Self-Control, the Key to Self-Realisation
people feel that they are not able to make any progress in
spiritual life, because they are born with bad tendencies
(Samskaras), and that their life is going to end in failure.
This is a wrong way of thinking. We have to counteract this
feeling with positive thoughts. That is, we should repeatedly
emphasise the divinity that is within us. We should think
that purity is our birth-right - that we are all pure consciousness.
But even if we think that we are divine, we should always
be on our guard, should always be watchful. Sometimes we make
serious mistakes. Suppose there are some insignificant ripples
in the mind, some tiny impulse produced by something from
the external world. Sometimes we may brush it aside by thinking
that such a tiny impulse cannot do us any harm. There we are
making a fundamental mistake. Even if it is a tiny something
or it seems apparently insignificant, if we are not conscious
of it, then it may ultimately do us great harm. Attachment
in any form may be enough to bring about the spiritual downfall
of an aspirant. We must carefully avoid all kinds of harmful
stimuli. We should take pains to keep our mind engaged in
higher thoughts. We should not give any opportunity whatsoever
for the lower propensities and impulses to rise and overpower
us. Swami Virajanandaji, who was the sixth President of our
great Order, has to his credit a very valuable book, which
originally was meant for his initiated disciples, but later
on was made public. It is called 'Towards Goal Supreme'. In
this book, Swami Virajanandaji rightly cautions all aspirants
thus: 'Be always alert. Never believe your mind for a single
moment. In subtle ways evil may try to beguile you by assuming
sometimes a form of virtue or a form of compassion or a form
of friendship.' Sometime we may think, 'O, I would like to
help somebody. This is my duty, my dharma. Or it is necessary
for the sake of friendship.' But that may cause our downfall.
Even by this form of compassion or sense of duty or seva,
one may get attached to a particular person. So, we must be
very, very careful.
following funny story illustrates the effects of carelessness
in our choice of company. Once an Arab built a tent and a
camel came and wanted to push its nose through the door. The
Arab objected, 'No. I will not allow you, this is my tent;
this is not meant for animals to live in.' But the camel said,
'No, no, please allow me. I would like to put only my nose
inside.' But slowly it not only pushed its nose in, but the
whole body, so much so that the Arab was very much irritated
and angry and he wanted to drive out the camel from his tent.
But initially allowing the camel to put its nose into his
tent was the mistake that he made. The camel said, 'Well,
if you do not like my presence, then you better get out, but
I will not.' So, sometimes we allow the camel to enter into
us. We must be very, very careful about this. Intense and
unbridled desire for any object of enjoyment is such an enemy
as will cause our downfall.
genuine spiritual life requires a great amount of self-control
and purity. All great ones, who realised God, emphasised again
and again the need for absolute purity in the case of those
who take to spiritual life very seriously and want to reach
the supreme goal in this very life. They must pay the price,
and there cannot be any bargaining. This is not only true
for monastics, those who lead the life of absolute celibacy
or continence, but even for householder devotees. If they
want to reach the goal, i.e., realise God, if they want real
self-unfoldment in this very life and reach the state of a
'Jeevanmukta' (being free while in this body), they must also
exercise self-control. As Sri Ramakrishna advised householder
devotees, after the birth of one or two children, the husband
and the wife must live like brother and sister. The idea is
that unless our baser urges are sublimated and we really lead
the life of absolute chastity, God-realisation is not possible.
is a quotation on this point from Brother Gills, the foremost
disciple of St.Francis of Assisi. Says Brother Gills: 'Amongst
all other virtues, I would set the virtue of chastity first,
because sweet chastity contains all perfection in itself.
There is no other virtue which can ever be perfect without
chastity. It is impossible for any man to attain spiritual
grace without perfect chastity.'
present writer once read in an English daily the report of
a talk on this subject, wherein the speaker stated, 'Those
who say that absolute chastity is to be observed, are terribly
mistaken.' Such statements are absurd. Any one who leads a
really pure life can bear witness to this. Living at the animal
level of life, makes one feel degraded. The source of all
spiritual strength lies in purity, but Brother Gills adds
an adjective 'sweet chastity'. Somethimes we may perhaps
think that if we maintain chastity and purity in thought,
word and deed, then we shall miss much of the enjoyments of
the world. So, let us enjoy the world. Here we make a fundamental
mistake. We live a life of self-restraint and not of self-indulgence.
If chastity is not sweet, i.e.. agreeable to one's aspiration,
then naturally it may create some complexes, and there may
even be a nervous breakdown. Further, Brother Gills is right
when he says that it is impossible for any man to attain spiritual
grace without perfect chastity. To quote Brother Gills again,
'Thou shalt never be able to attain spiritual grace unless
thou can master all the vices of the flesh. Therefore, fight
valiantly against thy frail and sensual flesh, thine own worst
enemy which wages war against thee day and night.' But there
is an art in this fighting. It is clear that there are many
desires of the flesh, and if we become victim to them, we
cannot realise our divine nature, which is eternally free.
Therefore, we have to wage a war constantly against our worst
enemy in the form of different kinds of worldly desires and
temptations. But should it be a frontal attack? No, for the
enemy will take 'an upper hand. That is not the way, as there
will be violent reactions. It is a fact that the flesh is
our worst enemy and if we make a frontal attack, some nervous
tension or complexes may be created. Then, what is the way?
must adopt some method or technique by which this enemy can
be overcome. Brother Gills gives us an example. Suppose a
large piece of stone or any heavy weight is to be removed.
If we try to remove it by force, we may sustain an injury
in our attempt. If we try to remove it with some ingenuity,
some device, then it can be done easily. Brother Gills says
that the temptations of the flesh producing in us the vice
of impurity are to be conquered by the virtue of chastity,
but this can be done, provided we develop a technique and
we practise real humility.
was a very holy Augustinian monk named Thomas Haemmerlin,
the author of the famous book 'The Imitation of Christ'. Swami
Vivekananda in his pilgrimage all over India carried two books
with him. One was the Bhagavad Gita, and the other was this
book 'The Imitation of Christ'.
this book Thomas Haemmerlin writes, 'The life of man upon
earth is a life of temptation. Everyone, therefore, ought
to be careful about this temptation and watch in prayer lest
the devil, who never sleeps, but goes about seeking whom he
may devour, find opportunity to deceive him.'
are to be vigilant at all times. The devil does not sleep.
If he finds that a man or a woman is careless, he immediately
tries to bring his or her downfall. We must be very careful.
But it is also said that temptations do us some good sometime.
How? Because, sometimes we become vain-glorious. We are proud
of our spiritual attainments. We think, 'Oh, I have no desire
for sense objects. I do deep meditation. I listen to spiritual
discourses,' and so on. It is through temptations that we
are reminded of such shortcomings of ours and thereby humbled,
instructed and purified. It is a fact that everyone of us
has to pass through a period of temptation. St. John of the
Cross said that everyone has to pass through what is called
'the dark night of the soul'. It seems, 'Oh, I am going to
be drowned in the ocean of worldliness. There is absolutely
no hope for any redemption or deliverance, and I am going
to sink down and down.' This is the 'dark night of the soul',
when different kinds of temptations assail us. However, if
we fight valiantly, like true soldiers, then ultimately we
shall emerge victorious.
we may be overcome by temptations. Should we run away? But
we cannot run away from the mind. By flight alone temptations
can never be overcome. We have to face them and take them
as a challenge. Suppose one runs away from a place which he
considers to be full of temptations, and thus avoids that
place. We may go to a secluded corner, but the same mind goes
there with us. Wherever we might stay, we are likely to be
surrounded by different kinds of temptations, but if we develop
the technique of training and disciplining the mind and have
the willpower to rise above circumstances and situations and
practise patience and humility, then temptations can be overcome.
We must, however, be very watchful, especially in the beginning.
us see how temptation does us harm. Firstly, it gives a suggestion
to the mind, the thought of something evil. Then it manifests
as a strong imagination. If we follow that picture which imagination
paints, we get some satisfaction. The temptation comes to
one's mind in the form of the devil and suggests, 'Oh, follow
me, imagine the amount of sense gratification you are going
to get form it.' Then imagination follows - then the thought
of some delight by following this temptation, then a little
movement - and ultimately we yield and we give consent. Little
by little the mind goes down. To counteract this, at the very
beginning, when the devil gives us his suggestions, we should
start discriminating, 'No, it is the devil, it is not for
my good. He has deceived me, cheated me, brought my downfall
many a time. If I become a victim of his temptations and run
after the sensual pleasures, then I shall not be able to comprehend
the glory of my divine nature, my real self.' So, we must
take action in the very beginning.
Haemmerlin further says that we are to become pure. How can
we be pure? To quote him: 'Entangle not thy heart to any creature.
Thy beloved is of the nature that He will admit no rival.
He would like to occupy the heart alone.' If we are devotees
of, say Sri Krishna, Sri Ramachandra or Sri Ramakrishna, the
heart must be cleared of all impurities and emptied of various
attachments to persons. If we want the vision of our beloved
Ishtam, then, as Thomas says, He must occupy the throne of
our heart alone. He does not admit of any rival. Then naturally
a question may be asked, 'We are surrounded by relatives,
mother, husband, wife, children and so many kinds of acquaintances.
What are we to do?' Yes, we can love them all but we should
try to see our beloved Ishtam in all. Our whole love should
be only for our Ishtam. We should see our Rama, our Krishna,
our Ramakrishna in everybody and then we are saved. But if
we get attached to the body-mind complex, which is not going
to last, we shall be forgetting that we are the eternally
free spirit. If we get attached to a particular person, i.e.,
a body, then we are caught in ignorance, and there will be
no liberation for us. That is the reason why it has been said,
'Entangle not your heart with any creature.'
should have conviction that the love of God alone is abiding,
that the love of all others is inconsistent and deceitful,
and that we must always have our being in our Ishtam. Then
we will be in sweet paradise. Thomas Haemmerlin goes on to
point out, 'When Jesus is present, all is well, nothing seems
difficult; but when Jesus is absent everything is hard.' Those
who are in the midst of multifarious activities must also
make it convenient to retire to the sanctuary of their hearts
and hold silent conversation with the beloved Lord. It gives
spiritual strength to fight the attractions of the world and
to neutralise all kinds of worldly influences. We have to
hold on to the pillar of God. If we do get ourselves entangled
in the so-called 'activities', then we miss the Goal. Therefore,
it is imperative that even in the midst of multifarious activities,
from time to time or at least for a few minutes, we dive into
our inner nature and pray thus: 'Oh Lord, I do not have much
time to do japa and meditation, but I have the conviction
that You are my beloved. I know that You will not admit of
any rival, You want to occupy my soul alone. I know that I
should not be attached to any creature, but how can I have
the necessary strength so that I can practise all that is
said in the scriptures? Unless You are gracious unto us, how
can we do that?' We have to learn to despise outward things
and we have to learn the things of the inner world. We are
so enamoured of the things of this outside world and captivated
by this gross phenomenal outside world that we are just not
aware of the beauty of the noumenal world - the real world
that lies at the back of the world of appearances. After all,
this world which we see with our physical eyes is an appearance
of Brahman who is the substratum of the world of appearances,
but we are so much enamoured of these appearances that the
substratum, the reality, Brahman, is relegated, and we miss
the goal. We must despise outward things and give ourselves
up to things inward. To quote again from Thomas Haemmerlin,
'The inward man He often visiteth; and hath with him sweet
discourses, pleasant solace, much peace, familiarity exceedingly
wonderful.' On the day we reach perfection we shall be able
to verify the truth of all that is said in this sentence.
come across several persons, especially youngsters, who entertain
doubts about the existence of God. But the fact is that God
is the only Reality. The opposite view is the result of ignorance.
is in us but we are not conscious of it. That is the greatest
tragedy of mankind. The more one becomes pure, the more one
feels the tangible and living presence of God within. Can
any one verify this? 'Yes, the Lord visits the inward man.'
Most of us are extroverts. We are so captivated by the outside
world that we cease to be inward in our outlook. No extrovert
can hope to get spiritual bliss. To get spiritual bliss one
has to become an introvert. Of course, to do outside activities,
we must give all our attention outwardly. We may have to become
extroverts for our day to day dealings, but along with it,
we must be introverts to reach perfection. If we can become
introverts, then God will visit us and we can have sweet inward
conversations with Him.
one gentleman sought an interview with Brother Lawrence, he
made a condition, not to make public all that he would say.
The first few years he (Brother Lawrence) struggled hard.
Then, by the grace of God, he got such an abundance of spiritual
bliss that he found it hard to control his emotions. He could
not but give expression to them. So all this is possible only
if we reach a state in which we are not attached to anybody.
It has been said in the 'Imitation of Christ' by Thomas Haemmerlin:
is vanity to follow the desires of the flesh. It is vanity
to set thy love on that which speedily passeth away, and not
to hasten thither, where everlasting joy abideth.
therefore, to withdraw thy heart from the love of visible
things and to turn thyself to the invisible.
they that follow their sensuality, do stain their own conscience
and lose the favour of God'.
we are rightly advised to give our attention only to the invisible
by withdrawing our minds from the love of visible things.
have to remember that all that is seen and all that is visible
is unreal. That which is invisible is the truth, the reality.
So we should take pains to withdraw our minds from all that
is visible and we should try to go inside and turn ourselves
to the invisible. That means that we must practise going inwards.
We must become introverts. If we do not do that but just follow
the promptings of the senses, then what happens? We lose the
fervour for God. If we want the grace of God and the bliss
of His company - the sweet visitation by the Lord, familiar
conversation with the Lord, communion with the Lord - then
we must give up running after the desires of the world of
senses. Otherwise our conscience gets stained, and we lose
the grace of God. 'Where there is lust (Kama), there is no
Rama: Where there is Rama, there is no Kama.' We cannot serve
God and Mammon together. We have to make our choice.
it is said in the same book just mentioned, 'There is no peace
in the heart of a carnal man; nor in him that is addicted
to outward things but in the spiritual, and the fervent man.'
These are verily mahamantras, great formulas of Truth.
inward man who has been able to overcome the desires pertaining
to the senses must gain peace of mind. Running after desires
may seem the correct thing to do in life, but in reality it
simply makes you restless. 'There is no peace in the heart
of a carnal man.' A carnal man means one who follows the desires
of the body. 'Nor in him that is addicted to outward things.'
The inner world is so sweet that there cannot be any comparison
with anything of the outside world. If we take any object
of this world and enjoy it for long, it is likely to produce
a reaction after some time. But spiritual bliss is a joy of
the inner world which never produces any reaction. On the
other hand, the mind will always say, 'Oh, I am happy. I am
in immense spiritual bliss! Oh, the joy of it! Oh the bliss
of it! I am full of Anandam. My human life is blessed.' We
will be in perpetual joy. But this we cannot hope to have
unless we become inward men. If we always seek outward things
and if we are not fervent and spiritual men, then we cannot
obtain everlasting joy. We have to be sincere seekers after
truth. We must have Viveka and Vairagya and be deeply attached
to the God within. We should not have any kind of attachment
to any creature. We must be deeply devoted to the Lord alone,
or to put it in a single sentence, we must be inward men,
and then we will have real peace.
has rightly observed, 'Nothing so defileth and entangleth
the heart of a man as the impure love to the creatures.' If
the question is asked, 'Should we not love other creatures?
Should not a mother love her children?' Naturally the answer
is that a mother should love her children, but the mother
should see Gopala (Krishna as child) in them. In this way,
divinisation and spiritualisation of day to day relationship
is what is required. In everyone we must see the beloved,
the face of the beloved; then there will be no problems.
from Thomas Haemmerlin's 'Imitation of Christ' let us now
refer to the 'Unseen Warfare' by Lorenzo Scupeli. Naturally,
as a Roman Catholic priest he had to pass through 'the dark
night of the soul'. All those who take to religious life seriously,
do not want to give up their sincere attempt to reach the
goal. That means they go on struggling. If one keeps up the
struggle, one is finally rewarded. In what form? We have depressions
and feel as if we are sinking down, but God is gracious to
us ultimately. He looks to our intentions. When he sees that
a sincere soul is struggling against the pull of the senses
and against so many kinds of odd situations, then He rewards
the sincere person. So ultimately, such a devotee, an inward
and fervent man, is rewarded by illumination. So 'the dark
night of the soul' is followed by spiritual illumination and
spiritual realisation, provided one keeps up the struggle.
This Roman Catholic priest had to pass through different periods
of struggle and from his experience he wrote this book, giving
his advice to sincere spiritual aspirants. He begins thus,
'I realise that you want to reach the height of perfection;
I appreciate your readiness', and then he adds something which
reminds us of a verse from Vivekachudamani having a striking
affinity with it. He writes that somebody expressed to him
a desire, saying, 'Father, I want to reach perfection in this
life, as Jesus said "Be perfect as your heavenly Father
is perfect". I am willing to undergo any kind of hardship.'
Then the Roman Catholic priest said, 'Well I am glad to know
about your noble intentions', and then he added, 'Blessed
be your zeal.' Now Sankaracharya expresses a similar idea
in Vivekachudmani - which is a book in the form of a dialogue
between Guru and Sishya. A disciple comes, offers his salutations
to the Guru and asks, 'What is bondage? How did it arise?
How is one freed from it? What is this non-self and who is
the Supreme Self? How can one discriminate between the two?
Pray, vouchsafe all this to me.' Then the beneficent Guru
replies, 'Blessed art thou; thou hast achieved thy life's
aim and hast sanctified thy family as thou wishest to be a
knower of Brahman by removing the fetters of bondage'.
Vivekananda in one context says, 'Believe and you are free
this very moment.' We are told that when Swami Vivekananda
was in the Bay area of San Francisco, his mind was on a very
high plane. He would always be on the plane of Atman. Swamiji
would say, 'The hour will come when great men shall arise
and cast off these kindergartens of religion and shall make
vivid and powerful, the true religion, the worship of the
spirit by the spirit.' This is the miracle that is going to
take place in the modern age. Now, the spirit is seeing itself
as the body and therefore we are not conscious of the higher
dimensions of life. This rare human life is given to us to
realise our divine nature and it is possible, provided we
take pains to stop the wrong identification with the body
and deny the promptings of the lower self. Once this is done,
the inner self will shine in all its glory and splendour.
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