The verse from the [Bhagavad] Gita is, “He who sees the Lord standing equally everywhere kills not the Self by the self, thus he attains the highest goal.” [Chapter 13, v.28]
This phrase ‘the Self by the self’ comes often in the Gita. “Let him raise himself by himself. Let him not degrade himself by himself.” “Let him find himself in himself by himself.” “Let him not harm himself by himself.”
There are two selves, a false self, which is a reflection of the true Self associated with what are called upadhis: accidental conjunctions, accidental associations, and there is the true Self, which is not connected with any of these things by nature.
An example of upadhi, of the accidental connection, a quite a dramatic one is that there’s a tomb in Westminster Abbey of Edward I. He was a famous conqueror and a rather devious man. It was he who – first of all the nations of Europe, England – expelled the Jews in 1292. They wanted their money back. Of course, that was a provocation. It suddenly struck him that he was wrong to allow these non-Christians to live in Britain, so he took their money and drove them out. He was not exactly a straightforward man, but on his tomb there is written: “Pactum est factum.” “Promised is done.” From this little inscription, he got quite a reputation of being a very straightforward man but, actually, it was written hundreds of years later about someone else and in a different connection. Now, this is like upadhi. It happens to be connected with Edward I, but really it has nothing to do with him.
Shankara makes this point, that the false self is set up by this sort of connection. We think I’m born a citizen, I’m born a man or a woman, I’m born tall or short, I’m born fat or thin, I’ve become rich or poor: all these are accidental associations. “I’m timid. I’m brave.” We feel this is the nature of the person.
A very experienced general who was noted for his personal bravery, he remarked once, “There’s no man so brave that under certain circumstances he won’t panic and cut and run. There is no one so timid that under certain circumstances they won’t fight like a lion.”
These possibilities, as our teacher so often emphasized, are latent in everybody. There is a famous verse, which is often repeated, “By the Lord’s grace, the lame climb mountains and the dumb speak.” When it is said, “Accept your limitations”, this is imposing the forced limitations of avidya on to what is really infinite. That is, it makes a limited personality.
Just to illustrate the point, there’s a picture of triangles. Most people say there are two triangles there, but people who’ve done a little bit or was at school a little more recently, say “There are three triangles there.” We can see that. We count the triangles but then somebody says, “This one isn’t actually a triangle because there’s a gap here. By the way, this one’s half red. You’re going to count that as a full triangle?” This is the same as that, but it isn’t because this one is half red.
We can only reach the number three by ignoring the differences between them, but to operate in society, we have to do this. To make the laws of nature work, we have to ignore these differences between things and just take, for instance, a number.
If we want to design a lift, we say, “The capacity of the lift is 15 persons, but there are people who weigh 40 stone. If 15 of them got in the lift – let’s ignore it… No. You can’t operate without ignoring these things. In the end, we can only operate on a very limited basis. We don’t see and can’t take into account the full truth of even the empirical facts that we see in front of us.
These associations, which make us great or small or brave or timid or clever or stupid – our teacher often pointed out that people like Newton or Einstein were regarded as very stupid children. In fact, Einstein was sent home from school. He educated himself, but the report on him at university by his famous teacher Minkowski was all “very useless”, “weak in mathematics, and always lost in his foolish dreams.” His genius was not recognized. He (Dr Shastri) said, “There is this capacity for inspiration from the cosmic mind in everybody.”
In one of Voltaire’s little satirical essays, (I think it’s called Micromégas), anyway, it’s a science fiction thing where a visitor comes from a distant planet, and he observes the earth and the people on the earth. He’s amazed at how stupid we are, how badly behaved we are. He thinks, “How does the thing run at all?” Then one evening, he sees a number of people and they’re listening to a man and a woman. The man and woman, they’re talking the most beautiful language and speaking of very profound things. He realizes these are the people who instruct the earthlings and make it possible for civilization to happen at all. The next evening, he goes to the same place and they’re there again but saying different things now, they’re most elevating, wonderful, and profound. He follows them home. He finds to his amazement that this king and queen of philosophers live in a tiny little garret. They’re actors and they’re simply repeating words with which they have no real connection at all. He finds they hardly understand what they’ve said.
It’s through this sort of connections that Shankara says the differences in the world are created. They’re seeming differences and they don’t truly represent anything.
At a particular university a very famous lawyer said to his students, “You are only a lawyer if, when you’re walking on the street, there’s an accident. Now, it’s being looked after, you can’t help. But you’re only a lawyer if you immediately think, ‘Has there been contributory negligence?’ You are only a doctor if you immediately think, ‘What’s the nature of the injuries?’ You are only a politician if you think, ‘What’s going to be the effect of these constant traffic accidents? Can our political party make something out of this, government stupidity?'”
Well, those remarks by him succeeded in putting off some of his students from studying law afterwards. It meant to be totally swallowed up by your subject and become nothing more than simply a carrier for that. It can happen in all sorts of ways.
In Singapore if there’s a car accident people will run up, but not to help. They want to get the number of the car and then they bet on that number in the numbers game lottery which takes place two or three times a week. The Chinese, as one of their politicians proudly said, “In Singapore we don’t have monotheism, we have moneytheism.” But it is, in fact, a worship of a lot of superstitions and this is a typical sort of superstition, when something unexpected happens like that and there is a number in it, that’s the one to bet on.
These are chance things, which seem to be real. And Shankara says that this is how the world is supported. Behind all this mass of illusion, there is something real but that is killed. Shankara explains this killing of the Self by the fact that the true Self in man and in others is not seen.
He says, “Of course, this true Self, which is universal and is the law, can’t be actually killed. But by not seeing It, in effect, we are killing It in our own consciousness.” To rouse the consciousness of It is to separate ourselves from the passing associations and to become aware of immortality within ourselves.
Immortality is a very comforting doctrine, to think that, ‘Oh, death is not the end’, but it’s only an idea, only a belief. But yoga is not simply a set of beliefs, even supported by analogies and arguments, illustrations and inferences, but it has to be a matter of actual experience.
Now, if you’d like to, we can try something which our teacher occasionally gave. To sit still, reasonably upright and then to become aware of our thought processes and our sensations. They’re all passing and dying, and to look calmly and carefully and see whether there’s something which is not dying, which is not changing, which is not passing.
As they pass away, there is something, we can catch a glimpse of it, like a glimpse of the blue sky behind the passing clouds. And if you’d like to try, the name of God is OM and I’ll just repeat it. [Intones “OM” to begin the practice and to end it.]
A famous Zen teacher had a disciple who was a minister, a very influential minister in Japan. He used to go this teacher every two weeks, for two hours, into the country and he would sit there in meditation. A reporter went to see the Zen master after this became known and said, “Is the minister getting any benefit from this sitting?” and the reporter, I read the article, he described ruefully how the teacher sort of blew him him up, “He doesn’t come here to get a benefit as minister. He comes here to realize what he is!”
The reporter went on: “Among your other disciples I hear there’s the wife of one of the tradesman, and you live in this rather remote area. Wouldn’t it be better if you brought your undoubted talents to the city? Then you could have more disciples like the minister and not so much waste your time on the…?” This time he was really dynamited and the teacher just shouted at him, “We teach shooting here, archery. He’s got to shoot himself out of being the minister into what he really is, the Buddha nature that he really is. And she’s got to shoot herself out of being the tradesman’s wife into the Buddha nature, which she really is.”
Then he said, “It may be that it will be easier for her to shoot herself out of being ‘I’m only the green grocer’s wife’ than it will be for him to shoot himself out of his Excellency, the minister.” It is a process, the steps of which are known. It is not like a scientific research where the results are not known. It’s more like, perhaps, engineering, in which a result is known but the skill and the methods have to be applied in order to bring about that result.
Results, experiments and confirmations are quite different from theory, they may be quite different from theory in scientific advance. For instance, Hertz first demonstrated a radio in 1903. The possibility had been predicted by Clark Maxwell long before that, but Clark Maxwell never made any attempt to discover whether, in fact, the radio waves were propagated. He predicted that they would be electromagnetic vibrations through the ether.
Well now, in 1887, Michelson demonstrated that the ether did not exist. Therefore, the radio waves would be impossible because there would be nothing to vibrate. But Hertz disregarded – and many others disregarded – this result and the radio waves were, in fact, discovered in practice on the basis of an entirely false theory. But he said, – it’s in the preface to his book, 1903 – “There can be no doubt that light and the radio waves are electromagnetic vibrations through the ether.” He doesn’t say this is a postulate, a hypothesis, he said there can be no doubt. This was a wrong theory but it led to a positive result. Then the theory was modified.
Well, this is not the same in yoga. The steps, the theory, and the practice are known and have been classified and set out before us but they still have to be carried out. Hertz’s view was there must be the ether otherwise how could it work? But it did work and the whole theory of the ether had to be changed and they returned to a much earlier theory of fields of force deriving from Faraday.
The process in yoga is of having a theory and confirming it. It is not having a theory and then performing experiments which may then upset the theory completely but the steps are known.
Well, our teacher often mentioned that the upadhis, so to speak, the associations affect what we think we are and affect the results of our life and our efforts and he often said that, for instance, if one becomes obsessed with something, it will affect the world and it will affect oneself. The Japanese researchers say the blind spot in medicine is what we call now the placebo effect. Namely, that if you give some remedy with sufficiently impressive background, even if it’s simply a sugar pill, it will have, very often, a marked beneficial effect.
How can it possibly work? It’s rather difficult to perform research on it but there can be also – placebo means “I will please” – there can also be, our teacher said, though he didn’t use the word, a sort of nocebo effect meaning I will do harm and he said a concentration on illness or the possibility of illness does in fact produce an effect and which can do harm.
One of the examples that’s given quite often is that we’re all sitting comfortably at a concert. Then somebody coughs and quite often a number of other people, though trying to suppress it, begin coughing. One of the explanations is that there are little, minor discomforts in the throat which normally, we don’t notice but when somebody coughs that takes our attention to our own throat. We start feeling a discomfort there and then we finally feel an overwhelming necessity to cough. So, he was in favour of not discussing or concentrating or giving attention to the body more than strictly necessary because he said it has this subsidiary effect which is often unfavourable. He took it on the psychological level. People who are very concerned with egoism, they see it absolutely everywhere. If anything is done well, they immediately say, “Ah, showing off, pushing themselves forward.”
A traditional story given in one of the books by a former warden of Shanti Sadan: a man and his wife on a pilgrimage in the Himalayas and the man is leading and the wife is following. He sees a gold coin on the path. Now, a gold coin means quite a lot. He, lest his wife should be tempted, puts his foot on it and he says to her, “You go ahead.”
She looks at him and says, “What are you doing? Why are you standing there?” He says, “Go on ahead.” She says, “Why are you standing there?” He takes his foot away and he shows the coin there. He says, “So that you wouldn’t be tempted.” She says, “No, it’s you that is tempted and you’re controlling it but I’m not tempted at all. I will indeed lead from now on.” She walks up ahead.
In the same way, we can very easily project something on to others. People who are egoistic can never imagine someone doing a job for its own sake. They always think, “Oh no, they must be doing it for themselves, somehow to make an effect or to get a reward.”
One of the points of the Gita is karya: the thing is to be done, and part of the yoga training is to do it for its own sake because it is to be done and to be independent with regards to anything personal. There was another form of this, which our teacher did a comment on. There can be a sort of egoism which is above making efforts. It simply, looks down so to speak as a critic or somebody independent, all these little things that people try for or try to do. Our teacher pointed out that this can be one of the abuses of the Taoist doctrine.
The Chinese Tao is quite a famous one. He was a good poet. He wrote a book. It was published in the West. One of the things he said was, “You see, in the West you’re all so excited about things that simply, they’re nothing. As you know in China, the editor of a small magazine, for instance. He’s publishing a serial. It’s quite an interesting one. Then he forgets to publish the last installment. Nobody in China is bothered.”
Then he said, “It doesn’t matter because it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter whether you know what happens to the characters or not. Then why get excited? It doesn’t matter because it doesn’t matter.” Now, our teacher condemned this attitude. He said, “No, if a thing has been taken on, it must be carried out properly.” This is one of the messages of the Gita.
Arjuna, at the beginning, [of the Gita] begins his attempt to get out of what he’s got to do, what he is to do by citing a lot of wise words. Krishna says, “Yes, these words are indeed wise, but you have taken on this responsibility. This is a war which is unsought. It is not a war of ambition.” This word comes in the Gita. “It’s not sought, it’s not a war of conquest. It’s forced and he is defending justice. Now, you have taken on this war. People have come together in reliance on your word. Now you have got to carry it through.”
Then he says, “Fight. Do it in a yogic way. Without a personal involvement, do it because it is to be done.” Our teacher said it is not allowed to take on something and then not to do it properly and then to make excuses and say, “Well, after all, what does it matter?” If the thing has been undertaken it must be carried through.
The Gita makes a special point of this in one of the pairs of verses. There’s a tendency to think because the Gita says, “Perform the action which is to be done but in independence of the results, independence of the fruits,” that that would mean if you do it carelessly, you’re independent of the fruits. It doesn’t matter. The Gita meets this point very carefully and very exactly. There are two verses, from Chapter three [v.25 and v.26].
“Fools attached to action. As they act, O son of Bharata, so the wise man should act but unattached. Thinking to effect the control of the world, let him not cause confusion of mind in ignorant folk who are attached to action. He should let them enjoy all action, the wise man himself acting differently.”
We notice here that it says he acts with the same intensity as the man who is strongly attracted to action but he himself is independent of the results, but he acts with that same intensity and Shankara in commenting on this, he says, the word ‘disciplined’ is used, Edgerton translates yukta, which means yoked in yoga with mind, calm and even and steady. Shankara says, “he is efficient in the actions” so that he’s like one who is very eager to achieve the results. He acts just as energetically but he is yukta, that’s to say his mind is in a meditative state and, as a result, he is inspired and his actions then become efficient and fruitful. Whereas the actions of the people who are inspired by their own interests are very often failures. They seem reasonable, but it all turns out a failure and they don’t know why because it’s against the cosmic purpose. The actions of the spiritual man are based on inspiration from the cosmic purpose.
The Indian tradition is much more logical and precise and the Chinese tradition is often highly poetical and elusive but just to give a little example.
These are two quotations on these points from a great Chinese master of meditation. One of them, he gives this example. He says, “If you’re on top of a mountain, you’ve got to the peak.” He says, “You’re in a constant state of anxiety because if you drop anything, it’ll fall right down. It will be lost to you. Your arms are full and you’re holding on to everything, every shred of position, every scrap of reputation or name or personal relationships. You’ve got to keep holding them or they will drop down.” Then he says, “If you’re at the bottom of the mountain you’ve tried to get up, but you couldn’t and you’re full of resentment against the man at the top. You’re spitting, trying to spit on him, but trouble is the spit goes up little way and then it goes down. If you are the bottom,” he says, “If you can remain pure then you’ll become like a pond and the pure rainwater will fill the pond, and in that pond the plants will flourish and the fish will be nourished.”
The second one he says it’s about the Supreme Self. The Supreme, the transcendental and the material workings of the associations with which we are now entangled and in which we have to work until we can free ourselves. The dragon in the Chinese presentation represents the transcendent. The dragon has on the head, a crystal ball, which represents his wisdom.
It’s like some passages of the Old Testament in which God and his wisdom are there. Wisdom speaks in some of the books, Ecclesiastes and Proverbs. “I was beside God when He created.” So, he says, “The dragon plays with the crystal ball. It doesn’t remain in heaven all the time.” That’s to say, he doesn’t remain in absolute abstraction, attribute-less, he lets the ball drop. It goes down towards the earth, towards the state where things are real, are absolutely real, then he catches it.” He plays. Sometimes it’s transcendence and then there’s this provisional reality in which we play then we try again to come out. Never does it go, drop right down to the earth whence it can’t get back.
Well, these are illustrations – they are poetic and sometimes they can form a most attractive picture. Then the verses [13, v.27 and v.28] with which we began, “He sees who sees the Supreme Lord standing equally in all the beings, the undying in the dying” and “He who sees the Lord standing the same everywhere does not kill the Self by the self so he attains the highest goal.”
Thank you for your attention.
© Trevor Leggett