requires that you work selflessly. What does selflessness mean? Your activity is not for you. Let us say you were involved in designing some portion of the INS Vikrant. Does that ship belong to you? No, it doesn’t. But, supposing I were to make a comment such as ‘Do you know, INS Vikrant is the most horribly designed ship I’ve ever seen!’ What happens? You immediately get mad at me. Somehow, that association creeps in. You infer that you designed that ship and that any criticism I pass on that ship is somehow meant to be a dig at you! This has to stop. How do we stop it? The easiest way is to offer your work to God. Supposing you give someone a gift, you don’t take it back, do you? Similarly, when you offer your work to God, you don’t get affected by anything that comes associated with that work.

The greatest obstacle in achieving selflessness is a sense of ownership, a sense of ‘responsibility’, a sense of ‘Duty’ that we all seem to have naturally. Let me tell you a small story. There was once a very successful king. He had achieved great order and prosperity in his kingdom and people were all happy. But he wasn’t. The stress of having to deal with the innumerable problems of managing his huge and complex kingdom was wearing him down. Incidentally he had a childhood friend who was a monk. That monk lived in the forest outside his capital. So, the king went to meet him. He told the monk that he had decided to renounce his kingdom and become free from all cares. The monk was listening. He asked him if the king had made adequate arrangements for handing over charge of his wonderful kingdom that he had taken so much effort to bring to unprecedented heights of prosperity. The king hadn’t actually thought out all the details, but he would eventually come up with some solutions. He would give away his kingdom to one of his ministers, perhaps. The monk said, ‘Why don’t you give it away to me?’ The king was mighty pleased. The monk was a very good man, a very good friend. He would certainly take care of the fruits of his life’s efforts. So, right then and there, he gave away his royal ring and seal to the monk. Instantly he started feeling light, unburdened. The monk asked him, ‘What will you do now?’ The king replied, ‘I will go back ot my palace, change my dress to something more common, and live like a commoner in the city.’ The monk interjected, ‘Wait. Be careful with the choice of your words. What do you mean by my palace?’ The king slowly understood that he indeed had no palace now. He had given it away to the monk just a moment ago. Then the monk said, ‘Look here, I don’t want you living in my city or anywhere in my kingdom. You have ruled this place for so long. Now I will rule it. I don’t want you to criticize the decisions I will be taking. If you are around, you will naturally do it. So you will have to leave my kingdom.’ The king agreed and said that he knew many trades and he would go to some neighboring kingdom and eke out a living for the rest of his life. The monk observed, ‘So, you are ready to work, I see. Well, if you are ready to work, then I may be open to some arrangement that will be mutually beneficial. You see, I have a large kingdom to take care of. If you do it for me, I will pay you a handsome salary. I am a monk. I like to live my life taking the name of the Lord, immersed in his meditation. I don’t like all this kingdom business. What do you say? Will you work for me?’ The king agreed gladly. So he went back. No one else knew about this arrangement between the king and his friend, the monk. Some months later, the monk went to the palace and asked the king how things were. The king said that the kingdom was going on smoothly. The monk asked, ‘Are there no problems now?’ The king replied, ‘Oh, there are; innumerable of them. But, surprisingly, I don’t feel bogged down by them now!’

You see what happened here? The only thing that had changed was the agent-ship. And that instantly improved the quality of work. That is how we bring in selflessness. We bring in God and start offering all our activities to Him. That is selflessness.

Now we shall see why is Brahmacharya a necessary condition of this path? All great achievers in any walk of life, whether from India or from any part of the world, have had to conserve their personal energies before they could achieve excellence. Ordinary common sense, basic arithmetic of human energy, will tell you that if you spend too much energy on one channel, there will be that much less in the other channels. Suppose we were to start arc-welding in this room, won’t we find the lights getting dim? Did you know that Newton and Michelangelo and Beethoven were all sexually continent around the time when they made their momentous work? Human excellence has always been the outcome of strict sexual continence and it will continue to be so. That is not to say that everyone has to become monks. Conserve sexual energy till you get married. Then, spend that energy only to procreate a couple of kids. Thereafter, start conserving again, living with your spouse as brother & sister. There is only so much energy we all have. It will need to be conserved and then channelized along the paths of Feeling or Reason or Intuition or Creative work for any excellence to be achieved by man.

I will tell you a story that Swami Vivekananda recounted in his seminal book ‘Karma Yoga’. This story is taken from the Mahabharata. It concerns a Vyadha. Vyadha is a Sanskrit term for a butcher, one who kills animals and sells their meat for his living. The story is as follows:

“A young Sannyasi went to a forest; there he meditated, worshipped, and practiced Yoga for a long time. After years of hard work and practice, he was one day sitting under a tree, when some dry leaves fell upon his head. He looked up and saw a crow and a crane fighting on the top of the tree, which made him very angry. He said, “What! Dare you throw these dry leaves upon my head?!” As with these words he angrily glanced at them, a flash of fire went out of his head — such was the Yogi’s power — and burnt the birds to ashes. He was very glad, almost overjoyed at this development of power — he could burn the crow and the crane by a look. After a time he had to go to the town to beg his bread. He went, stood at a door, and said, “Mother, give me food.” A voice came from inside the house, “Wait a little, my son.” The young man thought, “You wretched woman, how dare you make me wait! You do not know my power yet.” While he was thinking thus the voice came again: “Boy, don’t be thinking too much of yourself. Here is neither crow nor crane.” He was astonished; still he had to wait. At last the woman came, and he fell at her feet and said, “Mother, how did you know that?” She said, “My boy, I do not know your Yoga or your practices. I am a common everyday woman. I made you wait because my husband is ill, and I was nursing him. All my life I have struggled to do my duty. When I was unmarried, I did my duty to my parents; now that I am married, I do my duty to my husband; that is all the Yoga I practice. But by doing my duty I have become illumined; thus I could read your thoughts and know what you had done in the forest. If you want to know something higher than this, go to the market of such and such a town where you will find a Vyadha (The lowest class of people in India who used to live as hunters and butchers.) who will tell you something that you will be very glad to learn.”

The Sannyasi thought, “Why should I go to that town and to a Vyadha?” But after what he had seen, his mind opened a little, so he went. When he came near the town, he found the market and there saw, at a distance, a big fat Vyadha cutting meat with big knives, talking and bargaining with different people. The young man said, “Lord help me! Is this the man from whom I am going to learn? He is the incarnation of a demon, if he is anything.” In the meantime this man looked up and said, “O Swami, did that lady send you here? Take a seat until I have done my business.” The Sannyasi thought, “What comes to me here?” He took his seat; the man went on with his work, and after he had finished he took his money and said to the Sannyasi, “Come sir, come to my home.” On reaching home the Vyadha gave him a seat, saying, “Wait here,” and went into the house. He then washed his old father and mother, fed them, and did all he could to please them, after which he came to the Sannyasi and said, “Now, sir, you have come here to see me; what can I do for you?” The Sannyasi asked him a few questions about soul and about God, and the Vyadha gave him a lecture which forms a part of the Mahabharata, called the Vyâdha-Gitâ. It contains one of the highest flights of the Vedanta.

When the Vyadha finished his teaching, the Sannyasi felt astonished. He said, “Why are you in that body? With such knowledge as yours why are you in a Vyadha’s body, and doing such filthy, ugly work?” “My son,” replied the Vyadha, “no duty is ugly, no duty is impure. My birth placed me in these circumstances and environments. In my boyhood I learnt the trade; I am unattached, and I try to do my duty well. I try to do my duty as a householder, and I try to do all I can to make my father and mother happy. I neither know your Yoga, nor have I become a Sannyasi, nor did I go out of the world into a forest; nevertheless, all that you have heard and seen has come to me through the unattached doing of the duty which belongs to my position.””

This is the path prescribed by Karma Yoga for all of us. You will notice that both the lady and the butcher said that they sincerely performed their ‘duty as a householder’. We must understand that this entails the two conditions we have mentioned above – selflessness and brahmacharya. The inner growth occurs as a result of intense self-introspection and self-correction when we face blows in the course of our daily life. Work to your heart’s content fulfilling these two conditions. In due course, you will find a transformation occurring in yourself. That is the path for human excellence for people like you and me.

I have given you some ideas. Please think over them. We shall have a Q&A session after a break of 10 mins. Thank you all for a patient hearing.

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