Spiritual Striving and Self-Realisation
(Different instructions culled from the Reminiscences of the Holy Mother)
(Sri Saradamani Devi, otherwise known as the Holy Mother, was the consort of Sri Ramakrishna. She was wife, nun and disciple at the same time. Though possessed of great spiritual attainments and respected and worshiped as a Divine Personality by the devotees of the Master, she was always unassuming in her life and ways. She gave spiritual instructions and was the Guru to many monks and householders. In the reminiscences of this great woman of modern India the reader gets intimate glimpses of a glorious type of womanhood.)
Devotee — How is it that Japam [Repetition of the Divine Name dwelling on the meaning] does not lead me into deep God-absorption? Holy Mother — It will, by and by. But do not give up Japam even if the mind is unwilling and unsteady. You must go on with the repetition. And you will find that the mind gets gradually steadier — like a flame in calm air. Any movement in the air disturbs the steady burning of the flame; even so, the presence of any thought or desire makes the mind unsteady. A single utterance of the Lord’s name is as effective as a million repetitions of it, if you do so with a steady, concentrated mind. What is the use of repeating a million times with an absent mind? You must do this whole-heartedly. Then only can you deserve the Divine Grace.
Devotee — It is said that the Lord grants man His vision if he calls on Him sincerely for two or three days. I have been calling on Him for so many days. Why do I not see Him ?
Holy Mother — Yes, you will see Him. Sri Ramakrishna said to one of his devotees, “Those who have money should practise char- ity. Those who have not, take His name.” If you cannot do even this, then surrender yourself to Him. It is enough if you only remember that you have someone — God — who is your father and mother, to look after you.
If the mind is pure, why should one not get concentration? Why should one not see God-visions? After practising Japam — repetition of the Divine name — dwelling on the meaning — for some time, you will find that as you sit for meditation, the Holy Name will rise from within spontaneously, without any effort. One must repeat the name at least fifteen to twenty thousand times a day, then only will one get some results. One is sure to get it. One must practise first before one says that one is not progressing. But then one must practise Japam with a little attention. People do not practise and simply say — “Why am I not progressing spiritually?”
The mind gets purified after hard spiritual practice. Without regular practice, nothing can be attained. Both purity and impurity are in the mind. When a man sees defects in others, his mind gets polluted. What does he gain by finding faults in others? He hurts himself by that. From my childhood I could not find faults in others. That one thing I have never learnt in life. Forgiveness itself is a great spiritual practice. Remember one thing. If you want peace of mind, then give up fault-finding. If you find fault at all, find out your own faults and shortcomings. Learn to treat everyone as your own. No one is alien to you; the whole world is yours.
Disciple — What part of the day is suited for meditation?
Holy Mother — Early morning and evening, i.e., when night passes into day and day into night. These are the best hours for meditation. One should meditate regularly at fixed hours, for who knows when the auspicious moment will come, when one will have a vision of the Divine. Such a moment comes suddenly without a premonition. So one should keep to the routine however much one’s mind may be disturbed.
Disciple — But then there are the worries of work and the question of health. Again the mind is sometimes calm and sometimes very ruffled.
Holy Mother — Of course, if you get ill, you cannot help it but if you are troubled too much by work on any particular day, then it is enough if you just remember the Lord and make salutations to him. As regards the mind getting ruffled now and then, it is quite natural, for it is with Nature and as such it has its own ebb and flow.
Through spiritual disciplines the bonds of past Karma are cut asunder. But realisation of God cannot be achieved without ecstatic love for Him. Do you know the significance of Japam and other spiritual practices? By these, the power of the senseorgans is subdued.
Disciple — How can one feel yearning for God without seeing the manifestation of His love?
Holy Mother — Yes, you can do so. There lies the grace of God.
Disciple — Mother, one may get spiritual realisation at any time. if the grace of God descends upon one. Then one does not have to wait for the right time.
Holy Mother — That is true; but can the mango which ripens out of season, be as sweet as the one which ripens in the proper season? This is also true of the efforts that lead to God-realisation. Perhaps you practise Japam and austerities in this life; in the next life you may intensify the spiritual mood and in the following life you advance farther. It is like that.
Disciple — Mother, if there exists someone called God, why is there so much suffering and misery in the world? Does He not see it? Has He not the power to remove it?
Holy Mother — Creation itself is full of misery and happiness. Could anyone appreciate happiness if misery did not exist? Besides, how is it possible for all persons to be happy? Sita once said to Rama, “Why don’t you remove the suffering and unhappiness of your subjects? Please make all the inhabitants of your kingdom happy. If you only will, you can easily do so.” Rama said, “Is it ever possible for all persons to be happy at the same time?” “Why not?”, asked Sita, “please supply from the royal treasury the means of satisfying everyone’s wants.” “All right,” said Rama, “your will shall be carried out.” Rama sent for Lakshmana and said to him, “Go and notify everyone in my empire that whatever he wants he may get from the royal treasury.” At this the subjects of Rama came to the palace and told their wants. The royal treasury began to flow without stint. When everyone was spending his days joyously, through the Maya of Rama, the roof of the palace in which Rama and Sita lived started to leak. Workmen were sent for to repair the building. But where were they? There was not a labourer in the kingdom. In the absence of masons, carpenters and artisans, all buildings got out of repair and work was at a stand-still. The subjects of Rama informed their king of their difficulties. Finding no other help Sita said to Rama, “It is no longer possible to bear the discomfort of the leaking roof. Please arrange things as they were before. Then we shall be able to procure workmen. Now I realise that it is not possible for all persons to be happy at the same time.” “Let it be so”, said Rama. Instantaneously all things were as before, and workmen could once more be procured. Sita said to Rama,“Lord, this creation is your wonderful sport.”
No one can suffer for all time. No one will spend all his days on this earth in suffering. Every action brings its own result, and one gets one’s opportunities accordingly.
Disciple — Is everything due to Karma ?
Holy Mother — If not, to what else? Don’t you see the scavenger carrying the tub on his head?
Disciple — Where does one first get the propensity which leads to an action, good or bad? You may say, as an explanation of the propensities of this life, that they are due to the actions of the previous life and the propensities of that life due to the preceding one. But where is the beginning?
Holy Mother — Nothing can happen without the will of God. Not even a straw can move. When a man passes into a favourable time, he gets the desire to contemplate God, but when the time is unfavourable he gets all the facilities for doing evil actions. Everything happens in time according to the will of God. It is God alone who expresses His will through the actions of man. Could Naren [Swami Vivekananda] by himself have accomplished all those things? He was able to succeed because God worked through him. The Master has predetermined what He is gong to accomplish. If anyone surrenders himself totally at His feet, then the Master will see that His purpose is accomplished. One must bear with everything because all our facilities are determined by actions. Again, actions can be cancel- led by actions.
Disciple — Can action ever cancel action?
Holy Mother — Why not? If you do a good action, that will counteract your past evil action. Past sins can be effaced by meditation, Japam, and spiritual thoughts.
Every action produces its results. It is not good to use harsh words towards others or be responsible for their suffering.
Holy Mother — In the final stage there is not even the idea of a personal God. After attaining wisdom, one sees that gods and deities are all Maya. Everything comes into existence in time and also disappears in time.
Holy Mother — Once Naren [Swami Vivekananda] said to me, “Mother for some days everything has been vanishing from me. Really I find everything is disappearing.” I said to him, “But see to it, my child, that you do not drive me away.” Naren said in reply, “Mother, where would I be if I drove you away? The knowledge that destroys the lotus feet of the Guru is merely ignorance, Where does knowledge stay if the Lotus feet of the Guru were to vanish?”
Holy Mother — Personal God and such things really disappear on the dawn of knowledge. The aspirant then realises that the Divine Being alone pervades the entire universe. All then become one. That is the simple Truth.
[Notes of Class-Talks] by Swami Yatiswarananda
Sri Ramakrishna used to say, “We should not ask God for the things of the world. Suppose He grants them. The material things may bring troubles to us.” When we approach this great Boon- Giver, we should never ask Him for worldly things connected with personal wishes and desires. We may approach the Lord just for saving our souls from getting drowned in the ocean of worldliness and infatuation for material things. Ordinarily, if we feel unhappy, we would rather adjust ourselves to our unhappiness and cling to our desires and fancies than change our ways and come to Truth and Bliss. We are so body-bound that we stress physical enjoyment more than anything else and are not prepared to renounce it. Rather we go on clinging desperately to its different forms although we get nothing but kicks and blows again and again. Such is the tremendous power of Maya or ignorance.
The Great Father or the Great Mother is witnessing the children at play, It is only when a child gets disgusted with its toys and childish occupations that the Lord really comes to it and draws it away from the play-field of illusion. Children play with sweets, with dolls, with toy-soldiers, with toy-houses and cars, and nothing can be done by the Lord until they get tired of these and turn away from them in utter disgust. God takes it as great fun. And then, one day, the child has become a little grown-up and cries, “What have I done with my life?” and the Lord says, “Yes, what have you done my child? Who asked you to do it? Who asked you to go on playing indefinitely in such a foolish way? Who asked you to get hurt and entangled in your toys? Who? Who did it all?” And then very often it is already too late and the child sits on the ruins of its shattered life and wails.
We all have many an opportunity to follow saner and better ways, but we cling to our particular toys and do not let go our hold. So we have to suffer, and shall have to suffer until we learn the great lesson life teaches us again and again, in innumerable ways, and come to act wisely. Just as most people try to achieve their worldly ambition and ideal, we should strive for spiritual life and illumination, but this most people won’t do. And it depends solely on our own choice, whether we take up the worldly life or the spiritual life, whether we lead a life of slavery and fear or that of freedom and fearlessness.
We must strive to achieve something that is higher, that is not subject to change and decay. But we very often choose the path of Avidya [ignorance] willfully and deliberately, because we cling to our phantoms of physical and emotional enjoyment which, after all, we shall have to give up sooner or later. We all, one day, must let go the hold, and if we do not do this of our own free will, the toy will be torn away from us and this will mean great sorrow and, in many cases, a broken heart. For most people this is the only way in which they can be made to learn their lessons, but it is very painful and usually takes many lives. We should try to live a spiritual life, knowingly, consciously, deliberately, in a spirit of dedication and singleness of purpose. This will of ours may be directed towards the higher channels of life or towards the lower ones, just as we please.
There is such a great void in the human heart. People try to fill it with some beautiful doll, a male doll or a female doll. One day, the doll breaks, and then they turn round to find some substitute for that old doll. In some rare cases, the heart may even break with the passing of the doll. This void can be filled only by the Divine, by our own true spiritual Self, and not by anything else. No satisfaction can be found in the doll in the long run, for, one day, even the smallest child becomes a grown-up person having no more a real interest in the mere playthings of life.
We are just like cows tied to a post with a very long rope. The cows could graze and have a certain amount of freedom in their movements, but the silly animals just turn round and round the post till the whole rope has become wound up and makes it impossible for them even to reach the grass at their feet. God gives a very long rope to man, but only in rare cases does man make the proper use of that rope. Mostly he entangles himself hopelessly in it, till he can scarcely move one way or the other. That is not God’s fault though. Learn to take the whole responsibility always on your own shoulders. It is a great mistake to hold God responsible for all that happens to you. You forget everything else for a moment’s pleasure and do not care to listen to what God has been telling man through all the ages.
Says Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita: “The Lord dwells in the hearts of all beings. Take refuge in him with all thy heart, by His grace shalt thou attain Supreme peace and the eternal abode. Thus has wisdom more profound than all profundities been declared to thee by Me. Reflecting over it fully, act as thou likest.”
Use and misuse of will-power
Spiritual life, if it means sublimation and purification of our feelings, means at the same time developing our will-power, forcing the mind to take to the higher path. This will must be wholly directed towards the higher life. We find in the world tremendous will-power and concentration, but both are given a wrong direction and thus lead man into deeper and deeper darkness and ignorance. If all the will-power you find in the world were directed along the right channels, this world of ours would immediately become a heaven.
We must set the spiritual goal very, very clearly before ourselves. If we are able to rouse tremendous enthusiasm in ourselves for the goal to be attained, then only shall we have the necessary energy to strive for it and do our utmost. In the world of the spirit you very often find people with a chaotic brain. They do not care to follow any definite system and like to drift on the bottomless sea of their emotions and impulses. So they attain practically nothing, in fact, just as little as the out-and-out worldly-minded people. No person with a muddled brain can have any success in the world, and much less so in the spiritual world. Settle once for all what you really want. Very often we want to attain peace, but follow a path that can only end in restlessness and trouble.
The Kingdom of Heaven is within you
God alone is the repository of all peace and blessedness. We should try to look within and find Him seated within our own heart. This body of ours is the living temple of God. This is a conception we find stressed again and again in all the Scriptures. The best temples of the Divine are the greatest prophets and seers. That is why they exert the greatest influence. Those who have realised the Truth in their own souls can alone teach others the way to realisation. The Lord is always at the back of our mind, at the back of our whole personality, and only if we can pray with a fervent heart, will the prayer be heard, otherwise not. We should never think in terms of happiness while praying. Happiness by itself is no real index for spiritual life, no proof whatever of spiritual progress or realisation.
The lover, when dreaming of his beloved, imagines things that have no reality. The madman, too, imagines things that do not exist at all. All hallucinations are to be avoided in spiritual life. We must try to get a glimpse of the Truth by following a systematic course of spiritual practice. If such a glimpse comes unawares, and if we are not properly prepared for it through long and regular training, the reaction may be tremendous and may even unsettle us for life. We must first learn how to become fit for such glimpses so that we can then make them our own for good. Spiritual evolution at first brings great pain to the aspirant, not happiness. In the intermediate stage his life becomes very difficult. Then he has no longer any real interest in what he has in the world and cannot yet obtain self-realisation. It is still beyond his reach. It is just like hanging in mid-air, without being able to get either up or down.
Very often when we get a thing, we find that we never really wanted it. We may have been seeking it, but when we get it we may actually find that the desire has vanished and some other desire has taken its place. Many people mistake the true nature of their yearnings and give them some worldly direction, whereas in reality no human yearning can ever find satisfaction in anything that is not permanent and unchanging, however people may try to deceive themselves on this point. The old void haunts them again and again and mostly in a more terrible and relentless form than before. People seek happiness outside, in attributes, in forms, in the phenomenon, whereas it lies in themselves from all time and can never be lost. Whatever we can lose in any way can never mean true happiness to us. We commit the mistake of looking at a certain span of time instead of looking at the whole. Temporary happiness there is, no doubt, in worldly things and worldly relations, in human love and human affections, but temporary happiness can never mean real happiness, rather it is the opposite of it. Let us have the desire to know our true nature, to know our real Self. In Self-realisation alone there lies real blessedness.
The test of Truth is this: Whereas in the case of worldly things and worldly relations you can never get any ultimate satisfaction, in the case of spirituality and spiritual life you can get that perfect satisfaction which is not dependent upon anything external. So the great sage Narada says, “Realising THAT, one attains to one’s heart’s desire. And thus only does one become immortal. Thus only does one become full of Bliss.”
Love thy neighbour as thy Self
First you must find your real Self and then only can you really love others. Do not try to love others indiscriminately before you have found your real Self, because such love will be blind and will do harm to you and to them. Such love is a fatal mistake which many people are inclined to make, even with the very best of intentions. And this at once bars all spiritual progress. Before you attain to the realisation of your own Self, all love for others is mere imagination, if not something worse. It is always a case of self-deception. It is not LOVE. Real LOVE comes only with the vision of Truth. Everything before that may be done as a discipline. Try to serve others to the best of your ability. Try to make yourself eligible for LOVE by becoming selfless, but do not flatter yourself that by trying to do this you have come to know what LOVE really is. LOVE can only find satisfaction when it begins to love the true SELF. So the Vedanta says — Love thy neighbour not only as thyself but as thy very Self. It is all one Self appearing as the many. Here alone we find the final reason why we should love our neighbours and all others.
And, above all, do not sacrifice your ideal for anyone, whatever happens. The moment your ideal is involved, you must become as hard as adamant and as relentless as the thunderbolt. Never sacrifice your ideal for anyone, not for anything that belongs to the world of manifestation. If my parents, my wife, my children, etc., etc., want me to take the wrong course; let their hearts break, because I should under no circumstance sacrifice Truth to their and my selfish interests and selfish love. I do not want to give them or myself the wrong happiness, by following their, as well as my false wishes, and increase their, as also my delusion all the more. If any people make a demand because of which you would have to give up your spiritual life altogether, never satisfy them. To-day there may still be the question of your striving to be pleasant to others connected with you by worldly ties. Later on, the day will come when others will have to accept your ideas or agree to differ from your ideas, or come to reject them altogether, causing thereby a definite breach. “Call none your father upon earth: for one is your father who is in heaven,” as Christ said.
What is our Reality?
It is often very difficult to have a yearning heart in the beginning and the reason is that God does not seem a reality to us. With most of us this body is our soul and it is for the enjoyment of this body on the material plane — it need not necessarily be a very gross form of enjoyment — that we are most anxious. Religion to most of us is something highly amateurish, a kind of fashion, just like so many other fashions. But if some day through our spiritual striving God comes to be a reality, we feel that our whole being responds to that reality and longs for it alone. If the world is real to us, it absorbs our entire attention. If something else is real, that, too, does the same. That which we take to be real for the time being affects us, calls up our feelings, draws out our will, as it occupies our whole intellect. In fact, our whole being responds to this reality. If we carefully study our own lives and those of the saints, we find a great difference. It is the “reality” that affects the minds of both, but the reality is something different to the saint from what it is to us ordinary people. To us this world is real: to them the spiritual world alone is real. Their whole life is busy with this one idea, how to realise the Divine, how to make Him a living reality instead of an intellectual and rather vague concept. If we are able to appre-ciate what the saint calls reality, we can also appreciate why he is ever ready to lay down his life for the sake of Self-realisation.
When we study the life of a Buddha, a Christ, a Sri Chaitanya, a Ramakrishna, we find that God to them all is the highest reality. The Divine is the central object of their lives and everything else is subordinate to it.
You may take up any aspect of God that appeals to you most: as mother, father, child, friend, comrade, play-fellow or lover. Only make Him somehow your nearest and dearest. So there is a prayer that says, “Thou art our Mother, Thou art our Father, Thou art our Friend, Thou art our Comrade, Thou art our Knowledge, Thou art our Wealth, Thou art our All in All.”
The ideal is to establish a close relationship with the Divine And we should clearly note that this God is not merely personal, but impersonal too.
As already said, whatever we take to be real, whatever we call real, draws our whole being, absorbs our whole mind, attracts our whole feeling. And according to Vedanta nothing is ultimately real which does not remain unchanged under all circumstances. Real is that alone which was in the past, is in the present, and will be in future, without ever undergoing any change. Everything that changes or decays, undergoes evolution or involution, belongs to the category of the unreal.
Sri Ramakrishna has said, “When the mind becomes pure and is freed from worldly attachments and longings, one comes to have true yearning for the Divine and then alone will one’s prayers reach Him. No message can be sent if the telegraph-wire be broken or if there be any other interruption.” With a yearning heart he used to cry to the Lord in solitude. He used to become unconscious to the world and lose himself in God. How to have connection with the Divine? Is it possible to get it if there be a break in the wire of the mind? The mind must be completely free from all worldly attachments, so that Divine communion may become an accomplished fact.
Sri Ramakrishna adds, “One comes to have the vision of God when there is this threefold attraction: the love that a. chaste wife has for her husband, the love that a mother bears for her child, the love that a rich man has for his riches.”
It is enough if one has sincere and single-hearted yearning, if one has true love for the Divine. He is the indwelling spirit. He looks to the yearning of the heart.
Until the mind is perfectly pure we can not know Him. It is only when we conquer lust, anger and greed that the Lord’s mercy falls on us and then comes the vision.
Begin as beginners!
Many people want to begin their spiritual life from the topmost rung of the ladder, but that cannot be done. There are no shortcuts to spiritual realisations, neither can anything be achieved without first finding out where one really stands. High philosophical flights and wonderful metaphysical dreams, however useful and necessary they may be, do not mean actual experience. By themselves they do not lead to realisation, but only to abstract and superfine speculations that have no connection at all with real spiritual life. We should know where we stand and then proceed from there. We must begin as beginners and go on step by step. As an ideal, Monism, or rather non-dualism, may be all right for us, but when we come to the practical aspects, we find that we are dualists and may have to remain so for a long time to come. It is amusing to hear people talking in high-sounding terms about the “Absolute”, the “Principle”, etc., because in most cases all these are nothing but empty speculations and frothy words and do not even mean that that particular person is fit for the monistic path. Nobody who stands in dualism, in whatever way it may be, is a Monist, whether Monism appeals to him or not.
Very often the mind of the modern man revolts at the idea of any particular discipline. It says: “Why should we busy ourselves with that? Haven’t we got enough drudgery in the world? We want the Absolute, so what is the use of Japam [repetition of the Divine Name], meditation on Divine attributes and forms? Let us reach the Absolute. Let us worship the Divine ‘in spirit and in truth’!” All this, no doubt, sounds very grand and highly spiritual, but as soon as we come down to the realities of life, we find out it does not mean anything at all. Mostly such people are convinced dualists as far as their own actions in daily life go. To worship God “in spirit and in truth” is all right. But where is the beginner who can do so? This is the point. For most people, it means just vagueness, hazy feelings, confused thinking and thoughtless actions — all done in a way that has no connection at all with the Divine or spiritual.
How to begin?— that is the point. How to get the necessary mental training?— that is the problem before us. Different thoughts constantly keep cropping up in our mind. When we wish to make the mind calm, it becomes more disturbed. It revolts the very moment we try to practise concentration. It suddenly takes the form of a tempestuous ocean in which we are in danger of getting completely lost. The whole mind is disturbed by mighty thought-waves, and the more we try to calm them, the mightier do they become. So meditation becomes a very tiresome process in the beginning instead of bringing light and peace to our soul, as it should .
As in the case of a horse-trainer who has to take great trouble in following a systematic course for breaking in the horse, similarly, with a view to break the mind, we must follow a certain definite system of discipline from which we should not deviate, taking care at the same time not to become mechanical in any way. In our spiritual discipline there must be great definiteness regarding all points. It won’t do for us to put two legs in two different boats. We must learn to follow one course definitely, without vacillation, and to proceed step by step, consciously intelligently and patiently. And that is the way to attain the goal of spiritual life in due course.