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A Way for the Householder

Dr Sripada Gopalakrishna Murthy
Magazine : Matrusri English
Language : English
Volume Number : 2
Month : April
Issue Number : 1
Year : 1967

ONE day, a youngman said to “Mother, I have a wish”. Mother,

“Yes, what is it?”

“I want to take to sanyaasa”.

“Hm. What for? What do you intend doing thereafter? Do you wish to go about delivering lectures, or go to the Himalayas to do tapas? Of late, we hear of swamijis who had put on saffron robes in the past, and are reverting to white clothes,” Mother remarked. 

“It is not for doing any of those you mentioned, Mother; but I am taking it. That much is certain,” said the youngman.

This piece of conversation indicates clearly what an intelligent Sanskritist youngman would have others think about his future. He would take sanyaasa as that has been described, since ages, to be the final arch to pass through to salvation. Why should one worry about other possibilities?

Yet, we are told that upto now, only one sanyaasi, Sri Shuka, had attained to jeevanmukti, or liberation of the soul while still in the body.. Mukti, no doubt, is the same state whether attained after death or before death, but jeevan mukti looks to be certainly a higher achievement than videhamukti (or salvation after shedding the body). Apart from the fact that jeevanmukti affords proof of the reality of salvation or liberation, that state is undoubtedly the highest attainable for .man. And, of all the sanyaasis we hear about in the puranas and itihasas, only Shuka is mentioned as having attained to that state. Hosts of tapasvis ranging from choleric Doorvaasa at one end, to equanimous Vasishta at the other, the rishis of Janasthana, the vaalakhilyas, the Saptarshis, all are reported to have lived (and died) as travellers towards mukti, but never to have obtained mukti while alive. King Janaka was a householder and he too was quoted as having attained to jeevanmukti. (Whether a sanyaasi reaches it or a householder reaches, jeevanmukti must be the same state.) It follows that one need not necessarily pass through the stage of sanyaasa (leaving home and family, shaving one’s head, taking to saffron robes etc) to get to mukti. Shuka the sanyaasi showed that sanyaasa is a way; Janaka showed that it should be possible for a householder too. Sanyaasa is not, therefore, the only way. It is not the final arch to pass through for salvation.

We said above that none of the rishis we heard of had attained to the highest state mentioned.

That is equally true about house holders. Janaka and Shuka stand head and shoulders above all men as proof not only of the reality of mukti, but also for the possibility of a householder and a sanyaasi attaining to jeevanmukti. Shuka’s way of renunciation is not unfamiliar to us; he was a perfect sanyaasi. Mother defined a sanyaasi as “one who is not sensetive to differences of sex, touch or shape”. Shuka belonged to that type and it was proved by his behaviour during his journey to meet Janaka, and by the tests which that king arranged for him. But, what is the characteristic behaviour of a householder jeevanmukta? Scriptures like the Gita tell us that Janaka always acted for the good of the world, and not for any selfish ends. But this type of selfless action (or nishkaama-karma) in his case, was not the way to, but the result of jeevanmukti. ‘How could he reach that state, when he acted always in the interests of the world?’ is our question. What was his saadhana or Tapas? That is the way of the sanyaasi. Is it indispensable for a grihastha too?

We learn from his story that, after ascertain ing that Shuka was insensitive to sex, touch or shape, Janaka asked him to go through the streets of Mithila, taking care however, not to spil the oil in the dish he was to carry in his palms. Janaka’s soldiers took him round the main streets of the town. and brought him back. The king asked Shuka to describe what he had seen and Sukha narrated the several activities by the roadside. Then Janaka quipped the question: “And you saw all this instead of taking care of the oil, did you not?” Shuka promptly replied, “My attention was all the while on the oil in the dish, but I could nevertheless notice what was happening by the roadside. “Good,” said the wise king, “one can go through the life of a householder in the same way as you did through the streets, keeping his attention all the while on God.” Tyagaraja sings of the same in a song: “What does it matter if we are householders, so long as the Lord is before us?”

But, we all know that this state of having the Lord always before us is more easily mentioned than achieved. The idea is a handy one to fling at a sanyaasi and scoff at his “foolishness” of leaving family and home. But everyone of us knows fully well that it is very difficult to keep even the memory of God always. In our day-to-day life, we do not feel the need of thinking of God when we are in affluent circumstances, in play, or in enjoyment. When one is confronted by danger or when one is Overcome by fright and consternation, would confidently seek refuge in God one as Ambareesha did, when Doorvasa’s demon rushed at him. It is usual that we con gratulate ourselves on a success and remember God to blame Him for causing cur failures! We might step into a temple for a change, and promise to do this or that if we get an advantage by His grace! All this can only be dabbling with God, not at all having Him before us!

How can one keep God before himself all the time? One answer to this question is “By doing naamajapam”. I start doing naamajapam, but in a few seconds some attraction diverts my attention and my mind wanders forth, while my lips continue the japa. Presently, even that stops and I realize it only after some minutes! The cable that can tether my mind to the Lord is not there. What is it that can help me to forge it? Some stray interest peeps into the mind and brushes out the cobweb of the feeble intention of doing japa. How could that cobweb harden into steel and contain me in the japa?

It is possible only through the help of a strong faith in the need of the japa. We are usually told that God had created the world and He will grant our wishes if we are devoted to Him and pray every day. Could this idea keep one sticking to japa all the time? In the world before us we see several things we want, and get some by trial and effort. For obtaining others, we have to pray! Is not that the idea? We are to prefer prayer and meditation to incessant trial and perseverence to obtain things we do not have. God will find some granting our prayers. means of In its fulsome size this belief merges into prayer all the time. I am afraid that this cannot happen with a householder in the face of his needs and in the face of personal efforts for achieving results. He might pray to obtain things beyond his reach, but he must work sincerely to get what he could! This cannot mean keeping God all the time before him. How then could he conform to Janaka’s description? Further, this idea of depending on prayer all the time is what a sanyaasi attempts to put into practice. Prescribing naamajapa for all the time is pointing at the way of the sanyaasi! What is the way for the householder to keep God always before him, while attending to his normal duties?

We shall reiterate the question: “What can keep the householder thinking of God all the time?” It can only be some strong faith built not merely on precept but upon experience and upon a sound philosophy of life. My trouble is that I am not able to feel the futility of all worldly endeavour, and the dire necessity of a complete surrender to God. Old men say that all happiness (and grief) is transitory and surrender to the creator alone will get lasting happ iness. In my case, mere belief in a Creator is not able to make me keep Him always before me. I fight tooth and nail with a person who denies the existence of God, but I am not able to keep God before me as Janaka did! What is it that can help me?

I find a means in Mother’s words. All expe rience in this world is epitomised by her in the statement: “What we hope for does not happen; what is ours (i. e. our share) does not miss us. It is only to obtain what we want that we make any at tempt. And we keep on making attempts all the time. That means, we do not (always) get what we want, does it not? Nor can we avoid what is ours. Much of our achievement is unexpected. Every “by God’s grace” has an unexpected achievement behind it. Our life flows through inexplicable disappoint ments and achievements. Mother explains this by saying that some Energy, Force, or God guides every detail of all that happens. He who is responsible for sunrise, sunset, planetary movements, growth of plants, (human) endeavour, etc., etc., is respon sible for all happenings, pleasant as well as unplea sant. expected or unexpected. We think wrongly that we achieve something through our effort and lose something through God’s interference. All achievements and disappointments, all pleasure and pain, is due to His arrangement. So one has to go through life’s experience in the same way as he does through drought, rain and sun. All effort is God’s own and all results are willed by Him. It is too much to believe that our efforts exist inspite of His.”

So a householder, in fact everyone, moves like a pawn on a chessboard. “Our legs walk and so we believe that they do so by their own energy. The energy that enables them to walk, (call it conscio usness, God, or what you will,) is not seen, even as the strength that keeps the pillar supporting the roof. It exists nevertheless and all we see is due to It.” (Mother).

“Then, I need not do anything to help myself! Can I sit idle, waiting for what is my share?” sameone asked her. Mother replied:

“Even your intention to sit quiet(as your sitting quiet if you achieve it), is His and due to Him. You cannot do it until He initiates it. There is nothing that He leaves alone. All intiative is His.”

Visitor: And so?

Mother: Keep doing what you think is best but with the awareness that all work is initiated by Him. The success or failure of “your” doing is His. Don’t attribute to yourself what is not yours. All is His. It is because you attributed the success to your efforts and the failure to His apathy that you are tossed between pleasure and pain. When All is His, you are not to feel either defeatist or confident.

Visitor: What do you mean by ‘All’?

Mother: Your teaching, selling, thinking, All.

This awareness helps us to keep God always before us. Start attributing your experience to His dispensation. If you sometimes feel that any particular experience is due to your effort, attribute it to Him in calm reflection.. “This universe with all its complexity, is made by Him. How could this little work be due to an effort of mine? This universe, this huge matrix,stirs only according to this plan.How can I, a speck in the universe be an independent centre of action? By such cleansing process, gradually or quickly, you will achieve not only the state of having God always before you, but also a reverence and enduring love for Him. That was what Janaka described and that is a way for the householder.

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