(… continued from ‘Restrain the senses first’)
The classical Greeks, the Spartans, were the acknowledged masters of war for a long time, and Thebes was one of the cities that they regularly conquered. One time, they inflicted the supreme humiliation on the city of Thebes by installing a garrison, a Spartan garrison, ruling the whole city. Well, a young man named Epaminondas, by a trick, succeeded in scaring the Spartan garrison, not very easy, and took the city back from them. Then the natural result was war with Sparta, which invariably ended in defeat.
The classical strategy was always to mass the best troops on the right, and then the two armies met. Well, Epaminondas, in view of his surprising success getting the garrison to surrender, was made one of the generals, in fact the chief general, on the side of Thebes. He changed the traditional strategy in a very unexpected way. They absolutely routed the Spartans. Unheard of. “They were like schoolboys who had beaten the teacher”, one of the Athenian commentators said.
But the aristocrats and the generals of Thebes became very annoyed. They said, “This fellow is an upstart. He is not doing things in the traditional way.” Traditional, tried and tested, invariably losing. He is not doing that. So they demoted him from general to a private, an ordinary soldier, in the next battle which followed against another city, and they rather hoped he would be killed.
They began to lose that, and there was a sort of mutiny in the army. They said, “No, we are not going to die. Men are dying. We are not going to die just so that you can gratify your jealousy and spite. Now, we will have Epaminondas as our general.” So he was promoted to general and instantly won.
Well, there was a good chance then, with those two tremendous victories, to make a sort of Theban league, the states, and Epaminondas took the chance, visited the cities, and constructed a league, which for quite a time dominated Greece, and he came back to the city.
But the others hadn’t finished yet. They said, “All right, you have brilliant victories. We will give you that, we will give you that, but you are a magistrate, and the laws of the city say a magistrate must be in the city at least six months each year. While you were forming this Theban league, admittedly a good thing, you have been out of the city more than six months of the year, so you have got to be impeached and stripped of your office of magistrate.” Well, it is pleasant to record that that’s lost.
Now, they were Thebans, they were patriotic people, but they simply could not control their own jealousy and spite. So they were pursuing a policy which would destroy their city.
It is very difficult for them to see clearly, and Shankara makes this point again and again, that unless the mind has been purified by these two practices, by meditation and by surrender of the fruits of actions to the Lord, which we do discuss in many of these lectures, then there is no purity. Without purity, there is no clear vision. We think we are doing good, but in actual fact we don’t.
The personal desires appear in unknown forms. The great pianist, Liszt, they said of him that his technique was absolutely transcendent. He practised 10, 12, 14 hours a day, and this was a wonderful thing for music, for the piano, but they said of him that when he played somebody else’s music he played it best the first time he saw it because then he played it as it was written. When he played it the next time, he started improving it. If there was a trill, he would play that trill in thirds, which was technically much more difficult. If there was a run, he would play that run in octaves, which was extraordinarily difficult. He could not resist showing off his wonderful technique, and so he would ruin the piece. Chopin said sulkily, “Either play the piece as it is written or don’t play it at all.”
He felt he was doing good, doing the right thing. In actual fact, he couldn’t recognise that he wasn’t improving it but that he was showing off his technique at the expense of the piece. Now, it is difficult, again, to recognise when we are filling in gaps, we can take a particular phrase and think, “Well this is enough for me, I follow this”, but it is necessary to do self-study of the scriptures.
Shri Dada says, ‘To illumine your hearts read the scriptures of your own religion, with faith, over and over again. Sing the praises of the Lord in any language. Repeat his holy name with love for a few hours a day. Anyone who pursues this practice will have divine guidance’.
Now, here he is talking now to members of the public who had no religious experience at all or training. ‘To illumine your hearts read the scriptures, with faith, over and over again. Sing the praises of the Lord and repeat his holy name in love for a few hours a day. Anyone who pursues this practice will have divine guidance’.
© Trevor Leggett
(Continued in ‘Yama and Niyama’)
Titles in this series are: