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

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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? 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

Why do we sing in the shower?

Happiness is the absence of desires. Whenever your mind does not long for anything, you are happy. In the interval between the fulfillment of one desires and the cropping up of the next, you are happy. Why do you sing in the shower? You don’t do it to please yourself or anyone else; you do it simply because you are happy. At that time, the mind does not long for anything; all the window dressings, the masks you wear for people, are removed with your clothes you are with yourself. Your singing is an expression of the happiness felt by a mind that rests in the Self.

Swami Dayananda Saraswati
Excerpts from The Teachings of the Bhagavad Gita.

Three Illegitimate Problems of Our Life!

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Everyone suffers from a sense of limitation but no one accepts that, because one cannot be happy as a limited being. Through analysis we can identify three types of limitations. The first is the limitation of sorrow. Sometimes our sorrow is very eloquent, sometimes it is only an unwept sorrow; but the basis of sorrow, the feeling, ”All is not well with me” is always there. That the human heart is subject to sorrow is a limitation no one wants to accept.

Another limitation that we feel is that of time. Nobody wants to die today; everyone wants to live a day longer. Animals and plants also have this love for life. Even a tree bends to grow towards the sun. Only if we find that this world can no longer give us happiness do we think of quitting it; if a person is healthy and happy, he or she wants to live on. Perhaps it is this love for continuity that accounts for the desire to have a son or a daughter, or urges one to engrave one’s name on a stone. No one wants to disappear without leaving a trace.

We know that we shall all die one day, and yet we want to live for at least today. The desire to live today is the desire to be eternal; we do not want to admit that we are mortal, even though we know very well that our birth and death are marked on the-sands of time. Mortality, a limitation with respect to time, is the second limitation that we cannot stand.

The third limitation that humankind suffers is ignorance. If a person is not enrolled in a school or a training institute, he or she will at least stand at the window to see what is happening in the street. This behavior is an expression of our innate love for knowledge. We cannot stand ignorance; We always want to know something more.

If you examine all your pursuits, pravritti प्रवृति  or nivritti निवृत्ति, you will discover that all your life you have been trying to overcome these three limitations. You seem to have concluded that you are sorrowful, mortal, ignorant. You seek more security and more objects so that you can be comfortable in your life; much of your time is spent in going after things that are meant m make you happy, to keep sorrow at bay. Another part of your life is spent in pursuing things that will keep you going just one day more; you do exercises or take vitamins and proteins out of a desire to live a little longer. A third part of your life is spent gathering knowledge. For some, such as scientists, who regard knowledge as the most important goal in life, this is the most predominant pursuit, but everyone does devote a part of his or her life to learning. Picking up a newspaper in the morning is prompted by this quest for knowledge; reading the Gita is motivated by a desire to seek freedom from one‘s sense of inadequacy. Thus the three things we seek in all our pursuits are freedom from sorrow, freedom from death, and freedom from ignorance.

The Lord Krishna says that all the three limitations, are illegitimate; that is, all three are asocya अशोच्या, matters that do not warrant any grief. A problem can be solved only if it is legitimate. If you see a snake on the road you can choose to avoid it or chase it away, so that you can continue on the road. Encountering a snake is a’ legitimate problem and it can be solved by such actions. But if the problem looming large in your mind is illegitimate, how can you solve it by an act? Let us consider the famous example of a rope mistaken for a snake by an imaginative mind. The illegitimate, projected snake and the fear one experiences on seeing it cannot be removed by beating the snake or by throwing a stone or by praying or clapping. The snake and the fright caused by it will go away only when one comes to know that there is no snake in fact. When one sees the rope, the problem is solved and one’s fear goes. In this case, one solves the problem not by action, but by knowledge. A legitimate problem can be solved by action but an illegitimate one can only be solved by knowing that it is illegitimate.

If I can make you see that a given problem does not really exist, I have released you from it. The knowledge that the limitations of sorrow, time, and ignorance do not really exist for you frees you from these limitations. That knowledge is called sankya, that which is clearly seen. it is unfolded by Vedanta.

Swami Dayananda Saraswati
Excerpts from The Teaching of the Bhagavad Gita

Acceptance – Consciously dropping will to resist an unchangeable fact!

Swami Dayanand Ji

There are many occasions in life, many situations in life that I can change. If I have enough resources, I can change the furniture in my house, I can buy new clothes, I can eat out three times a week, I can camp out every week-end, I can have a new hair-cut, it’s endless. If it’s cold I can buy a heater. If it’s warm I can buy an air-conditioner. A new micro-wave ……yes there are a lot of changes that I can make.

If I have no resources but a lot of creativity, I can do the same things that I do every day, in new ways! I can cook food with the same ingredients, but it tastes different and good. I can lay out the table in new ways. I can sing and dance a little differently each time and enjoy it too. I can change my job, my apartment, my car. If I have a big heart, I can express the love in my heart in many different ways too.

I can change my attitudes and my behavior if I choose to. I can tighten what needs to be tightened and loosen what needs to be loosened. If I am very inflexible and rigid as a person, I can become more flexible. If I am critical always and finding-fault I can try and change that too. If I am angry and always want things my way – well I can look into that too if I want to. If I always blame others for my problems, I could see if that is true. If I am a person who does not know how to draw boundaries, then I can learn how to do that. I am always emotionally dependent on someone and it has become painful for me, I can learn how to grow out of that. If I am very fearful always, I can learn to face challenges boldly. If I’m so bold that I become fool-hardy, then I can learn to exercise caution.

Whatever I can change, if I feel I need to change it – I should change.

But I don’t call all the shots in life. There are some situations which are what they are, some events that have taken place, which I cannot change. I cannot change the weather of the country. I cannot change the politicians immediately! I cannot change the fact that a near and dear person has passed away. Sometimes I have family responsibilities, my boss is a pain and I cannot change my job. Above all I cannot change people – this includes my parents, my spouse, my in-laws, my children, my boss, my co-workers, friends, employees. I cannot change my past – happy or sad. I cannot change my childhood. I cannot change my age. I cannot change the way I look very often….the list is endless.

When something cannot be changed whatever it might be – when I find that I have an incapacity to order things as I want – I feel helpless, sad, agitated and angry. I get into a depression very often too.

Now this is the hard fact – that the situation cannot be changed. If I want people to change why should they? They might want me to change too. Maybe I also don’t want to change. Nobody can make a person change unless that person really wants to change. This is how it is. Maybe if I try to understand the background from which the person comes, then I can understand them better and feel some compassion towards them instead of anger. Maybe my expectations are unreasonable. Maybe my expectations are reasonable but the person cannot meet them, or does not want to meet them. Whatever the reason, this is how it is.

Would it not be just easier to accept gracefully that this is how the person is, this is how the situation is, this is how my past was, what has happened has happened. I cannot do anything about it. If I can change something I will – if I cannot, I accept it just gracefully. When I accept, there is a relief because my resistance to a fact is gone.

But the capacity to accept gracefully what I cannot change is not something that I am able to do easily. But at least I can have a value for it. I can have a value for it only if I know what benefit I get from it. To understand the value of graceful acceptance, let’s see what I get if I don’t have this acceptance. Then we can see what can help us.

When I am unable to accept a fact that cannot be changed – I feel helpless, I feel anger and resentment. All my present moments are occupied only in brooding and thinking and repeating the scenes again and again. I lose my self-esteem and destroy any chance of joy I might have in the current moment. Supposing I am walking and there is a beautiful sunset- I am unable to enjoy this truth about my present moment – I spoil my present moments with brooding about the past, the injustice, how I would like the situation to change. And if I keep up this frame of mind of resistance and pain indefinitely, my health is affected. I get ulcers, heart-problems, headaches, body-pains. I find no joy in life and my sadness spills over to others in my environment.

Now when the fact is that I cannot change the situation, does this frame of mind help me? Or does it hurt me. Very clearly, I am hurting myself. Do I want to continue to hurt myself? That is the choice I am faced with. I can continue to hurt myself by retaining this resistance to facts and working myself up into hurting and feeling bad – or I can just let go -by accepting. Consciously dropping my will to resist an unchangeable fact.

I have to see this very clearly and have a value for the peace of mind and a certain relief that results because of this acceptance of facts. Once I have a value for it, then there are ways to help myself to let go. Here devotion to the Lord born of understanding the Lord is invaluable. For understanding the Lord come to Gita class! Here an understanding of the Lord as All-Intelligence and seeing the fact that whatever there is in this creation is in Order, ( even disorder is in ultimate order) there is a meaning behind it all, there is a purpose is very important. The purpose of my life is to grow – maybe because of these situations now I can pray. Growing devotion in the form of a growing trust in the Lord’s order, a growing trust that every situation has a purpose and meaning behind it all and it must be all for the best even though I may not be quite able to understand it right now.

I recognize that I am helpless in accepting the situation and then when I am helpless I can seek help from the Source of All- Help – the Lord in a meaningful prayer. Seeking help when I need it, is intelligent living. So I can make this prayer to the Lord:-

O Lord, may I have the maturity to accept gracefully what I cannot change; may I have the will and effort to change what I can; and may I have the wisdom to know the difference between what I can and cannot change.

Swami Dayananda Saraswati

Sorrow does not happen; you contrive it.

imagesSorrow does not happen; you contrive it. When you hear the news of someone’s death, you are only shocked; only after the news sinks in does sorrow slowly develop. Like jealousy and “other emotions, sorrow is built up. Happiness is natural to you, sorrow is not. If sorrow were natural, you would be happily sorrowful; but you want to get rid of it, and you can get rid of it, because it does not belong to you. Though it looks as if happiness comes and goes, it does not. It is only that your confused thoughts sometimes keep you from enjoying the happiness that you are. You think that this world makes you sorrowful, and that giving it up will help you; but you cannot give up the world totally as long as you are alive. As Lord Krishna has said in Gita, no one can remain without activity even for a moment:-

न हि कश्चित्क्षणमपि जातु तिष्ठत्यकर्मकृत् (3.5)
na hi kaśhchit kṣhaṇam api jātu tiṣhṭhatyakarma-kṛit

Swami Dayananda Saraswati
Excerpts from The Teachings of the Bhagavad Gita

Memory is not meant for self-judgement!

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There are very few failures. You may have failed an examination, that is all. Yet you remember that alone. If you do not remember what has happened to you, how can you call yourself a failure? Can you become sad Without memories? No, you cannot. Sadness, depression and frustration are all because of memories. Memory is not meant for these things.

Memory is given for certain purposes. Tomorrow when you get up, you will not ask your wife, ’Who are you? Where did you come from?’ If you are unable to remember whether you had already eaten, you will be eating lunch again and again. Therefore memory is only meant for recognizing a few things in order to survive. Memory does of course, play a role in cognition and understanding also. Memory is a faculty given to you by Bhagavan and not for self-judgement. You are the one who is aware of memories, knowledge, ignorance, your mind, its conditions, senses, the body and the world.

Therefore who are you? You should have only one answer: “I am the one who is aware.”

Swami Dayanada Sarawati

Work incessantly, work as if you were a stranger in this land, a sojourner. This world is not our habitation, but only a stage through which we are passing.

swamiji

In addition to meaning work, psychologically the word कर्म karma also implies causation. Any word, any action, any thought, that produces an effect is called a karma. Thus the law of karma means the law of causation, of inevitable cause and sequence. Wheresoever there is a cause, there an effect must be produced; this necessity cannot be resisted; and this law of karma, according to our philosophy, is true throughout the whole universe. Whatever we see or feel or do, whatever action there is anywhere in the universe, while being on the one hand the effect of past work, becomes, on the other, a cause in its turn and produces its own effect.

It is necessary, together with this, to consider what is meant by the word law. By law is meant the tendency of a series to repeat itself. When we see one event followed by another, or sometimes happening simultaneously with another, we expect this sequence or coexistence to recur. Our old logicians and philosophers of the Nyaya school call this law by the name of व्याप्ति vyapti. According to them all our ideas of law are due to association. A series of phenomena becomes associated with certain things in our mind in a sort of invariable order; so whatever we perceive at any time is immediately referred to similar facts in the mind. Any one idea or, according to our psychology, any one wave that is produced in the mind-stuff, or चित्त chitta, must always give rise to many similar waves. This is the psychological idea of association, and causation is only an aspect of this grand pervasive principle of association. This pervasiveness of association is what is, in Sanskrit, called व्याप्ति vyapti. In the external world the idea of law is the same as in the internal-the expectation that a particular phenomenon will be followed by another and that the series will repeat itself. Strictly speaking, therefore, law does not exist in nature. It is really an error to say that gravitation exists in the earth or that there is any law existing objectively anywhere in nature. Law is the method, the manner, in which our mind grasps a series of phenomena; it is all in the mind. Certain phenomena, happening one after another, or together, and followed by the conviction of the regularity of their recurrence, thus enabling our minds to grasp the method of the whole series, are explained by what we call law.

The next question for consideration is what we mean by law’s being universal. Our universe is that portion of Existence which is conditioned by what the Sanskrit philosophers call  देश-काल -निमित्त des’a-kala-nimitta, or what is known to European philosophy as space, time, and causation. This universe is only a part of Infinite Existence, thrown into a peculiar mold composed of space, time, and causation. It necessarily follows that law is possible only within this conditioned Universe; beyond it there cannot be any law. When we speak of the universe We mean only that portion of Existence which is limited by our minds-the universe of the senses, which we can see, feel, touch, hear, think of, imagine This alone is under law; but beyond it, Existence cannot be subject to law’ because causation does not extend beyond the world of our minds. Anything, beyond the range of the mind and the senses is not bound by the law of causation, because there is no mental association of things in the region beyond the senses, and no causation is possible without association of ideas. It is only when Being or Existence becomes molded into name and form that it obeys the law of causation and is said to be subject to law-because all law has its essence in causation.

Therefore we see at once that there cannot be any such thing as free will; the very words are a contradiction, because the will is something that we know, and everything that we know is within our universe, and everything within our universe is molded by the conditions of space, time, and causation. Everything that we know, or can possibly know, must be subject to causation, and that which obeys the law of causation cannot be free. It is acted upon by other agents and becomes a cause in its turn. But that which has become converted into the will, which was not the will before, but which, when it fell into this mold of space, time, and causation, became converted into the human will, is free; and when this will gets out of the mold of space, time, and causation, it will be free again. From freedom it comes, and it falls into the mold of bondage, and it gets out and goes back to freedom again.

 
To acquire freedom we have to get beyond the limitations of this universe; it cannot be found here. Perfect equilibrium, or what the Christians call the Peace that passeth all understanding, cannot be had in this universe, nor in heaven, nor in any place where our minds and thoughts can go, where the senses can feel, or of which the imagination can conceive. No such place can give us that freedom, because all such places would be within our universe, and it is limited by space, time, and causation. There may be places that are more ethereal than this earth of ours, where enjoyments are keener; but even those places must be in the universe, and therefore in bondage to law. So we have to go beyond, and real religion begins where this little universe ends. These little joys and sorrows and this knowledge of things end there, and Reality begins. Until we give up the thirst after life, the strong attachment to this our transient, conditioned existence, we have no hope of catching even a glimpse of that infinite freedom beyond. It stands to reason then that there is only one way to attain to that freedom, which is the goal of all the noblest aspirations of mankind, and that is to give up this little life, give up this little universe, give up this earth, give up heaven, give up the body, give up the mind, give up everything that is limited and conditioned. If we give up our attachment to this little universe of the senses and of the mind, we shall be free immediately. The only way to come out of bondage is to go beyond the limitation of law, to go beyond causation.

But it is a most difficult thing to give up the clinging to this universe; few ever attain to that. There are two ways to do it mentioned in our books. One is called “नेति नेति Neti, neti” (“Not this, not this”); the other is called “इति इति Iti Iti” (“This is This is”); the former is the negative, and the latter is the positive, way. The negative way is the more difficult. It is only possible for men of the very highest, exceptional minds and gigantic wills, who simply stand up and say, “No, I will not have this,” and the mind and body obey their will, and they come out successfully. But such people are very rare. The vast majority of mankind choose the positive way, the way through the world, making use of their bondage in order to break that very bondage. This is also a kind of giving up; only it is done slowly and gradually, by knowing things, enjoying things, and thus obtaining experience and knowing the nature of things until the mind lets them all go at last and becomes unattached. The former way of obtaining non-attachment is by reasoning, and the latter way is through work and experience. The first is the path of ज्ञानयोग jnana-yoga, characterized by the refusal to do any work; the second is that of कर्मयोग karma-yoga, in which there is no cessation from work. Almost everyone in the universe must work. Only those who are perfectly satisfied with the Self, whose desires do not go beyond the Self, whose minds never stray out of the Self, to whom the Self is all in all-only those do not work. The rest must work.

A current of water, rushing down of its own nature, falls into a hollow and makes a whirlpool, and after turning around a little there, it emerges again in the form of the free current to go on unchecked. Each human life is like that Current. It gets into the whirl, becomes involved in this world of space, time, and Causation, whirls round a little, crying out, “my father, my brother, my name, my fame,” and so on, and at last emerges out of it and regains its original freedom. The whole universe is doing that. Whether we know it or not, whether we are conscious or unconscious of it, we are all working to get out of the whirl of the world. The aim of man’s experience in the world is to enable him to get out of its whirlpool.

What is karma-yoga? The knowledge of the secret of work. We see that, whole universe is working. For what? For salvation, for liberty. From the atom to the highest being, working for the one end: liberty of the mind, of the body, of the spirit. All things are always trying to get freedom, to fly away from bondage. The sun, the moon, the earth, the planets, all are trying to H: away from bondage. The centrifugal and centripetal forces function throughout the whole universe. Instead of being knocked about in this universe and after long delay and thrashing, getting to know things as they are, we lean; from karma-yoga the secret of work, the method of work, the organizing power of work. A vast mass of energy may be spent in vain if we do not know how to utilize it. Karma-yoga makes a science of work; you learn by it how best to utilize all the activities in this world. Work is inevitable; it must be so. But We should work to the highest purpose. Karma-yoga makes us realize that this world is a world of five minutes, that it is something we have to pass through, and that freedom is not here, but is only to be found beyond. To find the way out of the bondage of the world we have to go through it slowly and surely, There may be exceptional persons, such as those about whom I just spoke, who can stand aside and give up the world as a snake casts off its skin and looks at it as a witness. There are, no doubt, these exceptional beings; but the rest of mankind have to go slowly through this world. Karma-yoga shows the process, the secret and method of doing it to the best advantage.

What does it say? Work incessantly, but give up all attachment to work. Do not identify yourself with anything. Hold your mind free. All that you see, the pains and the miseries, are but the necessary conditions of this world. Poverty and wealth and happiness are but momentary; they do not belong to Our real nature at all. Our nature is far beyond misery and happiness, beyond every object of the senses, beyond the imagination. And yet we must go on working all the time. Misery comes through attachment, not through work. As soon as we identify ourselves with the work we do, we feel miserable; but if we do not identify ourselves with it, we do not feel that misery. If a beautiful picture belonging to another is burnt, a man does not generally become miserable; but when his own picture is burnt how miserable he feels! Why? Both were beautiful pictures, perhaps copies of the same original; but in one case very much more misery is felt than in the other. It is because in one case he identities himself with the picture, and in the other he does not.

Therefore be unattached. Let things work; let the brain centers work; work incessantly, but let not a ripple conquer the mind. Work as if you were a stranger in this land, a sojourner. Work incessantly, but do not bind yourselves; bondage is terrible. This world is not our habitation, but only a stage through which we are passing. Remember that great saying of the Samkhya philosophy: “The whole of nature is for the soul, not the soul for nature.” The very reason for nature’s existence is the education of the soul; it has no other meaning. It is there because the soul must have knowledge, and through knowledge free itself. If we remember this always, we shall never be attached to nature; we shall know that nature is a book which we are to read, and that when we have gained the required knowledge the book is of no more value to us. Instead of that, however, we identify ourselves with nature; we think that the soul is for nature, that the spirit is for the flesh, and, as the common saying has it, we think that man “lives to eat,” not “eats to live.” We are continually making this mistake; we regard nature as the self and become attached to it; and as soon as this attachment comes, there is created in the soul a deep impression, which binds us down and makes us work, not through freedom but like slaves.

Swami Vivekananda
Adapted from: Vivekananda Yoga and Other Works, Karma Yoga