"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












CONTENTS2. Obstacles to Spiritual life  




               2. Obstacles to Spiritual Life



     Even 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.

     Now, 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.

     Now 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.

     We 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.

     What 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.

     'Every 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.

     We 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.

     In 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.'

     The 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 gods.'

     Another 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.

     Those 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.'

     So, 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:

     paranci khani uyatrnat svayambhuh |

     tasmat 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.

     If 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.'

     The 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:

     Abhayam sattva-samisuddhir
     jndna-yoga-vyavasthitih |
     danam damas ca yajnas ca
     svddhydyas tapa drjavam ||

     - Fearlesses, purity of mind, steadfastness in knowledge and concentration, charity, self-control and sacrifice, study of the scriptures, austerity and uprightness;

     Ahimsa satyam akrodhas-
     tyagah santir apaisunam |
     daya bhutesv' aloluptvam
     mardavam 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;

     Tejah ksama dhrtih saucam
     adroko n'atimanita |
     bhavanti sampadam daivim

     abhijatasya Bharata ||

     - 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.

     On 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.

     Here 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.

     uddhared atman'atmanam
     natmananm avasadayet |
     atm'aiva hy atmano bandhur
     atm'aiva ripur atmanah ||

     This 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 enemy.'

     Let 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.

     Unless 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.'

     Sri 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).

     The 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 everything.

     Spiritual 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.

     Once 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'.

     But 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.

     Further, 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.

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






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