to face Problems of Life?
A Vedantic Approach
Prabuddhananda, a senior monk of the Ramakrishna Order, is
the Minister-in-Charge of the Vedanta Society of Northern
California, San Francisco, U.S.A. This is the text of his
speech delivered at Ramakrishna Math, Hyderabad, India.
Do Problems Arise?
many Indian households the expression 'Oh it is my karma'
is used in a very negative way, as if nothing can be done
about it. That is not true. Karma can be wiped out.
seekers believe that sanchita karma, agami karma
and prarabdha karma can be wiped out through spiritual
practices and the grace of God. That is freedom. Patanjali
makes his own analysis. Why do we have problems? Because we
cling to them and do not let them get resolved. For instance,
I may have quarrelled with someone and afterwards that person
might have made amends. But still I do not leave, it being
my psychological problem, abhinivesha. If that capacity to
drop things is not practised, the problems start or multiply.
Problems are also caused due to the habit of cultivating likes
and dislikes. Certain things come but I may not like them.
On the other hand, I like certain things but they do not come.
Thus people create problems due to asmita or egocentricity
or self-centredness. There is another dimension to our character.
Sometimes we have broken the law relating to health. We become
weak mentally, and mental problems arise. It is a simple logic.
Wherever there is weakness, problems are bound to come. Swamiji's
message is that if you are strong, everything will be all
right. Again, because of our weakness we develop fear. Thus
Swamiji's diagnosis is that weakness and fear are the causes
to Overcome Problems?
may be the cause, we have to find a solution. The solution
is to accept the problem calmly and transcend it. Accepting
it does not mean that you are complacent, not doing anything.
To give an example, when a doctor comes to the hospital and
sees the patient, he accepts 'Yes, that person has broken
his leg or his heart is weak/ He won't complain or reject
saying, 'Go, get well and come/ but he accepts. That is the
advice given by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita:
'It is true that Kauravas are there. They have come to the
battlefield. Face them.' In other words, 'Accept and Transcend.'
When you accept a challenge and do not run away, you are strong.
an Attitudinal Change
are two parts to a problem. Let me give an example. My leg
is paining often. That is a health problem. That is the first
part. But the second and the more important part of the problem
is, 'How do I look at the problem?' When you see people who
do not have any problem, you start thinking, 'I have my leg
problem. Why me after all?' The second thought brings more
pain than the first one. So the perspective - how to look
at the problem - is very important. If your perspective is
right you have solved the problem. I will give you some more
examples. One branch of psychology is called 'Philosophical
Psychotherapy'. The psychotherapist admits that s/he is not
a religious person, and is not talking about philosophy. S/He
says, 'I am a psychiatrist, and I have done this experiment
with my patients successfully. According to that, if there
is a psychological problem, you must change your worldview
- that means how you look upon the world as such, the people,
the work, etc. If you have a positive outlook towards all
these and change the perspective, you will be cured of your
problems come because of our wrong way of looking at situations.
The psychiatrist gives some case histories. There was a young
minister appointed to a big church. He had to replace a very
senior, much respected and well-known minister who was also
a very good speaker. A minister is like a bishop or swami-in-charge.
He became very nervous and thought, 'How will the congregation
accept me? I am very new. I am not a scholar and also I do
not know how to speak well. What to do?' He became so nervous
that he came to the psychiatrist and explained the problem.
Then the psychiatrist asked, 'Have you come to this church
to impress people or to talk about God?' The minister said,
'Yes, I have come here to talk about God.' The next question
was, 'Where have you come? Have you come to a forest or to
a church?' He replied, 'I have come to a church. This is the
house of God. I have come to the house of God to think and
to talk about Him.' Then the minister concluded, 'I feel better
now.' That little change in attitude worked. After that he
never went to any psychiatrist. In another case, a young man
lost his friend in an accident, became thoroughly disgusted
with life and was angry with God that such a thing should
happen. His deceased friend had a young wife. The young man
got frustrated and had to go to the psychiatrist. The psychiatrist
heard all this and said, 'You are right. You are upset over
things that have happened. But there are two ways here. One
is your way of blaming God and everyone and getting upset.
The other is to view it differently. As you know, your friend
who is no more has a wife and children. Being his friend,
sympathize with them, help them, take care of them. Can you
not do that?' Then the young person felt relieved.
are some extreme cases. The idea is that by changing the perspective,
the problem gets solved. This is not new. In our spiritual
life we do that. We have to treat parents and teachers as
God: matridevobhava, pitridevobhava, acharyadevobhava.
Wife and husband and all others are God. If we develop that
mental attitude, then everything will change.
Help from Scriptures and Teachers
is another side to this, namely, to take help from others,
our friends and companions. First, one may take professional
help. People go to counsellors if there is a problem. The
scriptures are the counsellors. Keep in touch with scriptures
like Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads, The Gospel
of Sri Ramakrishna and Swamiji's Four Yogas. Mahatma
Gandhi used to say, 'Bhagavad Gita is like a dictionary
to me to solve problems. When you do not know the meaning
of a word, you refer to the dictionary. Similarly in life,
if there is any problem I run to my dictionary; that is Bhagavad
Gita and I get the answer.' Then there are teachers. Tadviddhi
pranipatena pariprasnena sevaya - discuss with teachers,
serve them with humility and then you will know.
Krishna gives this simple instruction in the Gita.
Likes and dislikes and such reactions create so much of unrest
in us. What is the solution? Be duty conscious. If you perform
your duties, you will lessen your problems. We say that duties
are difficult, and duties themselves create problems. But
if you are negligent, not performing your duties properly,
you will create more problems. Therefore, do your duties properly.
Lord further speaks about buddhi yoga, i.e. use your
discriminative mind, buddhi. Buddhau sharanamanvichcha
- take refuge in buddhi. One must develop the capacity
to reason, to analyze and think. In Vedanta, great importance
is given to the function of buddhi or vichara
or enquiry, as a means to resolve problems. Thus all our external
and internal problems can be solved by proper use of buddhi.
is this yoga of 'skill in action' in the Gita. Yogasthah
kuru karmani sangam tyaktva dhananjaya - engage yourself
in action with mind steadfast in yoga. Through yoga you can
quicken your growth, solve problems and overcome obstacles.
'Yoga is skill in action/ When you live, live skilfully. Our
problems come mostly with our working area, be it home or
office or social circle. One area is work and another is human
relationships. In this, problems come because we are not using
that skill. Lord Krishna speaks about skill in action. Without
getting caught anywhere, without making a mess, keep yourself
clean, free. When the hands are not clean we contract some
diseases, likewise we contract mental diseases also. The whole
of the Gita deals with that.
Gandhi used to say that yoga of non-attachment is the main
message of the Gita, and that when the problems arise
one should take them to God by Buddhi Yoga. Problems have
come from Him, so let them go to Him. We are devotees of God
and hence should turn the problems to God. Why should we own
problems? They are not ours. If you accept, they will become
yours and if you do not accept them, they are not yours. One
should develop the attitude of being an instrument. Nimitta
matram bhava savyasachin - 'Be thou but an instrument
thereof, О Arjuna.' I am only a nimitta, I am not the
problem-bearer. Problem is of my Master. I am only an instrument,
a puppet. Take refuge in Him. When we are with the Mother
we are very strong, as strength comes from Mother. Shankara
says in a hymn, Matastadanu-shamnam kleshaharanam -
'O Mother, by following you, by being with you, all the klesha
has gone, all problems and sufferings have gone.' Mother's
lap is all peace, all love, all protection and it is safe.
No problem comes there.
sarveshu kaleshu mamanusmara yudhyacha. Therefore the
Lord asked Arjuna to remember Him and fight the battle. When
you have problems, do not run away but hold on to Sri Ramakrishna.
When you are busy doing work, hold on to God with one hand
and do your jobs with the other. When you are a little free,
then hold on to God with both the hands.
Method of Right Mindfulness
Buddha used to speak about 'right mindfulness'. One must be
mindful, otherwise it will create more problems. This has
been discussed in Sanatsujatiya and Vivekachudamani
and other places at length. Inadvertence and carelessness
are to be avoided. Lord Buddha's last message says how to
attain nirvana: just be vigilant - Apramadeva sampadeuam.
By being vigilant, you will attain nirvana.
Your True Nature
are other Japa Yoga methods. Remember that you are the Atman,
ever free. Therefore you never had any problem. Atman is ever
pure - nitya shuddha buddha mukta. Your true nature
is ever pure, ever free, ever blissful. Call it God or Atman,
your true nature is untouched by all these problems. You are
like the sky and all these are like clouds. Let them pass
on. Even serious problems may be there but all of them will
pass. They will all go like the human bodies. Brahman alone
is true, brahma satyam. That's why the problems are
said to be mithya. They are psychological problems.
Mana eva manushydndm kdranam bandha mokshayoh. The
mind alone is the cause for all the bondage and also for liberation.
In fact our true nature is all peace, love and joy.
belong to Mother. How can I be deprived of anything? There
is no fear for me. My Mother is with me.' Holy Mother tells
devotees, 'Whenever you are in difficulty just think you have
a Mother.' That is enough. Similarly Swamiji says, 'Each soul
is potentially divine.' Remember we are all divine and so