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 mullah’s 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)
was observing religious injunctions to the letter, holding
fast at the same time to one’s 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 Ramakrishna’s 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 don’t stand for something, fall for anything.‘
Sri Ramakrishna’s father was upright and stood for truth.
Consequence of Crookedness
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 Duryodhana’s 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)
Significance of Uprightness
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)
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)
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.
Shankara explains arjava as simplicity (saralata)
or the absence of crookedness (akutilata). True simplicity
entails tallying one’s words with one’s 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
Jnaneshvar elaborates on arjava a little more. In his
celebrated commentary on the Gita, called Jnaneshvari,
he gives the following meanings for arjava: (8)
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)
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 man’s house:
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.
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 master’s 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)
Ramakrishna also advocated an attitude of trusteeship to one’s
wealth and encouraged spending it in service of God and his
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.
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)
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.
of Uprightness - Some Aids
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 Swamiji’s 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.
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
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)
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.
Anthony de Mello, The Prayer of the Frog, 2 vols. (Anand:
Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, 1989), 1.121.
Janami dharmam na ca me pravrittih
na ca me nivrittih.
The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 9 vols. (Calcutta:
Advaita Ashrama, 1-8, 1989; 9, 1997), 5.409.
M, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, trans. Swami Nikhilananda
(Chennai: Sri Ramakrishna Math, 2002), 505.
Paran-prati vang-manah-kaya-vrittinam ekarupata.
M R Yardi, The Jnaneshwari (Pune: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan,
Swami Nikhilananda, Holy Mother (New York: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda
Center, 1962), 129.
Prayojanam anuddishya na mando’pi pravartate.
Vivekananda: His Call to the Nation (Calcutta: Advaita
Ashrama, 1971), 37.
Yo vai bhuma tatsukham, nalpe sukhamasti.
Chandogya Upanishad, 7.23.1.