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.
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.
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.
Neither you nor I nor anyone present has come out of zero, nor will go back to zero. We have been existing eternally, and will exist, and there is no power under the sun, or above the sun, which can undo your or my existence or send us back to zero. Now, this idea of reincarnation is not only not a frightening idea, but most essential for the moral well-being of the human race. It is the only logical conclusion that thoughtful men can arrive at. If you are going to exist in eternity hereafter, it must be that you have existed through eternity in the past; it cannot be otherwise.
I will try to answer a few objections that are generally brought against the theory.
The first objection is: Why do we not remember our past? But do we remember all our past in this life? How many of you remember what you did when you were babies? None of you remember your babyhood; and it upon memory depends your existence, then this argument proves that you did not exist as babies, because you do not remember your babyhood. It is simply unmitigated nonsense to say that our existence depends on our remembering it. How can we remember our past life? That brain is gone, broken into pieces, and a new brain has been manufactured. What has come to this brain is the resultant, the sum total, of the impressions acquired in our past, with which the mind has come to inhabit the new body. I, as I stand here, am the effect, the result, of all the infinite past which is tacked on to me. Such is the power of superstition that many of those who deny the doctrine of reincarnation believe that we are descended from monkeys. But they do not have the courage to ask why we do not remember our monkey life! When a great ancient sage, a seer or a prophet of old who came face to face with Truth, says something, these modern men stand up and say, “Oh, he was a fool!” But just use another name – Huxley or Tyndall – then it must be true, and they take it for granted. In place of ancient superstitions they have erected modern superstitions; in place of the old popes of religion they have installed modern popes of science. So we see that this objection as to memory is not valid; and that is about the only serious objection raised against this theory.
Although we have seen that it is not necessary for the acceptance of this theory that there should be the memory of past lives, yet at the same time we are in a position to assert that there are instances which show that this memory does come, and that each one of us will get back this memory at the time of liberation, when we shall find that this world is but a dream. Then alone will you realize in the soul of your soul that you are but actors and the world is a stage; then alone will the idea of non-attachment come to you with the power of thunder; then all this thirst for enjoyment, this clinging to life and this world, will vanish forever; then the mind will see as clear as daylight how many times all these existed for you-how many millions of times you had fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, relatives and friends, wealth and power. They came and went. How many times you were on the very crest of the wave, and how many times you were down at the bottom of despair! When memory brings all these to you, then alone will you stand as a hero and smile when the world frowns upon you. Then alone will you stand up and say: “I care not even for thee, 0 Death! What terrors hast thou for me?” This will come to all.
Are there any arguments, any rational proofs, for the reincarnation of the soul? So far we have been giving the negative side, showing that the opposite arguments to disprove it are invalid. Are there any positive proofs? There are-and most valid ones, too. No other theory except that of reincarnation accounts for the wide divergence that we find between man and man in their power to acquire knowledge. First let us consider the process by means of which knowledge is acquired. Suppose I go into the street and see a dog. How do I know it is a dog? I refer it to my mind, and in my mind are groups of all my past experiences, arranged and pigeon-holed, as it were. As soon as a new impression comes, I take it up and refer it to some of the old pigeon-holes, and as soon as I find a group of the same impressions already existing, I place it in that group and I am satisfied. I know it is a dog because it coincides with impressions already there. And when I do not find the cognates of a new experience inside, I become dissatisfied. When, not finding the cognates of an impression, we become dissatisfied, this state of mind is called ignorance; but when, finding the cognates of an impression already existing, we become satisfied, this is called knowledge. When one apple fell, men became dissatisfied Then gradually they found out a series of the same impressions, forming, as it were, a chain. What was the chain they found? That all apples fell. They called this gravitation.
Now, we see that without a fund of already existing experiences any new experience would be impossible, for there would be nothing to which to refer the new impression. So if, as some of the European philosophers think, a child came into the world with what they call a tabula rasa, such a child would never attain to any degree of intellectual power, because he would have nothing to which to refer his new experiences. We see that the power of acquiring knowledge varies in each individual, and this shows that each one of us has come with his own fund of knowledge. Knowledge can only be got in one way, the way of experience; there is no other way to know. If we have not had the experience in this life, we must have had it in other lives.
How is it that the fear of death is everywhere? A little chicken is just out of the egg and an eagle comes, and the chicken dies in fear to its mother. There is an old explanation (I should hardly dignify it by such a name) it is called instinct. What makes that little chicken just out of the egg afraid to die? How is it that as soon as a duckling hatched by a hen comes near water it jumps into it and swims? It never swam before nor saw anything swim. People call it instinct. It is a big word, but it leaves us where we were before.
Let as study this phenomenon of instinct. A child begins to play on the piano. At first she must pay attention to every key she is fingering, and as she goes on and on for months and years, the playing becomes almost involuntary, instinctive. What was first done with conscious will does not require later on an effort of the will. This is not yet a complete proof. One half remains, and that is that almost all the actions which are now instinctive can be brought under the control of the will. Each muscle of the body can be brought under control. This is perfectly well known. So the proof is complete, by this double method, that what we now call instinct is the degeneration of voluntary actions. Therefore if the analogy applies to the whole of creation, if all nature is uniform, then what is instinct in lower animals, as well as in men, must be the degeneration of will.
From the study of the macrocosm we discovered that each evolution presupposes an involution, and each involution an evolution. How is instinct explained in the light of this knowledge? What we call instinct is the result of voluntary action. Instinct in men or animals must therefore have been created by their previous voluntary actions. When we Speak of voluntary actions, We admit previous experience. This previous experience thus creates instinct. The little chicken’s fear of death, the duckling’s taking to the water, and all the involuntary actions in the human being, which are the result of past experiences, have now become instinctive.
So far we have proceeded very clearly, and so far the latest science is with Us. The latest scientific men are coming back to the ancient sages, and as far as they have done so there is no difficulty. They admit that each man and each animal is born with a fund of experience, and that all the instincts in the mind are the result of past experience. “But what,” they ask, “is the use of saying that that experience belongs to the soul? Why not say it belongs to the body, and the body alone? Why not say it is hereditary transmission?” This is the last question. Why not say that all the experience with which I am born is the resultant of all the past experience of my ancestors? The sum total of the experiences from the little protoplasm up to the highest human being is in me, but it has come from body to body in the course of hereditary transmission. Where will the difficulty be?
This question is very nice, and we admit some part of this hereditary transmission. How far? As far as furnishing the material of the body. We, by our past actions, are born in a certain body, and the suitable material for that body comes from the parents who have made themselves fit to have our soul as their offspring. But the simple hereditary theory takes for granted, without any proof, the most astonishing proposition: that mental experience can be recorded in matter, that mental experience can be involved in matter.
When I look at you, in the lake of my mind there is a wave. That wave subsides, but it remains in fine form, as an impression. We understand a physical impression’s remaining in the body. But what proof is there for assuming that the mental impression can remain in the body, since the body goes to pieces? What carries it? Even granting that it is possible for each mental impression to remain in the body-that every impression, beginning from the first man down to my father, was in my father’s body-how could it be transmitted to me? Through the bioplasmic cell? How could that happen? The father’s body does not come to the child in toto. The same parents may have a number of children. Then, from this theory of hereditary transmission, where the impression and the impressed are one, because both are material, it rigorously follows that, by the birth of every child, the parents must lose a part of their own impressions, or, if the parents should transmit the whole of their impressions, then, after the birth of the first child, their minds would be a vacuum.
Again, if in the bioplasmic cell the infinite amount of impressions from all time have entered, where and how can they exist there? This is a most impossible position, and until these physiologists can prove how and where those impressions live in that cell, and what they mean by a mental impression’s sleeping in the physical cell, their position cannot be taken for granted.
So far it is clear, then, that these impressions are in the mind, that the mind comes to take birth after birth and uses the material most proper for it, and that the mind which has made itself fit for only a particular kind of body will have to wait until it gets that material. This we understand. The theory then comes to this: There is hereditary transmission so far as furnishing the material to the soul is concerned. But the soul migrates and manufactures body after body; and each thought we think and each deed we do is stored in it in due forms, ready to spring up again and take a new shape. When I look at you a wave rises in my mind. It goes down, as it were, and becomes finer and liner, but it does not die. It is ready to start up again as a wave in the shape of memory. So all these impressions are in my mind, and when I die the resultant force of them will be upon me. A ball is here, and each one of us takes a mallet in his hands and strikes the ball from all sides; the ball goes from point to point in the room, and when it reaches the door it flies out. What carries it out? The resultant of all these blows. That will give it its direction. So what directs the soul when the body dies? The resultant, the sum total, of all the works it has done, of all the thoughts it has thought. If the resultant is such that it has to manufacture a new body for further experience, it will go to those parents who are ready to supply it with suitable material for that body.
Thus from body to body it will go, sometimes to a heaven, and back again to earth, becoming a man or some lower animal. In this way it will go on until it has finished its experience and completed the circle. It then knows its own nature, knows what it is, and its ignorance vanishes. Its powers become manifest; it becomes perfect. No more is there any necessity for the soul to work through physical bodies, nor is there any necessity for it to work through fine or mental bodies. It shines in its own light and is free-no more to be born, no more to die.
Excerpts from: Vivekananda Yogas and Other Works
Sorrow 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
If a man reasons, there is no place for him to stand until he comes to this: that there is but one Existence, that everything else is nothing. There is no other way left for rational mankind but to take this view. But how is it that what is infinite, ever perfect, ever blessed, Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute, Sat-Chita-Ananda सत्-चित्-आनन्द, has come under these delusions – that I am imperfect, I am a man or woman, or a sinner or a I am the mind, or I have thought? It is the same question that has been asked all the world over. In the vulgar form the question becomes, “How did sin come into this world?” This is the most vulgar and sensuous form of the question, and the other is the more philosophic form; but the answer is the same. The same question has been asked in various grades and fashions, but in its lower form it finds no solution, because the stories of apples and serpents and women do not give the explanation. In that state the question is childish and so is the answer. But the question has assumed very high proportions now: “How did this illusion come?” The answer is that we cannot expect any answer to an impossible question. The very question is impossible the way it is asked. You have no right to ask that question. Why so? What is perfection? That which is beyond time, Space, and causation. That is the perfect. Then you ask how the perfect became imperfect. In logical language the question may be put in this form: “How did that which is beyond causation become caused?” You contradict yourself. You first admit that it is beyond causation and then ask what causes it. This question can only be asked within the limits of causation. As far as time and space and causation extend, so far can this question he asked. But beyond that it will be nonsense to ask it, because the question is illogical. Within time, space, and causation it can never be answered, and what answer may lie beyond these limits can only be known when we have transcended them; therefore the wise will let this question rest. When a man is ill, he devotes himself to curing his disease, without insisting that he must first learn how he came to have it.
There is another answer to the question as to what caused this delusion: maybe more practical and understandable. Can any reality produce delusion? Certainly not. We see that one delusion produces another, and so on. It is delusion always that produces delusion. It is disease that produces disease, and not health that produces disease. The wave is the same thing as the water; the effect is the cause in another form. The effect is delusion, and therefore the cause must be delusion. What produced this delusion? Another delusion. And so on without beginning. The only question that remains for you to ask is: Does this not destroy your monism, because you get two existences in the univ verse-one the Self, and the other the delusion? The answer is: Delusion cannot be called existence. Thousands of dreams come into your life but do not form any part of your life. Dreams come and go; they have no existence. To call delusion existence will be sophistry. Therefore there is only one indivisible Existence in the universe, ever free and ever blessed, and that is what you are. This is the last conclusion reached by the Advaitists.
Excerpts from Vivekananda The Yoga and Other Works
There are three ways in which man perceives God.
First, the undeveloped intellect of the uneducated man sees God as being far away, up in the heavens somewhere, sitting on a throne as a great Judge. He looks upon Him with fear, as a terror. Now, that is good; there is nothing bad in it. You must remember that humanity travels not from error to truth, but from truth to truth-it may be, if you like it better, from lower truth to higher truth; but never from error to truth. Suppose you start from here and travel towards the sun in a straight line. From here the sun looks small. Suppose you go forward a million miles; it will surely seem much larger. At every stage it will become bigger and bigger. Suppose that twenty thousand photographs are taken of the same sun, all from different standpoints; these twenty thousand photographs will all certainly differ from one another. But can you deny that each is a photograph of the same sun? So all forms of religion, high or low, are just different stages in the upward journey towards that eternal Light, which is God Himself. Some embody a lower view, some a higher, and that is all the difference. Therefore the religions of the unthinking masses all over the world teach, and have always taught, of a God who is outside the universe, who lives in heaven, who governs from that place, who is the punisher of the bad and the rewarder of the good, and so on.
As man advances spiritually, he begins to feel that God is omnipresent, that He must be in him, that He must be everywhere, that He is not a distant God, but clearly the Soul of all souls. As my soul moves my body, even so is God the mover of my soul-the Soul within the soul. And a few individuals of pure heart and highly developed mind go still farther, and at last find God. As the New Testament says: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” And they find at last that they and the Father are one.
You will find that these three stages are taught by the great Teacher in the New Testament. Note the common prayer He taught: “Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name,” and so on; a simple prayer, mark you, a child’s prayer. It is indeed the “common prayer” because it is intended for the uneducated masses. To a higher circle, to those who had advanced a little more, He gave a more elevated teaching: “I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.” Do you remember that? And then, when the Jews asked Him who He was, he declared that He and His Father were one; and the Jews thought that that was blasphemy. What did He mean by that? But the same thing had been taught by the Jewish Prophets: “Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the Most High.” Mark the same three stages. You will find that it is easier for you to begin with the first and end with the last.
All our knowledge is based upon experience. What we call inferential knowledge, in which we go from the particular to the general or from the general to the particular, has experience as its basis. In what are called the exact sciences pe0ple easily find the truth, because it appeals to the specific experiences of every human being. The scientist does not ask you to believe in anything blindly; but he has got certain results, which have come from his own experiences, and when, reasoning on them, he wants us to believe in his conclusions, he appeals to some universal experience of humanity. In every exact science there is a basis which is common to all humanity, so that we can at once see the truth or the fallacy of the conclusions drawn therefrom. Now, the question is: Has religion any such basis or not? I shall have to answer the question both in the affirmative and in the negative.
Religion, as it is generally taught all over the world, is found to be based upon faith and belief, and in most cases consists only of different sets of theories; and that is why we find religions quarrelling with one another. These theories, again, are based upon belief. One man says there is a great Being sitting above the clouds and governing the whole universe, and he asks me to believe that solely on the authority of his assertion. In the same way I may have my own ideas, which I am asking others to believe; and if they ask for a reason, I cannot give them any. This is why religion and religious philosophy have a bad name nowadays. Every educated man seems to say: “Oh, these religions are only bundles of theories without any standard to judge them by, each man preaching his own pet ideas.” Nevertheless there is a basis of universal belief in religion, governing all the different theories and all the varying ideas of different sects in different countries. Going to this basis, we find that they too are based upon universal experiences.
In the first place, if you analyze the various religions of the world, you will find that they are divided into two classes: those with a book and those without a book. Those with a book are stronger and have a larger number of followers. Those without books have mostly died out, and the few new ones have very small followings. Yet in all of them we find one consensus of opinion: that the truths they teach are the results of the experiences of particular persons. The Christian asks you to believe in his religion, to believe in Christ and to believe in him as the Incarnation of God, to believe in a God, in a soul, and in a better state of that soul. If I ask him for the reason, he says that he believes in them. But if you go to the fountainhead of Christianity, you will find that it is based upon experience. Christ said that he saw God, the disciples said that they felt God, and so forth. Similarly, in Buddhism, it is Buddha’s experience. He experienced certain truths, saw them, came in contact with them, and preached them to the world. So with the Hindus: in their books the writers, who are called rishis, or sages, declare that they have experienced certain truths, and these they preach.
Thus it is clear that all the religions of the world have been built upon that one universal and adamantine foundation of all our knowledge-direct experience. The teachers all saw God; they all saw their own souls, they saw their souls’ future and their eternity; and what they saw they preached. Only there is this difference: By most of these religions, especially in modern times, a peculiar claim is made, namely, that these experiences are impossible at the present day; they were possible only to a few men, who were the founders of the religions that subsequently bore their names. At the present time these experiences have become obsolete, and therefore we now have to take these religions on faith.
This I entirely deny. If there has been One experience in this world in any particular branch of knowledge, it absolutely follows that that experience has been possible millions of times before and will be repeated eternally. Uniformity is the rigorous law of nature: what once happened can happen always.
The teachers of the science of Raia-yoga, therefore, declare not only that religion is based upon the experiences of ancient times, but also that no man can be religious until he has had the same experiences himself. Raja-yoga is the science which teaches us how to get these experiences. It is not much use to talk about religion until one has felt it. Why is there so much disturbance, so much fighting and quarrelling, in the name of God? There has been more bloodshed in the name of God than for any other cause, because people never went to the fountainhead; they were content to give only a mental assent to the customs of their forefathers, and wanted others to do the same. What right has a man to say that he has a soul if he does not feel it, or that there is a God if he does not see Him? If there is a God we must see Him; if there is a soul we must perceive it; otherwise it is better not to believe. It is better to be an outspoken atheist than a hypocrite.
The modern idea, on the one hand, with the “learned” is that religion and metaphysics and all search after a Supreme Being are futile; on the other hand, with the semi-educated the idea seems to be that these things really have no basis, their only value consisting in the fact that they furnish a strong motive power for doing good to the world. If men believe in a God, they may become good and moral, and so make good citizens. We cannot blame them for holding such ideas, seeing that all the teaching these men get is simply to believe in an eternal rigmarole of words, without any substance behind them. They are asked to live upon words. Can they do it? If they could, I should not have the least regard for human nature. Man wants truth, wants to experience truth for himself. When he has grasped it, realized it, felt it within his heart of hearts, then alone, declare the Vedas, will all doubts vanish, all darkness be scattered, and all crookedness be made straight. “Ye Children of immortality, even those who live in the highest Sphere, the way is found. There is a way out of all this darkness, and that is by perceiving Him who is beyond all darkness. There is no other way.”
The science of Raj-yoga proposes to put before humanity a practical and scientifically worked out method of reaching this truth. In the first place, every science must have its own method of investigation. It you want to become an astronomer, and sit down and cry, “Astronomy! astronomy!” you will never be’ come one. It is the same with chemistry. A certain method must be followed. You must go to a laboratory, take different substances, mix them, examine them, experiment with them; and out of that will come a knowledge of chemistry. If you want to be an astronomer you must go to an observatory, take a telescope, and study the stars and planets. And then you will become an astronomer. Each science must have its own methods. I could preach you thousands of sermons, but they would not make you religious until you followed the method. This truth has been preached by sages of all countries, of all ages, by men pure and unselfish who had no motive but to do good to the world. They all declare that they have found certain truths higher than what the senses can bring us, and they invite verification. They ask us to take up the discipline and practice honestly. Then, if we do not End this higher truth, we shall have the right to say that there is no truth in the claim; but before we have done that, we are not rational in denying the truth of their assertions. So we must work faithfully, using the prescribed methods, and light will come.
In acquiring knowledge we make use of generalization, and generalization is based upon observation. We first observe facts, then generalize, and then draw conclusions or formulate principles. The knowledge of the mind, of the internal nature of man, of thought, can never be had until we have first developed the power of observing what is going on within. It is comparatively easy to observe facts in the external world, for many instruments have been invented for the purpose; but in the internal world we have no instrument to help us. Yet we know that we must observe in order to have a real science. Without proper analysis any science will be hopeless, mere theorizing; and that is why the psychologists have been quarrelling among themselves since the beginning of time, except those few who found out the means of observation.
The science of Raja-yoga proposes, in the first place, to give us such a means of observing the internal states. The instrument is the mind itself. The power of attention, when properly guided and directed towards the internal world, will analyses the mind and illumine facts for us. The powers of the mind are like rays of light dissipated; when they are concentrated they illumine. This is our only means of knowledge. Everyone is using it, both in the external and in the internal world; but, for the psychologist, the same minute observation has to be directed to the internal world which the scientific man directs to the external; and this requires a great deal of practice. From childhood onward We have been taught to pay attention only to things external, but never to things internal; hence most of us have nearly lost the faculty of observing the internal mechanism. To turn the mind, as it were, inside, stop it from going Outside, and then to concentrate all its powers and throw them upon the mind Itself, in order that it may know its own nature, analyses itself, is very hard work. Yet that is the only way to anything which will be like a scientific approach to the subject.
What is the use of such knowledge? In the first place, knowledge itself is the highest reward of knowledge, and secondly, there is also utility in it. It will take away all our misery. When, by analyzing his own mind, a man comes face to face, as it were, with something which is never destroyed, something which is, by its own nature, eternally pure and perfect, he will no more be miserable, no more be unhappy. All misery comes from fear, from unsatisfied desire. When a man finds that he never dies, he will then have no more fear at death. When he knows that he is perfect, he will have no more vain desires And both these causes being absent, there will be no more misery; there will hit perfect bliss, even in this body.
There is only one method by which to attain this knowledge, and that is concentration. The chemist in his laboratory concentrates all the energies of his mind into one focus and throws them upon the materials he is analyzing, and thus finds out their secrets. The astronomer concentrates all the energies of his mind and projects them through his telescope upon the skies; and the stars, the sun, and the moon give up their secrets to him. The more I can concentrate my thoughts on the matter on which I am talking to you, the more light I can throw upon it. You are listening to me, and the more you concentrate your thoughts, the more clearly you will grasp what I have to say.
How has all the knowledge in the world been gained but by the concentration of the powers of the mind? The world is ready to give up its secrets if we only know how to knock, how to give it the necessary blow. The strength and force of the blow come through concentration. There is no limit to the power of the human mind. The more concentrated it is, the more power is brought to bear on one point. That is the secret.
It is easy to concentrate the mind on external things; the mind naturally goes outward. But it is not so in religion or psychology or metaphysics, where the subject and the object are one. The object is internal: the mind itself is the object. It is necessary to study the mind itself; the mind studies the mind. We know that there is a power of the mind called reflection. I am talking to you; at the same time I am standing aside, like a second person, and knowing and hearing what I am saying. You work and think at the same time, while a portion of your mind stands by and sees what you are thinking. The powers of the mind should be concentrated and turned back upon it; and as the darkest places reveal their secrets before the penetrating rays of the sun, so will the concentrated mind penetrate into its own innermost secrets. Thus we shall come to the basis of belief, to the real religion. We shall perceive for ourselves whether or not we have souls, whether or not life lasts for live minutes or for eternity, whether or not there is a God. All this will be revealed to us.
This is what Raja-yoga proposes to teach. The goal of all its teaching is to show how to concentrate the mind; then how to discover the innermost recesses of our own minds; then how to generalize their contents and form our own conclusions from them. It never asks what our belief is-whether we are deists, or atheists, whether Christians, Jews, or Buddhists. We are human beings, and that is sufficient. Every human being has the right and the power to seek religion; every human being has the right to ask the reason why and to have his question answered by himself-if he only takes the trouble.
So far, then, we see that in the study of Raja-yoga no faith or belief is necessary. Believe nothing until you find it yourself; that is what it teaches us.
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
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.
Adapted from: Vivekananda Yoga and Other Works, Karma Yoga