"Unselfishness is God. One may live on a throne, in a palace, and be perfectly unselfish; and then he is in God. Another may live in a hut and wear rags, and have nothing in the world; yet if he is selfish, he is intensely merged in the world." - Swami Vivekananda
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CONTENTS9. Self-control, the Key to Self-Realization  

 

 

 

 

          
               9. Self-Control, the Key to Self-Realisation

 

 

 


     Some 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.


     The 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.


     A 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.


     Here 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.'


     The 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?


     We 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.


     There 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'.


     In 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.'


     We 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.


     Sometimes 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.


     Let 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.


     Thomas 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.'


     We 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.


     We 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.


     God 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.


     When 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:


     'It 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.
     'Endeavour, therefore, to withdraw thy heart from the love of visible things and to turn thyself to the invisible.
     'For they that follow their sensuality, do stain their own conscience and lose the favour of God'.


     So we are rightly advised to give our attention only to the invisible by withdrawing our minds from the love of visible things.


     We 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.


     Further, 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.


     Any 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.


     Thomas 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.


     Passing 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'.


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

 

 

 

 

 

 



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