What is an avatara?

22b71973b2a46a83832fe50cb188babeIn the overall scheme of things, the creation is designed to be self-maintaining, self-sustaining, and self-correcting. The universe is meant to exist. Yet it can only continue to exist if there is harmony. When the abuse of freewill creates disharmony, the potential of the self-correcting mechanism throws up a force to restore the harmony. This is how the avatara or incarnations are described in the scriptures. We also observe that this happens from time to time. It may be difficult for us to determine whether or not a given manifestation is an avatara, but we can understand the principle behind it.

Swami Viditatmananda Saraswati
Excerpts from Satasanga with Swami Viditatmananda Saraswati Vol. 1

 

 

 

 

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Surrendering to Lord – what does it mean?

gurudev (2)Surrender is a slow process

Lord Krishna says, “Draw all securities from Me.” We think we are deriving security from other people or things, but, in fact, nothing can provide us comfort or security because everything in the world is itself insecure. The Lord is the only one from whom we can get total security. That is what is meant by मत्पर: matparah. The Lord says that if you have trust and confidence in him you can never go wrong. Giving up one’s source of security becomes very difficult and painful unless one has trust and confidence in the scheme of things, in the fairness of things or in the words of the scriptures. We look upon these words of the scriptures as a valid means of knowledge and, therefore, these statements become very important to us.

In the Bhagavad Gita [18-66], Lord Krishna says,

सर्वधर्मान्परित्यज्य मामेकं शरणं व्रज |
sarvadharman-parityajya mämekami saranamı vraja, giving up all dharmas, take refuge in me alone.

What is this dharma? How does one give up dharma? In this context, dharma means agenda. Give up all agenda. Mämekami saranam vraja, take refuge in Me. By ये तु सर्वाणि कर्माणि मयि सन्न्यस्य मत्पराः। sarvani karmani mayi sannyasya matparah, the Lord means, ‘Dedicate all your actions to Me; may I be the only agenda that you have and may you surrender to me.’ This does not happen right away; it is what we need to work for in our lives. It is not possible that we can dedicate all our actions to the Lord immediately. It is a process and we slowly progress in this direction. Matparah are those who are dedicated to the Lord, devoted to the Lord, trust him, and have faith in him. Devotion calls for faith and trust.

Ananyenaiva yogena mam dhydyanta upäsate, अनन्येनैव योगेन मां ध्यायन्त उपासते meditate upon me all the time. If you have decided to follow the values, you have to meditate upon those values all the time. Every situation calls for a response and the response can be of different kinds: What is our intention in performing an action? What is our attitude? What kind of perception do we have of the other person? What kind of perception do we have of ourselves? We always have a certain perception of ourselves and of those we confront and these perceptions decide how we interact with the world. It is these perceptions that decide our values. Following a value is not confined to just a few occasions a day. It is involved in every moment of our lives.

Accepting the Lord requires the letting go of our resistance

Accepting the Lord means accepting the infinite wisdom that He represents. When we say that the whole universe is a manifestation of the Lord, it means that the whole universe is a manifestation of the knowledge, of the omniscience, of his infinite wisdom. Letting go of our limited perceptions or limited conclusions and accepting that wisdom is accepting the Lord. This is prasada-buddhis ng an action and accepting the reward as it comes; recognizing that the outcome of our actions is determined by iśvara; accepting the infinite wisdom, and letting go of any resistance to it. When the results are not favorable to us, we are apt to resist or reject them. Therefore, recognizing that the outcome of every action is in accordance with that order and accepting that it must be fair is prasada-buddhi. A large part of the worship of the Lord lies in adhering to the universal order when performing the action and in accepting the outcome of the action gracefully.

The different situations that we face are not without reason; every moment that we encounter is the outcome of an action. We do not control the outcome of an action; it is the result of prarabdha or destiny. What is destiny? It is the result of whatever we have done in the past, and it presents itself before us in the form of the various situations that we encounter in the present.

What should be our attitude towards things that we cannot control? The result of our actions, whether in the present or in the past, is one of the things that we do not control. For instance, why should a given thing happen to us? There must be some reason for that. We do not know what the reason might be. Yet we grant that there must be some reason, some fairness involved, or that there must be some benefit in it for us. Again, this is called matparah, having trust that the Lord is always our well-wisher. The Lord declares, सुहृदं सर्वभूतानां ‘suhrdam sarvabhutanam’ [Bhagavad Gita, 5-29], “I am the well wisher of all living beings.” Therefore, we need to accept the Lord as our well wisher. This will require us to let go of our resistance and give up many of our complaints and the blaming which is, again, a habit. It is the ego that is responsible for the complaining, blaming, and resisting because we always want to control everything. We want the whole world to be favorable to us. If anybody or anything is not favorable to us, we react with intolerance, impatience, anger, or frustration. Our anger and frustration only show our discomfort with the realities of life. Therefore, accepting iśvara in our lives means accepting the realities of life gracefully. It means accepting that which is determined by the omniscient Lord, who is all knowledge, power, and fairness. Thus, letting go of our resistance, letting go of our complaints, letting go of our tendency to blame, letting go of intolerance, and letting go of frustration is a great process of growth.

Pujya Swami Dayanandaji says, “I make it impossible for the world to upset me or do anything to me.” You can’t tighten a screw if there is no spiral thread on the screw. Blaming, complaining, intolerance, impatience, and non-acceptance are the ‘threads’ on our ‘screws’. The world, the order or iśvara, has an uncanny knack of tightening our screws or pushing our buttons. Isvara pushes these buttons so that we may learn something from our experiences. Every experience of frustration or disappointment can teach us something. It shows how there is a tendency on our part to resist, to not accept or to reject the reality. It challenges us to develop comfort with the realities of life. Karma-yoga is not an ordinary thing; it brings about a complete transformation.

According to Pujya Swamiji, iśvara is the greatest therapist; we should accept him as a therapist and allow him to work. In what way is he a great therapist? He pushes our buttons, often very gently. If we accept him or accept the very order, have trust in him, and give him the benefit of the doubt, we can give up our resistance, intolerance, and impatience. The ego is nothing but the product of ignorance and all these tendencies are nothing but the manifestations of that ignorance.

Swami Viditatmananda Saraswati
Satsanga with Swami Viditatmananda, Vol. 2

Vedic Marriage – a means, a sadhana साधना for self-growth!

55574f57cb3b24f23c5f160a621063d8_indian-wedding-symbols-clip-art-gallery-symbols-and-meanings_1500-1600There are many types of vivaha or weddings in the Hindu tradition. For example, the wedding of Shakuntala and Dushyanta is a gandharva-vivaha, a marriage by mutual consent, without any wedding ceremony. Many weddings in the west fall under this category. The most common wedding in the Vedic tradition, however, is the वैदिक-विवाह vaidika-vivaha, also known as the ब्रह्म-विवाह brahma-vivaha.

In this kind of wedding, typically, a number of guests are invited to attend and bless the couple. If the guests are younger than the couple, they wish them well and pray for them. If they are older, even by a day, they bless them. Everyone present at the event is a witness to the wedding, including the priests, brahmans; agni, fire, and the adityadi devatas, etc. Your hridaya, heart, and your mind also witness the wedding.

The concept of the heart and mind being a witness, here, is a reference to one’s conscience. In fact, there is no conscience other than your common sense, or knowledge of right and wrong. The ‘informed you’ is the conscious being, and that being is the witness. Finally, saksi or atma is also a witness to the wedding.

We perform certain specific rituals during the wedding ceremony. First, we perform a nandi-sradha to obtain the blessings of all our ancestors. Then we perform a dayadi homa to get the blessings of all the देवता devatas. There are many significant steps in these rituals involving the families of both the bridegroom and the bride. Their brothers and sisters are also involved in the rituals. The माङ्गल्य-धरणं mangalya-dharanam or the tying of the mangala-sutra is an important step, but is not the final ritual. It is only a prelude for what follows. The vaidika wedding is complete only after the saptapadi सप्तपदी,  the taking of seven steps by the couple. These seven steps are symbolic and very significant. They are symbolic of two people coming together, both of whom are pilgrims. You know, a pilgrim is just not a traveler. While every traveler is not a pilgrim, every pilgrim is a traveler. Someone who goes to Hawaii is not a pilgrim, but the person who goes to Jerusalem or Varanasi is a pilgrim. A pilgrim has a very sacred destination. Thus, with every step that is taken in this saptapadi, there is a prayer, “May the all-pervasive Lord Vishnu, the sustainer of everything, lead us as we take this step.”

Human life is very complex and you have to take the initiative to make it simple. Each one is born alone and walks alone, and is proceeding towards a certain destination. What can that destination be? Security is one destination and it is relative in the beginning. Only once you gain relative security, can you gain absolute security.

For example, money, a home, progeny, etc., are all forms of relative security, which give you a sense of satisfaction. This sense of satisfaction gives you a sense of growth or maturity. For instance, you gain a certain fulfillment through your children.

Everyone has an inner child that missed out on something in his or her childhood. When you become a parent, through the very process of parenting, you get back what you missed. The experience of love is the same whether you love or are loved by another person. When you think the other person loves you, it is only your guess; but, when you love, you are sure about your love. As a parent, you are certain about your love for your children. That is why when you bring up children, you find that you become a therapist for yourself. Hence, no therapists were needed in earlier days.

When you become a mother or father, you get what you missed as a child. That is what marriage is for: to help you in self-growth. You grow in a marriage; you have no choice but to grow. In this creation, which is continuously taking place, the man and the woman, two pilgrims, begin their lives together. Is there a destination? What can it be? Every self-conscious individual wants to be self-satisfied. When I don’t need to be ‘approved’ by others, I am O.K.; I have made it. I have made it when I don’t need others’ emotional support; that is growth. It is very important. Therefore, every self-conscious being has to see himself or herself as an adequate person: self-satisfied, content, and happy. That is the destination: मोक्ष moksa or freedom. To reach that final destination, there is a relative destination; growth. You have to be morally upright without any conflicts.

In the beginning, there may be conflicts, but afterwards, there will be moral uprightness without any conflict. It should become so natural to you that it is impossible for you to compromise your value structure. For this, you need to be emotionally secure.

To achieve this relative emotional security you need to fuse your ego, and for that, you require another person. You have to work with another person towards this emotional growth because when there is another person, one ego rubs another ego. If the rub is too rough, it is not good; if there is no roughness at all, it is not good either.

This is the nature of marriage. There will be some roughness, but you will have to work with it all the same because of your commitment. You have declared in front of all these witnesses that you are going to be together for life. You yourself have declared this openly, in the presence of agni and all the devatas and, therefore, you don’t have a choice. You have to work it out for yourself. For two persons to live together, it takes a certain sacrifice, a certain yielding. Nobody can sharpen a knife on a rough stone; much less, on a slab of butter! When you yield, you grow, and you become richer.

Marriage is a very significant event in one’s life. It is sacred because two separate pilgrims come together to proceed forward towards the same goal. Like two rivers that come from different sources and merge in the same ocean, these two people come together in a marriage and undertake the pilgrimage together. Therefore, marriage is not an end. If it were an end, it would end! It is a means, a sadhana, for your growth. In as much as it is a means for your growth, there is no bad marriage at all.

But, you have to make it a means. We need to grow. This growth ensures that nobody is a loser. Naturally, the couple prays to Lord Vishnu and then takes the first of the seven steps.

The first step in the saptapadi is for material wealth. The next step is for health and strength. The third step is toward wealth of all kinds, including inner wealth, and here the couple is asking for help in following dharma, for growth. The fourth step is toward mutual happiness and the fifth toward the welfare of the families. Then there is  a sixth step taken for prosperity in all seasons, and finally, the seventh step toward the happiness born of wisdom. After taking the seven steps, the bride and groom chant a mantra pledging lasting friendship, mutual respect, and harmony. Once your bride is in your home, she is your friend. In an Indian marriage, the man is typically older than his wife. Because of this, he is given respect in this relationship. In this friendship, however, neither is superior or inferior to the other.

In the final ritual, the sakhya-homa, the bridegroom chants a mantra telling the bride that he is the sËma and she is the rk, meaning that he is the lyric and she is the music, and that he is the earth and she is the heavens, and so on. The sakhya-homa is the last ritual in the wedding, but it is very important. Ultimately, a marriage is all about friendship and understanding. Finally, there is the hridaya-sparsha हृदय-स्पर्श, the ‘touching of hearts’, in which both declare, “I give my heart to you. May your mind work in consonance with mine.” This does not mean that both should think alike, but is an affirmation that each will support the other, support the other’s interest. The sakhyahoma is a wonderful assertion of eternal friendship.

From all this you can understand that you are not a mere witness in this world. You are a participant in this creation; you create; you do; you accomplish, and you have all the saktis, powers, for all this. When you participate in the creation, you are one with Ishvara and that is why the wedding is highly ritualistic. In fact, the couple is viewed as Siva and Parvati, or Narayana and Lakshmi. If you think you are Narayana or Lakshmi, you cannot have any problems with your self-image. Devo devlayah proktah देवोदेवालयप्रोक्त; the body is called the abode of the gods, देवालय devlaya. Thus, this jiva जीव is Bhagavan भगवान . Where, then, is the problem of self-esteem? Every day, we offer a bath, snana; clothing, vastra; ornaments, abharana; sandal paste, chandana; and kumkuma in worship to ईश्वर Isvara in our hearts. Ishvara is not only in our hearts, but is everywhere and is everything. Whatever we do to ourselves is an offering to God or whatever is offered to God is, in effect, given to ourselves.

Thus, these vivaha mantras are very significant and very meaningful. The two separate pilgrims, who come together in this friendship pledge to support each other and use the marriage as a means for self-growth.

Swami Dayananda Saraswati
Excerpts from Swamiji’s Discourse on Vedic Marriage

What is religion? What is God?

imagev1A huge locomotive rushes down the tracks, and a small worm that has been creeping upon one of the rails saves its life by crawling out of the path of the locomotive. Yet this little worm, so insignificant that it can be crushed in a moment, is a living something, while the locomotive, so huge, so immense, is only an engine, a machine. You see, the one has life and the other is only dead matter, and all its power and strength and speed are only those of a dead machine, a mechanical contrivance. The poor little worm which moves upon the rail and which the least touch of the engine would surely deprive of its life is a majestic being compared to that huge locomotive. It is a small part of the Infinite and therefore it is greater than the powerful engine. Why should that be so? How do we know the living from the dead? The machine mechanically performs all the movements its maker made it to perform; its movements are not those of life. How can we make the distinction between the living and the dead, then? In the living there is freedom, there is intelligence; in the dead all is bound and no freedom is possible, because there is no intelligence. This freedom that distinguishes us from mere machines is what we are all striving for. To be more free is the goal of all our efforts; for only in perfect freedom can there be perfection. This effort to attain freedom underlies all forms of worship, whether we know it or not.

If we were to examine the various sorts of worship all over the world, we would see that the crudest of mankind are worshipping ghosts, demons, and the spirits of their forefathers. Serpent-worship, worship of tribal gods, and worship of the departed ones-why do they practice all this? Because they feel that in some unknown way these beings are greater, more powerful, than themselves and so limit their freedom. They therefore seek to propitiate these beings in order to prevent them from molesting them-in other words, to get more freedom. They also seek to win favor from these superior beings, to get as a gift what ought to be earned by personal effort.

On the whole, this shows that the world is expecting a miracle. This expectation never leaves us, and however we may try, we are all running after the miraculous and extraordinary. What is mind but that ceaseless inquiry into the meaning and mystery of life? We may say that only uncultivated people are going after all these things; but the question still is there-why should it be so? The Jews were asking for a miracle. The whole world has been asking for the same thing these thousands of years.

There is, again, the universal dissatisfaction: we take up an ideal, but we have rushed only half the way after it when we take up a new one. We struggle hard to attain a certain goal and then discover we do not want it. This dissatisfaction we are experiencing time after time; and what is there in life if there is to be only dissatisfaction? What is the meaning of this universal dissatisfaction? It indicates that freedom is every man’s goal. He seeks it ever; his whole life is a struggle after it. The child rebels against law as soon as it is born. Its first utterance is a cry, a protest against the bondage in which it finds itself. This longing for freedom produces the idea of a Being who is absolutely free. The concept of God is a fundamental element in the human constitution. Sat-Chit-Ananda सत्-चित्-आनन्द, Existence-Knowledge-Bliss, is, in Vedanta, the highest concept of God possible to the mind. It is by its nature the Essence of Knowledge and the Essence of Bliss. We have been stifling that inner voice, seeking to follow law and suppress our true nature; but there is that human instinct to rebel against nature’s laws.

We may not understand what all this means; but there is that unconscious struggle of the human with the spiritual, of the lower with the higher mind, and through this struggle we attempt to preserve our separate life, what we call our “individuality.” Even hell illustrates this miraculous fact that we are born rebels. Against the inevitable facts of life we rebel and cry out, “No law for us!” As long as we obey the laws we are like machines; and the universe goes on and we cannot change it. Laws become man’s nature. The first inkling of life on its higher level is in seeing this struggle within us to break the bonds of nature and to be free. “Freedom, oh, freedom! Freedom, oh, freedom!” is the song of the soul. Bondage, alas-to be bound in nature-seems its fate.

Why should there be serpent-worship or ghost-worship or demon-worship and all the various creeds and forms for the obtaining of miracles? Why do we say that there is life, there is being, in anything? There must be a meaning in all this search, this endeavor to understand life, to explain being. It is not meaningless and vain. It is man’s ceaseless endeavor to become free. The knowledge which we now call science has been struggling for thousands of years in its attempt to gain freedom, and people still ask for freedom. Yet there is no freedom in nature. It is all law. Still the struggle goes on. Nay, the whole of nature, from the very sun down to the atoms, is under law, and even for man there is no freedom. But we cannot believe it. We have been studying laws from the beginning and yet cannot-nay, will not-believe that man is under law. The soul Cries ever, “Freedom, oh, freedom!”

With the conception of God as a perfectly free Being, man cannot rest eternally in this bondage. Higher he must go, and were the struggle not for freedom he would think it too severe. Man says to himself: “I am a born slave, I am bound; nevertheless there is a Being who is not bound by nature. He is free and the Master of nature.” The conception of God, therefore, is as essential and as fundamental a part of the mind as is the idea of bondage. Both are the outcome of the idea of freedom. There cannot be life, even in the plant, without the idea of freedom. In the plant or in the worm, life has to rise to the concept of individuality; it is there, unconsciously working. The plant lives in order to preserve a principle; it is not simply nature. The idea of nature’s cone trolling every step onward overrules the idea of freedom. Onward goes the material world, onward moves the idea of freedom. Still the fight goes on. We are hearing about all the quarrels of creeds and sects; yet creeds and sects are just and proper; they must be there. They no doubt lengthen the chain, and naturally the struggle increases; but there will be no quarrels if we only know that we are all striving to reach the same goal.

The embodiment of freedom, the Master of nature, is what we call God! You cannot deny Him. No, because you cannot move or live without the idea of freedom.

Swami Vivekananda
Excerpts from: Vivekananda The Yoga and Other Works

What is this Atman आत्मन्, which is neither the body nor the mind?

swamijiWhat is the force which manifests itself through the body? It is obvious to all of us, whatever that force be, that it is something which takes particles up as it were, and creates forms out of them-human bodies. None else comes here to manipulate bodies for you and me. I never saw anybody eat food for me. I have to assimilate it, manufacture blood and bones and everything out of that food. What is this mysterious force? Ideas about the future and about the past seem to be terrifying to many. To many they seem to be mere speculation. We will take the present as our theme. What is this force which is now working through us?

We know how in olden times, in all the ancient scriptures, this power, this manifestation of power, was thought to be a bright substance having the form of this body, which remained even after the body fell. Later on, however, we find a higher idea coming: that this bright body did not represent the force, whatsoever has form, it was discovered, must be the result of combinations of particles and requires something else behind it to move it. If this body requires something which is not the body to manipulate it, the bright body, by the same necessity, will also require something other than itself to manipulate it. That something was called the Soul – the Atman आत्मन् – in Sanskrit. It was the Atman which through the bright body, as it were, worked on the gross body outside. The bright body is considered as the receptacle of the mind, and the Atman is beyond that. It is not even the mind; it works the mind, and through the mind, the body. You have an Atman, I have another; each one of us has a separate Atman and a separate tine body, and through that we work on the gross external body. Questions were then asked about this Atman, about its nature. What is this Atman, this Soul of man, which is neither the body nor the mind? Great discussions followed. Speculations were made, various shades of philosophic inquiry came into existence. I shall try to place before you some of the conclusions that have been reached about this Atman.

The different philosophies seem to agree that this Atman, whatever it may be, has neither form nor shape; and that which has neither form nor shape must be omnipresent. Time begins with mind; space also is in the mind. Causation cannot stand without time-without the idea of succession there cannot be any idea of causation. Time, space, and causation, therefore, are in the mind; and as this Atman is beyond the mind and formless, it must be beyond time, beyond space, and beyond causation. Now, if it is beyond time, space, and causation, it must be infinite. Then comes the highest speculation in our philosophy. The infinite cannot be two. If the Soul be infinite, there can be only one Soul, and all ideas of various souls-of your having one soul, and I having another, and so forth-are not real. The Real Man therefore is one and infinite, the omnipresent Spirit. And the apparent man is only a limitation of that Real Man. In that sense the mythologies are true in saying that the apparent man, however great he may be, is only a dim reflection of the Real Man, who is beyond. The Real Man, the Spirit, being beyond cause and effect, not bound by time and space, must therefore be free. He was never bound and could not be bound. The apparent man, the reflection, is limited by time, space, and causation, and is therefore bound. Or in the language of some of our philosophers, he appears to be bound but really is not. This is the reality behind our souls, this omnipresence, this spiritual nature, this infinity. Every soul is infinite. Therefore, there no question of birth and death.

Swami Vivekananda
Excerpts from The Real Nature of Man, Jnana-Yoga

Religion begins with this question and ends with its answer!

Swami-VivekanandaGreat is the tenacity with which man clings to the senses. Yet however substantial he may think the external world in which he lives and moves, there comes a time in the lives of individuals and of races when involuntarily they ask, “Is this real?” To the person who never finds a moment to question the credentials of his senses, whose every moment is occupied with some sort of sense enjoyment-even to him death comes, and he also is compelled to ask, “Is this real?” Even in the remote past, where recorded history cannot help us-in the mysterious light of mythology, back in the dim twilight of civilization-we find that the same question was asked: “What becomes of this? What is real?”

One of the most poetical of the Upanishads, the Katha Upanishad, begins with the inquiry: “When a man dies, there is a dispute: one party declares that he has gone forever; the other insists that he is still living. Which is the truth?” Various answers have been given. The whole sphere of metaphysics, philosophy, and religion is really filled with various answers to this question. At the same time, attempts have been made to suppress it, to put a stop to the unrest of the mind, which asks: “What is beyond? What is real?” But so long as death remains, all these attempts at suppression will prove unsuccessful. We may talk about seeing nothing beyond and keeping all our hopes and aspirations confined to the present moment, and struggle hard not to think of anything beyond the world of the senses. And perhaps everything outside may help to keep us limited within its narrow bounds; the whole world may combine to prevent us from broadening out beyond the present. Yet, so long as there is death, the question must come again and again: “Is death the end of all these things to which we are clinging, as if they were the most real of all realities, the most substantial of all substances?” The world vanishes in a moment and is gone. Standing on the brink of a precipice beyond which is the infinite, yawning chasm, every mind, however hardened, is bound to recoil and ask, “Is this real?” The hopes of a lifetime, built up little by little with all the energies of a great mind, vanish in a second. Are they real? This question must be answered. Time never lessens its power; on the contrary it adds strength to it.

Swami Vivekananda
Excerpts from Vivekananda Yoga and Other Works

Why does man look for a God? What is the utility of this knowledge?

UntitledWhat are these ideas of religion and God and searching for the hereafter? Why does man look for a God? Why does man, in every nation, in every state of society, want a perfect ideal somewhere, either in man, in God, or elsewhere? Because that idea is within you. It was your own heart beating and you did not know; you were mistaking it for something external. It is the God within your own self that is impelling you to seek Him, to realize Him. After long searches here and there, in temples and in Churches, on earth and in heaven, at last you come back to your own soul, completing the circle from where you started, and find that He whom you have been seeking all over the world, for whom you have been weeping and praying in churches and temples, on whom you were looking as the mystery of all mysteries, shrouded in the clouds, is the nearest of the near, is your own Self,1 the reality of your life, body, and soul.

That Self is your own nature. Assert It, manifest It. You are not to become pure; you are pure already. You are not to become perfect; you are that already. Nature is like a screen which is hiding the reality beyond. Every good thought that you think or act upon simply tears the veil, as it were, and the Purity, the infinity, the God behind, is manifested more and more. This is the whole history of man. Finer and finer becomes the veil, more and more of the light behind shines forth; for it is its nature to shine.

That Self cannot be known; in vain we try to know It. Were It knowable, It would not be what It is; for It is the eternal Subject. Knowledge is a limitation; knowledge is an objectification. It is the eternal Subject of everything, the eternal Witness of this universe your own Self. Knowledge is, as it Were, a lower step, a degeneration. We are that eternal Subject already; how can we know It?

The infinite Self is the real nature of every man, and he is struggling to express It in various ways. Otherwise, why are there so many ethical codes? Where is the explanation of all ethics? One idea stands out as the center of all ethical systems, expressed in various forms-namely, doing good to others. The guiding motive of mankind should be charity towards men, charity towards all animals. But these are all various expressions of that eternal truth that “I am the universe; this universe is one.” Or else, where is the explanation? Why should I do good to my fellow men? Why should I do good to others? What compels me? It is sympathy, the feeling of sameness everywhere. The hardest hearts sometimes feel sympathy for other beings. Even the man who gets frightened if he is told that this assumed individuality is really a delusion, that it is ignoble to try to cling to this apparent individuality-that very man will tell you that extreme self-abnegation is the center of all morality. And what is perfect self-abnegation? It means the abnegation of this apparent self, the abnegation of all selfishness.

This idea of “me” and “mine” – ahankara अहङ्कार and mamata ममता – is the result of past superstition, and the more this present self passes away, the more the Real Self becomes manifest. This is true self-abnegation, the center, the basis, the gist of all moral teaching, and whether man knows it or not, the whole world is slowly going towards it, practicing it more or less. Only, the vast majority of mankind are doing it unconsciously. Let them do it consciously. Let them make the sacrifice, knowing that this “me” and “mine” is not the Real Self, but only a limitation. But one glimpse of that infinite Reality which is behind, but one spark of that infinite Fire which is the All, represents the present man. The Infinite is his true nature.

What is the utility, the effect, the result of this knowledge? In these days we have to measure everything by utility-by how many pounds, shillings, and pence it represents. What right has a person to ask that truth should be judged by the standard of utility or money? Suppose there is no utility, will it be less true? Utility is not the test of truth. Nevertheless, there is the highest utility in this. Happiness, we see, is what everyone is seeking for; but the majority seek it in things which are evanescent and not real. No happiness was ever found in the senses. There never was a person who found happiness in the senses or in enjoyment of the senses. Happiness is found only in the Spirit. Therefore, the highest utility for mankind is to find this happiness in the Spirit.

The next point is that ignorance is the great mother of all misery, and the fundamental ignorance is to think that the Infinite weeps and cries, that It is finite. This is the basis of all ignorance-that we, the immortal, the ever pure, the perfect Spirit, think we are little minds, we are little bodies. It is the mother of all selfishness. As soon as I think I am a little body, I want to preserve it, to protect it, to keep it nice, at the expense of other bodies. Then you and 1 become separate. As soon as this idea of separation comes, it opens the door to all mischief and leads to all misery. This, then, is the utility of this knowledge -that if a small fractional part of the human beings living today can put aside the idea of selfishness, narrowness, and littleness, this earth will become a paradise tomorrow. But with machines and improvements of material knowledge only, it will never be so. These only increase misery, as oil poured on fire increases the flame all the more. Without the knowledge of the Spirit, all material knowledge is only adding fuel to fire, only giving into the hands of selfish man one more instrument to take what belongs to others, to live upon the life of others instead of giving up his life for them.

Is it practical, is another question. Can it be practiced in modern society? Truth does not pay homage to any society, ancient or modern. Society has to pay homage to truth or die. Societies should be molded upon truth; truth has not to adjust itself to society. If such a noble truth as un-selfishness cannot be practiced in society, it is better for a man to give up society and go into the forest. That is the daring man.

Swami Vivekananda
Excerpts from Jnana Yoga

What is Japa? A form of prayer, meditation and contemplation.

Swami Dayanand JiJapa जप  is the repetition of a word or short sentence during the practice of meditation. The letter pa stands for that which removes or destroys all impurities and obstructions and the letter ja stands for that which puts an end to the cycle of birth and death. Therefore, japa is an indirect means for liberation, moksa. By destroying the varieties of obstructions to knowledge, japa paves the way for liberation. Japa, then, is more than a mere discipline or technique.

Unpredictability of Our Thoughts

At any given time, you have only one thought and what your next thought will be is anyone’s guess. But when the next thought does occur, it will have done so because of some logic. There is no thought without a certain connection to the preceding thought. This connection may be flimsy or it may be very clear and logical. But the thought itself is never predictable.

Even now, I cannot predict what I am going to say. I simply said I would talk on japa, and I started. Even the words I am saying right now were not known to me. What is going to come is unpredictable, but when it does come, it has a logic, a reason.

“BMW THINKING”

Suppose you see a BMW on the road and it draws your attention. What will your next thought be?

“How can he afford it?”

And then:

“A person I work with just bought a new BMW. How can he afford such an expensive car? Last year he did not even have a job. His wife must have a lot of money. I wish my wife had a rich family. When I got married I did not think about money or my future.”

All these thoughts started from seeing a BMW and they follow a certain logic. This particular sequence is only one line of thinking. Let us look at another one:

“The German people are quite industrious. Even though their country was devastated during World War II, their economy rebounded quickly. They produce the best scientific equipment in the world.”

Where did we start? From BMW. What will come after BMW is anyone’s guess. Even in deliberate thinking you do not know what is coming next because thinking is always linear, one step at a time, one thought at a time. The connection between the thoughts can either be a logical, syntactical connection within a sentence or a simple association. But there will always be a connection, be it weak or strong.

In “BMW thinking,” the connection between thoughts is not a deliberate one. Therefore, the next thought can be anything. The sky is the limit. “The BMW emblem is different. It is not like the Mercedes insignia.” The Mercedes insignia makes you think of a star and then your next thought may be, “My astrological sign is not favorable.” This movement from one thought to the next is listless thinking, a meandering of thoughts in which there is no direction.

Listless Thinking

In listless thinking, although there is no direction, there is always some logic, some connection. It may be a simple rhyme, one word reminding you of another, or a variety of other possible connections. The one invariable is that, at any given time, there is always one thought or another in your mind.

In listless thinking, just as in deliberate thinking, you do not know what your next thought will be. But, in japa, you know what is coming next. The japa can be a word, a short sentence, a section of a Veda, or even a whole Veda, but, to be a japa, it must be repeated.

If you are repeating a word or short sentence you are sure about what is supposed to come next. If something else comes, you know you are off track. In “BMW thinking,” however, to think of Germany and then of a Mercedes or anything else is not to go off track because there is no track. Such thinking just happens. This is what is meant by listless thinking. There is no direction to it.

We really do not have a method to learn about our minds. We only know that we are subjected to a particular type of thinking. For example, we get into a reverie until something arrests our attention and only then do we come back.

Japa as a Technique

Exercising one’s choice is very important in japa. If I choose to mentally chant a word or sentence for a length of time, then I have a technique in hand and can see what happens in my mind.

In japa, I know exactly what is to come next. If something else pops up, I know this is not what is expected and I bring back the chosen thought. In the process I learn how to dismiss unwanted thoughts and retain the one I have chosen. This is one important result of japa as a technique.

As a technique, any word will work. You do not require the Lord’s name or a “spiritual” mantra. Anything can be a mantra, like gring…gring…gring…gring…gring…gring…gring. If you keep on repeating this sound, it will work. An extraneous thought will eventually come, like “What makes this kind of noise?” ”A bagpipe may be the response. Then you may ask, “What does a bagpipe have to do with my japa?” By returning to the sound, the bagpipe thought is dismissed.

In this way, japa works as a technique for gaining some mental discipline. However, japa is something more than the mere chanting of a sound. In repeating a given chant, you give yourself an occasion to see the ways of your own thinking. This repetition becomes a technique for keeping your mind directed fog a length of time – and it can also help the mind gain a certain depth.

Interval between Thoughts

The advantage of repetition is that we can appreciate the interval between two successive occupations of the mind. In “BMW thinking,” listless thinking with no direction, the mind simply moves from one thought to another. This type of thinking is like picking up noodles. If you try to pick up one noodle, you find it coming along with a few others. Similarly, the whole occupation of thinking becomes “as though” a single thought; even though there are many thoughts.

Between two thoughts there is an interval. BMW is the name of a vehicle and Germany is the name of a country. Because there is a connection between the two, the interval between them is missed. Repeating a given chant eliminates or avoids the connection between two thoughts because, between one chant and another, there is’ no connection.

Each chant is a complete unit in itself and one thought unit is not connected to the second thought unit since both are the same. Thus, between two chants, there is a period: chant…period…chant…period. There is no comma, only a period, a full stop. Therefore, each chant is complete, and between chants, the interval is available for you to recognize.

Peace of Mind: Is it Natural or do we have to Acquire it?

What is it that obtains in the interval between chants? Between one thought with a certain form and sound and the next thought, there is no given thought. There is only an interval with no form or shape. This is what we call peace or silence. Because this silence has no particular thought form, there is no thinking as We know it.

We always think that peace is something we have to acquire. Because the mind is restless, we think that peace is something new that we have to acquire, an attribute with which we have to embellish the mind. Is peace something we have to acquire or is it natural?

Restless Requires a Build up.

For peace, what do you have to do? For restlessness, you have to work; you have to create a buildup because, without one, you can never become restless. The problem is that this buildup is not something that we do consciously. It gets built up, like a wall erecting itself. Suppose you have a pile of bricks and they just assemble themselves into a wall. You would consider it a miracle, but you do not consider a buildup of thoughts a miracle because it is always happening. It is a miracle, however, because it just happens. That it just builds itself up and you have no say over it is truly amazing.

There is a helplessness in the whole process. Something triggers off a buildup; it may be a simple hormonal change, indigestion, someone’s look, a frown, a change of weather, or any number of other things. Any one thing is good enough-you may be combing your hair and a few hairs come out! Any event that you do not accept starts it off and then your mind is busy for the entire day.

Restlessness requires a buildup to which I, myself, am not a party. And yet the buildup is mine. I do not look upon it as different from myself. I see myself fuming and do not know what to do. I have to do something about it because, although I am not a party to it, I am completely involved in it.

Why is it that I cannot keep track of this thought buildup? This is because the whole habit of thinking has been “noodle thinking.” associative or nondirectional thinking. It is not “peanut thinking” where. as in eating peanuts, you take one peanut. then another peanut, and then another. It is all “noodle thinking” and, in fact, is the most common type of thinking.

The very beginning of such thinking is an association of “I.” Without that, the thoughts would not begin. Because of its association with “I,” there is no question of my being aware of the first thought because I am taken over at the outset by the thinking itself. I become the very thought and the thought becomes me.

An Occupation for the Mind

I can give the mind a meaningful occupation wherein chain thinking is broken. Then the interval that obtains between successive thoughts can reveal a great fact about myself-that I am the silence that obtains between two thoughts.

Logically, we can see how restlessness requires a buildup, whereas peace is something very natural for which we need not do anything. We do not create peace; we create only restlessness.

In japa, you deliberately create a thought. Because you have a will, you can choose. In this way, you become the author of a given thought. A specific thought is created by you because you choose it, whereas the silence that ensues is not created by you. In fact, the silence is the basis of all thought.

In the text, Panchadasi, the mind is likened to a dancer on a lighted stage. The dancer portrays a variety of aesthetic sentiments–love, helplessness, anger, cruelty, wonderment, fright. The light on the stage lights up the dancer with all of her moods and changes and when she makes her exit, it lights up the empty stage. The dancer may be performing various dance forms, or may not be on the stage at all, yet the light remains un-involved. It merely illumines.

The light itself is not a “doer,” much less an “enjoy-er,” of the dance. Nor does it light up the stage as one of its jobs. The nature of light is to illumine and it illumines; the verb “illumines” involves no action or motive on the part of the light. Therefore, the light has no doer-ship. Similarly, when I have a thought and the thought goes away, what remains is silence, which is likened to the empty stage without a dancer.

The Nature of Thought and Silence

Absence of thought is generally looked upon as peace, something to be achieved. Thought can be suppressed or negated by certain external means, such as the practice of breath control.

When you retain the breath, you cannot think. Try. Hold your nose and try to think. You cannot. Your only thought is to breathe!

Here, however, we are not interested in the absence of thought but in understanding the nature of thought and silence. The whole approach, therefore, is cognitive. Thought sometimes happens without my sanction and sometimes it happens with my sanction. In japa. thought is deliberate; it occurs with my sanction. And when the thought goes, I understand its absence as the nature of silence.

I am Silence

What I experience, or am aware of, between two thoughts is silence. If I see the silence after every thought, should I take myself to be the thought or should I take myself to be the silence? Thought arises and thought falls. Before the rise of the thought I am silence and after the departure of the thought I am silence. I am silence first and I am silence last. Thus, in spite of thoughts, I am silence.

The practice of japa does not give me this understanding. But, by doing japa, I create a situation wherein something that is understood is understood more clearly. In spite of thoughts I understand that I am silence.

In “BMW thinking,” you jump from one thought to another. You hold onto the second thought and leave the first. And you hold onto the third and leave the second. The lingering content of the first thought connects you to the next thought. This connection causes you to catch the second thought and leave the first. Thus, we go from BMW to Germany. Germany takes you to World War 11. World War takes you to Pearl Harbor. Pearl Harbor takes you to Hawaii. Hawaii takes you to the beach. The beach takes you to melanoma and you become sad. This is how the mind works. If you catch one thought, it means the previous one is gone because the two thoughts have nothing to do with each other.

I call this type of thinking “monkey thinking,” the mind being very much like a monkey who leaps from tree to tree. One tree may be an evergreen and the next a maple tree. The monkey just goes from one to the other. Similarly, one’s mind jumps from thought to thought and there is no control over the ways of one’s thinking. In this kind of chain thinking, one cannot arrive at the gap, the interval, that exists between thoughts.

In India there is a tree called the areca tree, from which we get the betel nut. Like a palm tree, it is very thin and fibrous and tapers at the top. Looking at the tree you may think it would break if you climbed it, but it will not. A man who goes up one of these trees to gather the small fruits at the top does not need to come down and climb another tree. Instead, by bending the tree with his own body weight, he catches hold of the next tree. In this way, he moves from tree to tree gathering fruit. Only after picking the fruit from the last tree in the garden does he come down.

This is exactly what we do in our thinking. From one thought, BMW, you catch Germany, then you catch World War 11, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and the beach. Then you catch melanoma and worry about the new mole you have: “I’d better consult a doctor. Suppose it is cancer. How will I be able to handle it?” All of these problems started from BMW. This is like walking upon thoughts. You never get to the ground.

There is another tree, the coconut tree that, unlike the areca tree, cannot be bent without breaking. Thus a man picking coconuts must return to the ground before climbing the next tree. Japa is like this. You get to the ground-not after a length of time, but immediately. You chant and, like coconut-tree climbing, you come down. You chant. You come down. Chant…come down…chant…come down. In this type of chanting, being aware of the interval is as important as the chant because it is the interval that reveals your true nature-silence, awareness.

Once a person is committed to mentally repeating a given chant, his or her mind automatically goes to japa whenever it is free. Just as water draining from the mountains creates new ravines, a new track is created towards which the mind repeatedly goes. In this way, japa becomes a way of keeping the mind meaningfully occupied. As well as . being a useful activity, it is also a prayerful one.

Eventually, a time comes when the mind enjoys a certain composure. Because you appreciate that any distraction or agitation is transitory, you do not come under its spell. A mind that knows this has a ‘certain depth, a certain tranquility, even before such agitation , begins. In conjunction with the vision of the teaching that you are the whole, japa is very effective. Even without any exposure to Vedanta, japa is beneficial in that it keeps the mind meaningfully occupied.

Being Aware of the silence.

Japa is a tool that enables you to negate any distracting or improper thought by replacing it with the chosen chant. It gives you an occasion to eliminate chain thinking and to be aware of the interval, the silence, between thoughts. This is why I refer to japa as a discipline.

In keeping with the teaching, you understand this silence as something natural. You also develop the capacity to nip in the bud any thought you do not care to have. In all these ways, then, japa is helpful in gaining mastery over your mind.

Sound as a Technique

A common practice among many meditators, in the west is to chant invocatory syllables called bija-akasaras बीज-अक्षर, Srim, Hrim श्रिम्, ह्रिम् traditionally used to invoke certain deities for purposes of meditation. When these sounds or any other single syllable wads. such as Ram and Syam are chanted. the mind is naturally going to have a particular occupation. Because the chant is repetitive. chain thinking as eliminated.

That any sound will work as a technique was demonstrated by one scientist using a meaningless sound and recording changes in various human functions. While the subject chanted this sound, his thought processes and metabolism slowed down significantly. His blood pressure also came down and his heart beat rhythmically.

Since the person was sitting quietly, his mind occupied with the repetition of the meaningless sound, these findings are not surprising. Had he thought of some problem he was having, he would have begun to fume and his heartbeat would naturally have increased. Based on the results of his study,. the scientist wrote a paper in which he concluded that a special chant or mantra is not required and that the repetition of any sound, even a meaningless sound, could produce the benefits he had recorded.

As a technique, any sound that is repeated will work in the same way as any other sound. But in what way will it work? For some time, no doubt, the body and the mind will be quieter. But, then, you may become amused that you are sitting and chanting a meaningless sound. Is it not amusing to set aside a time each day to chant gring…gring…gring so seriously?

I know I would be amused. Something would tell me, “Idiot! What are you doing?” Then I would say, “Be quiet. You are always criticizing. You don’t believe in anything. Keep chanting.” Again, gring…gring…gring. “What is this gring?” someone would ask from inside. “It’s a meaningless sound,” would come the reply.

Then, “A meaningless sound? Why are you chanting a meaningless sound?”

“It’s called…Be quiet. I told you not to criticize.”

Gring…gring…gring…gring…gring. Then again from inside, “Did you pay for this? Why don’t you change gring into zring or some other sound?” Why not?”

“Be quiet! This sound was specially chosen for me.” Gring… gring…gring. It would be very difficult for me to chant this meaningless sound.

Anything you do should be meaningful. It is very difficult, therefore, to seriously sit and chant a meaningless sound. You may not know the proper meaning of a chant, but you need to know that it is meaningful. If it is the Lord’s name, you may not understand its full meaning, but because you know it means the Lord, you have enough understanding to chant it seriously.

A meaningful chant

If a sound that has no meaning is chanted, it can serve as a technique. And, for the purposes I have mentioned, it looks as though any chant will work. But all sounds you repeat will not work because you cannot give meaning to a chant that is meaningless and, therefore, you cannot be serious about it.

Suppose, however, you chant a word that does have a meaning, like carrot: carrot… carrot… carrot…  carrot… carrot. Or; zucchini… zucchini…zucchini…zucchini. We have varieties of meaningful words, even the word cookie: cookie…cookie…cookie. Why not? Any meaningful word is definitely a step ahead of a meaningless word, but something more is required for it to work as a japa. A meaningless word will not bring anything to your mind and a meaningful word will cause your mind to be full of carrots, zucchinis, cookies, or whatever. Therefore, neither of these kinds of words will work.

A Meaningful word that Covers the Whole Creation

Instead, you choose one meaningful word that covers the whole creation, a word that is not one of the many objects in the world. A meaningless sound does not indicate any object, whereas a meaningful sound includes everything without indicating any one object. Since all objects are included in the form of the Lord, nothing is omitted when you repeat the Lord’s name.

In this way, the meaningful chant becomes all-inclusive. All words are included in one chosen word. All names in all languages are also included. You can say Siva, Rama, Krsna, Jesus, or Allah, but in your mind the word Chosen should stand for everything. Because the word does not stand for any one thing, you will not be reminded of a given object when you chant it.

A Word You can Relate to.

You are related to the Lord whose name you repeat. As a devotee you are related, the relationship being between the devotee and the altar of your devotion alone. One recognizes the Lord in a given name or, recognizing the Lord, a name is given. That name can be given traditionally or by education.

If it is traditionally given, the word and the Lord are already bridged in your psyche. This bridge is a blessing because the word immediately strikes in your mind as the Lord. Whether by tradition or by education, the word and its meaning must become connected in your mind.

To the meaning of a word known to you as the Lord, you are a devotee. The devotee is the fundamental person who assumes a variety of relative roles such as father, mother, wife, husband, brother, and sister. If you are an individual, you are first related to the total and, only afterwards, are you related individually.

I am Related to the Total

Individuality is possible only when I carve myself out as an entity from the total. The one who identifies with a given physical body-mind-sense complex is an individual. The individual is naturally related to the total because, from this total alone, he or she is carved out as an entity, just as a tree has an individuality carved out from the total, the forest. The forest includes the tree, but the tree does not include the forest.

In this way, there is an individual and his or her Lord is the total. The Lord is a being and I am a being. The Lord is looked upon by me as omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. Thus, as an individual, my relationship with the total is fundamental, the total being the basis for the individual.

This individual entity is also related, but relatively, to all other individuals with whom he or she comes in contact—parents, aunts and uncles, husband or wife, children, neighbors, friends. And who is the person who is related? The person is fundamentally a devotee and this devotee is related to another person by assuming the role of son or daughter, sister or brother, niece or nephew, parent, and so on. Therefore, one becomes a devotee son or daughter, a devotee wife or husband, a devotee mother or father, a devotee friend, a devotee employee or employer, a devotee thinker, and a devotee seer.

Invoking the Devotee in You

The devotee, then, becomes fundamental. It is the devotee that is invoked when one repeats the name of the Lord, the name being not separate from the meaning. When the word is repeated, the meaning naturally strikes.

Once you know the meaning of any word, you cannot separate the word from its meaning. For example, try repeating the word “car” without thinking of a car. It is impossible. A word and its meaning are inseparable.

Because I am related in this form to the meaning of the name of the Lord, the total, I naturally do not chant as a husband or wife, aunt or uncle, cousin, son or daughter. Thus, I am free from the distractions of these relative roles.

If a person chants as a father, he will have a lot of problems. Suppose, being a devotee of Siva, he named his son Subrahmanya, Subbu for short. Subrahmanya 1s the name of Siva‘s son. Therefore, when the father repeats Lord Siva’s name, what happens? Subbu comes into his mind, the one who does not study as he should. Because of this Siva-Subbu association all kinds of agitations will come. Thus if the father chants, Subbu will definitely come-along with all of the fatherly concerns.

Suppose, however, the devotee is invoked by the same person, then the Lord and the simple relationship between them is recognized. The devotee alone is there when the person-chants, the role of father being relegated to a relative role assumed by the devotee. In the devotee-Lord relationship there will be none of the distractions attached to the relative roles assumed by the devotee.

Japa is a Metal Prayer

A japa is a word, sentence, or group of sentences, whose meaning is the Lord, wherein the individual invokes or salutes a certain deity as the Lord. It is neither a meaningless sound nor does it denote a certain object, like zucchini. Its meaning is the Lord, through which the devotee is invoked.

Therefore, japa not only serves as a technique but as a mental prayer. Only when the repetition is a mental prayer is it called japa. Japa is recognized as an indirect means for gaining liberation because it destroys all obstructions and impurities, thereby preparing the mind for the knowledge that is liberation.

In the tenth chapter of the Bhagavada Gita (10.25) Lord Krsna says, “There are many forms of rituals and many means through which ‘I am invoked, but among them I am japa.

यज्ञानां जपयज्ञोऽस्मि !!
yajñānāṁ japa-yajño smi!!

Swami Dayananda Saraswati
Excerpts from Japa

Why does man look for a God? Why should I do good to others? What compels me? What is the utility, of this knowledge?

swamijiWhat are these ideas of religion and God and searching for the hereafter? Why does man look for a God? Why does man, in every nation, in every state of society, want a perfect ideal somewhere, either in man, in God, or elsewhere? Because that idea is within you. It was your own heart beating and you did not know; you were mistaking it for something external. It is the God within your own self that is impelling you to seek Him, to realize Him. After long searches here and there, in temples and in Churches, on earth and in heaven, at last you come back to your own soul, completing the circle from where you started, and find that He whom you have been seeking all over the world, for whom you have been weeping and praying in churches and temples, on whom you were looking as the mystery of all mysteries, shrouded in the clouds, is the nearest of the near, is your own Self, the reality of your life, body, and soul.

That Self is your own nature. Assert It, manifest It. You are not to become pure; you are pure already. You are not to become perfect; you are that already. Nature is like a screen which is hiding the reality beyond. Every good thought that you think or act upon simply tears the veil, as it were, and the Purity, the Infinity, the God behind, is manifested more and more. This is the whole history of man. Finer and finer becomes the veil, more and more of the light behind shines forth; for it is its nature to shine. That Self cannot be known; in vain we try to know It. Were It knowable, It would not be what It is; for It is the eternal Subject. Knowledge is a limitation; knowledge is an objectification. It is the eternal Subject of everything, the eternal witness of this universe-your own Self. Knowledge is, as it were, a lower step, a degeneration. We are that eternal Subject already; how can we know It?

The infinite Self is the real nature of every man, and he is struggling to express It in various ways. Otherwise, why are there so many ethical codes? Where is the explanation of all ethics? One idea stands out as the center of all ethical systems, expressed in various forms-namely, doing good to others. The guiding motive of mankind should be charity towards men, charity towards all animals. But these are all various expressions of that eternal truth that “I am the universe; this universe is one.” Or else, where is the explanation? Why should I do good to my fellow men? Why should I do good to others? What compels me? It is sympathy, the feeling of sameness everywhere. The hardest hearts sometimes feel sympathy for other beings. Even the man who gets frightened if he is told that this assumed individuality is really a delusion, that it is ignoble to try to cling to this apparent individuality-that very man will tell you that extreme self-abnegation is the center of all morality. And what is perfect self-abnegation? It means the abnegation of this apparent self, the abnegation of all selfishness.

This idea of “me” and “mine”- ahamkara अहंकार and mamata ममता -is the result of past superstition, and the more this present self passes away, the more the Real Self becomes manifest. This is true self-abnegation, the center, the basis, the gist of all moral teaching, and whether man knows it or not, the whole world is slowly going towards it, practicing it more or less. Only, the vast majority of mankind are doing it unconsciously. Let them do it consciously. Let them make the sacrifice, knowing that this “me” and “mine” is not the Real Self, but only a limitation. But one glimpse of that infinite Reality which is behind, but one spark of that infinite Fire which is the All, represents the present man. The Infinite is his true nature.

What is the utility, the effect, the result of this knowledge? In these days We have to measure everything by utility-by how many pounds, shillings, and pence it represents. What right has a person to ask that truth should be judged by the standard of utility or money? Suppose there is no utility, will it be less true? Utility is not the test of truth. Nevertheless, there is the highest utility in this. Happiness, we see, is what everyone is seeking for; but the majority seek it in things which are evanescent and not real. No happiness was ever found in the senses. There never was a person who found happiness in the senses or in enjoyment of the senses. Happiness is found only in the Spirit. Therefore the highest utility for mankind is to find this happiness in the Spirit.

Swami Vivekananda
Excerpts from Vivekananda The Yoga and Other Works

We all understand that desires are wrong; but what is meant by giving up desires? How could life go on?

swamiji

This is what Vedanta teaches: Give up the world which you have conjectured, because your conjecture was based upon a very partial experience, upon very poor reasoning, and upon your own weaknesses. Give it up. The world we have been thinking of so long, the world we have been clinging to so long, is a false world of our own creation. Give that up. Open your eyes and see that, as such, it never existed; it was a dream, maya. What existed was the Lord Himself. It is He who is in the child, in the wife, and in the husband; it is He who is in the good and in the bad. He is in the sin and in the sinner; He is in life and in death.

A tremendous assertion indeed! Yet that is the theme which Vedanta wants to demonstrate, to teach, and to preach. This is just the opening theme. We avoid the dangers of life and its evils by seeing God in everything. Do not desire anything. What makes us miserable? The cause of all the miseries from which we suffer is desire. You desire something, and the desire is not fulfilled; the result is distress. If there is no desire, there is no suffering. But here, too, there is the danger of my being misunderstood. So it is necessary to explain what I mean by giving up desire and becoming free from all misery. The walls have no desires and they never suffer. True, but they never evolve. This chair has no desires; it never suffers; but it is always a chair. There is a glory in happiness; here is a glory in suffering. If I may say so, there is a utility in evil too. The great lesson in misery we all know. There are hundreds of things we have done in our lives which we wish we had never done, but which, at the same time, have been great teachers. As for me, I am glad I have done something good and many things bad; glad I have done something right, and glad I have committed many errors; because every one of them has been a great lesson. I, as I am now, am the resultant of all I have done, all I have thought. Every action and thought have had their effect, and these effects are the sum total of my progress.

We all understand that desires are wrong; but what is meant by giving up desires? How could life go on? It would be the same suicidal advice, killing the desire and the man too. The solution is this: not that you should not have property, not that you should not have things which are necessary and even things which are luxuries-have all that you want, and more; only know the truth about property: that it does not belong to anybody. Have no idea of proprietorship, possession. You are not anybody, nor am I anybody, nor is anyone else. All belong to the Lord. The opening verse of the Isa Upanishad tells us to cover everything with the Lord. God is in the wealth that you enjoy. He is in the desire that rises in your mind. He is in the things you buy to satisfy your desire; He is in your beautiful attire, in your beautiful ornaments. This is the line of thought. All will be metamorphosed as soon as you begin to see things in that light. If you put God in your every movement, in your conversation, in your form, in everything, the whole scene will change, and the world, instead of appearing as one of woe and misery, will become a heaven.

“The kingdom of heaven is within you,” says Jesus. So says Vedanta and every great teacher. “He that hath eyes to see, let him see, and he that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” Vedanta proves that the truth for which we have been searching all this time is present now and was all the time with us. In our ignorance we thought we had lost it, and went about the world crying and weeping, struggling to find the truth, while all along it was dwelling in our own hearts. There alone can we find it.

If we understand the giving up of the world in its old, crude sense, then it would come to this: that we must not work-that we must be idle, sitting like lumps of earth, neither thinking nor doing anything-but must become fatalists, driven about by every circumstance, ordered about by the laws of nature, drifting from place to place. That would be the result. But that is not what is meant. We must work. Ordinary men work, driven by false desires-what do they know of work? If a man is impelled by his impulses, desires, and senses, what does he know about work? He works who is not impelled by his own desires, by any selfishness whatsoever. He works who has no ulterior motive in view. He works who has nothing to gain from work.

Who enjoys a picture-the seller or the seer? The seller is busy with his accounts, computing what his gain will be, how much profit he will realize from the picture. His brain is full of that. He is looking at the hammer and watching the bids. He is intent on hearing how fast the bids are rising. That man is enjoying the picture who has gone there without any intention of buying or selling. He looks at the picture and enjoys it. So this whole universe is a picture, and when these desires have vanished, men will enjoy the world; then this buying and selling and these foolish ideas of possession will be ended. The money-lender gone, the buyer gone, the seller gone, this world remains a picture, a beautiful painting.

I have never read of any more beautiful conception of God than the following: “He is the Great Poet, the Ancient Poet. The whole universe is His poem, coming in verses and rhymes and rhythms, written in Infinite Bliss.” When we have given up desires, then alone shall we be able to read and enjoy this universe of God. Then everything will become deified. Nooks and corners, by-ways and shady places, which we thought dark and unholy, will all be deified. They will all reveal their true nature, and we shall smile at ourselves and think that all this weeping and crying has been but child’s play, and that we were only standing by, watching.

Swami Vivekananda
Excerpts from Vivekananda The Yoga and Other Works