Break of a Rosy Dawn
the end of a deep, dark night when the eastern horizon begins
to turn pink, it heralds the arrival of a new day, and thereby
the beginning of a fresh chapter of possibilities and opportunities
in life. It is the time to wake up and get ready to confront
the challenges that life flings at us. When the dawn breaks,
scattering the gentle rays of the rising sun all over, it
is a moment of fresh hopes and aspirations. It is an invitation
to rise up, change our ways, if need be, and march towards
our cherished goal with renewed vigour and enthusiasm.
similar but of much greater and far-reaching significance
happens in the lives of many who wake up to a new reality
in life. It is like meeting with someone on the way, who,
though a stranger to you, manages to steal away all your attention,
time and even urgency of your journey, and gives an altogether
new direction and sense of purpose to your life. When this
awakening takes place, suddenly, as if without much notice,
one finds oneself face to face with a fact which had been,
till then, neither important nor appealing to oneself. Such
an inner encounter often leaves one bewildered. One feels
puzzled, wanting to change one's life-style in a way that
would reflect this inner revolution. One can neither set it
aside nor rest content without doing something concrete; it
ignites a sense of urgency in the mind, which catches him
off guard, as it were.
begins the spiritual life. Thus begins a life oriented to
a higher ideal. It begins with this inner awakening. This
phenomenon of spiritual awakening is one of the most intriguing
facts of life. Though it is an event that happens rather rarely,
it does keep occurring in the lives of many men and women
all over the world. To those blessed few who experience it,
what startles them is the mystery of its absence till then.
They wonder as to where was it 'hiding' while they groped
in the dark alleys of different pursuits of life. On the other
hand, to those who are sleeping, the awakened ones become
a puzzle. 'What has happened to them? Why this change in them?'
they ask with disbelief and surprise.
when and how does a man wake up spiritually is largely unknown.
What is known, and what the common human faculty of expression
can afford to express is much meagre and inadequate compared
to what really transpires. A quiet process, invisible to our
eyes, goes on deep in our mind, making us ready for this momentous
moment. And one fine day, comes a catalyst: a chance meeting
with a person, or reading or listening to a lecture or going
to a holy place or some such happening, making it burst forth.
One feels ushered into a new world, then.
living a higher life, inner awakening is the very first
step. Psychologically speaking, awakening means becoming aware
of something higher, and recognizing its presence and importance.
Awakening is essentially an act of discovering what remained
hidden, though it was right within one's reach all along,
and realizing its worth and usefulness. It is, as if, something
that had been kept in a cold storage, is brought out, and
you ask, often with a tinge of regret, 'How is it that I had
never seen it before, though it was so easily accessible!'
millions are awake enough for physical labour,' wrote Henry
David Thoreau, the great American Transcendalist, 'but only
one in a million for effective intellectual exertion; only
one in a hundred millions to a poetic or divine life.'(1)
Indeed, the majority of people remain asleep to spiritual
life; they are awakened only to the world of senses and ego.
They are awake enough for 'physical labour', and to them life
means labouring for a comfortable physical existence. They
live contented with the immediate results of their labours
- food, clothing, shelter and security for a rainy day. Engrossed
as they are in their struggle for existence, their minds are
unfit as yet for conceiving any higher purpose of life. They
are, what Sri Ramakrishna calls, the baddhas, the bound ones.
there are people who wake up to the joy and satisfaction of
an intellectual life. In the ladder of evolution, they stand
elevated above those whose life is focused on only fulfilling
their physical needs. Intellectual awakening drives them to
read books, or travel to places where their intellectual hunger
can be appeased. They read voraciously, or attend learned
lectures or participate in intellectual discussions. They
are intellectually hungry and any hunger by definition, needs
a few fortunate ones, whose time has come, truly wake up to
the world of spirit. The ideal of spiritual perfection, somehow
- they do not know how - begins to appeal to them. They are
the people whom Sri Krishna describes in the Gita as 'one
among thousands' (Manushyanam Sahasreshu, Gita, 7.3). Such
people cannot sit idle, spiritually speaking. A strong taste
for spiritual life develops in them. They are not bothered
what others talk of this change in them. Nor are they unwilling
to be labelled 'peculiar' by others. A kind of inner boldness
to explore the unknown realm of spirituality comes upon them.
Such people, however, are small in number, very small indeed.
But those few are sufficient to bring blessings to humanity.
For who brings the greatest good to mankind? One who is awakened
spiritually. Thus awakened, he sees everything in its perspective
and that is the most vital prerequisite to do good to others.
Neither good nor evil disturbs his mind. His little self becomes
un-important to him. And, being freed from the shackles of
his little 'I', he is able to see the bigger 'Thou' and enjoy
awakening brings about a sense of holiness or sanctity in
life. When a person sets on a journey to the Holy One, called
by various names in different religions, he naturally begins
to lose all that is unholy. 'As a man moves towards the east,'
says Sri Ramakrishna, 'the west is left behind.' Just as one
cannot travel towards east and west simultaneously, holiness
and un-holiness cannot coexist in the same person. An unholy
man cannot be holy at the same time and vice versa. By holiness
is meant the sense of oneness with God as exhibited in one's
life. The more one feels nearer to God, the farther one goes
away from his basal instincts of greed, lust, anger, jealousy
and so on. When the mind is thus freed from these bondages,
a sense of light pervades one's whole being, a sense of being
one with the inherent divinity comes; holiness is what it
is generally called.
does not wake up to spiritual life as long as one has not
exhausted one's desire for pleasures of the senses. Desires
cast a veil of darkness over the mind, stealing away its ability
to perceive the spiritual reality. Just as at night, the existence
of sun looks false and unappealing, similarly when desires
cloud the mind, the existence of a spiritual reality looks
false and unappealing. To a man, on the other hand, who is
awakened, one need not tell him to do spiritual practices.
Sri Ramakrishna illustrates this through a parable: a child
was going to bed, and said, 'Mummy, if I feel hungry, please
wake me up', and the mother said, 'I need not do that. Your
hunger itself will wake you up.'(2) Having broken his slumber,
the awakened man naturally feels the importance of spiritual
striving. The night of laziness and indifference to spiritual
illumination has come to an end for him. The Gita (2.69) speaks
of the man who has reached the ideal of spiritual life thus:
'That which is night to all beings, in that the self-controlled
man awakes. That in which all beings are awake, is night to
the Self-seeing muni.' Spiritual awakening is the first step
towards this supreme state of being awakened. This marks the
beginning of spiritual journey.
do people, generally, not wake up to spiritual life? As stated
earlier, until one has 'tasted' the enjoyments the world offers,
one does not feel any inclination towards God. When one has
gone through the promise of happiness which senses offer,
and seen through their futility, one begins one's search for
a higher experience. One has to get conclusively convinced
that what one is looking for or is ultimately working for
is not to be found in the 'world' but in the state of consciousness
that experiences everything in the world. It is learning to
reach our divine core within and finding our joy there. It
is searching for the right thing in the right place. Generally
we need experience either by our efforts or by observing others
to come to this inner conviction. The Mundakopanishad (I.ii.12)
speaks of it in this way: 'Let a wise one, after having examined
all these worlds that are gained by works, acquire freedom
from desire; nothing that is eternal can be produced by what
is not eternal.' Examining a thing means to see its pros and
cons, weighing it on the scale of experience and seeing how
much good it has to offer. Examination of this kind leads
to the development of the ability to discriminate, the power
one's state of ignorance about the real nature of man, which
is divine, and a fountain-head of infinite bliss, one seeks
fulfilment through satisfying one's desire for enjoyment.
Desires themselves are born of ignorance of our divine nature,
which is in fact ever-fulfilled (purnam). This ignorance produces
in us a feeling of inadequacy. This in turn drives us to make
ourselves complete and self-sufficient. We thus seek fulfilment,
which presumes an inner spiritual lacuna. This feeling of
inadequacy, though illusionary, is the breeding ground for
desires; and thus we are asleep to the spiritual reality.
desire once it is born, craves for fulfilment. This craving
is the cause for life itself. That is how and why the Indian
spiritual tradition believes, man is born and reborn. As one
birth is insufficient to fulfil one's desires, considering
the ever-rising number of desires in mind, man keeps taking
birth again and again. Fulfilling one desire only gives birth
to another desire. It is only, after a long time (no one knows
how long) when one is disillusioned that one turns to God,
or his own divine nature in order to obtain ever-lasting happiness
and security. 'At the end of many births, the man of wisdom
takes refuge in Me, realizing that all this is Vasudeva (the
innermost self). Very rare is that great soul,' says Krishna
(Gita, 7.19). Many births means many experiences that one
undergoes while fulfilling one's desires for enjoyment.
if spiritual awakening be so un-common, and if it comes only
when one has undergone a lot of experience, what is the way
out for those who are intellectually convinced but feel no
deep urge to take to spiritual life? The wise counsel given
by spiritual masters in this matter is to live a life of moral
discipline and integrity, alongside doing one's chosen spiritual
disciplines with regularity and devotion. As one religiously
follows this counsel, one's mind slowly gets freed from deep-rooted
habits of cravings for the goodies that the world offers.
This sets the stage for awakening.
company, i.e. associating oneself with those who are spiritually
inclined, is also a great and effective aid to quicken the
process. When, once asked by a devotee that how one can develop
love for God, Sri Ramakrishna replied, 'By being in holy company.'
Holy men think of God. To them God is real, a something that
they live with, aim at and commune with. Their life indicates
a sense of 'reality' that they have as regards God. When one
lives with them, one as well gains a taste for spiritual life
that slowly works its way through the inner world of our being.
we wake up in the morning, we naturally ask ourselves, 'What
is my today's schedule of things that I have to attend to?'
And having asked thus, we plan up and start our day. A man
who is spiritually woken up also asks himself, 'What are the
steps I should take to reach the spiritual goal that has dawned
upon my mind?' He thus begins his spiritual strivings. When
one wants to plant a tree in a soil, one has to first make
it suitably clear and ready. One may have to remove a lot
of weeds that may have been growing there. In spiritual life
too, a lot of de-weeding of inner life takes place before
the plant of spirituality can take firm roots. Many of our
pet notions and attachments will have to be 'de-weeded' before
our spiritual efforts start bearing any result. All this begins
only when one has woken up.
understand the dynamics of spiritual life, one has to understand
the psychological process behind it. This understanding enhances
our ability to do our spiritual practices better. Spiritual
awakening, Sri Ramakrishna often said, is like the breaking
of dawn. And as the orange orb of sun of spirituality rises
on our mental horizon, it brings in a new and welcome change
in our lives' total working. The new direction, fresh outlook
that emerges thus is basic to life, per se. For if the society
be an aggregate of individuals, a change in individual's life
is the key to a change in social life too. And a change in
individual begins with this awakening. Every religious tradition
ultimately aims at bringing about this inner awakening. History
is replete with numerous instances of this inner change and
it has aptly been called 'spiritual conversion' of the soul.
Being born in the world of spirit, man takes up the most salutary
direction that life can have - experiencing the reality called
Quoted in The Gift Unopened, Eleanor Stark, Peter E Randall,
1988, Box 4726, Postsmouth, NH 03801, p. 1.
M., The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, trans. Swami Nikhilananda
(Chennai: Sri Ramakrishna Math, 1974), 93.