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  Volume 4 - Issue 04
APRIL 2006



Continuing our series on the lofty thoughts of unity and divinity, this article delves into Swami’s teachings, the Upanishads and the Bible for some illuminating lessons. First we want to tell you about…

Rishi Yajnavalkya – His Decision to Take Sanyasa

The great Upanishadic Seer and Sage Yajnavalkya, of Vedic times, was one among the great rishis, during the time of King Janaka of Mithila. He authored the Krishna Yajur Veda. His teachers were Uddalaka and Vaisampayana.

In later life, Yajnavalkya decides to take up the fourth stage of Ashram life, namely Sanyasa (life of a renunciate). He tells his two wives, Maitreyi and Katyayani, about his plans for austerities in the Himalayas and asks them to divide all his property among themselves and live happily in the ashram.

Katyayani, of common intelligence, is agreeable and accedes, but Maitreyi, who possesses great discrimination, questions her husband on the value of worldly properties and their suitability for earning her true happiness.

To this, Yajnavalkya agrees saying, “These can grant you worldly comforts in life, but not knowledge of the Self.” Maitreyi, who is a sincere seeker, then questions her husband on the source of true happiness, and how the knowledge of the Self can be acquired.


Enlightening Dialogue Between Yajnavalkya and Maitreyi

In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, we come across this fascinating dialogue between these two. The sage explains to Maitreyi, the nature of the Self and worldly relations,


“Oh Maitreyi, you were dear to me earlier also, but by seeking thus, you have become dearer. Listen to what I have to say:

One loves the husband, not for the sake of the husband, but for the Self present in the husband;
One loves the wife not for the sake of the wife, but for the Self present in the wife;
One loves the friend not for the sake of the friend, but for the Self present in the friend;
One loves the Gods, not for the sake of the Gods, but for the Self present in the Gods;
One loves a thing, not for the sake of the thing, but for the Self present in the thing;
This Self alone exists everywhere. It cannot be known, for it is itself the Knower.”

Such was the profound teaching of Sage Yagnavalkya! As a result these teachings, Maitreyi quickly becomes an enlightened scholar in the vedic times, along with Gargi, another woman scholar of those times, in the court of King Janaka of Mithila.

Another valuable story from the Upanishads, which Swami has also reiterated, describes two birds sitting on the boughs of a tree.

The Story of the Two Birds on a Tree

One bird, at the top of the tree, is large and bright, of brilliant plumage but sits silently, peacefully and in deep bliss. Another bird, somewhat plain, is sitting lower down, busily eating the berries of the tree, some of which are sweet, some of which turn out to be bitter. And every time it eats a bitter one, it is repelled and looks upwards towards the silent bird, fascinated by the composure of the silent bird at the top of the tree.

The bird continues to eat the berries. Gradually, with such alternate experiences of sweet and bitter berries, it develops dispassion and is slowly drawn and moves upwards towards the silent bird.

Arriving at close proximity to it, the plain bird is surprised to see that what it had observed all along, was its own reflection and that the two are One in reality. There is total mergence.


The analogy to our own lives is that we, by nature, seek and experience the duality of life in terms of good and bad, (the berries) happiness and misery, etc, until we finally mature, accept both with equanimity, and learn to rise above them, thus attaining to the Transcendental One or Atman. This is the Vision of the Non-dual.

How to Overcome the Pleasure-Pain Cycle

The normal human tendency is to readily accept pleasure, but reject pain and suffering. The greater the suffering, the greater the effort and the intensity in trying to overthrow and overcome the same. But when we learn to accept pain, (which happens after a lot of inner struggle and inner preparation), as we do pleasure, we evolve to a higher level of awareness and equanimity through surrender. Suffering bring us to our proper senses when we take it in the right spirit and attitude. This become our spiritual practice for the higher life of the spirit.

Kunti, the mother of Pandavas, had this attitude that she may always face sufferings, which is a very rapid form of Sadhana - when the attitude is right.

It may look as if suffering is being glorified in God’s scheme of things. But there is a great purpose and requirement behind sufferings. Thomas A. Kempis, the 15th century Roman Catholic monk has much to advise on the role of suffering in his classic book, The Imitation of Christ.

“It is good for us to have trials and troubles at times, for they often remind us that we are on probation and ought not to hope in any worldly thing. It is good for us sometimes to suffer contradiction, to be misjudged by men even though we do well and mean well.

These things help us to be humble and shield us from vainglory. When to all outward appearances men give us no credit, when they do not think well of us, then we are more inclined to seek God Who sees our hearts. Therefore, a man ought to root himself so firmly in God that he will not need the consolations of men.”

Thomas A. Kempis

We will see as we go along, what lessons Swami teaches us on this subject. “Suffering must be looked upon as ‘adjustment’ sadhana”. Swami tells us that “Test is My Taste!” and that we should “Give up Ahamkara and Mamakara (I and Mine).”

Through many births we have undergone several forms of body attachment and conditioning. The ego develops and strengthens its hold through ignorance, selfish samskaras (in born tendencies) and negative thinking. Sufferings therefore come upon us. These help loosen the bonds of attachment, and releases the jiva gradually from the “I and Mine” syndrome. This has been explained by Swami on many occasions for example: ‘Fish is better than selfish’ ‘Cut the I clean across and let it die on the Cross’.

The World for Us and Not 'We for the World!'

Swami Vivekananda tells us how this world can be useful for our enlightenment. He says: “This world is a gigantic gymnasium, wherein we come to develop our spiritual biceps and muscles!” But very few follow this outlook. We tend to move into the world’s by-lanes, fascinated by the world of sense-enjoyments and worldly attachments and thus miss the true goal of life.

Our Lord Sai puts it beautifully when He teaches us how to ‘take on’ the world:

“Life is a challenge, meet it.
Life is a game, play it.
Life is a dream, realize it.
Life is Love, enjoy it.”

If we follow these precepts then we shall surely succeed – and realize the true nature of Love. The jiva (individual) has now learned fully what it has to from the world - that we must grow and grow in God’s Love!

Swami Vivekananda

Let us see how facing challenges, meeting them squarely head on in the world, helps the jiva develop spiritual biceps. Again, it is Swami’s nectarine words which will help facilitate our understanding.

Challenges and Adversities - Our Teacher and Redeemer

In The Old Testament, The Book of Job, tells us about a man called Job, his struggle, the challenges he faced and the sufferings he underwent, at the hands of Satan, before the Good Lord blessed him and made him whole. The story of Job from the Old Testament is worth relating here in brief and the important lessons we learn from it, in the light of what Swami teaches us.

The Story of Job

Job lived in the land of Uz . He flourished during the biblical times. He was blameless, upright, honest, one who feared God and turned away from evil (he was of a sathwic nature). He was very prosperous. He had 7 children, 7000 sheep, 3000 camels, 500 oxen, 500 she-asses and many servants.

The Lord praises Job for his good and noble qualities, but Satan wants to challenge his integrity and test him - which he is permitted to do. Satan undertakes the task with full vigour.


Job’s Test

As a result Job suffers terribly. In one day he loses all his possessions, camels, sheep, oxen, etc. Then, all his 7 children die in a whirlwind hurricane, due to house collapse. Overnight he is a deprived and a devastated man.


In the face of a catastrophe of such magnitude, Job’s response is truly heroic.

It shows his exemplary faith, devotion and his surrender to the Lord’s Almighty will.

Having lost all, he has the courage of his conviction, not to blame God or ask “Why me?” He utters powerful words in defence of God, whereas many a good man in his place would have crumbled and quailed. Instead he says,

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return; the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, Blessed be the name of the Lord.” He says.

But that is not all. Job has won the first challenge round, but wily Satan has more in store for him:

The Second Round

Job is next smitten by a rare and painful disease. He is covered all over his entire body with pus–filled, painful boils and sores. He sits all day, among a heap of ashes for relief. Finally, even his wife gives him up – “Curse your God and die!” she utters and weeps.

Swami tells us that ‘The body is a bubble, don’t follow the body.’ ‘Deha (body) means that which is burnt.’ and ’Sharira (body) means that which declines’.

With Friends as These, Who Needs Enemies?

To top it all, 3 of his friends visit him in the hour of his trial. They criticize and blame him fully for his past evil deeds leading to his present pitiable condition. Job searches his own soul and finds he is innocent of any crime or sin, that his friends blame him for. He finds his friends’ talks shallow and without compassion and substance. To him, it appears as empty rhetoric and he rejects their explanations.

In this light Swami has taught us that “Friends are like frogs in a pond, they vanish as soon as the pond is dry” and that “God is the only true friend.”

Moreover, the friends have a ‘dual mind’ - which Swami says ‘is half blind’. The friends speak from the head and not the heart. The friends are unable to place themselves in his shoes. They neither empathise, nor pray for his well-being. No one is able to help him.

Job is undergoing, what is called in Christian parlance, “the dark night of the soul.” He is left all to himself, to grapple with his problems in silence. In prayer and deep contemplation, he seeks the source of solace and refuge. “Vichara (enquiry) is seventy percent of true sadhana” – Baba.


Job’s Transformation


It is difficult to have a true and proper perspective of Job’s inner life and his search but we can be sure that through introversion and self analysis, he is gravitating rapidly towards the core of his inner being, the spirit.

The Lord alone is his shepherd. He develops complete dispassion for the body, the world, what it stands for and what it has to offer.

When one door closes, the Lord opens another. There is a Divine Interlude. In the deep silence he hears the voice of God. He hearkens to the voice of God within, which says “The two ferocious animals responsible for your bondage have been destroyed!” The Lord’s Grace has descended upon him. In silence he is totally transformed.

“Do you think I would confront you with pain and sufferings, if there was not a need for it? - Baba

The Two Animals In Man

What are these two animals the Lord mentions to Job? The Lord calls them: “Behemoth” - the enemy within, i.e. self-centredness, (ego -centricity) containing animal and carnal elements. In this regard Swami tells us “Destroy the six inner enemies, the shadripus. Give up the ego.”

And the second “Levathan”- the enemy outside, comprising of “the world, the flesh and the devil.” Swami is continually exhorting us to “Give up worldly desires.”

The Inner and Outer Foes in Man

Conquering these means inner and outer purification. The “inner” and the “outer” finally merge and there is the One. Every spiritual aspirant has to undergo this purification (purgatory), lose his body attachment and break away from the bondage of “I and mine” before final mergence, or atonement (at–One-ment).

His physical, vital, emotional, psychic, intellectual and spiritual parts undergo transformation. There is no doubt that Job had undergone this thorough inner cleansing. Job attains the state of equanimity,


“He who is not downcast in sorrow, nor elated in joy, and is free from anger, fear, attachment, etc. such a person is called the wise one, established in equanimity.” - The Bhagavad Gita Chap II

Lessons Learnt from Job’s Tale

Some of us may be going through pain, suffering, disappointment and anguish, and are crying out, as Job did, "Why? Why me? What have I done? Where does it all fit together? What purpose?"

Job's answer to us (as of all Scriptures of the world, likewise) is, "God knows what He is about. One of these days all the answers will come in. In the meantime, rest in confidence that He knows what He is doing with you."

A Dialogue Between Swami and a Close Devotee

Devotee: “Swami! From the lives of saints like Tukaram and Narsimha Mehta, we see that they underwent great sufferings in their personal and family life.”

Swami: “Not so! Why do you say they suffered? The Lord took care of them and their faith and devotion gave them peace and bliss! To the outsider it may appear as though they underwent great hardships! They had developed equanimity.”

More Lessons Learnt

Suffering like beauty, lies in the eye of the beholder, as Shakespeare would have put it. The power of faith and devotion leading to discrimination and dispassion, in a devotee, makes him immune to worldly sufferings.

“For bitter medicines, there is a date marking its use ‘Effective until this date’, thereafter, it becomes ineffective. God’s Grace, likewise can put a date for the sufferings and its effectiveness” — Swami.

“Instead of saying, ‘Oh God, I have a big problem’, take the positive step to say -“Oh problem, I have a big God!” - anon.

The Lessons Learnt in a Beautiful Poem

These words by a poet, wrap up in a beautiful fashion, the lessons learnt from facing challenges and its concomitant sufferings:


A Beautiful Poem

When God wants to drill a man,
And thrill a man,
And skill a man;
When God wants to mould a man
To play the noblest part,
When He yearns with all his heart
To create so great and bold a man
That all the world shall be amazed;
Watch His methods, watch His ways -

How He ruthlessly perfects
Whom He royally selects.
How He hammers him and hurts him,
And with mighty blows, converts him
Into trial shapes of clay
Which only God understands,

While man’s tortured heart is crying,
And he lifts beseeching hands.
How He bends but never breaks
When his good He undertakes.
How He uses whom He chooses,
And with every purpose, fuses him,
By every act, induces him
To try his splendour out.
God knows what He's about.

- Anon.


Finally, Swami’s parting words on how He transforms Man:

“I am Nataraja, the dance master! The prince among dancers! I alone, know the agony of teaching you each and every step of the dance!”

Sri S Suresh Rao
and the Heart2Heart Team


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Vol 4 Issue 04 - APRIL 2006
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