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Articles

CONTENTS:

How to become Spiritually Awakened.

Swami Yatiswarananda 1965

 

Pain Must Have A Stop.

Reprinted, with grateful thanks, from`Vedanta Kesari' May 1965.

 

The Direct Disciples of Sri Ramakrishna.

Swami Ranganathananda 1995

 

Questions and Answers.

Swami Dayatmananda

 

Ambapali: A Lady of Pleasure Who Attained Buddhist Sainthood.

Dr.Susunaga Weeraperuma

 

Swami Rama Tirtha.

John Phillips

 

Self Control: Forcible or Gradual?

 A lecture given by Swami Adiswarananda  1998

 

Some Sayings of My Guru.

Swami Vidyatmananda 1981

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How To Become Spiritually Awakened

Swami Yatiswarananda

This article first appeared in Vedanta Kesari, August 1965.

 

Sitting at the feet of the great disciples of Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna, the religion that we learnt taught us not to be egocentric, but to be dedicated to the service of the Lord in man. Some words of Swami Vivekananda come to my mind always. From America he wrote, and these were also the last lines in his reply to the Madras address, `First let us ourselves be gods and then help others to be gods.' Swamiji put this idea before us in another form: each one of us should lead our life in such a way, that we attain to our spiritual realisation, freed from all bonds. Not only that, we must also be able to promote the welfare of others. The ideal is, that in the innermost core of our being, we have to realise the God-head; again, we have to experience Him as manifest in all. Out of this realisation of his have come into existence all the various forms of service of the Ramakrishna Movement: Medical Service, Educational Service, Preaching and Publication. The ideal is to serve the Divine in others. Just as we ourselves try to be free we should also try to help others to be free.

I would like to read to you some passages from the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna.

A Devotee: "Sir, is it necessary to have a Guru?"

Master: "Yes, many need a Guru. But a man must have faith in the Guru's words ...

"One should constantly repeat the name of God. The name of God is highly effective in the Kaliyuga. The practice of Yoga is not possible in this age, for the life of man depends on food. Clap your hands while repeating God's name, and the birds of your sin will fly away.

"One should always seek the company of holy men. The nearer you approach the Ganges, the cooler the breeze will feel. Again, the nearer you go to a fire, the hotter the air will feel.

"But one cannot achieve anything through laziness and procrastination. People who desire worldly enjoyment say about spiritual progress: `Well, it will all happen in time. We shall realise God sometime or other.'

"It is said that, in the Kaliyuga, if a man can weep for God one day and one night, he sees Him.

"Feel piqued at God and say to Him: `You have created me. Now you must reveal yourself to me.' Whether you live in the world or elsewhere, always fix your mind on God.

"Go forward. The wood-cutter, following the instructions of the holy man, went forward and found in the forest sandalwood and mines of silver and gold; and going still farther, he found diamonds and other precious stones.

"The ignorant are like people living in a house with clay walls. There is very little light inside, and they cannot see outside at all. But those who enter the world after attaining the knowledge of God are like people living in a house made of glass. For them inside and outside are light. They can see things outside as well as inside.

"Nothing exists except the One. That One is the Supreme Brahman."

 

Why Do We Not Make Progress?

As in our worldly affairs so also in the world of the Spirit there must be systematic practice. We all must be able to prepare ourselves, so that we may be in the proper mood to follow the spiritual path. Many of you might know this story: Sri Ramakrishna had a great disciple, Saint Durgacharan Nag - Naga Mahashaya as he used to be called. His father was very much attached to him, and again the old man used to do a lot of `Japa'. Once when he was told, `Your father is a great devotee', Naga Mahashaya replied, `What can he achieve? He is so much attached to me. An anchored boat does not move'.

There is a story behind this saying. Some drunkards, one moonlit night, took it into their heads to go on a boat ride. They went to the Ghat, hired a boat, sat at the oars and started rowing. They rowed and rowed and rowed, the whole night. Early in the morning, when the effect of the drink was gone, to their surprise they found they had not moved an inch. `What is the matter? What is the matter!' they asked. They had forgotten to raise the anchor.

I hear constant complaints from people, `We are doing our spiritual practice, but we do not make any progress'. The reply is here. At the time of your spiritual practice, are you able, at least to some extent, to free your mind from worldly matters and give your purified mind to God? That is the point. We need training in all paths. Some of you might have read Swami Vivekananda's Jnana Yoga, Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga and Raja Yoga. Whatever path one may follow, one needs discipline, proper training of the mind and creation of the proper mood. If the mind is trained and the mood is created, one can carry on one's spiritual practice with great success. Our trouble is: in worldly matters we may follow some method, but in spiritual affairs we are like children. I have seen grown-up people and big officials talking like children. So an inner personality is to be built up. Many of us are persons but have no personality. We are individuals, but have no individuality. Through moral practice, through fulfilment of duties, through regular worship, a spiritualised personality is to be built up. It is then that our spiritual practice becomes fruitful. Our prayers and meditation will prove to be a source of great blessing. I repeat, in all the paths, in all of the Yogas, disciplines are necessary. If I follow Karma Yoga, my mind must be comparatively calm. I must try to be detached from the things of the world and from the fruits of my Karma. I must try to dedicate the work to God. If I follow Bhakti Yoga, I must have a great yearning for God. It is a spiritual hunger that cannot be appeased by anything in the world. Through prayer, through Japa, through meditation and ultimately through Divine contact, the spiritual seeker appeases this spiritual hunger and finds Peace and Bliss in Divine realisation. Many want to follow Jnana Yoga, but the mind is to be trained so that it can follow the path of extreme self-analysis - `I am not the body; I am not the mind; I am not the ego nor the senses; I am the spirit.' Our teachers of Jnana Yoga say: one must have perfect dispassion for enjoyment, dislike for any future life and power to discriminate between the real and the unreal. One must have mental discipline. One must have infinite faith (Sraddha) in the Supreme Spirit. One must be able to practise concentration.

 

When Concentration Becomes Beneficial

Let us remember one point. Many people say, `Oh! I am not able to practise concentration'. Knowing the persons, that their mind is not pure enough, I say to them `It is good that you don't have concentration'. If an impure mind gets concentrated, it becomes like a bombshell. Aren't we concentrated when we are angry, when we are full of hatred and jealousy? That concentration is no good. It is actually dangerous. So an amount of spiritual discipline is necessary. In the path of Yoga, Patanjali speaks of Yama and Niyama. You have to practise these disciplines as much as you can. One cannot be established in the spiritual life all of a sudden.

 

Ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya, aparigraha (non-dependance on others' charity) are the first disciplines; Niyama - which consists chiefly of Saucha, purity of body and mind, Santosha, contentment - has to be developed. If one is always grumbling and complaining, can one with such a mind, ever do anything successfully either in this world or in the world of the spirit? No. We must adjust to the things in this world and try to improve ourselves.

Tapas: There should be an amount of austerity in life. Without rigour in spiritual practices, each generation is becoming softer than the previous one. Nothing can be achieved by these soft people.

Swadhyaya: We study books. Does anything enter our mind! We hear a lecture and say it was wonderful; and when asked `What did you hear?' we would not be able to repeat anything. The words enter through one ear and pass out through the other. They are not retained. Swadhyaya means to reflect on what you study. Make it a part of your own. `Srotavyah': First you hear or read, then you have to reflect on what you have heard or read, i.e. `Mantavyah'. That is the way. When we are established in the moral path, to some extent, then we will surely get the benefit of spiritual disciplines.

Asana: You may sit like a statue for many hours; what do you get? Pretty nothing. At least there should be spiritual aspiration; then your sitting posture helps you in your spiritual practice.

Pranayama: In the practice of Pranayama you stop your breath. What do you gain? If it is merely a physical phenomenon, a football bladder then must be a great Yogi. What do you get by it? Nothing by itself. But when the mind is greatly disciplined, when the mind is in a spiritual mood, Pranayama helps one to rise to a higher plane of consciousness.

Praytyahara is detachment. From everything the mind is to be detached. When you are attending to some work you banish all other thoughts and give your mind to that particular object. If you fail to practise detachment you invite worries. When you go to sleep, and think of too many things, you don't get sleep, you suffer from insomnia and fall ill. The mind is to be detached from all things at will.

Similarly if you wish to meditate, what should you do? Detach your mind, as much as you can, from the things of the world; even from the pictures, the thoughts and the feelings that arise within you. But detachment should not create a vacuum in your mind. A vacant mind will fall asleep. Be wide awake. Take the name of the Lord and meditate on Him. Then there would not be any fear of falling asleep. Instead the mind will rise to a higher plane.

Dharana: Fix your mind on some divine theme and that is Dharana.

Dhyana: Fix the mind on a holy word or on a holy blissful form - that is a step to attain to what is called Dhyana or contemplation. You remain absorbed in Divine Consciousness and that leads to the higher state, the superconscious state.

But before we proceed we will ask ourselves a question and that is very vital. We identify ourselves with the body and think that we are men and women. We worship a certain Deity - Male or Female. We begin our spiritual life that way, and end also in that way; what do we gain? At the very beginning of our spiritual life, it is essential on our part to be conscious that we are all souls. The Atman, the spiritual entity, has become bound by ego, bound by the mind, bound by the senses, bound by the body. This Atman is to be freed.

Worship of God

What then is worship of God? What is the conception of God? In Europe a devotee said to me `Swami, never utter the word "God". It calls up our childhood image, viz., there is one beyond the clouds, in the Heaven, ever eager to punish those who break His laws. I cannot think of that.' I said, `All right, use the word Ishwara. I use the word Brahman.'

If we wish to worship God we must feel our nearness to Him. In a way He is the Creator, the Protector and the Destroyer. He takes things back to Himself, which we call destroying; but He is much more than that, He is the Soul of our souls, nearer than the nearest, dearer than the dearest. He comes to us as Father and Mother. He comes to us as the Guru and He comes to us also as Ista Devata - the deity chosen for worship. According to the dualistic Vedanta, and most of us should start as dualists, the soul and the over-soul - the Atman and Paramatman - are ever connected. They are ever in union; yet owing to the impurity of our mind, we become attached to the Lord's creation but not to Him. A great Western psychologist, seeing the ways of ordinary religious people, once remarked, `People do not want God. They want to use God!' They want to pray to God so that He may grant all their prayers and if He does not grant these prayers, some become sceptical and say "Oh, God does not exist, and even if He exists, He is deaf, He is blind, He does not respond". That kind of childish conception is no good. Again you want only the good God, as if He has no other task but to grant you boons.

You know, Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna worshipped the Supreme Spirit, first in the form of Kali, a representation of the Cosmic Process. Mother with one hand is creating; with another hand She is protecting; with the third hand She is destroying; and with the fourth hand She is holding the decapitated head. This is the formal representation of what one of the Upanisadic seers said. The disciple asked the father `adhi hi bhagavo brahmeti', `Master, tell me about Brahman.' And the father replied: `Brahman is that out of which all things come into being, by which all things live and unto which all things go back.' In our Bhakti Sastras we call it Ishwara, `God', and in Vedanta we call it Sat-Chit-Ananda. He is Infinite Existence, He is Infinite Consciousness, He is Infinite Bliss. He dwells in our soul and is the Soul of our souls. Again we all dwell in Him. We must feel it, at least His nearness. But even if we cannot feel it, we should try to develop the consciousness that He is nearer than the nearest, dearer than the dearest. What is it that obstructs this consciousness? Our desires stand in the way of this spiritual awareness. So let us try to purify this mind.

Here you come across a big problem. It is the impure mind that runs after the things of the world. The pure mind naturally reflects the glory of God, moves towards Him, meditates on Him, tries to feel His Divine Presence, Love and Bliss. How to purify the mind? First of all you must avoid evil thoughts, evil feelings, evil actions, as much as you can. Entertain good thoughts, good feelings and perform good actions. That is the first step. We should always bear in mind that we are all souls, Atman. This Atman has put on a human personality, with a view to play a part in the Cosmic drama of life. Whatever be the part that is assigned to us, that part has to be played well; that means, we have to perform the duties of life and work in a spirit of detachment, as a form of service to God. But mere moral practice and the fulfilment of duties are not enough to purify the mind; we have to meditate on Him, pray to Him who is the Infinite Source of purity, of Knowledge, devotion, compassion, Love and Bliss.

Here we come to the question: How to worship God, how to pray to Him? But the conception of God is too vast. I give an illustration: We are like small bubbles. The ocean is too big for our conception. So what should we do? We find some mighty waves; let us move towards them, attach ourselves to them and in course of time we have an idea of the ocean itself. Similarly, we start our spiritual journey with one such mountain-like wave, our Ista Devata, we just worship Him, pray to Him, then we come to have a broader conception of life and a broader conception of Reality. The Ista Devata tells us `Look here. I may be a mighty wave, you may be a small bubble. But all of us have got the infinite ocean behind us'. When the proper time comes, He reveals to us the highest Truth.

Is A Guru Essential?

Now, we read in the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, a devotee asking, `Sir, is a spiritual teacher necessary?' Sri Ramakrishna replied that it is necessary for many. If there be some unique souls, born with divine consciousness, who feel the Divine presence even from their very childhood, they do not need a spiritual teacher, but all others do need. Once a devotee asked our teacher Swami Brahmananda - and I have been telling many of you to read, if you have not done so, The Spiritual Teachings of Swami Brahmananda - `Maharaj, is a Guru necessary?' and the Swami smiled and said, `My boy, even if you want to be a thief, you need a teacher. How much more should there be the necessity of a teacher when you want to know the highest truth!' You know there are gangs of pickpockets; they have to pass through a tremendous discipline and training and then only one can be an expert pickpocket.

In this connection, I wish to tell you a story: Girishchandra Ghosh, the actor and dramatist and a great devotee of Sri Ramakrishna, used to practise Homeopathy in his old age. Taking the name of the Master he would give medicine. He had naturally tremendous intuition to achieve success in his way of treatment. One day an elderly and very decent-looking gentleman was sitting by his side, when a young man came and said, `Sir, I have lost my wrist watch on my way'. The other gentleman became inquisitive and asked, `When and where did you lose it?' He said, `Sir, I lost it at such and such an hour, at such and such a place', and the man said `You will get it back'. How could he give the assurance? Because, the fine-looking gentleman was one of the leaders of the pickpockets, one of their Gurus.

I give you another instance. You want to learn Astronomy; you take a book and try to understand it; you get precious nothing! But the Astronomer says something astounding. Every day you see the sun rising and setting and here comes a man who says the sun never rises; the sun never sets; it is all due to the movement of the earth. If we believe our sense perception fully, we do not pay any heed to him. But if we do not, we have to go to him, study under him, make experiments, and then we really convince ourselves what we have seen is an illusion and it is just the truth that the sun never moves, the earth moves.

A spiritual teacher also comes and says something astounding. We are all conscious of our body. We think we are all men and women but the spiritual teacher says that we are the Spirit, distinct from the body and distinct from the mind and distinct from the ego. But if you think as many think, `He is a cheat', Lord bless you! But if you doubt sometimes, `Am I this mass of flesh, this mass of filth or is there something living in me, something living in everybody?' If you start thinking like that, your spiritual life begins. I go to a teacher who has been following the spiritual path all his life, has attained illumination, has come to possess a tremendous sympathy, love, compassion and kindness. I sit at his feet, learn from him something of spiritual disciplines and do my spiritual practices regularly. As my mind becomes purer and purer, I get something in the domain of the spirit and my Ista Devata becomes living. I feel within me a presence that permeates my being, a presence that permeates everybody.

I will tell you a story. In the Upanisads we come across `Narada Sanatkumara Samvada', a discourse between Narada and Sanatkumara. Saints are not born perfect, they have to manifest their perfection. Through sadhana they unfold their potentiality. Saints and sages do not drop from the sky. Narada had his period of true studentship, studied all branches of learning, studied the scriptures, sciences and arts. But having mastered the subjects, he found something was lacking in him. He had studied many things but had not known himself. We all are quite content to read and know of the outer world but we forget to know even a bit of ourselves. It is most unscientific. A great Western physicist has said `That to which Truth matters must have a place in reality, whatever be the definition of reality'. Without some knowledge about the subject, education is incomplete. Our world is full of half-educated people, of those who don't know themselves, who don't know anything of the higher Reality, but pose to be teachers or saviours of the world. Such persons are about to destroy the world. Now, let us come back to the anecdote: `Narada felt "I am not an Atmavit".' He felt a deep pain. He says, `Soham bhagavo sochami - (I, who have not known the Reality in me, am in great sorrow). Please remove my sorrow. Take this sorrow away from me. Give me peace.' The Guru listened to him with infinite tenderness, took him step by step, helped him to have a finer and finer mind and ultimately revealed to him the Truth. `Yo vai bhuma tat sukham nalpe sukhamasti ` That alone which is infinite is bliss. There is no Bliss in the finite.'

How To Purify Our Minds

Our trouble is that our soul longs for infinite joy, infinite love, infinite bliss. But we want, we try to find that in the finite and if we don't succeed we feel frustrated. The Guru said, `If you want real joy, unbounded joy, you have to reach the Infinite'. So the question was: What is meant by the Infinite? It is that which is everywhere - above, below, to the right and to the left. But how to reach it? Here the great ancient teacher Sanat-Kumara gives us in a nutshell the whole course of spiritual discipline. "Food should be pure. When food is pure, our nature becomes pure, and when nature becomes pure, mind becomes pure, and when the mind becomes pure, we remember our spiritual nature. Gradually we are established in spiritual consciousness and that is emancipation. That is freedom when the Self-Consciousness (Divine) has dawned, when we have realised the Infinite Spirit. Once that is done, one feels oneself one with the Infinite Spirit, and all bonds drop off. Let us now try to understand the meaning of ahara: ahara is what we take. Does it mean pure food? Pure Sattvic food? Pure vegetarian food? How far does it help? It helps a little; but unless you know how to purify the mind, nothing happens. There are plenty of wicked people who are vegetarians. What type of vegetarians are they? Lord bless them! You feed a poisonous snake with the purest of milk. It will manufacture poison, won't it? So something of our poisonous nature is to be discarded. Therefore, Shankara observes: `All right! you take pure food, but that is for the nourishment of the body. But the food that you take through the eye, through the ear, through the senses and the mind, all that food also should be pure. Then, your nature becomes pure, the subtle body becomes pure, and then comes illumination.'

Some of you might have seen the three Japanese monkeys; you know, one monkey is closing both the ears, another both the eyes and another the mouth. During my stay in Europe, in Switzerland, I came across a stone carving on the beach of the lake on which Geneva is situated. It was in a small town. There also there were the three monkeys, but with this difference, one had only one eye closed, another had only one ear closed and the third had half of the mouth closed. I was taken aback for a moment. I thought: `What is this?' Then came in a flash. I understood the meaning, `Don't see what is bad; see what is good. Don't hear what is bad; hear what is good. Don't say what is bad; say what is good.' First I thought it was an original idea. Then my mind turned to the Upanisads. There is a text, a peace chant: `Let us see what is "Bhadra" - good. Let us hear what is "Bhadra". Let us sing the glory of the Divine Spirit.' That is to be done. And, when you have done that, to some extent, the mind becomes pure. Make the best use of your vocal organ. You may make bad use of it saying some awful things. Don't do it. Take the name of the Lord - any Name that appeals to you. Meditate on any aspect that appeals to you with an amount of devotion. After some time you will find, your mind is becoming pure. The Divine Name, the Divine Form, uplifts you. Later on, you may even have a glimpse of your Ista Devata, a glimpse even of the universal Spirit.

What Is Japa And Where Is One To Meditate?

The Infinite Spirit is there but we cannot reach it. We must follow a path that helps us to reach That, higher and higher, step by step. I want to reach the snow-capped mountains; can I jump and reach it all at once? No. Swami Brahmananda says in his Spiritual Teachings: `You want to reach the roof. Do you jump to the roof? No. If you do, you fall down and break your legs. Go step by step.' So Japa, as the Master has been saying, is one of the most efficient means. But Japa is not to be done like a parrot. As you repeat the Divine Name, do the Artha-Bhavana. What is Artha-Bhavana? Dwelling on the meaning. First of all, let us think of the Luminous, Blissful Form of the Lord, i.e. the Ista Devata. Then think of Him as an embodiment of Infinite Purity, Knowledge, Devotion, Compassion, Love and Bliss. Then think He is no other than the Paramatman - the all-pervading Spirit dwelling in all beings.

We are asked to meditate in the `Lotus of the Heart'. Where is this Heart? Is it the physiological heart? We cannot do anything there. It is the consciousness that is in the Heart, the consciousness that permeates my entire body and mind. It is the consciousness of the Atman, the consciousness of the Paramatman. We have to meditate in this Chidakasa. We have to think of ourselves as the devotee, and think of the Ista Devata as the manifestation of Paramatman.

Swami Brahmananda used to tell us, "As you do your spiritual practices, you understand what is meant by the word `Heart'. First you may think of it as the `Mahakasa', external space; later, you may think of it as the cosmo-mental world." The real heart is in the Chidakasa, in the realm of pure consciousness. In that, the soul, the unit of consciousness, is eternally united with the Infinite Spirit. So you have to meditate on the Ista Devata in the inner world.

It is good to have a picture. Gaze at the picture; watch the picture. But it is much better to install your picture, the Holy form, in your inner world. Then you are not to depend on anything outside. Whenever you want, look within where your Ista Devata is seated, and pray to Him. Repeat His Divine Name; meditate on Him; first, it may be on His Form, then on His attributes, next on His infinite nature. That is how one is to progress.

Let us go back again to the Yoga aphorism of Patanjali, already referred to, wherein he tells us how to do japa. Now if I repeat the Lord's name and meditate on Him, what will happen to me? The Teacher says, "Think of the meaning - the contents, the connotation of the word." What happens if we do that? Obstacles are removed and new spiritual consciousness awakens. Now with the help of Japa and simple Dhyana, obstacles are removed. Psychologists have explained this in a remarkable way. We are always manufacturing worries and anxieties, always manufacturing evil thoughts. These evil thoughts sicken our mind and sicken our body. The more we think of holy thoughts, the more we repeat the holy harmonious sound and the more we meditate on the blissful Form of the Lord, the more the mind is set in abundant harmony. Illnesses, self-created, self-manufactured, drop off. Then harmony is established in the mind This harmony reflects itself on the body. So, to some extent physical health and mental health improve with the repetition of the Divine Name and we come to know the power of the Divine Name. With the power of meditating on the holy Form, a new spiritual consciousness that was lying hidden, that was potential, manifests itself. Then we discover that we are not just these personalities but we are all souls; and the Ista Devata is no other than the Paramatman, the source of all Peace, source of all Bliss, the source of all Love. Such is the power of the Divine Name.

What is Dhyana? We talk of meditation. You say `I am meditating'. What are you meditating on? Going on brooding over something or other? That is not what is implied by the word Dhyana. Dhyana is: when as you think of the Lord, you become absorbed in the Divine thought. But this absorption would not come all of a sudden. The Japa we do is a step towards that. Repeat the Divine Name, think of Him, and the mind becomes a little calm. Even the sound drops off. You can go on thinking of Him. Then, when God or the Ista Devata becomes more real than the things of the world, naturally the mind gets absorbed and you gradually get a taste of the Divine Presence, Love and Bliss. He may come to us in the form of the Ista Devata; as the Supreme Spirit, as Sat-Chit-Ananda, i.e. Infinite Consciousness, Infinite Love, Infinite Bliss. This is what happens if you undergo regular spiritual practice.

In the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, the Master has said, `You must have spiritual yearning'. Spiritual yearning is like hunger. When people ask me `Why should I meditate?' I say in return, `Why should you? Don't do it.' But if you had the yearning born in you, you would have come to know what spiritual hunger is. Then you could not but think of God, you could not but pray to Him, you could not but take his Divine Name and think of His glory. This hunger is to be awakened. This hunger is to be maintained. That becomes possible if you do your spiritual practice regularly. You feel the body with material food; you feed the mind through study, with thoughts. But you actually starve the soul in the midst of plenty. Do you not feel starved? The soul yearns for the Infinite Spirit; it yearns to realise the Divine Presence, Love and Bliss infinite, and we do not satisfy the yearning. But when that is done, a new life starts.

The Master has also said that holy company is necessary, company of those who are following the spiritual path, who help in strengthening us in the spiritual path, who reflect something of the Divine Glory, which we also wish to realise. That is necessary.

Follow The Right Path: Begin From The Beginning

Again the Master said, `One must follow the right path.' Suppose I am thrown in the wilderness. If I follow one path, what happens? I enter the wilderness more and more. If I follow another path, I come out of it. I am reminded of an American story. A motorist was driving at break-neck speed. He wanted to reach a certain place. He asked a schoolboy who had studied a little geography: `My son, if I go this way, shall I be able to reach the place?' `Yes Sir,' said the boy, `You will reach it.' `How far is it this way?' asked the motorist. `Sir, you will have to go 25,000 miles,' replied the boy. `If I go the other way?' `Then only two miles' was the answer. Do you follow the idea? By one path, you have to come round the world to reach the place. If you go the other way just two miles. Through proper mood, through proper attitude, if you follow the proper directions you reach the goal soon, progress is quickened. A tremendous change takes place within you. But don't try to quicken your steps too much. Go slow, but with determination, along the right path. Gradually you shall reach the highest truth. But, as I said in that illustration of climbing the snow-capped mountain, proceed step by step.

So in our spiritual practice, first comes `Pratima Puja', i.e. worshipping the Lord in some aspect with the help of a form, a symbol, a picture, or an image. Next, the repetition of the Lord's Name, thinking of Him and singing of His glory. Later on as I said, the mind gets a little absorbed; you feel the Divine presence. That is Dhyana, and Dhyana leads to the highest goal, the highest realisation. In order to move, we should proceed step by step. So the Master says, `Go forward, step by step; from the sandalwood, come to the silver mine, come to the gold mine and then come to the diamond mine'. Similarly, if we sincerely follow the spiritual path and begin from the beginning, we will reach the Truth. But, if we begin from the end, we reach nowhere. Some want to practise Advaita sadhana. I tell them, `I know nothing of Advaita sadhana: go to some other teacher.' But if you want to begin from the beginning, I can tell you something of it.

So, first of all, begin with the form-aspect. I have body consciousness, I am an embodied being. I am a person amongst persons. How can I think of the Infinite Spirit? I can't. So let me begin as Maruti said. Hanuman was asked by Sri Rama `How do you think of Me?' Hanuman said: `Lord, when I consider myself as a personality, as an embodied being, I think of myself as Your servant and You as my Master; and Lord, when I think, I am a soul distinct from the body and mind, I consider myself as a part and You as the whole. But at other moments, my Lord, when I rise above all limitations I think You are myself and I am Thyself.' So let us begin from the beginning.

Sri Ramakrishna is very practical. He speaks to us of three types of ananda: vishayananda i.e. the ananda that comes to us through the contact of the senses with the sense objects; bhajanananda, the ananda that comes to us through bhajana, through Japa, through Dhyana; and then finally comes brahmananda as the result of the realisation of the Infinite Spirit. In spiritual life let us have as much bhajanananda as we can. It is within the reach of all of us. The ananda that comes to us through Japa, through Dhyana of the Blissful Form of the Lord - let us have that. And as we have it, let us try to share this Ananda with our fellow spiritual seekers. That is why, when devotees with such a spiritual outlook meet together, they repeat the Lord's Name, sing His glory. At least for the time being they forget the troubles of the world. The mind is transported to a higher plane, something of the ananda of the Supreme Being, something of the peace of the Supreme Spirit comes into our soul, but as I said, we should not stop with that. Our great teachers used to tell us always, `as you advance, you help others to advance.' One who is illumined can alone be the real teacher; but in order to be of service to others one need not be at the beginning fully illumined. Now, I may be a student of a senior class and when teachers are lacking I can take one of the lower classes, I can be of service to those who are in the lower class. Let us not wait for fullest illumination. At every stage it is possible for us to be of service to our fellow beings.

The highest ideal, as Swami Vivekananda has said, is this: First let us ourselves be gods and then help others to be gods. If we advance to some extent, we can help others also to advance. Here comes the ideal: `To work for our own illumination and spiritual emancipation and at the same time to render service to others.' As we improve, we also help others to improve. There is a wonderful prayer. We have it in the Universal Prayers: `Let the wicked become virtuous and the virtuous attain peace - tranquillity. Let the peaceful and tranquil attain illumination and freedom. Let the free help others to become free.' Let us do it in our own humble way. As we do our spiritual practices, as we progress in our spiritual path, let us try to be of service to others. So, my own individual spiritual practice and service to others - these are the two-fold ways which will help me to attain inner purity, which will help me to attain Divine Presence, Divine Love, Divine Bliss. There is the whole of this ideal before us, and let us proceed, each one in one's own way, towards this truth, step by step; let us be sure of every inch of the ground. And as we do our spiritual practice, let us not be egocentric. Let us offer all the fruits of our labour to the Supreme Spirit. Sri Ramakrishna has said, `If we move towards God one step, He comes towards us ten steps'. It is a fact to be realised in the world of Spirit. So proceed. The Lord will protect you. The Lord will guide you. The Lord, the Supreme Spirit, will fill your heart with Divine Presence, Purity, Love and Bliss.

Let us all offer our salutations to the Supreme Spirit, who dwells in the hearts of us all. He is the Supreme Principle of Existence, the Supreme Reality, the Supreme Light and the Supreme Self. Out of this infinite, all-pervading Spirit we all have come into being; in that we rest and unto that we return. Let us for a few moments meditate on the Infinite Spirit. Let us do it each in his own way. Let us try to feel something of the Divine Presence, Divine Love, and Divine Bliss. May the All-pervading, All-Blissful Divine Spirit, the Soul of our souls protect us all. May He guide us all. May He nourish us all. May He bless us all. May the teachings that we learn become fruitful and forceful through His Grace. May peace and harmony dwell amongst us all. Om Shantih, Om Shantih, Om Shantih.

Oh! Lord, all spiritual paths are like streams leading to Thee, the one ocean of Existence, Consciousness and Bliss. 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 are Oh Lord! our all in all. From unreality lead us to Reality. From darkness lead us to Light. From death, lead us to Immortality and Bliss. Reach us through and through - Oh Lord! May we find Thee in our heart of hearts; May we discover Thee in all our fellow-beings. May we love Thee and serve Thee in all. May we thus realise the highest goal of human life.

 

How To Purify Our Minds

Our trouble is that our soul longs for infinite joy, infinite love, infinite bliss. But we want, we try to find that in the finite and if we don't succeed we feel frustrated. The Guru said, `If you want real joy, unbounded joy, you have to reach the Infinite'. So the question was: What is meant by the Infinite? It is that which is everywhere - above, below, to the right and to the left. But how to reach it? Here the great ancient teacher Sanat-Kumara gives us in a nutshell the whole course of spiritual discipline. "Food should be pure. When food is pure, our nature becomes pure, and when nature becomes pure, mind becomes pure, and when the mind becomes pure, we remember our spiritual nature. Gradually we are established in spiritual consciousness and that is emancipation. That is freedom when the Self-Consciousness (Divine) has dawned, when we have realised the Infinite Spirit. Once that is done, one feels oneself one with the Infinite Spirit, and all bonds drop off." Let us now try to understand the meaning of ahara (food): ahara is what we take. Does it mean pure food? Pure Sattvic food? Pure vegetarian food? How far does it help? It helps a little; but unless you know how to purify the mind, nothing happens. There are plenty of wicked people who are vegetarians. What type of vegetarians are they? Lord bless them! You feed a poisonous snake with the purest of milk. It will manufacture poison, won't it? So something of our poisonous nature is to be discarded. Therefore, Shankara observes: `All right! you take pure food, but that is for the nourishment of the body. But the food that you take through the eye, through the ear, through the senses and the mind, all that food also should be pure. Then, your nature becomes pure, the subtle body becomes pure, and then comes illumination.'

Some of you might have seen the three Japanese monkeys; you know, one monkey is closing both the ears, another both the eyes and another the mouth. During my stay in Europe, in Switzerland, I came across a stone carving on the beach of the lake on which Geneva is situated. It was in a small town. There also there were the three monkeys, but with this difference, one had only one eye closed, another had only one ear closed and the third had half of the mouth closed. I was taken aback for a moment. I thought: `What is this?' Then came in a flash. I understood the meaning, `Don't see what is bad; see what is good. Don't hear what is bad; hear what is good. Don't say what is bad; say what is good.' First I thought it was an original idea. Then my mind turned to the Upanisads. There is a text, a peace chant: `Let us see what is "Bhadra" - good. Let us hear what is "Bhadra". Let us sing the glory of the Divine Spirit.' That is to be done. And, when you have done that, to some extent, the mind becomes pure. Make the best use of your vocal organ. You may make bad use of it saying some awful things. Don't do it. Take the name of the Lord - any Name that appeals to you. Meditate on any aspect that appeals to you with an amount of devotion. After some time you will find, your mind is becoming pure. The Divine Name, the Divine Form, uplifts you. Later on, you may even have a glimpse of your Ista Devata, a glimpse even of the universal Spirit.

What Is Japa And Where Is One To Meditate?

The Infinite Spirit is there but we cannot reach it. We must follow a path that helps us to reach That, higher and higher, step by step. I want to reach the snow-capped mountains; can I jump and reach it all at once? No. Swami Brahmananda says in his Spiritual Teachings: `You want to reach the roof. Do you jump to the roof? No. If you do, you fall down and break your legs. Go step by step.' So Japa, as the Master has been saying, is one of the most efficient means. But Japa is not to be done like a parrot. As you repeat the Divine Name, do the Artha-Bhavana. What is Artha-Bhavana? Dwelling on the meaning. First of all, let us think of the Luminous, Blissful Form of the Lord, i.e. the Ista Devata. Then think of Him as an embodiment of Infinite Purity, Knowledge, Devotion, Compassion, Love and Bliss. Then think He is no other than the Paramatman - the all-pervading Spirit dwelling in all beings.

We are asked to meditate in the `Lotus of the Heart'. Where is this Heart? Is it the physiological heart? We cannot do anything there. It is the consciousness that is in the Heart, the consciousness that permeates my entire body and mind. It is the consciousness of the Atman, the consciousness of the Paramatman. We have to meditate in this Chidakasa. We have to think of ourselves as the devotee, and think of the Ista Devata as the manifestation of Paramatman.

Swami Brahmananda used to tell us, "As you do your spiritual practices, you understand what is meant by the word `Heart'. First you may think of it as the `Mahakasa', external space; later, you may think of it as the cosmo-mental world." The real heart is in the Chidakasa, in the realm of pure consciousness. In that, the soul, the unit of consciousness, is eternally united with the Infinite Spirit. So you have to meditate on the Ista Devata in the inner world.

It is good to have a picture. Gaze at the picture; watch the picture. But it is much better to install your picture, the Holy form, in your inner world. Then you are not to depend on anything outside. Whenever you want, look within where your Ista Devata is seated, and pray to Him. Repeat His Divine Name; meditate on Him; first, it may be on His Form, then on His attributes, next on His infinite nature. That is how one is to progress.

Let us go back again to the Yoga aphorism of Patanjali, already referred to, wherein he tells us how to do japa. Now if I repeat the Lord's name and meditate on Him, what will happen to me? The Teacher says, "Think of the meaning - the contents, the connotation of the word." What happens if we do that? Obstacles are removed and new spiritual consciousness awakens. Now with the help of Japa and simple Dhyana, obstacles are removed. Psychologists have explained this in a remarkable way. We are always manufacturing worries and anxieties, always manufacturing evil thoughts. These evil thoughts sicken our mind and sicken our body. The more we think of holy thoughts, the more we repeat the holy harmonious sound and the more we meditate on the blissful Form of the Lord, the more the mind is set in abundant harmony. Illnesses, self-created, self-manufactured, drop off. Then harmony is established in the mind This harmony reflects itself on the body. So, to some extent physical health and mental health improve with the repetition of the Divine Name and we come to know the power of the Divine Name. With the power of meditating on the holy Form, a new spiritual consciousness that was lying hidden, that was potential, manifests itself. Then we discover that we are not just these personalities but we are all souls; and the Ista Devata is no other than the Paramatman, the source of all Peace, source of all Bliss, the source of all Love. Such is the power of the Divine Name.

What is Dhyana? We talk of meditation. You say `I am meditating'. What are you meditating on? Going on brooding over something or other? That is not what is implied by the word Dhyana. Dhyana is: when as you think of the Lord, you become absorbed in the Divine thought. But this absorption would not come all of a sudden. The Japa we do is a step towards that. Repeat the Divine Name, think of Him, and the mind becomes a little calm. Even the sound drops off. You can go on thinking of Him. Then, when God or the Ista Devata becomes more real than the things of the world, naturally the mind gets absorbed and you gradually get a taste of the Divine Presence, Love and Bliss. He may come to us in the form of the Ista Devata; as the Supreme Spirit, as Sat-Chit-Ananda, i.e. Infinite Consciousness, Infinite Love, Infinite Bliss. This is what happens if you undergo regular spiritual practice.

In the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, the Master has said, `You must have spiritual yearning'. Spiritual yearning is like hunger. When people ask me `Why should I meditate?' I say in return, `Why should you? Don't do it.' But if you had the yearning born in you, you would have come to know what spiritual hunger is. Then you could not but think of God, you could not but pray to Him, you could not but take his Divine Name and think of His glory. This hunger is to be awakened. This hunger is to be maintained. That becomes possible if you do your spiritual practice regularly. You feed the body with material food; you feed the mind through study, with thoughts. But you actually starve the soul in the midst of plenty. Do you not feel starved? The soul yearns for the Infinite Spirit; it yearns to realise the Divine Presence, Love and Bliss infinite, and we do not satisfy the yearning. But when that is done, a new life starts.

The Master has also said that holy company is necessary, company of those who are following the spiritual path, who help in strengthening us in the spiritual path, who reflect something of the Divine Glory, which we also wish to realise. That is necessary.

Follow The Right Path: Begin From The Beginning

Again the Master said, `One must follow the right path.' Suppose I am thrown in the wilderness. If I follow one path, what happens? I enter the wilderness more and more. If I follow another path, I come out of it. I am reminded of an American story. A motorist was driving at break-neck speed. He wanted to reach a certain place. He asked a schoolboy who had studied a little geography: `My son, if I go this way, shall I be able to reach the place?' `Yes Sir,' said the boy, `You will reach it.' `How far is it this way?' asked the motorist. `Sir, you will have to go 25,000 miles,' replied the boy. `If I go the other way?' `Then only two miles' was the answer. Do you follow the idea? By one path, you have to come round the world to reach the place. If you go the other way just two miles. Through proper mood, through proper attitude, if you follow the proper directions you reach the goal soon, progress is quickened. A tremendous change takes place within you. But don't try to quicken your steps too much. Go slow, but with determination, along the right path. Gradually you shall reach the highest truth. But, as I said in that illustration of climbing the snow-capped mountain, proceed step by step.

So in our spiritual practice, first comes `Pratima Puja', i.e. worshipping the Lord in some aspect with the help of a form, a symbol, a picture, or an image. Next, the repetition of the Lord's Name, thinking of Him and singing of His glory. Later on as I said, the mind gets a little absorbed; you feel the Divine presence. That is Dhyana, and Dhyana leads to the highest goal, the highest realisation. In order to move, we should proceed step by step. So the Master says, `Go forward, step by step; from the sandalwood, come to the silver mine, come to the gold mine and then come to the diamond mine'. Similarly, if we sincerely follow the spiritual path and begin from the beginning, we will reach the Truth. But, if we begin from the end, we reach nowhere. Some want to practise Advaita sadhana. I tell them, `I know nothing of Advaita sadhana: go to some other teacher.' But if you want to begin from the beginning, I can tell you something of it.

So, first of all, begin with the form-aspect. I have body consciousness, I am an embodied being. I am a person amongst persons. How can I think of the Infinite Spirit? I can't. So let me begin as Maruti said. Hanuman was asked by Sri Rama `How do you think of Me?' Hanuman said: `Lord, when I consider myself as a personality, as an embodied being, I think of myself as Your servant and You as my Master; and Lord, when I think, I am a soul distinct from the body and mind, I consider myself as a part and You as the whole. But at other moments, my Lord, when I rise above all limitations I think You are myself and I am Thyself.' So let us begin from the beginning.

Sri Ramakrishna is very practical. He speaks to us of three types of ananda (bliss): vishayananda i.e. the ananda that comes to us through the contact of the senses with the sense objects; bhajanananda, the ananda that comes to us through bhajana, through Japa, through Dhyana; and then finally comes brahmananda as the result of the realisation of the Infinite Spirit. In spiritual life let us have as much bhajanananda as we can. It is within the reach of all of us. The ananda that comes to us through Japa, through Dhyana of the Blissful Form of the Lord - let us have that. And as we have it, let us try to share this Ananda with our fellow spiritual seekers. That is why, when devotees with such a spiritual outlook meet together, they repeat the Lord's Name, sing His glory. At least for the time being they forget the troubles of the world. The mind is transported to a higher plane, something of the ananda of the Supreme Being, something of the peace of the Supreme Spirit comes into our soul, but as I said, we should not stop with that. Our great teachers used to tell us always, `as you advance, you help others to advance.' One who is illumined can alone be the real teacher; but in order to be of service to others one need not be at the beginning fully illumined. Now, I may be a student of a senior class and when teachers are lacking I can take one of the lower classes, I can be of service to those who are in the lower class. Let us not wait for fullest illumination. At every stage it is possible for us to be of service to our fellow beings.

The highest ideal, as Swami Vivekananda has said, is this: First let us ourselves be gods and then help others to be gods. If we advance to some extent, we can help others also to advance. Here comes the ideal: `To work for our own illumination and spiritual emancipation and at the same time to render service to others.' As we improve, we also help others to improve. There is a wonderful prayer. We have it in the Universal Prayers: `Let the wicked become virtuous and the virtuous attain peace - tranquillity. Let the peaceful and tranquil attain illumination and freedom. Let the free help others to become free.' Let us do it in our own humble way. As we do our spiritual practices, as we progress in our spiritual path, let us try to be of service to others. So, my own individual spiritual practice and service to others - these are the two-fold ways which will help me to attain inner purity, which will help me to attain Divine Presence, Divine Love, Divine Bliss. There is the whole of this ideal before us, and let us proceed, each one in one's own way, towards this truth, step by step; let us be sure of every inch of the ground. And as we do our spiritual practice, let us not be egocentric. Let us offer all the fruits of our labour to the Supreme Spirit. Sri Ramakrishna has said, `If we move towards God one step, He comes towards us ten steps'. It is a fact to be realised in the world of Spirit. So proceed. The Lord will protect you. The Lord will guide you. The Lord, the Supreme Spirit, will fill your heart with Divine Presence, Purity, Love and Bliss.

Let us all offer our salutations to the Supreme Spirit, who dwells in the hearts of us all. He is the Supreme Principle of Existence, the Supreme Reality, the Supreme Light and the Supreme Self. Out of this infinite, all-pervading Spirit we all have come into being; in that we rest and unto that we return. Let us for a few moments meditate on the Infinite Spirit. Let us do it each in his own way. Let us try to feel something of the Divine Presence, Divine Love, and Divine Bliss. May the All-pervading, All-Blissful Divine Spirit, the Soul of our souls protect us all. May He guide us all. May He nourish us all. May He bless us all. May the teachings that we learn become fruitful and forceful through His Grace. May peace and harmony dwell amongst us all. Om Shantih, Om Shantih, Om Shantih.

Oh! Lord, all spiritual paths are like streams leading to Thee, the one ocean of Existence, Consciousness and Bliss. 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 Oh Lord! our all in all. From unreality lead us to Reality. From darkness lead us to Light. From death, lead us to Immortality and Bliss. Reach us through and through - Oh Lord! May we find Thee in our heart of hearts; May we discover Thee in all our fellow-beings. May we love Thee and serve Thee in all. May we thus realise the highest goal of human life.

 

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Pain Must Have A Stop

 Reprinted, with grateful thanks, from

`Vedanta Kesari', May 1965.

 

Although the True nature of man as defined by the Upanisads is Absolute, Infinite, and has the attributes of pure existence, pure consciousness, and pure joy, we find most commonly that we are neither happy and free from pain, nor secure and free from fear, nor all-knowing and free from ignorance. Ordinarily, when life is miserable and we are racked with pain and feel shrunken by oppressions, we could laugh at the idea that there is anything absolute and free about us. Why is this?

Pain is there as an opposite to pleasure and is experienced by the mind of an embodied soul (jiva) which is conditioned by desires and ignorance. Pain exists only for him, the individual. For on the Universal level spoken of by the Upanisads there is neither pleasure nor pain. By clinging to pleasures and identifying himself with body and mind, the individual (jiva) causes a kind of imbalance where he experiences now pleasure and now pain in their full intensity. But on the universal level (Cosmic Mind or God) these two can be said to have neutralised each other so that neither is experienced. Thus during the period of his life when Sri Ramakrishna had the painful throat cancer he said: `I notice that when my mind is united with God the suffering of the body is left aside.'

The desires and ignorance which cause the imbalance and individuality have no existence apart from the mind, and the mind again, has no existence apart from the soul (atman) - like waves which are not separate from the ocean although they may each have an individual form. Therefore jivahood - the individualised state with its pleasures and pains - is experienced in mind alone. But mind per se is unconscious and unintelligent and derives the attributes of consciousness and intelligence by reflection from the soul which alone is pure consciousness. It is only by conjunction of the mind with the soul that jivahood and pain are experienced. And conjunction occurs due to ignorance of the true nature of the soul - and this in turn brings in its train egoism, attachment, aversion, and attachment to life which are the afflictions (kleshas) and the direct cause of pain. These, again, are not to be found in the soul but only in the mind. Each time there is a perception, feeling or thought there is a reaction in the mind like a wave and when the embodied soul (jiva) identifies itself with this there arises ego and personality with their inherent desires and aversions. These in turn bring into being the causal chain of karma, and one painful situation is the cause of another.

Two main ways are given for the cure. One is the way of knowledge (jnana) by the practice of discrimination between the true Reality and the apparent one, renunciation of all elements of the apparent reality which he finds to be the non-Self, and by meditation. It is the wilful withdrawal of the reflected consciousness from the mirror of the mind-waves. This results in the disjunction of the true Self or soul from the body-mind mechanism and man abides in his own blissful nature, full of peace and free from pain. Such a mind, deprived of its reflected consciousness, ceases to exist as mind and no longer has any relation to personality or ego. Then the question of pain does not arise, for where there is no ego there can be no pain.

A modification of this method is given in the Upanisads and by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras, which consists in the conscious entity - the Self - taking the position of a witness of phenomena and being aware that in any perception, feeling or experience the Reality is not to be found in the experience but in the experiencer, the feeler, and the perceiver. That is, what is seen is not the Real but the seer (the conscious Self) is the Real; what is heard is not the Real but the hearer is the Real; what is felt is not the Real but the feeler is the Real; what is thought is not the Real but the thinker is the Real - He is the witness, the True, the inner controller. Thus there is no involment in, participation of, or attachment to the experience and neither pleasure nor pain will be experienced as such. The waves of the mind deprived of the power of the Self will subside and cease to be troublesome.

Here the question may arise as to what happens to the pain-bearing karma remaining in the mind of one who has accomplished disjunction or the position of a witness? The answer is that this cannot be accomplished until the mind is purged of that kind of karma. That is, the impression of inertia and indolence (tamas) and those of selfish action, ambition and violence (rajas) must have been removed and only the tranquil (sattvic) condition remains.

Again, we may think that since pain is the result of the accumulated karma from the past resulting from the action based upon ignorance and desire, it might be possible for one to create such a karma through virtuous and selfless action that eventually one may be free from pain altogether. But pain can at best be only attenuated by this means, for as long as one functions in the body and mind there will remain some kind of pain. There is what Patanjali calls `guna-vrtti-virodha' - the interplay and counteraction of the gunas, the forces of nature which now cause pleasure and again cause pain.

The second way to cope with pain is by love and devotion to God (bhakti). By directing these feelings to God pain is transformed and sublimated. The mind-waves are identified with God by means of a strong feeling of love for Him in a relationship of mother, father, friend, servant, child or beloved. The mind thus concentrated on God becomes pure and sattvic, and the tamasic and rajasic modifications which cause our pains are overpowered and merge in the ruling emotion of love. Not that one does not feel pain any longer, but pain is accepted with good grace (and sometimes with joy) as coming from the Beloved. For God as the all-in-all is not only the creator and preserver of the universe but also the destroyer and He who gives life and brings joy and happiness is also He who brings pain, misery and death. The true devotee receives both opposites with equal love and grace. We often find this standpoint expressed in Christian mystical literature. For example, Jean Pierre de Caussade states,

`To suffer in sweetness and in peace without offering any resistance is to suffer in the right way ... You are to thank God, as though for a grace, for what you suffer meanly and weakly ... these God-wrought calamities, if rightly viewed, are worth more than all worldly prosperity. For they are over in a moment while their fruits are eternal.' And, writing to a friend, `When I think of the infinite value of your present tribulations I dare not wish for them to end; what I do wish is that you shall be kept in a continual state of sacrifice and self-abandonment, or at least, that you shall strive after this, yearn for it and unceasingly beseech God for it. When our hearts are thus inclined, our wise employment of tribulations and afflictions advances our eternal welfare more than do successes and consolations.'1

Meister Eckhart says,

`We need not fear all the pain and trouble that could come, because it is going to have an end ... We are to be so dead that neither good nor evil affect us ... Life cannot be perfected until it has returned to its secret source, where life is Being, a life the soul receives when it dies down to its roots, so that we may live that life yonder which itself is being.'2

This is not to imply that one should actually court pain or seek it out, for that would be a kind of morbid and pathological practice. But when pain comes as the inevitable effect of previous karma one should be resigned to God - that is, one concentrates the mind on God rather than on the pain or the ego-reaction of depression, frustration, anger, etc. Thus pain is transformed and sublimated. The pains and unhappy circumstances that may come to a man of spiritual knowledge are like events that happen at a distance and do not relate to him, for he has become detached from the vehicles wherein pain inheres - the body and mind. It is as if these were happening to someone else while his true Self within is at peace and is blissful.

It may be that those who have many desires and attachments say that this is a pessimistic viewpoint for it negates all that they hold dear - the empirical self and the phenomenal world of maya. And the doctrine of karma makes them responsible for their own limitations and misery, whereas they would rather blame something or someone else - the family, relatives, the state, country, social, economic, or political systems etc. and they are unfortunate victims of a hapless fate. But maya is an explanation of the status of the phenomenal world just as it is, and karma is the law of cause and effect working within it. For the man of wisdom who knows the Self alone is dear, the maya viewpoint naturally follows and it is a happy and blissful one, for what it negates is that which is the cause of misery and bondage, i.e. ignorance, desire and attachment. It is stated in the Panchadasi:

The sufferings of the three bodies (gross, subtle and causal) are caused by the desire of the enjoyer for the objects of enjoyment. These sufferings affect the three bodies, but the Self is not affected by them.

The sufferings of the gross body take the form of disease due to the disequilibrium of the bodily humours; desire and anger and other passions are the sufferings of the subtle body; and the source of the sufferings of both the gross and subtle bodies is the causal body.

When the jiva is recognised to be identical with the immutable, Kutastha, the sufferings of the bodies cease to affect him and no experiencer remains.3

And also the Brihadaranyaka Upanisad states:

`If a man knows the Self as "I am this (Self)", then desiring what and for whose sake will he suffer in the wake of the body?'4

One may ask, `If the sufferings affect the three bodies and not the Self, then is it a matter of stoically bearing the pains or do the pains actually disappear?' The answer is that in some cases the pains disappear or are no longer cognised and in other cases - especially those of the bhaktas whose mind is totally given up to God - pains may be transformed into joy, as in the instances of some religious martyrs. For example, Blanche Gamond tells of a torture experience:

"... I was naked from the waist up. They brought a cord with which they tied me to a beam in the kitchen ...then they discharged their fury upon me, exclaiming as they struck me, `Pray now to your God' ... but at this moment I received the greatest consolation that I ever received in my life, since I had the honour of being whipped for the name of Christ, and in addition of being crowned with his mercy and consolations. Why can I not write down the inconceivable influences, consolations, and peace which I felt interiorly? To understand them one must pass through the same trial; they were so great that I was ravished, for there where afflictions abound grace is given super-abundantly. In vain the women cried, `We must double our blows; she does not feel them, for she neither speaks nor cries.' And how should I have cried, since I was swooning with happiness within?"5

The first method discussed here - that of the jnani - is illustrated by the case of Swami Shivananda, a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna and the second president of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission. Toward the last years of his life his body was racked with several kinds of ailments so that he could walk only a few steps at a time. Yet when he was asked, `How are you Maharaj?' He would reply, `I am fine'. On being further told that his body seemed to be in bad condition, he would reply, `Oh, you are asking about the body? The body is not at all well, but I am fine. Talking about God with people ... I am in excellent spirits ... pain and anguish belong to the body. He who dwells within the body is not affected by them - He is Bliss itself. I am not the body. I am that Eternal Supreme Being, ever pure, illumined and free. The Master has given me that knowledge in the fullest measure. That is why it does not make any difference whether the body is well, or sick or old.'6

Thus, any given experience can be painful to one, indifferent to another and joyous to a third, depending on how much spiritual knowledge and/or love of God has been attained. Vrttis - waves in the mind - are like reflecting surfaces for the soul and are of three kinds: tamasic, rajasic and sattvic. In the first the reflection is most obscured and the image is barely seen. In the second the reflection is clearer but the image is distorted so that we mistake it for what it is not. In the third, the sattvic, the reflection is clear so that we see the image properly, but it is at best a reflected image and not the Real thing (svarupa). The wise man recognises these as reflected images in his mind and is not deceived by them. He knows that they have no relation to him and belong only to nature. Therefore, whatever their condition, he is free from their effects. Having withdrawn his consciousness from all the vrttis, the reflections disappear and merge into their source, the Divine Self. There remains no one to experience pain, for the Self is only Joy.

Dehabhimane galite, vijnate paramatmani

Yatra yatra mano yati tatra tatra samadhyah.

With the disappearance of attachment to the body and with the realisation of the Supreme Self, to whatever object the mind is directed one experiences samadhi.7 M

 

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The Direct Disciples of Sri Ramakrishna.

 

Swami Ranganathananda is the President of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission.

 

This is the text of his talk, which first appeared in

`Vedanta Kesari`, January 1998, given at the

Monks` retreat held at Belur Math on

Sunday 18 November 1995.

 

First of all I remember Swami Shivanandaji Maharaj, the Second President of the Ramakrishna Order, fondly known as Mahapurush Maharaj. I was living in a village called Trikkur, ten kilometres away from the town of Trissur in Kerala. My house in Trikkur is situated on the bank of the river Manali, and to the east of my house is an ancient rock cave temple of Siva on a hill about half a kilometre away. I was studying in the 8th class at that time in the high school at Ollur, five kilometres from Trikkur on the road to Trissur. A classmate brought a book from the library of the Vivekodayam High School in Trissur. `Would you like to read this book?` he asked me. `Yes, I would like to read it,` I replied, not knowing what it was. It was the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, by `M` published by the Madras Math. He gave it to me. I started reading it. It gripped my attention, and I could not stop till I had finished one hundred pages continuously; later I read the whole book. Then other books on Thakur and Swamiji came from that Trissur library.

That was in 1924. I was only fifteen and a half years old then, and was waiting for an opportunity to join the Ramakrishna Order. In 1926, after finishing my school final examination, I joined a typewriting Institute in Trissur to learn shorthand and typewriting. Some fees had to be paid. I took three rupees from my house and came to Trissur. From there I wrote to the Madras Math that I wanted to join the Ramakrishna Mission. One brahmachari replied: `Here there is not enough room. There is a new centre in Mysore; it is in need of a brahmachari. So, please write to the Swami-in-charge, Swami Siddheshwaranandaji.`

So, I wrote to Swami Siddheshwaranandaji at Mysore. By that time, however, Siddheshwaranandaji himself came to Trissur to meet his parents; his father was the Second Prince of the Cochin State. I met Maharaj. He said, `Yes, you can come. Have you got enough money to go to Mysore via Ooty?` I said, `I have just three rupees, nothing more.` But I had my earrings; even boys used to wear them in Kerala. I could sell them in the market; but it was Sunday, no shop was open. But one person gave me two rupees, and Siddheshwaranandaji gave me two rupees. So, I had now seven rupees in my pocket. But that was not enough for the journey to Mysore via Ooty. How was I to go with Siddheshwaranandaji to Ooty by train at 8.30 p.m. that day? I was greatly disturbed in mind. I was not fully committed to go, but I also wanted very much to go. Such was my mental struggle. And I was very young then, only seventeen and a half years old. I went to the Sri Ramakrishna Shrine in the Trissur Vivekodayam High School to pray for Thakur's grace. I often used to bring flowers from my house for worship in that shrine. With tears in my eyes, I prayed to Thakur to arrange for my renunciation and departure to Mysore with Siddheshwaranandaji. Even now, after seventy years, the memory of that event in that shrine stirs me.

Then, at the last minute, I went to Siddheshwaranandaji's house. He was ready to start for the railway station. He said, `All right, come with me tonight by the 8.30 train to Ooty.`

I did not know anything about initiation. I wanted to join the Mission, and I had read some books about Thakur and Swamiji, and had memorised the `Prakritim Paramam' hymn on Holy Mother. That was enough to inspire me to dedicate my life to the Mission. So, at 8.30 pm, we got into the train and it reached Ooty next morning. Ooty is about six thousand feet above sea level. Siddheshwaranandaji, familiarly known as Gopal Maharaj, myself, and three students were in the party. Mahapurush Maharaj was then living in a rented house at Ooty, which he loved very much. The present Ooty Ashrama was being built on a site nearby, and was to be opened in 1927. I was allowed to stay in Mahapurush Maharaj`s house and have breakfast, but was to eat outside in a hotel. There was no arrangement in the Ashrama then for feeding so many people. So, with the money I had, I would eat outside. By the time I finished one week in Ooty, the money I had was exhausted. It was on June 25, 1926, that I left Trissur for Ooty, and on June 30, my initiation by Mahapurushji took place.

I entered the room in which Mahapurush Maharaj was sitting for the ceremony. To his left was my seat. I sat down and looked at the whole scene. A dream I had three or four years earlier came to my mind then. I used to worship regularly Siva in the village rock cave temple. In that dream, I was lifted high up in the sky; then I reached a beautiful place. An old venerable looking person was sitting there; and my mind recognised him as Siva. He asked me to sit to his left and gave me some spiritual instructions. That much was the dream, and I found an exact reproduction of that dream in that particular situation in Ooty. Mahapurush Maharaj asked me, `Do you worship Sri Ramakrishna?` I said, `No, I don`t actually worship, but I keep a picture of his, and salute it regularly.` And he said, `That is all right.` He then gave me the mantra and asked me, `Have you brought any guru dakshina?` `Nothing,` I said. Only one shirt, one dhoti, and one towel - that was all I had brought from my house. He took two or three mangoes from his right side and gave them to me and said, `Now give them back to me as guru dakshina.` I offered them back to him, made pranams to him and came out of the room.

After two days, on July 2, we had to take leave of Mahapurush Maharaj to go to Mysore. Swami Siddheshwarananda and I went to his room to take leave of him. It was about 5.30 am. He was sitting there on a chair counting some currency notes. `Gopal, do you want some money? I can give you,` he said. Gopal Maharaj said, `Not necessary, Maharaj,` though Mysore Ashrama was very poor at that time. I made pranams to my guru. `Yes, you go to Mysore. Serve Gopal,` Mahapurushji said to me. That was the only message he gave me then - `Serve Gopal`. My service of Gopal Maharaj continued for nine years in Mysore and three years in Bangalore. He was holy and kind and loving. We parted only when he went to open the Paris Vedanta Centre in 1938. So, we took leave of Mahapurush Maharaj and left by bus at 7.00 am, and reached the Mysore Ashrama at 9.00 pm. Later, I saw an entry of Rs.7 spent by the Mysore Ashrama towards my Ooty-Mysore journey.

For the first time I saw a big town with electric lights and all that. As  a village boy, I did not know about town life. I did not know even how to post a letter, how to cash a cheque, etc. That night, at 9 o'clock, for the first time in my life, I got a glass of milk and two pieces of bread for my supper from a boy who was living in the Ashrama as a bhikshannam student. I still remember the taste of that first meal in the Ashrama, of bread and milk, that took place seventy years ago. That was on July 2, 1926. On July 3, my long hair was cut and my earrings were removed.

Then, on July 4, I entered the Ashrama kitchen. There was no paid cook, since the Ashrama income was very little. Siddheshwaranandaji`s health was poor due to bad food. I was a good cook with two years` experience of cooking in my house for the whole family even from the age of twelve to fourteen. So, everybody in Mysore Ashrama began to get good food from that time. For the next six years, I was a cook, dish-washer, and house-keeper in the Mysore Ashrama. Collection of monthly subscription, garden work, and some other things also were added later on. Whenever I requested people for subscription, I spoke about Swami Vivekananda. They were happy and used to give me tea and tiffin, and sometimes something also for taking to the Ashrama. So, in this way, my life went on, with plenty of study also in between work. In spite of heavy work, I never complained of want of time for study or japa-dhyana. I was always happy and cheerful, and enjoyed doing any and every type of work as Thakur`s service. I never experienced any tiredness. I wrestled with students in the Ashrama`s akhada and later on played volleyball.

In 1929, time came for my brahmacharya initiation. So, in March 1929, I came to Belur Math. My brahmacharya was on Buddha`s birthday, May 23. About four months I stayed in Belur Math at that time. On the day of brahmacharya diksha, Mahapurush Maharaj came to the room behind the old shrine, and sat with a smiling face in the veranda, facing the ceremony going on in the room. We were five or six brahmacharis. He gave me the name Yati Chaitanya.

The most memorable experiences during my stay at the Math were the daily morning sessions in Mahapurush Maharaj`s room after breakfast, lasting sometimes for over an hour. Monks and probationers would come in batches and prostrate before him and stand aside. He would be sitting on his bed or in his chair, indrawn, often with the hookah (hubble-bubble) in front, from which he would draw a puff now and then, mostly absent-mindedly, and would occasionally exchange courtesies with the monks and novices present. When the indrawn mood would relax, he conversed on various topics with those present, interspersing it with humour and laughter, an endearing trait especially characteristic of Sri Ramakrishna and his disciples. Sometimes the talk would turn on to deep spiritual themes, and those present would hang on to every word that then fell from his lips. In between all these, one heard him utter, in a tone suffused with deep devotion, such spiritual phrases as: Sat-chit-ananda Shivam, Jai Guru Maharaj, Jai Ma, etc.

One of my daily duties in Belur Math then was sweeping the spacious front courtyard. Sometimes,  as I swept, the wind would carry the dirt back, so I had to sweep again. But it did not bother me; it was a play for me. Washing Thakur`s puja vessels was another work. Serving tea to members in the tea-stall which was situated to the left of the present Temple site was yet another duty. Some other duties like bringing water on my head for Mahapurush Maharaj`s bath from Lilua tube-well, a small quantity of curd from the Belur market for his dog, and serving in the dining hall were also there. I was ready for everything. I was very young then, and full of tireless energy. There was also a kusti akhada situated near where the dining hall is now. Swami Apurvananda, Mahapurushji`s sevak, was a good wrestler. I had wrestled with him and with two or three others also in that akhada. Many people used to gather to see our wrestling. One cook from Varanasi Sevashrama had come. He was also a good wrestler. When he gripped my hand, it became powerless; such strength he had, though he appeared ordinary. Then there was Jnan Maharaj's parallel bar, fixed where at present the platform is erected during the celebrations. There I used to do a little bit of bar exercise. I had time for everything. I was very hungry all the time except after lunch and dinner. Morning breakfast was tea and a thin slice of bread, as thin as the knife blade, with a little butter on it. As for tea, there was only one glass of milk for all the inmates together with plenty of water and sugar. Revered Suddhanandaji, the then General Secretary, and Revered Swami Virajanandaji, and other senior swamis also would be present, and I used to serve them. To satisfy my hunger, I used to take muri, in my shirt end, kept in a big tin on the Math verandah, and eat a lot of it. Food was very poor due to financial stringency; dal was watery, but `chachari` and `alu dam` were tasteful.

I came to know many of our senior monks at that time. It was also the time when the Ganen trouble took place. Ganendranath, a brahmachari of Udbodhan, looking after the Jadupati Estate, challenged the Mission. The Mission was subjected to a serious crisis. He began to influence various members of the Ramakrishna Mission Association. He had also great influence over the press in Calcutta. The headquarters invited swamis from various Ashramas to come to the Belur Math. Every now and then a bell would ring and sadhus would gather together to discuss some problem or other. Swami Omkaranandaji would take the lead. Then we would pass a resolution and go to Mahapurush Maharaj to represent him against Ganendranath. In this way, there was a crisis period at that time for more than a month continuously. Eventually, the Mission Association General body meeting passed off peacefully. Ganen had come to the Math, but he did not attend the meeting. I saw him walking about in the lawn outside the meeting, smoking a cigarette. Many swamis were made Mission members. I also was made a Mission member then. In July 1929, the Ganen problem was settled by paying him Rs.75,000 for managing the Estate. He left the Order with Chapala, a lady teacher of the Nivedita School.

The group photo that you find on the wall in the first floor of the main Math building (above the staircase) was taken in the lawn between the main Math building and the Ganga ghat, in May 1929, in view of the large assembly of our monks from many branch centres at that time. Revered Subodhanandaji, Revered Suddhanandaji, Revered Virajanandaji, Revered Vireswaranandaji, and many other Heads of centres are there in the photo. I am also there in that photo. Mahapurush Maharaj was sitting in the easy chair in the upper verandah. But the photo-taking was getting delayed, and so he left for his room. Swami Vividishanandaji was going to America; so it was also like a send-off to him on that occasion.

I spent four months very happily in Belur Math. The then General Secretary, Swami Suddhanandaji, sometimes would say to me, `How long will you stay here? It is time for you to go to your centre in Mysore. Belur Math cannot spend much money on so many guests.' `I shall go soon, I shall go soon,' I would reply. And after four months, I went back to Mysore.

In 1933, I came to Belur Math again, this time for sannyasa. It was Swami Vivekananda`s birthday, January 23, 1933. It was a beautiful occasion, but Mahapurush Maharaj was rather weak at that time and could not come to the ceremony held in the room behind the old shrine. He was in his room. After the sannyasa havan, we, nine of us, including the late Swami Hitananda and Swami Krishnatmananda, went to his room and received sannyasa mantras from him, including the gerua clothes and our names. It is interesting to mention that with Mahapurush Maharaj`s permission, I had been wearing gerua cloth since my fourth or fifth month in the Order, from 1927. I did not know much about sannyasa at that time.

I continued to stay at the Belur Math for about four months. During that time, a desire arose in my mind to go to Sargachi and meet Swami Akhandanandaji Maharaj. When I was reading Swamiji`s works, I had found Swamiji praising Swami Akhandanandaji very much. He was the first to implement Swamiji's message of service to the poor and the downtrodden. `You are my man, you are my man!' - Swamiji had praised him. So, I had nursed a secret desire to meet Swami Akhandanandaji in Sargachi. I took Mahapurush Maharaj's permission to go to Sargachi to meet him. In those days, we had weekend return tickets; it was very cheap then - Friday you go and Sunday you return. So, with Mahapurushji`s blessings, I went to Sargachi. I had a wonderful weekend there. I met Akhandanandaji, made pranams and explained my heart`s desire. I was a newcomer from far away Mysore Ashrama, and I was quite young, hardly twenty-four or twenty-five. But Swami Akhandanandaji treated me like a VIP guest - special cup, special saucer, special kettle - everything special for me. And he would ask the hostel boys, `Go and make pranams to the Swami.` I protested that it should not be done in his presence. I said, `Maharaj, what are you saying? Should they do it in your presence?` But he would say, `Hey, you have come from Mysore,` and turning to the boys would repeat, `Make pranams`. All the boys would come and make pranams then.

One day he came from the garden late for lunch and said, `Shankar, I have got pain in my body.` `Why?` I asked. `I had to bend down and pluck a particular vegetable which had overgrown.` Maharaj replied. I said, `There are so many brahmacharis and sadhus here, why did you do it yourself?` He said, `Oh, what do you mean? They are all fools; they don`t do their work properly. Belur Math sends here only fools!` (laughter). Maharaj replied, `Yes, you know, I have certain difficulties ...`

In this way, he carried on with me very humorous talks like a young boy. I found in him this trait along with a serious mind and compassionate heart. One day he asked me, `How do you find my Ashrama?` `I find it very fine; I get good sleep here,` I replied. `What? My Ashrama is meant only for sleep? Swami Paramananda was here. He said that he got good meditation here,` Maharaj said. I replied, `Well, that is what he wanted. But I needed good sleep and I got it very well here.`

In this way, two days passed. The day of departure came. I told him, `Maharaj, you are living in this jungle. So many devotees come to Belur Math to meet you, a direct disciple of Thakur. So, if you are in Belur Math, it would be far better. So, please go and stay in Belur Math.` `Who will look after this centre?` he asked. `Why, Belur Math will send somebody,` I said. He replied, `Math will send only a fool!` (laughter). See the fun and frolic of language! `If you come and stay here, I am prepared to go and live in Belur Math,` he said. I said, `Belur Math will do the needful; but we want you to be in the Belur Math, so that I and many others can see you.`

Then the time came for me to take leave and go to the railway station. One can see the station just a little away from the Ashrama. I went to his room, made pranams, and said, `Maharaj, I want your blessings. I am working with the people, especially young people. Bless me that I become an instrument of Swamiji for inspiring our young people with Swamiji`s ideas. With your blessing, I am sure, I will get that capacity. I have not seen Swamiji, but I have met you, and he loved you very much. Your blessing is for me Swamiji`s blessing.` As soon as I said it, all that light-heartedness went away from him. He became very grave and put both his hands on my head and said, `I bless you, I bless you!` I felt a tremendous feeling of elevation within, some sort of strength arising within. Then I made pranams and silently came to the verandah, and started going towards the railway station. And looking back, I saw him standing there in the verandah, looking towards me, till I disappeared into the station.

After reaching Calcutta, first I went to Advaita Ashrama and then reached Belur Math. When I reached the Math, I found Swami Akhandanandaji had already reached there since he had come directly, and I, through Advaita Ashrama. He had received a telegram about Mahapurushji`s cerebral stroke. Seeing me, he said, `Shankar, dekho, Tarakda`s condition. Is it for this you asked me to come to Belur Math? See what has happened.` For the first one month, Mahapurush Maharaj was unconscious and his condition was very serious. But slowly consciousness returned. Though he was unable to speak, he could smile and move his hands. Careful nursing had been done. Many packets of ice were kept on the head all the time, and that made for improvement in his condition.

Swami Akhandanandaji told me, `I have got some rheumatism. I hear that Guruvayur Sri Krishna temple oil is very helpful for this.` `I shall send it,` I told him. I then took leave of Mahapurush Maharaj. He just lifted his hand to bless and indicated by signs to his dear sevak, Shankar Maharaj (Swami Apurvanandaji), `Give something to him for Chamundi temple and for Ashrama Thakur offering.` Shankar Maharaj understood what he meant. He got some money and gave it to me, and I made my pranams to him and to Akhandanandaji, and left for Mysore. I did the puja in the Chamundi temple, which Mahapurushji had visited earlier, and in our Ashrama also, and sent the prasad to him to Belur Math and oil to Akhandanandaji. Next year, in February 1934, Mahapurush Maharaj passed away and Akhandanandaji became the President. This was my association with the President of the Sangha, Mahapurush Maharaj, and the Vice-President, Swami Akhandananda Maharaj.

When I was in Belur Math as a brahmachari, Khoka Maharaj, Swami Subodhanandaji, was living in the room north of Swamiji`s bedroom. I used to spend some time with him. He would be lying on the verandah facing Ganges, enjoying his hookah like a child. I would sit by his side. I was very free with him, massaging his belly with my hand very freely while he would talk to me about various things.

My next visit to the Math was during Sri Ramakrishna centenary celebrations in 1937 when Swami Vijnananandaji Maharaj had become the President. He was in far away Allahabad. From Belur Math, I went to Benaras. I said to myself, `Allahabad is nearby, let me go to Allahabad and visit Vijnananandaji Maharaj, the present President of our Sangha.` So, I went to Allahabad from Benaras. I went to the Ashrama, and made pranams to Vijnananandaji Maharaj on April 1, 1937. A group photo was taken then with him in the centre and a few devotees and me around. This is the first photo of his after becoming the President. But that group photo seems to have been misplaced. That photo is not there in the new album the Allahabad Ashrama has recently published. That was on April 1. That was also the day when the Congress Governments assumed power in all the Provinces - the beginning of Provincial Autonomy under the British.

As usual, I saw that Vijnananandaji`s pocket was bulging with various things - shaving set, and this and that - everything was there in that pocket. That was the usual practice of Vijnananandaji. When I told him, `I have come to receive your blessings,` he said, `Yes, yes, you have seen me, now go and take drinking water from the tap and you can go back.` I enjoyed that remark. I had known earlier that he liked to be alone. But other swamis had arranged my lunch in a Bengali devotee`s family, and I had the best lunch of my life on that day. Then I went back to Benaras, and to Calcutta, and from there to Mysore. Vijnananandaji had earlier visited Madras and Mysore and given initiation to some devotees in those places.

When I first read the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna at the age of fifteen, I developed a great love and respect for its author `M` or Mahendranath Gupta. So, while at Belur Math for brahmacharya in 1929, I was happy to get the opportunity to meet him and to pay my loving respects to him. One day, I went to pay my respects to `M` in Calcutta, along with two other sadhus. We went upstairs in the evening and met him and spent nearly three hours, listening to his talk on Sri Ramakrishna. He spoke about Sri Ramakrishna only, nothing but Sri Ramakrishna. While taking leave of him, he gave us a basket of fruits and sweets. As I was taking it, I asked him, `Is it for offering to Thakur?` `No, no,` he said, `it is for sadhus, sadhus; that is enough. Thakur has told me to serve the sadhus.` That is the language he used. So, I brought it and gave it to the Math bhandar for distribution to sadhus.

I had the occasion to meet Swami Abhedanandaji Maharaj in his Calcutta Ashrama. He talked about his lectures. I had read his lectures before. I attended his lecture in the Town Hall of Calcutta during Sri Ramakrishna centenary in 1937. It was a very interesting lecture. I had also heard Rabindranath Tagore`s lecture in the University Institute. These are my associations with Thakur`s direct disciples and Tagore.

So far as Mahapurush Maharaj is concerned, his guidance has been a tremendous source of spiritual strength to me. In reply to my letters, he used to write to me, addressing me `My dear Yati Chaitanya` or `My dear Shankaran`. These letters bear the handwriting of his secretary, late Swami Gangeshananda or Dvijen Maharaj, whom once I asked whether these letters contain any lines by him. He replied, `Never. It was all his (Mahapurushji`s); I only wrote what he dictated.` From 1927 to 1931, I had written some eight letters to Mahapurush Maharaj, seeking spiritual guidance; and I used to get suitable replies. I have given these letters to the Belur Math Ramakrishna Museum. In a letter written from Benaras in December 1927, Mahapurushji wrote: `I am pleased with your letter ... If you have faith in yourself and in the grace for Sri Ramakrishna, you are sure to come out victorious. He helps him who struggles - that is His nature. Know it always that His helping hand is always guiding you. Otherwise, you would have been vanquished long ago and become an ordinary man. So you need not fear ... Through His blessings, the character of the mind will change and it will be a helping-maid by your side.`

And in another letter of 7-7-1930 from Belur Math, Mahapurushji wrote to me: `Received your letter and the prasadam of Sri Chamundi Devi. I am blessing you. You need not come here again so soon. What is the necessity of spending so much over railway fare? ... Pray to Sri Guru Maharaj wherever you be, only through His grace you can gain peace; you need not travel here and there. Do not give up work; try to combine it with prayer and meditation.`

And so, I never worried about going here and there for tapasya. I learned to consider that I am in tapasya from the day I joined the Order and that my life and work in the Order itself is tapasya. One sentence in one of Swami Vivekananda`s Letters has inspired me in my personality development: `Learn to combine seriousness with childlike naivete.` Naivete means saralata.

I shall also mention my contact with Swami Nirmalanandaji, who, though not recognised as a disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, I had met him. My first meeting with him was a very sad experience. In 1927, he came from Bangalore to Mysore en route to Ponnampet. Swami Siddheshwaranandaji and I went to receive him at the railway station. The first sentence he uttered on seeing us was, `Belur Math has gone to dogs`. That was enough for me. I had no more interest in him. I went to Ponnampet Ashrama a little later and met him once again. Then came, in 1931, the Bangalore case instituted by Belur Math against his claiming the Bangalore Math as his personal property. The Math itself did not want to contest. But eminent lawyers like Sir Alladi Krishnaswami Iyer advised the Math to contest his claim in the interest of the Organisation as a whole. So the matter went to the Bangalore Court. And the case was conducted very ably by the late Swami Amriteswaranandaji (Paresh Maharaj), Assistant Secretary of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission. The case ended in 1935 by the Court declaring Belur Math as the owner of Bangalore Ashrama. And Swami Chinmatrananda and I were sent to take initial charge of Bangalore Ashrama.

So, these are my reminiscences of five of the monastic disciples of Sri Ramakrishna viz. Swami Shivanandaji, Akhandanandaji, Subodhanandaji, Abhedanandaji and Vijnananandaji; and Master Mahashaya.

 

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Questions and Answers

 

Swami Dayatmananda

Answers given by the Swami to questions put

by devotees during a spiritual retreat.

 

Q: Assuming time is limited, what proportion should be spent on meditation and japa?

A: There are two ways of looking at this question. The time which we spend in meditation, exclusively keeping a few minutes in the morning and evening is of great necessity. But real benefit from meditation does not depend upon the increase or decrease of time. It depends upon our intensity. This is a psychological fact of which most of us are ignorant. We always think, "My meditation is not progressing because my time is so limited, but if I had a lot of time, I definitely would be able to improve the quality of my meditation." In the beginning at least, that is not right because each one of us has at any given time a certain measure of intensity. Whether we sit for ten minutes or half an hour or three hours we can only take advantage of that intensity. It cannot be increased all of a sudden. That's why we find sometimes when we have a long holiday, we try to sit a long time for meditation, but after a few minutes there comes a bit of fidgeting, the mind becomes very fidgety. So, during our working time we should try to prepare ourselves for that period of meditation. Whatever we may be doing, we must try to analyse our mind, try to keep a watch on our thoughts and try to recollect God, spiritual life and the incidents which we read from the lives of holy people. This preparation is absolutely necessary.

As for japa, this is what Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother, and all the direct disciples recommended. Japa is much more effective. Why? One reason is that we are not fit for meditation. Meditation needs a long preparation. Unless we are well prepared we cannot really meditate. We sit in a meditative pose, no doubt. That is not really meditation.

But japa, that is somewhat easier. Japa means repetition of God's name, and that has a wonderful effect. There is also a bit of confusion regarding japa and meditation. You see, the devotional path always emphasises the repetition of God's name which, with the development of bhava or devotional feeling, gradually takes the aspirant towards his Chosen Deity and finally they become merged, which is the last stage. But meditation is actually a term borrowed from the path of meditation and contemplation, Raja Yoga. These two meanings have very often become combined. In devotional terminology, the word `meditation' does not mean the same thing, so I will try to explain what it is.

Normally, when we meet our devotees, we advise them "Do japa and meditation." What we mean by this is quite different from what Raja yogis mean by meditation. Japa means repetition of God's name with devotion, and meditation means concentration on His Divine Form. In Raja Yoga meditation means concentration - any object can be taken for one's concentration and its discipline is to go on concentrating, suppressing all other thoughts. No emotion there, no discrimination there. One must only put one's mind on the object which one chooses oneself. In time one is sure to reach the goal.

Whereas on the devotional path, one does not kill one's thoughts but concentrates them on a Divine Form. So, in that sense we do the repetition of God's name and imagine the Form of God at the same time, and this can be done even while driving a car or any work. Because you see, while we are driving or doing something else, a portion of the mind seems to be thinking something else. Perhaps it is planning: "Tomorrow I shall do that or this," which shows what the mind is capable of doing. With a little bit of its energies it can perform whatever duties need to be done while diverting another portion to something else. That secondary diversion can be directed towards thinking about spiritual subjects, towards recollecting the various incidents that happened in the lives of the great saints or repeating the name of God.

If we can thus practise thinking of God at other times, it becomes a good preparation for meditation. Then when we return to our homes and sit quietly meditation becomes easy and intense. Even fifteen minutes of such meditation produces great results.

Q: What is the significance of arati - waving lights, flowers, cloth etc, to the image?

A: When we perform worship to any deity, especially in the evening, we do Aratrikam, i.e. vesper service. At this Centre we wave lights every day and on five special days during the year - namely the celebrations of the birthdays of Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother, Swami Vivekananda, Sri Krishna, and Durga - we do special Aratrikam. What is its significance?

According to Hindu cosmology, the entire universe is created out of five elements: akasha (space), vayu (air), agni (fire), apah (water), and prithvi (earth). All the things in the universe are the permutations and combinations of these five elements. When we are worshipping any particular deity, that deity is considered the Supreme. Hindus worship millions of deities, but they are not worshipping millions of different deities. The same One God is manifesting through different names and in different forms.

So, how do we worship Him? We have a beautiful saying in Bengali, "Ganga jele Ganga puja" i.e., worship of Ganga with Ganga. The waters of the Ganges are considered to be very sacred. That is why, when we worship any god, we use that water to purify items to be offered to Him. When we want to worship the Ganges river itself, then what do we do? We take the water from Her and give it to Her. Similarly what can you give to the Lord? He only has become this whole universe. Now, if you want to worship Him you want to offer something to Him. What are you going to do? You take some mud from Him and you give it to Him. You take a flower from Him, His own creation, and give it to Him.

These are the five items offered during vespers: lights, water in a conch, a cloth and a flower and lastly, there is a kind of fan made out of the tail of a special cow found in the Himalayas. It is called chamari.

These five items signify the five elements out of which this whole universe is made. That means you are offering the whole universe including yourself to Him mentally. So these are the five things that are symbolic and that is the significance of Arati.

Q: Swamiji, after the arati, we touch the light to our eyes. What is the significance of this?

A: It signifies that our sight is being purified. The entire universe is supposed to be looked upon as God, but we don't see it as God, do we? But for instance when we offer fruits ... suppose you eat a banana when you are hungry. You just eat it and throw away the skin. But suppose you put the same banana in front of God and sit and pray and imagine that He has accepted it. And you feel a sense of sacredness and holiness associated with it. The way you will eat the fruit then will be quite different from the way you would without offering it, for there is a difference of sacredness and holiness associated with it. In the same manner, when we offer the entire universe back to Him, we are only acknowledging symbolically: "O Lord, I did not know that You Yourself have become this whole universe. But now, through Your Grace, my eyes of knowledge are opened and now I look at it in a different way. So everything becomes sacred to me." That is why the light is considered as sacred. It is not only the light which has become sacred, the fruits which are offered, the flowers - everything associated with it - the cloth, even the plates. This is the beginning of spiritual life, trying to see God everywhere. We have to start somewhere and that is the significance of it. Reverence comes with that.

Q: The Jains, when they do arati, they do not pass the light around. They just do the arati and keep it there.

A: Different traditions have different ways of religious expression. But all these religious actions have only one end as their aim, and that is to perceive reality as it is and not as it appears to us. That Reality is God, therefore we have to see God in everything.

I remember some incidents in the life of Ramana Maharshi. He was a man of God. Sometimes dogs used to come to his ashrama and he would not drive them away. But when someone would take a stick and try to beat them to make them go away, he would say, "Don't do that. God has come, covering Himself with this skin, don't you see it? You have come covered with one type of skin and the same God has come in another form." That's why he never used to address them in the third person. You know, in Sanskrit, we have three ways of addressing persons: with reverence, with a sense of equality, and as an inferior. But Ramana Maharshi always used to address animals such as squirrels, monkeys, peacocks and all those animals in the most respectful form. This is the kind of divine sight he had.

Sri Ramakrishna used to see Divine Mother even in prostitutes. He saw a cat going into the shrine, and when others would drive it away, he said, "Mother, you have come in this form. Please accept these offerings." He fed the cat with the offerings which were meant for Mother Kali. There was a big complaint against him - that he was feeding only cats and dogs!

You see, that is the altered vision. When we become spiritually advanced we see God, that's all. We don't grow two horns. If we grow horns, that is very bad - it means we are going down!

 

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Ambapali: A Lady of Pleasure Who Attained Buddhist Sainthood

Dr.Susunaga  Weeraperuma

Whenever a human being with an immoral past becomes a saint it is always cause for great rejoicing. The news about such a rare event is so inspiring for all seekers. Such a fundamental inner metamorphosis holds out hope for us poor mortals on earth.

Let us consider why Ambapali is held in reverence in the Buddhist world. It was because of Ambapali's good karma in previous lives that she was reborn as a contemporary of the Buddha. Superficially, hers looked like a pleasant and exciting life but, in reality, it was a deeply troubled one. She showed us the truth that everybody has the innate capacity to transcend the depths of depravity and ascend to the very summit of the mountain of spirituality. Her life story is fascinating. Why did this wealthy and renowned beauty, who had been enjoying the love and companionship of aristocrats and princes, get very sick and tired of her sorrowful enslavement to the samsaric cycle of births and deaths?

Ambapali was born in the famous city of Vaisali, the capital of the kingdom of the aristocratic and affluent Lichchavis who were not only powerful but also proud. We associate the name of the Buddha with Vaisali because the Enlightened One visited this place several times and spent his last retreat in a nearby village.

Once a gardener of a Lichchavi ruler discovered a baby girl lying under an amba (mango) tree. Naturally the infant was called Ambapali. `Mango-girl' soon became her nickname.

According to tradition, Ambapali had no human parents but came into existence spontaneously. In bygone lives she had not only striven after spiritual perfection but had even been a nun, having entered the Order during the ministry of a previous Buddha called Sikhi. Disgusted with birth by means of parents, she was very keen on spontaneous rebirth wherein there is no external human agency whatsoever. That exactly was what took place in her final reincarnation. The gardener who brought the child to the city might not have known about the mysterious circumstances surrounding her birth. Probably the man regarded her as a mere helpless foundling.

It is difficult to provide a simple explanation of her spontaneous origin. All explanations are the product of our fallible minds. Man makes theories, only to become enslaved by them. Some questions are probably beyond the capacity of the mind to understand. Nevertheless, let us investigate this strange happening. Theists might argue that certain events seem to happen accidentally. They say that this is only an appearance, since they are all in actual fact preordained by an unseen omnipotent Being. Others might maintain that the workings of thought are not at all mysterious but comprehensible to those who understand the law of karma. Ambapali's strong-willed determination to be reborn in a specified manner was so powerful that she got her wish. The karmic seed that she had sown in a former life simply germinated in a subsequent one.

With the passage of time the girl blossomed into a young woman of great personal charm and beauty. Soon she became the darling of the rich and famous. Powerful and privileged men wooed her. When some of the Lichchavi princes eagerly desired to marry Ambapali, hoping thereby to have exclusive possession of her, it resulted in bitterness, conflicts and fighting.

The theme of men fighting over a woman, which is as old as the hills, inspired Homer's Iliad of classical times. The kidnapping of Sita by a demon king is central to the plot of Valmiki's masterpiece of religious literature The Ramayana. But as far as we know, no prince dared to take Ambapali away, using force. Yet they importuned her with offers of marriage.

The princes tried hard to settle their dispute by peaceful negotiation. Apparently their efforts were depressing and frustrating because of their competing claims to the sole ownership of her. We do not know if Ambapali herself had had any say in this matter, but these tactful men handled the delicate situation with considerable diplomatic skill. They decided to use her equally between them! Soon the damsel was not exactly a common prostitute but a respectable courtesan who was dispensing sexual favours only to those who were considered socially superior.

Ambapali was not after all such a bad woman because her philanthropic disposition and compassion prompted her to make considerable donations of her wealth to charity. This particular detail is noteworthy since the virtue of Dana (liberality or alms-giving) is the first in the list of ten Paramita (perfections or qualities) that lead to the supreme state of Buddhahood. It is possible to whittle away the ego's urge to cling to things by parting with one's treasured possessions.

One of Ambapali's distinguished friends was King Bimbisara of Magadha. He is remembered as the first of the kings who served and supported the Buddha. Once when the king asked the great sage where he would like to reside, the Buddha specified that it should be a pleasant and secluded place that is neither crowded during the day nor too noisy at night. It must also be airy with a minimum of noise wherein it would be possible to live in privacy. Thereupon the king donated to the Buddha his Bamboo Grove with many shady trees. Later in this tranquil Veluvanarama park the Buddha spent several rainy seasons.

After meeting the famed beauty in person, even this good King Bimbisara, despite his righteousness and the nobility of his mind, succumbed to the temptation to make love to her. Consequently, Ambapali gave birth to a son. The narrative needs to be interrupted now but it will be resumed later.

While going on his final journey with a large number of monks, the Buddha resided temporarily at Vaisali. He stayed at Ambapali's Mango Grove and gave an address to his retinue of monks. "Be mindful and thoughtful, O bhikkus," he declared, "whatever you do, always have an alert mind. At all times be watchful when you are eating or drinking, walking or standing, sleeping or being awake, talking or remaining silent."

The news that the Buddha was staying in her Mango Grove made Ambapali extremely happy. Who would not take this unexpected visit from so exalted a sage as a great blessing? Wearing a simple dress without any jewellery, she approached the Buddha and respectfully sat near his feet. It is reported that the Buddha thought to himself as follows: "This woman's heart is tranquil and composed, in spite of her earthly friends and the kings and princes who treat her with special kindness. This maiden is thoughtful and steadfast, although she associates with pleasure-loving persons. How rare she is! This wise woman of true piety has the capacity for understanding the Truth in its entirety, despite her life of luxury."

Thereafter he preached her a sermon. Her face lit up as she listened to the Dharma, the liberating teachings of the Enlightened One.

"May I have the honour," said Ambapali, "of inviting you and the monks for a meal in my home tomorrow?"

The Buddha indicated his consent by being quiet.

The Lichchavi princes heard that Ambapali was going to have the privilege of entertaining the Buddha in her own home. They reacted to this piece of news in an envious and resentful way. After dressing up in all their finery, the princes mounted their beautiful carriages and proceeded to meet the Buddha in person. But Ambapali in her carriage drove up against them. The two parties confronted each other.

"Ambapali," they pleaded, "we will give you one hundred thousand gold coins if you allow us to play host to the Blessed One. Let him be our guest instead of yours." "No, my lords," replied Ambapali, "even if you give me the whole of Vaisali and all its territory, I will still not forego this great honour."

Feeling disappointed but not defeated, the Lichchavi princes then went to meet the Buddha himself. They felt very happy when the master delivered a religious discourse. Next the princes invited him for a meal at their palace. "I have already promised to be Ambapali's guest," said the Buddha, declining their request. On returning home, the princes were complaining that they had been outdone by a mere mundane maid!

Taking his begging-bowl with him and accompanied by monks, the Buddha went to Ambapali's residence early in the morning. She served them with sweet rice and cakes and various kinds of good food that had been prepared in her own park. After the meal was over, Ambapali took a low seat beside the Buddha and declared: "Lord, I present this Mango Grove to the community of monks that is headed by the Buddha." He accepted the gift and gave her spiritual instructions.

We have referred to the baby boy who was born in consequence of King Bimbisara's liaison with his paramour Ambapali. This son became not only the monk Wimala-Kondanna but also an Arhat. It was after listening to an inspiring sermon preached by this great son of hers that Ambapali decided to enter the order of nuns and she subsequently became an Arhat herself. It is ironic indeed that the very human being who came into existence because of Ambapali's sexual promiscuity was indirectly instrumental in her own Liberation from the shackles of Samsara and Karma.

What precipitated her attainment of Nirvana? She took as her subject of meditation the perishable nature of her physical organism.

In the following excerpts from The Songs of the Sisters by Usula P. Wijesuriya, which consists of adaptations of Theri Gatha or Psalms of the Sisters, one can hear the voice of Ambapali who contemplates, among other subjects, the ephemeral nature of her once enchanting body:

Many aeons ago, in the time of Buddha Sikhi,

Ambapali was an elder nun in his order.

She and the sisters were paying homage to the Bodhi

When one sneezed, spraying spittle on the tree.

"Which whore did that?" demanded Pali,

Maligning the noble sisterhood.

She paid for this insult birth after birth,

In the guise of a courtesan, desired but cheap.

In the time of Buddha Gautama

She appeared 'neath a mango tree,

Her glory surpassing the proud sun at dawn,

Her grace - the swans or woodland fawn;

For she had wished in many past lives

That she be of no mother born.

Her suitors outnumbered bees on honeyed blooms

Or the leaves on her mango tree,

Until the king decreed that she

Would be the hired plaything of the realm.

Her only son, Wimala Kondanna by name,

Followed the Buddha and graced the yellow robe.

He came to tell his mother the selfless love he'd known

And bid her follow him to the Lord.

Ambapali - the love goddess of the state

Approached the Buddha, whose compassionate gaze

Stirred her, as no sensual gaze of prince or merchant

Ever did. And she on her knees prayed

"May I be of your order - dressed in rough shroud robe?

Accept my mango grove, oh sire,

May it be a haven for such as me

who at last has learnt that life's a dream."

Sister Ambapali sat in rapt contemplation,

Of the change the thievish years had wrought

On her once dazzling beauty - and of her power

To lure prince and pauper in the wiles of love.

 

Years ago my hair was lustrous black,

Framing my face in tasselled curls.

Today it hangs like limp and listless hemp

The Buddha's truth of impermanence is here.

There was a day, when my hair

Dressed in perfumes and flowers,

Combed to silken perfection,

Trained with jewelled pins,

Lured the mighty of this land.

But now - the musty smell of age

Pervades it. The thick locks gone,

And rats' tails would a comparison make.

There was a day - when poets sang

To my rainbow eyebrows. When artists dreamed

Of their perfect arch.

Today they squiggle in a myriad wrinkles

Over forehead, cheek and chin.

What dimmed the lustre in my limpid eyes?

Where went the youthful nose so delicate and fine?

My ear lobes adorned with golden drops and beads

Now reduced to bone and shrivelled skin.

There was a day when my white and sparkling teeth

Smiled alluringly on princes of the realm,

But who would greet me now

Gap-toothed and yellow, like a broken fence.

My voice outdid the nightingale's

Love songs on moonlit nights;

But now it quavers, querulous and old,

Can I but speak - to tell you all I've learnt.

My graceful neck - the wild swans envied me,

Rivalled the smoothness of conches on sea beds,

Today, wrinkled and bent

I croak my message. This is the inevitable truth.

My arms so moulded - alabaster smooth were they,

Now like withered stalks they hang.

My hands - smooth, soft, adorned with rings,

Claws of decrepit birds to mem'ry brings.

My rounded breasts, so firm, so soft, so full,

Swan-like uplifted, claimed proud womanhood.

Now hang they empty between the ribs

Like strainers when the sap is fled.

My body - golden hued and warm,

Now a mass of scales and flabid flesh.

My thighs, once likened to elephant trunks

Are no more than crushed and splintered sugar cane.

Where are my ankles which danced to tinkling tunes

Drawn from jewelled anklets and silver bells.

Where are my feet - soft as silken pads

Now cracked and palsied. I painfully limp.

Such is this form, that age will surely spoil,

Such is fleeting beauty, pillaged by creeping years

Moving on silent feet.

This body, once the envy of the land

Is no more than a house of clay with peeling walls.

Sister Ambapali reached realisation one day

Absorbing all knowledge through the three-fold way,

Non-returner was she, before her days were done,

Temptress of an empire - Nibbana won.

Instead of making vain attempts to speculate about the Imperishable, Buddhists try to understand the fact that they are strongly attached to perishable things. While meditating on their sad plight, they realise that it is their craving for the perishable that prevents them from realising the Imperishable. One cannot think about the Imperishable. Neither can it be sought after nor invited.

Buddhist philosophers have wisely avoided trying to describe Nirvana. Is it really possible to describe it with anything like accuracy? Any description of Nirvana will only remain a mass of meaningless words, except for Arhats who have actually attained that exalted state. Seeing the impossibility of conveying the details of his attainment, the Buddha approached the question negatively by stating what Nirvana is not. "That abode," declared the Buddha, "is unborn, uncreated, unmanifested and unconditioned."

Is there anything in the entire universe that never changes and lasts forever? Even the sun and stars will someday burn  themselves out. Is there any living being that is not subject to decay and death? All things and all beings have a transitory nature and hence are impermanent. Only the truth relating to impermanency is permanent. Ambapali perfectly comprehended the doctrine of Anicca (impermanence).

Not only the external world but also the inner world of consciousness is caught up in a whirlpool of ceaseless alteration. Past memories, thoughts, feelings and sensations keep vying with one another to rise to the surface. Thoughts come and go with lightning speed so that it is extremely difficult to keep pace with even a few of them. The constituent elements of consciousness race across the substratum of pure awareness, creating in the process the illusion of `mind'. The bundle of thoughts, collectively taken, give the fictitious impression that there is such a definite and concrete thing as the mind.

Just as illusory as the concept of `mind' is the concept of `I'. Whereas both `mind' and `I' appear to exist, in actual fact they are made up of different elements. `Mind' and `I' are only aggregations which by themselves have no real and independent existence.

According to the doctrine of Anatta (no-self), there is no permanent self-existing ego either within the ever-changing bodily and mental phenomena or outside them. This teaching is closely related to the above-mentioned principle of Anicca (impermanence). Since the ego is only a temporary grouping together of attributes, it does not actually exist in itself. There is a popular Buddhist maxim that there are in fact only bad qualities, but not bad people. The feeling `I am' or `I exist' is the prime cause of our samsaric bondage. We are foolishly inclined to believe that the `I' is the doer; that it is the `I' that suffers; that the `I' treats others kindly or unkindly; that the `I' is reborn after death; and finally, that the `I' finds Liberation.

This doctrine has been clearly explained in the Buddhist classic Visuddhi Magga (Path of Purity).

"There is suffering but no sufferer;

There are deeds but no doer of deeds;

Nirvana is, but not one who enters it;

The path is, but no traveller thereto."

Anatta or egolessness is the central teaching of Buddhism. Whereas many Buddhist teachings can be found in other philosophies and religious systems, this particular doctrine is the distinguishing feature of Buddhism. Consequently, the Buddha has been called the Anattavadi or Teacher of Impersonality.

Now, Ambapali's painful awareness that her body was no longer sexually attractive and aesthetically beautiful enabled her to have practical experience of the Noble Truth of Suffering (Dukkha); by contemplating the distressingly shocking changes that her once-charming body had undergone, the law of impermanence (Anicca) dawned upon her; and ultimately, her crowning understanding that there was absolutely nothing within her entire body or mind that did not fade away and die, made it possible for Ambapali to grasp the profound truth relating to no-self or egolessness (Anatta). She saw with great clarity that everything within her whole body and mind must sooner or later end up in nothingness for nothing is permanent. Thus the imperishable peace of Nirvana came by Ambapali.

It is a truism that the only thing certain in life is death. That man is mortal is a distressing fact of life that we have to come to terms with sooner or later. Has anyone achieved the state of physical immortality? Although it is possible to prolong life, as every intelligent person should, through having the right diet and practising hatha yoga, including pranayama, has any human being ever succeeded in escaping from the jaws of death? As soon as we leave the womb we are destined to the tomb, and during the intervening period the inexorable process of decaying and ageing keeps going on from moment to moment. Why then do people nowadays want to disguise their decrepitude by undergoing expensive cosmetic surgery? Why bother using any make-up? Why this desire to decorate this dirty and dying lump of flesh and bones?

Buddhists who are serious strive to free themselves from attachment to their bodies. They practise The Meditation on the Five Components of the Body, understanding that the body is just a temporary conglomeration of separate constituent elements that can all fall apart at any moment and result in death:

Matter is similar to a lump of foam,

Sensations are comparable to bubbles,

Perception is analogous to a mirage,

Mental factors are somewhat the same as a banana plant

And consciousness is like an illusion.

Much in the same vein, they also practise Meditation on the Impurities of the Body, realising that genuine renunciation of the world consists in freedom from bodily cravings:

This body of mine consists of hair of my head, hair of my body, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews, bones, marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, diaphragm, spleen, lungs, intestines, mesentery, stomach, excrement, brain, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, lymph, tears, serum, saliva, nasal mucous, synovial fluid and urine.

Much more precious than skin-deep beauty is the inner beauty of saints who have cast aside their egos. Thus purified, they have found freedom from resentments. Untroubled by negative thoughts and emotions that originate in fear, worry, anger, jealousy, hatred, malice, violence or spite, they radiate an elusive beauty that has an ethereal quality. No words can describe the immense beauty and inner peace that radiated from Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi's austere face and eyes. Deep was his absorption in the Eternal. Being so detached from mundane matters, he most probably considered his external appearance too trivial.

The early Christians were remarkable in that they shunned the things of the world and led extremely simple lives. It is significant that they were not outward-looking but inward-looking. Why did Jesus denounce the teachers of the law and the Pharisees? Let us reflect deeply upon the following resounding rebuke from Jesus: "You are similar to whitewashed tombs that appear beautiful on the outside but on the inside you are full of the bones of dead men and everything that is unclean" (Matthew 23:27).

The advent of old age can be painfully unbearable for the vain, especially for famously beautiful actors, dancers or film stars who were once the cynosure of admiring and eager eyes. Looking back with nostalgia to their early years, they regret that they are no longer in the limelight. Some of them, alas, have even chosen to commit suicide instead of accepting the fact that their bodies and faces are no longer smooth and charming but rather wrinkled. They have needlessly suffered and paid dearly for their vanity. Nevertheless, inner peace and joy would surely have been theirs had they only ceased to pride themselves on their outward appearance, which in turn would have been the natural consequence of understanding the great and fundamental law of impermanence (Anicca). That all constituted things are in a state of perpetual flux or continual change is a cardinal feature in Buddhism.

There are two main reasons for modern man's moral and spiritual degeneracy: first, the growing popularity of the materialist view of life, according to which there is no spiritual world whatsoever since the only reality is physical matter; second, the hedonistic attitude that pleasure is the highest good which alone has ultimate value. In a sense our so-called civilisation has been nothing more than a desperate search for different degrees and forms of pleasure. So great is the emphasis on pleasure that, needless to say, people have become very attached to their bodies. One unfortunate consequence is that they seldom, if ever, ask themselves the following questions: Am I this body? Why am I attached to it? Is there nothing other than this physical organism with its never-ending, ever-changing chain of thoughts and emotions?

In the Apadana one can find a victorious declaration attributed to Ambapali:

By treading the Buddha's path

I've found the indestructible state.

A real daughter of him am I.

I remember my past lives,

Pure is the superhuman eye,

Being thoroughly cleansed within,

There is no more becoming.

 

 

References

1The Songs of the Sisters, by Usula P. Wijesuriya. Dehiwala: Sridevi Printers, 1994.

Buddhist Dictionary: A Manual of Buddhist Terms and Doctrines, 3rd Edition, by Nyanponika. Taipei: Corporate Body of the Buddha Educational Foundation, circa 1987

The Buddha and His Teachings, by Narada. Colombo: Vajirarama, 1973

Footprints of Gautama the Buddha, by Marie Beuzeville Byles. London: Rider, 1957

The Gospel of Buddha; compiled by Paul Carus. London: Alcove Press, 1974

The Life of the Buddha, by Nanamoli. Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1978

Great Disciples of the Buddha, by Nyanaponika and Helmuth Hecker. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1997

Psalms of the Early Buddhists: 1 - Psalms of the Sisters, by Rhys Davids. London: Pali Text Society, 1948

Ambapali, the immoral woman who later became an Arhat, by Siridhamma (In Dhamma, vol. 22, no.5, December 1997, p.30-32)

 

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Swami Rama Tirtha

John Phillips

 

Swami Rama Tirtha was born on 22 October 1873 in a poor Brahmin family in the village of Muraliwala in the district of Gujranwala in West Punjab, which is now part of Pakistan. The name given him at birth was Goswami Tirtha Rama. His father's name was Goswami Hira Nand and his mother's name was Niyal Dei (Nihal Devi). The child became the centre of attraction for the entire village, Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs alike, because he was not only extremely beautiful and charming, but also a rare specimen of extraordinary intelligence. His radiant smiles were simply bewitching.

After passing through primary education at the village school, he was sent by his father to the district school in Gujranwala, under the guardianship of his friend, Sri Dhanna Ram Bhagat. There he won scholarships to help him continue his studies. After completing his studies with distinction at district level, he had to go to Lahore for higher education, even against the wishes of his father, who wanted him to obtain employment somewhere, so as to help his poor family with his earnings. However, he entered university and took his M.A. degree in mathematics, passing with distinction and gaining the first place among the candidates. Throughout this time he remained a quiet, sober, unostentatious, hard-working, truthful and bright student, with a strong will and a religious turn of mind.

Goswami Tirtha Rama was afterwards appointed professor of mathematics in the institution, the Foreman Christian College of Lahore, where he proved to be a very learned and popular teacher. Though he was the youngest professor on the staff, he was highly respected and loved by his seniors, colleagues and the students in general.

To begin with, he was a great devotee of Sri Krishna, but he later developed into a fully-fledged Vedantin of the Advaita school of philosophy. He studied the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Gita, the Yoga-Vasishta, etc. He was also well-versed in Sufism. In addition he had acquired a thorough knowledge of Western philosophy. When his dispassion had reached saturation point, he resigned from his position and took Sannyasa in January 1901, while staying in the garden residence of Seth Murli Dhar on the banks of the Ganges, near Tehri in the Himalayas. As a sannyasin, he adopted the name of Swami Rama Tirtha and renounced his domestic life. He loved the solitudes of the Himalayas and was fond of his beloved Ganges.

As a Sannyasin, he visited Japan, where he met Sardar Puran Singh, who developed so much fondness and admiration for him that he also adopted the path of renunciation and decided to live and preach Vedanta. From Japan the Swami went to America, where he stayed as the State guest of the President of the United States for about two years and preached Vedanta, lecturing on Advaita philosophy and how to live a higher life of love, light and freedom. In Japan he left Swami Narayan, his chief disciple who had accompanied him from India. He was then inspired to visit European countries to preach Vedanta. From America Swami Rama Tirtha returned to India via Europe, visiting Germany, France, Italy, Egypt, etc., reaching Bombay in the first week of December 1904.

Wherever he went, he was very highly respected and admired for his all-round deep knowledge, learned oratory, loving nature, infectious smile and charming personality. Christians called him the living Christ, Buddhists saw in him the renunciation of Lord Buddha, Muslims detected in him the spark of prophet Muhammad and Hindus considered him to be the very incarnation of Adi Guru Shankaracharya. He was able to keep his vast heterogeneous audiences spellbound by the magnetic charm of his eloquence. He had an attractive aura of peace intermingled with divine ecstasy which exercised a subtle influence over all who came into his presence. He was also a visionary poet, an ardent social reformer, a staunch patriot, a practical philosopher and a saint who lived almost always above the level of body-consciousness and mind-consciousness, merged in the realisation of the universal Self. Whenever he spoke, he spoke from the depths of his own spiritual experience. He never uttered a single word which he had not himself experienced to be true. He was all love, he was the personification of love. Even wild animals did not dare to harm him, because he loved all.

With all that, he had a very short span of life of only thirty-three years. On 17 October 1906, below the Simlasu palace of the Maharajah of Tehri, his mortal body was swept away in the current of the swift-flowing river and disappeared into a nearby whirlpool.

After Rama Tirtha's tragic death, Swami Narayana, his chief disciple, thought that his lectures and writings should be compiled and published. This proved to be an immense task, but by determined effort he succeeded in publishing the lectures in five volumes.

Rama Tirtha was not only a religious leader, but also a social reformer. According to his teachings, if a man cannot feel his unity with his own countrymen, he can never realise his unity with God. He believed in self-reliance, which can be achieved by developing self-confidence. No one can help a man who does not want to help himself. Rama Tirtha's secret of success was his own zeal and capacity to work with sincere devotion and all-round awareness.

In his view the purpose of life is to obtain absolute freedom. He says: "Be not a slave or a bondsman. Be free in spirit. Believe not in any dogmas for their own sake, believe not in any ideal, howsoever lofty. Obey only the dictates of your own conscience, the promptings of your inner voice. Judge for yourself, be not guided by the wise counsels of even the greatest luminaries of mankind, such as Rama, Krishna, Buddha, Christ or Shankara, unless you are convinced to the core that what they preached is Truth and Truth alone. If so, act up to their theories. If, however, their dogmas go against your personal experiences, throw them overboard and judge for yourself. You are your own judge. That is the true spirit of Practical Vedanta."

Rama Tirtha asks us not to have blind faith and advises us to accept a theory in an unprejudiced way, only if and when we are fully convinced of it. There are a variety of ways and means to achieve the final goal. We should follow only those ones which suit us best. He would say, "Even if three hundred and thirty billion Christs, Mohammeds or Krishnas appear in the world, it will do you no good, unless you yourself undertake to remove the darkness within you. Be free. You are the Sun of the Suns."

According to Rama Tirtha, renunciation is the essence of Vedanta. By renunciation he does not mean that you should leave your family, wife and children and go into the forest. Renunciation requires you to give up your attachments to worldly objects. There is no happiness in these worldly objects. Happiness is within you. Renunciation means giving up worldly desires, which are endless. You are the king of kings. Why should you then suffer from any cause due to selfishness, the biggest sin? Rise above the body and mind consciousness. You are not this body. You are the master of the body, mind and intellect. Why should you then identify yourself with them? Renunciation requires you to give up the names and forms of sense objects and see only the underlying Reality which you are. If you practise the teachings of Vedanta continually in the right direction, you become one with the whole, you are free in this very life.

When giving talks Rama Tirtha often kept his audience's attention by telling stories illustrating some point of philosophy or religion he wished to put over to them. When speaking in San Francisco on 26 January 1903, he told the following story:

Three boys were given one five cent piece by their master to share among themselves. They decided to purchase something with the money. One of the boys was English, the other a Hindu and the third a Persian. None of them understood the language of the other, so they had some difficulty in deciding what to buy. The English boy insisted on purchasing a water-melon. The Hindu boy said, "No, no, I would like to have a hindwana." The third boy, the Persian said, "No, no, we must have a tarbooz." Thus they could not decide what to buy. Each insisted upon purchasing the thing which he preferred, disregarding the inclinations of the others. There was quite a wrangle among them. They were quarrelling and walking through the streets. They happened to pass a man who understood these three languages - English, Persian and Hindustani. That man was amused over their quarrel. He said he would decide the matter for them. All three referred the matter to him and were willing to abide by his decision. This man took the five cent piece from them and asked them to wait at the corner. He himself went out to the shop of a fruit-seller and purchased one big water-melon for the five cent piece. He kept it concealed from them and called them one by one. He first asked the English boy to come and, not allowing the young boy to know what he was doing, he cut the water-melon into three slices, took out one part, handed it to the English boy and said, "Is not this what you wanted?" The boy was highly pleased; he accepted it cheerfully and gratefully, going away frisking and jumping and saying it was what he wanted. Then the man called the Persian boy and handed him the second piece, asking him if it was what he wanted. The Persian boy was highly elated and said, "This is my tarbooz! This is what I wanted!" He went away very happy. Then the Hindu boy was called, the third piece was handed to him and he was asked if that was the object of his desire. The Hindu boy was well satisfied. He said, "This is what I wanted; this is my hindwana." Why was the quarrel caused? What was it that brought about the misunderstanding among the lads? The mere names, nothing else. Take off the names, see behind the veil of names. There you will find the three different names - water-melon, tarbooz and hindwana - imply one and the same thing. It is one object that underlies them all. It may be that the Persian tarbooz, the water-melon that grows in Persia, is slightly different from the water-melon they have in England, and it may be that the water-melons of India are slightly different from the water-melons of England, but in reality the fruit is the same. It is one and the same thing. Slight differences can be ignored.

Just so is Rama Tirtha highly amused at the quibbles, quarrels, misunderstandings and controversies between different religions; Christians fighting Jews, Jews in conflict with Muslims, Muslims combating Brahmanas. Brahmanas finding fault with the Buddhists, and the Buddhists returning the compliment in a similar manner. It is highly amusing to see such quarrels. The cause of those quarrels and misunderstandings is chiefly in names. Take off the veil of names, strike out the curtain of names, see behind them, look at what they imply, and there you will not find much difference.

Rama Tirtha was a contemporary of Swami Vivekananda. It was on Swamiji's mission in the Punjab that he came across Rama Tirtha in Lahore. The latter was then Mr Tirtha Ram Goswami, a professor of mathematics at one of the colleges. Some say that it was as a result of his meeting with Swamiji that Mr Tirtha Ram took sannyasa and assumed the name of Swami Rama Tirtha. He personally admired Swami Vivekananda immensely and invited him and his disciples to dine at his residence. After dinner Swamiji sang a song beginning with the words "Where God-consciousness resides, there is no desire; where there is desire, there is no God-consciousness". Tirtha Ram himself wrote about this: "His melodious voice made the meaning of the song thrill through the hearts of those present." He placed his library at Swamiji's disposal, but of the numerous volumes in it, Swamiji chose only Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman - whom he used to call "the Sannyasin of America".

One evening Swamiji and several others went out for a walk. The party soon broke up into several groups. Rama Tirtha later wrote: "In answer to a question, I was explaining, `An ideal Mahatma is one who has lost all sense of separate personality and lives as the Self of all. When the air in any region absorbs enough of the solar heat, it becomes rarefied and rises higher. The air from different regions then rushes in to occupy this vacuum, thus setting the whole atmosphere in motion. So does a Mahatma marvellously infuse life and spirit into a nation through self-reform.' The Swami's group happening to be silent at the time, he overheard this part of our conversation and stopped suddenly, and emphatically remarked, `Such was my guru, Paramahamsa Ramakrishna Deva'."

A very friendly relationship sprang up between Swamiji and Tirtha Ram. Before he left, Tirtha Ram presented Swamiji with a gold watch. Swamiji kindly accepted it, but put it back in Tirtha Ram's pocket, saying, "Very well, friend, I shall wear it here, in this pocket."

 

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Self Control: Forcible or Gradual?

 A lecture given by Swami Adiswarananda at the

Ramakrishna Vedanta Centre, Bourne End on

October 23, 1998 

The subject we are going to discuss is self-control - should it be gradual or forcible? Firstly, self-control means control and mastery over the mind, senses and the body. A person who has control is a sage. One who has not is a slave. One who has control has peace, happiness, tranquillity and also self-knowledge. Thoughts, delusions and illusions harass one who lacks it.

Of the supporting texts of Vedanta on this subject, one is the Bhagavad Gita. In one chapter it says, "One who has no self-control has no peace; one who has no peace has no happiness, and one who has no contact with the true Self has no self-control." Happiness is not dependent on having things or not having things. It is an interval between the cessation of one desire and the start of another - a gap, a moment of desirelessness.

Again, the Mahabharata raises this question in the chapter on the enchanted bull. Yaksha, a voice without a form asks Yudhisthira a number of questions. One of them is, "Who is happy?" In answer, the king says, "One who is free from debts and obligations." Then "one who stays home" which means one who has contact with her true Self. We are not home. All the time we are moving around, loafing around. The third is "one who eats a scanty meal at the end of the day," meaning one who has mastery over the palate.

The third text, the Bhagavatam, says "The deluded person is troubled by two urges: the palate and the sex instinct. Of these, the palate is most important. One who has conquered the palate has also overcome the grosser instinct."

So, three supporting texts have been cited on the necessity of self-control or self-mastery, which is essentially control over the mind. We know the mind is our second body and the interpreter. The mind is our constant companion; we cannot get rid of this fellow. Even in dreams, he goes with you. He is your friend and your foe. When regenerate, it is a friend; when angry, it is your worst enemy. And, all you can trust about the mind is that you cannot trust it.

Self-knowledge is the means, then. We perceive the world through the prism of the mind, so the world is in the mind. "Mind is the cause of bondage and mind is the cause of liberation." We are born in the mind, we live in the mind, and we die in the mind. But the mind is not in our control.

An average person, it is said, is born crying, lives complaining and dies disappointed. The mind is restless. One is all the time looking for novelty, for change. We get  bored with things very easily. We are unable to see things in the proper perspective. We cannot think properly. Thinking give you a clear perception.

George Bernard Shaw once remarked, with his usual caustic wit, "Thinking is rare. The average individual perhaps thinks once or twice a year. I have made a distinguished career by thinking as often as once a week."

We do not think because the mind does not give us opportunity to do so. Not only is our mind restless, but our body is too. We know that everything is constantly vibrating, but when the mind is restless the vibrations are visible. They affect the whole body.

The mind experiences three states: waking, dream and deep sleep. The mind is a migratory creature. It creates illusions, dreams, and fancies. It creates variety, diversity. It limits the illimitable, divides the indivisible, and wants to attain the impossible. It likes imitation, not truth. The three states are like actors on a stage, always coming and going. Even when the play is over, the stage is illumined. That is the light of the Atman.

Again, the mind also has three modifications: sattva, rajas and tamas - tranquillity, restlessness and inertia - rotating all the time. These are the three qualities of mind. Everybody experiences them. One who can control them is called a free soul, a knower of the Self. The gunas are present in each person. We need them. When you return from a day's work you badly need inertia, tamas. In the morning, you need rajas, activity. The third quality, sattva or tranquillity, is what you need when you go to meditate or pray. You invoke it.

You probably know the six centres of consciousness. The mind is constantly rising and falling from one to another. When you enter the prayer room, you try to raise the mind to the fourth centre, the heart. The body is like a six-storey house where the master of the house lives in the basement. Living in the dark, dingy basement, he has developed a taste for it. The mind has a remarkable capacity for developing a taste for anything. If you keep a person in a place with a strong smell, after some time that person will grow so accustomed to it that he would be offended by sweeter fragrances. The average mind remains pinned down to the three lower centres - the bottom of the spine, the region of the organ of generation, and the navel. At this level the whole world of sight, sound, taste, touch and smell are only sending information about the palate and sense pleasure. Nothing else. However, the same mind, when it rises to the fourth level, appears homogenous and unified. It gives spiritual impulses and gradually it rises higher and higher. The universe of names and forms and diversities and dichotomies gradually dissolves into a unified mass.

When the mind falls, what should one do? Three responses are possible: give in, give up or fight. Giving in does not solve the question. If we are depressed, giving in only perpetuates the problem. If we give up, where can we go? We cannot jump out of our minds. We do not have the capacity to give up, and if we force ourselves to give up it will only create a heightened awareness of the object coveted. If we fight, whom do we fight? Ourselves, and this is extremely tiring.

Some people say we should not control our impulses, that self-expression is best. This is the Freudian, Adlerian approach. They say that any form of control is unhealthy, unnatural. It makes a person false. One should have expression. Any control creates neurosis. That means you eat whatever you like, do whatever you feel like doing, think whatever you like to think. Control creates inhibition and inhibition can lead to exhibition.

Others say that the human being has become what it is today by exercising control. In the animal stage of development, both mind and soul are lost in the body. In the human stage the mind begins to assert control over the body - that's why it is human. In the spiritual stage, the soul is trying to free itself of the mind. Through prayer, austerity, penance and pilgrimage you are trying to extricate yourself from the bondage of the mind. Instinct used by the sub-human makes raw impulse. Reason is advanced by controlling the raw impulse and purifying it, and intuition appears after you have overcome reason by purifying it. So therefore control is necessary.

In any walk of life you need control. When you drive you need speed control. When you talk you need control. In every field this is true. When you stand up you need control. So there is nothing wrong with control. It is a natural instinct to exercise control. But why control? Both Vedanta and Yoga say: giving in does not work; giving up creates neurosis. Reason tells us: face the mind, the restless mind. The mind is material. It does not have its own consciousness. It is activated by the consciousness borrowed from the Self, the only conscious entity whose presence or absence makes us either living or dead. The body is an extension of the mind. The mental body is just like the physical body. The face is the index of the mind, it is very true. Physical features may indicate the texture of the mind. In The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna you may read that each person is born with a blueprint of his or her own mind and each incarnation is to give expression to some urgent desires for that.

The mind has a big shopping list. It is always turbulent like the ocean, constantly breaking into waves. All the time it is moving and changing. It never becomes controlled unless you control it. Many people think that it will become controlled when we get old. However, when you are young you can keep the mind down by exercising your nerves and muscles. When you get old, you are done for. You are tormented. All the desires are there but they have not been trained. The cobras are there but their fangs have not been taken out. It is an illusion, an untruth that with age turbulence goes away.

Both Vedanta and Yoga think that the stuff of the mind is a Sanskrit word called samskara. Samskara is thought potency. This works in the following way: when you think a thought repeatedly, it first affects the intellect, then the emotion, then the biochemistry. Then it goes deep down to the glands and hormones. It therefore alters the biochemistry and remains lying deep down there. Running away cannot obliterate these samskaras. Distance cannot annihilate them, old age cannot reduce them, and reason cannot uproot them. Reason requires pure mind, which is very rare. Analysis does not help, nor does expression.

To bring peace and tranquillity to the mind the samskaras must be neutralised by counter-samskaras. That is the famous thesis of Patanjali - pratipaksha bhavana. Counter-samskaras must be created against each samskara. Samskaras are like marks on stone, they last forever, but they can be neutralised. This is where the practice of self-mastery comes from. You must fight bad habits with good new habits. You can combat a thought with a thought. Speech must be controlled by speech. It is an all out response. Bad habits cannot be neutralised by good thought. They cannot go away all of a sudden. If you drive a screw into the wall with thirty turns, you cannot pull it out without breaking the wall. You must unscrew it thirty turns.

This is also the teaching of the Bhagavad Gita. A samskara is formed by three organs: by talking about it, by thinking about it and by acting according to it. The three acting together make samskaras. That which you think only can be driven away by counter-thought, but when the three are joined, it affects the glands and hormones. You must be aware that when certain thoughts arise, the whole system becomes inflamed. When such thoughts have an immediate effect, it means we have practised them for a long long time in this or previous lives. We do not need a prophet to tell us.

We have to uproot them by developing counter samskaras. How is this done? The Yoga system gives one method and Vedanta gives another. Yoga says you should be forcible. Life is short, samskaras are deep, mind is perverted, and reason is weak. You are trying to make a tiger non-violent by feeding him a vegetarian diet. Forget about it. The logic of the Yoga system maintains that the mind is material. Its impure conditioning is mechanical and reason is too weak to overcome its perversion. It is also difficult to know the nature, depth and extent of the impurities. All we know is that the mind is restless and turbulent. It is being expressed by unevenness of breath, changes in our biochemistry and restless movement of our body. The mind is never controlled unless you control it. Hence control must be forcible. Take the bull by the horns. Vedanta says, "Feed the bull with green grass. Then you will ride the bull." Life is short. When the bull will become pacified, we don't know. We will be dead by then. So take the bull by the horns.

The Yoga system prescribes the eight-fold practice which you know - yama/niyama. The first five are external and the last three internal. It asks for the rise of the whole mind to overcome the obstacles and with unwavering determination. Educating the mind to give up its old ways is a slow process. Auspicious desires are not always forthcoming. The journey to the goal is never completed unless we hasten our steps.

The Yoga system relies more on practical aspects and is distinguished from the aspect of dispassion. Patanjali refers to dispassion (vairagya) as a complementary means for control of the mind, not primary. It seeks to develop reason through training the exercise of willpower. It seeks to arouse then modify our sub-conscious indirectly through the help of regulation of breath, posture and diet.

Modern psychology explains how the conscious mind is modified and controlled by the sub-conscious. But the Yoga system further shows us how we can modify the sub-conscious by conscious effort; how repeated exercise of the will at the conscious level can influence the sub-conscious depths and modify them permanently. By controlling and disciplining the manifested effects of impurities, it goes to the root of all impurities to overcome them. The Yoga system says, "I am only aware of the effects of these impurities in the restlessness of my mind and body, but I do not know the cause. However, I do not need to speculate because by controlling the effect I can overcome the cause".

Our consciousness is in deep slumber at the base of the spine. It must rise to the upper centres. For that reason the blockage in the canal of consciousness, sushumna, has to be cleared. The yoga system prefers the dredging of the canal rather than dissolving the blockage, whereas Vedanta prefers to dissolve. Posture, diet and pranayama are the means to dredge. Conversion of energy to ojas provides the sustained strength to dredge. To dredge you have to have strength, for that needs energy. Spiritual energy is refined, giving you determination. The manifestation of yoga powers generates confidence in the mind.

We  have a tendency in Vedanta to decry the occult as obstacles, but the Yoga system says no. Some power is necessary to encourage us. If you are a yogi, you must have something - otherwise, what are you doing? So these powers give you faith and confidence. Reason can never uproot miseries and dispel ignorance. To accomplish the task the whole person - physical, vital, mental - must rise against the permanent tendencies of the mind that block the way.

The Yoga system is suited to those in whom reason has not yet established a natural supremacy. That is Patanjali's view. Vedanta says that things are easier said than done. Vedanta maintains that an impure mind cannot be made pure by working the reverse way. It says one should go to the root. The Yoga system tries to overcome the subtle by controlling the gross which is manifest. Vedanta says no, don't try to hurry. Vedanta relies more on the practice of dispassion and believes that the primary urge in all of us is the need to reach the Divine. It says we should overcome the gross by controlling the subtle, for the subtle exerts more power over the gross. It is therefore the easier and shorter way.

Vedanta says one cannot generate spiritual longing through diet, posture or pranayama. It makes the process mechanical. Can you make a person spiritual by giving him a diet and special exercises? Withdrawal of the mind is not possible unless the mind co-operates in the process. Forcible control can rouse the mind untimely, before spiritual longing has come and before spiritual motivation for making the journey has become sufficiently strong. This is an important point.

The mind is like a giant, sleeping. You rouse it by pranayama, which is forcible, but the motivation to proceed has not developed. It lacks the longing for Truth and love of God. What will you do with such a mind that has been roused? It will rise up against you and destroy you. So don't rouse the mind. Swami Vivekananda said, "A mind that has been roused a little is very dangerous. Once it is roused, you have to keep it going. If not, it will finish you." Through prayer, austerity and reason you build platforms so when reactions come you will not fall deep into the lower pit but will be held by the platforms.

So we must not try to hasten to rouse the mind by forcing it for it may prove self-destructive. True spiritual practice is prayer, contemplation and worship. As the mind begins to move upwards, we build platforms. Vedanta believes in gradual control so that the mind does not rebel. Its process is the way of least resistance. Vedanta prescribes the practice of silence, not restraint of speech. Solitude is interior, not external - the real posture in which the mind flows towards Brahman spontaneously. Absorption in Brahman is real meditation. It is achieved by directing the mind towards Brahman, not fixing the mind on the tip of the nose.

Absorption of the mind in the Atman, knowing that It alone abides, is called withdrawal. Steadiness in dwelling on the thought of Brahman is called concentration. All obstacles are overcome only by dissolving the mind in the ocean of the Infinite Self. By thinking of the object of the mind, the mind gets identified with it. By thinking of a void, it really becomes blank, and by thinking of Brahman it attains to perfection.

So we must know that to change habits, we must proceed slowly. There is no use in imitation or taking up gimmicks. We tend to think we should be doing everything quickly because we live in an age where patience is rare. The "gimmick" in Vedanta is humble prayer, aligning oneself to be the receptacle of divine consciousness, not mere lip-service. Through prayer, worship and holy company we can maintain a balance in our lives that will prepare us for real spiritual life.

 

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Some Sayings of My Guru

Swami Vidyatmananda

 

A transcript of a talk given at our Hollywood Centre

in 1981. The author, a much-loved Swami of the Order,

passed away recently.

 

It is with the most profound emotion that I find myself in this position in which for many years I had the great joy in seeing the Swami Prabhavananda.

I remember clearly the first time I came here and viewed from where you are sitting now him sitting here, on a wooden box, a kind of elevated asana (seat). Probably it was in December of 1948. I walked in that door, took a seat on the aisle, looked at this chapel, with its marvellous candles and decorations, and the smell of incense, and I thought "Well, well, well!" (Laughter) Because thirty-two or thirty-three years ago Hindu things were simply not as common as they are today, and I was a person who had a conservative religious background. People were not making the change from protestantism or atheism in those days to Vedanta with as much facility as they are now. And I wondered, "Well, can I make the great modification of that sort." I had read, of course, the books. I was convinced that the Truth was truly to be found in Vedanta. And later, of course, I realised that the Teacher here was one capable of helping find that Truth.

The real conversion occurred on New Year's Eve that same year. We had then, as I believe one still has - and we have taken it up since then in Gretz - a custom of doing arati* at midnight. And I was here. And as the arati was performed, and we could hear the sound of jubilation rising from below (laughter) I thought, "Well, I guess I've made it to the other side." (all laugh) Particularly that marvellous "Chant the Name of the Lord and His Glory, especially the lines

That my heart may burn away with its desire

And the world without Thee is a heartless void.**

That I knew was really the Truth, but to realise it, of course, that's something else. That really takes years.

So, that was how it all began, and I never thought I would be here in this position, saying these words, but I'm thankful that I am.

So what shall we talk about this evening? I was reflecting on it all afternoon and I thought, well, all of us here have either known Swami Prabhavananda or heard about him, and why not simply recall together as old friends some of the things that he taught us, some of his sayings which I remember, and so I've made a list of half a dozen or so to remind you, and remind myself.

I had an interesting experience yesterday when arriving at the Immigration. The Immigration officer said, "Well, what is your occupation?"

Now, as we reach a certain point in our life we really begin to ask ourselves, what is our occupation? Because what we think had been all these years, we find it really isn't at all.

So I thought, well, what am I? Am I a farmer? It's true that we have a farm at Gretz and we do quite a lot of farm work, but I wouldn't say I'm a farmer.

Am I a hotel-keeper? (laughter) That is perhaps a bit more to the point (all laugh). Because, as you know, Gretz welcomes people who come to make retreats there, and we try to make them as comfortable as we can.

Am I a writer? Well, maybe a little, but not really.

A speaker? Certainly not.

An animateur? That's the word in French. You can say it easily in English - animater. It's a very good French word and it means the kind of person that in an organisation, or in an association, sort of makes things go. You might say the sports-master on a cruise ship would be an example of an animateur. Yes, to some extent.

Then I thought, No, I'm none of those things. What I am is - the only thing I am - a devotee. We finally end up realising that all else is of little interest, of passing interest, but our occupation as well as our avocation is to be a devotee. You realise that at a certain point.

So let me look at the list I made of things that we have learned.

After I took sannyas, Swami told me the following: "Nothing - remember, nothing bad can ever happen to you again. It may be bad, it may seem bad, but it won't be bad for you."

Now that's a very curious statement. Because it seems to contradict itself. But if you reflect a little bit on it you see exactly what it means. It means this - that, having put yourself in His hands, having taken your stand as a devotee - both as occupation and avocation - whatever happens, we must believe and know, must be good for you.

And, of course, as you go on with your life you realise that He is pulling all the strings. Events that seem impossibly terrible at the moment - disasters - at the moment, somehow or another twist themselves around - or you get twisted around, that's probably the case - so that later on, well, I wouldn't have had it any other way.

Another saying, and you can who knew him, can hear that, hear him saying that, "Feel for others... Prema, you must learn to feel for others." Hum? Now, what does that mean? That's a very difficult thing to do. Because we are always acting and reacting in terms of our own point of view. And if the other doesn't seem to fall in with that point of view, or seems to be in opposition to it, or seems to be ignorant of it, we immediately consider that person at fault. Feel for others means somehow or other trying to think through his brain, see through his eyes. Of course that doesn't come quickly or easily and it seems to me that as we go on suffering in our own lives and realise how often we are wrong, we begin at last to see how other people feel about certain things, and sympathy which is love - or love which is sympathy - somehow begins to stir a bit in us.

Now I'm going to give you a very astonishing saying. It is extremely cryptic. And I won't even try and interpret it. It happened - I heard it - on an occasion when Swami asked me to go with him to the High Sierras as his cook - which was a very foolish thing for him to have done (all laugh). But, of course, a great privilege for me. And as you know - rice does not boil at the same temperature, or water doesn't boil at the same temperature in the High Sierras as it does at this level. So, the main ingredient of his diet was somewhat doubtful in terms of its being properly boiled. And after one day or two days of suffering in silence Swami said to me in great irritation, "If a person doesn't know how to cook rice he doesn't know how to do anything!" (long laughter)

Another curious thing I heard Swami say more than once, "I've never suffered in my life." Now, of course we know that he suffered, but he did say that. This was because I wrote in my very freshman days here an article called "Suffering" and his response later on - not at the moment (he was very encouraging in the early days about things like that) - but later he did say "I've never suffered a moment in my life".

Now how can we interpret that?

Well, we can interpret it, of course, according to a high level, because basically if one is ... has his feet planted firmly on his faith, and one has taken refuge in his faith, then he does not suffer in the same sense as people who are simply torn by the slings and arrows of everyday life.

But as I've reflected on that, it can come to us also if we make our life, if somehow we get our life organised. We suffer because we have incompatible desires. We are torn by all sorts of alternating currents.

 So I come to the concept of sacrifice. I think that until we somehow or other make up our minds that we are a living sacrifice, we will suffer. But when we come to the point, if we are so lucky, that we can say, "All right, I'm not holding anything back and I am not trying to preserve a particular situation or position or privilege, or expect the appreciation and even the approval of others - then our life reaches a point where there isn't very much conflict in it, in so far as human relations are concerned and incompatible desires.

And then a certain kind of happiness, a kind of low-key happiness, not the kind we were looking for before, but a kind of low-key happiness begins to take over.

The existentialist says, "I am responsible for everything in this universe." Well, we say, "I am not responsible for anything in this universe. I am simply here to serve."

I often tell our boys in Gretz, who don't want to do this or don't want to do that, or refuse to do this or hesitate about doing that, "As long as you're holding yourself back, you won't be happy." Just make yourself a sacrifice. Sooner or later you will have to.

And then, as you can say with our Swami Prabhavananda, "I've never suffered a moment in my life."

I'd like to quote a saying of Mahatma Gandhi. He says (reading recently his visit to Romain Rolland in Switzerland in 1931) - and he and Romain Rolland had a wonderful conversation (all of which is recorded in Romain Rolland's Journals) and Gandhi said, "Truth brings joy." He said, "First of all I felt that Truth was God, then I came to see that God is Truth. And Truth brings joy. If it doesn't it isn't Truth." If it doesn't bring joy it isn't Truth.

The next saying I wish to bring back to your attention is one everyone knows perfectly well, "Meditate, meditate, meditate." And I would add that that certainly includes doing japam.* I'm a great believer in japam. It was forced upon me and - but I must say it was effective.

You can easily test what meditation does for you. Let us say that - now I'm not talking about it to bring you into a state of ecstasy and Nirvana. I'm talking about the daily practice of regularly going and sitting.

Suppose you go on vacation. Your whole routine is upset. So, in the morning, of course, instead of going to your room where you meditate or to the chapel, well, you decide to take a swim. And in the evening, instead of thinking that six o'clock is the time to be quiet for an hour, well, this is a good time to go down to the restaurant or, whatever it is, horseback riding, or go for a walk. You find after a few days - this has happened to me so I know - that a certain finesse, a certain edge to your recollection, becomes a bit blunted. And you think, "Well, I think I will be glad to get back to my regular practices again."

Because distractions don't distract. That is a conclusion that one comes to, distractions don't distract.

Then I remember him saying - very often to me, perhaps oftener to me than to some - "Always be positive." This is a very simple saying, yet how easy it is not to be positive. How easy it is to be negative and I think particularly when we criticise mentally or verbally others, we are going against this suggestion to always be positive.

Silence is better if one can possibly keep silent.

I get a great inspiration from - on this particular subject - from Swami Ritajananda who is very positive. We have - I give you one example. There is in France a very well-known popular singer who is easily compared in France to big name singers here. He's made many records, popular records. And like some others, his success was too much, and he went through a nervous breakdown, divorce, drugs and the whole thing. He has no interest whatsoever in religion, but somewhere or other he heard that there was a holy man - not a holy man, a seer in Gretz, and so he began to come. Simultaneously going to a psychiatrist.

Swami had received him everytime, anytime, night or day, anytime he wants to come and it's always the same - a desperate story of depression and lack of self-confidence, failure in the midst of success ... And I always say, "Well, Swami, haven't you had enough of this now. There doesn't seem to be any improvement." "No, there doesn't seem to be any improvement - but he may change. Always again the same - but he may change. He hasn't yet - but he may change." So that's always being positive.

...to call, but we somehow feel that calling and talking may help them. And here in the middle of the night I would often answer such telephone calls. And I must say that the French at least don't call in the middle of the night (laughter). But they call, and you may be amused by this story which is at least partially true (laughter).

Swami always said, "If someone asks you to pray for them, what do you do?" I asked, "What do you do?" He said, "Tell them that you will pray for them, and mentally put them at the feet of the Lord." And this has always been my practice and still is.

So there was a call from a woman, and she said, "My teenage son is very terrible toward me. He even hits me. And will you please do something?"

So I thought, well, I will do what I had been taught to do and I said, "Please tell me your name, not your family name but your first name, and the name of your son, not the family name, I'm not interested. And I will pray for him." So she told me her name, and she told me his name, Henri (Henry).

"Yes, madame, I shall do it."

"Well, sir, would you also pray for Francois?"

Well now (Swami laughs) it's twice as many. "Yes, if you wish."

"And also Jean-Pierre." (all laugh) It seems there's quite a big family there.

"And Eileen, (laughter), and the twins, Christian et Christienne."

So I did as requested - put them all, this entire group (laughter) at the feet of the Lord.

Then she called back sometime later and she said, "I want to tell you that things are really very much better." (You see, it gives confidence to the people themselves. That, perhaps, is the psychology of it.)

But she said, "It's Bruno that's causing the trouble now."

I said, "Bruno? But you didn't mention Bruno!" (all laugh)

And she said, "I know, and that's why he's acting so badly." (long laughter)

Well, here's another one. You've all heard this. "Oh, what patience it takes! Oh Prema, what patience it takes!"

Now, I have heard that from him, and since I have been in a position of - to a very slight extent - trying to look after a few boys, young novices at our own centre, this saying has repeated itself in my mind many times: what patience it takes!

You see, evolution is a very slow thing. And we see things from our standpoint in looking at the young who are beginning their sadhana* from a rather different position, and we wonder, "Well, why in the world doesn't he see that immediately?" "Why doesn't she quickly grasp the situation?" Well, it just doesn't happen that way. It takes patience.

But without patience you won't accomplish anything in dealing with such situations. Patience - love - that's the only way I know - and trying to give a good example - that's the only way I know of helping anybody.

Then, I think you will surely remember this one: "Never give up the struggle." And this is often coupled with another saying, "There is no failure in spiritual life."

There is no failure in spiritual life. Now you find that clearly set forth as well in the Bhagavad Gita. "Even if you seem to fail or stop, what has been gained will not be lost. It is emmagasine - put in a kind of deposit from which you can draw the next time round. Someone was saying to me today, "Isn't it remarkable that when I first came into this life I had this idea of doing such and such?" Those things we arrive with are things that we have learned and which we get the fruit of the next time round.

But that, of course, is a rather lazy way of looking at things. I prefer the other saying, "Don't give up the struggle." Never give up the struggle.

And this was very clearly brought to our attention here once by a dream that one of the members had, who was in a very discouraged condition and somehow or other, the cry of the heart was answered by a dream. And in the dream this disciple was on a train. And the train stopped as they often do. And so the disciple was going to get down, and the train go on, of course... and then a voice was heard saying, "Don't get off the train." And this solved the problem.

Well, we all know, we know this, but just keep putting it in mind is a good thing. As long as you stay on the train you will keep moving, but if you get down, then it's a different thing.

Never give up the struggle.

Another saying, which I'd put among the cryptic sayings - he said to me, "Never sit on the threshold of a door."

You see, we have here a wooden threshold between the outer and the inner shrine. And because then, as now, I liked a little support under me, I took, when meditating, to sitting on that slightly elevated wooden threshold. Which, from my background, was not an extraordinary thing to do.

And after one or two occasions, I think it was Swami Krishnananda who was sent to me to tell me that we do not sit on the threshold, and it was explained that the gods of the door, the protectors of the porte are there - and they don't like it. (Laughter) Which, of course (laughing himself) to my western way of thinking, made perfect sense!

But the truth of the matter is far deeper and subtler than that. It consists of making a commitment: either be in or be out. Don't be half-way between. It shows a certain lack of decision. A certain "foot in two camps" psychology. And whether there are gods protecting the lintel or not, I don't know. But I can understand perfectly that if you are going to be in the shrine, be in the shrine. If you are going to be in the outer shrine, be in the outer shrine. But don't try to be in the two at the same time.

And so, that, of course, is an easy thing to apply to our life. Make clear, strong decisions. And, no shilly-shallying, wishy-washy business. Commitment.

The next teaching that I wish to bring - recall to your mind: "Never lower the Ideal."

This is something that is very important for religious organisations to keep in mind. And individuals. Because that sharp enthusiasm naturally becomes somewhat blunted with the passage of time, and we may begin to make compromises. But we must keep in mind that, even if we don't achieve our Ideal at once, we must always remember that the Ideal is an Ideal and should not be tampered with.

One may admit clearly, and openly, "No, I have not been able to achieve the Ideal." But one should never attempt to justify one's performance in terms of lowering the Ideal - for success reasons, or for reasons of comfort, or for any other sort of reason.

We have seen so many religious movements - so-called religious movements - in the West which seem to make everything very easy. And which have achieved, it seems, a great success... But that is not our way. Even if Vedanta remains small - and it still does remain small, at least in the West, in the Occident - I think we must be faithful to our Master and Mother who lived the highest realisation, the highest virtue as our Ideal, the highest knowledge as our Ideal, the highest devotion. And not bring that down to make things go a bit better. So far, I think, we are keeping up the standard.

Then I would remind you of what Swami always said: "Our objective is transformation of personality. Sometimes he said, "Our objective is samadhi, and nothing less." That certainly is keeping the Ideal high.

He said sometimes, "My only hope for my children is that they should become men and women of God."

Well ... that is really what we are really struggling for, to become men and women of God.

I like the American enthusiasm for transformation of personality. There are any number of books and programmes devoted to that. But transformation of personality in terms of it becoming transformed into a spiritual personality - not simply a personality that is very interesting or who attracts other people or produces success - but a spiritual personality.

I would like, before finishing, to say something about another teaching that I have learned - this time from Swami Ritajananda, who has been for me a very interesting experience after some 15 or 18 years with Swami Prabhavananda - I have now had the blessing of being with Swami Ritajananda for an equal number of years, more or less, of course.

And this is something that I find a very practical teaching, and which complements all these others that I have already brought to your attention.

Swami uses silence as a response, and it is a most effective response.

You may remember that there was a very interesting event that happened here many years ago which caused the newspaper men and reporters of all the wire-services and the local papers to invade this place for a few hours, for a day or so, trying to get the information, because of the somewhat international interest in the subject.

When they all arrived in their most feroce manner, and began asking questions to write their stories, I simply didn't know how to handle it. Because we were trying to play the story as calmly and as simply as possible - subtly as possible. And I frantically called a friend of mine, a friend of the Centre, who had worked on newspapers, "What in the world am I going to - how am I to handle this impact of reporters?" And he said, "There are two things you can do. One is call a press conference and give out a story to them all at the same time. And another thing you can do is simply to say, `No comment'." (laughter)

Actually, we finally did the former. But how often since then I have thought, "What a nice response! `No comment'."

You see, when somebody comes and makes a pointed remark, immediately we fly to our defence, for self-justification, explaining, maybe hurting another person in order to explain.

There's one particular person at Gretz who likes to ...and at first I used to react in justification, but, over the years I simply have learned to smile and say nothing. And after all the wad had been shot (laughter) the person turns around and marches out of the room, and it's all over.

But to have responded ... Silence as a response. I would really like to recommend that as a working basis for everyday life.

Well, we have just about used our hour. I thought, in case I ran out of material - I would have to do as Swami used to tell what he had to do when he ran out of material.

Along about twenty minutes before the hour was finished he had a tendency to finish the sermon and didn't know exactly in his mind, of course, what to do for the rest of the time. And he would always explain like this: "I came to the end of my notes and I didn't know what to say next to fill the hour and I prayed to Mother, `Oh Mother, give me material!' and she did!" (laughter)

And, you see, I talked a whole hour.

Well, I guess that is how I have managed to arrive at nine o'clock.

Shall we just close with a prayer of Ramakrishna:

"Oh Mother, I don't want name and fame;

I don't want the eight occult powers;

Oh Mother,

I have no desire for creature comforts;

Please, Mother,

grant me the boon that I may have pure love

for Thy lotus feet."

 

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