Humble salutations to the Supreme Intelligence, the Advaita Guru ParamparA (lineage teaching non-duality / advaita vedAntA) and my own AchAryA (Preceptor) for the content that I put forth in this blog !
Liberation is not something which is acquirable from the outside by our doing “something”. Such freedom cannot stand the test of time! Insecurity is not a fact of life asserts VedhA but really is only a notion that our mind has strongly identified with. VedAntA cannot stress enough how freedom is our own intrinsic nature!
How does an angry person become loving? Is love as a quality acquired from outside, like adding salt to food? No! When that person gives up his angry, hating, irrited self, he turns into a sweet, kind, loving person. The keyword is “giving up”! Freedom / Liberation / mOkshA is no different says VedAntA!
Giving up ones leaning, depending, clinging, grabbing self and discovering that the innermost core of every being is one of peace, contentment, love, fulfillment, happiness, that is freedom! Understanding from deep within that I am a whole, complete, happy being with or without the presence of external factors to influence my happiness, that is freedom! Having maturity enough to not be overwhelmed by life’s situations, that is liberation!
Today the above sentences invoke only our cynicism for our minds are sullied with impurities which have formed sheaths or layers covering the truth from us. Impurities like anger, greed, hate, pride, envy, jealousy, selfishness etc. or even just strong opinions in the form of likes and dislikes mask our own inner core because all of them keep us trapped at the level of mental thought disturbances. First things first is to recognize these impurities in us and acknowledge their presence. In our vanity and pride, we like to think that everyone or everything in the world except ourselves is at fault! Instead, recognizing and giving up all the impurities helps us “DISCOVER” a new self within ourselves! “Dissing the covers” (is how my Preceptor explains ‘dis-cover’) leads to the discovery of our true, free, happy, peaceful, liberated nature.
Vedanta gives a beautiful analogy to explain this. How does a sculptor carve his masterpiece? All he has is a huge chunk of stone and some tools. He works on the material at hand, with care, patience and deliberate effort, always completely focused on the end product while carefully chipping away from it bits and pieces (analogous to impurities) until, lo and behold, a beautiful masterpiece emerges from what used to be a dull, ordinary block of boring matter. Similarly, we can turn our dull, boring, impure selves (that we are today), into priceless instruments of the Higher by simply deciding to work with strife, dedication and deliberation to give up all impurities that today cover that inner fountain of peace, love, happiness and contentment within the deepest recesses of our heart. The result will be a brilliant, brighter self who is able to see and enjoy the world in a new light. Not just that but only such person can do any good towards the Creation and humanity too.
What are the impurities covering our true, free, blissful self?
Vedic teaching points out that there is not 1 but 3 levels of impurities making the Truth of ourselves an enigma.
- At the level of body
- At the level of mind and
- At the level of intellect
Impurity at the level of body
All that happens at the body level is actions. Actions are invariably always a result of mental thought. For example, love at the level of mind converts into hug, kiss, etc. Devotion expresses as prostrations and so on. So control at the level of body is automatically acquired when the mind is controlled and purified.
How to purify impurities at the physical level?
When the mind falls within our control, the actions automatically become pure and refined. This implies a very awareful living. Now this might seem like a mighty struggle to the average person whose mind is full of impurities, “living awarefully all the time”! But for a person of perfection, it simply is the natural way of being! Does a pure sugar cube have to exert any struggle to impart sweetness to its surroundings?
Today our life is mostly comprised of thoughtless reactions rather than thoughtful actions. Reactions are impulsive leading to making life miserable. When every thought, word and deed stems out of careful awareness, it certainly will only guarantee progress.
If a smoker is constantly told to stop smoking, it rarely helps. For someone genuinely wanting to give up a habit like smoking, the wise suggest, first convince the mind of the ill effects of smoking but don’t stop at that. Give the mind another action, one that stems from higher values for the mind to indulge in everytime it remembers a cigarette. The mind loves to grab on to everything it contacts. So might as well not just take away something from it but replace it with another action stemming from higher values. In this aspect the mind is like an obstinate child from whom we can’t easily take something away without tempting him with something else as replacement. A smoker’s justification is stress-busting. Aren’t there better stress busting techniques like music, reading, yoga, meditation which at least aren’t eating away at our lungs and those around us too?
Thus actions themselves are closely connected to the mind and it’s values. So purifying actions has to begin with first purifying the mind.
Impurity at the level of mind
Mind is the biggest culprit for all problems and poses obstacles in a 2 fold manner.
- Impurities in the form of anger, greed, selfishness, hatred, pride, jealousy, etc. When we look at the world through the sunglass of all these impurities, it colors the world totally in opposition to what the world really is. That is, the vision I have is strongly subjective rather than a true objective vision. Then there’s strong opinions in the form of likes and dislikes. What’s wrong with likes and dislikes? Afterall likes and dislikes define ones personality / individuality. True! What’s wrong in liking a green dress and hating purple as a color? At just the level of color, food, and other such petty matter, absolutely no problem. But what happens by continuous re-enforcement of our likes and dislikes and being strongly opinionated is that we are training the mind to stay within a groove of strong likes and dislikes with regards to everything. This hampers our own growth and snatches away from us the opportunity to experience life to the fullest. We deny ourselves the opportunity to experience a good chunk of Creation simply by branding it as “I hate…”. Nothing is absolute in value. What I discard as ugly, someone absolutely adores. So then, clearly, ugliness is not part of the item itself! It is simply my interpretation which means, it is colored by my subjectivity. If I were a hateful person, every smile is a burden on myself for, the length of my smile, whether it has to be 3 inches wide or 5 inches wide, depends on whom I’m smiling at, whether friend or “not so much of a friend”. Whereas, a free person smiles for the sake of smiling, be it friend or foe (not that he views anyone as enemies but they could!), without any hesitation of any sort.
- Another quality of the mind is its constant wavering, projecting and inability to stay quiet. They don’t say “Mind is a monkey” for nothing! While being seated in one spot, mind has the ability to take us on a world tour and sometimes even past planets and galaxies, all by the means of endless thoughts alone. Apart from constant thought disturbance, mind constantly projects or imposes upon objects of the world it’s own interpretation inspite of the truth of the object being completely unknown. This is what Swami Chinmayananda calls, “Misapprehensions due to non-apprehension of the Truth!” What this means is, I don’t know what someone is really like but I fall for them based only on their looks and then project onto them all the good I want to see in my ideal partner. But as the true nature of the person slowly unveils itself through time, I feel cheated and deceived. Now whose fault is this whole drama? Me and my mind’s alone even though we may not like to hear it! Only someone who has a mind that is calm, quiet and purposed can achieve anything at all and make right, faultless decisions which are because of his clear objectivity.
How to get rid of impurity #1 of the mind?
Each of the impurities like anger, greed, hate, etc. should be handled individually with deliberation and strife, these being key words. If we are a little lapse in attitude while trying to get rid of impurities, they come back with a vengeance. Reminds me of Mark Twain’s words, “Giving up smoking is easy…I’ve done it hundreds of times!”
Anger / hate – We should understand that holding onto anger or hate for others in our heart does absolutely nothing to those it is intended at but in fact is eating away at our own purity and advocating regression instead of self progress. It is similar to how a candle destroys itself inorder to give light.
Jealousy / envy / pride – As long as we look at ourselves as stand alone creatures with marked individuality, there certainly will be glaring differences in the accomplishments and acquisitions of everyone. If our vision is broad minded enough to understand that nothing stands apart from the Creation as a whole and everything in it is nothing but a glory of the Higher, it becomes easy to accept and congratulate the success of others rather than brood and fuss over our inefficiencies. We get exactly what we deserve is a fact that becomes clear and easy to digest. Can a wave claim any glory to itself as separate from the mighty ocean?
Likes / dislikes – Our life and most actions we perform today are driven by our selfish motives and desire to grab and acquire, whether people or objects or situations. Desire itself arises due to likes and dislikes (desire to give up). Pursuing selfish actions (called kAmya karmA) repeatedly has a stagnating effect on our growth as spiritual beings, says the VedhA. So then, all we have to do is withdraw the selfish motives that our actions are based on and work with the same dynamism for the results to be inclusive of more than just ourselves and our immediate family. This new way of selfless action or the art of living as prescribed in the VedhA is called karma yogA. Karma yogA cleanses and purifies the mind by expanding the mind outwards to include more and more than just those in our innermost circle. The entire attitude behind every action is shifted from selfishness to motiveless devotion and dedication for the good of all. Such motiveless action teaches us to accept the result of action without grumbling too. Karma yogis who thus perform action purify and expand their minds as they advance spiritually, asserts the Preceptor, for we are breaking the groove of past selfish tendencies through deliberate effort.
How to get rid of impurity #2 of the mind?
Wavering tendency – The mind is like a river, it is a constant steam of endless thoughts, one after another. In fact, mind IS thoughts! The minute thoughts cease, mind resolves and everything disappears, just as in deep sleep. Only as long as thoughts exist does the world exist! And that explains why the mind simply won’t stop but wavers from thought to thought.
How smart of an idea is it to completely stop the flow of a river? Such forced stoppage could lead to devastation when the river overflows its banks. VedAntA says that trying to completely stop the wavering mind is very similar. How then is the situation handled? Instead of stopping the river, which practically is impossible, a dam is built to direct and guide the flow of water so we may gain maximum benefit out of it. Similarly, to the flow of thoughts called mind, the exercise called meditation is introduced. A very important point which markedly separates vedAntic meditation from others is, here, thoughts are not completely stopped but channelized or directed to stay within a certain groove. In my next blog I will elaborate more on all the purification exercises but for now it is enough to understand that instead of letting the mind go on a wild rampage of 100s of different thoughts, it is channelized to think of a particular thing like God / Self. The thoughts themselves can vary as long as they all stay within the subject on focus. Such meditation practise to slowly tame a wild mind is called upAsana yogA (upAsanA meaning meditation).
This reminds me of Swami Chinmayananda’s explanation of how a wild horse is tamed. First the wild horse is brought into an enclosure really large and allowed to run and tire itself out. As the animal gets more and more tired, the perimeter is brought closer and closer to the centre until the animal completely slows and calms down and learns to stay within the small, confined space. Training the mind thus is no overnight feat but requires our sincere commitment and effort if any progress has to be achieved.
Projecting tendency – We project where we don’t know the real truth. Today we project happiness and contentment onto external objects because the truth that self is of the nature of contentment and fulfilment is not known. So the fix to this problem is simply knowing the nature of the self. Once we understand and assimilate that we are the happiness, satisfaction, contentment etc. we seek, we no longer will impose these qualities onto the world of people, objects and situations outside. Thus, when the intellectual ignorance is dealt with, this impurity is overcome.
Impurity at the level of the intellect
Hurray, we are at the last layer that separates us from the Truth! We are born with ignorance of everything, fair statement right? Through time, with our effort, we overcome a lot of ignorance by acquiring the knowledge pertaining to it. But somehow, the truth about our real self gets completely ignored since we mistakenly take the body, mind and world to be absolutely true.
But now, having purified our mind of impurities and having calmed it down, the intellect gets time to question, “Who is the real “I”?”, “ Who / what is God?”, “What is the world?”, “What is my purpose here?” Intellect knows the language of reasoning and such reasoning can be arrived at only by feeding it with right knowledge. Here enters VedAntA and Preceptor who impart every missing bit of information that the intellect thirsts for. This exercise of feeding the intellect with knowledge is called GYAna yogA.
Most of us willing commit ourselves to the first 2 exercises of karma yogA and upAsana yogA. Somehow, since GYAna yogA involves committed study, we shy away from it. But enforces the Scriptures, having indulged in the first 2 exercises and having purified and quietened the mind, one must necessarily indulge in the exercise of the third kind if self ignorance must be eradicated. The first 2 exercises must necessarily culminate in the third if not we will continue to remain ignorant, only thing, previously impure and ignorant, now pure and calmly ignorant!
Please stay tuned for the forthcoming blogs where each exercise will be discussed in elaboration.