True Spiritual Living
by Swami Krishnananda

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Chapter 14: Finding Time to Sit Alone

It is taken for granted that I am speaking to those who are a hundred percent concerned and dedicated to what should be regarded as the ultimate purpose of life. We are not discussing what usually goes by the name of an ordinary good life or a virtuous life of the public attitude, or a so-called righteousness that keeps us going in the world. This is a very serious subject that we are discussing. It is almost a kind of life-and-death matter for those who can realise its importance.

But, it is difficult to bring into one's mind its seriousness on account of the inveterate sluggishness of human thinking. The sheep that are being driven to the butcher shop have no idea as to what is going to happen to them. They eat well, become fat, and bleat in the usual manner, not knowing that they are heading towards their doom. Such is the fate of the majority of mankind. But, some sheep may be awakened: "My fate is terrible!" And then it is that one begins to do whatever is possible under the circumstances. We have to be very, very cautious, and forethought should be our watchword.

There is an old, humorous story about forethought – how we have to connect one event with another event and realise that something is going to happen in the future; it may be in the far-off future. It appears that an ancient king was fond of rearing monkeys. That was his hobby, his diversion. He used to collect all varieties of monkeys, and feed and maintain them in his palace. They were huge monkeys. In the palace, there was also a flock of sheep; and it appeared that one sheep used to run into the palace kitchen every day and try to snatch some eatable. The cook would drive it away by giving it a clout on the head. Every day this sheep would rush into the kitchen, and the cook would beat it with a stick whenever it entered.

The leader of those monkeys in the palace observed this phenomenon. It summoned all its brethren and said, "My dear brethren, we are in danger! We have to quit this palace immediately. Our life itself is perhaps going to be in serious danger."

All the monkeys asked, "What is this danger? We are taken care of so nicely, fed so beautifully; we have no botheration or worry about food – which we may have if we are in the forest. What trouble? What danger?"

The leader monkey said, "I cannot explain to you all this, but we are in serious danger. We must leave this place immediately. We should not live in this palace any more."

The other monkeys asked, "What is the matter? Why do you say that we are in danger?"

Then the leader said, "Listen to me. There is a sheep here which runs into the kitchen of the king every day and gets a beating from the cook; and it is so foolish that in spite of the beating, it goes every day. Now, one day the cook will get so angry with it, he will beat it with a piece of burning firewood. In his anger, he will not know what he is beating it with; he will simply strike it with a firebrand. Then, what will happen? The wool of the sheep will catch fire. In panic it will run hither-thither and enter the stable where the king's horses are tied. And there is dry grass in the stable, which will catch fire. The fire will burn the horses, which are so dear to the king. They will be scalded, burnt because of the fire. Then, a report will go to the king: "Oh, Lord! Your horses are all half dead. Their skin is all burnt off."

"Oh, God!" he will say, "They are very costly horses, and they are so necessary for me. Now, what is this? All the skin is burnt like this! What is the remedy?"

"My dear children," the leader monkey said, "There is only one remedy – the fat of monkeys. Now you know the danger."

"Oh! Old man!" these monkeys said, "You have no brain or anything. Foolishly you are thinking something, connecting something out of nothing. All this is vain thought in your head. We are well taken care here of by the king. We shall not leave this place. If you want to go, you go."

The leader said, "All right. I have given my advice. I am quitting." That very day the leader monkey left, and whatever was predicted by this monkey happened. All the monkeys were boiled, and their essence was taken and smeared over the burnt bodies of the horses. Well, the story goes on further. We are not concerned with the end of the tale, as it is a different subject.

This is a story given in our fables for illustrating forethought. Apparently, it has no meaning – from one thing we are connecting another thing. But forethought is also the capacity to connect causes with effects, and effects with causes. Pigheadedness cannot be regarded as wisdom. Seekers of truth though we may be, our sympathy for living the life of truth may be only in the lips, because we are well fed in the palace of the king. What is the trouble? We have got our daily meal. We have got our clothes. We have got our house. We have got our friends. We have got every sort of comfort. Where comes the need for living a life of truth in a peculiar, far-fetched manner, in the Upanishadic sense? This is what these small monkeys told the leader monkey: "Why are you blabbering all these things, while everything is wonderful in this world?"

But, you do not know; the day will come when you will be boiled, cooked by the fire of time, and the same fate of the monkeys will be the fate of mankind. Before that happens, would it not be wisdom on the part of farsighted persons to look into aspects which would be practicable in freeing ourselves from this possible danger? Danger is everywhere. We are living in a world of danger, from every side. That we are not harassed with the thought of death or destruction every moment does not mean that it is far off or away from us.

Maranam prakritih saririnam vikritir jivitam uchyate budhaih. When the queen of King Aja – a great emperor of the solar race in India – died of an accident, the king wept and beat his breast and went to his preceptor, Vasishtha: "Oh! My queen is dead. I am feeling that life itself is worthless. What is your advice?"

Vasishtha gave a very short reply, "Your highness! That you are subject to death is no wonder. That you are living is a wonder." Maranam prakrtih saririnam vikrtir jivitam uchyate budhaih. This is all he said. This is a sloka from Raghuvamsa of Kalidasa. This is what Buddha also said – that the apparent security of life is an illusion. Everything is insecure in this world; that is the truth of the matter. This is not merely Buddha's statement or discovery, or the wisdom of Vasishtha, but also the conclusion of great stalwarts in modern science. We do not know science, we do not know philosophy, we do not know anything – nor do we want them, because we are happy.

But, this happiness is itself going to be our foe. The comfort and the joy which is apparently around us is going to be the cause of our own ruin, because this joy is not real. The circumstances of life, which make us feel that everything is all right for the time being, are subject to dissection, disunion and disintegration. Whatever experience we have in life is the outcome of our personal relationship with certain conditions prevailing in the world outside. These conditions are not permanent, and they cannot be permanent. Every cell of the body changes; every moment, we are subject to transformation in the entire structure of our body. There is a perpetual vehement movement of every atom of this body, as it is the case with every object in this world outside. Everything revolves, rotates, vehemently moves, for a purpose which no one can understand. Even an inorganic stone is supposed to be constituted of minute particles which are vehemently active – even inside an apparently static stone. There is no such thing as a static object in this world. Everything is moving – and very ferociously moving, for some purpose which you or I cannot understand.

Now, our experiences are brought about by certain associations of the conditions of our body with the conditions of things outside. Sometimes, the frequency or intensity of the conditions of the world outside goes beyond the capacity of our body to receive its impact. Then, we cannot know what is happening outside. We cannot know that there is such a thing called heaven, for instance. We cannot see celestials with our eyes, because the celestial realm or the heaven that we have heard of is a condition of living, a set of circumstances whose frequency is far more intense than what our bodily conditions can bear or receive.

To give a gross example, your eardrum cannot receive broadcasting waves sent from broadcasting stations. If the BBC is transmitting something, your ear cannot hear it though these waves of the broadcasting station are impinging upon your eardrums, because there is no receptive capacity of the eardrums. They are very gross. We have a capacity to receive only certain types of influence. The influence should not be below our present condition, or above our condition. The body will not receive what is grosser than its own condition, nor subtler than its condition. And so, we are in a peculiar, temporary state of affairs where we are compelled to mistake a transient or fleeting set of circumstances for the entire reality.

That is why we are happy in this world – very, very foolishly indeed; and the student of yoga sees this with his piercing eye. Duhkham eva sarvam vivekinah (YS 2.15), says Patanjali. For a person of understanding, everything is sorrow in this world. There is no joy, because this joy is a phenomenon which is projected falsely by passing conditions, which should not be mistaken for everything and all things.

Why I mention all this is because we, as seekers of truth or students of yoga, should not take yoga as a diversion, a hobby, or a kind of play like tennis or football, for which we go in the evening when the day's work is over. We are not playing tennis or football here. This is, as I said, a life-and-death matter for those who can realise their condition, really. But we are often so pigheaded that we cannot realise our own condition. It is this thick-headedness that makes us appear very comfortable and happy in this world. But a subtle mind, like that of a student of yoga, will realise what is ahead, and it will be very cautious of even tomorrow.

When we take to the practice of yoga, we take to a very, very serious subject, which cannot be compared with anything else in this world. The seriousness of the issue should drive us into a very meticulous observation of the disciplines of yoga. As the Upanishad tells us, not all the treasures of this earth put together can be equal to this knowledge. We should not impart this knowledge to undeserving persons, and we should not sell it for even the treasures of the whole world. Such is the worth, value, importance and necessity of this knowledge.

Knowing this very well, it is to be considered by us as high time for taking to serious practice, which calls for attention wholeheartedly paid to this subject, for which, as we considered in the previous chapter, we have to find time to sit quietly for a while every day to deliberate upon the various factors that are necessary for the practice. The first thing is, therefore, to find time; and our greatest of diseases is that we cannot find time. We have no time for anything because we have been caught up in the movement of a hurricane or a whirlwind which we call life in this world. This hurricane is driving us in the direction it moves, and we seem to have no control over its movement. We cannot have even a say in this matter. But it is up to us to gain some confidence in ourselves, and exert our will in the proper direction to find time. If we want to find time, we can find time; but if we do not want to find time, we cannot find time. Where there is a will, there is a way.

The activities of our daily life should be so adjusted, proportioned and allotted in the requisite manner that we should not allow our mind to engage itself in questions, issues, or matters which are not really connected with this serious subject which we are considering, this question that we are trying to answer. It is necessary, therefore, to have a daily routine chalked out very carefully, each for oneself, right from the time we get up in the morning till the time we go to bed. What are our daily items of routine? Is there any item which is unnecessary and which we can forego? If it is totally unnecessary, it should be given up, and the time saved thus should be utilised for a better purpose concerned with this aim of ours. Time can be saved either by giving up unnecessary activity, or by quickening the process of even necessary activities. There are many things which are quite necessary, and we cannot give them up because they have to be done, for one reason or the other. But we can bestow so much concentration on these necessary items that we might be able to do them quickly, more quickly than we would do them by merely woolgathering – because time is short, and we do not know what will happen to us tomorrow.

"Grhita ivakeseshu mrtyuna dharmamacharet," says an old Sanskrit adage. We must practice the path of righteousness, pursue the aim of our life, with such ardour, anxiety, and intensity as would be necessitated at the time if death were to come and catch our throat. "Now I am here!" If death comes and tells us this, what will we think in our mind at that time? With what intensity will we think of God? And what would be the ardour with which we would cry for salvation?

In some of our scriptures, other humorous examples are given. Suppose our hair is caught by fire; we will run somewhere to dip it in the water, or do something. And with what force will we run – with what anxiety! We will not think anything else at that time – neither food, nor clothing, nor anything else: "Oh! My hair has caught fire!" Or, we are drowning in water and are gasping for a little breath. What will be our feeling at that time? Such, they say, is to be the ardour of aspiration, the intensity of our concentration, and the necessity we feel for the practice of yoga.

This is only an introduction for the simple thing that I wish to say – that is, we must find time to sit alone for at least a short time every day. 'Alone' means absolutely alone, with none around us, and nothing else to think in our mind – no engagements whatsoever, except the one thing that is before us.

This time that we choose may be either early in the morning, or late in the evening before we go to bed. In the middle of the day, we are busy; well, it is accepted. We have many things to do in this world, so we cannot sit for a long time in the middle of the day. We have to assume and accept that we are beginners. We are not advanced students, so we cannot be fulltime seekers in this intensified form. At least twice in a day we must be able to sit. The moment we get up from the bed, we should not run to the tea shop. That is not the thing that we have to think in our mind, at least for a few minutes – let it be even for fifteen minutes. Get up from the bed, and do not come out of the room at once. Let the first thought be the noblest of thoughts – the most sublime of ideas – the entertaining of which will be strong enough to give us enough energy to work throughout the day in a proper manner, without indulging in errors, or falsehood, or any kind of unwanted behaviour.

So should the day also end. Before going to bed, there should be at least a half-an-hour's gap allowed for us to concentrate and meditate on these essentials of life. They are the essentials; the other things are only preparatory for these essentials to manifest themselves and work themselves out in our life. And a day should come when we should be able to give more and more time for these essentials by cutting short unwanted work and non-essentials in our life so that, God willing, the time will come when we shall be wholly dedicated for a life of godliness.

This does not mean an abandonment of earthly values, as many people mistakenly imagine, but a transmutation, transformation and sublimation of all earthly values so that in our turning towards God, we have not isolated ourselves from the world or given up anything of the world, but only absorbed everything into ourselves and become a larger body, a bigger person, and a more significant individual now than what we were earlier.