"Look at the wall. Did the wall ever tell a lie? It is always the wall. Man tells a lie and becomes a god, too." - Swami Vivekananda
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PRABUDDHA BHARATAPrabuddha Bharata | July 2005  

 

                    

 

 

                Uprightness

 

 

 

                            EDITORIAL

 

 

 

     Mullah Nasruddin found a diamond by the roadside, but, according to law, finders become keepers only if they first announced their find in the centre of the marketplace on three separate occasions. Now, Nasruddin was too religious-minded to disregard the law and too greedy to run the risk of parting with his find. So on three consecutive nights when he was sure that everyone was fast asleep he went to the centre of the marketplace and there announced in a soft voice, I have found a diamond on the road that leads to the town. Anyone knowing who the owner is should contact me at once. No one was wiser for the mullahs words, of course, except for one man who happened to be standing at his window on the third night and heard the mullah mumble something. When he attempted to find out what it was, Nasruddin replied, I am in no way obliged to tell you. But this much I shall say: Being a religious man, I went out there at night to pronounce certain words in fulfilment of the law. (1)

 

     That was observing religious injunctions to the letter, holding fast at the same time to ones selfish interests. It was again a manifestation of crookedness, a trait not uncommon among out-and-out worldly people. There are, of course, honourable examples to the contrary. Sri Ramakrishnas father Khudiram Chattopadhyay had to lose his possessions in his native village Dere for refusing to bear false witness to a greedy landlord. He was a poor brahmin and an embodiment of virtues like devotion, truthfulness and uprightness. He had a price to pay for his virtues, but had Sri Ramakrishna, adored by millions as an incarnation of God, as his son. As the well-known saying goes, Those who dont stand for something, fall for anything. Sri Ramakrishnas father was upright and stood for truth.

 

 

 

     The Consequence of Crookedness

 

 

 

     Though crookedness appears to rule the roost in the world and conduce to the material advancement of its practitioner, it too does not come without a price: Any compromise we make in principles leaves its mark on our character. Every action or thought leaves a subtle impression in our mind, impelling us to repeat the action or thought. This effect may not seem to be of much consequence in the beginning, but the kinks in character and their power become evident only when one begins to turn a new leaf. One then begins to appreciate Duryodhanas predicament. A bundle of bad impressions, he let his notorious uncle strengthen them by his bad designs. When the situation went beyond his control, Duryodhana remarked, I know what is dharma, but am not able to practise it. I know what is adharma, but I am not able to refrain from it. (2)

 

 

 

     The Significance of Uprightness

 

 

 

     According to Vedanta we are divine in the core of our being, but it remains hidden from us. Animal nature, human nature and divine nature are intertwined in our personality. Divinity remains an unknown component in us until we transcend our animal nature and human nature and begin to manifest our divine nature. And true religion, says Swami Vivekananda, is supposed to bring about precisely this: transformation of character. (3)

 

     All lasting happiness and knowledge stem from our divine nature. Human life becomes meaningful to the extent this hidden divinity becomes manifest. Sri Shankaracharya glorifies human birth and says that not striving to attain Self-knowledge is tantamount to killing oneself, since one holds fast to unreal things of the world. (4)

 

     If crookedness forges one more link in the chain that binds us to the world, uprightness help us manifest our hidden divine qualities. The Bhagavadgita lists arjava, or uprightness or simplicity, as a sign of Knowledge. (5) Like the traits of a man of steady wisdom listed in its second chapter, uprightness too is a virtue an aspirant needs to assiduously cultivate on the path to perfection.

 

 

 

     Connotations of Uprightness

 

 

 

     Sri Shankara explains arjava as simplicity (saralata) or the absence of crookedness (akutilata). True simplicity entails tallying ones words with ones thought. And Sri Ramakrishna considered this quality inevitable for success in spiritual life: There is a sect of Vaishnavas known as the Ghoshpara, who describe God as the Sahaja, the Simple One. They say further that a man cannot recognize this Simple One unless he too is simple. (6) Sri Ramanuja explains arjava as a uniform disposition towards others in speech, mind and body. (7) Simplicity thus goes much deeper than our dress or habits. Perfect alignment in thought, word and deed constitute true simplicity.

 

     Sant Jnaneshvar elaborates on arjava a little more. In his celebrated commentary on the Gita, called Jnaneshvari, he gives the following meanings for arjava: (8)

 

     Favouring all equally without likes or dislikes: As a corollary, this amounts to loving all equally. Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi taught a little girl how to do that: Do not demand anything of those you love. If you make demands, some will give you more and some less. In that case you will love more those who give you more and less those who give you less. Thus your love will not be the same for all. You will not be able to love all impartially. (9)

 

     Not making any distinction of mine or of others: Lack of simplicity arises primarily from selfishness and a feeling of I and mine that characterize human life. How can we get rid of our I and mine? Certainly it is not easy to give up this sense of unripe ego all of a sudden. Sri Ramakrishna advises us instead to cultivate the ripe ego, which says, I am a child of God. He further explains how to live in the world as a maidservant does in a rich mans house:

 

     Do all your duties, but keep your mind on God. Live with all - with wife and children, father and mother - and serve them. Treat them as if they were very dear to you, but know in your heart of hearts that they do not belong to you.

 

 

     A maidservant in the house of a rich man performs all the household duties, but her thoughts are fixed on her own home in her native village. She brings up her masters children as if they were her own. She even speaks of them as my Rama or my Hari. But in her own mind she knows very well that they do not belong to her at all. (10)

 

     Sri Ramakrishna also advocated an attitude of trusteeship to ones wealth and encouraged spending it in service of God and his devotees.

 

     An upright mental attitude: According to Jnaneshvar, an upright person does not bear grudge against anyone. His mental attitude is straight like the sweep of the wind and he is free from desire and doubt. He does not hold his mind on a leash, nor does he leave it absolutely free. An aspirant, however, needs to keep his mind on a leash for a long time, till it is sufficiently trained and purified and begins to act as his true friend.

 

     A disciplined sensory system: His sense organs are pure and free from deceit. The undisciplined mind and the senses act as our enemy and deceive us into sense pleasure, making us believe as if that is the goal of life. With his senses controlled, a man of Knowledge does not let his senses deceive him. For Arjuna Sri Krishna prescribed sense control as the preliminary discipline to get rid of desires. (11)

 

 

 

     Uprightness Necessitates Discipline

 

 

 

     All may not be as crooked as Duryodhana, but shades of it inhere in everyone until the dawn of Self-knowledge. In other words, perfect alignment in thought, word and deed is possible only when we attain perfection. In everyday life we know how difficult it is to carry out resolutions: acquiring a new good habit or kicking a bad one. Where lies the difficulty? The problem stems from the kinks in our character or the knots in our mind. Any attempt to discipline the mind invites its instant resistance, since by nature it likes to follow the path of least resistance. That is, it always likes to tag itself to sense organs and their respective sense objects. This link applies not only to gross objects, but also subtle enjoyments. A weak will and a dormant buddhi are responsible for this tendency of the mind. The first step towards uprightness is disciplining the mind and the senses and freeing the will from their hold.

 

 

 

     Cultivation of Uprightness - Some Aids

 

 

 

     Need for an ideal: Without a purpose not even a fool embarks on an undertaking, goes a well-known Indian saying. (12) Uprightness too has a purpose behind and a lofty one at that: transformation of character and God-realization, which amounts to Self-realization or the manifestation of our potential divinity. With this ideal before us cultivation of noble virtues becomes a rewarding challenge. An ideal before us can serve as a radar for our spiritual journey: we can become aware of the pitfalls on the journey and correct our course. How important having an ideal is becomes clear from Swamijis words: Unfortunately in this life, the vast majority of persons are groping through this dark life without any ideal at all. If a man with an ideal makes a thousand mistakes, I am sure that the man without an ideal makes fifty thousand. Therefore, it is better to have an ideal. (13) In other words, a man with an ideal knows if he commits mistakes, since he has a reference point with which he can judge his actions. He commits less mistakes than someone who does not have an ideal.

 

     Purifying the means: Work is not an end in itself, but only a means to purification of mind and manifestation of divinity. When this point is lost sight of, the end becomes more important than the means and often justifies it. But such an attitude does come with a price. We may accomplish the work all right, but the questionable means adopted will leave an impression in the mind, strengthen the bad impressions already in store, and thus forge one more link in the chain that binds us to the world. In his illuminating lecture Work and Its Secret Swamiji assures us, Let us perfect the means; the end will take care of itself. And what follows is more significant. Swamiji explains what means and end mean: For the world can be good and pure only if our lives are good and pure. It is an effect and we are the means. Therefore, let us purify ourselves. Let us make ourselves perfect. (2.9; emphasis added)

 

     Doing work as worship: Augmenting our good impressions by noble thoughts and deeds is an important step towards purification of mind. When performed with concentration of mind, work affords us an opportunity to observe the vagaries of the mind. Trying not to be distracted by mental gyrations is a good exercise in training the mind and strengthening our will power. Says Swamiji, When you are doing any work, do not think of anything beyond. Do it as worship, as the highest worship, and devote your whole life to it for the time being. (1.71) Whatever you do, devote your whole mind, heart and soul to it. I once met a great sannyasin who cleansed his brass cooking utensils, making them shine like gold, with as much care and attention as he bestowed on his worship and meditation. (14)

 

     It is simple to be happy, but it is difficult to be simple, according to an old adage. True and lasting happiness is possible only in our inner Self, the infinite dimension of our personality. (15) This bliss is ours to the extent the kinks in our character get straightened, making us more and more simple. The difficulty in being simple is due to an undisciplined mind. And simplicity or uprightness is something to be cultivated by working on ourselves, by disciplining the mind and the sensory system with a strengthened will.

 

 

 

     References

 

 

 

     1. Anthony de Mello, The Prayer of the Frog, 2 vols. (Anand: Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, 1989), 1.121.

     2. Janami dharmam na ca me pravrittih
         janamy-adharmam na ca me nivrittih.

     3. The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 9 vols. (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1-8, 1989; 9, 1997), 5.409.

     4. Vivekachudamani, 4.

     5. Bhagavadgita, 13.7.

     6. M, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, trans. Swami Nikhilananda (Chennai: Sri Ramakrishna Math, 2002), 505.

     7. Paran-prati vang-manah-kaya-vrittinam ekarupata.

     8. M R Yardi, The Jnaneshwari (Pune: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 2001), 380-1.

     9. Swami Nikhilananda, Holy Mother (New York: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, 1962), 129.

     10. Gospel, 81.

     11. Gita, 3.41.

     12. Prayojanam anuddishya na mandopi pravartate.

     13. CW, 2.152.

     14. Vivekananda: His Call to the Nation (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1971), 37.

     15. Yo vai bhuma tatsukham, nalpe sukhamasti.
         - Chandogya Upanishad, 7.23.1.


     



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


 

 

 

 

 

 


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