Chapter 1: Prefatory
We are all here for the fulfilment of a purpose. It may not be that everyone will be entertaining a uniform idea of what this purpose is. You must have attended schools. You must have passed through various stages of education. You are educated persons, and learned in many respects. You have studied well. You have lived in the world. Now you have come to another place to study something else. So, most of us are likely to have the idea that we are going to pursue another 'course of studies', just as we have already studied something else before: "If today I study physics here, I will study chemistry somewhere else, and for biology I will go to a third place." This idea can be in the minds of many of us, that we are here to study some subject with which we are not acquainted up to this time. It may be yoga, a very well-known term these days. It may be Vedanta, it may be religion, it may be spirituality, it may be the art of God-living, and what not. Thus, it becomes a kind of subject among the many which are useful to people in one way or other.
At the very outset, it becomes necessary that we have to decondition our minds before we attempt anything positive and worth the while. We are not going to study any subject in the ordinary sense of the term. We do not study philosophy here, for, that one can study anywhere else, in a college or university. You have professors and learned men. That would not be a difficulty but here we are not to get acquainted with a branch of learning, if that is your definition of education. This is something quite different, a kind by itself, of which an idea occurred to many stalwarts of yore, both in the East and the West. The latest example of this category, at least to my mind, was Swami Sivananda, the Founder of this Institution.
One cannot say that they were not educated persons, but their education was different from the type into which people get initiated usually as learned persons, lecturers, professors, etc. We have to reorient our way of thinking, with some effort, in order to fathom the intentions of these Masters. It requires an effort because we are born into a world of certain prejudices which die very hard. The purpose of these sessions that we are contemplating to hold here is to get over these preconceived ruts of thinking; the purpose is to bring a right-about turn in the very art of thinking. More properly, we may say we are attempting to learn a way of thinking which is a little different from the usual way of the world. The normal way of thinking is well known: "I belong to America, I belong to India; I am a man, I am a woman, I am a businessman; I am a teacher, I am rich, I am poor, I am happy, I am unhappy, this is good, that is bad." These are well-known ways of outlook in anyone's life.
This, then, is the atmosphere in which we are living in the world, and we work hard every day, whatever be the work we do in the various fields of life, to adjust ourselves to these so-called chaotic presentations before us that we call life. All your day is spent in adjusting yourself with the conditions of the world. If it is cold, you put on your coat. If it is hot, you throw off your bunian. If you are hungry, you eat some food. If you are tired, you lie down. If you are angry, you show your teeth. Well, so many things occasion different conditions in our minds – the psychological circumstances – and we have to adapt ourselves to these sources of the influx of environmental conditions. All effort is only this much – somehow to adapt ourselves to the world-conditions, whether they are geographical, political, social, or family circumstances. We work very hard. Every one of you is working hard. But what for? In what direction? What is the purpose? We are impelled by a peculiar urge from within us to work. Otherwise, there is a sub-conscious threat felt from within towards the very extinction of our existence. We may die if we do not work. Our existence can be abolished by the powerful conditions of life outside.
The adaptations that we make with life outside vary from person to person. That is why what I do may not be what you do every day, and what you do may not be what another does. It does not mean that everyone is doing the same thing, in the same manner, everywhere in the world, in spite of the fact that everyone does something. Now, the necessity to do something is common to every person. Everybody feels a necessity to 'do', whether it is in a factory or a chapel or a temple or a shop. Everybody does something. The variety in doing arises on account of there being a variety in the condition of one's own psychological being. Your actions depend on your mental structure; so activities have connection with psychology. Everyone is active but in different ways. The necessity to be active can be explained only by the impulsion from one's psychological structure. If you study your mind, you can know something about the need that you feel in regard to work in the world.
Why should you do any work? You know it very well. Each one knows the answer. The world is a hard job before us, and we have perforce to go hand in hand with the laws of the world. We cannot regard it as a stranger, as an outsider, as something not connected with us. Our sorrows are our maladjustments with the world, with life, with everything. The rectification of the maladjustment is attempted by work, activity, enterprise, project, planning, etc. All these plannings and projects, of every kind, in life are methods of personal adjustment with the requirements of outward life. I mention to you a few of these interesting factors which have to be considered before we endeavour to find out what it is that we are supposed to do finally, why we are existing at all, why we are breathing and eating and getting on, somehow, in the world. What is the purpose behind it all?
There is something which keeps us restless and anxious, whatever be the things we do. The practice of our vocations in life has a psychology behind it. That is why there is variety in the circumstances of life. There is this picturesque world before us of colours and sounds and movements evincing different kinds of emotions and reactions from each different person. Life is activity. It is work. The moment you think of living in the world, you think of 'doing' something. And this doing, again, as I mentioned, has vital relationship with the needs of your inner personality – the mind, if you want to call it that way. We shall try to think of what this mind is, in a little detail, after some time. For the time being, we may be satisfied with this thing called mind, with which we are almost familiar, which is the thing that limits and streamlines our activities. Activities have a psychology behind them. Every practice of any kind has a mental condition preceding.
The question may pose itself: Why should the mind think in the way it thinks, and drive us in a given direction, towards the performance of some work, towards engagement of ourselves in some activity? The 'how' of the activity of mind is called psychology. How does it work? What are the various branches of the movement of the psyche? The study of the details of the variegated patterns and activities of the mind is psychology. A very vast subject it is, the study of the mind. Unless this is known, you cannot be fully conversant with the techniques of activity in the world, and you would be doing things without sufficient success. Activities will then be like pursuing the will-o'-the-wisp; a wild-goose chase, a going through blind alleys, with no idea as to what will happen in the future, unless there is a correct knowledge of the background of these activities, which is human psychology. Unless you know your mind, you cannot know the nature of the works that you have to do, and the purpose towards which the works are directed.
But, why does the mind work in this manner? Why should I think in the way I am thinking just now? Why do you think in the way you are thinking? What is this devil working inside us, separating one from the other and demanding that one should think in this way and another should think in another way? Why should it be like that? Why should you think in that way and I should think in this manner? Why not think together in the same way? What is the difficulty? This 'why' raises a problem which goes beyond the field known as psychology.
Normally, this field is called philosophy. The 'why' of a thing is studied in philosophy. The 'how' of a thing is studied in psychology, and the 'what' is the actual daily routine of activity. In our approach to anything, even the smallest item, even the most insignificant so-called addendum to our life, we have to be scientific in our approach. And what is the meaning of being scientific? It is taking the first thing as the first thing and the second thing as the second thing and not mixing up one with the other. You should not start with the second thing while the first thing has been ignored. To be able to conceive the consecutive series of any kind of movement is to be scientific.
But if you are oblivious of the series and miss a link in the chain of the development of thought and activity, then, you would not be scientific. And it is practically the same thing as to be logical; to be logical is also to be scientific, though there is a little difference in the significance of these terminologies, with which we need not concern ourselves at present. To be systematic, to be patient, to be observant, to be accessible to rectification, to be tending towards more and more generalised forms of ideas, to attempt at an exceeding of the limitations of body, community, individuality, etc. – these are certain characteristics of a scientific attitude, the logical approach to things. Philosophy is the study of life with reference to 'ultimate causes', and not merely the 'immediate antecedents'.
We are here to bestow some serious thought on the essentials of what we may generally call life, which condition the outward varieties with which we are connected. The outward details are expressions of inward essentials. The type of food that I eat depends upon the kind of hunger that I have, and the way in which the physiological organs operate, and the liver, the pancreas, the intestines, etc., work. So is the case with every kind of inward tendency, mental or psychological. A serious contemplative attitude is to be bestowed upon the factors which go to constitute the structure of the whole of our life, which includes the geographical aspect, the astronomical aspect, the political aspect, the social aspect, the personal aspect, etc. You will find that you are connected to various factors even when you are sitting here near your desk. You are seated here with a little desk in front of you, but you are many things just now. You are an American, a British, a male, a professor, a hungry man; you have anxiety about your future, you have a desire to achieve something, and many such unimaginable things are conditioning you. It does not mean that you are always thinking, "I am a German, an Indian, American," etc., but the idea is not rooted out from the mind. It is there at the background.
How can you forget that you are a woman or man, or that you are coming from such-and-such a country, that you are a national of such-and-such a place? You may not be brooding over this always, but it is there at the back of every kind of thought that is generated by your mind and every approach or outlook which may be there in your mind in regard to life. So, what is it that you are after? It is not study of philosophy, psychology or economics in the traditional sense of the term. You are trying to go into the deepest roots of the various branches of study you call economics or psychology or philosophy, or whatever it is, all which are the outward expressions of an inward need.
The whole effort of ours seems, somehow, to be released of the shackles which restrain us like prisoners within the four walls. You know what these shackles are. Each one of you knows what your bondage is. They are the bonds which do not allow you freedom unless you have an adequate knowledge of the way in which you have got into this bondage. You have problems of visa and passport and economic conditions and family relationships and bodily limitations. All these are shackles. You cannot be free like that so easily. But who has put us into this situation of suffering and is keeping us ever restless and unconscious of a future? We are worried about the past, restless about the present, and anxious about the future. Thus, it becomes obvious that we are not merely students of some branch of learning, enabling us to earn our bread. Rather, we are after something which will keep us sober in our minds, and give us peace, if you would like to call it so, under every circumstance. What we lack is not so much bread as peace of mind.
It does not mean that a person who has plenty to eat is a person with sobriety or peace of spirit; nor is it true that a person who is physically starving has no peace of mind. What we are after is quite different from what people generally think they are after in the work-a-day world. We also belong to the work-a-day world; it is true. We are not out of the world. We are on the earth, but being on the earth, being in the world, we are after a serious search for something which is not merely bread, and a building, and a comfortable social and physical life. These are accessories to something else which we are truly seeking. Many of you may not be in a starving condition. You are not beggars. You may have an adequately satisfactory arrangement for your daily meal. You have a proper place to sleep at night. You have clothing. I do not think we have so much difficulty about these matters, which are the physical realities of life. But what is it that you do not have? That is important.
There is something which speaks within us in a language of anxiety. Something is not all right, though you have everything in the physical or social sense. You are respectable people in society. You have a financial status of your own; everything is well, so far as it goes, but you are not happy, really speaking, for a reason which you have not yet found time to go deep into.
We are so busy with the enormous flood of the atmospheric conditions outside that we have been prevented from even finding time to think, let alone the capacity to think. Whether we have a capacity to think correctly or not is a different subject. Have you time to think? That also is not there. Very busy indeed, is everyone. And there is therefore the need to learn also the art of finding time to think in the proper way, because your life is nothing but a mental life and if the mental life is ignored, your physical and social life is not going to make you free. You know very well how important your mind is. There is no need to go on speaking about the nature of the mind and the importance of its working.
With all the comforts and the glories of physical life, if the mind is not in peace, of what avail is this glory of the earth? You may be a king or a queen. Well, wonderful, but the mind is not working. What do you say to this? And you know what it means. There cannot be a greater hell than that. Well, then, the mind is working, but in the wrong direction. That, too, is very unfortunate. What you seek is, therefore, something which is the pre-condition of your physical needs and social relationships. Hence, the subject that we shall take up in these sessions, with which I am personally supposed to be concerned now, would be a series of approaches towards the causes of the effects which our inner and outer lives are.
Our life, whether it is inner or outer, consists of a series. It is not a solid substance. Our existence is not like a hard stone which is immovable and motionless. It is a flux, a series of tendencies, movements, enterprises, etc., which get practically bifurcated into the inward and the outward phases. Life in itself is neither inward nor outward. It is everywhere. But for convenience's sake we make this distinction of being inside and outside, just as we say we are inside the room. But this 'inside' idea arises on account of the wall around. If the wall were not to be there, we would not say that we are inside. We are just on the surface of the earth. But because there is a consciousness of walls on the four sides, there is also a consciousness of an inside and conversely a consciousness of an outside. There is really no such thing as inner life and outer life, just as there is no inside or outside really, unless there is a wall which separates the inside from the outside. But we always speak of an inner life and an outer life as if they are really there. This bifurcation or gulf, so-called, between our inner life and outer life is due to a wall that seems to be there between what we call the inner and the outer. This wall has also to be seen, as to what it is.
Here we have walls made of bricks. But, what is this wall which makes us feel that we have an inner life as distinguished from an outer life? Everything has to be clear before we start doing anything. Yes; we have to see that everything is clear, and there are no doubts and obsessions in the mind. I began by saying that you should decondition yourself first and abandon all conditioned habits. Do not say: "I have read the Upanishads already." Well, you forget the Upanishads for the time being, forget the Gita, forget the Bible, forget your nationality, forget that you are anything whatsoever. But remember that you are a spirit that is seeking solutions to certain serious problems which are universally harassing the minds of everyone. The basic problems are the same everywhere, though the outward expressions of the same are different.
The daily difficulties that we confront in our life are not the same. But the basic root-cause will be found finally to be one and the same thing. We think as human beings. That is the essential way of thinking. But, outwardly, one may think as a man, and another may think as a woman; one thinks as a professor, another thinks as a rustic in the field, etc. These are outward forms of outlook. But there is what is called a common denominator of normal thinking, which is the human way of thinking. We do not think as a dog or a cat, and we do not move like a tree towards the sun. We do not think as the non-human species. We think as human beings only, and we cannot think in any other manner. This is a great limitation on us, again, in the way we think.
I have mentioned certain of the limitations which prevent us from generalised thinking, but the human way of thinking also is a bondage. That is why you have been told many a time that the intellect is a barrier. You must have heard from people that the intellect is an obstacle in higher pursuits, because the intellect is an endowment of the human being. It is not present in an earthworm or a centipede. They have some other instincts of their own. And we have a peculiar structure within us we call intellect, reason, etc. We have been told a hundred times that this is an obstacle. But why is it an obstacle when it is the only faculty we have in the end? It is an obstacle because it is present only in a human being and we cannot find it elsewhere. The way of thinking or the outlook of the different species will be different. And in order to be able to enter into a more generalised form of the outlook of life we should not be wedded too much to our own endowment called the intellect. Though it is an aid, it is not enough.
It is a prerogative of the human species only, but the truths of life are not merely human. There are many more things in the world than human values, and we should not be under the impression that we are gods ruling over this world. We have, at times, a pride, which takes us off from our feet and makes us feel that we are angels walking on this earth, looking down upon sub-human creatures. They are all nothing before us, as if they do not exist at all. We are the masters. The world belongs to us. The earth is the property of the human being. When we have such feelings, we say, 'this land is mine'. How does it belong to you? God knows! Anyhow, you have a feeling it is yours. The man that is in us works in an imperious manner. And that humanness in us, while it is a great virtue in many respects, is also going to be a great hindrance in the last resort. Our human character is one link in the chain of the development of the various species of life in creation. There are, also, superior faculties higher than human reason, which belong to superhuman realms of being.
You know that the world is not made up of human beings alone. There are others below us and above us. We are in the middle hanging somewhere on the rope that stretches from the earth to the heavens. We are on a long journey. We are not stationed in this world as permanent proprietors of properties here. We are not owners of anything. We are in a moving flux, as I said. We are on a perpetual journey onward, and we cannot, as a great master said, step into the same water of the river the next moment, because the next moment we step into another water of the same river. Thus, too, the next moment we are not living the same life. Every moment we are in a new life into which we perpetually enter, and the so-called continuity of our personality which makes us feel that we were yesterday the same thing that we are today, and the hope that we shall be tomorrow exactly what we are today, is due to a limitation of the way in which the mind works, the way in which we get tied up to one set of connotations in this movement. The habit of the mind is to look through a small hole or an aperture. The vast expanse of life, of which we are a small part, is out of the range of our perception, due to certain structural defects in the mind.
That is why we feel that we are the same person every day without knowing that we are changing every moment and are heading towards something different altogether until a catastrophic change will take place, when the mind will know that real change has occurred. And that catastrophe is called death. Every moment we are dying, but we are not aware of it because of the capacity of the mind to adjust itself to this little change every moment. And perhaps if our mind were in a position to adjust itself even to that so-called change called death, we would not know that we are dying. We would not even know that something has happened, just as we do not know that we are today different from what we were yesterday. But the mind is not so made. It is so much conditioned to this body that the severance of it from this body looks like a complete severance from existence itself.
There is a continuity, which is life, of which we are a part, and we are not just X, Y, Z, or A, B, C, sitting here; it is not like that. If we open our eyes to fact, we will be surprised that we have been living a fool-hardy life up to this time, and now the time has come when we have to be serious. Our time is short, and there is so much to learn, and a lot to achieve. Obstacles are too many, and we have no time to wool-gather, sleep or while away our time as if there is eternity before us. We cannot take things lightly. Life is precious. We cannot take it as a joke. Every moment of time is as gold because every moment is nothing but a little loss of this span of our life. Every bell that rings tells us that we have lost one hour. It is not a happy thing that we are hearing. Tenacious has to be our effort at gaining insight into that which we seek.
Be humble. Be patient. Do not try to be big, but be small, until you almost become a nothing, which is better for you than to be a large thing in the world, a cynosure of all eyes. There is hope, and so be always confident that you will get what you need. Always remember three things:
Be clear as to what you want;
Be sure that you will get what you want; do not be hesitant. Assert: 'Yes, I am certainly going to get it', and
Start with that effort just now. Do not say 'tomorrow'. 'Everything is clear to me now, and I shall start at it.'
If these three maxims are before you as your guiding lights, you will succeed always, and with everything.