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True Spiritual Living
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 14: Finding Time to Sit Alone

It is taken for granted that I am speaking to those who are one 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 according to public opinion, or a so-called righteousness that keeps us going in the world. This is a very serious subject that we are discussing, almost a life-and-death matter for those who can realise its importance.

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 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 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 even 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. In the palace, there was also a flock of sheep. It appears that one of the sheep used to run into the palace kitchen every day and try to snatch some eatable, and 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.

The leader of the 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 going to be in serious danger.”

All the monkeys asked, “What is this danger? We are taken care of so beautifully, fed so well. We have no botheration or worry about food—which we may have if we are in the forest. What is the trouble? What is the 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 still goes there 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 and thither, and enter the stable where the king's horses are tied. 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 burnt off!'

“The king will say, ‘They are very costly horses, and they are so necessary for me. Now, all their skin is burnt! What is the remedy for this?'”

The leader monkey said, “My dear children, there is only one remedy: the fat of monkeys. Now you know the danger.”

The monkeys replied, “Old man, you have no understanding. Foolishly you are thinking something, concocting something out of nothing. All this is a vain thought in your head. We are well taken care of here 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 the palace, and whatever he predicted happened. All the monkeys were boiled, and their fat was taken and smeared over the burnt horses.

This is a story given in our fables to illustrate forethought. It has no apparent 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 on the lips, because we are well fed in the palace of the king. What is the trouble? We have got our daily meal, our clothes, our house, our friends, and 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 oneself 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 away from us.

When the queen of King Aja, a great emperor of the solar race in India, died due to an accident, the king wept and beat his breast. He went to his preceptor, Vasishtha, and said, “Oh! My queen is dead. I am feeling that life itself is worthless. What is your advice?”

Vasishtha gave a very short reply. Maraṇaṁ prakṛtiḥ śarīriṇāṁ vikṛtirjīvitamucyate budhaiḥ (Raghuvamsa 8. 87): “Your highness, that you are subject to death is no wonder; that you are living is a wonder.” This is all he said. This is what Buddha also said—that the apparent security of life is an illusion. Everything is insecure in this world, and 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 to know them, because we are happy.

But, this happiness is itself going to be our foe. The comfort and 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, the entire structure of our body is subject to transformation. There is a perpetual vehement movement of every atom of this body, as is the case with every object in the world. Everything revolves, rotates, vehemently moves, for a purpose which no one can understand. Even an apparently inorganic and static stone is constituted of minute particles which are vehemently active inside it. There is no such thing as a static object in this world. Everything is 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, our eardrums cannot receive the waves sent from broadcasting stations. If the BBC is transmitting something, we cannot hear it although these waves from the broadcasting station are impinging upon our eardrums, because our eardrums have no such receptive capacity. They are very gross. We have the capacity to receive only certain types of influence. The influence should be neither below nor above our present condition. The body will not receive what is grosser or what is 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. Duhkḥamevasarvaṁvivekinaḥ (Y.S. 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 falsely projected by passing conditions, which should not be mistaken for everything.

I mention all this because we, as seekers of Truth or students of yoga, should not take to yoga as a diversion, a hobby, or a kind of game like tennis or football which we play 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 real condition. 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 the world. A subtle mind, such as 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 high time for us to take to serious practice, which calls for whole-hearted attention paid to this subject, for which, as we considered, we have to find time every day to sit quietly and 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 in which it moves, and we seem to have no control over its movement and no say in this matter; but it is up to us to gain 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 that 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 until 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 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 more quickly because time is short, and we do not know what will happen to us tomorrow.

Gṛhīta iva keśeṣu mṛtyunā dharmamācaret (Hitopadesha 1.3), says an old Sanskrit adage. We must practise the path of righteousness, pursue the aim of our life, with such ardour, anxiety and intensity as would be necessitated if death were to come and catch our throat. If death comes and tells us that it is here, 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 will cry for salvation?

In some of our scriptures, other humorous examples are given. If our hair catches fire, we will run to dip it in water or find some other way to put it out. And with what force we will run, with what anxiety! We will not think anything else at that time—not of food, clothing, or anything else. Or, if 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 our aspiration, the intensity of our concentration, and the necessity we feel for the practice of yoga.

This is only an introduction to 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 no one 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 full-time seekers in an 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 have a cup of tea. That is not the thing to think in our mind, at least for a few minutes—let it be even for fifteen minutes. We should get up from the bed, and not come out of the room at once. We should 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, in falsehood, or in any kind of unwanted behaviour.

In the same way should the day also end. Before going to bed, we should allow at least thirty minutes to concentrate and meditate on these essentials of life. They are the essentials; the other things are only preparatory for these essentials to manifest and work themselves out in our life. A day should come when we will be able to give more and more time for these essentials by cutting unwanted work and non-essentials from our life so that, God willing, we shall be wholly dedicated to 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 have only absorbed everything into ourselves and become larger bodies, bigger persons, and more significant individuals now than we were earlier.