A string of jewels, a string of pearls, is an image used in the Gita
A string of jewels, a string of pearls, is an image used in the Gita. The fact is that if pearls individually are scattered all over the place in dusty corners, they have no beauty. They are of no ornamental value, and of little other value. But when they are brought together in a string they make a most beautiful necklace. They can be strung together in various ways. If you see black pearls they are very valuable, especially the big ones, but they look horrible. They look like ordinary pearls rinsed in ink, but they are very valuable. Sometimes the necklace has a big black pearl and two or three ordinary pearls and another black pearl, sometimes all the black pearls are put together and are arranged in gradation of size. There are many such ways of arranging them on a string to make a necklace. In the same way, the spiritual inspirations and revelations can be put together and rearranged in a new pattern. Our teacher rearranged some of them to bring out new aspects of truth. Take for example the treatment of Action.
Action is the teaching of the karma yoga, which depends on the living experience of the self as agent, of a real world of real things, and a separate God who creates, maintains and dissolves it. Action is yogic when performed with evenness of mind. One way to secure this is to offer the fruits of even selfish actions to the Lord. The practice is not being upset when results are unfavourable and not triumphing when success comes. This evenness is called in the Gita, Kaushalyam, skill in action. The Gita text leaves it there, but our teacher developed the point. He said that the evenness of mind prevents internal friction and stickiness which clog the smoothness of performance. Action must be vigorous and firm, enthusiastic for the results but without any claim on them, and then the action will become appropriate and efficient.
Our teacher explained this point at length in various ways. The Gita does give a few hints in its last chapter (XVIII.26: Free from attachment, not given to egotism, endued with firmness and vigour, unaffected in success and failure, an agent is said to be sattvic). The agent of the nature of sattva is:
Free from clinging attachment – not feeling, ‘Why should I have to do this when I get no credit for it?’ or, ‘I am not going to work with so and so, I don’t like them’, or ‘This is my job, and I don’t let anyone interfere’. All these things are clinging, sticking attachments which clog the action and make it inefficient;
Firm, not hesitating, I wonder if this is really going to work;
Energetic, not it doesn’t really matter, its only a small thing; but doing the action for its own sake.
Independent of success or not success, this does not mean typing carelessly and thinking I’m independent of that failure.
In accordance with traditional right conduct, the traditional authority but also pramana which is the word for authority of the present time. For yogis this would include what they are commissioned to do by the recent teachers of their line.
To be able to do those things in calmness and with an evenness of mind will become kaushalyam, it will become auspicious, and effective. Swami Rama Tirtha pays great attention to this point. He says, “You will have success in what you are doing if your attitude to a task is this: Lord, this is your work and therefore I take it to be mine. If you let me succeed in it I am pleased, and if you do not let me succeed I am equally pleased, when this is your way of doing the work you will have success in all that you do.”
Fatalism – Apathetics Anonymous
My teacher, Hari Prasad Shastri, brought out particularly strongly that we must not be fatalists. Some holy texts can be used to support fatalism, to make people members of Apathetics Anonymous. “Whatever will be, will be”, they echo the rich gentry and aristocrats in the last act of the Viennese Opera “Die Fledermaus”. These are people with the false serenity of the rich who feel that whatever will be, they will have the financial resources to meet it. “If God is busy, I have my cheque book”. They feel, too, that they are especially worthy of their favourable circumstances: “Call me a philosopher if you will, but what I say is, if we didn’t belong on top, we wouldn’t be on top.”
These fatalists twist the doctrine of karma to excuse themselves from making efforts. In the famous case presented by Jesus, a Jew coming down from worshipping at the Temple in Jerusalem is attacked by thieves who leave him for dead on the wayside. A passing priest assumes the man is dead; it would be a pollution for him to touch a dead body, and he would have to purify himself for a week before resuming his duties. So, he passes by on the other side.
Similarly, a Levite, chosen as the village representative to serve in the Temple for two weeks does not want to disqualify himself by touching a dead body. He too passes by on the other side. The third man is a Samaritan, a foreigner despised by orthodox Jews as unclean. He examines the injured man, finds he is not dead, washes his wounds and takes him to a hostel where he pays them to look after him.
Now the fatalist argues that the priest and the Levite did no harm to the victim. If it was his karma to be picked up and looked after then he would be picked up and looked after, as indeed he was. And if it was his karma to die then and there, nothing the Samaritan or anyone else could do could save his life. What had to be, had to be. This is a sort of fatalism which leads to apathy and pure tamas; darkness as our teacher repeatedly said, can be extended indefinitely. Suppose I have promised to buy a ticket to a concert for an old lady who particularly wants to hear it. Somehow, I forget to buy it in time and she cannot go. Now the pseudo-fatalist argues to himself, ‘If her karma did not justify her getting to the concert she could never get to it. And her karma clearly did not justify it because she did not get there, and could never have got there. Even if I had not forgotten to buy the ticket she would not have got there; the taxi would have had an accident on the way, or perhaps she would have been taken ill suddenly. But she could never have got there, because her karma did not allow it. So, in a way, my forgetting was a good thing for her. Perhaps it saved her from an accident or illness or some other karmic catastrophe’. These surface fatalists do not apply the same reasoning when someone carelessly upsets a hot saucepan full of soup over them. They don’t say, “Oh, it had to happen” but shout, “Why don’t you take more care, damn it!”
In these ways, he (the teacher) said, holy texts can be distorted into fatalism and the corresponding inertia. Some of them even quote the Gita: Every man follows his nature; what will restraint avail? (Chapter 3, v.33). They argue that if one’s nature is laziness, physical or spiritual, it must therefore be useless to struggle against it. They do not know the next verse in the Gita, which shows, as S’ankara says, that man frees himself from his nature by giving up his tight-clutching hold on his likes and dislikes. But if we examine the Gita we shall find that words based on the root ‘yat’ meaning to strive, occur more than thirty times and many more times in the commentary of S’ankara. The Gita says at the beginning of Chapter 7 (v.3): Among thousands of men one perchance strives for perfection; even among those who strive and are perfect, only one perchance knows me in truth and there are many similar examples. Any apparent fatalism, depending on supposed impossibility of changing one’s basic nature is ruled out by the many references to striving, accompanied with detachment. And it is also ruled out by many passages in the Gita beautifully summarised in the words of Jesus: What is impossible for man is possible for God.”
Then in one of the places where S’ankara sums up his teaching on a particular point, he says: As everywhere with the Adhyatma teaching, the qualities natural to the one who has succeeded are given as goals to be achieved by effort, for the aspirant. (Chapter 2, v.54 commentary.)
The teacher again used often to cite Confucius, who said, “When the archer misses the target he doesn’t blame the target, he blames himself”. A humorous extension of this is the idea, “Yes, I did miss the target, but the target was not worthy of my arrow.” It can be even further extended: the bad archer whose arrow does not get into the target but sticks into the ground halfway there, rushes up to the target, pulls it off, makes a hole in it and drapes it round the arrow. Then he says triumphantly: “Look, I’ve hit the bulls-eye!”
These caricatures illustrate the human weakness of trying to cover up failure by pretending that it has not been failure after all. Instead of striving to attain the goal, the self-deceivers adapt the goal to their own half-hearted efforts. It is a parallel process to a religious fatalist’s: “We are not meant to succeed”. When Ralph Neder began his campaign in the 1960’s to force the car manufacturers to change some of the death-trap designs, he was at first unsuccessful. But he did not say, “The public is too stupid, too selfish, too short-sighted, to listen to me.” He changed his technique of speaking and writing to meet the various audiences, and became, in fact, one of the most successful propagandists of the era; the car manufacturers were forced to redesign their cars.
Using jewels to stone the crows
Our teacher used to quote Chapter 2, v.40 of the Gita: Even a little of this dharma relieves from anxiety. Here the word dharma refers to the practice of karma yoga and the word translated here as anxiety is bhaya, fear. But he said that little bits of yoga must not be practised merely for some worldly gain. One example he gave was of a man who used to use the rosary while lying in bed. He seemed a pious person but when he was asked “Why do it in such an unusual position, why not sitting up like everyone else does?” he answered, “I have found it helps me to get to sleep”. This is misusing a yoga technique for a purely personal benefit.
There is a Chinese proverb. When the crows come down to pick up the seed you throw stones at them, and this is called ‘stoning the crows’, and the proverb is: “Don’t use the family jewels to stone the crows”. In other words, don’t use the priceless methods of spiritual training in order to gain some petty worldly advantage.
Another point brought out by our teacher, not stressed in the Gita itself, though it is there, was: creativity. Yoga must make us creative. He used to give examples from the history of science and literature of extraordinary inspirations and told us to look out for them. One such, which happened after he died, was a great discovery by the physicist Enrico Fermi. His name is commemorated in the famous Fermilab in America and a fundamental particle is named after him, the fermion. In an interview with Chandrasekhar, another noted physicist, he said, “I will tell how I came to make what people say is my greatest discovery, the results we were getting from the path of neutrons were not making sense. And then suddenly the idea came to me let me put a bit of lead in front of the path of neutrons. So I had this idea but I was very fussy about the lead, and when they brought me a piece of lead to do it I said, ‘No, I want this machined’. There was no possible reason why I wanted it shaped and I sent it back three times, there was something in me that did not want that lead and then finally I had to have it back, they had done everything required of them, and then suddenly a thought came, ‘No, I don’t want a piece of lead I want a piece of paraffin wax’, and I got hold of any old piece of wax that was lying around and that gave the clue.” And he said, “There was no prior thought, there was no logical cause or reason for it.” It wasn’t just a question of trying things at random, it was something that prompted him to do that.
Our teacher used to give this sort of example, but of course we used to say: “We are not famous physicists, we are not these wonderful people. You can’t expect this sort of thing from ordinary people.” But he said, “No, the ordinary people can have these inspirations”. And in public lectures, he said, “People here, everyone here, can think the thoughts of Plato and of Shakespeare. They will not necessarily express it with the same brilliance, but if the inspiration comes from the cosmic mind, the inspiration will come through the channels that are there in them. If they meditate and come into contact with that mind they will be inspired”.
As an example, at the end of the war Japan was in ruins. It was the custom that the Emperor on New Year’s day would give a poem, something like the Queen’s Xmas message in Britain today. That Emperor, Hirohito who died not long ago was a scientist, a marine biologist, and became an Honorary Member of our Royal Society for his work on some pacific marine crabs. He was not distinguished as a poet at all but he had to present a poet to a country in ruins, under an allied occupation, largely American. It did do some good but it was also a heavy burden, and there was a lot of corruption, as was later admitted. Some commentators thought that Japan would never recover, and would have to become a sort of lotus-land for tourists. Now this undistinguished figure in the world of poetry was inspired to make a poem which became famous though it was in very simple words:
Under the weight of snow,
The pine tree keeps its green,
This poem was an inspiration to the people. Many observers thought they would never recover, but the poem telling them ‘Under the heavy snow of the Occupation the green of the pine, spirit of the people, remains hidden by the snow but is always there, and finally the snow will melt and the green show itself.’
This was a famous poem which was written by an ordinary man, and our teacher used to recite an example of some of these poems. He said, “They were in very simple language and the ordinary people can write them and they can have inspiration”. There is one poem which was written by a woman on the occasion of the Buddha’s birthday. On the Buddha’s birthday in the temples there was a hall of flowers and the little image of the newborn Buddha was put in the middle. The poem was:
Decorate the flower hall,
The flower hall is your own heart.
Listen to the cry of the newly born Buddha in it.
This was a famous poem with very simple language which was written by one of the attendants at a small temple near Kyoto. Well, then, another poem, a short one which can be of a great help to us, as, when our teacher said, we are overwhelmed with a torrent of abuse and hatred and false rumours about us: “They will hate you and curse you, they will circulate rumours around”. The poem is:
We sweep up the leaves in the courtyard every day
But we do not hate the trees for dropping them.
And the Indian proverb is ‘Jar leaks. What is in it?’ and this venom of slander and spite comes from people, like the trees dropping the leaves. We sweep it up, we ignore it on the ground but we try not to hate the trees for dropping it.
Another point which he brought out is about doing good and this accusation is often made by missionaries that ‘You Westerners bring your Christian morality even when you are not believing Christians any more, you bring your Christian morality with you and then when you study yoga, or Buddhism, or something like that, you assume that there is Christian morality. Then there is the yoga doctrine, or Buddhist doctrine, on top of that when in fact the morality isn’t there.’ Now to make a point in Chapter thirteen of the Gita, verses seven to eleven, there are twenty qualities which are given to acquire knowledge they are themselves called knowledge because they are the means of knowledge. Now if we read the list, we’ll just read it now, and notice where does it ever say in this list do some good to somebody?
- Humility, modesty, innocence, patience, uprightness, service of the teacher, purity, steadfastness, self-control;
- Absence of attachment for objects of the senses, and also absence of egoism; perception of evil in birth, death, old age, in sickness and pain;
- Unattachment, absence of affection for son, wife, home and the like, and constant equanimity on the attainment of the desirable and the undesirable;
- Unflinching devotion to Me in Yoga of non-separation, resort to solitary places, distaste for the society of men;
- Constancy in Self-Knowledge, perception of the end of knowledge of truth. This is declared to be the knowledge, and what is opposed to ignorance.
This is to acquire knowledge. Now, our teacher compared this to a schoolboy who wanted to do good but he can’t do good, he can do a little, but if he studies hard and becomes a skilled engineer then he can offer his services to his community and he can do great good and he gave an example. Some Indian villagers lived near a swamp and of course there was malaria there because the flies bred in the swamp, and one way of doing good was to nurse the sick with malaria; that was one way, but the other thing was skilled engineering to drain the swamp and then the malaria disappeared. He gave that example. He said the yoga is to qualify ourselves by being able to do good by taking the root of the evil out and not simply by patching up the effects. The people who are making wars all over the world are not starving. There is a feeling if only the poor could be fed all would be well when they become well fed, that’s just it. No, not at all, as Mother Teresa said, “We may be starving in the East but somehow we get by, but you in the West are spiritual starving and you do not get by”. People now are plagued with anxiety more and more, people are committing suicide, but yoga, our teacher said, is the remedy, and this is the true gift. Now, when those people say, “Those qualities leading to knowledge don’t say anything about doing good to anyone”. No, but the seventeenth chapter of the Gita contains the three pillars of yoga, gift is one, tapas – austerity is another and sacrifice or worship is the third, and he says, “Gift, the material gift, yes it exists, but this is not the fundamental thing. It can rectify the immediate situation but it will reoccur again”. Life is a suffering, you can mitigate the suffering but not cure it. The second gift is the gift of courage, but the third gift, which he said is the gift of yoga, is the gift of wisdom. He said this is the gift for which the world is starving.
Coming to the actual text again, one of the points that our teacher stressed is there is a tendency to psychologize everything and to make the yogic experiences into merely psychological experiences, to make the yoga ideals simply the higher aspirations of man. Not God made man in his image, but man has made God in his image, and he (the teacher) said to take the holy texts as what they clearly say. (Objection:) ‘I can’t accept all of this. I can accept some of it but not this, this doesn’t agree as our teacher said, with conclusions of modern scientists or with common sense or practical experience, or my actual experience. So, I will set this aside.’ For instance, we can say of the great vision in chapter eleven that this was a subjective vision of Arjuna. He passed into a state in which he saw this vision of the whole universe. It is clearly subjective but the Gita itself directly contradicts that because it was seen by somebody else. It was seen by Sanjaya, and at the end of the Gita the point is reinforced. Sanjaya says, “When I think back to that wonderful vision I am in ecstasy”. So, the Gita itself makes it clear this was not simply a subjective experience. It was an experience of Arjuna, but it was also seen by others. In the same way, even St. Paul’s experience at Damascus was not simply subjective, there are three accounts of it. He was overwhelmed by this light, it blinded him and then he heard the voice, but there were others there who saw the light or heard the voice. It was not simply a subjective experience, and we have to be prepared to give up some of the restrictions on our thinking which are artificially imposed and this has happened in the past. One of the reasons that Newton did not want to publish his researches into gravity was that he was accused by his opponent, and he did not like controversy, of resuscitating medieval occultism. In those days, in his time, the theory was things fell to earth because invisible particles came from space and pressed us all down to earth, things moved because invisible particles drove them along. There had been some difficulties to explain where did the invisible particles come from, but they thought ‘Well, that just happened, that’s natural, it’s a fact,’ and then Newton came with a mysterious force acting at a distance. As his opponent said, “Ghostly fingers stretching out through space to catch hold of it”. A fantasy! Well they had to change but it is worth realising they felt things moved because they were pushed. This idea of invisible forces pulling things couldn’t be explained, quite fantastic, not scientific at all. It is worth remembering that because the text, not merely of the Gita but for instance the Mandukya Upanishad will say that the identification with OM do correspond to internal states but they also correspond to external identifications, and when someone goes into samadhi on OM as the whole of the waking state, everything physical, then he becomes what is shown in that eleventh chapter of the Gita. We can say that this is patently absurd. Someone sitting in a little room, in a little seat in England, a little island on a little planet, on a not very prominent galaxy, and you are saying that they have consciousness of the whole universe from the most distant star from which the light takes a hundred thousand years to reach it? It is patently absurd and therefore it is poetic. Well, this is the view of the science of 1920, but as Rama Tirtha said if we have to come to terms with science we have to come to terms with up-to-date science. Now, let us read from a commentary of 1998 less than two years ago:
Non-locality. The term describes the way in which the behaviour of a quantum entity such as an electron is affected not only by what is going on at one point (the ‘locality’ of the entity), but also by events that are going on at other places (other localities), which may in principle be far away across the Universe. These non-local influences occur instantaneously, as if some form of communication, which Albert Einstein called ‘spooky action at a distance’, operates not just faster than the speed of light, but infinitely fast. It is important to appreciate that the non-local nature of the quantum world has been demonstrated in experiments.
An electron here is in instant communication with an electron on the other side of the universe. Well, that is equally absurd and incredible. If it wasn’t for the experiments, as they said, we could never believe it and in the same way in yoga if it wasn’t for the experiment you couldn’t believe these things. Now the experiments are given and we know them, they are given them in yogic training, but as an example:
Understanding the meaning of the word OM, and sitting in a secluded place, if you repeat this holy word rhythmically and slowly and concentrate your mind on it, then after a practice, in some cases of a few months and in some cases a few years, your mind passes into a state of consciousness which is not only quite different from the state of our daily consciousness, but much more luminous and highly superior. No other yoga is needed; if this one practice is carried out you can succeed in having the higher wisdom, the wisdom which is the third eye of man wisdom which brings man into relationship with reality. He needs three things to acquire proficiency in yoga: moral discipline, mental discipline, and meditation on OM.
Our teacher gave this is and it is one of the things he brought very much to the fore, as did Swami Rama Tirtha: the meditation on OM. He says, “The sutra of Patanjali says not just the repetition of it, but also meditation on its meaning.” But why is all the rest of yoga needed? Because not many people have the one pointedness to keep at something, they need many accessories to keep the mind interested and active in it. There are people who can, if you learn Chinese you have to learn, well, you used to have to learn three thousand separate shapes, and there are people who can be told simply learn them and they will sit down to it and learn them, that’s all, but most people can’t do that they must have an interest in them. How to learn, for instance, that the sun is represented by a square with a dot in the middle. Well, you can’t remember whether it is a square or a diamond, or whether the dot is above and so on. So they interest you. They say, “Well, quite interestingly the sun is represented with a dot in the middle. What is the dot? In Chinese mythology it is the crow in the sun. There is said to be a little crow in the sun, and the interesting thing is in ancient Egypt where they also had to learn hieroglyphics they also have a circle with a dot in the middle. Now, isn’t that interesting? In the Chinese system the circle became a square but still the dot remained”. When people are given a story like that and it is compared with the ancient Egyptian Ra, Ramesis, means born of the sun, (Ra), then it can be remembered and then it enters into your memory. In the same way if you recite OM for three hours a day for four years you will have this relation. Well you think three hours a day for four years! How about one hour a day for twelve years, or half an hour a day for twenty-four years? Who is going to plan for twenty-four years? Well, you do with a mortgage, so why not plan twenty-four years ahead and set aside half an hour a day? In these ways the presentations are made, but he says you have to meditate on the meaning of OM. It has not only the meaning in the body but it has the meaning of connecting the body with the cosmic mind and the cosmic reality finally.
Just to conclude, notice the little bit that our teacher said (given earlier):
Understanding the meaning of the word OM, and sitting in a secluded place, if you repeat this holy word rhythmically and slowly, and concentrate your mind on it, then after a practice in some cases of a few months and in some cases a few years, your mind passes into a state of consciousness which is not only quite different from the state of our daily consciousness, but much more luminous and highly superior. No other yoga is needed; if this one practice is faithfully carried out you succeed in having the highest wisdom, the wisdom which is the third eye of man, wisdom which brings man into relationship with reality. He needs three things to acquire proficiency in yoga, moral discipline, mental discipline and meditation on OM.
This is an experiment which is given and people are quite willing to train on something which will not materialise for weeks, or months, or years; they are willing to do that. It took Leonardo years to acquire his skills as he says and the experiments are given.
So now just two lines of Swami Rama Tirtha:
You are the Light of life, the Son of sons, the Ruler of the universe, the Lord of lords, the true Self.
This is the result of the experiment. He is saying not that everything, the ideas of God are contracted into a tiny space as Mephistopheles says in Goethe, trying to stuff the seven days of creation into one little mind, instead of opening the lotus of the mind out so that it becomes one with the cosmic. Well, our teacher gave this as an example.
Thank you for your kind attention.