Killing the Self

Killing the Self

(… continued from ‘Yama and Niyama’)

Now, when Jesus said, “Do unto others as you would they would do unto you”, this is an echo of a great teacher long before him. Well, well before him, Hillel, who put it in negative form. A rather simple man asked the great Hillel, who was one of the two great leaders of the time, of Israel, teachers of Israel, “Can you tell me the law while I stand on one foot?” An untrained man can’t stand on one foot for more than a few seconds.

So Hillel said, “Yes. Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want them to do to you. This is the law in the province. The rest is commentary.” This is in negative form, and at first sight it seems to be inferior, it is negative, but we look more deeply and we can see that unless the positive action was based on spiritual inspiration it may be no welcome thing.

Somebody who is about 17 who wants to cheer people up will think, “Well, we will fill the house with rock music.” That is what he likes, and he thinks, “Well, everybody would like that. If I was feeling depressed, I would like people to come and fill the house with rock music. So they are feeling depressed, I will go and fill their house with rock music.”  Tastes differ and needs differ, and not to do to them what you would not want them to do to you. In the negative form. Now, in the yoga, our teacher said, “We kill the Self by focusing attention on the interests of the body beyond what is necessary and on the interests of the personality, beyond what is necessary.”

There is a sort of Mephistopheles in all of us, and he frequently referred to this, who says, “Meditation doesn’t actually do anything.” At the end of the meditation, you are what you were before. Just the same. You have been puffing yourself up with all sorts of thoughts of greatness and divinity, but at the end of it, just what you were.  This is in Goethe’s Faust and it was frequently quoted by our teacher, Doctor Shastri. Faust says to Mephistopheles, “No, you don’t know from this meditation what inspiration and rejuvenation comes. If you knew, devil that you are, you begrudge them to me, but you don’t.”

Our teacher also gave this example. After a religious meeting, people can suddenly start talking business, to help each other in business. There is a pamphlet here, ‘How to turn £2,485 into £97,000 in penny shares’.  Now, if, after a religious meeting, one goes round telling people about this, surely one is doing some good. You are giving them a chance. Savings maybe get small but if they are going to get more, well, nearly 50 times, surely that is doing some good, isn’t it? Whereas the meeting is just words, just words.

Now, our teacher gave this as an example of killing the Self. In the holy meeting, if people have attended they begin to move out of prison, the prison of mortality and the prison of limitation. Then this well-meaning man goes round, financial worries, stimulating greed, and he imprisons them, bang, and our teacher gave this as an example of killing the Self.

He sees who sees the Self in all beings. Standing the same, the undying and the dying, and Shri Dada, in these talks, he is addressing the Atman, the Self, whom he sees in the beings. One of the Zen teachers said to the audience, “I see you as lights”, and then he said, “But you have no faith. You will never get it in 100 years.”  

Well, these are the steps which Shri Shankara gives, beginning with meditation for purification of the mind. Then tyaga, or the dedication of the fruits of action to the Lord. Not the actions, yet, but the fruits of action to the Lord. Then purification, sattva siddhi, 17 times, repeated, a key phrase in Shankara’s commentary.  We can think, “How can we possibly know? Has somebody been through the Gita commentary and counted all the times it came up?” Yes, they have, and all the other words, too. The edition has just come out, a word index to Shankara’s Gita commentary. So we know the keywords which come up repeatedly, again and again and again, and this is one of them, the sattva siddhi, the purification of the mind.

Then the attainment of knowledge, then a renunciation. In Shankara’s time, it was classically an external renunciation, but he gives a number of exceptions. For instance, a king who has connections with a kingdom which he can’t lay down until the son is ready to take over and the king remains. Although he is in the stage of renunciation, he remains to set an example to the world and to protect the people.

Firmness in knowledge, and this, again, is meditation. Finally, freedom or moksha. Then I will just read the verse again. All these steps are set forth again and again in the Gita commentary. Sometimes he gives the first three, up to purity, sometimes up to knowledge, sometimes the steps beyond knowledge.  ‘The steady-minded one, abandoning the fruit of action to the Lord, attains the peace born of devotion. The unsteady one, without meditation, attached to the fruit through the action of desire, is firmly bound’.

© Trevor Leggett

Titles in this series are:

Part 1 : Shankara’s Path

Part 2 : Restrain the senses first

Part 3 : Mind must be purified

Part 4 : Yama and Niyama

Part 5 : Killing the Self



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