Politics is run by the belief that people in power can influence or directly bring about substantial and significant changes to the way the world runs. And, this belief is prevalent. It doesn’t matter which religion you subscribe to, or which system (democracy, theocracy, monarchy etc.) your nation subscribes to, this belief still exists.
The one who thinks that no political power can bring about substantial changes to his or her life, and that he or she alone must do something to bring about those significant changes, is an individualist. Surprisingly, democracy and free markets have fostered more individualists: people who work day in and out to change their own standards of living, people who believe that they can do something to change their state of existence, and not depend on any political power.
At any given point in time, there are individualists who have achieved the privileges of not bothering how or when the political landscape of their nation changes, and there are those who are very concerned about every political change, who follow those who come to power, who track political personalities continuously, and either get assured or disappointed on a daily basis. These are the ones who are politically savvy.
There is a third category of people, who are politically naïve: they are neither individualists, nor politically savvy. They are regularly lost in something: duty or occupation, or pleasure, or something else. They are quite unaware of the power of power itself. They can’t make up their minds on whether anything ought to change really, on whether those changes can actually be brought about, and if those changes can be carried out by this person or that, or this ideology or that. They just don’t seem to care or bother. Politics and individualism - both are mentally challenging to comprehend for the common man.
Therefore, they can be aroused into an agitation over one issue, or they could be limp even when a serious change is sweeping across. If you are a true spiritual student, you would realise all these and much more. What else to realise? That the true scope of life, the true syllabus of life, the substantive essence of it, can neither be brought under the scope of a political social power, nor can an individualist take upon himself, even for himself.
The ruler in man, whether in the case of political power or the individualist, is severely limited in scope. The substance of life and consciousness has never yielded to this ruler. So, all the noise seem to be at the fringes of life, never where the substance is. True spirituality asks you to trek to the substantive part of life first. That the ruler shall get extinguished in this process will be known once you get there. Where the ruler doesn’t exist, that is where the cosmic order shall unravel itself.
The one who has seen cosmic order is no longer political, in the sense that he no longer can believe that the ruler in man, however endowed and capable he may be, can ever bring about true change. Because, the ruler doesn’t know what exists, and how it exists. If what exists asserts itself, the ruler will have to go packing!
This very moment, there exists something in front of you. And there exists something behind you. I am not referring to either your future or past .
The one in front of you, however uncomfortable, startling, or difficult, can still be managed. You could dodge it for now because you are not yet ready to deal with the shock of its enormity. When you are ready, when you are comfortable, you could take it up. Of course, many that exists in front are quite easy to deal with, straight away. You find so much time and space that you could even practise some finesse with it. You could easily be nice with it. You could go on and on until you get bored, or until you find the next interesting thing. Again, there are those which command more regard and attention, and if you didn't bend enough, especially at the right time, they seem to be annoyed, even feel disrespected! You would only be sorry you didn't realise the exigencies of fussing quickly enough, nothing more! You will be careful the next time, wouldn't you?
So, if in the right spirit, you know you would easily be able to manage most of them. And, with some alertness or knack, the rest. Hence, ‘bring them all’, you would say, in moments of confidence!
Yet, there exists much that put you off spirit, and quite frequently too, if you aren't discerning enough! And almost all such things come from behind you. Many times they sneak up from behind you, eerily. It takes a while for you to even reckon that something of you like this even existed. Naturally, at those moments, to save yourself from the embarrassment of looking like a fool who has been outwitted, you would have to put up a brave defence, but privately, you would actually want to scream! And, there are times, when you would get hurt over the trifle of the trifles, and you would be surprised how it drags on and on and on…
You just don’t know that so much of you exists at your back, and they even tend to drive you, without you even knowing. You just don’t know! Yet, you would be doing something sinful, or indulging in something unfair, or seeking control over a thing that should be allowed to be. Arjuna asks this very question in the Gita (3.36): “Why is man impelled to do wrong from within, even if he never intended to do it?”
True spirituality lies in your vulnerability, in how you are ready for that thing which attacks from behind. You can’t be ready with any arsenal, if you didn’t know the enemy in the first place, if you didn’t know why he operated the way he operated, if you didn’t unravel his scheme or thought, isn’t it? So, a true seeker is not someone who is onto a fixed practise, or is steadfast in a way of life. He alone is a seeker of truth who is ready for truth right away: do you see this clearly?
He alone is vulnerable for the thing behind to manifest in front and reveal itself!
True religion is interested in your core, and nothing else. The core is where your ideals, desires, gut feelings, aspirations, fears, sense of right and wrong lie. That is the vessel which defines you, that guides you in your everyday life, that draws lines between what is desirable and what isn’t desirable, that prioritises your life for you, that determines what you seek in this world, how much you move here, whom you seek as friend or accomplice, what you covet as precious, what you lust for, what you are highly intolerant towards, what you calculate the most for, what you consider as supreme or God, and so on. In effect, what you are today, what you are likely to be in your future, what you were in the past, everything is determined by this core within you.
Even if circumstances go awry, it is again something from the core that decides how you react or respond to that circumstance, something from within that teaches you to be wary or careful, isn’t it? Finally, it is the core within you, that remains independent in several ways, that seeks freedom to see and determine things on its own, that backs itself come what may, that refuses to capitulate to anything or anyone at the outside. Unfortunately, this core in you begins by self-preservation; it blindly backs itself. Defends itself from the world, and its influences, and erects walls between itself and the world.
Makes you not trust anything here, unless and until that thing that comes to you shows consistent care, and displays affection to you exclusively, or proves to you that it is extremely safe! All such attention shall only ease the wariness within you, and make you trust someone or something here. That is just not enough. Nowhere near enough! The core within you must open up completely, find the strength and courage to test its beliefs, feelings, thoughts, sense of right and wrong, against situations of life, check whether the happiness imagined by your desire actually exists here.
Consider life as a platform to test your core, and knock off a lot of inhibition, hype, unnecessary transactional hesitation. Come to this world quickly; no one needs to welcome you here, this is your world. Explore your beliefs, feelings, thoughts, desires, ethics, fears; use your life as the platform for the same. Know your core cleanly. And then, invite the masters, those who claim that they know more about your core, better than you know of yourself. Get Śaṅkara, Vyasa, Buddha to sit next to you.
Open up your core to them, and get them to show to you the real sources of it all. The sources that are universal, that are self-existent. Find the masters, find the sources, it is only a matter of time before you yourself shall exclaim, ‘I am indeed Brahman’! Just do this, it is pretty simple. Don’t go astray, or waste time here!
To the directionless and listless Hindu, saints like Vivekananda and Chinmayananda introduced a powerful image of a self-realised man, promoting the idea that self-realisation was the goal of every individual, in the final analysis, whichever way you look at it.
Vyasa, had done it long ago too, through the Bhagavad Gita, for Arjuna. So, in the last century, strangely, those who went to temples and involved themselves in ritual, were being considered increasingly superstitious, while those who went to satsang/bhajan/kathā conducted by some mahātmā were considered spiritual seekers. The Hindu society has accepted a few men and women as self-realised souls, and gathered around them, worshipping them, participating in their initiatives, feeling blessed that way, so on and so forth.
This new form of Hindu organisation is around this idea and picture of 'self-realised man’, an icon created with good intentions, no doubt. But, an image is an image, finally. And, as far as Hinduism goes, that image seems to have outlived its shelf life. It is dwindling, and you suddenly discover that these so called mahātmās no longer look like mahātmās any more; some of them ought to have been good CEOs running companies, some ought to have joined politics and would have been good mass leaders, some others ought to have been singers or story tellers, some should indeed have been smart businessmen or marketing agents selling their wares, some would have remained pious souls and not turned corrupt, while quite a few would have put their heads down and pursued self-knowledge.
The time has come to call off the picture of the self-realised man once for all, so that Hinduism strives deeper. Sir, there is no self-realised man at all; he is a myth. There only exists you and me, and something profound about you and me, that needs understanding. Time to get back to basics!
Every form of proactivity and initiative that we show - in love and relationships, in daily tasks, in building and running organisations, in working for money, in helping someone, in reading a book, in listening to music, in creating something - everywhere, our proactivity emanates from two sources. Whether emotional, physical, or intellectual, the sources remain the same.
The first source is some picture, an idea, a goal, an end vision, or a starting vision, or something similar. You have a picture of equality in your mind, and you implement that picture in the form of fairness outside. You have a picture of prosperity within, and you push and promote that outside. You have a picture of happy family within, and you strive for it outside. The other source is darker. There is a blind determination. An almost obstinate determination. Most times it comes from comparison.
The other has it, so you want it. The other cherishes it, so you want it all the more. The world values a degree from this university, so you will want a degree from there. The resolves of the mind are born from something dark, blind within. You just don’t know why you are this way, but there is tremendous desperation. A strong feeling that you will be left out, if you didn’t pursue it. World over, self help books and psychiatric counselling suggest that you shift completely from the second form of proactivity, from the darker form, to the first form. Only because, the first form can be dealt with reason.
If you know what you want, someone can come and tell you whether it is possible or not, or to what extent possible. Reasoning is possible. It is easier to handle, both for you as well as the world. Education and exposure helps. Understanding helps. But, if your proactivity is darker, then none of the saner methods of the world to help you, actually helps. You simply fight, rebel, aggrandise, or crash in disappointment! It just becomes your private story, and no one knows what is happening within you.
No one can know too, because even you don’t know. It is dark inside. It must be said, though, that not every part of your proactivity can be turned into the first kind. Which means there shall remain parts of you that won’t be amenable to reason and education, in spite of your best efforts. Therefore, you must listen to wiser counsel. Vyasa in the Gita and Buddha, as well as Nagarjuna, advocate a third path. The middle path. They advise a proactivity or initiative, including desire, that doesn’t draw from either of these sources.
They ask man to give up consciously all resolves of the heart as well as plans of the intellect, that are born from either of these two sources. In fact, the Buddha goes even further and says, ‘let your proactivity be just born’! Born now, then and there! Even our initiative is born then and there when it comes to daily tasks and routines, isn’t it? Small things! We don’t plan every chore, do we? But, the Buddha is asking us to experience desire itself that way, what you do for career and your children that way, even the decision to have children that way, and so on. Nation building too! Did I hear you say, ‘No, that is not possible!’. Well, the Buddha heard it too, but he continued to say, 'the initiative must emerge now!'
No identity is great or poor in itself. A doctor, as an identity, is not superior to a cobbler; neither is a lawyer greater than a cycle rickshawallah, just by the social identity adopted. Every identity brings its value into society, and no society can live without any of these identities. All identities, whether they reap huge rewards for their work or they don’t, are indeed required for a healthy society, for a society not to settle down into monotones and single crop plantations.
Yet, the market treats each identity differently, and rewards each identity differently. A coffee planter at Coorg lived like a king 50 years ago, if he held huge estates, but today appears to pale in front of many new market identities like those created by the IT industry, for instance. So, the market values of these identities, for the same work done, for the same sincerity shown, for the same produce, show differing responses from markets, at different periods of time.
Long ago, if you were a politician, you lost all money that you had, but you gained the wealth of the affection of people. You could just walk across the street to any house, and ask them to help you with anything - from a meal for that day to anything for the country. People would be ready to help you, welcome you, because they respected you, and regarded what you did. Today, politicians as a class, seem to be the richest, and less said about the source of their earnings, the better!
Simply put, identity - work - market value are rarely determined by individuals; they are often trends in the market. Some smell it early, some catch up with it later. Even so, even if the job of a cobbler loses respect and market value, he still exists in one form or the other, because society needs him, and yet, forgets to reward him well.
No human being can ever determine the social identity that he shall become, that will settle him within, that will make him feel that this is what he was meant to do. No individual has the power, either to determine or shape it for himself, or for his child. There are some early initiatives that one can take, but that may not necessarily lead one to the identity that one ultimately slips into. So, look at the irony of it: no individual has the power to actually become this or that by himself, society needs every kind of identity there is, yet, society rewards and pampers a few identities more than the rest. How does this sound?
Now, we have left out what an individual brings to his identity from this, isn’t it? There could be a far better home maker, someone sensitive, someone thoughtful, someone ready to serve everyone’s need, someone ready to be at the side of anyone, someone who resists drawing lines that divide, someone who is a brilliant cook, and so on, but may get far lesser recognition or value when compared to a Bollywood star who hogs all the limelight, for doing very little, for repeating himself endlessly, for creating a success make-believe, and so on. I am referring to what an individual brings to his or her identity, and that may end up not getting noticed at all. An excellent home maker shall do far better than an average one; so too a wonderful journalist shall do better than an average one; a discerning and capable entertainer will do better than an average one, and so on. There are areas of improvement and things to conquer within each identity, within each role.
So, when the ancients asked us to simply do our duty, they probably meant that each of us simply own up the identity that we have been formed into, give our best, push that identity to the maximum possible extent, bring in excellence, values, love, regard, humanitarianism, cooperation, brotherhood, and so on from within that identity. That indeed is the scope of duty. And, as much as you push your identity, you shall see success, fame, regard, attention, love, and so on. Maybe in the circle that you are in, that the identity is relevant to. The Gita even warns us not to covet another identity just because that identity seems to be winning more monetary rewards than yours: don’t avoid being a teacher, and try to become a manager in an IT company, just because you shall get a better salary. Discover the sanctity of each identity that exists in this world, by discovering that very thing in the way you have been shaped by destiny already. That seems the moot point.
Even if we did full justice to our identity, to what is ascribed to us as duty, each one of us will have to come to a point, to a land, when we must cross all identities, not by discarding them, but by transcending them. Then alone, what you did from within the identity appears justified. Else, every identity shall finally appear to be a social trap!
You would miss your culture because of your own choices. Likes and dislikes. And, not understanding culture, you would claim individual freedom. Individual choice keeps you away from the culture you could have naturally inherited, what knocks at your door unasked. This seems the fate of the current generation.
The past generations lost culture, lost a wonderful gift they could have inherited, by being blind to its worth, by symbolic compliance. They clung to dead ritual, leaving out the substance. The third way that you could lose your natural inheritance to culture, and thereby the ability to benefit from it immensely, and hence to even change it positively, is by excessive pride. Much of Hindu culture today is just a prey to pompous pride, at least in the public consciousness.
Pride stops you from inheriting your own culture, as much as false individualism, or blind compliance. You would be like the preacher who speaks about the Gita in glowing terms to everyone, who condemns everyone who doesn’t regard the Gita, but not once has he himself read anything from the text, who doesn’t even know what it contains, and has never benefited by any insight there.
The essential teaching of Hinduism is this. Vyāsa introduces the idea in the Bhagavad Gītā, right in the 2nd chapter - that you experience yourself as two entities: the body, and the indweller of the body, that is you yourself, called the soul. So, there is you, the soul, and the body, that you use to eke experiences here. Isn’t this how you experience yourself? If you can control the body, aren’t you different from the body? The purpose of sādhana is to first realise clearly that you are the soul, and not the body.
Only then can you realise the importance of finding out who you are, and questions relating to your identity and nature become important. Śaṅkara would simply state this: the soul turned towards the body considers itself the embodied individual, and the same soul turned behind, towards Brahman, itself realises that it is indeed the one undivided truth. So, the essential teaching would be this: extricate the soul, that is you yourself, from all forms of embodied definitions and structures, and turn to scriptural study.
For, the scriptures alone urge you to contemplate on your real nature. The soul that has realised itself as Brahman no longer is capable of considering itself embodied, and hence samsāra dissolves! In other words, you consider yourself as an embodied soul, as someone who leads a life here in this world, as one who has endless obligations / responsibilities, as one who has a life span, and therefore experience sorrow, joy, and disillusionment - which indeed is samsāra! One false understanding that makes you consider that you are embodied is the source of all tyranny! Uproot that thought from its roots, by understanding your true nature.
True vulnerability is when one is completely secure within. Walk out of fear; you shall allow the forces of this universe to twist you, rag you, grind and shape you. So that a marvelous sculpture unfolds out of dead stone.
Inner security is possible only when you see that 'nothing can destroy you, nor can you destroy anyone', as the Bhagavad Gita says. Don't invest your sense of existence in an idea, feeling, dream picture, or sentiment.
You shall then watch your own blooming, as an ode to your creator.
Marriages are never meant to be permanent. Neither for the woman, nor the man. Because, no marriage settles the sense of inadequacy ever.
Of course, the kind of man or woman you are married to matters. How much he or she loves you matters. How much sharing that has happened between you matters. How much responsibility you have taken together, how many things you have built together, how much you have stood for the other when he or she has felt alone, all these matter. How much you have understood or been sensitive to the other, matters. Raising kids is an important thing done together. Happiness, cosiness, adhesiveness, all these matter a lot. Companionship, love, being grateful to the other for opening up an important part of life, being obligated for being there at every step of life — all these constitute the content of a good marriage, don’t they?
Deem it the call of true love, or the call of the higher, or of something beyond, or of something yet uncovered, or of something truer, such a call cannot be held back by roles or responsibilities here, cannot be stifled by something that you owe someone here. When the call comes, you will have to step out. Yes, there is utter accountability that you owe yourself and God. You must be deeply honest. You mustn’t cheat either yourself or anyone else. You must earnestly try. But, the call must be clear, and therefore, the movement towards it must also be clear.
Hinduism does provide for men to step out of marriage, if they show earnestness, if they show a real sense of pursuit, if they genuinely care for the truth. Sannyāsa is suggested for such men. Of course, when men step out, they don’t step out of marriage alone, they step out of their professions too, as well as many of their social pursuits. But, for so many men, their pleasure centre is their primary centre; they wouldn’t have taken profession or social life itself seriously. In such a case, they would be advised to step out of their pleasure centre and dedicate themselves to something of the society. Make society as their centre and offer themselves entirely there. Let the expanse and the demand of the universe itself chasten such a man; that would be the prescription. That itself is the first sannyāsa for men, who are held too much by their pleasure centre. Therefore, dedicating oneself to society is indeed the thing to be done, for such men. Not an outright renunciation!
Somehow, for women, the path to the higher seems to have been left to themselves, to chalk out, to eke out. When a man takes to sannyāsa, some parts of society may applaud him, while those who depended upon him may complain. But, for the woman, the path to the higher is still not clear.
But, saints like Meera and Akkamahadevi have shown the way. That they don’t need to take to some robes, join some āśram, or whatever. That they have to pursue true love is indeed their inner call. They too can step out of marriage or family, just like the man, with the full understanding and consciousness that this is something utterly serious and hence no dishonesty can be tolerated.
Stepping out into love is the way for the woman. Stepping out into the expanse of the cosmos and plonking himself firmly there, is the way for the weak man. Stepping out of everything and moving into the intimacy of the Self is the way for the firm man.
Pursuing true love with the entirety of your being, seeking the order of this universe with the totality of your being, pursuing the land on which the ‘I’ rests and thrives with the entirety of your being — this indeed is the call of the higher. When the call comes, you have no choice but listen to it. Don’t waste too much time wriggling out of your lower pursuits. Find the strength of the heart to stand up and simply move.
For a seeker of truth, it takes quite a while to realise that ‘something is to be cognised’, and nothing needs to be done or achieved. Most of us never reach such a point, and naturally people like Śaṅkara or the Buddha are irrelevant to our lives. Their light is of no use to us. Having realised this fundamental necessity of life - true light, the seeker of truth begins a journey afresh. He has to wade through his own intellect first, which refuses to stop conceptualising, imagining, grasping, comprehending, concluding, opining, judging, inferring, assuming, and so on.
And, that is a huge barrier to cross. Light doesn’t appear like light so long as the intellect is fully active and functioning; so much noise, so many interpretations, so many schools of thought, so many beliefs, so many negations, and the seeker of truth can feel completely lost. He could be even frightened to the extent of thinking whether truth exists or noise alone exists. Is it all intellectual wizardry? Is there no simplicity at all? Is there no straight forward thing to be seen, and the whole thing clearly ends? Crossing the intellect is indeed a huge challenge, and in crossing the intellect, you have crossed the necessity to go to several āśrams, meet many reputed saints, read many books, understand all systems, and so on. You also have crossed dogmas of all kinds, and therefore, can no longer hold on to this or that path. Light alone you seek. It is very possible that when you stumble upon Śaṅkara, you may see him serving the intellect in various ways, as well as upholding true Sanātana tradition.
You may wonder, ‘why doesn’t a man of light simply speak of light alone? Why bother about tradition? Why bother about various views? Isn’t light free of all tradition, how could it ever be reflected as this view and not that view, and why bother about reflections at all if all you are focussed is on light alone?’ Why can’t the seer of light simply speak of light alone, if he doesn’t who else will, that would be the anguish of a true seeker. Yet, as you seek light, you shall discover darkness too.
You shall realise how darkness and illusion deludes you; the caution of a Śaṅkara may reach you on time, or may not, because you haven’t heard the caution. But, one realises the compassion of the teacher to save you from darkness. Too many words and meticulous argument would almost mean that he is ready to come to the exact alley of darkness that you are in and provide you with an exact torch; sometimes it works, most times it adds to the digression. Too distant from darkness itself, and you may not know where he is and what he is talking about.
A true seer alone innately knows the ways of the Self, and the natural guidance that the Self provides, and is constantly working on torches that serve as light, while trying his best that it won’t ever be used by the intellect as a model to noise over! Very difficult job, but some men have found the daring and commitment to take it up.
Śaṅkara belonged to that rare breed, and a fine one at that. Salute the master today!
When you draw your dignity from nothing of your flesh, your looks, repute, accomplishments, or relationships; when you are not energised within by your gender, qualities, talents, abilities, intelligence or from what you love; when you don’t need to find coherence and rightness through values, ethics, definitions, roles, or by adhering to any boundary; when the stock of guidance that any scripture, God, or Guru can ever offer has emptied itself completely; when the individual draws his dignity from nothing of the gross or the subtle - he rises to his highest stature.
And, the promise of both the Buddha as well as Śaṅkara is this: at that very instant that you discover your highest point, you discover the truth of this universe too, simultaneously. Simply put, discover your true stature; the truth of this life and the universe shall be revealed right away. In a nutshell, this is spirituality! This isn’t any experience or state of mind. This is you, the way you are!
Sudheendra Chaitanya is a Hindu monk based in Bangalore, India. After completing Engineering, he studied the scriptures at Chinmaya Mission in 1991, and continued with Mission work until 2005.
He now chooses to spend time with himself, observing life—people and happenings—keenly, and his insights flow out as writings. As a serious investigator into the core issues of life, Sudheendraji connects to people and subjects of life alike…with intimate directness. He has also authored several books. Notable among them are Blooming in the Open, The How, What and Why of I and God and Personal Worship. In a lucid narrative, his writings deliver fundamental insights, ruthlessly searing through conditioned thoughts and beliefs, but nourishing the soul with care.
Sometimes nourishing, sometimes revealing...