"Cut out the word help from your mind. You cannot help; it is blasphemy! You worship. When you give a morsel of food to a dog, you worship the dog as God. He is all, and is in all." - Swami Vivekananda
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CONTENTS10. The Path as Shown by Western Saints  

 

 

 

 

                10. The Path as Shown by Western Saints

 

 


     In our journey towards the ultimate goal we are faced with a serious struggle. Unless we are prepared for a ceaseless struggle and to oppose all that is evil in this unseen warfare, we cannot hope to reach our goal. A tremendous conflict will take place within us, although people outside may not know about it. Lorenzo Scupoli, the Catholic clergyman referred to in the previous chapter, has thus very rightly named his book as 'Unseen Warfare'. But there are also words of hope and encouragement in the same book. It is pointed out there that victory is ultimately given to those who are real fighters. Who can fight till the end? Only one who is really serious about perfection, and it is said that of all the wars, this internal war to conquer all our evil propensities is the hardest. Why? Because we are fighting against ourselves.


     Swami Brahmanandaji in his very valuable book 'The Eternal Companion' has said that those who seriously take to the path of spiritual unfoldment have to go against the current. Ninety-nine per cent of the people swim with the current. They follow the path of pravritti, sense gratification, but those who want to realise God or achieve perfection in this very life, belong to a different category. Since they follow the path of nivritti, the path of sense denial, the path of the good and not the path of the pleasant - the path of Sreya and not of Preya - naturally they have to face tremendous struggles. Sometimes it may happen that after having struggled for years, when we do not realise anything, we may be tempted to give up the fight. We feel it is better to give up, since we have struggled so long and gained no spiritual experience. We feel as if all these years have gone in vain. Then from the path of Sreya we take to the path of Preya. We give up the path of the good and follow the path of the pleasant. Such weaknesses and temptations do come in our journey towards the great destination. Swami Brahmanandaji says that since ninety per cent of the people of the world before our eyes run after different kinds of worldly enjoyments, naturally the temptation to follow them may arise in our minds too. If we at this stage become victims of such a mood, we shall miss the goal. But, if we once have this firm resolution to keep up the struggle, ultimate victory is assured. How does one become ultimately victorious in that case? Here are some important points. If we really want to emerge victorious in our unseen war within, then we have to plant in our heart four important things. What are they?


     Sometimes we wrongly estimate ourselves. We are very proud and think 'Oh, I am somebody very important.' We think very highly of ourselves. This is a spiritual disease and this is abhorrent to God. God does not like proud people. Those who are vainglorious, those who have a wrong estimate of themselves, can never hope to reach the goal. So, let us not have a wrong estimate of ourselves. Let us not think too much of ourselves. Let us practise humility.


     Secondly, we must have perfect trust in God and God alone. We cannot do anything by ourselves unless God, who is so compassionate, comes to our rescue. We cannot hope to be successful by means of our own individual efforts. We need divine help.


     Thirdly, we should go on fighting and struggling ceaselessly without any break.


     Fourthly, we should try to remain constantly in prayer.


     Of these four important elements, the first one is the root cause of all passions, downfall and wrong doings. None can hope to reach God or attain perfection unless he or she gets divine grace. And Divine grace does not descend on us if we proudly think too much of ourselves. Over-estimating ourselves closes the door of divine grace. So, this is something very important. We are to remember that by ourselves we cannot do anything. We have to depend on divine help.


     In addition to these four virtues which one must plant in one's heart to reach perfection, we need certain other qualifications also. First, we are to realise our 'nothingness'. There was a great Christian saint, Peter of Damascus. He writes, 'Nothing is better than to realise one's own weakness and ignorance.' Sometimes people come and put the question, 'Is there any necessity to have a Guru, a teacher, for a spiritual aspirant? What is the necessity of taking help from somebody? We do not believe in any external help. So, we don't find the need of a Guru.' One is quite right in thinking so, if one is a Jeevanmukta, if one has realised the Goal. However, even for learning any kind of Apara Vidya (secular art and science), we need guidance. How much more is the need for help and guidance in the field of Para Vidya or Brahma Vidya, which is the highest of all sciences? The foundation of every virtue is the realisation that 'I' alone cannot do anything unless God comes to my help. We have to realise our nothingness, and with all humility, we should constantly ask for God's help in all our undertakings.


     Secondly, we must accustom ourselves to fear our innumerable enemies. Mahamaya, cosmic illusion, does not allow us to realise God easily. Maya has innumerable ways of deceiving us. Countless are the nets of Maya. Therefore, we must be very careful to remember the fact that on our path towards the goal supreme, Maya may beguile us, deceive us, and we may lose the Goal. We must, therefore, be very vigilant.


     Thirdly, we may be struggling hard to make progress, but at times we fail in spite of our repeated attempts, and succumb to the desires of the body. Then what are we to do? If we happen to commit some transgression, then quickly we should realise our own weakness. Perhaps we were proud. Perhaps we had been thinking, 'Now that we have been initiated and have got a spiritual teacher, holy company and facilities for visiting places of pilgrimage, we have nothing to be worried about.' In that case, we are terribly mistaken. If we fall into such a transgression and wishful thinking, then we should remember that it is God who makes us conscious of our failures and weaknesses. However, if this makes us realise that we are far off from the Goal, then it will do us good ultimately, as it will make us conscious of our failures and weaknesses. Should we fall in the estimation of others or should we begin to underestimate ourselves or, may be, should people entertain a poor opinion of us - then we have to realise that this has happened for our own good. This happens to make us humble and make us pray to the Almighty to give us strength again so that we redouble all our efforts. It is with this purpose and to this end that God allows us to be assailed by different kinds of temptations and weaknesses.


     Here is an important point. Everyday we sleep for 6 to 7 hours. That means for 17 to 18 hours we are in the waking state of experience. Now, in the course of the day, we have innumerable thoughts, speak a lot and do certain duties or deeds. Let us take one particular day, say yesterday. What all did we think, say and do yesterday? If we analyse, if we look into ourselves and do a little of self-introspection. 'How many unnecessary words did I speak yesterday, how many sinful words, and sinful thoughts came to my mind?' Then we shall find that most of the words and thoughts were sinful, foolish and wrong. This is just self-analysis of one day. If we are careful enough to do so, we shall have the following attitude: 'Oh, one day of my valuable human life has gone in vain. I indulged in so much sinful thoughts and deeds. Therefore, we have to seek the help of God.' As the Lord said, 'Without Me, ye can do nothing.' Everyday, every moment we must have complete trust in God.


     Now arises in one's mind the question, 'We are asked not to give up the struggle. But what is to be done if we find that our souls are overburdened with sin, that our mind has been defiled by so many kinds of bad imagination, and that even though we have tried to the best of our abilities to avoid such thoughts and actions, we still find ourselves sinking down and down. In such a situation, what are we to do?' The advice given by all the great ones in the world is, 'Don't lose trust in God'. We may feel, 'O God, I pray to you; I seek holy company; I read holy scriptures. Still I remain basically the same man. So what is the use of pursuing the disciplines prescribed for a spiritual aspirant?' When such a mood comes, it is just the time for one to resolve not to abandon the spiritual struggle. We have to fight and fight, struggle and struggle. It has been said that in this journey towards the supreme goal, all those who do not struggle till the end will be the losers. So let us never cease to struggle. Once we give up this struggle, there will be no hope of salvation.


     It is said that if we stifle the lower desires and incline towards the higher, then victory is ours. But if we disregard the higher and choose the lower, then we shall find ourselves vanquished; it is only those who give the greatest importance to the higher self, that will keep up the struggle. We are told repeatedly by the the great ones who have realised God, 'Never disregard the call of the higher self. Even if we go down, even if we fall, remember this truth that we fall to rise again.' Who can rise again? One who keeps up the struggle. And who can keep up this struggle? One who has complete trust in God and walks in the Spirit. Those who give it up, live with desires for sense enjoyments, and will fall. Those who keep up the struggle, will try to live on the plane of the Atman. We have to remember this basic truth that we have in us these two - the higher self and the lower self. The lower self will prompt us to give up the struggle, but the higher self will encourage us to realise the Goal Supreme. If we hear the call of the latter, no desire can harm us.


     An aspirant may find himself in a higher plane of thought when he is in a spiritually elevating environment, but when he goes back to his normal environment, he finds it very difficult to keep the mind on the same exalted level. He is again seduced by the enemy, the sensuous desire in the mind. He may think: 'What harm is there if I indulge in my desires just for an hour or so?' As a result, for that period, he abandons the godly way of life and succumbs to worldliness. He becomes a renegade from God. Then it is likely that he will have a tendency to extend this hour of ungodly life to a further hour, then to a day and more days, months, even years; and then one day he will drop down dead and find that this life has gone in vain. We should therefore always remember that human life is very, very uncertain. What will happen to us the very next moment, we cannot predict.


     In the glorious life of Lord Buddha there is an episode that graphically illustrates this point. Buddha came across four things which brought about a great transformation in him. One day, he came across an old man. When he enquired of his companion Channa, 'Who is this man?', Channa replied, 'Oh, he is just an old man.' Buddha then realised that he would also become old one day, and so would his wife Yasodhara. Everybody has to pass through old age; for, this is the nature of the body. So Buddha lost all interest in life and went back to the palace. Then another day, when Buddha went out of his palace, he came across a sick man. He had never come across a sick man before. He learnt that anybody who has a body will be subject to different kinds of illness and disease. Then another day he came across four persons carrying a dead body. When he asked his companion Channa about it, the letter replied, 'He was a living being like you, but life has gone out of him.' Then Buddha thought, 'Oh I am not going to have eternal youth. So I also shall one day meet with the same fate. I shall also grow old and die ultimately. There will be a painful separation from my beautiful wife Yashodhara and also from my son Rahul.' Another day, when he went out of his palace he encountered a monk with a serene countenance. 'Who is this?' he asked his companion. His companion said, 'Well, he has realised that the world is full of sufferings. Anybody born in this world cannot avoid the process of growth, development, decay and death. This man has taken to the path of the good and realised the goal. So you find that his face is serene and absolutely calm'. Buddha came back to the palace and the same day took a decision; for he heard a divine voice, 'O Gautama the compassionate, you are born in this world to save mankind. Now is the most opportune moment; do not lose time; go out, renounce and realise your nature and redeem mankind. You have been born as a saviour of mankind.' The example of Gautama Buddha teaches us to be constantly aware of the fact of death.


     Sometime ago, when an eminent Swami spoke here, the lectures were preceded by devotional songs sung by a young lady about 33 years old. She is now no more. She was quite hale and hearty, had no disease, nothing of the kind. But she suddenly passed away due to sunstroke. Anything might happen any moment, even to a healthy person, and we must be prepared for that. We think, let us enjoy ourselves; and then one day we suddenly drop down dead. We may be intoxicated by sensuality but when the hour of death comes, its cruel had can snatch us away at any time.


     So, let us not be unmindful, lest the enemy should seduce us to the depths of degradation by making us think: 'Oh, let me just seek a little moral holiday.' But we should always remember that there cannot be any moral holiday. We must utilise every moment of our valuable life. In the book 'Paramartha Prasanga', Swami Virajanandaji says, 'Life is precious, so don't waste a single minute.' We should consider that day lost, in which we have not struggled to root out our evil propensities. And we should also remember that those who want to reach perfection, must also know how to make correct use of the five sense organs. These five sense organs - Roopa, Rasa, Sabda, Gandha, and touch, always direct us to seek enjoyment of the outside world. Remember that only in God can we experience the fountain-head of all joy. In our mad pursuit of sense enjoyment, we fall away from God and pursue our desire and thereby we go outside ourselves. The secret is that if we want to reach perfection, then instead of going out of ourselves, we should try to go inside. The order of things has to be inverted. Instead of comforts and pleasures outside, the heart should seek God. We are to constantly seek God inside and we should have the conviction that by reaching God we shall have everything, the fulfilment of human birth.


     In Vivekachudamani verse 76 Sankaracharya has pointed out that different animals of the world have come to grief by each following only one sense organ; but God has given man five sense organs; so what will be the fate of man?


     Sabdadibhih pancabhir eva panca

     pancatvam apuh sva-gunena baddhah |

     kuranga-matanga-patanga-mina-

     bhrngah narah pancabhir ancitah kim ||


     It is said here that the deer, the elephant, the moth, the fish and the black bee - all meet with death, each by one of these five senses that is keen in each of them. What then need be said of man in whom all the five senses are very keen and active?


     To avoid the degrading pull of the senses, we should give the right direction to these sense organs. Unless we are able to do that, we shall not be able to reach the Goal. We are to transfer to God our thoughts from all that take us away from Him. And we are to say again and again, 'O God, if Thy creations are so full of beauty, delight and joy, how infinitely more beautiful and joyous wilt be Thou!' We seek pleasures in the senses and seek different kinds of sense gratification, but our objective is not to seek the so-called sense pleasures, but to seek eternal peace, bliss. We cannot hope to get ineffable bliss from anything of the outside world.


     It will be relevant here to narrate an incident from the life of Swami Vivekananda. In 1899, on the 16th of August, Swami Vivekananda with one of his brother-disciples, Swami Turiyanandaji and with Sister Christine and another lady, sailed from Glasgow to New York. They had to spend ten days on the sea. Those were very memorable days and have been recorded in the biography of Swami Vivekananda. One moonlit night, Swamiji was pacing up and down the deck. Looking at the beauty that was evident in the reflection of the moonlight on the waves, he said to Sister Christine and all those who were with him, 'If all this Maya is so beautiful, think of the wondrous beauty of the Reality behind it.'


     We should ponder deeply on this important sentence. Swamiji asks us not to be enamoured of external beauty. The beauty we see in the external world should serve as a pointer to the infinite beauty of the Creator of this world. Instead of trying to get ourselves entangled in creature comforts, let us fix our attention on the great Creator. But such is the delusion caused by Mahamaya, that we are all after appearances and do not bother about the reality of God within.


     An important discipline in spiritual life is prayer. Again and again, we have been told that we must pray to God in all humility and earnestness. Now what is real prayer? Real prayer is inner prayer. It is not to be performed by words alone but also with mind and heart. Now to get success in prayer, we are to note some important points.


     We are to keep the body strictly disciplined with regard to food, sleep and rest. Here there is provision for rest. Sometimes we are over-zealous and in our over-zeal go to excesses, with the result that some even go mad, deranged, by their over-zeal. That is the reason why Swami Vivekananda gave warning in his book 'Raja Yoga' that we have to learn the path from a competent spiritual master. One should not practise Pranayama etc., without learning it from a competent Guru. We should follow only the middle path - neither mortification of the senses nor sense-indulgence. We must, therefore, follow the middle path at all times.


     Recall the life of Gautama Buddha. He gave up food and water until by this kind of mortification, he became physically so weak that he was about to die. Then the thought dawned on him that he had followed the path of extreme austerity and mortification of the body. But is the goal of life mortificition of the senses and useless austerity? No; austerity and sense control are not the end, they are the means. The end is spiritual perfection or realisation of God. So Buddha gave us a new path, the middle path. We should not go to any extreme. It has been said in the 6th Chapter of Bhagavad Gita, Sloka 16:


     N'atyasnatas tu yogo'sti
     na c'aikantam anasnatah |
     na c'atisvapna-silasya
     jagrato n'aiva c'arjuna ||


     - Verily, Yoga is not for him who eats too much or abstains too much from eating. It is not for him, О Arjuna, who sleeps too much or keeps awake too much.


     So we must keep the body strictly disciplined through moderation. We should have moderate hours of sleep and rest. But at the same time, we should not give the body all that it wants. If we go on pandering to the needs of the body, then sexual desires will get the upper hand.


     Secondly, we cannot hope to be successful in prayer, unless we try to reduce our external contacts to the most necessary things. It is very difficult to avoid external contacts. Even a sannyasin cannot avoid it. That is the reason why we sometimes go into solitude. But such are the demands of our work that we hardly find time for solitude. If we want to unfold ourselves, then it is good for us to reduce external activities. Even those who are very busy should be left with some time when nobody should disturb them. They should be left to themselves, so that they can then retire into their own selves and have deep, rigorous self-introspection. As it is said that a candle cannot burn in rain and wind, so also the flame of prayer cannot be lit in a flood of impressions from outside. If we go on mixing with people of all kinds and allow different kinds of impressions to invade our mind, then we shall hardly have any time to go into ourselves.


     Thirdly, regarding study of books, we should read only such books as deal with prayer, meditation, lives of saints, instructions on spiritual life like the 'Towards Goal Supreme' or the 'Eternal Companion', teachings of Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother, Swami Vivekananda, etc. Though we may know this, our mind often gets deceived by the cheap literature which has flooded the market. If one reads trash books for the sake of enjoyment, then it brings one down. Who can then overcome such kinds of temptation? Only he who has real seriousness in spiritual life. So the first thing that we have to decide is whether we are serious candidates for spiritual life or not. If we are, then we should keep with us a select number of good books and study them alone.


     An excellent book that could be mentioned in this connection is 'Philokalia' of St.Gregory of Sinai, a Russian saint with remarkable spiritual insight and realisation. He points out that the very day one is baptised, one obtains the grace of God. But though we receive the grace of God, we also lose that grace. There are three important reasons for this.


     1. First, we lose the grace of God through inattention. The teacher has asked us to follow certain rules and not to follow certain other ways of life. But we do not follow implicitly all the instructions given by the teacher when he initiated or baptised us.


     2. Secondly, vanity - the attitude that 'Oh, I know everything.'


     3. Thirdly, in spite of being favoured with divine grace on the day of our baptism or initiation, we fail to make progress due to inattention, due to our vanity, and our wrong ways of life. Wrong way of life means the way that is opposite to the life we are told to live by our spiritual master. By the wrong way the grace of God is stifled.


     Is there any remedy? Yes, there is. If we realise that we are not making any progress, then we are to make a firm resolution: 'O God, О my beloved Ishtam, my Teacher, I did receive Your grace, but through my carelessness I have lost it. Now I am serious. Please come to my help.' And God will say, 'Well, my son, divine grace will be restored to you. You will again get back divine grace, provided you fulfil two conditions.' What are they? (a) First, you are to follow the commands of the Guru. Simply listening to and not caring to put them into practice will not do. (b) Secondly, simply fulfilling the commandments will also not help you to get back divine grace. You must pray ceaselessly, 'O Lord, be kind to me, don't forsake me, I am very weak, full of imperfections, full of limitations. I don't have any strength of my own to realise my own divine nature, unless You come to my rescue.' Such prayers you must make. So it is said that prayer can become a weapon for victory in our unseen warfare, provided it becomes real and takes root in the heart.


     There is a song in Bengali which tells us with what great care we must guard our heart. The Lord is a jealous Lord in a spiritual sense. He does not want anybody else to occupy the throne of our heart. He alone should be seated there. What does it mean? If we want to realise God, we must not be attached to any creature or anybody of this world. If we live in a family with wife, husband, children and relatives, then we should spiritualise our relationships with them. That is the way to make progress. But an important point to remember is that if we allow ourselves to be loved by somebody with more than our love of God, then we lose divine grace. Therefore, it is said that prayer becomes successful, if it takes root in the heart and if it is done continuously. What does it mean when it is said that prayer should take roots in the heart? Let us discuss it in detail.


     The line in the Bengali Song I referred to earlier runs: 'Jatone hridaye rekho adorini Shyama ma ke' - Keep the dear Mother Shyama with great care and attention in your heart. The Mother cannot occupy our heart, if She sees that in this heart we have kept somebody else. If we guard our heart carefully so that this heart is not given away to any creature of this world and is reserved only for the beloved Lord and Lord alone, then our enemy will be subdued and our 'unseen warfare', the battle within, will end, and we can be successful in our attempt to reach the Goal.


     St.John Kolov has said as follows in his own admirable way: 'I am like a man sitting under a tree and I find a multitude of beasts and enemies coming to attack me. I know that if I do not climb the tree, I will be killed by the beasts and the serpents. So I just climb up the tree and sit safely. When I see that different kinds of evil desires and thoughts are about to assail me, I rush to my God inside and I am saved.' If we can do that, we can have constant inner communion with the Lord within. But this inward communion with the Lord is not possible because of our external activities. Then what are we to do? It is said, 'As long as you lean on something within or outside you that is not God, as long as you find flavour in something created and you enjoy it, so long you cannot have spiritual communion with the Lord. God wants that you no longer live, but God lives.' To put it very simply, we have to live in God with all our heart. As Sri Ramakrishna said in one context in The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, none can realise God unless the mind in its entirety is given to God and to God alone.


     To refer again to 'Philokalia', it is said that the guarding of the heart implies that we have different bad impressions in us and these bad impressions cannot be rooted out, if we do not practise ceaseless prayer. Why is it so? An example will answer the question. A man wishing to refine gold must not leave his furnace without fire. If he leaves it without fire, then the ore hardens again. So unless we keep up ceaseless prayer, our spiritual fervour dries up. To keep the spiritual fervour burning in us non-stop, we must have ceaseless prayer.


     We get plenty of instruction on food from the great teachers of our country. Most of us do not know that many saints of the West too have many lessons to teach us on this subject. For example Simeon the New Theologian writes: 'It is impossible to fill the body to satiety with food and at the same time have spiritual enjoyment'. None can have spiritual progress if he does not take food in moderation. If he just panders to his taste and belly, then he may have some physical satisfaction, but he cannot have the satisfaction of communion with the Lord.


     And last but not least, let us refer to the teachings of Abba Agathan. A question was put to him, 'Sir, which is greater - physical labour or the guarding of the heart?' The Abba replied, 'Guarding of the heart.' Physical labour is like going to the Kumbha Mela, taking a bath, observing physical austerities etc. It is said that man is like a tree and physical labour is like its leaves. We go and take a bath in the holy Ganga and adopt so many means which are the externals of religion. All these come under physical labour. Unless there is inner transformation, all these external activities are of no use. Religion means realisation, but sometimes we are too much concerned or bothered with the non-essential aspects of religion. Unless we get inner transformation through them all, these are useless. So, it has been said that man is like a tree - physical work is the leaves and guarding of the heart is the fruit. Further it is said, 'Every tree which bringeth not forth good fruits is hewn and cast into fire.' So our best attention must be bestowed on the fruit, i.e., the guarding of the heart.


     We should not be too much concerned with the non-essential parts of religion. The essential part of religion is 'guarding the heart'. The habit of being concerned with non-esential parts of religion may lead us to have externally correct behaviour, but that will not bring about any kind of inner transformation. St. Simeon the New Theologian points out that the whole of active life is regarded by God as nothing but leaves on a tree which bear no fruit, unless it brings God-realisation. And for God-realisation we must cease to have what may be called endless circling outside.


     From morning till night we forget that God is within us and that if we realise God, we get everything. We forget this basic truth that, even though God is in us, we are not in Him. Aimlessly we circle about outside. Instead of this endless circling, we must learn the technique of guarding the heart, so that we can withdraw the mind from the outside world and keep it at the lotus feet of our beloved Lord in the sanctuary of our hearts. Only if we do that, is spiritual unfoldment possible.


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

 

 

 

 

 

 



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