by Swami Krishnananda
Thus, the power to endure may be developed. But, what are we going to endure? What is it that we are going to tolerate and what is the reason behind this injunction that circumstances should be borne?
What we have to really bear, at the very outset, is the world in its physical form. The seasons, for example, may not be pleasant to us. We neither like heat nor cold. People around us may not be pleasing. We may neither like that person nor this person. Social rules and regulations may not be satisfactory to us. We say that things ought to have been better, the present system has to be changed, and so on. These are our natural inclinations of thinking. Very few people can really put these ideas into practice. Everyone can say that things ought to be better, but it is difficult to see a person who can really make one thing into another. We cannot make or convert one thing into another thing. Many people have tried, but ultimately, if we read history, we would find those who have tried have been put to such difficulties, hardships, tortures and frustrations that in the end what happened was that they themselves were wiped out of existence. The world became too hard for them.
These people who got defeated by the forces of the world were those who tried to make the world an entirely different place from what it was. This may be a very praiseworthy attitude and a quality which a normal person in the world is expected to cultivate, but we are now considering the characteristics of a spiritual seeker – the pros and cons of a spiritual life and the prerequisites of spiritual sadhana. What are the obstacles that may come upon us on our way, and how are we to encounter them or face them? It is from this point of view that the great system called Sadhana Chatustaya was instituted and sadhakas are asked to equip themselves with these qualities.
The spiritual way of thinking is something quite different from the way in which people in the world usually think. Sometimes this novel way of thinking may look very cruel and out of line with the order of things; but it is a particular way of thinking which alone can set the mind of man in tune with the existing order.
Now, the existing order does not mean an order that is going to be sublimated by another order that is going to come in the future. The existing order of the world, to take it in its generality, is a particular face of the eternal order which regulates all things. It is not that the order has to go on changing every day. Sanatana Dharma, as we call it, is the eternal order of things. This is what is implied by the passage of the Isovasyopanishad that I quoted, which says: yāthātathyato'rthān vyadadhāc chāśvatībhyas samābhyaḥ.
The day-to-day routine, the seasonal changes, even the calamities and catastrophes of life which may look very surprising ordinarily, form part of this eternal order. That we should have a fever, that we should have purging, that we should have stomach pain is implied in a single order, what we may call as the law of health – the law of the balance of the forces in our physical system. The law does not change. There is a specific determined law which ordains the physical body of ours to live in a particular way. We cannot change this order. The law of health is one and one only, and it cannot become more than one.
But all the experiences that may follow, pleasant or unpleasant, in our day-to-day existence, physically speaking, will naturally have to be subsumed under this single law of bodily existence, or the existence of the psychophysical organism, or we may call it the law of health. In a likewise manner, there is an eternal law, the law of universal health, we may say, which expects things to behave in a particular manner, and when things conduct themselves in accordance with this existing eternal order, there is pleasure. This is joy. All joy is due to conformity to law. Where we violate law, whatever be that law, there is no joy. When we violate physical law, we are sick. When we violate social or political law, we are punished. When we violate universal law, we know what happens: we have to undergo transmigratory lives, to pass through births and deaths. On the other hand, if there is conformity with the law, there is physical happiness, psychological balance, social solidarity, political equipoise, and finally freedom from even birth and death.
It is this which is to act as the controlling system of understanding behind the practice of titiksha, the power of endurance. When we actually come face to face with this problem of titiksha, we will find that the majority of people are not meant for it because they do not have this kind of understanding. It is difficult to expect this understanding; in all personal matters it does not come, and it cannot come on the nature of things because we live a sensory life. We think in terms of the senses, and so this understanding which is superior to the sensory way of reaction is hard to obtain in this world. This knowledge is difficult to acquire.
But there is a higher meaning of titiksha, a hint at which is very beautifully given in a verse of the Bhagavadgita, a verse which perhaps many do not stop to consider in its proper value and context. Śaknotīhaiva yaḥ soḍhuṁ prāk śarīravimokṣaṇāt, kāmakrodhodbhavaṁ vegaṁ sa yuktaḥ sa sukhī naraḥ (Gita 5.23). This is a higher kind of titiksha which the Gita enjoins upon us as a seeker of Truth. There is another kind of endurance which is different from enduring the pairs of opposites in ordinary life such as heat and cold, hunger and thirst. We may bear heat and cold; we may sweat and shiver. That is one power of endurance. We may not drink water for days together. This is one thing, the lower type of endurance.
But there is a greater difficulty threatening us than that which is outside our own self. Well, everything may look all right from the outside world, but there may be a revolt from our own selves. We are our own enemies and our own friends. It is to this problem that the Gita makes reference in this great verse, śaknotīhaiva yaḥ soḍhuṁ prāk śarīravimokṣaṇāt, kāmakrodhodbhavaṁ vegaṁ sa yuktaḥ sa sukhī naraḥ. What we have to endure or bear, or resist, ultimately, is not heat and cold, hunger and thirst, pleasure and pain, praise and censure, etc., but the impulse of desire from within, and the impulse to anger. This is what we have to endure, finally.
The urge for desire and the urge to anger are the two great demonical urges in us. Kāma eṣa krodha eṣa rajoguṇasamudbhavaḥ, mahāśano mahāpāpmā viddhy enam iha vairiṇam (Gita 3.37). This is our enemy, if at all we have any enemy in this world. Yudhisthira, in an incident from the Mahabharata, listened to all the discourses of Bishma for days together on dharma, which contained every instruction on righteousness. Even after hearing all this, having understood all blessed things on Earth from the holy lips of Bhishma, Yudhisthira began to complain that he is a sinner having gained a kingdom after bloodshed, having destroyed his kith and kin, and wept saying he did not know what lot is to befall him. When Sri Vyasa came and advised him that he is unwise in weeping like this, even Vyasa’s advice was of no avail. This was the condition in which Yudhisthira found himself.
Sri Krishna came and said, “Yudhisthira, you are crying over a war in which you seem to have killed many people – your own or not your own, whatever it be. Now your mind is preoccupied with a war that has taken place. I now tell you, no war has taken place and you have killed nobody. The war in which you have to kill your enemies is yet to take place. A war is to break out still, and you must be prepared for it. In this war, nobody will help you – not Arjuna, nor Bhima, nor Nakula, not Sahadeva; not even the army is of any use to you. In this battle that is going to break out inside your own self, the enemies are not Duryodhana and his henchman, not the Kauravas; no human being is an enemy here. In this war, your mind is your enemy, and no weapon, no Gandiva, nothing will be of any aid. You will have to subdue the mind with the power of the mind alone. This battle is now pending, and what are you bewailing?”
The teaching behind this instruction of Krishna to Yudhisthira is that the ultimate solace of man is in self-mastery, and he who cannot understand the meaning of this great virtue cannot understand anything in this world. Whatever be the victory that we may win in this world, that has to be looked upon as little in comparison with the great victory that we have to win over our own self. Look at the lives of great people that have lived in this world – great, as we would define greatness. We will realise that either they were really great and their greatness consisted in their mastery which they achieved over themselves, or their outward greatness which history records was marred by inner weakness.
The person who cannot subdue his own weakness is not a victor in this world, because what we do depends upon how our impulses direct us. Who acts actually, who does anything in this world, but the impulses of man? It is on the basis of this psychological fact that some medical psychologists of the West have opined that man is not free. There is no such thing as human freedom because what we do is directed by impulses. We do not do anything, either good or bad. We are driven. So when we are driven by a force, how can we call ourselves free?
You may say that it is your will that has acted in this manner. Well, you may will, but can you will that you should will in a particular way? There is a Will behind your will. When the consciousness gets identified with a particular impulse, the impulse is mistaken for a freedom of choice, and yielding is erroneously taken for victory. The person has yielded to the temptation or the urge of the impulse. But the consciousness has so identified itself with the process of the impulse, and that consciousness is your self, so that self imagines itself to be free, though it is slavery that has made it act in a particular manner.
When consciousness stands as a witness of the impulses, it can know what true freedom is. But when it gets identified with the psychological processes of impulse, then it is difficult to make a distinction between the psychological act that has taken place and the consciousness that is behind it. Mostly, we are not free. We are free only to the extent our consciousness can stand apart from the urges of the psyche. While there are various types of urges, the principle among them is kama and krodha. It is these two that have been mentioned in the Bhagavadgita. Śaknotīhaiva yaḥ soḍhuṁ prāk śarīravimokṣaṇāt: he who can withstand the onslaught of these two urges from within even before departing from this body, raga and dvesha, kama and krodha; sa yuktaḥ sa sukhī naraḥ: he is a Yogi. That person shall be happy, because yoga is not possible where the consciousness is incapable of attunement to the order of things. If the consciousness is attuned to impulses, it is bhoga; if it is attuned to the law of the cosmos, it is yoga.
Therefore, there cannot be yoga as long as there is the identification of the consciousness with the impulses of kama and krodha. The mind develops these two positive and negative tendencies in regard to the objects of sense, whose nature we have studied a little before. They blow like a tempest or a violent wind, like a gale or hurricane that can lift up any weighty object. Kama and krodha are like a tempest, and when they rush with tremendous velocity they can throw us up into the skies. We cannot stand on the ground by the firmness of our feet.
Whenever an impulse becomes too strong for the mind to control, the mind becomes one with the impulse. There would be no mind to think the impulse; the mind is the impulse, and vice versa. When this situation arises in the mind, one does not know what one does. The velocity, the impetuosity of the impulses towards objects is what is known as passion. An uncontrollable desire is called passion, and we call it a desire when it is tolerable. When it is intelligible, when perhaps it can be subdued, we call it a desire. When it is in a very mild form we call it a preference, or a liking. Preferring tea to coffee is a very mild form of desire. It is not a passion, but it is just such simple, apparently harmless preferences which are like drops that become the ocean of impetuosity of violence and passion later on.
People who smoke or drink begin with drops, with preferences, with obligations in parties, etc., but later on it becomes a passion and the devil catches hold of the person. When desire gets out of control, then life becomes a misery. It becomes intolerable. We cannot live our own personal life. There are people in this world who cannot bear their own life any more, and when things go so bad, they attempt to end their lives; even these are not impossibilities. Such passions arise in the minds when they are given a long rope, without any kind of directive intelligence behind them. The preferences have to be subdued. It would be wise on the part of the seeker not to have preferences in the beginning.
There is a story in the Puranas of Takshaka and Parikshit. These stories are meant to give us instructions in spiritual life. It is said that Tatshaka came in the form of a very small microbe crawling on a lemon in order to bite Parikshit. King Parikshit was patting himself on the back in sheer defiance of the curse that Rishi Kumara had put on him, because the sunset of the seventh day has almost passed, and the curse had not been fulfilled. The king was very much pleased, and he found this lemon floating near him which had this very minute microscopic germ crawling over it. Parikshit took this lemon. He was laughing, “Oh, the time has come, and Tatshaka has not come.” He announced in public, “Well, let this germ bite me today.” It was a defiant remark. He arrogantly said, “It is said that my death shall be with this germ.” So he took this small germ and kept it on his back, imagining that it is a joke. Immediately that small germ became a huge serpent and bit him so violently that he died instantaneously.
Anything in this world can assume any proportion. This is a very important fact which seekers should realise. Nothing is insignificant. Everything is important enough in its own place, and everything will find itself in its own place, one day or the other.
Our point was that we should not even have preferences. These are like the microbes that may assume the proportion of Tatshaka one day, and they can become violent impulses of kama and krodha. Nothing can be so dangerous to spiritual life as the demonstration of kama and krodha. This is why Bhagavan Sri Krishna advises that the greatest endurance, or titiksha sadhana, would be the power to endure the impetuous movements of these two forces which are lodged in each and every person. Kama and krodha are everywhere, they are not only in one place and, unfortunately, they are inside, not outside. We carry these impulses wherever we go. They are in an incipient form when under unfavourable circumstances. They lie in ambush, as it were, and when circumstances are favourable, they rise up into a form of a tempestuous wind and unsettle the understanding of the person.
Buddhi nasha may take place, and the consequence mentioned is buddhināśāt praṇaśyati (Gita 2.63). The greatest titiksha would be the psychological, internal one. We are here concerned with the spiritual life of a seeker – how one can attune, train, embellish or extend one’s consciousness from the lower level to the higher – because the psychology of the spirit is concerned purely with the nature of consciousness. When we have studied the nature of consciousness, we have studied the nature of the entire existence.
So titiksha is one of the important virtues in sadhana chatustaya which we are called upon to cultivate. When we are appreciably equipped with this characteristic of the Spirit, which is sadhana shakti, then we may be said to be treading the path of the Spirit because, while kshama, dhama and uparati are important enough, they are not sufficient by themselves. We have many difficulties on the path and to face each problem or difficulty, we have to equip ourselves with a specific type of strength. These equipments are known as the Satsampat – kshama, dhama, uparati, titiksha, shraddha, samadhana – the six kinds of remedy prescribed for six types of problems that may arise in the spiritual life of a person, into whose nature we shall see again another time.