Source: Notes of Class-Talks By Swami Yatiswarananda
Why we are hunting after sense-objects
In every one there is a yearning for life, knowledge and happiness. All of us want to live and that consciously and happily. These: Existence, Knowledge and Bliss Absolute are the very essence of our soul, our true nature. And when we analyse the outside world, too, we find the same thing standing at the back of all phenomena. Everything, sentient, living and non-living, stands before us as an object that exists. Something there IS. And every thing has the capacity to force itself on our consciousness, possesses a sort of luminosity that shines in both the sentient and the insentient. There is no difference of kind but of degree. So in the inside world and in the outside world we find this abiding sense of existence and consciousness, and thus a glimpse of the Reality. All things, more or less, fulfil the want of every individual. We all run after the sense-object, the outside thing, in search of some particular sense-pleasure which we think we shall derive from the possession of that thing, whatever its nature may be. The desire for happiness is always there. Sense-objects only draw our mind because of the idea that we are going to derive some enjoyment from them. It is because of this that we feel tempted, not because of the intrinsic value of that particular object. Thus, not merely in ourselves, but also in all outside objects, sentient and insentient, we get a glimpse of what may be called Existence-Knowledge-Bliss. Name and form hide the face of Truth in ourselves and in the outside ob- jects, but all names and forms reflect dimly the glory of the Reality at their back. In us there is always a subconscious feeling with regard to this Reality. It may be very vague, very indefinite, but still it is there. The task of all spiritual life is to make the indefinite consciousness definite, if we really want to come face to face with Truth. First we should begin with ourselves, find out that which exists in ourselves at the back of our ego.
So long as there is false identification and false sense of personality, Brahman—the Truth—can never be realised. There is this false identification in us, and during the time of this identification we see we are shifting the centre of our consciousness continually. There is such a thing as having one’s consciousness rooted in the Transcendental even while working or living on the phenomenal plane, but this can never be done so long as all this wrong identification with our body and our mind lasts. Sometimes we identify ourselves with the body: “Oh, I am hurt, I feel such physical pain.”— Sometimes again there is identification with the mind: “Oh, So-and-So was awfully rude to me. I feel so worried, I feel so sorry.”— All this is wrong identification, but the common factor in this identification is —“I”, “I”, “I”—always this “I”, that comes in different forms. And so long as this “I” lasts, we cannot even get a glimpse of Brahman. But there is one point to note:— Even at the time of this wrong identification we have the consciousness of something that abides. At the back of this wrong “I”, there is something that does not change. And it is the task of the spiritual man to find out what that really is.— What is this “I”? No thought of the finite is ever possible without the thought of the Infinite, however indefinite it may be. Positing one we posit the other too. We cannot formulate the Infinite, Pure Consciousness, the Atman; but although It can never be formulated, It can be realised.
“The Truth can be realised by Him whom It chooses and to whom It reveals Itself.” From the Monistic standpoint, you are yourself your own Chooser, as this Self, this Truth, is not something distinct from you—and if you go and choose yourself to be the knower of this Truth, and really strive for It, you become It. Spiritual realisation is Self-realisation.
“Be bold and face the Truth.” There must be merciless self-analysis. First of all, try to find and regain your own soul. Your soul is practically lost to you, and only after you have found it again, the question of this higher Realisation will arise.
Spiritual life begins with the recognition of the fact that we are neither bodies nor masses of emotions, neither men nor women; we are spiritual entities. And it is necessary to have this ideal as the very basis of all our activities.
It is essential for us to have a true conception of freedom. Do we want freedom for the senses, do we want license, or do we want freedom from the senses? Which is the right idea of freedom? Is it freedom to allow the mind to run after enjoyment, to be the slave of the senses? Is it freedom thus to dig our own graves? Or is it freedom to control all desires, to master all desires and become free from the senses and their cravings? This alone is what is called attaining to the freedom of the Atman, and the freedom of license is no freedom at all. So long as we go on clinging to our slave-mentality and allow ourselves to be driven like slaves by our senses, we cannot progress. Only the life of sense-control and purity leads to real freedom, and nothing else. There is no romance and no place for romance in spiritual life, neither materially nor mentally. It is a hard life, a life of struggle and strain. We want freedom and fearlessness. We want to break the limitations of the body and the mind and be free, and this we can never attain so long as we cling to our different desires and passions and animal cravings. Self- Realisation cannot be obtained without the renunciation of all our clinging to body and mind, to our own bodies and minds, as well as to those of others.
Our great Sage Sankaracharya says, “A human birth, desire for emancipation and contact with great holy men, these three are very rare and are attained only through the grace of the Lord.” But then even these three advantages do not suffice. We must be eager to profit by them and willing to sacrifice everything for the higher life. Without paying the full price, we cannot become free and fearless. And without freedom and fearlessness there is no happiness for us, neither in this nor in any future life. We must be eager to realize the Truth. We must be prepared to sacrifice all our petty sentiments and personal desires for the Highest, then alone, one day, the Highest will be ours. Struggle, struggle, struggle. This is the only way. Let us bear in mind that salvation is to be attained in this very human birth.
Spiritual practice can never be successfully performed without true renunciation and dispassion, without giving up all old associations with reference to things and people. Only to the extent to which we are prepared to renounce our desires and passions and our clinging to others through attachment or through aversion, can spiritual practices be performed with profit and can any progress be made. Let us never allow our mind to delude us on this point. The mind always tries to bring forward some plausible reason or other—why we cannot renounce this or that thing, why we should be in the company of such and such a person, why it is our duty to talk to him or her, etc., etc. Never believe your mind in such cases. It is always out to deceive you and to become the spokesman for your subconscious or half-conscious desires. So we need, not only Japam [Repetition of the Holy Name thinking of the Divine] and prayer and meditation and other spiritual practices, but also renunciation and non-attachment, and only to the extent to which we succeed in having more and more of true renunciation and non-attachment, can all our strivings have any real, appreciable effect. When these two are combined—the practices and renunciation—it becomes possible for us to control the mind and begin with the cleansing of all its dirty nooks and crannies where we have allowed all kinds of filth to accumulate for ages and ages through countless births. Things or persons, whom we love passionately, affect the mind, bring attachment, hatred and aversion. Attachment and aversion are only the obverse and reverse of the self-same coin. Never make any mistake as to this. They come under the same category. Hatred or aversion is love or attachment turned upside down. It is not something essentially different. We must get rid of all forms of attachment and of all forms of fear, by becoming dispassionate and free from personal likes and dislikes. We must be kind, without ever becoming too personal, and there should never be any personal or selfish claim on anybody or anybody’s love, nor should we under any circumstances ever allow anybody to have any personal claim on us or on our affection. Christ says, “He who loves father and mother more than Me is not worthy of Me,” and there is nothing truer than this. But he who allows any other person to love him more than the Divine is not worthy of the Divine either, and will never attain the Divine, however hard he may try. We only get what we sow, and so long as we go on sowing all these petty affections and hatreds, these likes and dislikes, fettering ourselves and others with chains of so-called love, etc., etc., we shall remain bonds-laves eternally, bringing misery on ourselves and on others. Misery will always come. In some cases it comes soon, in others late, but all have to pay for their folly.
And this is the secret which all who desire to lead a spiritual life should know. There is both love and hatred, and we cannot get rid of them all at once. So what to do? We may keep our love and our hatred, but we should consciously direct our love only to the Highest, to the Divine, never primarily to any person or thing. Our hatred should be directed towards everything that prevents us from realising our true nature, towards all obstacles, everything that stands in the way of our progress.
Stepping-stones leading to the ideal
Without a working ideal, spiritual life cannot begin at all. If we put this working ideal too high nothing can be achieved, but, at the same time, we should never lower the ideal as such, but rise to it step by step by taking higher and higher working ideals. There should be faith in the words of the seers, teachers and prophets, faith in one’s own potentiality and strength and purity. But mere faith is not enough. We must strive our utmost. Ethical culture means: chastity, continence, purity in thought word and deed, purity in food, purity in one’s company and associations, purity in what one hears and listens to. And chastity, purity, is more important than the external forms of religion.
First comes physical purity. Then the mind must be tackled and controlled. The control of speech, too, is most essential. We should never listen to anything that is not perfectly pure and should behave in such a manner that others will not dare to discuss anything impure in our presence. We ought to maintain the steady flow of the undercurrent of pure thought, to keep our mind fixed on the goal. The undercurrent always protects us and creates in us an atmosphere that does not allow others to become immorally intimate with us. Bad thoughts vitiate the air, and we must purify ourselves by good thoughts and purify each other by good thoughts also.
After that, a new attitude has to be developed with regard to all things or objects that tempt us in any way, till perfect indifference with reference to them all is reached. So we should keep strict watch over all the movements of our mind, so as to become more and more conscious, more and more definite in everything. There should not be any unconscious movement in our life so long as we remain awake.
This is very essential, because in the first period of spiritual life—and the first period may extend over many many years— body-consciousness becomes stronger, and the mind tends to wander more than it used to do before any practices were taken up. At the same time, affections and aversions become more prominent and dangerous if we do not scrupulously avoid coming in touch with their objects, either mentally or physically, or both.
For a time the body becomes in a special way the centre of consciousness in the beginner, as soon as he begins to try to draw the mind away. So we should not allow ourselves to be hoodwinked by the subtle desires that may crop up and try to drag us away to their particular objects. The aspirant can never be careful enough in his associations and in the company he keeps during the first years of his training for the higher life. Many do not realise this and then come to grief. So we should learn to be conscious, to be aware of our motives, to stop all forms of drifting, to prevent all expressions of a merely instinctive life.
Wholesome daily habits
There is one point which is very essential in the course of one’s spiritual striving. We all must learn how to take rest after strenuous work. It is very good to have a short break in our activity after dinner, i.e., in the middle of’ the day, if we can afford it. This is very efficacious, but very difficult for many to practise. For many it is so hard to have just a little nap or break of consciousness, or even just a little break in the hectic and feverish activities of their mind, filling it again with the Divine Name and Thought, and harmonising vibrations of the holy sound.
We should also make it a point never to read anything worldly: worldly novels, fiction or stories, before going to bed or before falling asleep, but to have some holy thought and some holy sound to dwell on, to think with great intensity that we are going to sleep in the lap of God, or some such idea, to fill our whole being before falling asleep with the Divine Idea and the feeling of the Divine. If we permit ourselves to read something worldly, this goes on work- ing in our subconscious mind during the hours of sleep and has very bad effects. In the evening we should be very careful as to what we allow our mind to busy itself with or as to how we get our mind absorbed in holy thoughts. There should be concentrated and peaceful dwelling on the Divine, either the Divine form, or the Divine name, or the Divine idea—or on all the three combined, which is the most efficacious way. Only thus can we in time succeed in transforming the contents of our subconscious mind. As already said, it is very harmful to read worldly books before falling asleep, but we generally do not realise the extent of the harm we do to ourselves by being careless in this. The workings of the subconscious during the time of our sleep are very important and should not be lost sight of.
There is one more point which should be mentioned. If you awake at night, at once begin doing your Japam, in a quiet, peaceful way, without any unnecessary strain. Let this bring relaxation to your body and mind. Then go to sleep again if there is time. Again, during the time of your practices, Japam and sleep should never become connected. This is very bad. Before going to bed, do Japam a certain number of times, fill yourself with the holy sound and thought and make it a point never to stop doing Japam before having reached the number you intended to do as a form of discipline.
Good habits are to be formed and strengthened. Then spiritual life becomes easier and loses much of its initial strain. Strictly preserve your fixed hours. Then meditation slowly becomes possible even when the mind tends to be very restless. There should be perfect regularity in the hours of your spiritual practices, because only thus does the mind grow accustomed to them. And under all circumstances a certain minimum is to be kept up in one’s daily practices. The time of the practices should be slowly and steadily increased in the case of the beginner and also in the case of the advanced student, and only later on can one make use of the undercurrent in one’s mind, which enables one to keep part of the mind busy with the practices at all times, whatever one happens to do outwardly. Before that state is reached, the greatest regularity concerning the hours and the minimum amount of spiritual practices which are to be done is absolutely necessary in the case of all aspirants.
Know how to die!
We should always act in such a way that we may equip ourselves fully to be able to meet death with a smile. It should become the gateway to Immortality, to be welcomed, never to be feared. This life is nothing but a passing show, a phase, a life in a world of unrealities and shadows. Our future depends on what we think in this life, on what we are, never on what we appear or pretend to be.
Bear in mind:— Whatever be the Truth, let us face It undauntedly! An unpleasant truth is always infinitely better than a pleasant falsehood, even if this truth breaks our heart, even if it shatters once and for all our fondest hopes and illusions. Let the true light come to us under all circumstances, no matter, whether the heart breaks or not. Do not care so much for the shattering of hopes and the breaking of hearts as for the coming of Truth and Light. Nothing is truer than the fact that some day the body will fall off. And we should so conduct ourselves that we have no occasion to repent for having wasted our precious time, our precious human birth and Divine possibilities.
The great poet Tulsidas sings: “When I was born, I cried and others laughed. Let me act in such a way that when I die, I laugh and others cry.” This is the real task of our life. So we have a proverb in Bengal that says, “Do whatever spiritual practices you like, but you must know how to die.”
Death is always of the body, never of the Spirit or the SELF. So why fear death? Death should neither be courted nor be feared; neither should life be so. The bier is quite as real as the cradle, the burning-ground as real as the nursery, but we rejoice at the one and recoil from the other. Why? We should neither cling to life nor be afraid of death, because the SELF is something infinitely greater than this shadow of life, the phenomenal existence. We cling to our bodies and to those of others, to our own minds and to those of others, and think we have got hold of life. We have not. We have got hold of the mirage, the reflection of the reflection of the reflection, and nothing more than that, and go on hugging it to our breast. What an inordinate attachment to all that is not Life! The true aspirant, he who has true spiritual yearning, neither clings to life, nor does he ever yearn for death, because, to him, neither of them has any true reality. The world is the training-ground. We should act in the right way, so as to make the very best use of the short span of life given to us. We need not be afraid of death, neither of our own nor that of anybody else’s, if we just minimise the attachments of life and our personal relationships with the phantoms of others, with the men-phantoms and women-phantoms, of which none has any ultimate reality. Relationships based on the mirage always prove to be nothing but a mirage in the end. You cannot have real relationship with what is unreal and which has no ultimate being,
The death of our Great Ones has taught us great lessons. How wonderful was that of Swamis Ramakrishnananda, Premananda, Brahmananda, Turiyananda—the great disciples of Sri Ramakrishna! The worldly-minded and those who cling to their personal attachments alone are afraid of death. The spiritual do not lose anything. It is just like passing from one room to another, from a grosser plane of existence to a subtler one. It is the body that dies, not the SELF. We must be prepared to die for a righteous cause without any hesitation, and we must be fully prepared to see others, too, die for it. So our motto is: “To work for our own salvation as well as for the salvation of others.” This is what Swami Vivekananda wanted us to do and this is the guiding motto of the Order.
All these glorious lives are before us, show us how to live and how to die. We have only to mould ourselves according to the pattern they have placed before us again and again. Even if we fall in this battle of life, through newer and newer lives we shall work with renewed vigour. Step by step, and stage by stage we shall move onwards until we attain to our life’s only goal.
The conception of the SELF
Generally we ourselves create all the obstacles that stand in the way of our spiritual progress or Self-Realisation. We think of ourselves in terms of the body and of the mind and do the same with reference to others, Then we go and take up direct relations with them as men or as women, and then all the rest naturally follows in due course. On what does this whole life of the body and of the mind depend? On consciousness, and not on my man-form or my woman-form or child-form etc., etc. The moment the SELF leaves the body, the body becomes lifeless. All its charm vanishes. Nobody feels attracted by a dead form, be it ever so beautiful, but what really attracts us in the man-form or in the woman-form is consciousness which we mistakenly identify with that particular body or mind. There is such a lot of blind infatuation in the world owing to this superimposition on the Reality. Without undermining all these wrong notions and conceptions, all our body-bound and mind-bound likes and dislikes, attractions and repulsions, we shall never be able to make any spiritual progress. If I love the life of the body so greatly, why do I not look to that on which it depends for its very existence? We should learn to love the SELF all the more, because only owing to Its presence is there any life in the body and in the mind at all. The cause is greater than the effect, and the cause of the life of my body and mind and that of all others is the SELF alone, not any name and form. If I want Life and Love permanent and unchanging, I must look to the SELF and never to any of the limiting adjuncts. But it takes people many, many lives to see this and realize their Himalayan mistake.
Our task is to go somehow or other beyond this Maya, this phenomenal world, and reach the Reality. And this can never be done without chastity in thought, word and deed. Unity, ultimate oneness, cannot be reached so long as one remains physically and mentally tied to duality. There are some spiritual aspirants who say:— “Lord, I am Thine.” Others say:— “Lord, I am Thyself.”— There is a difference in expression, but the ultimate goal is one and the same, when we clearly understand the standpoint from which both are said. In both cases, only the Lord remains as the sole actor and agent. The ego disappears. And this should be our aim and should be attained by us all.
Reincarnation is in no way the most vital point. What is of greater importance is to try to get full illumination in this very life. None is forced to follow the spiritual path, but all those who have decided to do so should do it with great enthusiasm and perseverance, never swerving from their path, not even an inch. We should learn to be tremendously sincere and one-pointed and not allow ourselves to be swayed by indecision and doubt.
Tat Tvam Asi
This great Vedantic dictum really speaking means that that which is at the back of the outside world and that which is at the back of myself is one and the same, the One Indivisible, eternally Undivided, Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute. We see something in the outside world, but we always see it coloured by the red flower behind it. The individualised soul in its real nature and the outside world in its real nature are eternally one and the same.
Even our mind which creates all differentiation is Maya and nothing but Maya,— a part of the phenomena. And there comes a time for all sincere aspirants when this mind ceases to be, and there remains only the Thing-in-itself, the Pure Being. But what this Maya is, none has ever been able to express in words. Sankara says:— “We cannot say it is Sat or Asat, existence or non-existence, or even a combination of both.”
Maya, or phenomenal existence, is to be understood as something that exists during ignorance, but that ceases to be on the dawn of true knowledge..But till then, it is a fact of our consciousness. It is not nothing. Personal Maya is related to cosmic Maya as a tree to a forest, as a wave to the ocean. Maya, Avidya, is not merely negative. It is not merely ignorance in the negative sense, but something positive, the nature of which cannot be described. Maya is a “statement of fact”, as Swami Vivekananda put it. At one time it exists, at another time it ceases to be, but while we are in Maya we can never ask the question what Maya is. And when we are out of it, the question does not arise. We have to take Maya as a fact at a certain time, and find ways and means to get out of it. Neither existence nor non-existence can be predicated of it. It is all beyond human comprehension and can never be grasped by the intellect:
But although we cannot know the nature of the Maya, we can, however, transcend it and attain to the Self,— the Reality. May we be able to say with Swami Vivekananda:
“There is but One — the Free — the Knower — Self,
Without a name, without a form or stain;
In Him is Maya, dreaming all this dream.
The Witness, He appears as nature, soul.
Know thou art That, Sannyasin bold, say —
‘Om Tat Sat Om’.”
Periyalwar or Periazhwar (3055 BC) is one of the twelve azhwar saints of South India, who are known for their affiliation to Vaishnava tradition of Hinduism. Vishnucitta or Periyalwar incarnated on this earth in the 47th year after the beginning of the Kali Era (3102 BC). The verses of azhwars are compiled as Nalayira Divya Prabandham and the 108 temples revered are classified as Divya desam. According to some accounts, Periyazhwar is considered the first in the line of the twelve azhwars, while other accounts place him as the eighth. His original name is Vishnuchittar and he since he is considered the oldest among azhwars, he is called Periazhwar.
Ye slaves of men, you are not of us. Only you that hunger for the freedom of your souls, come unto us and join our choir eternal. We have been for generations a stainless, glorious band of men, ever devoted to the service of the Lord.
Despair not. There is yet escape from the cold clutches of Death. Ere the mists gather round your eyes, ere you feel the death-rattle, ere your kith and kin crowd round you slyly whispering and asking for your hidden treasure, ere words struggle and stick in your throat, build in your heart a temple for the Lord and for ever worship him. Offer at His altar your humble flowers of love and service.
At Thy touch all that is harsh and dissonant melts into one sweet harmony. I see Thy Kingdom gleam through the mists of time and the gloom of Death. I am bathed in a flood of light ineffable
Thirumazhisai Alvar is a Tamil saint revered in the srivaishnavism school of south India, in Tondai Nadu (now part of Kanchipuram and Tiruvallur districts). He was born in 4203 BCE. The legend of this saint devotees of Srivaishnavism believe that he was the incarnation of Vishnu’s disc, Sudarshana. A childless tribal couple called Tiruvaalan and Pankaya Chelvi engaged in cutting canes found the child and took it home. The couple also had a son named Kanikannan who was a disciple of Thirumalisai Alvar. He belonged to Paraiyar, he proclaimed that he didn’t belonged to Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya & Shudra in one of his couplets as he was considered (Avarna) untouchable and casteless person.
To be unwearied in the service of the Lord that dwells in me, is the work I am born for. And what calling is nobler than this? In it I find my all.
The Lord rescues us from death and delusion of Life. In His will is our peace. And dead is the heart that is lost in the morass of the narrow meaningless rituals of life.
Close all the doors of the senses and kindle within the torch of wisdom. Luminous as a long, unbroken trail of light, there gleams upon your vision a path to the hidden temple of our Lord, the bolts and bars of whose gates yield only to the magic touch of Love.
Thirumangai Alvar, also spelt as Tirumangai Alvar and Tirumankai Alvar, or Thirumangai Mannan is the last of the 12 Alvar saints of south India, who are known for their affiliation to Vaishnava tradition of Hinduism. He is considered one of the most learned Alvar and the most superior Alvar in the context of composition of verses. He holds the title Narkavi Perumal, the mark of an excellent poet, and Parakala (Beyond Time).
Hungering for Thee, many a strange web of life have I woven for ages. Now do I feel Thy mercy. And when I gaze across the melancholy waste of years that have vainly flown into the hushed sea of silence, my heart is filled with unutterable woe. I seek Thy refuge. Save me,—my Lord, save me.
Thou hast set Thy seal and stamp on me. Thou hast made me Thy liveried servant. Thou hast closed many a rift in the reed of my life. I feel a strange thrill at Thy presence in the mansion of my heart. At Thy wondrous touch, I break into endless melodies.
Sin not against your sacred Self. Cast off your allegiance to man and no more a bondman be. Come out of your cobwebs of useless learning and shatter the outworn creeds in which you have been suckled and cradled so long. I have known the measureless and unsearchable One, whom the sages worship in the silent shrine of their being. Come and sing with me unto His Glory.
What profiteth our eyes if they drink not in Thy radiance? What profiteth our ears if they feed not on Thy gospel? What profiteth our hands if they fold not in prayer? What profiteth our harps and timbrels if they throb and thrill not with Thy glory? What profiteth our heart if it turns not to Thee?
Ah, to be cooped and caged for my transgressions within the clammy cells of a mother’s womb! The very thought of it makes me dumb with despair. I feel like one on board a sinking vessel caught in a crashing gale.
I have pined and pined in grief forlorn over this frail vessel of strifes and sorrows. I have grown weary of the bewitching wiles of beauteous women in whose fair arms I oft revelled. I have, guided by the lone voice of reason, searched within myself and sought the great light of Truth. I have found in Thee the very balm and bliss of my life.
Age cannot wither, nor time leave its furrows on the birthless One, out of whom flows, in ceaseless measure, a stream of joy past words. In Him there is neither was nor is nor will be; but all throbs with the one voice of eternity. Into that vast sea of the unknown I have dived, the fitful fever of life passing away.
My wife and children are but a broken reed. Leaving them, I followed Thee. And with the flashing sword of Thy grace, I have cut asunder the tangled web of life and emerged from the folly and snare of my senses. And now, far, far away from the harassing hounds of life’s troubles, I dwell secure.
Shut out from the beacon-light of Thy wisdom, without a rudder or compass, floundering amidst shoals and sandbanks, I, in the darkness of my soul, drifted across the perilous, uncharted seas of many a birth and death. Battered and decayed, my life has found at last its moorings in the haven of Thy grace.