Spiritual Striving and Self-Realisation
(Different instructions culled from the Reminiscences of the Holy Mother)
(Sri Saradamani Devi, otherwise known as the Holy Mother, was the consort of Sri Ramakrishna. She was wife, nun and disciple at the same time. Though possessed of great spiritual attainments and respected and worshiped as a Divine Personality by the devotees of the Master, she was always unassuming in her life and ways. She gave spiritual instructions and was the Guru to many monks and householders. In the reminiscences of this great woman of modern India the reader gets intimate glimpses of a glorious type of womanhood.)
Devotee — How is it that Japam [Repetition of the Divine Name dwelling on the meaning] does not lead me into deep God-absorption? Holy Mother — It will, by and by. But do not give up Japam even if the mind is unwilling and unsteady. You must go on with the repetition. And you will find that the mind gets gradually steadier — like a flame in calm air. Any movement in the air disturbs the steady burning of the flame; even so, the presence of any thought or desire makes the mind unsteady. A single utterance of the Lord’s name is as effective as a million repetitions of it, if you do so with a steady, concentrated mind. What is the use of repeating a million times with an absent mind? You must do this whole-heartedly. Then only can you deserve the Divine Grace.
Devotee — It is said that the Lord grants man His vision if he calls on Him sincerely for two or three days. I have been calling on Him for so many days. Why do I not see Him ?
Holy Mother — Yes, you will see Him. Sri Ramakrishna said to one of his devotees, “Those who have money should practise char- ity. Those who have not, take His name.” If you cannot do even this, then surrender yourself to Him. It is enough if you only remember that you have someone — God — who is your father and mother, to look after you.
If the mind is pure, why should one not get concentration? Why should one not see God-visions? After practising Japam — repetition of the Divine name — dwelling on the meaning — for some time, you will find that as you sit for meditation, the Holy Name will rise from within spontaneously, without any effort. One must repeat the name at least fifteen to twenty thousand times a day, then only will one get some results. One is sure to get it. One must practise first before one says that one is not progressing. But then one must practise Japam with a little attention. People do not practise and simply say — “Why am I not progressing spiritually?”
The mind gets purified after hard spiritual practice. Without regular practice, nothing can be attained. Both purity and impurity are in the mind. When a man sees defects in others, his mind gets polluted. What does he gain by finding faults in others? He hurts himself by that. From my childhood I could not find faults in others. That one thing I have never learnt in life. Forgiveness itself is a great spiritual practice. Remember one thing. If you want peace of mind, then give up fault-finding. If you find fault at all, find out your own faults and shortcomings. Learn to treat everyone as your own. No one is alien to you; the whole world is yours.
Disciple — What part of the day is suited for meditation?
Holy Mother — Early morning and evening, i.e., when night passes into day and day into night. These are the best hours for meditation. One should meditate regularly at fixed hours, for who knows when the auspicious moment will come, when one will have a vision of the Divine. Such a moment comes suddenly without a premonition. So one should keep to the routine however much one’s mind may be disturbed.
Disciple — But then there are the worries of work and the question of health. Again the mind is sometimes calm and sometimes very ruffled.
Holy Mother — Of course, if you get ill, you cannot help it but if you are troubled too much by work on any particular day, then it is enough if you just remember the Lord and make salutations to him. As regards the mind getting ruffled now and then, it is quite natural, for it is with Nature and as such it has its own ebb and flow.
Through spiritual disciplines the bonds of past Karma are cut asunder. But realisation of God cannot be achieved without ecstatic love for Him. Do you know the significance of Japam and other spiritual practices? By these, the power of the senseorgans is subdued.
Disciple — How can one feel yearning for God without seeing the manifestation of His love?
Holy Mother — Yes, you can do so. There lies the grace of God.
Disciple — Mother, one may get spiritual realisation at any time. if the grace of God descends upon one. Then one does not have to wait for the right time.
Holy Mother — That is true; but can the mango which ripens out of season, be as sweet as the one which ripens in the proper season? This is also true of the efforts that lead to God-realisation. Perhaps you practise Japam and austerities in this life; in the next life you may intensify the spiritual mood and in the following life you advance farther. It is like that.
Disciple — Mother, if there exists someone called God, why is there so much suffering and misery in the world? Does He not see it? Has He not the power to remove it?
Holy Mother — Creation itself is full of misery and happiness. Could anyone appreciate happiness if misery did not exist? Besides, how is it possible for all persons to be happy? Sita once said to Rama, “Why don’t you remove the suffering and unhappiness of your subjects? Please make all the inhabitants of your kingdom happy. If you only will, you can easily do so.” Rama said, “Is it ever possible for all persons to be happy at the same time?” “Why not?”, asked Sita, “please supply from the royal treasury the means of satisfying everyone’s wants.” “All right,” said Rama, “your will shall be carried out.” Rama sent for Lakshmana and said to him, “Go and notify everyone in my empire that whatever he wants he may get from the royal treasury.” At this the subjects of Rama came to the palace and told their wants. The royal treasury began to flow without stint. When everyone was spending his days joyously, through the Maya of Rama, the roof of the palace in which Rama and Sita lived started to leak. Workmen were sent for to repair the building. But where were they? There was not a labourer in the kingdom. In the absence of masons, carpenters and artisans, all buildings got out of repair and work was at a stand-still. The subjects of Rama informed their king of their difficulties. Finding no other help Sita said to Rama, “It is no longer possible to bear the discomfort of the leaking roof. Please arrange things as they were before. Then we shall be able to procure workmen. Now I realise that it is not possible for all persons to be happy at the same time.” “Let it be so”, said Rama. Instantaneously all things were as before, and workmen could once more be procured. Sita said to Rama,“Lord, this creation is your wonderful sport.”
No one can suffer for all time. No one will spend all his days on this earth in suffering. Every action brings its own result, and one gets one’s opportunities accordingly.
Disciple — Is everything due to Karma ?
Holy Mother — If not, to what else? Don’t you see the scavenger carrying the tub on his head?
Disciple — Where does one first get the propensity which leads to an action, good or bad? You may say, as an explanation of the propensities of this life, that they are due to the actions of the previous life and the propensities of that life due to the preceding one. But where is the beginning?
Holy Mother — Nothing can happen without the will of God. Not even a straw can move. When a man passes into a favourable time, he gets the desire to contemplate God, but when the time is unfavourable he gets all the facilities for doing evil actions. Everything happens in time according to the will of God. It is God alone who expresses His will through the actions of man. Could Naren [Swami Vivekananda] by himself have accomplished all those things? He was able to succeed because God worked through him. The Master has predetermined what He is gong to accomplish. If anyone surrenders himself totally at His feet, then the Master will see that His purpose is accomplished. One must bear with everything because all our facilities are determined by actions. Again, actions can be cancel- led by actions.
Disciple — Can action ever cancel action?
Holy Mother — Why not? If you do a good action, that will counteract your past evil action. Past sins can be effaced by meditation, Japam, and spiritual thoughts.
Every action produces its results. It is not good to use harsh words towards others or be responsible for their suffering.
Holy Mother — In the final stage there is not even the idea of a personal God. After attaining wisdom, one sees that gods and deities are all Maya. Everything comes into existence in time and also disappears in time.
Holy Mother — Once Naren [Swami Vivekananda] said to me, “Mother for some days everything has been vanishing from me. Really I find everything is disappearing.” I said to him, “But see to it, my child, that you do not drive me away.” Naren said in reply, “Mother, where would I be if I drove you away? The knowledge that destroys the lotus feet of the Guru is merely ignorance, Where does knowledge stay if the Lotus feet of the Guru were to vanish?”
Holy Mother — Personal God and such things really disappear on the dawn of knowledge. The aspirant then realises that the Divine Being alone pervades the entire universe. All then become one. That is the simple Truth.
[Notes of Class-Talks] by Swami Yatiswarananda
Sri Ramakrishna used to say, “We should not ask God for the things of the world. Suppose He grants them. The material things may bring troubles to us.” When we approach this great Boon- Giver, we should never ask Him for worldly things connected with personal wishes and desires. We may approach the Lord just for saving our souls from getting drowned in the ocean of worldliness and infatuation for material things. Ordinarily, if we feel unhappy, we would rather adjust ourselves to our unhappiness and cling to our desires and fancies than change our ways and come to Truth and Bliss. We are so body-bound that we stress physical enjoyment more than anything else and are not prepared to renounce it. Rather we go on clinging desperately to its different forms although we get nothing but kicks and blows again and again. Such is the tremendous power of Maya or ignorance.
The Great Father or the Great Mother is witnessing the children at play, It is only when a child gets disgusted with its toys and childish occupations that the Lord really comes to it and draws it away from the play-field of illusion. Children play with sweets, with dolls, with toy-soldiers, with toy-houses and cars, and nothing can be done by the Lord until they get tired of these and turn away from them in utter disgust. God takes it as great fun. And then, one day, the child has become a little grown-up and cries, “What have I done with my life?” and the Lord says, “Yes, what have you done my child? Who asked you to do it? Who asked you to go on playing indefinitely in such a foolish way? Who asked you to get hurt and entangled in your toys? Who? Who did it all?” And then very often it is already too late and the child sits on the ruins of its shattered life and wails.
We all have many an opportunity to follow saner and better ways, but we cling to our particular toys and do not let go our hold. So we have to suffer, and shall have to suffer until we learn the great lesson life teaches us again and again, in innumerable ways, and come to act wisely. Just as most people try to achieve their worldly ambition and ideal, we should strive for spiritual life and illumination, but this most people won’t do. And it depends solely on our own choice, whether we take up the worldly life or the spiritual life, whether we lead a life of slavery and fear or that of freedom and fearlessness.
We must strive to achieve something that is higher, that is not subject to change and decay. But we very often choose the path of Avidya [ignorance] willfully and deliberately, because we cling to our phantoms of physical and emotional enjoyment which, after all, we shall have to give up sooner or later. We all, one day, must let go the hold, and if we do not do this of our own free will, the toy will be torn away from us and this will mean great sorrow and, in many cases, a broken heart. For most people this is the only way in which they can be made to learn their lessons, but it is very painful and usually takes many lives. We should try to live a spiritual life, knowingly, consciously, deliberately, in a spirit of dedication and singleness of purpose. This will of ours may be directed towards the higher channels of life or towards the lower ones, just as we please.
There is such a great void in the human heart. People try to fill it with some beautiful doll, a male doll or a female doll. One day, the doll breaks, and then they turn round to find some substitute for that old doll. In some rare cases, the heart may even break with the passing of the doll. This void can be filled only by the Divine, by our own true spiritual Self, and not by anything else. No satisfaction can be found in the doll in the long run, for, one day, even the smallest child becomes a grown-up person having no more a real interest in the mere playthings of life.
We are just like cows tied to a post with a very long rope. The cows could graze and have a certain amount of freedom in their movements, but the silly animals just turn round and round the post till the whole rope has become wound up and makes it impossible for them even to reach the grass at their feet. God gives a very long rope to man, but only in rare cases does man make the proper use of that rope. Mostly he entangles himself hopelessly in it, till he can scarcely move one way or the other. That is not God’s fault though. Learn to take the whole responsibility always on your own shoulders. It is a great mistake to hold God responsible for all that happens to you. You forget everything else for a moment’s pleasure and do not care to listen to what God has been telling man through all the ages.
Says Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita: “The Lord dwells in the hearts of all beings. Take refuge in him with all thy heart, by His grace shalt thou attain Supreme peace and the eternal abode. Thus has wisdom more profound than all profundities been declared to thee by Me. Reflecting over it fully, act as thou likest.”
Use and misuse of will-power
Spiritual life, if it means sublimation and purification of our feelings, means at the same time developing our will-power, forcing the mind to take to the higher path. This will must be wholly directed towards the higher life. We find in the world tremendous will-power and concentration, but both are given a wrong direction and thus lead man into deeper and deeper darkness and ignorance. If all the will-power you find in the world were directed along the right channels, this world of ours would immediately become a heaven.
We must set the spiritual goal very, very clearly before ourselves. If we are able to rouse tremendous enthusiasm in ourselves for the goal to be attained, then only shall we have the necessary energy to strive for it and do our utmost. In the world of the spirit you very often find people with a chaotic brain. They do not care to follow any definite system and like to drift on the bottomless sea of their emotions and impulses. So they attain practically nothing, in fact, just as little as the out-and-out worldly-minded people. No person with a muddled brain can have any success in the world, and much less so in the spiritual world. Settle once for all what you really want. Very often we want to attain peace, but follow a path that can only end in restlessness and trouble.
The Kingdom of Heaven is within you
God alone is the repository of all peace and blessedness. We should try to look within and find Him seated within our own heart. This body of ours is the living temple of God. This is a conception we find stressed again and again in all the Scriptures. The best temples of the Divine are the greatest prophets and seers. That is why they exert the greatest influence. Those who have realised the Truth in their own souls can alone teach others the way to realisation. The Lord is always at the back of our mind, at the back of our whole personality, and only if we can pray with a fervent heart, will the prayer be heard, otherwise not. We should never think in terms of happiness while praying. Happiness by itself is no real index for spiritual life, no proof whatever of spiritual progress or realisation.
The lover, when dreaming of his beloved, imagines things that have no reality. The madman, too, imagines things that do not exist at all. All hallucinations are to be avoided in spiritual life. We must try to get a glimpse of the Truth by following a systematic course of spiritual practice. If such a glimpse comes unawares, and if we are not properly prepared for it through long and regular training, the reaction may be tremendous and may even unsettle us for life. We must first learn how to become fit for such glimpses so that we can then make them our own for good. Spiritual evolution at first brings great pain to the aspirant, not happiness. In the intermediate stage his life becomes very difficult. Then he has no longer any real interest in what he has in the world and cannot yet obtain self-realisation. It is still beyond his reach. It is just like hanging in mid-air, without being able to get either up or down.
Very often when we get a thing, we find that we never really wanted it. We may have been seeking it, but when we get it we may actually find that the desire has vanished and some other desire has taken its place. Many people mistake the true nature of their yearnings and give them some worldly direction, whereas in reality no human yearning can ever find satisfaction in anything that is not permanent and unchanging, however people may try to deceive themselves on this point. The old void haunts them again and again and mostly in a more terrible and relentless form than before. People seek happiness outside, in attributes, in forms, in the phenomenon, whereas it lies in themselves from all time and can never be lost. Whatever we can lose in any way can never mean true happiness to us. We commit the mistake of looking at a certain span of time instead of looking at the whole. Temporary happiness there is, no doubt, in worldly things and worldly relations, in human love and human affections, but temporary happiness can never mean real happiness, rather it is the opposite of it. Let us have the desire to know our true nature, to know our real Self. In Self-realisation alone there lies real blessedness.
The test of Truth is this: Whereas in the case of worldly things and worldly relations you can never get any ultimate satisfaction, in the case of spirituality and spiritual life you can get that perfect satisfaction which is not dependent upon anything external. So the great sage Narada says, “Realising THAT, one attains to one’s heart’s desire. And thus only does one become immortal. Thus only does one become full of Bliss.”
Love thy neighbour as thy Self
First you must find your real Self and then only can you really love others. Do not try to love others indiscriminately before you have found your real Self, because such love will be blind and will do harm to you and to them. Such love is a fatal mistake which many people are inclined to make, even with the very best of intentions. And this at once bars all spiritual progress. Before you attain to the realisation of your own Self, all love for others is mere imagination, if not something worse. It is always a case of self-deception. It is not LOVE. Real LOVE comes only with the vision of Truth. Everything before that may be done as a discipline. Try to serve others to the best of your ability. Try to make yourself eligible for LOVE by becoming selfless, but do not flatter yourself that by trying to do this you have come to know what LOVE really is. LOVE can only find satisfaction when it begins to love the true SELF. So the Vedanta says — Love thy neighbour not only as thyself but as thy very Self. It is all one Self appearing as the many. Here alone we find the final reason why we should love our neighbours and all others.
And, above all, do not sacrifice your ideal for anyone, whatever happens. The moment your ideal is involved, you must become as hard as adamant and as relentless as the thunderbolt. Never sacrifice your ideal for anyone, not for anything that belongs to the world of manifestation. If my parents, my wife, my children, etc., etc., want me to take the wrong course; let their hearts break, because I should under no circumstance sacrifice Truth to their and my selfish interests and selfish love. I do not want to give them or myself the wrong happiness, by following their, as well as my false wishes, and increase their, as also my delusion all the more. If any people make a demand because of which you would have to give up your spiritual life altogether, never satisfy them. To-day there may still be the question of your striving to be pleasant to others connected with you by worldly ties. Later on, the day will come when others will have to accept your ideas or agree to differ from your ideas, or come to reject them altogether, causing thereby a definite breach. “Call none your father upon earth: for one is your father who is in heaven,” as Christ said.
What is our Reality?
It is often very difficult to have a yearning heart in the beginning and the reason is that God does not seem a reality to us. With most of us this body is our soul and it is for the enjoyment of this body on the material plane — it need not necessarily be a very gross form of enjoyment — that we are most anxious. Religion to most of us is something highly amateurish, a kind of fashion, just like so many other fashions. But if some day through our spiritual striving God comes to be a reality, we feel that our whole being responds to that reality and longs for it alone. If the world is real to us, it absorbs our entire attention. If something else is real, that, too, does the same. That which we take to be real for the time being affects us, calls up our feelings, draws out our will, as it occupies our whole intellect. In fact, our whole being responds to this reality. If we carefully study our own lives and those of the saints, we find a great difference. It is the “reality” that affects the minds of both, but the reality is something different to the saint from what it is to us ordinary people. To us this world is real: to them the spiritual world alone is real. Their whole life is busy with this one idea, how to realise the Divine, how to make Him a living reality instead of an intellectual and rather vague concept. If we are able to appre-ciate what the saint calls reality, we can also appreciate why he is ever ready to lay down his life for the sake of Self-realisation.
When we study the life of a Buddha, a Christ, a Sri Chaitanya, a Ramakrishna, we find that God to them all is the highest reality. The Divine is the central object of their lives and everything else is subordinate to it.
You may take up any aspect of God that appeals to you most: as mother, father, child, friend, comrade, play-fellow or lover. Only make Him somehow your nearest and dearest. So there is a prayer that says, “Thou art our Mother, Thou art our Father, Thou art our Friend, Thou art our Comrade, Thou art our Knowledge, Thou art our Wealth, Thou art our All in All.”
The ideal is to establish a close relationship with the Divine And we should clearly note that this God is not merely personal, but impersonal too.
As already said, whatever we take to be real, whatever we call real, draws our whole being, absorbs our whole mind, attracts our whole feeling. And according to Vedanta nothing is ultimately real which does not remain unchanged under all circumstances. Real is that alone which was in the past, is in the present, and will be in future, without ever undergoing any change. Everything that changes or decays, undergoes evolution or involution, belongs to the category of the unreal.
Sri Ramakrishna has said, “When the mind becomes pure and is freed from worldly attachments and longings, one comes to have true yearning for the Divine and then alone will one’s prayers reach Him. No message can be sent if the telegraph-wire be broken or if there be any other interruption.” With a yearning heart he used to cry to the Lord in solitude. He used to become unconscious to the world and lose himself in God. How to have connection with the Divine? Is it possible to get it if there be a break in the wire of the mind? The mind must be completely free from all worldly attachments, so that Divine communion may become an accomplished fact.
Sri Ramakrishna adds, “One comes to have the vision of God when there is this threefold attraction: the love that a. chaste wife has for her husband, the love that a mother bears for her child, the love that a rich man has for his riches.”
It is enough if one has sincere and single-hearted yearning, if one has true love for the Divine. He is the indwelling spirit. He looks to the yearning of the heart.
Until the mind is perfectly pure we can not know Him. It is only when we conquer lust, anger and greed that the Lord’s mercy falls on us and then comes the vision.
Begin as beginners!
Many people want to begin their spiritual life from the topmost rung of the ladder, but that cannot be done. There are no shortcuts to spiritual realisations, neither can anything be achieved without first finding out where one really stands. High philosophical flights and wonderful metaphysical dreams, however useful and necessary they may be, do not mean actual experience. By themselves they do not lead to realisation, but only to abstract and superfine speculations that have no connection at all with real spiritual life. We should know where we stand and then proceed from there. We must begin as beginners and go on step by step. As an ideal, Monism, or rather non-dualism, may be all right for us, but when we come to the practical aspects, we find that we are dualists and may have to remain so for a long time to come. It is amusing to hear people talking in high-sounding terms about the “Absolute”, the “Principle”, etc., because in most cases all these are nothing but empty speculations and frothy words and do not even mean that that particular person is fit for the monistic path. Nobody who stands in dualism, in whatever way it may be, is a Monist, whether Monism appeals to him or not.
Very often the mind of the modern man revolts at the idea of any particular discipline. It says: “Why should we busy ourselves with that? Haven’t we got enough drudgery in the world? We want the Absolute, so what is the use of Japam [repetition of the Divine Name], meditation on Divine attributes and forms? Let us reach the Absolute. Let us worship the Divine ‘in spirit and in truth’!” All this, no doubt, sounds very grand and highly spiritual, but as soon as we come down to the realities of life, we find out it does not mean anything at all. Mostly such people are convinced dualists as far as their own actions in daily life go. To worship God “in spirit and in truth” is all right. But where is the beginner who can do so? This is the point. For most people, it means just vagueness, hazy feelings, confused thinking and thoughtless actions — all done in a way that has no connection at all with the Divine or spiritual.
How to begin?— that is the point. How to get the necessary mental training?— that is the problem before us. Different thoughts constantly keep cropping up in our mind. When we wish to make the mind calm, it becomes more disturbed. It revolts the very moment we try to practise concentration. It suddenly takes the form of a tempestuous ocean in which we are in danger of getting completely lost. The whole mind is disturbed by mighty thought-waves, and the more we try to calm them, the mightier do they become. So meditation becomes a very tiresome process in the beginning instead of bringing light and peace to our soul, as it should .
As in the case of a horse-trainer who has to take great trouble in following a systematic course for breaking in the horse, similarly, with a view to break the mind, we must follow a certain definite system of discipline from which we should not deviate, taking care at the same time not to become mechanical in any way. In our spiritual discipline there must be great definiteness regarding all points. It won’t do for us to put two legs in two different boats. We must learn to follow one course definitely, without vacillation, and to proceed step by step, consciously intelligently and patiently. And that is the way to attain the goal of spiritual life in due course.
From the Abhangas of Namadeva
We should always think of death, in whatever pursuit we may be engaged,—as when a thief is being carried to the hanging place, death is approaching him at every step,—as when a man is plying his axe at the root of a tree, its life is diminishing every moment; similarly, whatever we may be doing, we must suppose that death is always approaching us. All objects of sense should be as indifferent to us as either a serpent or a beautiful maiden is to a man who has gone to sleep. We should regard dung and gold, or a jewel or a stone, as of equal value. Let the sky come and envelop us, or let cinders be poured on our head, we should not allow our life in Atman [the Self] to be disturbed. Whether we are praised or censured, we should always live in the joy of God. People forget their miseries are due to the sins they have committed. Nobody should expect a sweet fruit when he sows a sour seed. A pestle can never be bent to the form of an arrow. A person may pound stones as he pleases, but never will any juice come out of them. We should not grow wroth with our fate. We should ask ourselves what we have done.
When we have once seen God, it matters little to what place we go. As soon as we remember God, God shall be near us. We shall forget our hunger and thirst in the pleasure of God’s Name; God who is the source of Immortality, is in the heart of Namadeva. And Namadeva, therefore enjoys continued bliss. There is only one favour that we may ask of God: that we should always think of him in our heart; that we should always utter His Name by our mouth; that we should always see Him with our eyes; that our hands should worship only Him; that our head be placed always at His feet; that our ears should only hear of God’s exploits; that He should show himself always to our right and to our left, in front and behind and at the end of our life. God’s form can be seen even by a blind man, and a dumb man can communicate even in a deaf man’s ear the knowledge of God.
Two Songs of Namadeva
Who Vasudev [God] in all can see,
Cleansed from the thought of “I”,
Know that a saint indeed is he;
The rest in bondage lie.
Wealth to his eyes is only dust;
Jewels as stones he sees;
Gone from his heart is rage and lust;
Pardon dwells there,— and peace.
He will not for an instant rest
— Hear, what I, Nama, say —,
But God’s sweet name — of all the best —
He utters night and day.
One fast asleep can never know
That to his chamber crawling in
There comes a snake,— and heedless so
Am I to lure of sense or sin,
Since inward vision I bestow,
My Kesav [God] has so gracious been.
Alike are gold and dross to me;
Jewel and common stone the same.
Now ne’er my soul can harmed be,
Walk I in heaven or in the flame.
Since one with final bliss are we,
Then what is either praise or blame?
After the passing away of Holy Mother, when Swami Saradananda once visited Benares, he was requested by some senior Swamis of the Order to write a book about Holy Mother. They told him that by writing Sri Ramakrishna’s life he had done immense good to the world, and that he should now write Holy Mother’s life, so that future generations might understand who she was. Swami Saradananda did not give any direct reply, but only quoted the following song:
Having seen the play of the playful
Mother, I am really wonder-struck;
Not knowing quite well
Whether to weep or to laugh.
I stayed near Her so long,
And followed Her here and there,
But finally had to admit defeat,
Unable to understand Her at all.
Amazing are Her sportive moods,
Ever creating and destroying
Just for fun, like children’s games.
Source: Notes of Class-Talks By Swami Yatiswarananda
Why we are hunting after sense-objects
In every one there is a yearning for life, knowledge and happiness. All of us want to live and that consciously and happily. These: Existence, Knowledge and Bliss Absolute are the very essence of our soul, our true nature. And when we analyse the outside world, too, we find the same thing standing at the back of all phenomena. Everything, sentient, living and non-living, stands before us as an object that exists. Something there IS. And every thing has the capacity to force itself on our consciousness, possesses a sort of luminosity that shines in both the sentient and the insentient. There is no difference of kind but of degree. So in the inside world and in the outside world we find this abiding sense of existence and consciousness, and thus a glimpse of the Reality. All things, more or less, fulfil the want of every individual. We all run after the sense-object, the outside thing, in search of some particular sense-pleasure which we think we shall derive from the possession of that thing, whatever its nature may be. The desire for happiness is always there. Sense-objects only draw our mind because of the idea that we are going to derive some enjoyment from them. It is because of this that we feel tempted, not because of the intrinsic value of that particular object. Thus, not merely in ourselves, but also in all outside objects, sentient and insentient, we get a glimpse of what may be called Existence-Knowledge-Bliss. Name and form hide the face of Truth in ourselves and in the outside ob- jects, but all names and forms reflect dimly the glory of the Reality at their back. In us there is always a subconscious feeling with regard to this Reality. It may be very vague, very indefinite, but still it is there. The task of all spiritual life is to make the indefinite consciousness definite, if we really want to come face to face with Truth. First we should begin with ourselves, find out that which exists in ourselves at the back of our ego.
So long as there is false identification and false sense of personality, Brahman—the Truth—can never be realised. There is this false identification in us, and during the time of this identification we see we are shifting the centre of our consciousness continually. There is such a thing as having one’s consciousness rooted in the Transcendental even while working or living on the phenomenal plane, but this can never be done so long as all this wrong identification with our body and our mind lasts. Sometimes we identify ourselves with the body: “Oh, I am hurt, I feel such physical pain.”— Sometimes again there is identification with the mind: “Oh, So-and-So was awfully rude to me. I feel so worried, I feel so sorry.”— All this is wrong identification, but the common factor in this identification is —“I”, “I”, “I”—always this “I”, that comes in different forms. And so long as this “I” lasts, we cannot even get a glimpse of Brahman. But there is one point to note:— Even at the time of this wrong identification we have the consciousness of something that abides. At the back of this wrong “I”, there is something that does not change. And it is the task of the spiritual man to find out what that really is.— What is this “I”? No thought of the finite is ever possible without the thought of the Infinite, however indefinite it may be. Positing one we posit the other too. We cannot formulate the Infinite, Pure Consciousness, the Atman; but although It can never be formulated, It can be realised.
“The Truth can be realised by Him whom It chooses and to whom It reveals Itself.” From the Monistic standpoint, you are yourself your own Chooser, as this Self, this Truth, is not something distinct from you—and if you go and choose yourself to be the knower of this Truth, and really strive for It, you become It. Spiritual realisation is Self-realisation.
“Be bold and face the Truth.” There must be merciless self-analysis. First of all, try to find and regain your own soul. Your soul is practically lost to you, and only after you have found it again, the question of this higher Realisation will arise.
Spiritual life begins with the recognition of the fact that we are neither bodies nor masses of emotions, neither men nor women; we are spiritual entities. And it is necessary to have this ideal as the very basis of all our activities.
It is essential for us to have a true conception of freedom. Do we want freedom for the senses, do we want license, or do we want freedom from the senses? Which is the right idea of freedom? Is it freedom to allow the mind to run after enjoyment, to be the slave of the senses? Is it freedom thus to dig our own graves? Or is it freedom to control all desires, to master all desires and become free from the senses and their cravings? This alone is what is called attaining to the freedom of the Atman, and the freedom of license is no freedom at all. So long as we go on clinging to our slave-mentality and allow ourselves to be driven like slaves by our senses, we cannot progress. Only the life of sense-control and purity leads to real freedom, and nothing else. There is no romance and no place for romance in spiritual life, neither materially nor mentally. It is a hard life, a life of struggle and strain. We want freedom and fearlessness. We want to break the limitations of the body and the mind and be free, and this we can never attain so long as we cling to our different desires and passions and animal cravings. Self- Realisation cannot be obtained without the renunciation of all our clinging to body and mind, to our own bodies and minds, as well as to those of others.
Our great Sage Sankaracharya says, “A human birth, desire for emancipation and contact with great holy men, these three are very rare and are attained only through the grace of the Lord.” But then even these three advantages do not suffice. We must be eager to profit by them and willing to sacrifice everything for the higher life. Without paying the full price, we cannot become free and fearless. And without freedom and fearlessness there is no happiness for us, neither in this nor in any future life. We must be eager to realize the Truth. We must be prepared to sacrifice all our petty sentiments and personal desires for the Highest, then alone, one day, the Highest will be ours. Struggle, struggle, struggle. This is the only way. Let us bear in mind that salvation is to be attained in this very human birth.
Spiritual practice can never be successfully performed without true renunciation and dispassion, without giving up all old associations with reference to things and people. Only to the extent to which we are prepared to renounce our desires and passions and our clinging to others through attachment or through aversion, can spiritual practices be performed with profit and can any progress be made. Let us never allow our mind to delude us on this point. The mind always tries to bring forward some plausible reason or other—why we cannot renounce this or that thing, why we should be in the company of such and such a person, why it is our duty to talk to him or her, etc., etc. Never believe your mind in such cases. It is always out to deceive you and to become the spokesman for your subconscious or half-conscious desires. So we need, not only Japam [Repetition of the Holy Name thinking of the Divine] and prayer and meditation and other spiritual practices, but also renunciation and non-attachment, and only to the extent to which we succeed in having more and more of true renunciation and non-attachment, can all our strivings have any real, appreciable effect. When these two are combined—the practices and renunciation—it becomes possible for us to control the mind and begin with the cleansing of all its dirty nooks and crannies where we have allowed all kinds of filth to accumulate for ages and ages through countless births. Things or persons, whom we love passionately, affect the mind, bring attachment, hatred and aversion. Attachment and aversion are only the obverse and reverse of the self-same coin. Never make any mistake as to this. They come under the same category. Hatred or aversion is love or attachment turned upside down. It is not something essentially different. We must get rid of all forms of attachment and of all forms of fear, by becoming dispassionate and free from personal likes and dislikes. We must be kind, without ever becoming too personal, and there should never be any personal or selfish claim on anybody or anybody’s love, nor should we under any circumstances ever allow anybody to have any personal claim on us or on our affection. Christ says, “He who loves father and mother more than Me is not worthy of Me,” and there is nothing truer than this. But he who allows any other person to love him more than the Divine is not worthy of the Divine either, and will never attain the Divine, however hard he may try. We only get what we sow, and so long as we go on sowing all these petty affections and hatreds, these likes and dislikes, fettering ourselves and others with chains of so-called love, etc., etc., we shall remain bonds-laves eternally, bringing misery on ourselves and on others. Misery will always come. In some cases it comes soon, in others late, but all have to pay for their folly.
And this is the secret which all who desire to lead a spiritual life should know. There is both love and hatred, and we cannot get rid of them all at once. So what to do? We may keep our love and our hatred, but we should consciously direct our love only to the Highest, to the Divine, never primarily to any person or thing. Our hatred should be directed towards everything that prevents us from realising our true nature, towards all obstacles, everything that stands in the way of our progress.
Stepping-stones leading to the ideal
Without a working ideal, spiritual life cannot begin at all. If we put this working ideal too high nothing can be achieved, but, at the same time, we should never lower the ideal as such, but rise to it step by step by taking higher and higher working ideals. There should be faith in the words of the seers, teachers and prophets, faith in one’s own potentiality and strength and purity. But mere faith is not enough. We must strive our utmost. Ethical culture means: chastity, continence, purity in thought word and deed, purity in food, purity in one’s company and associations, purity in what one hears and listens to. And chastity, purity, is more important than the external forms of religion.
First comes physical purity. Then the mind must be tackled and controlled. The control of speech, too, is most essential. We should never listen to anything that is not perfectly pure and should behave in such a manner that others will not dare to discuss anything impure in our presence. We ought to maintain the steady flow of the undercurrent of pure thought, to keep our mind fixed on the goal. The undercurrent always protects us and creates in us an atmosphere that does not allow others to become immorally intimate with us. Bad thoughts vitiate the air, and we must purify ourselves by good thoughts and purify each other by good thoughts also.
After that, a new attitude has to be developed with regard to all things or objects that tempt us in any way, till perfect indifference with reference to them all is reached. So we should keep strict watch over all the movements of our mind, so as to become more and more conscious, more and more definite in everything. There should not be any unconscious movement in our life so long as we remain awake.
This is very essential, because in the first period of spiritual life—and the first period may extend over many many years— body-consciousness becomes stronger, and the mind tends to wander more than it used to do before any practices were taken up. At the same time, affections and aversions become more prominent and dangerous if we do not scrupulously avoid coming in touch with their objects, either mentally or physically, or both.
For a time the body becomes in a special way the centre of consciousness in the beginner, as soon as he begins to try to draw the mind away. So we should not allow ourselves to be hoodwinked by the subtle desires that may crop up and try to drag us away to their particular objects. The aspirant can never be careful enough in his associations and in the company he keeps during the first years of his training for the higher life. Many do not realise this and then come to grief. So we should learn to be conscious, to be aware of our motives, to stop all forms of drifting, to prevent all expressions of a merely instinctive life.
Wholesome daily habits
There is one point which is very essential in the course of one’s spiritual striving. We all must learn how to take rest after strenuous work. It is very good to have a short break in our activity after dinner, i.e., in the middle of’ the day, if we can afford it. This is very efficacious, but very difficult for many to practise. For many it is so hard to have just a little nap or break of consciousness, or even just a little break in the hectic and feverish activities of their mind, filling it again with the Divine Name and Thought, and harmonising vibrations of the holy sound.
We should also make it a point never to read anything worldly: worldly novels, fiction or stories, before going to bed or before falling asleep, but to have some holy thought and some holy sound to dwell on, to think with great intensity that we are going to sleep in the lap of God, or some such idea, to fill our whole being before falling asleep with the Divine Idea and the feeling of the Divine. If we permit ourselves to read something worldly, this goes on work- ing in our subconscious mind during the hours of sleep and has very bad effects. In the evening we should be very careful as to what we allow our mind to busy itself with or as to how we get our mind absorbed in holy thoughts. There should be concentrated and peaceful dwelling on the Divine, either the Divine form, or the Divine name, or the Divine idea—or on all the three combined, which is the most efficacious way. Only thus can we in time succeed in transforming the contents of our subconscious mind. As already said, it is very harmful to read worldly books before falling asleep, but we generally do not realise the extent of the harm we do to ourselves by being careless in this. The workings of the subconscious during the time of our sleep are very important and should not be lost sight of.
There is one more point which should be mentioned. If you awake at night, at once begin doing your Japam, in a quiet, peaceful way, without any unnecessary strain. Let this bring relaxation to your body and mind. Then go to sleep again if there is time. Again, during the time of your practices, Japam and sleep should never become connected. This is very bad. Before going to bed, do Japam a certain number of times, fill yourself with the holy sound and thought and make it a point never to stop doing Japam before having reached the number you intended to do as a form of discipline.
Good habits are to be formed and strengthened. Then spiritual life becomes easier and loses much of its initial strain. Strictly preserve your fixed hours. Then meditation slowly becomes possible even when the mind tends to be very restless. There should be perfect regularity in the hours of your spiritual practices, because only thus does the mind grow accustomed to them. And under all circumstances a certain minimum is to be kept up in one’s daily practices. The time of the practices should be slowly and steadily increased in the case of the beginner and also in the case of the advanced student, and only later on can one make use of the undercurrent in one’s mind, which enables one to keep part of the mind busy with the practices at all times, whatever one happens to do outwardly. Before that state is reached, the greatest regularity concerning the hours and the minimum amount of spiritual practices which are to be done is absolutely necessary in the case of all aspirants.
Know how to die!
We should always act in such a way that we may equip ourselves fully to be able to meet death with a smile. It should become the gateway to Immortality, to be welcomed, never to be feared. This life is nothing but a passing show, a phase, a life in a world of unrealities and shadows. Our future depends on what we think in this life, on what we are, never on what we appear or pretend to be.
Bear in mind:— Whatever be the Truth, let us face It undauntedly! An unpleasant truth is always infinitely better than a pleasant falsehood, even if this truth breaks our heart, even if it shatters once and for all our fondest hopes and illusions. Let the true light come to us under all circumstances, no matter, whether the heart breaks or not. Do not care so much for the shattering of hopes and the breaking of hearts as for the coming of Truth and Light. Nothing is truer than the fact that some day the body will fall off. And we should so conduct ourselves that we have no occasion to repent for having wasted our precious time, our precious human birth and Divine possibilities.
The great poet Tulsidas sings: “When I was born, I cried and others laughed. Let me act in such a way that when I die, I laugh and others cry.” This is the real task of our life. So we have a proverb in Bengal that says, “Do whatever spiritual practices you like, but you must know how to die.”
Death is always of the body, never of the Spirit or the SELF. So why fear death? Death should neither be courted nor be feared; neither should life be so. The bier is quite as real as the cradle, the burning-ground as real as the nursery, but we rejoice at the one and recoil from the other. Why? We should neither cling to life nor be afraid of death, because the SELF is something infinitely greater than this shadow of life, the phenomenal existence. We cling to our bodies and to those of others, to our own minds and to those of others, and think we have got hold of life. We have not. We have got hold of the mirage, the reflection of the reflection of the reflection, and nothing more than that, and go on hugging it to our breast. What an inordinate attachment to all that is not Life! The true aspirant, he who has true spiritual yearning, neither clings to life, nor does he ever yearn for death, because, to him, neither of them has any true reality. The world is the training-ground. We should act in the right way, so as to make the very best use of the short span of life given to us. We need not be afraid of death, neither of our own nor that of anybody else’s, if we just minimise the attachments of life and our personal relationships with the phantoms of others, with the men-phantoms and women-phantoms, of which none has any ultimate reality. Relationships based on the mirage always prove to be nothing but a mirage in the end. You cannot have real relationship with what is unreal and which has no ultimate being,
The death of our Great Ones has taught us great lessons. How wonderful was that of Swamis Ramakrishnananda, Premananda, Brahmananda, Turiyananda—the great disciples of Sri Ramakrishna! The worldly-minded and those who cling to their personal attachments alone are afraid of death. The spiritual do not lose anything. It is just like passing from one room to another, from a grosser plane of existence to a subtler one. It is the body that dies, not the SELF. We must be prepared to die for a righteous cause without any hesitation, and we must be fully prepared to see others, too, die for it. So our motto is: “To work for our own salvation as well as for the salvation of others.” This is what Swami Vivekananda wanted us to do and this is the guiding motto of the Order.
All these glorious lives are before us, show us how to live and how to die. We have only to mould ourselves according to the pattern they have placed before us again and again. Even if we fall in this battle of life, through newer and newer lives we shall work with renewed vigour. Step by step, and stage by stage we shall move onwards until we attain to our life’s only goal.
The conception of the SELF
Generally we ourselves create all the obstacles that stand in the way of our spiritual progress or Self-Realisation. We think of ourselves in terms of the body and of the mind and do the same with reference to others, Then we go and take up direct relations with them as men or as women, and then all the rest naturally follows in due course. On what does this whole life of the body and of the mind depend? On consciousness, and not on my man-form or my woman-form or child-form etc., etc. The moment the SELF leaves the body, the body becomes lifeless. All its charm vanishes. Nobody feels attracted by a dead form, be it ever so beautiful, but what really attracts us in the man-form or in the woman-form is consciousness which we mistakenly identify with that particular body or mind. There is such a lot of blind infatuation in the world owing to this superimposition on the Reality. Without undermining all these wrong notions and conceptions, all our body-bound and mind-bound likes and dislikes, attractions and repulsions, we shall never be able to make any spiritual progress. If I love the life of the body so greatly, why do I not look to that on which it depends for its very existence? We should learn to love the SELF all the more, because only owing to Its presence is there any life in the body and in the mind at all. The cause is greater than the effect, and the cause of the life of my body and mind and that of all others is the SELF alone, not any name and form. If I want Life and Love permanent and unchanging, I must look to the SELF and never to any of the limiting adjuncts. But it takes people many, many lives to see this and realize their Himalayan mistake.
Our task is to go somehow or other beyond this Maya, this phenomenal world, and reach the Reality. And this can never be done without chastity in thought, word and deed. Unity, ultimate oneness, cannot be reached so long as one remains physically and mentally tied to duality. There are some spiritual aspirants who say:— “Lord, I am Thine.” Others say:— “Lord, I am Thyself.”— There is a difference in expression, but the ultimate goal is one and the same, when we clearly understand the standpoint from which both are said. In both cases, only the Lord remains as the sole actor and agent. The ego disappears. And this should be our aim and should be attained by us all.
Reincarnation is in no way the most vital point. What is of greater importance is to try to get full illumination in this very life. None is forced to follow the spiritual path, but all those who have decided to do so should do it with great enthusiasm and perseverance, never swerving from their path, not even an inch. We should learn to be tremendously sincere and one-pointed and not allow ourselves to be swayed by indecision and doubt.
Tat Tvam Asi
This great Vedantic dictum really speaking means that that which is at the back of the outside world and that which is at the back of myself is one and the same, the One Indivisible, eternally Undivided, Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute. We see something in the outside world, but we always see it coloured by the red flower behind it. The individualised soul in its real nature and the outside world in its real nature are eternally one and the same.
Even our mind which creates all differentiation is Maya and nothing but Maya,— a part of the phenomena. And there comes a time for all sincere aspirants when this mind ceases to be, and there remains only the Thing-in-itself, the Pure Being. But what this Maya is, none has ever been able to express in words. Sankara says:— “We cannot say it is Sat or Asat, existence or non-existence, or even a combination of both.”
Maya, or phenomenal existence, is to be understood as something that exists during ignorance, but that ceases to be on the dawn of true knowledge..But till then, it is a fact of our consciousness. It is not nothing. Personal Maya is related to cosmic Maya as a tree to a forest, as a wave to the ocean. Maya, Avidya, is not merely negative. It is not merely ignorance in the negative sense, but something positive, the nature of which cannot be described. Maya is a “statement of fact”, as Swami Vivekananda put it. At one time it exists, at another time it ceases to be, but while we are in Maya we can never ask the question what Maya is. And when we are out of it, the question does not arise. We have to take Maya as a fact at a certain time, and find ways and means to get out of it. Neither existence nor non-existence can be predicated of it. It is all beyond human comprehension and can never be grasped by the intellect:
But although we cannot know the nature of the Maya, we can, however, transcend it and attain to the Self,— the Reality. May we be able to say with Swami Vivekananda:
“There is but One — the Free — the Knower — Self,
Without a name, without a form or stain;
In Him is Maya, dreaming all this dream.
The Witness, He appears as nature, soul.
Know thou art That, Sannyasin bold, say —
‘Om Tat Sat Om’.”
Periyalwar or Periazhwar (3055 BC) is one of the twelve azhwar saints of South India, who are known for their affiliation to Vaishnava tradition of Hinduism. Vishnucitta or Periyalwar incarnated on this earth in the 47th year after the beginning of the Kali Era (3102 BC). The verses of azhwars are compiled as Nalayira Divya Prabandham and the 108 temples revered are classified as Divya desam. According to some accounts, Periyazhwar is considered the first in the line of the twelve azhwars, while other accounts place him as the eighth. His original name is Vishnuchittar and he since he is considered the oldest among azhwars, he is called Periazhwar.
Ye slaves of men, you are not of us. Only you that hunger for the freedom of your souls, come unto us and join our choir eternal. We have been for generations a stainless, glorious band of men, ever devoted to the service of the Lord.
Despair not. There is yet escape from the cold clutches of Death. Ere the mists gather round your eyes, ere you feel the death-rattle, ere your kith and kin crowd round you slyly whispering and asking for your hidden treasure, ere words struggle and stick in your throat, build in your heart a temple for the Lord and for ever worship him. Offer at His altar your humble flowers of love and service.
At Thy touch all that is harsh and dissonant melts into one sweet harmony. I see Thy Kingdom gleam through the mists of time and the gloom of Death. I am bathed in a flood of light ineffable
Thirumazhisai Alvar is a Tamil saint revered in the srivaishnavism school of south India, in Tondai Nadu (now part of Kanchipuram and Tiruvallur districts). He was born in 4203 BCE. The legend of this saint devotees of Srivaishnavism believe that he was the incarnation of Vishnu’s disc, Sudarshana. A childless tribal couple called Tiruvaalan and Pankaya Chelvi engaged in cutting canes found the child and took it home. The couple also had a son named Kanikannan who was a disciple of Thirumalisai Alvar. He belonged to Paraiyar, he proclaimed that he didn’t belonged to Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya & Shudra in one of his couplets as he was considered (Avarna) untouchable and casteless person.
To be unwearied in the service of the Lord that dwells in me, is the work I am born for. And what calling is nobler than this? In it I find my all.
The Lord rescues us from death and delusion of Life. In His will is our peace. And dead is the heart that is lost in the morass of the narrow meaningless rituals of life.
Close all the doors of the senses and kindle within the torch of wisdom. Luminous as a long, unbroken trail of light, there gleams upon your vision a path to the hidden temple of our Lord, the bolts and bars of whose gates yield only to the magic touch of Love.
Thirumangai Alvar, also spelt as Tirumangai Alvar and Tirumankai Alvar, or Thirumangai Mannan is the last of the 12 Alvar saints of south India, who are known for their affiliation to Vaishnava tradition of Hinduism. He is considered one of the most learned Alvar and the most superior Alvar in the context of composition of verses. He holds the title Narkavi Perumal, the mark of an excellent poet, and Parakala (Beyond Time).
Hungering for Thee, many a strange web of life have I woven for ages. Now do I feel Thy mercy. And when I gaze across the melancholy waste of years that have vainly flown into the hushed sea of silence, my heart is filled with unutterable woe. I seek Thy refuge. Save me,—my Lord, save me.
Thou hast set Thy seal and stamp on me. Thou hast made me Thy liveried servant. Thou hast closed many a rift in the reed of my life. I feel a strange thrill at Thy presence in the mansion of my heart. At Thy wondrous touch, I break into endless melodies.
Sin not against your sacred Self. Cast off your allegiance to man and no more a bondman be. Come out of your cobwebs of useless learning and shatter the outworn creeds in which you have been suckled and cradled so long. I have known the measureless and unsearchable One, whom the sages worship in the silent shrine of their being. Come and sing with me unto His Glory.
What profiteth our eyes if they drink not in Thy radiance? What profiteth our ears if they feed not on Thy gospel? What profiteth our hands if they fold not in prayer? What profiteth our harps and timbrels if they throb and thrill not with Thy glory? What profiteth our heart if it turns not to Thee?
Ah, to be cooped and caged for my transgressions within the clammy cells of a mother’s womb! The very thought of it makes me dumb with despair. I feel like one on board a sinking vessel caught in a crashing gale.
I have pined and pined in grief forlorn over this frail vessel of strifes and sorrows. I have grown weary of the bewitching wiles of beauteous women in whose fair arms I oft revelled. I have, guided by the lone voice of reason, searched within myself and sought the great light of Truth. I have found in Thee the very balm and bliss of my life.
Age cannot wither, nor time leave its furrows on the birthless One, out of whom flows, in ceaseless measure, a stream of joy past words. In Him there is neither was nor is nor will be; but all throbs with the one voice of eternity. Into that vast sea of the unknown I have dived, the fitful fever of life passing away.
My wife and children are but a broken reed. Leaving them, I followed Thee. And with the flashing sword of Thy grace, I have cut asunder the tangled web of life and emerged from the folly and snare of my senses. And now, far, far away from the harassing hounds of life’s troubles, I dwell secure.
Shut out from the beacon-light of Thy wisdom, without a rudder or compass, floundering amidst shoals and sandbanks, I, in the darkness of my soul, drifted across the perilous, uncharted seas of many a birth and death. Battered and decayed, my life has found at last its moorings in the haven of Thy grace.