(continued from previous issue)
Work becomes purely a spiritual form of worship – only the character of selfhood is introduced into the area of this performance of work, and into the location of the direction towards which your work is motivated. You are serving your own self when you serve humanity. People glibly sometimes say, “Worship of man is worship of God.” It is just a way of saying without understanding what they mean. How does man become God? You know very well no man can be equal to God. So how do you say that the service of man is equal to the service of God?
So merely talking in a social sense does not bring much meaning. It has a significance that is deeper than the social cloak that it bears, namely, the essential being of each person is present in each other person also. So when you love your neighbor as yourself, you are loving that person not because that person is your neighbor in the sense of a nearby person, but because there is a nearness which is spiritual and not merely social. The person is near to me as a spiritual entity, as part of the same self that is me, rather than a nearness that is measurable by distance of yards or kilometers etc.
The spiritual concept of work is the great theme of the Bhagavad Gita, which is another subject. The whole theme of the Bhagavad Gita is how we can conduct our activity in the sense of a transmutation of all its values into spiritual worship. Actually, service is not service done to anybody else – that term ‘else’ must be removed from the sentence; it is service done to a larger area of one’s own self. This idea can be planted in one’s own mind by doing service of any kind, whether it is service of Guru, service of mankind, or work even in an office without laying too much emphasis on the salary aspect, etc. If the administration is well managed, the salary will come of its own accord; you need not – cry for it; and this universe is a well-managed organization. It is not a political system which requires amendment of laws and regulations constantly. Everything is systematically ordained, and therefore you need not have any doubt in your mind whether you gain anything at all by doing service in this manner. When you serve your own larger self, which becomes largest when it is a service done to the universe as a whole, virtually you are serving God, because the largest self is God. And it is an expanded form of your own self. This is the point to be borne in mind. This has to be borne in mind again and again because of the fact that this is the subject of the Upanishads.
So this dirt of the mind, so-called, the Mala or the impurity that compels the mind to move in the direction of sense objects, this dirt can be scrubbed off by work, hard work, service, labor – let it be, but done in the spirit of a service done to a larger self of one’s own self. Then work becomes worship and Karma becomes Karma Yoga.
A discipline of this kind was instituted in earlier days when it was obligatory on the part of students to serve their Masters and learn under their tutelage. Narada, a master in all the arts and sciences conceivable by the human mind, went humbly to the great divine sage Sanatkumara, as recorded in the Chandogya Upanishad. “I am unhappy, Great Master.” “What have you learned already, Narada?” “All the things in the world, all the sciences, astronomy, physics, psychology, axiology, aesthetics, ethics, civics, astrology, economics, politics, religions, philosophy there is nothing that I do not know. But I have no peace of mind.”
The great master said, “All this that you have learned is only a word; you have not gone to the depths of things the Atman has not been studied. You have only collected words, names, information about the outer structure of things, the name and the form complex of things has been made available to you by your studies that you have enumerated just now, as a series of learnings.”
Likewise in the Upanishads we have instances of great seekers humbly moving towards sages and saints for the purpose of making themselves fit to receive this knowledge. Even after achieving considerable success in purifying the mind of this dross of the tendency of the mind to move in the direction of objects of sense, by duty, by service, unselfish work, the mind will refuse to concentrate on this subject. It has, as I mentioned, very fleeting ideas, one is this that I have been enumerating just now.
The other is incapacity to fix itself on anything for a long time. You try to think of something for a long time, continuously let us – see what happens. Go on looking at this tree and thinking this tree only and nothing else, after a few minutes you will think of another tree nearby. You will think of the mountain in front. You will look at the river; you will look at all the buildings, and people moving about. Distraction is another malady of the mind. How will consciousness rest itself in its pure subjectivity which is the Atman if this fickleness continues for a long time and then makes it impossible for one to be aware of anything other than what it outside?
But there is a greater danger, namely, the inability to know why this discipline is to be undergone at all. What for is all this study, Sir, finally? What do I gain? You bring a business mentality once again – what do I gain by way of profit? The mind of the human being is made in such a way that it will not undertake any kind of work, project or activity unless it is told that something will follow. This is exactly what the Bhagavadgita has condemned you should not expect anything to follow from the pure subjectivity aspect of the work because that which follows, as it were, is a futurity which you are trying to inject into the presence. You are creating a conflict between the present and the future. Naturally there is a difference between the present and the future when you think of the future possibility of the attainment or obtaining an objective far ahead in time as a fruit accruing to the work that you are at this moment doing at the present. But the Atman is a present, it is not a future.
The reason or the rationale behind this study, this activity, is something beyond reason itself. The reason behind the need for study for the nature of the nature of the Atman -you have to say this reason is super-rational. What can be more important than your own self? Is any burden of material value superior to your own existence? Has the world any meaning minus you? Let your existence be isolated completely. You will find that the world will stand as a series of zeros or ciphers unless there is a single stroke of a figure that makes sense and which is the Atman who does things.
There is a screen covering the consciousness of this pure subjectivity in oneself that screen is called Avarana, the third – defect of the mind. Dross – physical impurity, is removed by Karma Yoga or performance of unselfish action. The fickleness of the mind is subdued by Upasana or devout worship. And Avanara or the veil is removed by Jnana or wisdom of life. The Bhagavadgita is a standard gospel on the art of Karma Yoga, unselfish spiritual activity. The Epics and the Puranas highlight the path of devotion, Bhakti or Upasana, love of God. Upanishads deal with Jnana or wisdom of the ultimate reality.
So, this teaching that is going to be imparted to you is not to be taken as a diversion from the ordinary regime of life, but a very serious matter which will polish your personality but also in human society. The teaching in academy of this kind is a spiritual discipline, it is not just intellectual information.
So I have told you something briefly about the nature of Karma Yoga or unselfish action, performance of duty for duty’s sake, as a standard method laid down before us by the ancient master for cleansing the mind of all dross of extraneous desires in the direction of objects of sense; and Upasana is the love of God that you evince in your own self by daily worship performed in whatever way you would like to carry on.
When you conceive the Supreme Being, you have in the beginning a spatio-temporal imagination of that Being. God is very big, very large, very far away, very great, adorable; you offer your prostrations to that Almighty as something lovable. Even the Upanishads sometimes refer to the Supreme Absolute as the most lovable. Vanam means adorable; that Being is the most adorable. That thing which you call God, that thing which pulls your attention in its own direction, that which is the ultimate reality of things, that which is the Self of the cosmos, is the most magnificent, beloved, lovable, beautiful, most essential of all beings. And one who loves this Ultimate Being as the most lovable, is loved by the whole world. You attract things towards yourself because you are attracted towards that which is everywhere. This is the best way of making friends in this world. You need not read Dale Carnegie and all that. If you are attracted towards that which is everywhere wholly and souly, the entire world will be attracted towards you as a natural consequence of the attraction that you feel towards that Ultimate Reality. This is how you can honestly love it, if you want to be loved by others. How can you expect love from anybody if you yourself have no love for that which is the essence of all things?
Worship or Upasana is conducted in many ways, by ritualistic methods, as we have it done in temples or on alters in one’s own house, by Japa or recitation of the Divine Name, by Japa Sadhana, by prayer which is offered in the form of actual articulation of voice or even mentally, or study of scriptures. All these constitute part of Upasana, adoration, the feeling of love for that which is supremely divine.
All this process will have to be carried on for a considerable period of time in order that the fickleness of the mind may be subdued. Otherwise, if you give scant attention to this difficulty in the mind, you will find that you will not be able to appreciate the methodology prescribed in the Upanishads for the realization of the Atman. You will not only not be able to do this, you will also have a difficulty in even knowing why this meditation is carried on at all. Because many people honestly feel or may feel a difficulty in knowing what will happen to them after attaining God. Everybody knows that one has to attain God, but what will happen to you afterwards? You cannot answer this question easily because you have still a defective understanding of what you are, and therefore there is a defect persisting even in your attempt to know what will happen to you at that time. However, by protracted practice of Upasana, by worship, by Japa Sadhana, by Svadhyaya, by Jnana, and your own notion of God whatever that notion may be, the fickleness of the mind comes down. It will be attentive afterwards.
After having sufficiently undergone this discipline by which the distraction of the mind is subdued and also the impulse towards sense objects is curbed, you can become a good student of the Upanishadic philosophy.
In the Upanishads, three disciplines are mentioned which are equivalent to what I mentioned to you as Karma, Bhakti and Jnana, namely sacrifice, austerity, and Gurupasakti, approaching a master for teaching. Sacrifice in ancient Vedic terminology meant, of course, the offering of holy oblations in sacred fire, but sacrifice may also mean offering mentally anything that you would like to dedicate to God. There can be externally performed sacrifice or Yajna, or a mentally conceived Yajna or sacrifice. You can be charitable by a gesture outside, or you can be charitable in your own feeling. A charitable feeling is more important than a charitable gesture. I am not trying to dilate upon the subject of sacrifice now, as many of you may know what it actually means, and also as it is not the main subject of our study.
Austerity is very important. Tapas is the pre-eminent prescription of the Upanishads for self-control, which means actually the inhibition or abstraction of the tendency of the mind to move towards things other than the self. Austerity or Tapas can be performed or carried on gradually by systematic adoption of graduated methods. The first thing you can do in your life towards performance of austerity is avoidance of luxury and go-lucky attitude. Have or keep with you only those things which are necessary for you, and don’t keep those things which are not essential for a reasonably comfortable existence. This is the first step that you can take in austerity. Something is necessary for you under certain given conditions, okay, granted. But more than that you need not ask for. Eating, sleeping and comforts of any kind have to be within the limit of the exigency that you feel under the conditions that you are living, for the work that you are doing, etc, etc, and beyond the limit you need not go. This is the first step that you may take towards austerity. Austerity is physical, verbal and mental. You have to be restrained not only in your physical appurtenances but also in the words that you speak and the acts that you do.
That is, it should not cause any kind of disharmony, incongruity in the atmosphere, and towards that end you may manipulate and adjust yourself ably for being a humane individual, a good person, in the sense that your presence does not cause conflict with anyone. In eating and in other well-known comforts of life, you maintain a minimum to the extent that it is absolutely essential. Here also a note of caution has to be exercised, namely, austerity does not mean torture of the body, nor does it mean indulgence. The path of the spirit is a via media; the golden mean is the path of spirituality.
We have the well-known incident often cited by people in connection with the event that took place in the life of Buddha, or perhaps it is also connected with Raja Janaka’s life. Some angels were playing a stringed instrument and they were saying, “Tune not the sitar too high nor too low. If the string of the sitar is tuned too high, it will not give music, it may even snap. If it is too low, it will make a dull humming sound, it will not give music.” Neither this extreme nor that extreme is the path of the spirit. Any kind of suffering is to be avoided. Over-indulgence also is to be avoided. Therefore, austerity is also a cautious exercise of one’s demeanor in respect of one’s own self as well as in respect of others.
So the Upanishad prescribes sacrifice, Yajna, as one method or means of self-discipline, and the other method being austerity, self-control. Self-control is actually taking all necessary steps available for oneself to enable the mind to fix its attention on the root of its own existence, the Self that is behind the mind, the real you that is so valuable to you. When it is a question of yourself, you would like to abandon everything else for the sake of yourself, meaning thereby that the importance that you attach to yourself, for some reason or other, surpasses the importance that one feels to anything else in the world.
So, sacrifice and austerity; and then you have the most important teaching again, the third one, study under a teacher, a competent master who has trodden the path, who knows the pitfalls, who knows the difficulties, who acts like a physician with you. With these methods the dirt of the mind is scrubbed off, the fickleness is brought down, and the veil covering the Atman is lifted gradually, and the light of the sun of the Pure Spirit will shed its radiance automatically from within one’s own self; knowledge will arise from within you. This is why it is said when you know yourself, you know everything. Know thyself and be free: Atmanam vidhi.