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Sadhana – The Spiritual Way
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 7: Dharma, Artha, Kama, Moksha – Brahmacharya, Garhasthya, Vanaprastha, Sanyasa

The attainment of spiritual perfection is like a gradual ascent in the form of a pyramid. It has a base and it rises gradually, step by step, until the apex at the top is reached. This pyramidical structure of human life is constituted of four aspects of life, the fourfold requirements for the very existence of a person.

The material needs of the body are a very important concern indeed. Whatever be your spiritual aspiration, you cannot ignore that you have a body. As long as you feel that you have a body and cannot ignore its presence or forget that it is there, then you cannot also forget its requirements. Everyone, even an advanced spiritual seeker, has certain needs concerning the physical body, like protection against heat and cold, hunger and thirst, sun and rain, etc. If you ignore these essentials, the body may perish, even though you may have an innocent spiritual aspiration. There is what is known as a total of material requirement, material need. Its importance is well known, and is known as artha, the material unavoidable.

Then, there is another thing: the aesthetic longings of the human personality. One cannot be happy merely by eating, drinking, putting on clothes, and having a house in which to stay. Even such a person will not be a complete person; there are other requirements which are of a vital nature – the desire-filled nature of the individual. A desire is not merely the desire for food and clothing, though it is primary in some way. There are other insistent desires called kama, or vital wishes to be fulfilled, which are other pressures exerted by the biological personality, which, too, cannot be ignored, as they are part of oneself. Those who have lived a totally isolated life, unconnected with human society for a long period, will know the working of this kind of feeling in oneself. A disturbance of an unknown kind will take place inside the mind of the person, causing agitation of heart. Due to that difficulty in controlling this reason behind the agitation of such emotional feelings, a yoga student also may be subject to intense anger, continuous irritation, intolerance of anything, and a bursting forth of one's own personality in an anguished manner. This is the negative aspect of the unfulfilled emotional desires. They cannot all be fulfilled, and they also cannot be totally ignored.

The nature of this kind of urge or impulse is something that cannot be imagined by an ordinary mind; just as one cannot know oneself fully, one cannot also know all the desires of one's own person. Here it is that you are in danger and you require the guidance of a master, a superior person. Whenever you are agitated, disturbed and cannot control yourself, almost feeling that you are going out of your track in your mental operations, at that time you have to approach a guide and place before that guide everything that you are passing through inwardly.

Then, together with all these, there is also the aspiration for moksha, attainment of God, which is a fulfilment, finally, of the whole complex of desires, physical as well as vital. That also is to be taken care of with great caution, as the one conditioning everything else. The method by which you can hook together these three types of impulse and the final aspiration harmoniously,that procedure of the cementing of all these sides of human nature is called dharma, or the law of harmonisation of the aspects of the whole of life, with all its relations in human society.

Dharma is sometimes translated as religion: Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and others. Dharma is not denominational religion, necessarily. It is rather a law operating in the universe, by which everything is kept in a state of cohesion so that there is no dismemberment of the life of anyone or anything. You could be thrown into shreds of mental individuality, as if the mind has been broken and cast into the winds in different directions, with a feeling that you have lost yourself entirely, if dharma does not operate in you. Please forget the old definition of dharma as some religion. It is not any kind of ism. It is an ultimate law that keeps the universe in balance, keeps the body, the mind, your reasoning, society and everything in a state of perfect integration so that you feel that you are existing as a total individual and do not feel that you are a mix-up of several parts heaped together in a confused manner.

This definition of dharma is hard for an ordinary person to comprehend because we are always, right from the beginning, initiated into a wrong notion of dharma as going to a temple, worshipping a god, following a faith. I follow Christian dharma, Hindu dharma, Muslim dharma, is a common saying. This is a poor definition of dharma, which is something more than what one can easily think. It is the law prevailing eternally in the universe everywhere, in every aspect of creation, in every degree of manifestation, including your own individual existence.

All these four facets of life have to be brought together into a focus of attention at the same time. These are known as the purusharthas, or aims of existence, the final objectives of life known popularly as dharma, artha, kama and moksha, i.e., moral value, economic value, vital value and eternal value. None of these aspects can be ignored in our life. Mostly people emphasise moksha and ignore the other things and fall sick, and even become mentally a little aberrant. And, in the same way, you can emphasise wrongly one thing and forget the three other aspects by which you may turn into a shred rather than a total individual. All this is the foundation that you have to lay for your aspiration towards spiritual perfection, so that right from the beginning it is a rise from a wholeness of approach through gradations of wholeness of perception, until you reach the ultimate wholeness which is the Infinite.

One of the questions raised, perhaps, is the nature of the Infinite. If the Infinite is based on the Infinite only, where is the question of karma? Karma has no connection with the Infinite. It has a connection with the finite only. That which is located only in one place is called the finite. That which is everywhere is called the Infinite. Inasmuch as the Infinite is everywhere, it cannot perform any kind of individualised action; so karma cannot be attributed to the Infinite. Karma is a result of the reaction produced by individualised actions. The Infinite has no karma; therefore, our aspiration for the Infinite frees us from the bondage of action, also.

Purnamadah purnamidam purnat purnamudachyate, purnasya purnamadaya purnameva avasishyate: There was the whole in the beginning. From the whole, the whole universe manifested itself. Therefore, this universe in which we are living is not a conglomeration of little pieces of material objects or individual existences. Even now, it is a whole. The world works in a systematised, complete manner. From the whole which is the Infinite, the whole universe has come out in a whole manner – as a child is born as a whole entity, from its source which is also a whole. A little pin-pointed drop, as it were, which is the origin of the child, is not one drop among many other drops; it is a whole by itself, containing the wholeness of the child, as the little seed contains the wholeness of a large tree.

Thus, everything is "whole." You are whole, and you are living a whole life, and you detest any kind of partition in your way of living. You like everything in a completed form. That is the internal meaning of this great Upanishadic mantra: That is full, and this universe also is full; from the whole, the whole comes as this creation. How can it be possible? There cannot be two wholes, or two hundred-percents. There can be only one hundred-percent, not two. So, how can a hundred-percent origin produce another hundred-percent of this universe? This is a mystery, which should suggest that no activity has taken place in the process of creation. It is not that one day the Infinite thought, "Let me become something else," though such is the story we often read in scriptural narrations.

It is something like your whole mind becoming manifest as a whole dream. The dream is a whole thing; your whole being is transformed into a world of dream experience, and this whole experience of the dream world has emanated from the whole which was your waking mind. Then, does it mean that the whole waking mind has transformed itself into a whole that is the dream experience? If a transformation has taken place, then the original would cease to be in the process of transformation, just as when the whole milk becomes whole curd, the whole milk ceases to exist any more. If such a thing has taken place in the process of creation – the whole Infinite Absolute has become the whole universe, like the modification taking place in milk when it becomes yoghurt or curd – then, inasmuch as the milk ceases to be, God also would cease to be after creation. There would be no Infinite for you to attain afterwards. There would be only this curd of the universe. But that is not true. You have not really become the world of dream because if you had really transformed yourself into it, you would not wake up into the original consciousness of the total waking mind.

This whole coming from the whole is a kind of appearance, like the whole face seen in a mirror as a whole reflection. You are a whole person, and you can see yourself in a mirror as a whole person. There are two whole persons – one that is there seeing the reflection in the mirror; another is the whole person reflected in the mirror. Are they, then, two whole persons? Can you say that one whole person has become another whole person here? For all perceptional practical purposes, the whole has become another whole through the mirror of reflection; but really, only the one existed. The purna (full) only is there when it has become another purna (full). Nothing has happened, really, in the same way as when you are reflected as a whole person in a mirror, nothing has happened to you in fact. You are the same person, always.

  Thus, having taken the whole from the whole, the whole remains. Nothing has taken place, which would mean that there is no such thing as creation as described in mythological fashions, in a dramatic way, as is presented before us by stories of creation in the cosmological narrations. Such being the case, our life also should be moulded according to this vision of wholeness. As wholeness has not ceased to be, we have never become individual beings at any time. We never got distracted into personalities that we are appearing to be here. We are the same wholes and, therefore, all fulfilment is here at the same time. It is not connected with a past, present, or future.

This is the vision that you have to develop before yourself, so that even when you take the first step in spiritual practice, you feel that you are a totally contented person, having achieved everything, right from the beginning itself, because a series of wholes or perfections rise from the lower to the higher degrees. In sadhana, the rise from the lower to the higher level is not a fraction developing itself into a whole. A fraction can never become a whole; the part always remains a part, and the whole always remains separate from the part. But here, a mini-whole manifests itself into a larger whole.

Your ascent in spiritual sadhana is your whole personality rising into gradual expanded forms of wholeness of your own personality, so that when you reach the ultimate pinnacle of this wholeness, you realise yourself as a world figure, like the Viratsvarupa Itself. What is Virat? It is you, yourself, expanded to the ultimate pinnacle of the absolute universal.

This is how you have to bring into a state of harmony all your requirements through the otherwise dissected forms of dharma, artha, kama, and the ideal of moksha. We generally think that moksha comes afterwards, and dharma, artha and kama are before that. That is to say, today is dharma, artha, kama; tomorrow is moksha. But moksha is not a tomorrow; it is just here, present immanently in dharma, artha and kama also. It is like the gradual regaining of health by degrees through the very same consciousness that is immanently present in your body. It is not that a part of your body is regaining health. A wholeness of health which was in a miniature form rises into a larger wholeness which is perfect health, perfect satisfaction.

This is how we have to consider the ways of bringing together the aspirations which are dharma, artha, kama and moksha in our practical life. Spiritual life is a wonderful, most satisfying, magnificent thing even to think of, so that wherever you are, in whatever condition, whatever you may be doing in your life, you feel that you are fearless, fulfilled always, and everything that you need is at your hand. Thus, these four aspects of your life should come together as a vital blending in the way of living.

In a way this is, to put it differently, the bringing together of the aspirations of a brahmacharin, grihastha, vanaprastha and sanyasin into a single fold. You will be wondering how all the four can be together. It is because these four stages of life are four kinds of preparation for a single attainment of totality of the person. The sanyasin is not isolated from the brahmacharin, grihastha, or the vanaprastha. The brahmacharin is the seed that develops into the practical experience of a grihastha in life, which again matures into the detached existence of a vanaprastha, which again matures into the total comprehension of the spirit in sanyasa.

So, dharma, artha, kama and moksha have some kind of connection with brahmacharin, grihastha, vanaprastha and sanyasin. Dharma, artha, kama and moksha are not like the four legs of a cow, unconnected; they are all one, like the four quarters of a coin, which cannot be separated because the coin contains all the quarters inside it. In a similar manner, all these four – dharma, artha, kama and moksha - are inside imperceptibly in the coin of your whole life. That also is the meaning of the apparently differentiated lives of the brahmacharin, grihastha, vanaprastha and sanyasin. They are also four aspects of the one coin of total development. Thus, always, you live a total life, whether you are living in one stage of life or another.

I have to repeat a few guidelines that I placed before you previously, which are of practical utility to you. You have to keep good company always. Even if you are a householder looking like a bound person, you can be a good person, an ideal individual, by living in the midst of a good community in a village, or even a little township of friends and cooperative individuals. Keep good company, as far as it is possible. If you can live socially, it is wonderful for you to choose your company, and be in the midst of those people only.

But, under circumstances which are beyond your control, if you are compelled to live in the midst of people who are not compatible with your personal aspirations, you have to do one of two things. Exert your power over the atmosphere of dissident individuals and bring a kind of transformation among them also and turn them round into a good way of living. If that is not possible, ignore their existence as if they do not exist at all, and you are concerned with them only as a practical means of doing day-to-day work in an office, etc. These are some of the ways of adjustment that you have to practise.

And, how you spend your whole day is also something very important. This is the very meaning of the spiritual diary inaugurated by Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj. What do you do actually, right from the morning until you go to bed in the evening? Make a detailed analytical study of everything that you do on any day. If you are working hard for some reason, find out for how many hours of the day you are working hard. Deduct this number of hours from the total number of hours in a day. How much time do you need for sleep and rest? How much time for bathing, recreation, and for breakfast, lunch and dinner? How much for any other necessities? The balance is the hours that are available to you to attempt living a total life, even in the midst of your activities.

You may say that there is no balance left – the whole thing is a distraction. It cannot be like that, because nobody works all the twenty-four hours of the day, and nobody sleeps also indefinitely. Carefully if you analyse your life, you will find that some little balance is left, even if it be only one hour. That one hour is yours. Consider all the other hours as not yours; they belong to somebody else. This one hour is sufficient for you.

Your longing for spiritual attainment is what is going to lead to success and not necessarily the number of hours available – though the number of hours also count when your concentration of mind is not sufficiently strong. If there is a burning aspiration, tivra-samvega, with ardour in the heart, then God knows your heart much better than anybody else. All your sufferings, all your difficulties, all your problems are known to the Mighty Being. "Trust in God and do the right." This is the old dictum before you: thus, lead your life.

Gradually, bear in mind that your householder-life is a preparation for a retirement from the occupations of a householder. It is not a retirement from work, necessarily. The occupation is inclusive of certain mental entanglements. A householder, actually, is not a person doing many things, but thinking in many ways. The entanglement is not necessarily physical, but mostly psychological. The psychological detachment should mature gradually in a family. You do your duty to take care of your family, but don't be attached to the family.

You may be wondering how it is possible to take care of the family with detachment. This is the difference between duty and work with desire. A duty is a necessity, an obligation, that arises from your very being in the circumstance of your life; it has to be done for the welfare of the whole circumstance of your life, including the society outside. Your obligation is not to be associated with a desireful action. Here it is that the Bhagavad Gita comes before you as a guideline. The gradual detachment, even in a householder, is a maturity of thought arising after the experience of the whole of life as an entangled individual in society. In the beginning it is all entanglement. Then, later on, it is only an apparent entanglement through social relations; mentally it is not so connected.

Slowly begin to feel that your mind is a little different from the body and social relations. Then afterwards you will find that you can live a life in the mind only, and let the social relations be anywhere. You are a mind, rather than a social unit. You are a mind thinking, rather than a physical individual associated with the mind. Thought is the human being, so let this thought be your final concern, and live in your ideas.

Ideas rule the world. Every action is preceded by a thought. The world is not governed by the actions of people, but by the thoughts of people, by the ideas of the leaders of mankind. The ideas manifest themselves as activities or performances. The idea is the ultimate reality; thought is the final principle in the cosmos. Thus, you live in your mind, in your idea of total comprehension and satisfaction. Then, gradually, you will find that you are capable of living independently without bodily associations. Such a life is called the vanaprastha stage, which does not mean running away from the family. It is a kind of family life only, without the agonies and the emotional pressures caused by relations with people.

Mostly, what people do is that they go away to some holy places for some time, though they have not left the family. For three months in a year, the family man goes out on a pilgrimage, lives in a holy place, and entrusts the enterprise of taking care of the family to his grown-up children. Whether you are a businessman, or whatever you are, this is the first step that you have to take to detach yourself. For three months you are not in the house. After that, you come back to the house and stay there for nine months, so that you may feel no uneasiness that you are without any contact with your family members. Gradually, if this process continues for some years, you will find that you are in a position to live unconnected with family life, because the members of the family are taken care of by the children, who are well placed. Then, you may increase your detached life into six months, nine months, then occasional visits to the family, only. Somewhere in a sacred place you live such a life; then your life and your idea that you have chosen takes possession of you completely. You become an ideal being, not a physical individual. Your meditation is thought thinking itself, as they say, idea operating on idea, the Cosmic Mind dancing in the centre of your own idea, whereby your idea becomes a focusing point of the Cosmic Mind, and you are a sanyasin at that time.

A sanyasin is not necessarily someone who has put on any particular cloth. The cloth is just an indication that he has achieved that state. It is a social insignia to distinguish the person from other people. The essential thing is what you think in your mind, so live in your mind only, afterwards. Your ideas are the seeds of the universal idea of God. A person who lives such a kind of life in his ideas only is a sanyasin. He has renounced truly.

What has he renounced? He has renounced the feeling that the world is anything but an idea finally, a mental operation, a cosmic dance of the Universal Spirit, in which condition, the question of attachment to anything does not arise at all. Hence the question of the so-called renunciation also does not arise. Automatically you are a healthy spiritual person, just as when you have become healthy, you have not renounced illness. Illness has not been thrown away. In a similar manner, you have not thrown away anything in your renunciation through sanyasa. You have attained a perfect, total, developed maturity of spiritual comprehension. That kind of living of an ideal existence, free in every sense of the term, happy always, happy with anything and everything – such a person is a sanyasin.

These are some of the traditional features of a spiritual life – the methods of the harmonising of the principles of dharma, artha, kama and moksha connected with the principles involved in the stages of the brahmacharin, grihastha, vanaprastha and sanyasin, all which commingle in a sea of comprehension which is the maintenance of God-consciousness. Such a person alone can be called a sanyasin.

These are, practically, all the things you need for understanding the nature of spiritual life. Right from the beginning till now, whatever you have heard in these sessions is a book of life for you. It is a gospel, a treasure house which you can keep with you as a godsend, which will save you in every way for ever and ever.