End ignorance or be engulfed by it
These are his main teachings. In other places he will say, “Service of the sangha is essential”, but this is not one of the main teachings. ‘Essential’ yes – in just the same way in an athlete’s training, to eat properly is essential. But if an athlete begins to say, “Well let me do the essential thing” and just eats without ever training, then he won’t get into the Guinness Book of Records.
He concludes this passage on his main teachings: “… the binding rule of life is metaphorically either to kill or to be killed, that is, either to end ignorance or to be engulfed by it… When they laugh at you and say, ‘You are visionaries, impractical idealists, deluded enthusiasts,’ answer them only: ‘May the world give satisfaction to you, if it ever has been, or will ever be, able to satisfy anyone!’” This is one of the places where he sums up the main teachings. We can interpret the subsidiary instructions and occasional passing remarks in the light of the main teachings.
In another place he says, “I have taught you today, my children, an important phase of my teachings” and he refers to the Gita. He says “Find consolation (when I have died) in the Holy wisdom of the Gita. I am sure you will expect nothing of this world”. Then he says “Some will ask you to tell them what is their chief duty in life. Tell them it is to know God, or their Atman (the true Self) and to do good to others. There are many benevolent men who can establish hospitals, orphanages or poorhouses. Your special duty is to make a contribution of service which is most vital and which they are unable to make yet. Preach the Truth with humility and dispassion… Do not allow yourself to be put on a pedestal… Talk as little about your own self as possible.” He goes on: “Don’t live entirely for others. Care for your own spiritual progress more than anything else in the world.” Then lastly, “I have tried to cultivate independence in my life. Depend only on God – on nobody and nothing else. By fasting, assert your independence over material food. By keeping long vigils in devotion, be independent of sleep and if you have any friends, be their servant without expecting anything from them… (The) most important item is expecting nothing of anyone… I have told you today, my children, an important phase of my teachings”.
Again, he will say about the fundamentals of the Yoga: “The social order is always changing; do not try to be a social reformer. The only service to society you can render is to live the ideal laid down in the Gita and invite other people’s attention to the necessity and importance of holy living… Be steady in your devotion, do deeper and deeper meditation, serving the Guru and the Sangha. Retire to the holy banks of the Ganges in solitude every now and then… Cultivate silence.” This is another place, and if we put these together we can see that he teaches the Yoga training, the inner training first, and then the true, the highest duty. In fact he says the only real good to society you can do is to help in spreading the truth. Now in this way, he tells us to assemble the main teachings out of many scattered references. People say, “Words are not exact, they have to be interpreted”, but we can interpret anything.
The rule is that Jesus says about the Good Samaritan, “Go thou and do likewise”. We can say, if I agree with that: “These are the very words of Jesus”. If I don’t agree with it, if I’m a communist and think, as Mother Theresa was repeatedly told, that to care for the poor in that way is to perpetuate an unjust system and that Mother Theresa ought to have turned her energies to changing that system – if I think like that I say, “Well yes, Christ did speak of the Samaritan, ‘Go thou and do likewise’, but who was he talking to, nearly two thousand years ago – to traditional enemies, the Jews and Samaritans. They hated each other, so these were very special circumstances. He was speaking to them. Of course it doesn’t apply today. In other words, I have no intention of doing it.”
We are to take these individual cases and compare them with the main teachings. The main teachings are laid down so that we shall not be deflected away from Yoga by the twisting of individual phrases. One of the great themes of the book is samadhi, or the depth of meditation – and a very well-known phrase is from a sermon given by Swami Mangalnath to laymen and sadhus both, not just the ascetics, not just the laymen. He says, “(To) have the mature meditation called samadhi, every object in the world has to seem to you just a beautiful rainbow or shooting star. Do not misunderstand my meaning; the passive trance which continues only when your eyes are closed and you are sitting still is not the samadhi of Manava Yoga.
Our samadhi is a state of consciousness in which sansara is realised as a conjurer’s show and in which the mind, whether one is walking, talking, eating or reading, is ever fixed on the central truth of ‘I am Atman’. To us, to live is to meditate. Whether dispensing justice from the royal throne, or instructing the Rishis and Munis in the high wisdom, or fighting on the battlefield, or sporting with the queens Rukmini and Stayabhama, the Author of the Gita was meditating all the time… In the preparatory state it is useful to be lonely and introspective”. Well this is generally interpreted to mean, like similar passages in Zen, that it’s a mistake to sit still in meditation and that one should instead practice meditation, or say that one is practicing meditation, in ordinary life – when watching the television! Why make distinctions. Watching the television is the witness Self, if that’s not the witness Self, what is? You sit there independent, untouched, watching. These are simply distortions. We have to look to see – and if we look in the Shri Dada Sanghita we shall find fifteen places in which Shri Dada describes samadhi. In the Zen tradition Hakuin met a man who said to him, “I don’t want to sit in Zen meditation, I shall be in samadhi all the time, walking, going around.” Hakuin said to him, “That quite right, one should not be just sitting in meditation. But in actual fact you are not in samadhi when you’re going around all the time, and until you are you should practice sitting in meditation.”
© Trevor Leggett
Titles in this series are:
Part 1: The Main Teachings of Shri Dada
Part 2: End ignorance or be engulfed by it
Part 3: Verily all this is Brahman
Part 4: Life is too short to risk half measures
Part 5: Flowers showered upon you
Part 6: The torch of Eternal Truth