Source: Article by Swami Swahananda, Living Wisdom, Published by Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai, 1995.
THROUGHOUT THE AGES mankind has yearned for peace—world peace, national peace, community peace, and peace of the individual soul. This coveted yet elusive goal has been relentlessly pursued on the international level through peace talks, peace treaties, peace summits, and so forth. In a letter written by Leo Tolstoy, which was enthusiastically endorsed by Mahatma Gandhi, he expressed doubt that peace could be achieved by these methods. He wrote: “One thing only is needful: the knowledge of the simple and clear truth which finds place in every soul that is not stupefied by religious and scientific superstitions—the truth that for our life one law is valid—the law of love, which brings the highest happiness to every individual as well as to all mankind.”
International peace can come only if there is national peace, and national peace can come only if there is individual peace. If the world is in turmoil today, it is because its inhabitants are in turmoil. World peace begins with each one of us. As the well-known Russian painter and thinker Nicholas Roerich said, “Every man, every member of the human family, carries the responsibility for the peace of the whole world.”
A society is the summation of individuals. The values of a society are determined by its individuals, and the force of inequality in society, strengthened by selfish considerations, has to be kept under control.
The force that can hold society together is moral force, dharma, the consideration for the other person. This deep value in mankind, which enhanced becomes altruism, is possible only in an atmosphere of “toned-down materialism” and assertion of the Spirit. If the individuals value sense gratification and money, the society will be materialistic; if the individuals value intellectual pursuits, the society will be advanced in science and technology; if the individuals value the arts, the society will be cultured. Only if the individuals place the highest value on spiritual awakening, will the society be a peaceful one.
The jewel of everlasting peace is within each one of us, only waiting to be discovered. It is futile to try to find peace outside if we have not found it inside. As Swami Vivekananda said, “It is only with the knowledge of the Spirit that the faculty of want is annihilated forever. . . . Spiritual knowledge is the only thing that can destroy our miseries forever; any other knowledge satisfies wants only for a time.”
Lasting peace cannot be found in the external world. In fact, it is our identity with the external world that causes inner conflict and anxiety. Peace comes through detachment and renunciation. It [referring to peace] is not an emotion but the suspension of emotions. We can feel this temporary absence of emotion, and the peace associated with it, during an aesthetic experience. Aristotle said that the fine arts act as a catharsis. What is left after the outpouring of an emotion? An inner feeling of peace and harmony, at least until another emotion arises.
The path to eternal peace is not an easy one. It requires self-sacrifice and self-control. To quote Thomas a Kempis, “All men desire peace, but very few desire those things that make for peace.” In order to achieve inner peace, we must restructure the way we now think and feel. Peace, to be a part of our character, must be continually practiced. For, as Swami Vivekananda said, “Character is repeated habits.” “Blessed are the peacemakers,” said the Bible. But the peace must be a victory that defeats none. To quote Abraham Lincoln, “With malice towards none, with charity for all.”
The fundamental nature of man, says Vedanta, has two important characteristics: freedom and equality. These two aspects have found expression in man’s urge for freedom and equality in the social realm as well. Each of the two main ideals of social and political systems of the world, democracy and socialism, emphasizes one of these fundamental urges of mankind.
There are two classes of people working for peace. One strives to uplift humanity by eliminating tension, rivalry, and confrontation which culminate in skirmishes and war. They advocate peace as a necessity, especially in these times of nuclear development. The other class just lives peace by putting into practice the principles of peace. They are the deeply spiritual souls who have become identified with peace in their attitude and conduct. They exude peace. We honour the people who labour for peace because of its urgent need in this world of strife and tension, but we love the souls who live peace. That is why saints are so much loved and venerated.
Modern science now accepts the theory that the essence of all matter is energy, a theory which unifies the physical world. Long before the birth of Einstein, this unity was declared by the sages of the Upanishads who realized this through inspiration, or intuition. Their philosophy, Vedanta, teaches that the essence of all existence is the eternal, changeless Brahman—Existence, Knowledge, Bliss absolute. In the Chandogya Upanishad we read, “All this is verily Brahman.” That is, not merely mankind, but all creation is the manifestation of the same Reality.
Everlasting peace can be found only by becoming one with the infinite, blissful Brahman. In order to experience this unity we must transcend all differences and limitations. “Here, on earth,” said Swami Vivekananda, “we strive to enclose little spaces and exclude outsiders. . . . our aim should be to wipe out these little enclosures, to widen the boundaries until they are lost sight of.”
Beauty, philosophy, and science, when taken to their highest point, break the boundaries that separate us and lead the way to unity. The greatest value of artistic, intellectual, and spiritual culture is that it inspires us to expand beyond ourselves. Leo Tolstoy said: “Human life … is always striving for divine perfection that it is able to attain only in infinity. . . . Only the aspiration towards this perfection is enough to take the directions of man’s life away from the animal condition … towards the divine condition.”
Our awareness should expand from consideration of the self to those of the family, to community, to country, to mankind, and ultimately to all of existence. Such expansion leads to greater appreciation of the diversity in the world. We cannot appreciate this diversity if we are self-centered and assume that our way is the best and only way. When we realize our unity with all existence, we realize that diversity is merely a change in appearance. Swami Vivekananda said, “Nature is unity in variety—an infinite variation in the phenomenal—as in and through all these variations of the phenomenal runs the Infinite, the Unchangeable, the Absolute Unity.”
All the differences that cause discord have their origin in our perceptions of name and form, perceptions we have superimposed upon the essential unity of the universe. We have separated ourselves so much from the unity which pervades this world that we have become enemies of nature. This situation has reached crisis proportions. While civilization evolved from man’s attempt to control nature, he became isolated from it. He has forgotten that he is one with nature. Ecological considerations get the fullest support from this idea of the unity of existence. Rabindranath Tagore wrote, “When we become merely man, but not man-in-the-universe, we create bewildering problems. . . . But this cannot go on forever. Man must realize the wholeness of his existence, his place in the infinite.” Thus we see that in unity alone is lasting peace.
“This idea of oneness is the great lesson India has to give,” said Swami Vivekananda,
and mark you, when this is understood, it changes the whole aspect of things, because you look at the world through other eyes than you have been doing before. And this world is no more a battlefield where each soul is born to struggle with every other soul and the strongest gets the victory and the weakest goes to death. It becomes a playground where the Lord is playing like a child, and we are His playmates, His fellow-workers.
In this exalted state, eternal peace is ours.
Our efforts to attain peace should be approached on different fronts. Social and political measures will directly facilitate efforts for peace. Cultural and religious movements and institutions will create the climate for peace. In all types of groups—regional, national, and international— stress will have to be given to harmony and not to difference.
An awareness of different cultures and religions will have to be made with an effort to find the unity behind all. Spiritual and cultural communities will thus lessen tension and bring about understanding and peace.
Higher virtues conducive to individual and collective peace will have to be practiced. Altruism and selfless service will have to be encouraged.
May strength and conviction grow in us as we proceed with our own personal struggle for peace, and may they also unite our efforts towards world peace.
Shantih Shantih Shantih
Source of the Article: The Vedanta Kesary Special Issue – December 2013
[Excerpts of a lecture given by Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, then President of India, on 31 March 1963, on the occasion of Swami Vivekananda Birth Centenary at Sri Avinashilingam Home Science College, Coimbatore, India.]
In any living culture, you will always find a perpetual process of renewal. What happens to be heresy today becomes heritage tomorrow. What is adventure for us today, becomes legacy tomorrow. In other words, if a culture is to perpetuate itself, it is reaffirming its fundamentals and trying to readjust them to the requirements of each generation. If we lose this quality of self-renewal, the culture itself becomes decadent. It has been our good fortune that so far as the Indian culture is concerned, it has had this living vitality, this capacity to renew itself, to shed away the old and reincarnate itself in the new. In chapter 4 of the Bhagavad Gita, the Teacher says: ‘ I taught this yoga to Vivaswan, Vivaswan taught it to Manu. Manu taught it to Iksvaku. Today I am teaching it to you, Arjuna.’ In other words it is the same old Puratana Dharma also called Sanatana Dharma, the ancient doctrine. It is the eternal doctrine, that is being expressed in different ages by different individuals. . .
The great teachers are the vehicles of the living Word. They are the voice of the inspired Logos. They are the people who give utterance to the Eternal, dwelling in each individual. They have the capacity to give articulate expression to them. Swami Vivekananda was a spokesman of this divine Logos and he took hold of the requirements of this age in which he was born and presented it so as to make a fervent appeal to the hungry heart and the searching mind of his generation.
He was born in an age when science was predominant. He was a student in a Calcutta college where he read the great works of Herbert Spencer, John Stuart Mill, Bentham, Thomas Henry Huxley etc. He was steeped in the spirit of science. He was restless in spirit. . . . He wanted to know whether there was anyone in this world who could catch the spirit, who could convince him that he saw God, even as we see the walls before us or the audience here. . . . Chance as some people would call it, providence as others would say, led him to the door of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. He went to him in dire distress and asked him, ‘Have you seen God? Can you prove God to me?’ The answer came: ‘Yes. I have seen God. I have seen Him much more intensely than I see you here.’ That was the man who was able to transmit to him, to communicate to him and to tell him, that he saw the Divine Reality even as we see tables and chairs.
Then the. . . conversion happened. It was a moment of his rebirth, so to say. He became convinced of the reality of God. He said religion is not a matter of doctrinal conformity or ritualistic piety. They may be essential for people to reach a particular goal, but its fundamental reality is the sight of God. Faith must be replaced by sight. Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. It is that seeing of God that makes a man truly religious. . . .
Here it was that Vivekananda and Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa were echoing the great tradition of this country, the country which laid stress on the sight of God. ‘The sages see constantly,’ as the Gita puts it. ‘I know this eminent Purusha’, as the Upanishads say it. It is not a question of talking about God, acquiring a doctrine about God or accepting dogmas about God. It is a question of seeing God face to face, as other individuals see other sights. That is what distinguishes the authentically religious souls from the spurious souls who pretend to be religious as most of us do. We go about talking religion but denying God in every act which we do, paying our courtship to the world, the flesh and the devil. We accept God in theory, but deny him in practice. But a man who has realized God becomes incapable of doing anything which is undivine or irreligious. It is not possible. He has psychologically died to any kind of egoism or sin. That experience has made him a new being altogether, seeing with different eyes, feeling with different hearts, and his heart beating in sympathy with every kind of suffering, which we come across in this world.
So his spirit of science was satisfied, because here was a man who told him that God is a fact, is a reality, is something which we can experience. . . He passed through spiritual exercises, practised meditation till at last he was able also to say, ‘I have felt the reality of God. I have seen God.’ That was the kind of experience which Swami Vivekananda was able to accept. The touch of Sri Ramakrishna made him into a different being, gave to him the vision, ‘the divine eye’, divyachaksus, by which we are able to apprehend the Truth or the Ultimate Reality or the Supreme. Science, therefore, in him was satisfied. Religion, he knew, talked in a hundred different ways. What is it that we can say of this sensed reality, of that experienced reality, of that which we feel in our hearts? What is it we can say if we see a beautiful sunset? We say, it is beautiful. But to describe it in words will test you a lot. You can never bring out the beauty of a sunset by a series of words. It is something one has to see, if one is to appreciate its beauty; so also, the immensity of God, the mysteriousness of God is something which we can only see by ourselves. Other people may lead us but each one has to exercise the vision for himself. He has to see the reality for himself. . . .
. . . All people have asserted it, not merely our people; they have all asserted that the Supreme Reality cannot be expressed in words, cannot be expressed in logical propositions, but forms are necessary. It is achintya, it is aprameya, it is ashareera, it is nirvikara.
If forms are given to it, it is because forms have to be given to the Supreme for the sake of satisfying the desires, the ambitions of the ordinary people who cannot rise to that immense height of apprehending the Divine face to face. For such people you have to give them pathways, steps, rungs in the ladder. . .
It is for the sake of the devotees that we have them. When we know that these are pathways to reality, these are forms which we accept for apprehending the supreme reality, all quarrels about, which way you adopt, which approach, which address you make, these things become utterly irrelevant. So it is, he was able to say in that Chicago Parliament of Religions—’I don’t want a Christian to become a Hindu or a Buddhist, or a Hindu or Buddhist to become a Christian. I want each of them to learn from one another and grow according to his own genius and try to understand the fullest implications of his own particular religious idea.’
If you are able to do it, the path may turn and twist, but when you reach a hill top, you see, you observe the exact spiritual landscape which is the same whatever pathway you adopted, whatever method of approach you accepted. So he said, ‘Friends, we are one in God, in God the Supreme, who is called differently by different people. I don’t want you to give up your religion, but I want you to understand other religions. Learn from them, learn from them the tranquil spirit, learn from them patience under suffering, learn the need for calm meditation, learn from others whatever is valuable, whatever is of good report which they are able to give to you.’ So religion for him became a kind of an order, a kind of a norm, a kind of a harmony in which all religions have their place, provided you look upon them as partners in a quest, not rivals. . . .
Swami Sambuddhananda was a disciple of the Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi. At the invitation of the Vedanta Society of Hawaii, he visited Honolulu twice nearly fifty years ago. The following article, edited by Swami Bhaskarananda, is one of his talks given in Honolulu.
Article Source: Gobal Vedanta, Spring 2010 Issue.
Once Sri Ramakrishna said, “Those who will come ‘here’ will not be born again.” In other words, those who will come ‘here’ will attain liberation; they will be free from the cycle of repeated births and deaths.
When I first read this saying of Sri Ramakrishna, it appeared to be a little enigmatic to me. I couldn’t clearly understand what Sri Ramakrishna had meant by “here.” By the word “here” did Sri Ramakrishna mean his own divine Self, or did he mean something else?
So I asked several spiritually exalted disciples of Sri Ramakrishna to know how they had understood it. I had the privilege of asking Swami Saradananda, Swami Shivananda and a few others. Unfortunately, their replies didn’t quite satisfy me.
But, when I was not yet a monk of the Ramakrishna Order, I had the good fortune of living for a while with another great disciple of Sri Ramakrishna. He was my honored guest, and spent about two or three months with me. He was Swami Subodhananda, better known in the Ramakrishna Order as Khoka Maharaj. To him I referred the matter. And, in reply, he narrated one incident of his life, which helped me to understand the real significance of this utterance of Sri Ramakrishna.
Swami Subodhananda had many disciples. He had a number of disciples who lived in Ranchi, a town in Bihar. It so happened that all those disciples of Swami Subodhananda in Ranchi were Bengalees.
And one of them was a very good-natured, widowed girl named Kusum. Kusum had no children and lived with her parents and siblings. She was very much devoted to her guru, Swami Subodhananda. Whenever the swami visited their home in Ranchi, she had the opportunity to serve him with great love and devotion.
In the same neighborhood where Kusum lived with her parents, lived a certain Mukherjee family. They lived very close to Kusum’s home. Both Mr. Mukherjee and his wife were also devoted to Swami Subodhananda.
Whenever Swami Subodhananda would visit Kusum’s home he would also visit the Mukherjees.
After a few years, Kusum became quite ill. Her parents, siblings and all others who loved her were very sad. During the period of Kusum’s illness, Mr. and Mrs. Mukherjee would come and see her frequently. Eventually the doctors, under whose treatment she was, gave up all hopes about her recovery. Then came the sad day when Kusum breathed her last.
As soon as she passed away, her parents, overwhelmed with the unbearable pain of losing their dear daughter, started weeping and crying aloud. Hearing that outburst of grief and sensing that the worst must have happened to Kusum, both Mr. and Mrs. Mukherjee ran up to the balcony of the second floor of their house from where they could see what was happening at Kusum’s home. After a little while Mr. Mukherjee saw Khoka Maharaj walking out of that house holding Kusum’s hand. Then both Kusum and Khoka Maharaj slowly moved out of sight walking down the street.
Mr. Mukherjee wondered whether he had been seeing some kind of illusion. So he asked Mrs. Mukherjee, “Did you see Khoka Maharaj walk out of that house holding Kusum’s hand? Or, is it that I have been seeing things?”
Mrs. Mukherjee replied, “No, it’s not an illusion! I also have seen the same thing. But I don’t know how it could be possible!”
Both of them wondered: “How and when did Khoka Maharaj arrive here? We are always informed when he comes to Ranchi for a visit. And every time he visits Kusum’s home he visits our home as well.”
Later they inquired of Kusum’s parents if Swami Subodhananda had come to their home the day Kusum passed away. And they were told that he hadn’t come. The Mukherjees were extremely surprised to hear that, but kept silent. They didn’t tell anyone else about what both of them had seen on the day Kusum passed away.
After a few months Swami Subodhananda came for a visit to Ranchi. Then as usual he came to Kusum’s parents’ home to meet all the members of that large family. His words of consolation helped ease the grief of that bereaved family considerably.
After visiting that home, Swami Subodhananda came to see the Mukherjees. The Mukherjees were overjoyed, and they went on talking happily with the swami for quite a while, and listening to his spiritually inspiring words. In course of their conversation they also talked about what both of them had seen immediately after the death of Kusum.
Referring to that strange incident, they asked Swami Subodhananda, “Although you hadn’t actually come to Kusum’s home that day, immediately after Kusum’s death we saw you walking out of that home holding her hand. Will you please tell us why we saw that?”
Swami Subodhananda said to them that he was unable to answer their question at that time, but he assured them that he would tell them when he would be able to know what had actually happened that day.
Shortly thereafter Swami Subodhananda departed from Ranchi. After leaving Ranchi he went to Varanasi. He wanted to spend some time in Tapasya here. After a little searching he found a room in a very solitary area of the city. The Ramakrishna Order has two Ashramas in Varanasi. Had the monks
of those two Ashramas come to know of his presence in the city, they would immediately come and take him to one of those Ashramas. In apprehension of that possibility, Swami Subodhananda took great care to conceal his presence in Varanasi from the monks of those two Ashramas. In order not to be seen by them, he also had to be very careful about his movements within the city. He took these measures, because he wanted to perform his tapasya undisturbed and with all earnestness.
In performing tapasya one has to live alone, completely depending on God. Just to sustain his body, following the ancient monastic tradition, Swami Subodhananda would procure a little food every day from outside by begging. He would spend the rest of the day in the contemplation of God.
In this manner time went on. But after some days, Swami Subodhananda fell sick. He had a fever and his temperature was rising day after day. As a result, he was not in a position to go out every day and beg for his food. As the days went on, due to his persistent fever and lack of food, he grew weaker and weaker. Around this time he remembered that in the past, when he had once fallen ill in Ranchi, Kusum served him with great love and devotion until he recovered from that illness.
During this illness in Varanasi, one day he felt very thirsty. He got up from his bed with great effort and made an attempt to drink water. The drinking water was in his kamandulu2 away from his bed. After drinking a little water, while coming back to his bed, he fainted and collapsed on the floor. He remained in that state for some time. Then regaining consciousness, he went to his bed and tried his best to have a nap. While sleeping, he saw that Kusum was sitting by his bedside and was fanning him with a hand fan3.
Swami Subodhananda was extremely surprised to see her and asked Kusum, “How could you come here? Who brought you here?”
Kusum replied, “I was with Sri Ramakrishna, and he told me, ‘Khoka has fallen sick and he is remembering you. Go there and serve him.’ He has sent me here; that’s why I have come here.”
Khoka Maharaj asked her what kind of life she was leading in the Ramakrishna Loka4— the spiritual realm of Sri Ramakrishna.
Kusum said that she was leading a very peaceful life there, free from all kinds of worry and anxiety. Only peace reigns in Ramakrishna Loka. It is hard to describe through words the actual condition of that realm.
Then Swami Subodhananda asked her, “Well, can you tell me what happened to you when you died?”
Kusum replied, “During my illness, particularly during the last part of my illness, I was extremely worried. I was suffering terribly. Still I didn’t forget you. Then during the last moment of my life I saw that you had come to me. You told me, ‘Come on with me. Why should you wait any longer here?’”
“So I went with you. You held my hand and led me. After going a certain distance, when I looked toward you, I couldn’t find you. Instead, I saw Sri Ramakrishna in your place!”
“I asked him, ‘Revered Khoka Maharaj was all along with me. Where has he gone?’”
“Then Sri Ramakrishna said, ‘It was not Khoka whom you saw; it was I. I took the form of Khoka and led you from your home to this place. It wasn’t Khoka, but all along it was I who was accompanying you.’”
Then Kusum said to Swami Subodhananda that she was all the time with Sri Ramakrishna in Ramakrishna Loka, and was passing her days in great happiness and peace.
Hearing that, Swami Subodhananda said to her, “Very well, Kusum, now you may go back to where you have come from.”
When Swami Subodhananda narrated this incident to me, the meaning of Sri Ramakrishna’s utterance—“Those who will come ‘here’ will not be born again.”— became very clear to me. I understood that whoever would come to accept Sri Ramakrishna as his or her spiritual ideal through the gurus of the Ramakrishna Order would be liberated. They won’t be born again.
#2: Kamandulu is a water pot that sadhus carry.
#3: Editor’s note: Swami Subodhananda was not only a disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, but also a spiritually illumined soul. He had experienced God. Therefore his mind had a preponderance of sattva guna. This is why whatever he experienced in his dream was nothing but the truth.
#4: The devotees of Sri Ramakrishna call Brahmaloka by this name.
Mumukshutva is the intense desire to be free. Those of you who have read Edwin Arnold’s Light of Asia remember his translation of the first sermon of Buddha, where Buddha says,
Ye suffer from yourselves. None else compels.
None other holds you that ye live and die,
And whirl upon the wheel, and hug and kiss
Its spokes of agony,
Its tire of tears, its nave of nothingness.
All the misery we have is of our own choosing; such is our nature. The old Chinaman, who having been kept in prison for sixty years was released on the coronation of a new emperor, exclaimed, when he came out, that he could not
live; he must go back to his horrible dungeon among the rats and mice; he could not bear the light. So he asked them to kill him or send him back to the prison, and he was sent back. Exactly similar is the condition of all men. We run headlong after all sorts of misery, and are unwilling to be freed from them. Every day we run after pleasure, and before we reach it, we find it is gone, it has slipped through our fingers. Still we do not cease from our mad pursuit, but on and on we go, blinded fools that we are.
In some oil mills in India, bullocks are used that go round and round to grind the oil-seed. There is a yoke on the bullock’s neck. They have a piece of wood protruding from the yoke, and on that is fastened a wisp of straw. The bullock is blindfolded in such a way that it can only look forward, and so it stretches its neck to get at the straw; and in doing so, it pushes the piece of wood out a little further; and it makes another attempt with the same result, and yet another, and
so on. It never catches the straw, but goes round and round in the hope of getting it, and in so doing, grinds out the oil. In the same way you and who are born slaves to nature, money and wealth, wives and children, are always chasing a wisp of straw, a mere chimera, and are going through an innumerable round of lives without obtaining what we seek. The great dream is love; we are all going to love and be loved, we are all going to be happy and never meet with misery, but the more we go towards happiness, the more it goes away from us. Thus the world is going on, society goes on, and we, blinded slaves, have to pay for it without knowing. Study your own lives, and find how little of happiness there is in them, and how little in truth you have gained in the course of this wild-goose chase of the world.
Do you remember the story of Solon and Croesus? The king said to the great sage that Asia Minor was a very happy place. And the sage asked him, “Who is the happiest man? I have not seen anyone very happy.” “Nonsense,” said Croesus, “I am the happiest man in the world.” “Wait, sir, till the end of your life; don’t be in a hurry,” replied the sage and went away. In course of time that king was conquered by the Persians, and they ordered him to be burnt alive. The funeral pyre was prepared and when poor Croesus saw it, he cried aloud “Solon! Solon!” On being asked to whom he referred, he told his story, and the Persian emperor was touched, and saved his life.
Such is the life story of each one of us; such is the tremendous power of nature over us. It repeatedly kicks us away, but still we pursue it with feverish excitement. We are always hoping against hope; this hope, this chimera maddens us; we are always hoping for happiness. …
Few men know that with pleasure there is pain, and with pain, pleasure; and as pain is disgusting, so is pleasure, as it is the twin brother of pain. It is derogatory to the glory of man that he should be going after pain, and equally derogatory, that he should be going after pleasure. Both should be turned aside by men whose reason is balanced. Why will not men seek freedom from being played upon? This moment we are whipped, and when we begin to weep, nature gives us a dollar; again we are whipped, and when we weep, nature gives us a piece of ginger-bread, and we begin to laugh again.
The sage wants liberty; he finds that sense-objects are all vain and that there is no end to pleasures and pains. …
The majority of people are just like a flock of sheep. If the leading sheep falls into a ditch, all the rest follow and break their necks. In the same way, what one leading member of a society does, all the others do, without thinking what they are doing. When a man begins to see the vanity of worldly things, he will feel he ought not to be thus played upon or borne along by nature. That is slavery.
If a man has a few kind words said to him, he begins to smile, and when he hears a few harsh words, he begins to weep. He is a slave to a bit of bread, to a breath of air; a slave to dress, a slave to patriotism, to country, to name, and to fame. He is thus in the midst of slavery and the real man has become buried within, through his bondage. What you call man is a slave. When one realises all this slavery, then comes the desire to be free; an intense desire comes. If a piece of burning charcoal be placed on a man’s head, see how he struggles to throw it off. Similar will be the struggles for freedom of a man who really understands that he is a slave of nature.
Source: ‘Steps of Realisation‘, The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol I
Two Conditions for Peace
‘On two occasions in my life I enjoyed true peace of mind,’ said Ramu to his friend Anil.
‘The first one was,’ he continued, ‘when I eagerly wanted to buy a car and, after much struggle, finally purchased it. Commuting, travelling became much easier!’
‘Which one was the second occasion?’ asked Anil.
‘When I sold it,’ answered Ramu with beaming face!
Such is the nature of life. What seems to give happiness today becomes a source of unhappiness later. What seems to give ‘peace’ in a set of circumstances becomes a burden, a painful burden, at other times. This swinging between contradictions and contrasts is an essential truth we all have to face. Life is full of dualities, and one cannot escape this simple fact. Heat and cold, success and failure, praise and blame, good times and bad times—all these are inbuilt in the very fabric of life. One cannot think of life apart from these dualities. Our attitude towards these dualities is key to having peace within; running away from them is neither possible nor a way out.
Peace, as in the above conversation, comes when either of the two things is present—either we have what we wanted or we do not want something. We get something, and that brings peace. Or do not want to have something—i.e., we want to either avoid it or want to get rid of it—and when we succeed in doing it that brings peace. In Sanskrit the first one is called ishta prapti (getting what one wants) and the second one is called anishta nivritti (getting rid of what is unwanted). In either case, peace is the result.
Peace, Temporary and Permanent
Having said this, let us also examine why we lose peace of mind. Why do we become un-peaceful, restless, and further, anxious, worried, fearful and so on? What prevents us from becoming peaceful?
Of course, there is lower type of peace and higher type of peace. Both are important in our understanding of peace and for leading a peaceful life.
The lower type of peace is when our immediate desires and needs are fulfilled. It results from overcoming a lack, filling up some deficiency, prevailing over a scarcity. For instance, meeting our daily needs such as getting food and potable water, in required quantities and at right time and place, having proper place to live, or getting rid of a noisy situation or handling a quarrelsome person or being able to do something. Passing an examination, filing one’s tax returns, getting a ticket for the much-required journey, repairing a leaking roof, overcoming hesitation and fear in solving a personal issue or setting right a misunderstanding or sour relationship—all these seem to be sources of peace of mind.
The higher type of peace of mind is not a result of obtaining or getting rid of something but it comes from some deeper source. Peace that comes from ethically fulfilling a course of action or something even deeper, from calming the restless mind through meditation and prayer—they are good examples of higher types of peace. It is a well-known fact that only external, or lower type of peace cannot bring lasting peace. One needs higher type of peace, though the role of ‘lower’ type of peace is of no mean importance in the scheme of things.
Vedanta says that ignorance of the real nature of what we call our self is the chief cause of our restlessness. There are two selves—the lower self called ego, and the higher Self. The higher Self is called in Sanskrit atman. This higher self is by nature peace and joy itself. The lower self is born of ignorance and is hence full of imperfections and a mixture of good and bad, or happiness and unhappiness. To be happy or to attain true inner peace, one needs to experience the Higher Self or atman, which is also the ultimate goal of life. Ego is the source of all fear and restlessness. Ego or lower self, thrives on boundaries of separation from others which leads to imagined fear, or bitter show-downs against the perceived enemy or ego-filled celebrations at one’s success or others’ failure and so on.
Peace is a pre-condition for happiness. Gita’s famous question (2.66): ashantasya kutah sukham—‘where is the happiness for the one who lacks peace?’ poses a challenge: without peace of mind, there is no happiness. For instance, if fulfilment of a desire makes one happy, observe what happens just before happiness comes—there is peace. The want was causing restlessness of mind—one strove to fulfil the desire and, thanks to many factors, when the desire is met with favourable conditions, one becomes peaceful, and the joy or happiness that is already within, begins to shine out! You removed the covering of desire and inner happiness shone out. But, we mistake that it is the fulfilment of desire that brings happiness. On the other hand, when we succeed in getting rid of the unwanted, there too, peace precedes happiness. Peace is inherent. It is the nature of Self. And Self is not body, or ego or mind or anything created. It is. Self is and isness is peace.
The chief cause of peace-less-ness is clinging on to lower self and forgetting the ultimate goal of life. To cling to lower self is what is called materialism. Swami Vivekananda describes it thus:
We pray for material things. To attain some end we worship God with shopkeeping worship. Go on and pray for food and clothes! Worship is good. Something is always better than nothing. ‘A blind uncle is better than no uncle at all.’ A very rich young man becomes ill, and then to get rid of his disease he begins to give to the poor. That is good, but it is not religion yet, not spiritual religion. It is all on the material plane. What is material, and what is not? When the world is the end and God the means to attain that end, that is material. When God is the end and the world is only the means to attain that end, spirituality has begun.1
He further says,
Material science can only give worldly prosperity, whilst spiritual science is for eternal life. If there be no eternal life, still the enjoyment of spiritual thoughts as ideas is keener and makes a man happier, whilst the foolery of materialism leads to competition and undue ambition and ultimate death, individual and national.2
While materialism gives comforts, spirituality alone makes life a fulfilling experience. Materialism, in its extreme form, is nothing but rank selfishness, immorality and cruelty. Spirituality, on the other hand, brings a higher vision of life. It gives hope and meaning to life.
Materialism has a place in life but it cannot be the goal of life. Called abhudaya or material prosperity, it is necessary but without a spiritual ideal it leads to gloom, endless anxieties and death. Only that which is inherent can be the goal. Self, the atman, is inherent and realisation of it alone can be the lasting goal of life.
A Peaceful Mind
Samachittatvam or maintaining equilibrium of mind is essential to peace of mind. The term Samachittatvam comes in the Gita (13.9). In his commentary on the Gita, Sridharaswami, a renowned saint-scholar of fifteenth century, observes that equilibrium of mind is freedom from identification with ‘me and mine’. The more one identifies oneself with an object or person, the more one is likely to get shaken by the events connected with it. In other words, it is detachment which is the source of true calmness of mind.
Manah Prasadam or a cheerful and calm disposition of mind (Gita 2.65 and 17.16) is characteristic of a pure mind. It is both a spiritual practice and the goal of spiritual disciplines. As a practice, one should learn to keep one’s mind in cheerful and calm state by being cautious about those factors that may distract or affect us in any way.
There are many reasons which make the mind restless, and the resultant peacelessness An eminent monk of the Ramakrishna Order describes the obstacles in controlling the mind:
1. If we have strong likes and dislikes, attachments and aversions, we shall not be able to control our minds.
2. If we live an immoral life we shall not be able to control our minds.
3. If we have the habit of deliberately harming others we shall not be able to control our minds.
4. If we indulge in intoxicants, live unbalanced and chaotic lives, e.g. eat, drink, talk, work, or sleep too little or too much, we shall not be able to control our minds.
5. If we habitually indulge in vain controversy, are inordinately inquisitive about others’ affairs, or are too anxious to find others’ faults, we shall not be able to control our minds.
6. If we torture our bodies unnecessarily, spend our energies in futile pursuits, force rigid silence upon ourselves, or become too egocentric, we shall not easily control our minds.
7. If we are over-ambitious irrespective of our capacities, if we are jealous of others’ prosperity, or if we are self-righteous, we shall not easily control our minds.
8. If we have a feeling of guilt, we shall not be able to control our minds. Therefore we must erase all guilt from within us. To repent for sins committed and ask God’s help for strength of will so that they may not be repeated, that is all that is needed to be free from guilt.
9. To succeed in controlling the mind one must have, in addition to strong will, faith in oneself. Sri Krishna says in the Gita that one must oneself subdue one’s weakness and raise oneself by oneself. This teaching must be practiced by one who intends to control his mind.
10. The mind will have to be controlled by the mind itself. The difficulties which we experience in controlling the mind are created by our own mind. Mind cannot be controlled by artificial means for any length of time. Deliberate, patient, intelligent, systematic hard work according to tested and suitable disciplines is needed.3
If one wants peace, one has to go to the root of what causes its absence. Some superficial change in circumstances and conditions will not change it. One should have a comprehensive understanding and approach. Peace of mind includes a whole plethora of issues, the primary being inner purity which implies inner disciplines and inner transformation.
1. CW, 6.66
2. CW, 6.391
3. Mind and Its Control, Swami Budhananda, Advaita Ashrama, Kolkata. P. 39
What is it that gives unity to the changing whole of our being? What is it that keeps up the identity of the moving thing moment after moment? What is it upon which all our different impressions are pieced together, upon which the perceptions, as it were, come together, reside, and form a united whole? We have found that to serve this end there must be something, and we also see that that something must be, relatively to the body and mind, motionless. The sheet of cloth upon which the camera throws the picture is, relatively to the rays of light, motionless, else there will be no picture. That is to say, the perceives must be an individual. This something upon which the mind is painting all these pictures, this something upon which our sensations, carried by the mind and intellect, are placed and grouped and formed into a unity, is what is called the soul of man.
And unless a man cuts through the layer of evil he cannot reach the layer of good, and unless he has passed through both the layers of good and evil he cannot reach the Self. He who reaches the Self, what remains attached to him? A little Karma, a little bit of the momentum of past life, but it is all good momentum. Until the bad momentum is entirely worked out and past impurities are entirely burnt, it is impossible for any man to see and realise truth. So, what is left attached to the man who has reached the Self and seen the truth is the remnant of the good impressions of past life, the good momentum. Even if he lives in a body and works incessantly, he works only to do good; his lips speak only benediction to all; his hands do only good works; his mind can only think good thoughts; his presence is a blessing wherever he goes. He is himself a living blessing.
Such a man will, by his very presence, change even the most wicked persons into saints. Even if he does not speak, his very presence will be a blessing to mankind. Can such men do any evil; can they do wicked deeds? There is, you must remember, all the difference of pole to pole between realisation and mere talking.
Any fool can talk. Even parrots talk. Talking is one thing, and realising is another. Philosophies, and doctrines, and arguments, and books, and theories, and churches, and sects, and all these things are good in their own way; but when that realisation comes, these things drops away. For instance, maps are good, but when you see the country itself, and look again at the maps, what a great difference you find! So those that have realised truth do not require the ratiocinations of logic and all other gymnastics of the intellect to make them understand the truth; it is to them the life of their lives, concretised, made more than tangible. It is, as the sages of the Vedanta say, “even as a fruit in your hand”; you can stand up and say, it is here.
So those that have realised the truth will stand up and say, “Here is the Self”. You may argue with them by the year, but they will smile at you; they will regard it all as a child’s prattle; they will let the child prattle on. They have realised the truth and are full. Suppose you have seen a country, and another man comes to you and tries to argue with you that that country never existed, he may go on arguing indefinitely, but your only attitude of mind towards him must be to hold that the man is fit for a lunatic asylum.
So the man of realisation says, “All this talk in the world about its little religions is but prattle; realisation is the soul, the very essence of religion.” Religion can be realised. Are you ready? Do you want it? You will get the realisation if you do, and then you will be truly religious. Until you have attained realisation there is no difference between you and atheists. The atheists are sincere, but the man who says that he believes in religion and never attempts to realise it is not sincere.
-The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 2.284-
Haripada babu found the Swami [Swami Vivekananda] well read not only in religion and philosophy, but in secular matters as well. To his surprise the Swami quoted at considerable length from The pickwick Papers. Thinking it strange that a sadhu should be so familiar with profance literature, he asked the Swami how often he had read the only twice. When asked how he could have memorized it in only two readings, the Swami answered that when he read anything he concentrated his entire attention upon it.
“Power of mind arises from control of the forces of the body. The idea is to conserve and transform the physical energy into mental and spiritual energy. The great danger lies in spending the forces of the body in wanton and reckless pleasures, and thus losing the retentive faculties of the mind. Whatever you do devote your whole mind, heart and soul to it. I once met a great sannyasi who would clean his brass cooking vessels making them sine like gold, with as much care and attention as he bestowed on his worship and meditation.”
Haripada Mitra continues:
At this time Haripadababu was given to dosing himself with various medicines. The Swami advised him against it, saying that most diseases were purely of a nervous character and could be eradicated by vigorous and radically different states of mind. “ And what is the use of thinking of disease always?” added the Swami. “Live a righteous life; then all will be well. And as regards death, what does it matter if people like you and me die? That will not make the earth deviate from its axis! We should never consider ourselves so important as to think that the world cannot go on without us!” From that day Haripadababu gave up the habit.
Haripadababu had a coveted position and was drawing a handsome salary; but he used to get irritated when reprimanded at the office by his superiors, who were English. When the Swami heard this he said: “You have yourself taken this service for the sake of money and are duly paid for it. Why should you trouble your mind about such small things and add to your miseries by continually thinking, ‘Oh, in what bondage am I placed1’? No one is keeping you in bondage, You are quite at liberty to resign if you choose. Why should you constantly carp at your superiors? If you feel your present position helpless, do not blame them, blame yourself. Do you thing they care a straw whether you resign or not? There are hundreds of others to take your place. Your business is to concern yourself and the whole world will appear good to you. You will then see only the good in others. We see in the external world the image that we carry in our hearts. Give up the habit of fault-finding, and you will be surprised to find how those against whom you have a grudge will gradually change their entire attitude towards you. All our mental states are reflected in the conduct of others towards us.” These words of the Swami made an indelible impression on the listener, and he turned over a new leaf.
Source: The Life of the Swami Vivekananda, Vol 1, by Eastern and Western Disciples, Advaita Ashrama, Kolkata, Publication.
In the beginning of our spiritual life, we depend upon, and are taught to depend upon, ourselves; we practice self-reliance and strengthen ourselves. And thus we start our long march of human growth and fulfillment. All the early chapters of the Gita are largely concerned with this growth of human individuality, with this development of individual identity and character-strength, as an integral part of its philosophy of a comprehensive spirituality, which is the yoga taught by the Gita.
That is a significant truth, which we often miss to recognize and act upon. Swami Vivekananda presents it as the central truth of his philosophy of man-making education and man-making religion. Says he in his lecture on ‘My Plan of Campaign’ (Complete Works, Vol. III, 1960 edition, pp. 224-25):
‘What we want is strength, so believe in yourselves. …Make your nerves strong. What we want is muscles of iron and nerves of steel. We have wept long enough; no more weeping, but stand on your feet and be men. It is a man-making religion that we want. It is man-making theories that we want. It is man-making education all round that we want. And here is the test of truth: Anything that makes you weak, physically, intellectually, and spiritually, reject as poison; there is no life in it, it cannot be true. Truth is strengthening; Truth is purity, Truth is all-knowledge.’
Say two popular verses of the Indian tradition:
Udyoginam purusa-simham upaiti laksmi daivena deyamiti kapurusa vadanti;
Daivam nihatya kuru paurusam atmasaktya Yatne krte yadi na siddhyati ko’tra dosah—
‘Lakshmi, or the goddess of Fortune, comes only to the industrious lion among men; it is only weaklings that say that we have to take what fate brings unto us; forsake this dependence on fate and express your manliness through the strength of self-reliance; what harm is there if no results come after you put forth your endeavour?‘
Udyamena hi sidhyanti Karyani na manorathaih;
Na hi suptasya simhasya pravisanti mukhe mrgah—
‘It is, verily, only through industriousness that we accomplish what are to be achieved, not through vain day-dreamings; no deer are going to (oblige a lion and) enter into its mouth while (it is lazily) asleep!‘
That is the first great lesson. Gain physical strength and mental strength; develop your talents and capacities and work-efficiency; gain self-confidence, practise self-reliance; and earn knowledge and wealth by hard honest labour; and share your wealth and happiness with others and earn their good-will and appreciation. All this is part and parcel of the spiritual training of man in the early stages. Renunciation of wealth, renunciation of this ‘I’, complete surrender to God, comes later; not at the beginning.
Swami Vivekananda sought to emphasize this truth about human growth very much, because he found among his people many, who were weak and good-for-nothing and yet holding the attitude: ‘God, I am nothing, You are everything. I surrender myself to You.’ They are really nothing!
Obviously, there is nothing praiseworthy about their statement of self-surrender. It is meaningless to regard any one unfit for the world as fit for God (or spiritual life). God will say to Himself: ‘What shall I do with this fellow? He or she will be a burden to me. It is not a joy to have such a devotee; bhakti, or devotion to Me, is made of a sterner stuff.’
This is a great idea. The sooner we understand it, the better. Says Swami Vivekananda in his lecture on ‘Vedanta and Its Application to Indian Life’ (Complete Works, Vol. III, p. 237):
‘Strength, strength, is what the Upanishads preach to me from every page. . . . O Man, be not weak. Are there no human weaknesses?—says man. There are, say the Upanishads; but will more weakness heal them? Would you try to wash dirt with dirt? Will sin cure sin, weakness cure weakness? . . . Ay, it is the only literature in the world where you find the word abhih, fearless, used again and again.‘
Only clean things can remove dirt, only strength can remove weakness, only light can remove darkness.
Source: Divine Grace, by Swami Ranganathananda, Published by Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai.
AN ILLUMINED LOVE which never degenerates into attachment, A SUPERIOR DIGNITY untainted by the least trace of pride, a SUBLIME WISDOM which sheds light but not scorching heat – these elements characterize true greatness, a spontaneous synthesis of truth and love, of strength and grace.
The truly great ones are whole and wholesome, not the victims of partial and mutually incompatible virtues so much apparent in lesser men. Their life as well as words reveal a fascinating harmony of rare qualities. Witness the struggles of the aspirant in whom one virtue can hardly co-exist with another; whose truth hurts, whose frankness is obviously ‘brutal’, whose sincerity is embarrassing, whose strength is withering, or whose sympathy and compassion only serve to encourage weaknesses.
It needs a perfected soul to harmonize strength and grace even under the most delicate and provocative of circumstances; and precisely one such was the Buddha, the Blessed One.
On one occasion his dear and remarkable disciple, Sariputra, approached the Guru in an exalted mood of adoration. After saluting reverently he took his seat by the Master’s side and burst into a high eulogy: “Lord! There is none greater than you, the Blessed One; there never has been any, there never will be, and none other exists now – greater or wiser. That is what I think; that is my faith.”
The Blessed One was free to accept this praise and adoration, coming as it did from a sincere heart; free to approve of it and bask in its welcome warmth – the way many lesser teachers are often tempted to do.
Or like certain stern ‘impersonalists’ he could have over-reacted, coming down heavily on the disciple and reduced him to pulp with stinging words and ridicule. None of the personality cult!
One way he could have inflated his own ego; the other way he could have broken and crushed that of the disciple. He did something infinitely better; made both shine out better.
Gently and calmly, he just put a counter-question: “Is that so Sariputra? Grand and bold indeed is your assertion. That means you have obviously known all the Blessed Ones of the whole past, and that thoroughly…?”
Honest that he was, Sariputra would not try to defend his position emotionally. Plain was his answer. “How can I say that, Lord? I can’t.”
A little pause, and the Buddha again inquired: “Then you must surely have known all the Blessed Ones yet to come, and that perfectly…?”
Sariputra might have felt embarrassed but that did not come in the way of his truthfulness. So he replied: “Not so, O Lord… I have not.”
A little more pause and the Blessed One asked: “But then, at least you know me as the holy Buddha now alive, and you have penetrated my mind fully and completely…?”
Sariputra could only say, “No Lord… Not that even.”
The very nature of the question-answer process was enough to awaken the needed perspective in Sariputra’s mind. That done, the Buddha clinched the issue saying, “You see then, Sariputra! You know not the hearts of the Buddhas of the past nor the future… nor even of myself. How then can you make such a grand and bold statement?”
Sariputra admitted that his statement was not based on knowledge of facts but on his own deep faith, and tried to explain himself.
“Great is your faith, Sariputra,” declared the Blessed One appreciatively, yet at the same time adding the warning, “but take heed that it is well-grounded.”
The superior teacher, the right kind of Guru he was, the Buddha would not destroy the disciple’s faith nor allow it to run in wrong channels. He would not allow the other great ones to be belittled; but neither would he unnecessarily belittle himself, nor would he make the disciple feel small.
All concerned would be borne aloft by the uplifting breeze of gentle wisdom.
So it is no wonder that he declared on another occasion, “Those that take refuge in me with faith and devotion will get Svarga, paradise. Those who, with full faith, will follow my Dharma (the path of Truth) will become Buddhas like me.”
Source: Profiles in Greatness, Swami Sastrananda, Published by Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai, India.