True Spiritual Living
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 23: A Spiritual Attitude Towards Things

Dispassion has been regarded as an indispensable prerequisite of yoga. A spirit of renunciation and a feeling of a final worthlessness of all things may sometimes take possession of us either due to our understanding by a careful observation of the nature of things, or by a sudden kick that we receive from nature. Either way, a spirit of renunciation can arise in our minds.

Very intelligent, scientific analysis will reveal that there is something wrong with the world, and it is not as it appears on the surface. Also, when there is a catastrophe and a loss of everything that one holds as dear and worthwhile in life, then also there is a feeling that everything is useless. Something becomes useless only in comparison with something else which we regard as useful. There cannot be a total uselessness of everything, because such a feeling is comparative.

Whatever be the nature of the renunciation which takes possession of us, yoga insists that it should be positive; and the idea of positivity is that it should not be capable of reversion into the old groove of thinking. If there is a catastrophic revolution and a loss of everything material, there can be a sudden urge for religious devotions. This urge cannot be regarded as a positive aspiration, because it can cease to operate later on when conditions favourable for a comfortable life are provided. When those things, the loss of which became the cause of a spirit of renunciation within, come back to us after some time, the renunciation which was the effect thereof may come to an end, and therefore, that is not a genuine spirit of renunciation.

There are, as it is said, three kinds of dispassion. There is the disgust that we feel for everything when a dead man is cremated. We feel that it is something horrible that a man has gone like that suddenly, and we do not know where he has gone. He has gone to the winds, most unexpectedly. He is cremated, buried, thrown away, cast aside as if he is nothing. We think, “What a pity! This is life. This may be my fate too.” This kind of feeling is a sort of vairagya arising in the mind when it sees such things. It is called smasana vairagya. Smasana means cremation ground. When we see a cremation ground, we feel a sense of disgust. But when we come back to our house, fifty percent of that feeling goes. We have forgotten what we have seen in the cremation ground; the ashes and the flames are out of sight, and we are once again in a cosy homely atmosphere which tells us, “My dear friend, after all, things are not so bad.” After few days the smasana vairagya has gone and we are once again in the same old pleasurable, comfortable, happy way of thinking. This is not vairagya; this is not dispassion. It is not spiritual, and it is not going to help us in the practice of yoga.

Another kind of dispassion is called abhava vairagya. Because we cannot get a thing, we have a dispassion for it. If we are on Mount Everest, we may not get milk, so we say, “Well, I don’t take milk.” This is a great renunciation indeed when it is because we cannot get it! But when we can get it, naturally we will want it. Therefore, this is also not positive, not spiritual, and it cannot be called renunciation, dispassion, or vairagya. It is abhava vairagya.

The third kind is called prasava vairagya. A woman feels disgust when she bears a child. “Oh, what a horror it is!” Life itself is meaningless for her due to the agony of the travail, and she makes up her mind that such a sorry state of affairs may not be repeated. But it is temporary, like the other vairagyas, because when the pain goes, the idea that there has been pain also goes, and once again the mind gets into the earlier ways of thinking of those conditions of life which provide the usual comforts, pleasures, etc.

These are all quite different from what yoga requires of us. Dispassion, which is the great requisite of yoga, is not any one of these, but something different altogether. Dṛṣṭa anuśravika viṣaya vitṛṣṇasya vaśīkārasaṁjña vairāgyam (Y.S. 1.15), says Patanjali in his famous aphorism. Vairagya is not abhava vairagya, smasana vairagya or prasava vairagya. What is it that we are required to practise and make our own? It is an entirely spiritual attitude towards things. Vitrishna is the word used in this aphorism. Trishna is craving, a lust for pleasure, a hunger for satisfaction, a thirst that we feel inside due to the lack of comfortable objects. The object itself is not of primary importance here; the attitude towards the object is of greater importance. The greed for gold may be present in the mind of a thief or a miser, but a child has no greed for gold even if it sees a gold ornament, because it cannot perceive the value of gold. Gold is gold whether it is in the presence of a child, a monkey, a miser or a thief. It is the same object; it has not changed its character, and its value is the same. The value of the gold is not diminished merely because it is placed in front of a baby, but the attitude of a baby towards it is different from that of a miser, a thief, and so on.

While the nature of the object exerts an influence upon the mind, no doubt, and it is necessary that we are free from atmospheres which are infested with such objects of attraction, it is more important to remember that yoga is an internal adjustment with the existing condition of things. Yoga does not aim at transformation of the world, because such a thing is not necessary. What is necessary is a self-adjustment with the order of things. In a famous mantra of the Isavasya Upanishad it is said, yāthātathyato’rthān vyadadhāc chāśvatībhyas samābhyaḥ (Isa Up. 8): The great wisdom of the Creator projected the universe in the manner in which it ought to be, and it does not need a modification or an amendment of the act. The act of God is not subject to amendment. It has been very wisely constituted by Him, and it is futile on the part of any human being or group of people to think that the acts of God can be amended by our little efforts. He has permanently fixed the order of things, and if we accept the wisdom of God, we have also to accept the correctness of this order with which He has manifested this universe.

So, what is wrong with the world then, about which we are so much complaining? What is wrong is that we are not able to recognise this order that is present in things. The order is trans-empirical; it is beyond the perception of the senses. The organisation of the universe instituted by God is not capable of human understanding and, therefore, we misconstrue the whole order and imagine that there is chaos, that God has created confusion and a tremendous ugliness, a resource of evil, pain, suffering, and everything that is unwanted. This is all the wisdom of God; He could not find anything better. We are complaining against the very discomfiture of God that is unwarrantedly imagined by us. But the Upanishad has proclaimed that everything is perfectly in order and our like or dislike for a thing does not affect the thing very seriously, but it affects us.

To reiterate, yoga aims at an individual transformation necessary for an adjustment with the cosmic order of things. The cosmic order will not change. The cosmos is the body of the Virat, as the Vedanta tells us, and there is no need for a change in it. But there is a need for change somewhere else, in what is called jiva srishti, not in Ishvara srishti. These are all technical jargons of Vedanta. The meaning is that the creation of God needs no change, but the creation of the individual needs change. The creation of God does not need change because God is omniscient, and He has wisely construed everything in the manner it ought to be. He has placed everything in the very place where it ought to be, in the condition in which it has to be; but the individual cannot comprehend this mystery because no individual can be omniscient, and no one who is not omniscient can understand the perfection of God’s creation.

If the ugliness, the stupidity and the evil of this world are really there as we imagine it, it should be there always. But we have the epic illustration of the Viratsvarupa, for example, described in the Bhagavadgita, and no ugliness was seen when the Virat was manifest. Arjuna could not see dung or drains and sewage. Where had it gone? Had it vanished altogether? All this stupidity of the world is not there in that perfection, but that perfection is inclusive of this stupidity, this ugliness. It is not somewhere far away. What Arjuna was made to visualise was the very same thing that we are seeing with our eyes. He was not seeing something else, far off in the distant heavens. The same drains and dustbins that we detest so much were there; but they were not dustbins. They were something else, because they were arranged in the pattern of universal perfection which could be seen with a new eye altogether, not with the fleshy eyes. The eye of perfection saw only perfection. But if this stupidity of the world is really there, then even after we reach God, we will still see that horror. Then there will be no point in practising yoga or even in God-realisation, because the horror will continue for all time. The point is that this is a mistake in perception.

Thus vairagya, or dispassion, is a tendency of the mind to adjust itself with the natural order of things, and when this attitude is appreciably effected, there is also a simultaneous feeling of mental health, which is the proper attitude towards things. An improper attitude is mental illness. Love and hatred are illnesses of the mind. We are very fond of the word ‘love’. We think it is a great, gorgeous, divine blessing upon us, but it is not so. It is also an affection of the mind because where there is no object, there can be no love; and as we are again and again told that objects do not really exist as they appear to our senses, then love also cannot exist in the way in which it is manifest because what is love, if there is no object of love? All emotional movements, whether in the form of like or dislike, cease on account of a self-completion and a self-sufficiency felt within by a manifestation of spiritual awareness. This is the vitrishna which Patanjali speaks of. We have no desire for things because we have now understood things in a better way.

Why we do not have a desire for things is a very vast subject for us to contemplate. Why is it that there should be no desire for objects? Why are we so much condemning desire for objects? What is wrong if we desire things? What is the precise mistake that we are committing in loving things, hating things, or desiring things in this way or that way? What is the matter? The matter is simple. It is against the constitution of things. It is unscientific because the order of things, the nature of the universe as it is, is such that everything is arranged in an organic connectedness. This system is called the Virat. When an organic connectedness of things becomes the content of consciousness, this is the experience of the Virat. What do we mean by this connectedness? It is a realisation that there cannot be objects and, therefore, there cannot be subjects. There cannot be causes and, therefore, there cannot be effects, and vice versa. In a mutual interrelation of things, we cannot say which is the cause and which is the effect, which is the object and which is the subject, who is the lover and who is the loved. We cannot say anything. The idea of externality, isolation, separatedness is the cause of attachment, which is the principle of desire, passion, etc.; and inasmuch as any desire for a thing is an affirmation of there being no such organic connectedness among things, desire is contrary to Truth and, therefore, it is not desirable. Desire itself is not desirable.

We should develop an inward feeling of ‘enough with things’. A sense of enough, of satiety, should arise in us, not because we do not have things, not because we cannot get things, not because there is a threat from outside, but because we ourselves do not feel a need for things; we have enough of things. Either we have enough of everything, or we have seen that desire itself is not a proper attitude or a correct form of understanding. In such works as the Panchadasi, the famous Vedanta text, we are told that a great sage, a man of wisdom, feels that he has no desire. An emperor who has the whole earth under his control also may have no desire. The emperor has no desire because there is nothing to desire. When the whole earth is his, what is he going to desire? Whatever he wants is under his control. The sage, the jnanin, also has no desire, but for a different reason altogether. Both the emperor and the sage have satiety, surfeit, a feeling of ‘enough with things’, though for different reasons. The point made out in this analogy is that, rightly or wrongly, we cannot have freedom from desires as long as there are covetable objects in the world, whether we can actually possess them or not. The covetable objects should not be there at all.

But they are there, so what are we going to do with them? The objects should either be wholly possessed by us, as is the case with an emperor ruling the whole earth, or they have to become part of our own nature, as is the case with a sage of wisdom. Otherwise, we cannot be free from desires.

Dispassion can also be caused by a scientific, logical investigation conducted into the nature of things as, for example, a physicist would do through a microscope. “This is a lump of gold. Very beautiful! I would like to have it. Let me observe it properly through a microscope.” He goes on observing it, but he cannot see gold when he sees it through a microscope. He finds that whatever is inside the stone is also inside the gold, and it appears to be gold because of a rearrangement of the very same constituents which form the object called stone.

In the Panchadasi, we have very detailed expositions. Towards the end of the Sixth Chapter the great author says that various causes of vairagya are there, but whatever be the cause or the reason behind the rise of vairagya, it should be spiritually oriented—which means to say, there should not be a necessity to retrace our steps. Many honest and sincere seekers on the path of yoga fail in their attempts on account of a misjudgment of themselves. While we are very shrewd in judging others, we are not so clever in judging our own selves. We are very lenient towards ourselves, and very hard upon others, which is very unfortunate. The point is, we have to be hard on ourselves and a little lenient on others, but we are not. The yogi is very severe upon himself, though he may be very kind towards others. He may be very charitable towards other people, but not so charitable towards himself. Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj was a great example of this. “Give, give, give, and it shall be given” was his philosophy, as was the case with Jesus Christ. In my life, at least, I have seen only one person who was a follower of the philosophy of giving, and it was Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj. I have never seen any other mahatma or a saint of this type, someone who would give things and feel that he loses nothing by giving. There is always a fear that by giving, we lose. “If I give five dollars, I have lost five dollars.” That is not so, my dear friend. We do not lose, we gain something. What we do not know is that when there is an apparent debit of five dollars here, there is a credit of five thousand dollars somewhere else—in another, superior bank altogether, in which we have an account. Man, with his foolish, stupid brain, cannot understand this.

“Give, give, give, and it shall be given unto you, pressed and overflowing.” What is the meaning of this? The meaning is that man’s understanding is inadequate to the task. Man is born and brought up in a set of conditions which insist on selfishness of behaviour and comfort of the body, glory, name, fame, power, authority, and whatnot. All these are the doom of yoga. The greater we ascend on the ladder of yoga, the smaller we look in the eyes of people, and finally we may look like nobody at all when we are a master. But nobody wishes to be looked upon as a small fry by people.

Thus, the ethics of yoga and the psychology of yoga are something super-natural, super-mundane; and the demands of yoga practice, therefore, also seem to be very exacting. When one steps onto the ladder of yoga, one will be repelled by its requisitions—not because it is really hard or exacting, but because it is unintelligible to the uninitiated mind. Therefore, to live with a Guru for a sufficient length of time, until one is well grounded in an understanding of what is one’s true aim in life, is called for.