Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai

How to Attain Self-Realisation


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.

False identifications

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’.”

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Some Psalms of the Vaishnava Mystics

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).[3] 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.[1][2] 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.
—Thirumazhisai Alvar—

Thirumangai Alvar, also spelt as Tirumangai Alvar and Tirumankai Alvar, or Thirumangai Mannan[3] 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.[4] He holds the title Narkavi Perumal, the mark of an excellent poet,[4] 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.
—Thirumangai Alvar—

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Hinduism – The Importance of Spiritual Practices

Source: from M’s Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna

Sri Ramakrishna — If one practises a little Sadhana [spiritual exercises] then the spiritual teacher makes him understand what is what. He then himself learns to distinguish the real from the unreal and knows that God alone is eternal and that this world is ephemeral.

One night a fisherman secretly entered a garden and cast his nets into a tank to steal fish. The owner of the garden came to know of it and surrounded the thief with his men and came with lighted torches to catch him. The thief in the meanwhile smeared his body with ashes and sat like a Sadhu [a monk] under a tree. The men searched in vain for the fisherman; they found only an ascetic covered with ashes, sitting under a tree and deeply absorbed in meditation. Next morning, the word went round that a great sage had come into so-and-so’s garden. People poured in with presents of flowers and sweets to pay their respects to him, and a considerable amount of silver also began to accumulate before him. At that the fisherman thought, “How wonderful! I am not a real Sadhu, yet they show me such reverence! Assuredly then I’ll realise God if I really become a Sadhu!”

If a mere pretence of Sadhana [spiritual exercises] brought such illumination, what to speak of real Sadhana! Then you will surely perceive what is real and what is unreal; you will surely know that God is true and the world false.

A devotee says to himself, “The world is unreal and the fisherman of the story also gave up the world. What then will be the fate of those awakened ones that are living in the world? Must they renounce it?”

The Master says immediately, “If a clerk is sent to jail, he no doubt serves his term, but when he is released, should he go dancing madly along the streets? He seeks out another employment and goes on working as before. Even so, after attaining Divine Wisdom through the grace of the Guru [spiritual teacher], man can live in the world as Jivan-mukta [liberated in life].”

Sadhana and its reward In the beginning, you must be up and doing, and then Sadhana becomes easier afterwards. For the man must be alert at the helm so long as he steers his craft along tortuous water-courses and through agitated waves and storm and rain. But once he has passed them, he can sit comfortably at the helm and spread his sail in the favourable wind and prepare his pipe. Even so, when the raging blasts of Lust and Greed have blown over, it is all peace and calm.

Some have the sign of the Yogi manifested in their person; they should yet be on their guard. For Lust and Greed are the impediments to Yoga, and if the desire arises in a person’s mind to enjoy them, he falls and is dragged down into the world; and he can turn back towards God and regain his former exalted state of spirituality only when he has satisfied those desires.

The value of scriptural studies in the scheme of Sadhana Scriptures have to be studied in the beginning. It is in the early stages that one reasons out and discusses. “O My Mind, install the Beloved Mother in the heart. May I and you alone see Her, let none else pry into it.”

In the course of Sadhana one has to learn all the Scriptures. But when the Mother has been realised, there is no lack of knowledge,— She Herself provides an unfailing supply. Man has to spell the words when he first learns to write, but afterwards he can write fluently.

Mere study of the Scriptures is of no help. If you live amidst “Woman and Gold”, you are not able to able to comprehend the true significance of Scriptures. Attachment to the world takes away knowledge. “With wistful hope I learnt many a sweet poetic thing, but, alas, I fell in love with a deaf man, and all was marred.”

Preparations for the inevitable hour Know that all will walk down the same path one day. It is only a two days’ slay in this world. The world is the place of action, where you have been brought in to work, even as a man comes on business from his country-home to Calcutta.

You must take some pains by way of Sadhana [spiritual exercises]; the karmas must be speedily worked out. When the smiths melt gold, they blow with bellows, fan and pipe all together to make the fire blaze high, and only when the gold has been dissolved do they ask for a smoke. All this time they have been sweating on the brow, but they can get a chance to smoke only after they have done.

You must be very firm in your determination if you want to practise Sadhana,— you must make a strong resolve! The seed of His Holy Name is very powerful. It destroys ignorance. The seed is so soft, and its sprout is so tender, yet it shoots up through the hard earth.

The mind becomes completely distracted if you live long among “Woman (Man) and Gold”. The man of the world, living among “Woman (Man) and Gold”, may set his mind on the Lord sometimes, but it is also attracted by them, just as a fly that sits on sweetmeats turns again to sores and filth. Keep your mind ever fixed on the Lord. In the beginning you must struggle a little, afterwards you will enjoy your pension.

The time-factor and spiritual discipline Knowledge cannot be communicated all at once. Its attainment is a question of time. Suppose a fever is of a severe type. The doc- tor cannot give quinine under such circumstances. He knows that such a remedy would do no good. The fever must first leave the patient, which depends upon time, and then the quinine would be useful. Sometimes the fever would go off without your having to give the patient quinine or any other medicine. Precisely the same is the case with a man who seeks for knowledge. To him spiritual precepts often prove useless so long as he is immersed in worldliness. Allow him a certain period for the enjoyment of the things of the world; his attachment to the world will gradually wear off. This is exactly the time for the success of any spiritual instructions that may be given to him. Till then they would be as good as entirely thrown away.

Many come to me; and I have observed how some of them are anxious to listen to my words. But one or two of the company appear to be restless and impatient in my presence. They say to their friends in whispers, “Let us go, let us go! Well, if you mean to stay, we had better get into the boat and wait for you.”

It is difficult to drive nails into a strong brick wall. It will break the head of the nails sooner than make any impression upon the wall. It is idle to strike the crocodile with the sword. The chances are that the sword will not make a cut. Therefore I say that the element of time is an important factor in all these matters.

Spiritual awakening is very much a question of time. The teacher is a mere help. The fact is, a great deal of all this desire for knowledge or for freedom depends upon one’s Karma in one’s previous incarnations.

A Devotee — Yes, Sir, it is so difficult to understand one’s self. We see the self only as it appears to us. Behind it there might be a hundred previous incarnations. We walk upon the floor of a house but we never stop to see how it is made and what various things are beneath it.

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The Necessary Qualifications for Spiritual Life – Swami Vivekananda


“Verily, these three are rare to obtain and come only through the grace of God: human birth, desire to obtain Moksha [liberation] and the company of the great-souled ones.”

The first thing needed is Manushyatvam, human birth, because it only is favourable to the attainment of Mukti [emancipation]. The next is Mumukshutvam. Though our means of realisation vary according to the difference in sects and individuals—though different individuals can lay claim to their special rights and means to gain knowledge, which vary according to their different stations in life,— yet it can be said in general without fear of contradiction that without Mumukshuta nothing can be achieved. What is Mumukshutvam? It is the strong desire for Moksha [liberation]—the earnest yearning to get out of the sphere of pain and pleasure—utter disgust for the world. When that intense burning desire to see God comes, then you should know that you are entitled to the realisation of the Supreme.

Then another thing is necessary and that is the coming in direct contact with the Mahapurushas, the great-souled ones, and thus moulding our lives in accordance with those of the great-souled ones who have reached the goal. Even utter disgust for the world and an intense burning desire for God are not sufficient. Initiation by a Guru [spiritual teacher] is necessary. Why? Because it is the bringing of yourself into connection with that great source of power which has been handed down through generations, from one Guru to another, in uninterrupted succession. The devotee must seek and accept the spiritual preceptor as his counsellor, philosopher, friend and guide. In short, the Guru is the sine qua non of progress in the path of spirituality. Whom then shall I accept as my Guru? “He who is versed in the Scriptures, without taint, unhurt by desire, he who is the best of the knowers of Brahman.” He who is not only learned in the Scriptures but who knows their subtle secrets, who has realised their true import in his life. Mere book-learning is of no avail. Nowadays, everyone wants to be a Guru. Even a poor beggar wants to make a gift of a lakh of rupees! Then, the Guru must be without a touch of taint; and he must be unhurt by any desire,— he should have no other motive except that of purely doing good to others, he should be an ocean of mercy-without-reason and not impart religious teaching with a view to gain name or fame, or anything pertaining to selfish interest. And he must be the intense knower of Brahman.. Such is the Guru, says the Scripture. When spiritual union is established with such a Guru, then comes realisation of God,— then God-vision becomes easy of attainment.

There should be in the aspirant after Truth, Abhyasa or earnest and repeated attempt at practical application of the Truth by prescribed means of constant meditation upon the Chosen Ideal. Even if you have a burning thirst for God, or have gained the teacher, unless you have along with it, Abhyasa, unless you practise what you have been taught, you cannot get realisation. When all these are firmly established in you, then you will reach the Goal.

Do not forget the great ideal of our religion,— which is to go beyond this phenomenal world,— not only to renounce the world, but to give up heaven too; aye, not only to give up evil but to give up good too; and thus to go beyond all, beyond this phenomenal existence and ultimately realise the “Sat-Chit-Anandam Brahman” — the Absolute Existence-Knowledge-Bliss, which is Brahman.

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Stories from the Life of the Buddha

1. The Wild Geese One day, as Prince Siddhartha was going through the royal gardens on his way to the river, a flock of wild geese, beautifully outlined against the sky, passed overhead. Devadatta, the Prince’s cousin, seeing the geese, shot an arrow into their midst and one of them fell, wounded, just in front of Siddhartha. He felt a tender compassion for the poor bird that lay bleeding at his feet. Lifting it up, he drew out the arrow very carefully, bound up the wound and took the bird with Him. Presently a messenger came to claim the bird, sent by Devadatta, but Siddhartha refused to give it up saying that it belonged to him who had saved its life, not to him who had tried to kill it. 2. The Buddha and the Wealthy Brahmin One day a wealthy Brahmin was holding his harvest-home, when the Buddha came and stood by with the begging bowl in his hands. The Brahmin got very angry and said, “I plough and sow, and having ploughed and sown, I eat. It would be better if you were in like manner to plough and to sow, and then you would have food enough to eat without begging.” “O Brahmin, do not get incensed at my begging,” the Buddha answered, “I too, plough and sow, and having ploughed and sown, I eat.” “You say, you are a husbandman, but I see no signs of it,” replied the Brahmin, “Where are your bullocks and the seed and the plough?” Then the Buddha answered, “Faith is the seed I sow and good works are the rain that fertilises it. Wisdom and good works are the parts of the plough, and my mind is the guiding rein. I lay hold of the handle of the Law; earnestness is the goad I use and diligence is my daughter. Thus my ploughing is done, destroying the weeds of delusion. The harvest that it yields is the ambrosia-fruit of Nirvana, and by this ploughing all sorrow ends.” 3. The Sacrifice of the Brahmin A certain Brahmin had made preparations for a great sacrifice in honour of one of the ancient gods of the Hindus. Whole herds of sheep and goats had been driven together, ready to be slaughtered when the day of sacrifice should arrive. Now, it came to pass that the Buddha visited this Brahmin, and as they sat together, discussing many things, the Buddha spoke of the sacredness of all life, whether of men or animals, of the pure heart and upright ways which are of far higher value than a sacrifice necessitating the shedding of blood. For nothing but his own unbroken efforts after right doing and right thinking can avail a man; he cannot rid himself of his sins and delusions by making innocent creatures suffer. As the Brahmin listened; the Buddha’s words sank deep into his soul. He was convinced of their truth. Determined to spare the lives of all those animals that had been driven together for the day of sacrifice, the Brahmin ordered that they should be given their freedom. So instead of being slaughtered, they were turned loose on the hill-side where they could roam at will, choose their own pasture, drink the clear water of the mountain streams and scent the cool and refreshing breezes that blew on the upland. 4. Angulimala Journeying in Kosala, the Buddha was warned not to pass through a certain forest, for here, in the deep recesses of the jungle, was the den of a famous robber chief, Angulimala. He was the terror of the whole country-side, for he lived by plundering unwary travellers and had committed many murders. He feared no one, and from the very palace of the king the cries of his victims had been heard many a time. All attempts to capture this desperate man had failed. So he continued his ravages unpunished. The people of Kosala now besought the Buddha not to expose himself to the dangers of the robber’s territory. But Gautama knew no fear and heedless of all warnings, he made his way straight to the den of the robber. Angulimala, enraged at this boldness, determined to slay the intruder. But when he saw the Buddha, calm and self-possessed, and heard his words of kindness, the robber hesitated. His arm uplifted to kill, hung helpless by his side and his wrath cooled like the embers of a dying fire. As the Buddha reasoned with him, he changed his purpose and, before long, had confessed all his sins and declared his faith in the Doctrine. When the people saw the new disciple following his Master, they were amazed and could scarcely believe that this was the same man who had been the terror of their land for so many years. Angulimala became a monk and was renowned for his holiness.

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The Restraining of the Passions

Source: Compiled from the Bhagavatam Sk.7. Adh.15 A person should conquer desire by shunning the wish or determination to gratify it, and conquer the passion of anger by eschewing Kama [desire to gain particular objects], and covetousness by seeing the evil in all worldly things sought after, and fear by a thorough perception of Truth. He should get rid of grief and attachment through a distinct knowledge of what is Atman and An-atman [Self and non-self], and of hypocrisy by service at the feet of the great and association with them, and the interruptions of Yoga [concentration] by the force of silence, and avoid harm to other creatures by cherishing no love to the body and all its belongings. He should get over the troubles arising from other beings through kindness and mercy, and those caused by the gods through contemplation of the gods, and those arising in his own body and mind by strength of Yoga practices [Pranayama and the like], and sleep by using Sattvic food and the like. He should conquer Rajas and Tamas by means of the Sattva element and also Sattva by complete withdrawal from activity; and he may have all this conquest assured to him through his intense devotion to the Guru [spiritual teacher]. All the rules restricting the conduct and habits of man have but one purpose, viz., to serve restraining the six passions; and they would be only a source of mere labour and pain if they do not lead to contemplation and concentration. He who is resolved on conquering his mind should rid himself of all associations and give up all his belongings, should be alone and live in a secluded place, eating but very little. The wise man should slowly and gradually confine the mind to the heart by bringing it back from the several objects to which it has gone out, wandering under the force of passions. And the mind of the ascetic, who is thus day and night given to the exercise of control, becomes in a short time peaceful, undisturbed by passions, like fire without fuel to feed it. Then the mind, unassailed by desire and other passions and divested of all activity, rises to the experience of the blissful realisation of Brahman and would never again turn towards the Samsara [phenomenal world].

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The Way to true Devotion

Source: Compiled from the Bhagavatam Sk.ll. Adh.19

“I shall again tell thee of the most efficacious way to devotion to Me: Sincere solicitude to listen to My nectar-like stories, the constant singing of Me, a steady application to My worship, to sing hymns in praise of Me, enthusiasm in doing service to Me and bowing to Me, great attention to worshipping My devotee, to think that I am present in all beings, every movement of every limb taking place only in doing acts dedicated to Me; to sing only My qualities, to resign the mind to Me, to shun all desires, and for My sake to eschew money that does not point to My devotion, to abandon all enjoyments and comforts and to perform sacrificial acts, gifts, oblations, repetition of Mantras [holy sound-symbols] and the vows and tapas [austerity] dedicated to Me.

“Those men, O Uddhava, who possess the aforesaid virtues and resign themselves to Me, develop devotion towards Me. What other purpose yet remains for them to secure? When the mind is full of Sattva [calmness serenity and balance] and thoroughly serene is resigned unto Me, the man naturally gains merit of righteousness, wisdom and renunciation and attains to the state of Iswara [God with attributes]. The mind that is set on anything different from Myself, that is on any phenomenal object, runs astray with the senses, then it becomes very impure with Rajas [passionate activity] attached to bad things, and thus it becomes perverse and unrighteous.

“Whatever promotes devotion to Me is Dharma [Righteousness], and to realise the oneness of Atman [Self] is Jñana or wisdom; to be without attachment to the three Gunas and their products is renunciation.”

Uddhava said, “O Slayer of enemies, how many are the Yamas laid down as such? Niyamas, how many? What is Sama? What is Dama? O Krishna, what is forbearance or fortitude, O Lord? What is gift? What is Tapas? What is heroism, truthfulness, correct understanding? What is liberality? What is wealth or sacrificial act? What is Yajña and what is Dakshina? What is the good strength of man? What is fortune or gain? What is the highest form of modesty, what is Sri, what happiness, what misery? Who is a scholar? Who is a fool? What is the way and what is the wrong way? What is heaven and what is hell? Who is a relation and what is a house? Who is rich and who is poor? Who is helpless? And who is Iswara, O Lord of the righteous? May Thou be pleased to explain to me these points of enquiry as well as the contrary ideas.”

Sri Krishna said, “To refrain from harming others, to be truthful, not to appropriate others’ wealth even in thought, to be free from attachments, to avoid company, to shrink from evil courses, not to be storing or collecting wealth, belief in Dharma [righteousness], celibacy, cleanliness of body and purity of heart, continence, firmness, forbearance, fear of God, to repeat the Mantras, Tapas [austerity], enthusiasm in being righteous, hospitality, worshipping Me, pilgrimages to holy places and waters, working for the benefit of others, contentment, service to the Guru [teacher]—these are the Yamas and Niyamas. When practised, these virtues lead to all that men desire.

“Sama is to settle the mind devoutly on Me; Dama is the control of the senses, forbearance is to put up quietly with afflictions, fortitude is complete control of the senses, of sexual passion and of taste. To refrain from harming other creatures is the highest gift. To abandon desires is admitted to be Tapas. Control over natural tendencies is heroism, and truthfulness is to think of Brahman. Correct understanding is speech both sweet and truthful; absence of attachment to the course of Karma is cleanliness, and to be rid of the notions of “I” and “Mine” is Tyaga. The desired wealth of men is righteousness. Yajña [sacrifice] is Myself, the most Glorious One. Dakshina is precept leading to wisdom. Pranayama, or control of breath, is the greatest strength. Fortune is the state of Iswara, having the six attributes, the highest gain is devotion to Me. Learning is the erasure of difference in Me. Sri is shrinking from prohibited action.

“Absence of desire and other good qualities are the ornament, happiness is to be insensible to pain and pleasure, misery is the craving for pleasure to be derived from the fulfilment of desires. He is a scholar who has true Knowledge of bondage and release. The fool is he who thinks that the body and its belongings are the Self. The way is that which directs one towards Me. The wrong way is distraction of the mind. Heaven is the predominance of Sattva [the element of harmony and balance]. Hell is the predominance of Tamas [the element of indolence, lethargy and dullness]. The relation is the Guru [Spiritual Teacher], Myself, O friend. The house is the human body. The rich man is he who is full of excellent qualities. He is poor who is discontented. He is helpless who has not controlled his senses. He is Iswara who is not attached to the Gunas. And one attached to the Gunas is the slave.”

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Two Stories from the Life of St. Francis


1. The Sermon on the Corpse

One day, St. Francis complained to his brothers in the following way saying, “There is scarcely a monk on earth who observes perfect obedience towards his superior.”francis-of-assisi

Then his companions said to him, “Tell us, Father, what is perfect and supreme obedience?”

He answered, describing him who is truly and perfectly obedient under the figure of a corpse.

“Take a dead body and put it wherever you will. You will see that it shows no resistance, does not change its place, will not demand from you the things it left. If you put it in a chair, it will not look up but down. If you dress it in purple, it will but look paler than before. Thus he who is perfectly obedient does not ask why he is removed, does not care where he is placed, does not insist on being put elsewhere. He who is raised to some high office retains his ordinary humility. The higher he rises in honours, the more does he consider himself to be unworthy of them.”

St. Francis considered that to be perfect obedience which is attained spontaneously without asking for it. And he took that for supreme obedience wherein neither the flesh nor the blood has any part.

2. The Immodest Eyes

Among those virtues which he preferred and desired to find in the brothers after the foundation of holy humility, St.Francis liked above all the beauty and purity of pure-mindedness.

Therefore, endeavouring to train the brothers to keep their eyes modest, he used to describe the immodest eyes by the following parable.

“There was a pious and mighty king who sent two messengers, one after the other, to the queen. On coming back, the first one spoke about the message only in words without mentioning the queen, for he had guarded his eyes wisely in his head and not lifted them up to the queen under any circumstances. When the second returned he began, after having said a few words about the message, to weave a long story round the beauty of the queen. “Truly,” he said, “O Lord, I saw the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. Fortunate, indeed, is he who possesses one like unto her.” The king replied to him, “Thou faithless servant hast lifted up thy immodest eyes to my spouse, and it is clear that thou wishest secretly to possess what thou hast seen.” Thereupon he ordered the other servant to be brought back to him and said, “What dost thou think of the queen?” “She seemed most excellent,” he said, “for she listened to me willingly and with great patience.” And the king turned again to him and asked, “But has she no beauty at all?” “That is for you to see, my Lord,” he replied, “My duty was to deliver the message.” Then the king passed judgment and said, “Because thou hast kept thy eyes chaste, stay with me in my own room because of the chastity of the body and enjoy my delights. But that shameless fellow must leave my palace in order that he bring not dishonour to my house.”

Soource: From the Specchio di perfezione by Brother Leone

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Mother’s Love – Swami Ishanananda – 6

In 1940, Radhu was living in Jayrambati, at Holy Mother’s house. In the second half of that year she contracted malarial fever and after some time became so sick that she had to be brought to Calcutta for treatment. The doctors suspected she might be suffering from tuberculosis and therefore decided to send her to the Ramakrishna Mission Sevashrama in Benares, where she could receive specialized treatment. Radhu arrived in Benares accompanied by Swami Ishanananda and a female servant, and was lodged on the second floor of a small rented house near the Ashrama. The doctors had Radhu’s chest X-rayed and found that she did indeed have TB. Both lungs were so badly damaged by the disease that there was no hope of recovery. Swami Ishanananda, who as a boy had been Holy Mother’s close attendant, had known Radhu for many years, and she therefore could talk to him freely. After staying for twelve days in Benares, it was time for the Swami to return to Calcutta. When he went to say goodbye to Radhu, they had the following conversation:

Swami – `Radhu, today I’m going back to Calcutta. Please don’t worry. Once you have recovered from your illness you will return to Jayrambati. The Swamis here have made all necessary arrangements for your stay and treatment. Afterwards I will come and take you back to Jayrambati.’

Radhu (in a feeble voice but forcefully) – `Dear me! What kind of understanding do you have? I know the disease I am suffering from, no matter how much you may try to conceal it from me. I have got tuberculosis, I know it is a fatal illness. Still you are telling me, “Once you have recovered, you will return to Jayrambati.”‘

Swami- `Radhu, why do you entertain such thoughts? You will be properly looked after, and if any problem arises, all you have to do is tell the Swamis and they will try to help you in every possible way. Please do not worry.’ Radhu- `Gopal-da, I am not talking about such things, you know. You want to keep me here because if I die in Benares I will obtain liberation. Is this what you have understood after serving the Mother for so many years? She, who took my burden from my very birth, who looked after my well-being in all respects, who even gave me the right to live in her own house as long as I am alive, in whom I have taken refuge forever, has She not secured my liberation as well? Even if I die in an impure place, by her grace, liberation is in my hand (showing her clenched fist). You don’t have to worry about that, brother. I will die in whichever place the Mother chooses for me.’ Everyone present in the room was touched to see Radhu’s deep faith in Holy Mother. At the earnest request of those looking after her, Radhu stayed on at Benares for just a few days and then returned to Jayrambati. On 23rd November 1940, at nine in the morning, Radhu passed away in Holy Mother’s room in Jayrambati. She was only forty years old. She died fully conscious, with her mind firmly fixed on the lotus feet of Holy Mother.

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Mother’s Love – Swami Ishanananda – 5

Swami Ishanananda, the writer of these reminiscences, was indeed a blessed soul. He had the good fortune of becoming Holy Mother’s close attendant and helper when he was just an eleven-year-old schoolboy. He belonged to the group of young novices living at the Koalpara monastery, close to the Mother’s village, who used to assist the Mother in running her household. The Swami met the Mother in 1909 and served her until her passing away in 1920.

Source: Matrisannidhye (Bengali book). (A free translation by Br. Bodhi Chaitanya)

A Brahmachari tries to serve Holy Mother

When Holy Mother was living at Koalpara, a new Brahmachari came from Belur Math to pay his respects to her. When he met the Mother, he expressed his wish to stay on for some days, but she told him: `My son, if you stay here you will have to put up with many inconveniences. Here I am, in this jungle, with Radhu; and there is so much work to do.’ The Brahmachari, however, kept on insisting, and Holy Mother finally said: `All right, you may stay at the Koalpara Ashrama for some days.’ After a few days the Mother asked the Brahmachari: `Look, Radhu is on a special diet. Do you think you could cook her meals?’ The boy was overjoyed, and agreed at once to do the job.

The next day he cooked Radhu’s meal at the Ashrama. As he was taking the food to Holy Mother’s house nearby, the tray he carried felt so hot that his hands began to burn, and finally the tray fell on the ground, spreading its contents around! A perplexed Brahmachari presented himself before the Mother, empty tray in hand! He then told her what had happened. The Mother was rather displeased; and that day, of course, Radhu could not have her usual food. In the evening, when Varada went to visit the Mother, she told him: `Look, as a sadhu (holy man) the boy is quite good. But at the moment, here the work cannot go on without efficient people. This kind of work cannot be performed by sadhus that dwell under trees (i.e., sadhus indifferent to outward events).

Again, on the impulse of some temporary enthusiasm anybody can do a good job, but the nature of a person can be known by observing in detail just how they perform their every-day work.’

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