The Main Teachings of Shri Dada
Reverence to Shri Dada of Alighar, the teacher of our teacher, Hari Prasad Shastri. This talk is called ‘The Main Teachings of Shri Dada’. It has a special meaning, this phrase, ‘the main teachings’ in the spiritual traditions. For instance in the Gita, in chapter XI, the last verse runs like this, the Lord is speaking: “He who does works for me, who holds Me as his Supreme, devoted to Me, free from attachment, without hatred for any beings, he comes to Me, O Pandava”. Shankara commenting on that verse says, “This verse contains the main teaching of the Gita, which applies to everyone, which everyone should practise”: “He who does works for me, who holds Me as his Supreme, devoted to Me, free from attachment, without hatred, he comes to Me”.
In the book on our teacher’s teacher, which was written by our teacher, ‘The Heart of the Eastern Mystical Teaching’ there are certain places where it is said, either by him or our own teacher, that in this place the main teaching is summed up; or it will say in another place, “My children I’ve given you simple instructions today, they are the fundamentals of the Holy Yoga”; or it will say, “The most important points of the Holy Yoga have been put before you today.”
Now this is a special point to help pupils. If this is not done, then people can choose some individual phrase – they often twist it, but hang on to that. Now, for instance, there is a phrase in the Gita where the Lord is speaking, he says “I am victory, I am splendour”, and in one place he says, “I am the gambling of the cheat”. The whole universe is described as a projection from the Lord into which the Lord has entered. “I am the gambling of the cheat”. The habitual gambler is now able to say, “O, then my gambling is a manifestation of God. I should not give it up. These are the very words of the Gita. ‘I am the gambling of the cheat’. It’s true – I do cheat, but this is supported by the Gita”. Somebody will say, “Well, you have to read the whole book”. In another place in the book it says, “The man of tamas – darkness which is to be avoided – he is deceptive and tricky. This is a sin”. So we have two texts, ‘I am the gambling of the cheat’. The counter text says that although the Lord has projected the whole world, nevertheless there are things against which we are to struggle. The Lord in human beings struggles against these things of tamas. The other one is given, to struggle against tamas. ‘I am the gambling of the cheat’, but tamas, trickiness, deception, is to be struggled against.
But then by a sort of conjuring trick, this text gets covered up and you only have that one, ‘I am the gambling of the cheat’. He says, “No, I’ll hold on to that, I’ll hold on to that!” That is why it is one of the methods of teaching in the Holy Yoga, in various places, to give the main teachings, so that we can see that all the other subsidiary teachings must be interpreted to accord with the body of the main teachings. People are liable to bring in sentences from other religious or mystical traditions, because nobody knows what the main teachings of those other traditions are, and if they just bring in a phrase who’s to say whether this is a main teaching or not. We know it may not be a main teaching in Yoga, but who’s to say – and the mere fact that these other traditions are relatively unknown only makes it more impressive. There are certain phrases in Zen in which, when a man becomes very attached to a particular Buddha image, he might be told, “This is nothing but clay. This is not a Buddha. You must be prepared to spit.” A certain westerner went to Japan and he was somewhat surprised and upset to see the abbot in one of the great Zen temples coming before the Buddha images and making a most reverential bow. He said, “Master, I’ve heard that in Zen one has to be ready to spit at the buddhas, and I am ready to spit at the buddhas”. So the teacher said, “You spits, I bows!” We’re given the main teachings so that all these individual phrases can be interpreted in the light of the main teachings.
In one place Shri Dada says, “Some will ask you: ‘What does this old pundit (himself) teach you, that he merits so much of your kindness and affection?’ Tell them in reply, ‘He teaches us how to live, without complaints, without fear and without regret… His main teachings are: study, pray, discipline thyself and meditate.’” These are four internal processes. These are his main teachings: ‘study, pray, discipline thyself and meditate’. “Study the character of the world – which is shadowy, uncertain and hard to transcend. Study the nature of your mind… Study the nature of your soul which is infinite and immortal. Pray (the second teaching); that is, allow your controlled heart to be aware of the Divine ray enshrined in it. By devotion to the holy Name of God, it is easier to effect a prayer.
“Discipline yourself in disinterested indifference to the attraction of sense objects. Discipline yourself to take the incidents of daily life as leaves in the book of lessons to be learned… Discipline means perpetual exercise of the mind in obedience to the code of dharma (righteousness) and patience, infinite patience. Meditate on the name of Hari, on His Divine Form, then on His Divine Attributes, then on vacuity.” and then he gives some other meditations.
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 practise meditation, or say that one is practising 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 practise sitting in meditation.”
There’s another passage by the same Swami Mangalnath on how to come to this state – not just promoting oneself and this is something that generally gets lost under the conjuring trick. “A few hints” he says, “out of my personal experience may perhaps be useful to you. The hollow in the centre of your body where the ribs join just below the breast bone is the best region on which to fix your mind in meditation. You may have heard the expression ‘the lotus of the heart’; it refers to this point. You can apply a little sandal-paste to the spot and then concentrate your mind on it. Two hours a day is not too long a time for this practice.” Two hours a day! Then he says, “When you can fix your mind there at will, then visualise a lotus of bluish colour, and when this meditation has matured, imagine Pranava or OM placed on the lotus, and meditate on it.” This is Swami Mangalnath. So he is referring also to a state of meditation, seated with the eyes closed.
If we look at the Shri Dada Sanghita we’ll find many references. Swami Mangalnath says, “Dye your emotions in the colour of ‘verily all this is Brahman’. Then you will pass into an ecstasy in which there is neither one nor two.” Shri Dada says, “Devotion is not the end of life. The end is direct perception in samadhi of your own Self as Paramatman. While you have consciousness of time and space, you will not see Atman. But that doesn’t mean that when Atman has been seen, it does not continue after the meditation.” But he says “It is first seen in meditation. While you have consciousness of time and space you will not see Atman.” Then he says, “Meditate on the Lord in the heart”. It’s another form of this meditation. “If you mediate daily (on the Lord in the heart) for eighteen months, and every now and then devote a week or two entirely to it, you will, in your meditation, lose consciousness of both the world and yourself and experience only the object of meditation. You will see an extraordinary light resembling the colour of the lotus in its intensified form in your heart and all mental limitations will disappear. This state is called samadhi.” So this is a reference to a state in which the consciousness of the world and the self and one’s body has been lost.
“My sons, the scripture says: ‘This Atman cannot be achieved by the weak-willed’, and the converse of this statement is true. ‘This Atman can be achieved by the strong-willed’. Then bring the whole force of your will to bear upon the problem and, having made up your mind to know Atman, drive straight towards it… The Shruti says: ‘The wise, renouncing the world, realise immortality. Renounce the mind once and for all and you will realise Atman is bliss.” This is not reshaping ideas, but stepping beyond the mind. It’s not like a mental operation, in which an inadequate idea is replaced by an adequate idea, but a stepping completely beyond the mind itself – like coming to the edge of a picture. “Renounce the mind, once and for all, you will realise that Atman is bliss.”
Elsewhere he says: “Liberation is the name of a mental function, which arises in jnana (knowledge) and loses itself in it. Shut out all other mental functions, suspend all mental and sense consciousness. What still persists is knowledge. This spiritual knowledge is not an idea, not a mental function, but something beyond them. Have no desire, no plaint. Sit calm. Break the mirror of the mind. Silence, mahatmas, silence. Not only silence of speech, but of the mind.” Then Shri Dada will say: “The essence of the teachings of the Gita is this: first the antahkarana (the mind) should be purified; secondly it must be surrendered to the Lord, and then slowly the mind will vanish into the transcendent light of consciousness. This state is called the higher samadhi.” These are all references to samadhi as meditation states. “The avadhut”, a fully realised yogi, whom Shri Dada meets, “the avadhut entered into a state of samadhi”. Samadhi is there used to mean a special state which is not his normal state in which he was talking to the people. There are several of them, but they’re much on the same lines. The last one I’ll read then is a description of Shri Dada. “The sun was at its meridian and the holy Guru was absorbed in samadhi. Sahaja (one of his disciples) touched his feet and … discovered to her horror that there was a considerable swelling in them. She sobbed… Shri Dada opened his eyes (his eyes had been shut, he was absorbed in samadhi) and affectionately patted (her) head; then he stood up and began to walk back.”
These are some of the quotations on samadhi – they can be brought together. We can see that it is both a state of meditation in which the mind is transcended and then it also refers to a state, as the Gita says, “… of walking, talking, moving, in which he is samadhistha – established in samadhi.” The verses are at the end of chapter two. But chapter two also describes him like a tortoise withdrawing his limbs, he withdraws the senses as he sits still.
Certain other teachings come again and again and I’ve taken out examples of them. For instance, he will say this: “Life is too short to risk half measures, my beloved sons, and such an opportunity as you have been given is very rare. Take your life as one complete sacrifice, remember that since you have joined the Holy Yoga you have connected not only with your friends and relatives, but also with those immortal lords who grace Shri Kund (the spiritual centre) and indeed that your relationship with them is the chief factor to be borne in mind.” “I repeat, that a true yogi must be single-minded,” this is another passage, “If certain dogs can be so single-minded that they would prefer slow death by starvation to being separated from their masters, is it not also possible for man. If I may say so, be mad in this Yoga. Live the Yoga, dream the Yoga sleep the Yoga, eat the Yoga, walk the Yoga. Be Shiva, be the Holy Ganges.” Then in another place, “I warn you only against adopting half measures. Be prepared to walk on the edge of a sword. But the whole of nature cooperates with him who wants to know Atman, so what has he to fear?”
One can say, “Well, you cannot live like that.” And Swami Mangalnath speaks of this, he says: “You can!” You think, “Well, if the mind is transcended, how will the body keep going, how can people do a job, how could they cultivate the fields?” The answer which comes in a number of places is, that it’s no longer a human mind taking selfish decisions, but these are promptings and inspirations from the divine mind. When the human mind is transcended in samadhi, the divine mind prompts the actions of the body and the thoughts which no longer revolve around the small centre. You can say, “Well, you could not run a career like that.” But we have the example of Pundit Bajnath, a most successful and famous lawyer. He was one of the very distinguished Indians who was invited across to see Queen Victoria – a really great man. “Building up his career, he must have had to reduce his devotion to very limited time while he was learning law”. In the Shri Dada Sanghita in general there’s nothing said about the necessity for making a success of a career. When Shri Dada advises the boys he says, “Don’t become civil servants, don’t become merchants” – that was where the big money was, in the Civil Service and in trade – “Don’t become soldiers.” And he recommends them to learn how to farm efficiently and to become small-time builders in the small Himalayan state where they had been born.
You can say, “Well, the whole career of Pundit Bajnath, is telling us to go all out for making a success.” But if we read the words of Pundit Bajnath given to the Yoga disciples, he says on this very point, “Duty … is a demand made on us, by the Lord of the universe which in its highest form is expressed as a duty to know Him as He is, and help others in knowing Him. The one and only sovereign remedy for avidya (ignorance), which brings about the various forms of suffering, as well as joys which are the inevitable precursors of suffering, is a direct perception of the nature of the Self; and as this one perception includes within itself the fulfilment of all duties, whether civil, domestic, national or otherwise, to discover and experience it should ever the paramount concern in life. Those who postpone the purposeful search for the Ultimate Truth, or give preference to any other interest, whether individual, national or philanthropic, are sadly deluded. My children, if I were granted only a few moments of your company, I would say this: ‘Know Atman and stop all other undertakings’.”
Pundit Bajnath chaired a number of important commissions in India. Weren’t they undertakings? He says, “Know Atman and stop all other undertakings.” They were like a play of the Lord through him, and they were not commitments which could take him away from Yoga. Shri Dada recommends to a schoolmaster or a merchant, “He should take it that he’s in his position from his Karma and he should aim to work efficiently. But at the end of the day he should treat the world as if the world were dead, completely dead, not think about it anymore.” When Alnutt, who was one of his disciples and who was in charge of a railway station, said that the work was disturbing and interfering with his spiritual practice which was now very advanced, Shri Dada smiled and he said “Yes, but give your example for a few years more. While you have been in charge there have been no strikes, no quarrels, no drunkenness and your example is necessary. Then fulfil your spiritual wishes.” He did this not as a personal ambition but he continued just for a few years.
We can say, “Oh we can’t meditate, as this book repeatedly says, recite the name of God for several hours a day. You can’t do that, it would be impossible to live a successful life – especially in modern times – the terrible rush, the strain of life. It takes three hours a day to keep up with the television and if you don’t keep up with the television, you can’t understand a conversation, because a modern conversation today consists in two television sets talking to each other. ‘Did you see my programme at six o’clock?’ ‘No, did you see mine at half past eight on Friday?’ We have so little time, such pressure.” They could take holidays, but they didn’t get paid. We have four, five weeks, paid holiday, yet they say they have no time. You can say, “Even so, it wouldn’t be possible”. But how do we know? A man was working a humble job for six hours every day, then doing a particular sport very vigorously and intensely for at least four hours a day, practising meditation for two hours a day, and learning a difficult language for two hours a day for several years. It was successful in the sense that the sportsman got into the Guinness Book of Records and he said that his meditations began to come to him during his sport and they gave him a sort of special inspiration and energy. Taking the examples from this book, the teacher Shri Dada, who had several children, late in the afternoon in the mango grove, is sitting on the mat addressing his disciples. He’s not at home. Then after the teaching the evening is at hand. Then he sits in his meditation for his evening devotion. About half past nine he’s finished the teaching and his evening meditations (he does two hours in the morning). He has his simple meal, sharing it with the gardener’s family – this was at the place called Chandausi.
When he came to another town, Moradabad, on his arrival, every evening, often for many hours together, one of his disciples, Teerath Mal who was a very keen amateur wrestler recited portions of the Ramayana in melodious tones to the assembled men and women who would flock to the meetings. Although working throughout the day at the office as assistant to Shri Dada, his untiring joy in reading the classic of Tulsidas, sometimes for many hours together until late into the night, and the zeal with which he continually practised his exercises as a wrestler seemed both to defy normal bodily fatigue. The minimum programme for a wrestler in India is 6,000 of two exercises, both of which an expert can do in one second. But of course they get tired, so it would have taken him at the very least more than an hour-and-a-half and probably three hours. So he had his work all day, then his Ramayana reading every night sometimes for several hours and then he had his wrestling for two or three hours.
Every night when he went to a new place, and after his arrival in Hapur, Shri Dada began his custom of spreading a mat each evening in an open space, adjoining the railway station where he worked. This was his method of devotion, and it gave him this extraordinary energy which he had. He was one of those who treated the untouchables, whom an ordinary doctor, a Brahmin doctor, wouldn’t see in those days. But often Shri Dada would get up in the night and go and see them – his meditations gave him this ability. “To have successful meditations”, he said, “one must love seclusion and create environments conducive to its untroubled practice. If man meditates for an hour a day and keeps company with the world for eight hours then whatever progress he makes is undone every day”. So he says to have as little to do with sansara, the world, as possible, but also that people should earn their living in an honest way.
He said that spiritual people who are practising will be reviled and insulted and persecuted and taunted. This is one of the themes that comes again and again in the book. In one place, “When you can go without food and sleep for a few days, reviled and abused by those dear to you, some of those who are dear to you will turn on you, and yet with your mind unruffled and fixed on the name of God then there is cause for rejoicing. Live in solitude. Bear the taunts, mockery and derision of your relatives and friends as if they were flowers showered upon you.”
Now he gave to his disciples – and this is a main theme in the book – a mission. There are twenty-three references to this mission, which is to spread the light of the Gita and the holy teachings centred on the Gita to the West. I’ll read a few of them. “A new light of the torch of Eternal Truth is to be ushered into the world. A tributary of the Holy Ganges of the Gita is winding its way to Angala Desha (Britain – the place of the Angles.) Thus it has been decreed. This holy and venerable sage (Swami Krishnanadaji, Shri Dada’s teacher), is undertaking the great task.” Then again, “He has entrusted us with the mission of carrying the light far and wide to the East and the West. Find newer and newer fields for sowing the seeds of the holy Gita.” A great saint says to Shri Dada, “Narayana (this was his lay name), Narayana, for the good of the souls, the Gita must be given to Angala Desha, Narayana, Narayana.” “The Gita Shastra (in another passage) is enough to enlighten humanity. The truth of the Gita is verily the highest truth. Broadcast this truth, Narayana, distribute copies of the holy text. The truth of the Gita will be introduced in its present form to Angala Desha in this very generation. Those of you who have already incarnated there will receive it and cherish it.” There are many of these quotations – I’ve just read a few.
He says we should not have, what Swami Rama Tirtha used to call, the ‘copyrighting spirit’, as if it was only through me or in this way that it can come. He says don’t become fixed and rigid in your ideas. One of the final verses of the Gita says “The greatest service a man can do to humanity is to spread the teachings of the Gita in humility.”
“Yoga is the all-powerful stream, the Holy Ganges which you represent. There are Rishis and brahmacharis who are more anxious to help than you are, but they will only help through you… Now I charge you to spread the doctrine, not only in India but in other places also… To you is given the privilege to live it and also to promulgate it. Promulgate it, my friends. If you cannot do much at the time of your meditation, imagine … that your Atman pervades all, and that, entering the heart of each and everyone, you are introducing into it the Ganges of peace.” “ I was never a pundit. All that you need by way of spiritual instruction you will find in the Holy Gita.” “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…” “The Holy Gita is the only prescription. Where are the broadcasters, wanting the men who preach in the name of the Lord with no self-interest, no narrowness, prompted by nothing but compassion. Some will reincarnate. They will be opposed, slighted, oppressed and persecuted. If they still do not complain and with spiritual love scatter the seeds of the Gita, the present sub-cycle of Kali-yuga will be turned into an upward curve towards spirituality.” And at a great meeting Shri Dada’s mission was blessed by the holy Rishis. “Shri Dada’s face was transfigured. A silence fell over the whole assembly, so that it seemed as if statues and not men were sitting there.”
These were some of the main teachings which come again and again in the book, the Shri Dada Sanghita. This was a book that our teacher wrote specially for Shanti Sadan to study and it has been presented by these quotations from the book brought together.
Thank you for your attention.