"After our youngest son had seen Star Wars for the twelfth or thirteenth time, I said, "Why do you go so often?" He said, "For the same reason you have been reading the Old Testament all of your life." He was in a new world of myth." Bill Moyers, interview with Joseph Campbell










CONTENTS1. The Call From Within  





               1. The Call From Within



     There are quite a number of devotees who are initiated disciples of the Ramakrishna Math. They often say: 'We have received Mantra-Diksha, but we don't seem to have made any progress in the spiritual path. Why is it so?' In answer it has to be pointed out first of all that one has to become serious about the goal. For most of us that goal consists in the fulfilment of certain worldly ambitions. Most people desire to become doctors, engineers, administrative officers or business magnates. But the supreme aim, the goal, should be to attain perfection in this very life - to realise our true nature, which is absolute existence, absolute knowledge and absolute bliss. If this is the Goal Supreme of human life, then this goal becomes easy to attain, provided we are fortunate enough to learn the path from a Sad-Guru, a realised soul, who is the visible representative of our chosen ideal or Ishtam.

     Now, who really aspires after the Goal Supreme? Only the one who hears the call from within. When Swami Vivekananda met his Great Master, Sri Ramakrishna, he sang two songs and the Master was very much pleased. The first line of one of the songs is:


     'O mind! go back to your own abode.'


     This is not our real abode. Our real abode is elsewhere. That does not mean that our abode is high up in the heavens. It is within us. As Jesus said, 'The Kingdom of Heaven is within you.' As Sri Krishna says to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra in verse 61, chapter 18 of the Bhagavad Gita.


     Isvarah sarva-bhutanam

     hrd-dese' arjuna tisthati |

     bhramayan sarva bhutani

     yantr'arudhani mayaya ||

     - The Lord abides in the hearts of all beings, О Arjuna, causing them to spin round by His power, as if they were mounted on a machine.

     It is within, but if we run after the so-called pleasures of the world, then our life goes in vain. As Jesus said, we have got this human life only to become perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect.

     The other song sung by Swami Vivekananda when he met Sri Ramakrishna runs thus:

     'Oh Lord! must all my days pass utterly in vain?'


     It is only when we are tired of the so-called worldly pleasures, tired of the play-land of illusion, that we want to go back to our real abode, and turn our gaze within. Only then we shall want to withdraw ourselves from all kinds of worldly allurements and attractions. Therefore, only those who have this kind of longing will hunger and thirst for the Eternal and the Infinite. If the question is asked, 'Why should we withdraw our minds from the pleasures of this mundane world? Why not let us seek happiness outside in external objects?' - the answer is, 'Well, one can get some amount of happiness, some amount of pleasure, no doubt, from things which lie outside us; but we are not concerned with temporary happiness.' Abiding peace and lasting happiness are possible only when we realise the Infinite and realise that the Infinite is our real self. So, in self-realisation alone, or in the attainment of the Goal Supreme, lies the real fulfilment of human life. Why is it that we should strive after the Infinite or the Eternal? Who can attain the Goal Supreme? Only those who find in themselves a conflict. There are millions and millions of people throughout the world who do not bother about the higher values of life and are satisfied with the so-called pleasures of this world, who do not believe in the existence of the other world, who do not believe in the existence of the soul or the Supreme Spirit. For such people there is no conflict obviously.

     But if real awakening dawns on any one of us, we cannot but have some kind of inner conflict. If we have no inner conflict, then there is no need for a spiritual quest at all. Only when we try to withdraw our minds from the outside world and practise introspection or, to put it in another way, prefer to become introverts instead of extroverts, that we experience a conflict. For those who are extroverts, there is no conflict whatsoever. There may be some people who claim to be religious. They are, however, so in a superficial sense only. For example, there are those who visit temples and places of pilgrimage. They may also go to the Kumbha Fair and have a dip in the holy confluence of the Ganga and the Yamuna rivers. These, however, are just certain obligations which can be described as social religion. We have to make a subtle distinction between such an attitude and the aspiration to attain the Goal Supreme. So those who are after the highest goal cannot but have an inner conflict, while those who follow routine habits of a ritualistic type, may not suffer from any kind of conflict.

     Those who are really seized with the problem of reaching the Goal Supreme in this very life do not belong to any ordinary category of men and women. They belong to the category of mystics or persons who want to open themselves to the inner drama. We feel drawn to the highest values of life, to the highest ideal, which is to reach perfection in this life. But at the same time we are subject to the demands of the body. This is the source of the conflict, the tug-of-war, so to say, between the inner call of the spirit and the allurements of the senses. We want to advance steadily towards the Goal Supreme but the allurements of the external world pull us in the opposite direction. The body refuses to collaborate with the ideals we have in mind. We are torn between these two opposite tendencies. On the one hand we feel a genuine urge to realise God, but on the other hand, such are the temptations surrounding us that we feel there are forces which run counter to us. Therefore, we can safely say that all cannot reach the Goal Supreme and all are not qualified to make the pilgrimage towards the Goal Supreme. We should remember that true spiritual life is possible only for the chosen few. There cannot be any such thing as mass spirituality, for it is not possible for all to be spiritual. It is meant for the chosen few - to those who have the conviction that the goal of life lies in attaining our real nature which transcends the bodily life.

     Even though there is a conflict between the spirit and the flesh, we must have also this conviction that, though genuine religious consciousness is meant for the few, we belong to this group - the chosen few. Well, it is meant for the chosen few, but why not think, 'I am also one of the chosen few?' We must have this faith in ourselves, this tremendous confidence; otherwise we lose all interest and become pessimists instead of optimists. We must become robust optimists and have this kind of conviction. We should also remember that very few people really care for the great treasures of spiritual life. There are people who like to waste their human life in sense pleasures only. So those who do not get the inner call are apparently satisfied with the sensual pleasures of the world. If we run after sensual pleasures, then we will be mined ultimately. In one of the writings of Swami Vivekananda, he did make use of this expression: 'In sense pleasure lies the ruination of man. Not in sense indulgence, but in sense denial lies the key to eternal happiness.' So those fortunate few who listen to the call from within should also be prepared to pay the price for it. Those who hear the call to make the pilgrimage to the Goal Supreme, must have this inner awakening and awareness, and at the same time, must be prepared to follow the path with dogged tenacity and a tremendous amount of perseverance.

     Sankaracharya has pointed out in the 3rd verse of Vivekachudamani that three things are rare attainments in life:

     Durlabham trayam ev'aitat
     daivanugraha-hetukam |
     manusyatvam mumuksutvam
     mahd-purusa-samsrayah ||

     -There are three things which are rare indeed and are due to the grace of God, namely a human birth, the longing for liberation and the protecting care of a perfect sage.

     Human birth is a rare thing. The grace of a true Teacher is rare. So also is the desire to know God or to have the real longing for liberation. But one would like to add something more, which is very important - we must be very serious. Let us assume we have all these. We have got this rare human birth, we have got our Guru's grace, we have learnt the correct technique, and we have the holy company. Even then we may lack something - eagerness to profit by all these three.

     We must be ready to undergo any kind of hardship on the way of our pilgrimage towards our Goal Supreme. Now what do we mean by seriousness? If we are really serious about reaching the Goal Supreme, there has to be a parting of the ways. Parting of the ways is inevitable in spiritual life. Sometimes we follow the beaten track - the so-called humdrum, monotonous mundane life, and we are slack in our spiritual efforts. We have the grace of the Guru, we have got the Mantra. We read the Kathamrita or the Gita or the Bible. But all that is not sufficient. With most of us, spiritual striving stops mid-way. In the beginning, we have some interest and enthusiasm; but later, when we find we have no tangible proof of any spiritual bliss, we lose interest. Our spiritual practice then becomes mechanical. Therein lies a great danger. Our minds are very restless and always outgoing. Naturally, we find it hard to maintain the original fervour as years roll on. That should never happen.

     William Wordsworth, in his famous poem Intimations of Immortality rightly says, 'Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting.' Another of his poems has a very significant title, 'The world is too much with us.' If the world is too much with us, then it will be very difficult to reach the Goal Supreme in this life. If the world is too much with us, naturally, we become extroverts and we will end this precious human life in the so-called phantom pleasures of the world. So there is a difference between the ordinary people and the genuine spiritual seekers or aspirants. To us, ordinary mortals, this world which we see with naked eyes, the visible and empirical world, is the only world, the real world.


     But to a knower of Brahman or to a realised soul or a saint, anything which is visible to the naked eye is unreal. Such great ones reject as unreal, anything which has a form or a name. They know that this is a world of appearances and that the self alone is the reality. To them the inner world, the spiritual world, which lies at the back of the appearances, is the real world. The majority, however, do not care to bother themselves with the inner world. Why is it so? Because we are so sense-bound that this world alone looks real. Therefore, those who want to reach to Goal Supreme in this life should be very, very careful.

     Spiritual life is really a life of dedication to the highest. It is a life of consecration and of sacrifice. It is a life of one-pointedness. For this, a certain amount of divine discontent is necessary. If we are very happy with all the pleasures of the world, then we cannot hope to reach the goal. Sometimes we do get some kicks and blows from the world, and then we are brought to our senses. Therefore, it is said that if we have a certain kind of discontent and an understanding that anything of this world cannot give us real, lasting happiness, we will be able to destroy our attachments to worldly matters.

     Now, regarding the parting of the ways, there are two distinct ways - one is the path of Pravritti and the other is the path of Nivritti. The former is the path of the pleasant (Preya) and the latter the path of the good (Sreya) - the path of enjoyment and the path of renunciation, the path of sense-indulgence and the path of sense-control. The Mundaka Upanishad symbolises the Jivatma and the Paramatma as two birds of similar plumage sitting on the self-same tree of the body. These may also be called the apparent self and the real self, or the lower self and the higher self. So we have to decide once for all which path we are going to choose. Swami Vivekananda, while giving a talk at New York, observed, 'Since death is inevitable, let it go in a noble conquest, and what conquest is nobler than the conquest of the lower man?' Now, unless we are prepared to pay the hard price to achieve mastery of the lower self, the higher self cannot be unfolded and revealed to us. It is hard struggle, but we must be prepared to pay the price for it.

     In this connection it may be relevant to refer to the concept of Maya and its two-fold powers, Avarana and Vikshepa. Stangely enough, though Wordsworth was not born in India, in his poem, he has used two words, 'Sleep and forgetting' in the very same sense as this twofold power of Maya. By 'sleep', he means the sleep which makes us unconscious of our divine self, and by 'forgetting' he means forgetfulness of our real, divine nature. Here in the concept of Maya, we find two words, Avarana and Vikshepa. Avarana means concealment of reality - a kind of veil which hides our real self. Vikshepa means distortion of reality as something else in our mind. We are supposed to believe what we are not. These two are the two functions of Avidya or Ajnana, of illusion-producing ignorance. It is because of this Maya that ignorant people are deluded and they see many objects here instead of Brahman, the one without a second. The truth is we are divine. 'Aham Brahma Asmi.' We behave like limited beings, finite beings, (as Jivas), but the truth is we are Brahman - 'Jivo Brahamaiva Naparah'.

     It is because of the Vikshepa Sakti, the projecting power of Maya, that we do not realise our true nature. How can we overcome this two-fold power of Maya known as Avarana and Vikshepa? It is a fact that due to ignorance, we first forget our true nature, which is one of pure consciousness. Secondly, we are supposed to believe and behave like Jivas or finite or limited beings, which we really are not. Is there any way out then? There is, provided we are prepared not to cling to any kind of false attachments. Hence spiritual life, i.e., genuine spiritual life, is meant for the chosen few. It is not meant for the masses.

     Now let us come to some other guidelines. As Sri Ramakrishna said, 'Let us be honest; let us not be traitors to our thoughts.' Do we really want to reach the Goal? Do we really want realisation? It we really want it, we will be able to reach it. He also said, 'As we think so we become.'

     There are examples of this kind of spiritual transformation. Take the case of Valmiki. As a young man he took to highway robbery to support his family which consisted of his mother, his father and his wife. He used to rob even elderly people of their wealth, just to maintain his family. One day, as he was going along a road, he met Narada, the great saint. The robber did not know about the spiritual excellence or greatness of Narada. He waylaid Narada. But Narada was very compassionate to the young robber and asked him, 'Why have you taken to this path?' Whereupon Valmiki replied, 'Well, Sir, I have no other alternative; I have to maintain my family.' Narada said, 'But by doing this you are incurring sin. You murder people. Now go and ask the members of your family, your father, mother and wife, if they are prepared to share the sins you are committing by such acts of robbery,' Valmiki replied, 'Oh yes, of course, I am sure that they will share the sins, because I am maintaining them.' Narada said, 'Go and ask them.' Now to make sure that Narada did not run way, Valmiki tied Narada Muni to a tree and went home. Then he asked each member of his family, 'Do you know how I maintain you? By acts of murder and robbery. I am committing these sins to maintain all of you. So you are supposed to share part of the sins accruing from these acts.' They replied, 'No, it is your duty to maintain us.' The wife said, 'You are my husband and it is your duty to maintain your wife.' The parents said 'You are our son; it is your duty to maintain your parents. So we are not prepared to take any share of your sins.' All these replies shocked the young robber. So he came back, untied the rope, released Narada and then requested him, imploringly, 'You have opened my eyes, Sir, and I take refuge at your holy feet. Show me the way to lead a virtuous life. I entreat you, please accept me as your disciple.' And Valmiki learnt from him the correct path of spiritual Sadhana. He did so much Tapas and meditation, that an anthill (Valmika) grew around him, and out of that he had a new birth, as it were, when he emerged from it. That was the great Valmiki. When he realised the futility of the so-called worldly affection and love, and found that they were shallow, he was brought to his senses.

     Then take the case of Gautama, the Buddha. Siddhartha was a prince and he lived in a great palace with acres of gardens and many servants. He had a beautiful wife named Yasodhara and a son, Rahul. One night Gautma was in the midst of the dancing girls of the palace in a banquet hall, but suddenly he was filled with a tremendous disgust. He left the hall and went to the palace garden where he sat under a tree and started meditating on what he had been doing in life. He thought, 'A little while ago, I was enjoying the company of dancing girls, but it gave me only a transitory joy. It seems that if I run after the sense-pleasures, I shall never gain lasting happiness.' He was seized by a tremendous force of Vairagya (dispassion) and became intensely dissatisfied.

     It was now midnight and all was dark and silent in the garden. Suddenly, Siddhartha had the good fortune to hear divine voices. A chorus of celestial beings was singing the following proclamation which changed the life of the wealthy prince.

     'We mourn for rest. Alas! But rest we can never find. We know not whence we come or where we float away. Time and again we tread this round of smiles and tears.

     In vain we pine to know whither our path leads us and why we play this empty play. Rise, dreamer from your dream, slumber not again.'

     On hearing this divine message, Siddhartha's mind became clear and he felt the inner urge to take to a life of renunciation. He went back to his room in the palace for the last time to take a final look at his wife and son. He then resolved in his great zeal for knowing the truth, to bid goodbye to all the sense pleasures once and for all. He then set out on his famous pilgrimage which culminated in his attaining supreme illumination under the Bodhi Tree at Bodh Gaya. He was henceforth known as Gautama the Buddha, the Enlightened One. How beautifully Arnold has expressed, 'Time and again we tread this round of smiles and tears.' Swami Vivekananda has also said: 'Down we go, animal man once more, eating and drinking and dying, dying and drinking and eating, again and again.'

     We should always remember the fact of death - the inevitable hour that awaits prince and pauper alike. We are all here today, and tomorrow we shall not be so. When the call from the other world will come, we are not sure. Any moment death may snatch us away. 'Naked and alone we come out from mother's womb, and naked and alone we depart from this world.' We cannot carry with us any worldly possessions, any of our relations, dear and near ones.

     This is the hard truth, the hard reality. Is it not prudent on our part to be serious about spiritual life and to reach the Goal Supreme in this very life? This does not mean that all have to become monks and nuns. We must develop dispassion. We must always remember the real fact that everything of this world is temporary, short-lived. As Sri Ramakrishna used to say again and again, 'We have to discriminate between the real and the unreal. God alone is real, eternal; all else is unreal, non-eternal.' So in the midst of a thousand preoccupations of the world, if we have the right attitude of Vairagya or dispassion, then only can we reach the goal, as has been mentioned earlier.

     'Rise dreamer, slumber not again.' As Swamiji said, 'Arise, awake and stop not till the goal is reached.' So we are to arise. We are not to dream. Many a time we have had dreams - all false dreams. What is in this life? Once we realise our divine nature, then even if death comes, we shall be sure that we are not the body, nor the mind, nor the senses - we are the Atman, eternally free. Before the call from the other world comes, let us be ready so that we can meet death smilingly. But how many of us can do that? Only those who are serious about their spiritual life.

     In continuation of the reference made to the stories of Valmiki and the Buddha, it will be relevant to take the case of the western mystic St. Augustine to illustrate how tremendous earnestness is required to reach the Goal Supreme. A study of the book, Confessions of St. Augustine, will give us immense spiritual benefit. Augustine had to pass through a real struggle - struggle between the call of the inner spirit and the call of the external body. Every day he would say, 'Oh Lord, I know you are the truth, you are the reality. I must reach you, I must realise you. It is true that you are within me, as you say the Kingdom of Heaven is within us. But somehow I go down to the level of animal life, to a very low level of animal existence. Why? I find it hard to resist the temptations of the senses. I want to realise you as the spirit, but the senses pull me down, and everyday I say: Lord, let me enjoy a little of the delights of the senses today, a little sense pleasure. Please forgive me. From tomorrow I am not going to listen to their allurements. Tomorrow I will follow you, my beloved Lord. But let me enjoy today.'

     Then he was seized with a tremendous mental struggle and he cried out in agony, 'O Lord, how long? Tomorrow and tomorrow! Why not today and why not now? I am a poor mortal. I fail, I am conscious of my limitations, of my weaknesses, of my imperfections. Unless you come to my rescue, it will not be possible for me to respond to your call. Everyday I resolve that I will turn over a new leaf from tomorrow. But again I fail, I go down. So, Lord, be kind and gracious to me.' One day, he was so serious that he cried out. 'Oh Lord, how long! How long! Tomorrow and tomorrow? No. Why not now, today itself?' Then, he heard the voice, the divine voice, just as Gautama Buddha had heard - the voice of celestial beings. St. Augustine has himself confessed that he committed all kinds of sins possible on this earth, yet even so he had the desire to know the truth; he had the desire to know God, to realise Him. And because he had that, he was saved. But he confessed that he was not a traitor to his thoughts. As Sri Ramakrishna said, 'Don't be a traitor to yourself. Admit your weaknesses, admit your imperfections. God is within you. If you confess your faults, God will forgive you and you can realise the truth.' That happened in the case of Augustine too, and so when he said, 'O Lord why not come to my help today itself?' Then he heard the voice 'Wake up, read that page from the Holy Bible.' And he opened it at a particular page and got some inner guidance and resolved lo have nothing to do with the temptations of the senses and he became a great saint. So let us not be traitors to our thoughts. We are all conscious of our limitations and imperfections. It is true that God is so kind and so compassionate that if we do take refuge in Him, He will forgive all our imperfections. But the thing that is necessary is sincerity and real tenacity on our part.

     And then, as to reaching the Goal Supreme, we must give our whole mind to God - not merely a part of it. It we think that we give a part of our mind to our family relations, a part to our jobs, a part to this person and that person, to this work work and that work, and we want to reach the Goal Supreme also - then we are terribly mistaken. If we want to reach the Goal Supreme and that too in this very life, we must be prepared to give our mind in its entirety to God. We must be prepared to make all-round surrender to God. A question may be asked: 'How can I give my mind in its entirety to God? If I give the whole mind to God, then what about my day-to-day relationship with my family and with all the work I am expected to do? I have to attend to so many people. Naturally, I have to give my mind to my job, to my duties and obligations.' The remedy is, the great ones say, 'Give your mind, but spiritualise your relationship.' Give your mind only to God and believe in your heart of hearts that God dwells in every man. He is here, there and everywhere. He is omnipresent and so He is in every person, in every job, in every duty. Therefore, while doing all works, discharging all duties, if one can give one's mind, the entire mind, to God in this way, one can overcome the struggle. As Swami Vivekananda said, 'The goal of human life is to manifest the divinity which is within us.' First, we must have the conviction, that we are divine and then we are to manifest the divinity in our day-to-day life. As Swamiji said, 'My ideal indeed can be put into a few words and that is: to preach unto mankind their divinity, and how to make it manifest in every movement of life. There is no distinction between the secular and the sacred, all work is worship, no work is secular.' Whether one is a doctor or an engineer or a housewife or a monk, one has to engage oneself in hundreds of activities, but we should always try to spiritualise our relationship with others in day-to-day life, nay, in every moment of our existence.

     The present writer would like to recall an incident from the life of Swami Atulanandaji Maharaj, as this will help us all to spiritualise our day-to-day relations with others. I was then a novice, a probationer, a Brahmacharin, who had just joined the Order. I was confronted by a kind of conflict. As a Brahmacharin I was expected to do Japam and meditation at particular times. In those days, I was in the Belur Vidyamandir, which is a residential college. One day my Principal, Swami Tejasanandaji, reminded me that Saraswati Puja was drawing near and that I would have to attend a rehearsal which he was organising every evening from 6 to 7 p.m. (which was the time fixed for my Japam and meditation in the evening). My Principal asked me, 'Can you come and help me? I have to arrange for the rehearsal of students who are going to enact a drama.' I was obviously in a mental conflict. I had just joined the Order, and it was a time earmarked for my spiritual practices. Shortly after, I had the good fortune of going to Barlowganj - at the foot of the Mussorie Hills where Swami Atulanandaji Maharaj was then living. Swami Shraddhanandaji, who is now the Head of our Vedanta Society of Sacramento, asked me to go to Atulanandaji, as he was a monk of spiritual attainment. So I went to him and one day when I got a chance, I just unloaded my mind. 'Maharaj, I am just a novice. I have just joined only; but sometimes when I am in our college, I have to do certain duties at a time when I am supposed to do meditation. Then what am I to do?' His reply to this was as follows: 'The question you have put to me is the same question I had put to Swami Turiyanandaji when we were in the Shanti Ashram in America.'

     Incidentally, let me inform my readers that Atulanandaji was born in Holland, took Diksha from Sri Sarada Devi, the Holy Mother, and had the good fortune to come in contact with a number of the direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, including Swami Vivekananda. I now refer to that period, when Atulanandaji was in the United States living at Shanti Ashrama at San Francisco with Turiyanandaji. Swami Turiyanandaji wanted to give special training to a number of sincere seekers after Truth, so that they could realise their own divine nature. With this end in view, he took with him a group of aspirants to Shanti Ashrama. Atulanandaji was fortunate enough to join the group and he also went with great expectations that he would do Japam, meditation and study scriptures all the time. But to his great surprise, after they had gone there, the members of the group were given different kinds of duties, such as bringing firewood, water and so on, and naturally they did not get much time for Japam and meditation. Atulanandaji was mentally disturbed about this, and one day, being unable to control himself, he asked Revered Hari Maharaj (Turiyanandaji), 'Swami, you have given me so much work, but then where is the time for meditation?' At this, Revered Turiyanandaji of hallowed memory told Atulanandaji, 'My son, remember always that the life of a spiritual aspirant is one of continuous meditation. What more time do you require?' Atulanandaji told me when I met him at Barlowganj Ashram that this reply of Hari Maharaj opened his eyes and that till then he was under the impression that bringing firewood and water are all secular activities; but now he understood that this was a wrong attitude. The whole life is to be divine. The entire life is one of continuous meditation. Every work or act is an act of worship. The reply Atulanandaji got from Turiyanandaji was the same reply that he gave me when I approached him with the same question, and that solved the problem once for all.

     So, if we develop this attitude, then only it is possible for us to spiritualise our day-to-day relationship with others. When it is said that the mind in its entireity is to be given to God, it implies that it is possible, provided we do not make a distinction between the secular and the spiritual. A question may be asked: 'For those who are in the worldly life, is it possible?' Yes. Try to spiritualise your day-to-day relationship. Remember always the truth that the life of a spiritual aspirant is one of continuous meditation. Let there be no break.



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International Yoga Day 21 June 2015
International Yoga Day 21 June 2015






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