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The Path to Freedom: Mastering the Art
of Total Perception


Chapter 6: The First Two Ashramas – Brahmacharya and Grihastha (Continued)

Every stage of life is a stage of education. In the Chhandogya Upanishad we are told the entire life of a human being is a life of a studentship: a process of studying nature and understanding its laws. Nature includes everything not merely things, but also laws and relations. Hence, when nature is regarded as a complete system in itself, organically related in its parts, we are also to regard human life in a similar manner. All the parts, not merely as things but also relations, constitute a complete whole. Our life is a composite structure Brahmacharya, Grihastha, Vanaprastha, Sannyasa, dharma, artha, kama, moksha. All these are so intimately related to one another that we cannot ignore the existence and the operation of any while we are engaged with another.

The conservation of energy, Brahmacharya, enables us to become strong physically, mentally, and morally. Remember, just as nature is everything, Brahmacharya is everything because the conservation of energy is outside as well as inside. So a Brahmacharin is strong internally as well as externally. He is physically tough and morally strong because of the equalised energy in the body.

When there is unequal distribution of economic forces, for example, we have what are called the rich and the poor. This is a sort of imbalance in society; likewise, there can be imbalance in our bodily system when energy is centred in any particular part of the body, especially the senses. It is the senses that channel the energy and drag it to certain external things or objectives. Not to allow the senses to meddle with the energies inside is Brahmacharya. The eyes, the ears, the nose, the palate, etc. all the senses connive to put this energy of the system to use in some particular manner. Therefore, the Brahmacharin is a sense-controlled, self-controlled person.

The energy of his system is equally distributed physically, vitally and morally; he is energy from top to bottom unreleased, unharnessed energy. Because of this, the Brahmacharins are called agni-manavakas, fire lads. They are like fire, fire which will only burn when interfered with, and not otherwise. This is a very beautiful term, angi-manavaka: a lad who shines like fire, glows with brahmavarchas effulgence because of the equidistribution of the energy in his system. He looks beautiful on account of this.

When this is achieved in an appreciable manner, the question arises in facing the Purusharthas. The actual living of the practical life commences with Grihastha. The Brahmacharya is just a preparation for it. We face life in the Grihastha stage, and the energies that we have conserved in the stage of Brahmacharya will help us in the stages of life, just as the money that we have earned will help us in living life. If we earned nothing, then we will have to live a beggar’s life.

The Grihastha dharma has a direct relationship with the fulfilment of artha and kama. Two of the Purusharthas, artha and kama, bear immediate relationship to Grihastha dharmas. Grihastha literally means one who lives in a house. Griha means a house, tha means one who is there. One who is a householder, in one sense, is a Grihastha which means to say, one who regards and respects material values, and has something to do with vital values. The Grihastha dharma is a stage of education again, and it is in this stage that part, but not all, of the energy is utilised for an educative purpose.

It is not a stage of enjoyment. This should not be mistaken. A Grihastha should not be living a life of enjoyment. It is as much a period of training as the life of a Brahmacharin, but it is a different kind of training altogether. He has to confront material values and material existences, and face them. In facing them he may have to battle with them and spend some of the conserved force.

Now you may be wondering, why this institution of Grihastha dharma at all? Is it necessary to utilise the energy conserved in the stage of Brahmacharya, or can we rise up straight to moksha? This question has also been discussed in our scriptures. Two views have been held, something like the debate of the homeopaths and the allopaths that we have these days. There is some truth as well as drawbacks in what the allopaths say, and the same applies to homeopathy also. We cannot universally support everything that someone says. Everyone says some truth, though not the whole truth.

Likewise, our scriptures have conceived the necessity of having two types of approach to eternal values: the direct and the indirect. Sometimes in Vedanta sastras, these paths are called the Suka-marga and the Pipilika-marga the path of the bird and the path of the ant. The bird flies direct, whereas the ant has to crawl slowly, and may go round-about. Both may reach the same destination, but they take different lengths of time. If they have to go to Swargashrama, the bird will fly directly across the Ganges, but the ant will have to go around via the bridge. It will take a lot of time. The direct path is the Suka-marga, or the path of the bird. This is being directly concerned with eternal values from the very beginning itself.

There have been very rare souls who live such a life. They never allowed even the least dissipation of their energies in terms of objects. Such were those who never lived the life of a Grihastha. Suka Maharishi was an example, from whose conduct this name of Suka-marga has come the path of Suka Maharishi. It was all consciousness of God, from beginning to end. He began his life with God-consciousness and he ended his life with God-consciousness. To live such a life is difficult, but even an approximation to such a life is called Suka-marga, whatever be its measure of success.

Some of the Upanishads also collaborate this view of those who take to the path of nirvritti directly from the stage of Brahmacharya, and directly enter Sannyasa. This is Nirvritti-marga throughout, from beginning to end. This also is permitted in some of the Smritis and some of the Upanishads for exceptional souls whose minds are perfectly mature and whose vasanas and samskaras are not rajasic or tamasic, who are made of a sattvic nature, who glow with a lustre of God alone and nothing else, and who want nothing else but God.

Few though they may be in number, such people exist even today. We cannot say the world is bereft of them. Such are the Nirvritti-margins who take to the path of the Eternal, the Absolute, the path of God, the path of devotion, the path of knowledge, the path of yoga. Such are those Nirvritti-margins rising, shooting forth like a star from Brahmacharya to Sannyasa.

But, unfortunately, all are not birds with feathers and wings; in this world there are many other things created by God, and they too have to move along the lines accessible to them. Those who have wings can fly; those who only have legs have to walk; those who have no legs may have to crawl. We may have to roll sometimes if we have no limbs – but move we must.

Everything must move towards the same goal, consciously or unconsciously. It is not the human being alone that tends toward this consciousness. Everything in this universe cries for God. The sun and the moon, the winds that blow, the rivers that flow, the ocean that bubbles, all cry for God. Every motion of even a leaf in the wind is supposed to be a longing for God. Hence, there is nothing which can be completely free from this longing or aspiration. Something may be conscious of it or unconscious of it. We may be unconsciously dragged or consciously moving; this is the only difference. But everything does move towards a single destination, not many destinations.

There being many a method of approach to the same goal, many systems of practice may have to be allowed. So apart from nivritti, there is also the path of pravritti, and this fourfold classification systemically and diligently practised, without missing even one link in the chain, would be the pravritti dharma of the human being. But remember it is also dharma; nivritti dharma and pravritti dharma are both dharma in the sense that it is a law that has to be followed a law of the same Truth that operates everywhere.

The Grihastha is allowed certain satisfactions, not for the sake of satisfaction, but for an expression of a part of his desire and energies for the higher purpose towards which he makes a preparation. The fulfilment of desires, pursuit of wealth and material values in Grihastha life are all intended as an educative means of plodding onwards into the Vanaprastha and Sannyasa stages. The Grihastha is one who cannot completely conserve all his energies, who cannot sublimate all these desires in one stroke. He is one who tries to control by appeasing. A little of satisfaction sometimes helps us in exercising control. This is a law that may be found to be applicable in many walks of life.

We cannot be one hundred percent in everything. A little leniency is sometimes allowed, merely with a view to exercise more control. The intention is not leniency but self-control. The channels of expression are, therefore, intended as helps to self-control in the end. There are many rules enjoined in the Smritis, for example, of how disciplined the Grihastha must lead his life. Even the little satisfaction that is allowed to him through the senses is a very regulated one. There is space, time and causal connections limiting these satisfactions. It is not that he can do anything he likes. While the Brahmacharin is not allowed any sensory enjoyment because his stage is supposed to be one of conservation of power, the Grihastha is allowed a certain amount of satisfaction for a higher purpose. When this higher purpose is to be kept in view, the satisfaction ceases to be a satisfaction.

When we are studying for an examination, racking our brain, going through our textbooks to prepare for tomorrow's examination, we may drink a cup of tea or have a good dinner together with our preparation, but our mind is not there. It is only an aid. The food that we take and the satisfactions that we have are only a part of the training, and we do not take them as satisfactions at all. But we know the necessity of these satisfactions; they help us in the training.

In the Anugita of the Mahabharata, we have a beautiful monologue of King Janaka. He speaks about the way he rules the kingdom. King Janaka was an ideal Grihastha. Those who can properly understand the way in which Janaka lived his life will know the way in which a Grihastha should live. Lofty the thoughts of Janaka were, so lofty that many of us cannot reach that state of thinking. He was questioned by many people, “How do you regard it compatible to be a Brahma-jnanin as well as a king at the same time? Where is correlation between the type of knowledge that you possess and the type of life that you are living?” He was tested many times and was questioned thus.

His answer was a great lesson to all seekers of Truth. “I do not enjoy, I only experience,” was the answer. “I do not know what is enjoyment, but I do have experiences. When I experience a state of consciousness through the nose, it is not I that have this experience; it is the divinity that is presiding in the nose that experiences this,” said Janaka.

The human personality is presided over by principles of consciousness. These are called adhidaivas in our theology. The eyes are supposed to be governed by the Sun, the Moon governs the mind, and so on. Every limb of the body is governed by some cosmic principle. The individual is a part of the cosmos, and the whole governs every limb of the part. That which is in the whole is also in the part; that which is in the cosmos is in the microcosm, so it is quite intelligible and natural that the principles governing the cosmos should also govern the individual.

“Why not take things in that principle?” was Janaka’s answer. “Why should there be a Janaka at all? I don’t see a Janaka here. For me a thing like Janaka does not exist; it is only a name that has been given to a system of working, of a group of principles called deities, or adhidaivas, who perform their duties. Indra works through the hands, the Sun works through the eyes, the Dig-devatas work through the ears, Varuna works through the palate, and so where is Janaka? To whom do you put the question?”

Janaka's beautiful answer indicates the way in which an ideal Grihastha should live life. It is not a life of enjoyment far from it. We are so much wedded to enjoyments and pleasures that we do not seem to be in a position to think in any other way. The education provided to us by nature is free from the concept of pleasure and pain. Pleasure and pain do not come into the Truth of Reality. These are merely values that we have introduced by thinking in terms of the senses. Truth cannot have any relationship either with pleasure or pain. When we think independently of the senses, the idea of pleasure and pain drop off. So it was that Janaka replied.

This was a reply to all the queries of the Grihasthas and those who do not find an answer in life: To introduce cosmic meaning into individual life would be the method of living a Grihastha life. So the Grihastha is a wise person who supports life while not enjoying it, and contributes personal values to social values. Sometimes the Grihasthas life is supposed to be pre-eminent on account of his contributing personal value to social value, and supporting it while not enjoying it. Conceived thus, the life of a Grihastha is glorious. But difficult it is to live like this because few people are educated in this matter. We have to think in a new way altogether; and when it is properly taught and lived in this way, the life of a Grihastha becomes a preparation for God-realisation, as it ought to be.

So there is a very gradual growth from the stage of Brahmacharya to Grihastha and then, being done with all social relationships, one is supposed to withdraw completely into the stages of Vanaprastha and Sannyasa. These are interesting things I shall touch upon next time.