Obstacles to Spiritual Life
if we have heard the call from within to return to our real
abode, such is the attraction of the outside world that this
call to return within is drowned in the din and. bustle of
the market place. But those who persist in listening to the
call, do get a momentary glimpse of the reality within, when
the clamour of the outside world subsides for a while. When
this happens, then at least for a short time, we do not allow
the attractions of the outside world to assail our minds.
At such times, one realises 'I am picking up just a few pennies
in the market place whereas in my true home, in my real abode,
there may be a treasure awaiting me.' But unfortunately, the
tragedy that besets man is that he is so enamoured of the
few pennies of the outside world, that he does not take pains
to look within continuously. But those who are serious, cogitate.
'Enough of the attractions of this world; now Т must be serious;
I must elevate myself and get possession of the spiritual
treasure which is within me.' Only by realising this does
one become immortal and get abiding peace and happiness. So
when one become serious, one tries to turn away from all the
different attractions of the outside world and practises regular
self-analysis and self-introspection.
let us suppose that all of us are serious students. By now
we have learnt that, with the help of discrimination, we shall
be able to achieve a certain amount of understanding of our
real Self: and as a result of discrimination, one comes to
the understanding that the supreme truth is, 'Thou art That'
or 'I am Brahman' or 'Atman alone abides.' What we see in
this world of ours, is just an appearance or Maya, while the
objective is to reach the Goal Supreme. How to reach it? We
have to tear off the veil of Maya; we have to discover Brahman,
the substratum of reality beneath the changing phenomena of
the world. Well, it is easy to say so, but it is very difficult
to reach that Goal.
what are the obstacles? There are some major obstacles. One
is our attachment to all that is non-Atman. In the Bhakta
Sammelan or Spiritual Retreat at the Delhi Ramakrishna Math,
there is a continuous devotional programme from morning till
evening, including a brief guided meditation. In that guided
meditation, we are advised to detach ourselves from everything
that is non-Atman. Because we get ourselves attached to the
non-Atman, we find it very difficult to realise reality at
the back of this universe. Here is one example. Suppose one
purchases a jewel box; the box is a container and inside the
box there is a precious jewel. There may be some who are not
bothered to know what is inside the box. One may be foolishly
so attached to the container, to the box outside, that the
awareness of the presence of the jewel within is lost. Let
us take this body. This body is a container. We are so infatuated,
wrongly, of course, through Avidya (ignorance), that we get
ourselves attached to the container, this body-mind complex,
and we do not want to discover what is really inside the container.
If the body-mind complex is compared to the jewel box, then
the gem inside the box is our real nature, the Atman or Pure
Consciousness. Now, only when we realise the value of the
gem, shall we want to get rid of this jewel box. The jewel
box is valuable to one as long as he does not possess the
gem inside. Once he gets possession, of the gem, he can do
away with the jewel box. But foolishly, we are so enamoured
of this body that we don't want to realise the Atman, which
is within us. The Atman is completely relegated to the background,
and this happens because of our inordinate and foolish attachment
to the outside box of our body-mind complex.
listen to spiritual discourses and read scriptural texts.
We gain something from all this, but the tragedy is that we
lose it in the course of various kinds of distractions and
temptations of the outside world. Our condition can be illustrated
by the following analogy. Certain kinds of weeds grow in ponds.
Beneath the weeds, which cover the surface of the water, there
is crystal clear water. Now it is to get the pure water of
knowledge of the Atman that we listen to religious discourse.
But when we go back to our respective places and live our
monotonous lives, we are surrounded by such temptations that
very soon the weeds grow again and cover the surface of the
water. These weeds cover up the opening of the mind.
is the remedy? We must neutralise the effects of the outside
world. That means, we have to spiritualise our day-to-day
relation with one and all. The entire life of an aspirant
after Truth should be one of continuous meditation, as Swami
Turiyanandaji, a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, says.
We have to practise this constant remembrance of God to neutralise
the effect of the influence of the outside world. But even
though we resolve to do this, often we fail in our attempts.
Why do we fail? Listen to Swami Viveka-nanda. 'The greatest
of all lies is to think that we are bodies. All worldly love
proceeds from the body.' And we take this body to be absolutely
real. That means, we give so much attention to the container
that we do not care to know what is inside the container;
we become worshippers of our instincts and our body. Sarada
Devi, the Divine Consort of Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna, though
devoid of any formal education, was Saraswati and Jnanadayinee-the
bestower of wisdom and knowledge. Sri Ramakrishna used to
speak of her in these terms. On one occasion she said: 'What
is there in the body? It will be reduced to ashes and the
worth of this perishable body is just one and a half seer
of ash.' In the same strain Rajani Kanta, a great mystic poet
of Bengal, says. 'Even now I am so infatuated with this body
and filled with the thought that I am this body.
moment of our existence is filled with the thought of the
body, body and body alone. Nothing other than that. But unless
we get rid of this body consciousness, realisation of the
Self is not possible. So it boils down to this. We are now
concerned with some valuable guidelines towards the Goal Supreme.
Our objective is to realise God or realise our divine nature,
and for that we need some guidelines. One such guideline is
that we should cease to identify ourselves with the non-self.
Swami Vivekananda has said, The truth is to see the impersonal
in the personal, but due to ignorance we see the personal
in the impersonal.' To explain this saying: What is Truth?
Truth is Impersonal-it is the Atman, Pure Consciousness, which
is above the body-mind complex.
have to detach ourselves, dissociate ourselves wholly from
the non-self, from all that is non-Atman. Because we cannot
do that, we come to endless suffering, birth after birth.
this connection, it would be relevant to narrate an interesting
story about a crocodile and a fox. The fox is a very clever
and sly animal. It so happened that once a crocodile came
in contact with a fox and they had a dialogue. The fox said
to the crocodile: 'My friend, human beings are very great
and powerful, because they cultivate land and they raise different
kinds of crops. So let us do something. Shall we also cultivate
land and raise, say a crop of paddy?' The crocodile welcomed
the idea; 'Friend, I agree, let us raise the crop.' And the
crop was raised. At the time of sharing the crop, the fox
said to the crocodile, 'My friend, tell me which portion of
the crop you want for yourself?1 The crocodile was very ignorant;
it was not clever like the fox. The crocodile said, 'Well,
I would like to have the root of the crop and not the top
of it.' Naturally the fox was very happy at this reply. He
got all the grain, the crocodile got only the hay. As time
passed, the fox again said, 'Friend, let us now raise a crop
of sugarcane.' That was done. Again, the fox asked the crocodile,
'What portion of the crop do you want to take?' Now, the crocodile
thought, 'Last time 1 demanded the root, now let me demand
the top of the sugarcane.' Afterwards he found he was wrong
in his selection this time also. He found that his friend,
the fox, did not point out his mistake, but cheated him. Now
the crocodile asked the fox, 'How is it that you took the
correct decisions and that both the times I made the wrong
choice?' Then the fox replied, 'It is because of my superior
wisdom.' Mark the language 'superior wisdom'. Then the crocodile
thought, 'Well, I am getting old, I am going to die one day.
I have little children who should grow up properly and they
must have superior wisdom.' So he decided to send his little
children to the fox and they were sent to him. Time elapsed
but the little children did not return. Naturally, the mother
crocodile was very anxious as to what had happened to her
little children. So she expressed her agony to her husband.
But he said, 'Don't be worried. They are safe in the hands
of our friend. He will not betray us.' But even long after,
the children did not return home. Then Mrs. Crocodile insisted
on her husband going to bring back the children. The story
goes that when the father crocodile went for this purpose,
he could not find the fox. He was in a pond swimming merrily
and did not notice the coming of the father crocodile. There
was no sign of the little children. 'Perhaps they might have
been eaten up by the fox,' thought the father crocodile. Anyway,
father crocodile asked, 'Where are my children?1 No answer.
At this the father crocodile became very angry and then said,
'I am not going to wait any more. Do you know that I am a
crocodile, and you only a fox. I am going to eat you up.1
The crocodile caught hold of the fox by one of its legs. At
this the fox said to the crocodile, 'Well you cannot touch
me. You just caught hold of my leg: The father crocodile became
all the more angry and then he touched his belly. 'Oh, you
have caught hold of my belly only, you have not touched me;
you cannot kill me.'
moral of the story is: if we do not identify ourselves with
the non-self, if we treat our parts as parts only, i.e., the
non-self as non-self only, then we are not going to be deceived
by the world of phenomena, i.e,. the world of appearances,
Basically, intrinsically, we are indestructible, immortal
spirits, eternally free. Anything of the domain of non-Atman
cannot affect us. So this is something very important. We
should think in terms of Atman alone and in. the language
of Swami Vivekananda, 'It is the duty of every soul to treat,
to think of, and behave with, other souls as such, i.e., as
way of overcoming the attractions of the outside world is
to be above the ideas of male and female. So long as we confine
ourselves to the domain of this body and mind, the question
of sex arises. But the soul is sexless. Even though we hear
about this truth, talk about it and meditate upon it, it is
very difficult to realise this. So what is wanted is Vairagya,
dispassion for all mundane things. We have to give up our
false attachment to this body and mind. This is possible,
provided there is a change in our attitude.
who are really serious about the Goal Supreme should remember
one important truth, that when they take up the spiritual
life, they are opening a new account, so to say. A great spiritual
personality of our Order of monks, Swami Yatiswaranandaji,
used to say that real spiritual life is like opening a new
account with a bank. We have to close all old accounts. What
does it mean? That means, if we want to lead a spiritual life,
we should forget old habits, old desires and old inclinations,
and we should not yield to any kind of fresh craving. No doubt
this is very difficult, because we have so may desires of
the body as also many desires of the mind. But we are concerned
with the attainment of a goal which can be attained only when
we are prepared to transcend the limitation, only when we
are prepared to transcend the limitation of the body-mind
complex. If we are to reach our real divine nature, the Atman
or Pure Consciousness, we should not get attached to the body-mind
complex, allowing ourselves to be victims of so many desires.
Is it possible? Then sometimes the thought may also come to
our mind, 'We have had a bad past.' To such a person, the
great ones will say, 'Do not brood over the past, but forget
all bout it.' It has been said, 'Every saint has had a past,
and every sinner has a future.' What kind of past? It might
be a very inglorious past. We must have the conviction that
as every saint had a past, so every sinner can have a glorious
future. If we take up this line of thinking, it will help
us to overcome whatever impure impressions there are in our
mind. This was the teaching-a very, very valuable legacy-bequeathed
to posterity by Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna, the highest of incarnations
who ever came on this earth. He would not encourage devotees
saying, 'I am a sinner, I am a sinner.' And that is the reason
why we find his illustrious disciple Swami Vivekananda saying
in one of his lectures: It is a sin to call a man sinner.'
if we find our mind out-going, it is because the Lord has
created us in such a way that we cannot but be prone to different
kinds of attractions of the outside world. As it has been
said in the Katha Upanishad:
khani uyatrnat svayambhuh |
paran pasyati n'antaratman ||
The self-existent Lord created the sense-organs, including
the mind, with the defect of an outgoing disposition; therefore
man perceives things outwardly, but not the inward self.
we have a biological heritage, it is also a fact that we have
something divine in us, highest in us- the divine heritage.
Still the memory of our failings, of our imperfections, of
the impurities of our biological heritage sometimes haunts
us. If we indulge in such thinking, we will not be able to
reach the Goal Supreme in this life, as we are born with such
bad impressions. These are the moments, when we have to assert
our higher nature. If what one is today is due to bad inherited
tendencies, one has to remember that there is also something
divine in him. Instead of making much of the biological heritage,
why not assert our divine heritage and say, 'I am eternally
perfect.' Such a thinking will help us. But who can do this?
Who can have this type of discrimination that if he has a
biological heritage, he has a divine heritage too? Here, the
right use of the Buddhi (purified intelligence) will come
to our help. It is a fact that man is heir to a set of two
heritages, one biological and the other divine. It is only
by virtue of our intelligence or Buddhi that we differ from
animals, and only by virtue of our intelligence do we get
a glimpse of our divine heritage. Now, what is this intelligence
or Buddhi? We all know that in our life there are times when
we are perplexed. We do not know what to do when we are at
a cross roads in life. When such a situation occurs or happens
in our life, we listen to the voice from within. Our inner
voice tells us, 'Do this, don't do that.'
present writer is here reminded of a conversation he had with
a great personage of the Ramakrishna Order when he was a novitiate.
He approached the venerable Swami Visuddhanandaji with a self-analysis
chart, showing how many virtues he tried to cultivate in the
course of the day and in how many he had failed. On being
asked to give the list of virtues he tried to practise, he
read out the first three slokas of Ch.16 of the Bhagavad Gita,
known as Daivi-Sampat. They are as follows:
damas ca yajnas ca
tapa drjavam ||
Fearlesses, purity of mind, steadfastness in knowledge and
concentration, charity, self-control and sacrifice, study
of the scriptures, austerity and uprightness;
santir apaisunam |
hrir acapalam ||
Non-violence, truth, freedom from anger, renunciation, tranquillity,
aversion to fault-finding, compassion to living beings, freedom
from covetousness, gentleness, modesty and steadiness, i.e.,
absence of fickleness;
ksama dhrtih saucam
Vigour, forgiveness, fortitude, purity, freedom from malice
and excessive pride, these О Pandava (Arjuna), are the endowments
of him who is born with the divine nature.
hearing this, the Maharajji remarked, 'My son, practise one.
Don't do anything which has not the sanction of the inner
conscience. Always remember that the voice of conscience is
the voice of God. The inner conscience always tells us the
right thing. But we don't care to listen to the voice of conscience.
Because we don't care to listen to the voice of conscience,
we come to endless grief.' While I was wondering why Bhagavan
Sri Krishna had told Arjuna of twenty six virtues, whereas
Maharajji was speaking of only one virtue, the thought dawned
on my mind, that he must be saying something from the depth
of his spiritual realisation and conviction.
is another pointer towards the Goal Supreme. It will be worthwhile
to understand the subtle distinction between the superior
'I' and the inferior 'I'. The inferior 'I' tells us to do
this and do that. Consequently, we have many desires and these
desires are endless and always uncertain. But if we want to
overcome all kinds of desires which take us away from our
path of absolute spiritual perfection, then we have to subject
ourselves entirely to the serious discipline by which the
inferior 'I' could be conquered by the superior 'I'. The formula
is there for us in the 5th verse of the Gita, Chap.6.
hy atmano bandhur
ripur atmanah ||
means, 'Man should himself bring about his own emancipation;
he should not (at any time) discourage himself, because every
man is said to be his own Bandhu, i.e., helper, or his own
a man raise himself by himself. Let him not lower himself.
We are our own friends and we are our own enemies. When we
allow ourselves to be prompted by the inferior 'I', we lower
ourselves. Then we allow ourselves to be defeated by our own
enemies. But when we can take pains to follow some spiritual
discipline to overcome the prompting of the lower (inferior)
self, so as to rise up to our superior self, then our mind
is our own friend. The poet Samuel Daniel also expresses a
similar line of thinking. How correctly he writes that 'Unless
above himself he can erect himself, how poor a thing is man!'
So we have to erect ourselves.
we take pains to assert our divine heritage, how poor a thing
is man! Man is poor if he only allows himself to be dictated
to by the lower self, the animal self, the biological self.
In fact, as Sri Ramakrishna said, 'He is a man, who is conscious
of his own divine nature.'
Ramakrishna gave his highest blessing on the Kalpataru day,
i.e., on 1st January 1886, at the Cossipore Garden House near
Calcutta by uttering these significant words: 'May you all
be spiritually illumined!' On that day Sri Ramakrishna was
specially compassionate to the devotees. In a divine mood
he touched all the devotees present on the occasion. As a
result of this divine touch, each one had an immediate inner
transformation and was blessed with the vision of his individual
Ishtham (Chosen Divine Form).
language of Sri Ramakrishna's blessing is very significant,
because only when we are spiritually illumined are we immediately
conscious of our divine nature. Sri Ramakrishna, by blessing
those devotees on that day, did not bring down from heaven
any Gods or Goddesses before them, but he just made them conscious
of the Sat-Chit-Ananda - the indwelling spirit which is behind
illumination was the great contribution of Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna
to mankind. It is absolutely necessary that those who are
after spiritual realisation in this very life, should completely
change their manner of acting and thinking. We want the highest
truth, but we are not prepared to pay the price. We have to
pay the price. No doubt, it is a very long and painful process.
But let us not allow ourselves to be defeated.
we have received the inner call, we should not let this precious
human life go in vain. No doubt, there will be ups and downs
in our spiritual journey, but let us not be downcast and dejected.
Let us have an optimistic attitude and be up and doing and
be prepared to pay any price to transcend the limitations
of this material existence to achieve immortality. If desires
of various kind pull us down, side-track us from the real
path, remember that there is something in us, a steady compass,
Buddhi, i.e., the voice of Conscience. If we listen to our
Buddhi, then with the help of the compass which is at our
disposal, we shall be able to steer clear of all dangers,
difficulties and temptations that may come in the way, and
reach the Goal Supreme. So, what have we to do? By repeated
practice; bit by bit, we have to build up a nobler personality.
We have to seek a method by which the inferior 'I' is to be
counteracted by the superior 'I'.
there may be many people who may not be competent enough for
the path of discrimination. Then let them take to the path
of devotion, which they can practise easily. Here, Ishtha
Nishtha, i.e., devotion to one's Chosen Deity, can help them.
Leela Chintana, (mental contemplation of the divine sport
of an incarnation) will be of great help. Before one starts
one's spiritual practice, one would do well to go, in imagination,
to the different places associated with an incarnation. For
example, those who are the devotees of Sri Ramakrishna can
make it a habit to make a pilgrimage mentally to Kamarpukur
and Jayrambati, the birth places of Sri Ramakrishna and Sri
Sarada Devi respectively, and all the other important places
there associated with their lives. Then one can go to Dakshineswar
Kali temple, the place of the Sadhana of Sri Ramakrishna and
to the Cossipore Garden House where he left his mortal coil
and bestowed freedom from fear on all devotees by revealing
Himself. Such a habit enables one to get the mind collected
from its wandering and habits and get focussed on the sanctuary
of one's inner heart where one's Chosen Deity resides.
if we have deep devotion to our Chosen Ideal and if we can
make our beloved Deity our constant companion, then there
is nothing to be afraid of. For, it is said that if He is
with us, nothing harmful can befall us, but if He is absent,
all that is harmful rushes to us. It is a fact that He is
with us, in us, but the tragedy is that we are not in Him.
The right attitude of the devotee should be to be always with
Him in the same way as He is with us and in us.
just referred to the help one can get by taking recourse to
imagination. A criticism may well be levelled against this
practice: Does not this amount to some kind of auto-suggestion?
Does auto-suggestion help us? I reply, we can say, there are
beneficial autosuggestions and harmful auto-suggestions. An
autosuggestion which gives us a lift, which helps us to get
possession of the higher dimension of our life, is to be always
welcomed. Swami Siddheswarananda, a respected senior monk
of our Order who did pioneering work for the cause of Vedanta
in France, once pointed out to the present writer that the
kind of auto-suggestion or imagination which helps spiritual
unfoldment has a certain philosophy behind it. Therefore,
the auto-suggestion which helps an aspirant to unfold his
spiritual self should not be branded as useless. On the contraiy,
it has to be accepted as a valuable aid.
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