Source of the Article: The Vedanta Kesary issue – March 2014
A Positive Attitude
What do we need most in order to succeed in life—mundane and spiritual? Possibly, there are many answers that can be enlisted. But according to Swami Vivekananda, the most vital and essential quality needed to succeed in life is Shraddha.
What is Shraddha? What is its English translation? Says Swami Vivekananda, while narrating the story of Nachiketa in the Kathopanishad,
I would not translate this word Shraddha to you, it would be a mistake; it is a wonderful word to understand, and much depends on it; we will see how it works, for immediately we find Nachiketa telling himself, ‘I am superior to many, I am inferior to few, but nowhere am I the last, I can also do something.’ And this boldness increased, and the boy wanted to solve the problem which was in his mind, the problem of death. The solution could only be got by going to the house of Death, and the boy went. There he was, brave Nachiketa, waiting at the house of Death for three days, and you know how he obtained what he desired. What we want is this Shraddha.
Nachiketa had both—faith in himself and boldness. Hence Shraddha is faith plus boldness. Not only that. Shraddha has many shades of meaning and includes many ‘higher values’. It is considered a cardinal virtue in the Indian Tradition. Says one of the monks of the Ramakrishna Order,
Shraddha is a mental attitude constituted primarily of sincerity of purpose, humility, reverence and faith. You have Shraddha for your Guru—it is a sincere reverence. You have Shraddha for the Gita—it is admiration for those of its teachings you understand and faith in those that you do not. You give alms to a beggar with Shraddha—it is a sense of humility, combined with the hope that what you give will be acceptable and serviceable.
Purpose, humility, reverence and faith—all these together constitute Shraddha. So if one has Shraddha, one is endowed with all these qualities. And the Gita says, shraddhavan, one endowed with Shraddha, attains the highest knowledge (both mundane and spiritual). Let us contemplate on the four aspects of Shraddha stated above. All the four aspects, let us remember, are interrelated:
Purpose: Or prayojanam in Sanskrit, purpose means the force or the power of motivation with which one does something. According to the Gita [17.3] there are three types of forces that influence us in whatever we do or think. Called Gunas (sattva, rajas tamas), these forces are the basic building blocks of the universe. So, one’s purpose may be laced with either sattva or rajas or tamas Guna. One with a sattvik intent will be inclined towards pure and higher things in life. And those who are rajasik or tamasik, will have their Shraddha towards worldly things or wicked objectives. Purpose means the motive with which we seek, and here it means, seeking with faith and not doubt and suspicion.
Humility: It is the quality of receptivity and willingness to learn and to undergo all that is involved in learning. Humility is not an attitude of servility but it is the ability to let go one’s ego and bend oneself to receive something. Sri Ramakrishna used to say that rain water always flows downwards. Similarly knowledge and all higher things in life go towards a receiver who is opened with humility. You cannot pour milk into a cup already filled! Nor can knowledge be imparted to one who is filled with a sense of pride that he already knows everything.
Reverence: Shraddha and reverence always go together. One should have a sense of respect and adoration as opposed to casualness and carelessness. It is respect for something that endows one with continuity and stability. Sage Patanjali (1.14) includes respect (satkara) as one of the vital components for the practice of mind-controlling. Respect is called also Bhava, the emotional disposition. Swamiji says,
When in ancient times this knowledge (Jnana) and this feeling (Bhava) thus blossomed forth simultaneously in the heart of the Rishi, then the Highest Truth become poetic, and then the Vedas and other scriptures were composed.
At the core of respectfulness lies admiration and appreciation. We admire and admire, and that becomes frozen into a respectful attitude. Respect is also described as an attitude of non-exploitation—one is honest and devoted and does not behave with calculation.
Faith: Faith is the very basis of normal life. One cannot be normal if one doubts everything. Faith means being firmly rooted in the presence of something. In fact, the term Shraddha primarily conveys the idea of faith. Swami Vivekananda too mostly uses the term to mean faith. He says,
The . . . qualification required is Shraddha, faith. One must have tremendous faith in religion and God. . . . A great sage once told me that not one in twenty millions in this world believed in God. I asked him why, and he told me, ‘Suppose there is a thief in this room, and he gets to know that there is a mass of gold in the next room, and only a very thin partition between the two rooms; what will be the condition of that thief?’ I answered, ‘He will not be able to sleep at all; his brain will be actively thinking of some means of getting at the gold, and he will think of nothing else.’ Then he replied, ‘Do you believe that a man could believe in God and not go mad to get Him? If a man sincerely believes that there is that immense, infinite mine of Bliss, and that It can be reached, would not that man go mad in his struggle to reach It?’ Strong faith in God and the consequent eagerness to reach Him constitute Shraddha.
Purpose, humility, reverence and faith, thus, together are called Shraddha.
The Capacity ‘to Hold Truth’
In its etymological sense, Shraddha means our inherent capacity to hold the truth (shrat dharane). And indeed so. Here is some truth. How do you know it? By holding it to be true. That holding-ness is called Shraddha. It is an inherent power like we have the inherent power to digest food without which we cannot live.
Let us look at Shraddha further. Adi Shankara says in his Viveka-chudamani ;
Shastrasya guru-vakyasya satyabuddhi-avadharanam;
Sa shraddha kathita shadbhir-yaya vastu-upalabhyate
Acceptance by firm judgement as true of what the scriptures and the guru instruct, is called by sages shraddha or faith, by means of which the Reality is perceived.
Says Swami Ranganathananda, the 13th President of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission:
Here we have a precise definition of the term shraddha. Understanding as true the words of guru and scriptures is shraddha or faith (shastrasya guru-vakyasya satyabuddhi-avadharanam). What we usually understand as faith is mere static belief (visvasa). Such a static believer simply swallows what others say. He does not subject it to evidential tests. But shraddha here means faith with a view to investigating the truth of what is told. Deep rational thinking forms the basis of such faith. Satya-buddhi-avadharanam means ascertaining through reason the truth of what is taught. This makes us go ahead from the level of faith to the level of truth.
Whether it is physical science or science of spirituality, as sciences they tell us their respective truths. We must have faith that the teachers of these sciences are telling the truth, and when this faith makes us forge ahead to experience the truth, it is shraddha. It is not merely believing, but believing that the teachings of the scriptures and the words of guru are true, and struggling to reach that truth-level. Shraddha is that by which the truth is realized (sa shraddha kathita sadbhir-yaya vastu-palabhyate).
Sri Ramakrishna gives a beautiful illustration. When we go to fish in a lake, we take a fishing rod and line, with bait fixed to it. We cast the line and bait into the lake and wait patiently. We may not have seen fishes in that lake. We have only heard from others who have fished there. Our shraddha in their words makes us go to the lake and verify the truth of their statement. We sit for a long time and yet fail to catch a fish. But by this alone we do not conclude that there is no fish in the lake. We come again the next day and keep striving. What is the basis of this unremitting effort? It is the dynamic faith that there is fish in the lake. All great discoveries in the fields of science and religion are the result of such a positive attitude and the action based on such an attitude. Finally when we catch a fish, our belief turns into a verified truth. Similarly, there is a divine truth hidden in all of us. Our guru tells us about it and so do the scriptures. We have not seen it. But we believe in their words and struggle to make that belief true by realization. That’s why Thomas Huxley, a collaborator of Darwin, said in the last century (quoted by J. Arthur Thompson in his Introduction to Science, p. 22):
‘The longer I live, the more obvious it is to me that the most sacred act of a man’s life is to say and feel, “I believe such and such to be true.” All the greatest rewards and all the heaviest penalties of existence cling about that act.’
It is not enough to say, ‘I believe’. Any fool can say that. But a man who says, ‘I believe such and such to be true’ and carries his life to that truth-level has transformed his belief into truth. He possesses Shraddha. It is a capacity to convert belief into truth and conviction. What does Shraddha mean in physical sciences? It means a faith in the meaningfulness of the universe. A scientist cannot investigate into the mysteries of nature unless he has a prior feeling that nature is worth investigating, that there is some meaning behind all the confusing mass of data before him. Without that prior faith, he cannot get even the impulse to undertake his scientific inquiry.
That is why in another place Shankara defines Shraddha as astikya buddhih, which, precisely translated, will mean ‘the positive-attitude-oriented reason’. There is tremendous dynamism in such an attitude, which transforms itself into truth and conviction through direct experience.
Shraddha is an important tool without which no success can be had in our inner and outer lives. Shraddha is the basis of all healthy and stable human relationships and dealings as well.
Shraddha: Swamiji’s Mission
The following two statements of Swami Vivekananda aptly illustrate how deeply Swamiji valued cultivation of Shraddha. He says,
To preach the doctrine of Shraddha or genuine faith is the mission of my life. Let me repeat to you that this faith is one of the potent factors of humanity and of all religions. First, have faith in yourselves. Know that though one may be a little bubble and another may be a mountain-high wave, yet behind both the bubble and the wave there is the infinite ocean.
What makes the difference between man and man is the difference in this Shraddha and nothing else. What makes one man great and another weak and low is this Shraddha. . . . this Shraddha is what I want, and what all of us here want, this faith in ourselves, and before you is the great task to get that faith. Give up the awful disease that is creeping into our national blood, that idea of ridiculing everything, that loss of seriousness. Give that up. Be strong and have this Shraddha, and everything else is bound to follow.
Indeed, Shraddha in oneself, Shraddha in God who has created us, and Shraddha in the divinity of man—this is what gives meaning to life. It is the power of Shraddha that makes everything possible. Swami Vivekananda said that the history of the world is the history of those people who had this Shraddha. It is power behind all powers, a power that empowers life and is the signal cause of all success, growth and strength. Let us invoke the power of Shraddha in our lives, as the Shraddha Suktam from the Rig Veda does,
We invite the Goddess Shraddha in the morning. We invite Goddess Shraddha at noon and at sunset. O Goddess Shraddha, bless us that we may have Shraddha in this life, at this time, and in this place.
1. CW, 3: 319
2. Swami Swarupananda, The Bhagavad Gita, Advaita Ashrama, Kolkata, p.80
3. CW, 5. 409-22
5. The Message of Vivekachudamani by Swami Ranganathananda, Advaita Ashrma, Kolkata, pp.82-85
6. CW, 3:445
7. CW, 3.320
8. Rig Veda, 10-151, Shraddha Suktam, 5
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 issue – February 2014
Climbing the ‘Monument’
As long as you stand at the foot of the Monument, so long do you see horses, carriages, Englishmen, and Englishwomen. But when you climb to its top, you behold the sky and the ocean stretching to infinity. Then you do not enjoy buildings, carriages, horses, or men. They look like ants.
That is how, on 1 January 1883, Sri Ramakrishna described the ‘world’ as it looks when one climbs up the ‘Monument’—a tall tower of 157 feet, a kind of war memorial with a viewing gallery on the top, erected in 1828. Earlier called Ochterlony Monument and now called the Shaheed Minar, it is an important landmark in Kolkata.
Sri Ramakrishna had used this analogy of climbing up the ‘Monument’ and viewing the ‘Englishmen and women’ (a reference to the fact it was frequented by British residents then) to illustrate the relative importance, or unimportance, of our worldly possessions, pleasures and positions. Seen from spiritual angle, things look no different. It all looks so different from the worldly plane. Sri Ramakrishna had said earlier,
Many people talk of Brahmajnana [Knowledge of Brahman, the Highest Reality], but their minds are always preoccupied with lower things: house, buildings, money, name, and sense pleasures.
But when you climb up the monument of Brahmajnana, all looks petite, small, toy-like. Everything falls into place. All one’s mundane things ‘look like ants.’
A similar illustration is given in the Bhagavad Gita
As into the ocean—brimful and still—still flow the waters, even so the Muni [the contemplative man of realization] into whom enter all desires, he and not the desirer of desires, attains to peace.
Explains one of the contemporary commentators,
The ocean is not at all affected by the waters flowing into it from all sides. Similarly, that man alone finds true peace in whom no reaction of desires is produced by the objects of enjoyment, which he happens to come across during his sojourn on earth.2
To be unaffected by the flow of events and experiences—that is the point. It is freedom not be to affected by anything. But this viewing of the world like a witness is not the ‘response’ of a Tamasik mind—lazy, inactive and gloomy, full of passions and desires nevertheless. It is the response of a highly evolved and refined mind. It is the state of seeing things from a very high, high standpoint.
Climbing a tall building and looking at the world around can be a stunning experience for someone who had not seen it earlier, or who has a mind for it. Going up a skyscraper or mountain peak, when one looks around, one indeed sees things smaller in size. But let us visualize something a bit taller than the tallest building or the mountain in the world—that of looking at the world through a common airplane. While going still further or higher is possible, through a space ship, let us restrict ourselves, for time being, seeing or understanding the world by flying through an airplane. Let us check our imagination for a moment! Or extend it to the heights of an airplane and look at the world ‘below’ in a new and better light! The process of an aspirant getting to ‘view’ from above is similar to a ‘flying experience’.
The ‘Flying Experience’
‘Look, Papa, there! See how fast the aeroplane is going, and there, lo, it is rising up, up, and we are flying above the houses and colonies, into the sky!’ It is not uncommon to hear such excited comments from a first-time child traveling with his or her parents [thanks to low cost flying, air travel has become a reality for thousands in India or elsewhere now]. Let us visualize ourselves a ‘guest’ in one such journey—and see if similar parallels can be drawn as Sri Ramakrishna did with regard to climbing the ‘Monument’ and viewing the world from there.
Before we proceed, let us remember that one vital requirement for ‘flying’ is that it needs a high-energy fuel. Ordinary petrol or diesel cannot give the power that is needed to take to skies; it needs a special type of fuel (called Aviation fuel). In spiritual life, too, one needs high-energy fuel to climb up the inner heights. In the spiritual context, this energy comes through living a life of purity and self-control. No wonder, chastity, Brahmacharya, has been emphasized upon in all mystical and spiritual traditions. Says Swami Vivekananda,
The great sexual force, raised from animal action and sent upward to the great dynamo of the human system, the brain, and there stored up, becomes Ojas or spiritual force. All good thought, all prayer, resolves a part of that animal energy into Ojas and helps to give us spiritual power. This Ojas is the real man and in human beings alone is it possible for this storage of Ojas to be accomplished. One in whom the whole animal sex force has been transformed into Ojas is a god. He speaks with power, and his words regenerate the world.
The ‘Ojas’ is that which makes the difference between man and man. The man who has much Ojas is the leader of men. It gives a tremendous power of attraction. . . .It has this peculiarity: it is most easily made from that force which manifests itself in the sexual powers. If the powers of the sexual centres are not frittered away and their energies wasted (action is only thought in a grosser state), they can be manufactured into Ojas.
Equipping oneself with the mighty power of Ojas, of pure and clean thinking and emotions is, thus, basic to ‘flying higher’. We have only one energy—either we use it at lower levels or use it for a higher purpose. Indeed if the lower channels of our body-mind are open, the higher channels do not open up. It is like turning on the water taps in the lower stories of a multistorey building and expecting the higher water taps to become operative. One needs to conserve and transmute one’s animal nature in order to cultivate the divine nature. As Swamiji points out,
The animal has its happiness in the senses, the human beings in their intellect, and the gods in spiritual contemplation. It is only to the soul that has attained to this contemplative state that the world really becomes beautiful.
Returning to our narrative, when the flight has to take off, it has to taxi around and gain enough speed in order to take off. Indeed one has to make serious and constant efforts in order to launch into the sky of spiritual life. ‘So long as the “skin sky” surrounds man, that is, so long as he identifies himself with his body, he cannot see God,’ says Swamiji.6 Spiritual practices are vital for one to see the world differently.
When the aeroplane takes off, one has to secure a belt around one’s waist. Jerks, turns and going-ups or sideways of the flight can throw one off one’s seat. In spiritual life, one should secure oneself with the belt of nishtha or one-pointed devotion to the spiritual instructions given by one’s spiritual teacher. One should be steady, faithful and intense. Swamiji says,
Nishtha (devotion to one ideal) is the only method for the beginner; but with devotion and sincerity it will lead to all. Churches, doctrines, forms, are the hedges to protect the tender plant, but they must later be broken down that the plant may become a tree. So the various religions, Bibles, Vedas, dogmas—all are just tubs for the little plant; but it must get out of the tub. Nishtha is, in a manner, placing the plant in the tub, shielding the struggling soul in its path. . . .7
When the flight begins to climb, one begins to see how small the airport looks! The large structure one meanders through before boarding the flight—it just becomes a large white patch in the large green and grey landscape!
And then slowly, everything becomes similarly small or smaller. We see how large buildings, houses, colonies, trees, rivers, oceans, mountains, forests and so on, all becomes a continuous mass of colourful matter. There is nothing high and low now. Everything is just there, with nothing specially big or small about it. All our world of achievements, failures, quarrels, misunderstandings, clever maneuverings, ups and downs of earthly existence—everything is flattened, as if it were a mere dream or cosmic play. Echoing this experience, Swamiji says,
In our miseries and struggles the world seems to us a very dreadful place. But just as when we watch two puppies playing and biting we do not concern ourselves at all, realising that it is only fun and that even a sharp nip now and then will do no actual harm, so all our struggles are but play in God’s eyes. This world is all for play and only amuses God; nothing in it can make God angry.
As one sits through the flight, seeing through the vanishing landscape below, the flight climbs above the cloud line—some 10 -12 km above the earth—and the scene becomes further plain and homogenous. There, above the ‘sea’ of clouds, one sees the shining sun (if one is flying during the day) or waits for the expectant sun (if one is traveling at night). What a contrast to the world below! It may be raining or foggy beneath the clouds, but from above the clouds one sees only a bright sun. One is above the world of relativity.
In conclusion, one indeed finds quite striking parallels between climbing up the ‘Monument’ or flying up through an aeroplane and spiritual progress. One can learn much through them. Of course, there are fundamental differences between the two—one is a physical, sensory experience, another subtle, beyond-the-senses experience. One begins and ends (no one can fly around all one’s life!), the other one is an inner and lasting change within, attaining which one does not return to the world of relativity except for ‘doing good to others’ by telling that there is something beyond. And that something transcendental is right within us! What we are looking for outside, out there, is inside, in here. What to seek for in life, then? In Swamiji’s words, based on his own flying experience of spiritual realm,
Take a very, very high stand; knowing our universal nature, we must look with perfect calmness upon all the panorama of the world. It is but baby’s play, and we know that, so cannot be disturbed by it. If the mind is pleased with praise, it will be displeased with blame. All pleasures of the senses or even of the mind are evanescent; but within ourselves is the one true unrelated pleasure, dependent upon nothing. It is perfectly free, it is bliss. The more our bliss is within, the more spiritual we are. The pleasure of the Self is what the world calls religion.
1. The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore, Chennai, p.177
2. Swami Swarupananda, The Bhagavad Gita, Advaita Ashrama, Kolkata, p.70
3. CW, 8.46
4. CW, 6.130
5. CW, 1.186
6. CW, 7.36
7. CW, 7.7
8. CW, 7.5
9. CW, 7.11
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.]
Scroll down to listen the audio
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. . . .
Listen to the Lecture Online
Download the Audio file (mp3)
Right click on link and “Save link as”.
Lecture-by-Dr S Radhakrishnan-1963 (17.2 MiB, 1 downloads)
Source of the Article: The Vedanta Kesary issue – January 2014
Locating the ‘Address’
Young Ramu ran around the village, holding a just-arrived letter in his hands. ‘Letter, letter,’ he screamed as he rushed through the lanes.
‘I need to deliver the letter,’ he told his uncle who happened to see him. ‘But to whom—what is the address?’ asked his uncle curiously.
‘Oh, I do not know all those things; postman uncle told me to deliver it and I am going to do it’, he replied.
‘How will you deliver it without knowing to whom it is to be delivered?’ the uncle asked with a smile.
Ramu felt stumped—like most of us. With the letter of our life in our hands, we run around, without knowing the address to which it has to be delivered. Have we found out the ‘address’?
Indeed, running or rushing around the life is not all about life. What is it that we want? The ‘address’ towards which our life is heading is more important than just running and rushing in the din and bustle of activities. It is not sufficient to have only road-sense; one should have the destination-sense. Without the destination-sense, road-sense is only a colossal waste of time and effort. But that is what ‘average life’ is all about.
Elucidating this, Swami Vivekananda says,
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 I 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.1
Not that we do not have a goal in life—we often have multiple ‘goals’. Everyone has something towards which he is rushing. What we lack is the ultimate goal of life. All our goals are transient and are within a relative world.
But, sometimes, blessed by a Higher Power, added to merits earned through several life-times, a man wakes up from this rigmarole and begins his search for something Eternal, Unchanging, and that is the beginning of spiritual life. That is the inner discovery of the ‘address’ we all have been searching and running around. And what is even more important, that address, or the destination, is right within us. It is not out there, but in here. In Sri Ramakrishna’s simple words,
What is knowledge and what is ignorance? A man is ignorant so long as he feels that God is far away. He has knowledge when he knows that God is here and everywhere.2
The Inner Compass
Goal setting is one thing, setting our thoughts to the goal another. This is the one tragedy and irony of life—we declare something as our goal but keep following some other goal. This is one of the most ironic facts of life—taking pride in declaring noble ideals as the goal of one’s life and following not-so-lofty goals in life. This disconnect is the bane of life. Ideal or the goal and the means should match or be in consonance with each other. In Swami Vivekananda’s insightful words,
Our great defect in life is that we are so much drawn to the ideal, the goal is so much more enchanting, so much more alluring, so much bigger in our mental horizon, that we lose sight of the details altogether.3
Yes, the highest goal of Self-realisation or God-realisation is quite alluring, assuming a larger-than-life size, making us ‘lose sight of the details altogether.’ The details of the means are crucial to reaching the ideal. Mere declaring that ‘I am following the grand ideal of Self-realisation’ is not sufficient; we have to take care of the means that will reach us to that experience or the state of mind. ‘Means’ mean a lot and once we take care of them, we attain, what is generally called, ‘goal-orientation’. As Swamiji further says,
With the means all right, the end must come. We forget that it is the cause that produces the effect; the effect cannot come of itself; and unless the causes are exact, proper, and powerful, the effect will not be produced. Once the ideal is chosen and the means determined, we may almost let go the ideal, because we are sure it will be there, when the means are perfected. When the cause is there, there is no more difficulty about the effect, the effect is bound to come. If we take care of the cause, the effect will take care of itself. The realization of the ideal is the effect. The means are the cause: attention to the means, therefore, is the great secret of life.4
So, hard work is important but what is more important is the purpose of our hard work. Sri Ramakrishna spoke of the mind of a man who is oriented to the ideal. He said,
The magnetic needle always points to the North, and hence it is that the sailing vessel does not lose her direction. So long as the heart of man is directed towards God, he cannot be lost in the ocean of worldliness.5
Describing those who lack goal orientation , Sri Ramakrishna says,
Kites and vultures soar very high indeed, but their gaze is fixed only on the charnel-pit. The pundit has no doubt studied many books and scriptures; he may rattle off their texts, or he may have written books. But if he is attached to women, if he thinks of money and honour as the essential things, will you call him a pundit? How can a man be a pundit if his mind does not dwell on God?6
Now what is a compass? ‘A compass is a navigational instrument generally used by sailors. It shows directions in a frame of reference that is stationary relative to the surface of the earth. The frame of reference defines the four cardinal directions (or points)—north, south, east, and west.
Fixing the ‘North’ of our life’s compass—that is what is first wanted. Again and again, either we forget the ‘North’ or get diverted to other directions, losing our way. We should be wide awake, ever vigilant, monitoring one’s thoughts, words and actions.
It is now customary in some government departments dealing with industrial production to observe ‘Vigilance Week’ wherein lectures and workshops are organized to focus on the need to be vigilant in one’s working and in the quality of production. While that is important, being vigilant in one’s inner life is much more important. Adi Shankaracharya illustrates this,7
If the mind ever so slightly strays from the ideal and becomes outgoing, then it goes down and down, just as a play-ball inadvertently dropped on the staircase bounds down from one step to another.
This often happens—a child is playing with a play-ball; in a moment of carelessness, the ball may go out of his control, and fall on the staircase. Then, it jumps from one step to another and unless one catches up in a speed faster than the ball, it goes out of hand. The ‘ball of life’ too might go out of hand if one is careless. Hence the need to be ‘wide-awake’.
Of the most important aids to remain awake is to practice meditation. We must set apart some time for inner reflection on daily basis. Says Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi,
The mind keeps well when engaged in work. And yet Japa, meditation, prayer also are specially needed. You must at least sit down once in the morning and again in the evening. That acts as a rudder to a boat. When one sits in meditation in the evening, one gets a chance to think of what one has done—good or bad—during the whole day. Next one should compare the states of one’s mind in the preceding day and the present. . . . Unless you meditate in the mornings and evenings along with work, how can you know what you are actually doing?8
One can draw many valuable lessons from this passage:
1) ‘Mind keeps well when engaged in work.’ One should always keep one’s mind filled with something higher. ‘Inactivity should be avoided by all means,’ says Swami Vivekananda. ‘Activity always means resistance. Resist all evils, mental and physical; and when you have succeeded in resisting, then will calmness come.’9 An idle brain is devil’s workshop where the devil of our lower nature keeps preparing, sharpening and strengthening the lower impressions (samskaras). One should not allow idleness to take over the mind. This is the first point about being vigilant.
2) ‘And yet Japa, meditation, prayer also are specially needed.’ Should ‘not being inactive’ mean that one should be always active? Without any ‘work’ mind tends to indulge in day-dreaming, building castles in air, which in turn, creates greed, emptiness, fear, anxiety, feeling of being a victim of circumstances and helplessness and so on. One should be busy, but also learn to check one’s restlessness through spiritual practices such as ‘Japa, meditation and prayer’. About those who get into an endless cycle of unbridled activity, often labelled as ‘duty’, Swamiji says,
Duty becomes a disease with us; it drags us ever forward. It catches hold of us and makes our whole life miserable. It is the bane of human life. This duty, this idea of duty is the midday summer sun which scorches the innermost soul of mankind. Look at those poor slaves to duty! Duty leaves them no time to say prayers, no time to bathe. Duty is ever on them. They go out and work. Duty is on them! They come home and think of the work for the next day. Duty is on them! It is living a slave’s life, at last dropping down in the street and dying in harness, like a horse. This is duty as it is understood. The only true duty is to be unattached and to work as free beings, to give up all work unto God. All our duties are His. Blessed are we that we are ordered out here. We serve our time; whether we do it ill or well, who knows? If we do it well, we do not get the fruits. If we do it ill, neither do we get the care. Be at rest, be free, and work.10
3) ‘You must at least sit down once in the morning and again in the evening. That acts as a rudder to a boat.’ This means that it is vital to find time for one’s spiritual practices, in Mother’s view, at least twice a day—morning and evening. The impure mind is mischievous and moody. Any discipline you impose on it, it protests. Hence, making regular time for meditation twice a day is hard for such a mind to accept. Yet one should try to make this an immediate goal to achieve and with repeated practice, it is possible to create a taste for daily meditation; developing the ‘taste’ is the point.
4) Says Mother further, ‘When one sits in meditation in the evening, one gets a chance to think of what one has done—good or bad—during the whole day. Next one should compare the states of one’s mind in the preceding day and the present. . . .’ This means making a mental comparison. Comparing one’s thoughts, words and actions with one’s own set standards of moral and spiritual excellence is what is important. This comparison is the core of viveka, or discernment. It is like becoming one’s guard or police. When our inner guards, or self-police, is awake and discharging its duties, one need not have any fear of losing one’s direction. ‘Unexamined life is not worth living,’ Socrates said. Viveka is the art of inner examination. Only when a person uses Viveka that his life as a human being becomes worth living, bringing rich fruits to him and to others.
5) ‘Unless you meditate in the mornings and evenings along with work, how can you know what you are actually doing?’ In these words, Holy Mother has sounded a caution: how can you know what you are actually doing—without meditation? And without knowing our intentions, or the purpose with which we are working, we would remain aimless and ineffective. ‘Subtle is the way of dharma. If you are trying to thread a needle, you will not succeed if the thread has even a slight fibre sticking out,’ says Sri Ramakrishna11. One has to learn to be one-pointed or goal-pointed and that requires that one should be introspective.
Destination-sense must take precedence over the road-sense. We must not forget the means to the ideal in our rush towards the ideal. While ‘there is no achievement without goals’, it is important to stick to them. Goals determine the direction in which we go. This is a vital fact we must not forget.
As someone has said, ‘This one step—choosing a goal and sticking to it—changes everything.’ o
1. CW, 1:409
2. Gospel, 568
3. CW, 2.1
4. CW, 2.1
5. Sayings of Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai, p.90, Saying no. 278
6. The Gospel, p.669
7. Viveka-chudamani, verse 325
8. Teachings of Holy Mother, Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai, p. 38
9. CW, 1:40
10. CW, 1:103
11. Gospel, 769
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-