GET IN, TO GET OUT

Our usual tendency is to go out. With the explosion of information and entertainment these days, ways to go out have also multiplied. The internet is now available on our own mobile handset – the smart phone. The world of names and forms – nama-roopa – with its bewitching colours, sounds, forms and figures has apparently become all the more powerful. In the eternal tug of war between the sense objects and the senses, it looks like the chances of our (senses) winning are getting slimmer day by day. Is there hope?Our usual tendency is to go out. With the explosion of information and entertainment these days, ways to go out have also multiplied. The internet is now available on our own mobile handset – the smart phone. The world of names and forms – nama-roopa – with its bewitching colours, sounds, forms and figures has apparently become all the more powerful. In the eternal tug of war between the sense objects and the senses, it looks like the chances of our (senses) winning are getting slimmer day by day. Is there hope? Remain Optimistic The chinmudra (chit + mudra) is the hand gesture that the guru makes, to convey the spiritual practice that leads to emancipation. The index finger that represents the ego leaves the company of the set of three fingers – the middle, the ring and the small. These three represent the body, the mind and the intellect (BMI). When the sense of I in us is strongly attracted to objects, emotions and thoughts (OET), we are bound. After saying it is the mind alone which binds us or liberates us, the Amrita Bindu Upanishad declares1 that the mind attached to pleasures causes bondage. So it is no wonder that all of us experience varieties of conflicts in daily life, without realizing how much we contribute to every one of these. It is our attachments that are the basis of these conflicts. A gross mind thinks in opposites, “Oh I will give up my attachments from tomorrow; I am going to be detached.” Here one is conceiving detachment as the opposite of attachment. Actually the case is different. True detachment is absence of attachment. It is not jumping from one concept to another. It is not going from a painful dream to a pleasant dream. It is waking up.  The index finger (ego) is attached to the set of three fingers (BMI and OET). When this index finger withdraws and gets attached to the thumb (Supreme Self), there is freedom. “Detach and Attach,” said Swami Chinmayananda, summarizing the inner journey of transformation. The symbolic movement happens actually in the clarity of understanding. This understanding follows inquiry, who am I? We begin with substituting thoughts, vulgar ones with noble ones. This substitution gives temporary relief but hardly solves the problem. Gaining maturity, we watch and question thoughts. We gently observe the way our ego operates. We see that we need not react in mechanical ways. We realize the vast flexibility of responses that we possess. We notice that, in many situations, we can remain silent and that is bliss. All this personal discovery within us makes for the movement of the index finger towards the thumb. Get in, to Get out We are keen to get out from this prison of ego. We must get in through self-awareness. Shifting our attention from the myriad temptations of the world, we must watch our hurt with tremendous silence. We must examine our pride quietly. Without blaming anybody and without turning negative towards any community or organization, we must simply keep an eye on the self (the separate, little I, popularly known as the ego). The self arises in ignorance and is sustained also by ignorance. Ignorance is like darkness and wisdom is like light. The light of right understanding dispels the darkness of ignorance, and all its byproducts. Numerous extrovert tendencies, for example, are born of ignorance. Insecurity in its countless forms also is caused by (and in) ignorance. When we understand our position properly, we feel unconditionally secure. We then love, without a cause. Our work also becomes an expression of this inner security and the sense of love. The oft-quoted Kathopanishad mantra2 says, “We are created extrovert, so we look out always. One rare, brave soul, with his/her eyes turned inwards, seeks immortality and beholds the Pure Self.” The same sacred text has in it the glowing example of Nachiketa who spurns all the offers that Lord Yama makes to him, and seeks Self-Knowledge alone. “These pleasures are transient,” says3 the young boy, “and they moreover weaken the senses. Please keep all these dance and music to yourself, O Lord.” The ability to see clearly the sad limitations of pleasure, position and power is not commonly found in this world. A lot of people with so-called spiritual knowledge also long for recognition and seek even comforts. Their knowledge is obviously half-baked. “Having examined carefully (the limitations of) the results (brought about by action), a balanced, intelligent student would come upon nonattachment,” declares Mundakopanishad4. We must turn within. We must see the hollowness of this world. Adi Shankaracharya, commenting upon this mantra, elaborates passionately on the perishable nature of everything that we may possess as a result of our action (work). The outer world is devoid of substance like the interior of a plantain tree. We must stop looking out for gratification, for what is available outside is assailed with multifarious troubles in their hundreds and thousands. These pleasures that tempt us are illusory; they appear – like magic, water in a mirage, or a city in space. They are comparable to dream, water-bubbles, and foam, that get destroyed at every turn. We must turn our back to virtue and vice acquired through karma (action, work). Act, Do not just Talk Having come upon detachment – with regard to pleasures and possession – we must inquire if there is something not caused by karma. The Upanishad calls it akrita. Krita is a product of karma and is necessarily finite, however glorious it may appear at first. Akrita, which literally means ‘not produced,’ is the Truth, the Reality, the Self. We must seek5 this ‘eternal, immortal, fearless, unchanging, unmoving, absolute Entity’ and not its opposite. The sacred text advises us to approach a guru who is well versed in the scriptures and is himself established in the wisdom of the Supreme Truth6.  We must live differently, if we have really understood the message of the Vedanta. The understanding should show its effect in our choices. Would anyone continue to chase the mirage, even after knowing there is no water over there? Would we pursue the (sea-shell called the) mother-of-pearl even after we know it is not silver? Would we fear the snake even after we know it is only a rope appearing as snake? How can we continue to bother about power, position, pleasure and privileges when we have inquired and understood they do not bring peace to us? We seem to be terribly attached to the sphere of – “I do this, I get that”. Therefore we are endlessly running the rat race, to do yet another thing and to get yet another thing. Desire-ridden, fear-struck, anxious, hopeful and always insecure, we are not ready to quit the old habits. We study Vedanta and do only a lip service to the science of it. All the discourses we hear are like rains on solid rock, where nothing strikes root or no seed sprouts. At best, we learn how to talk, write or give great advice to others. It is called paropadesha-paanditya – scholarship meant for instructing people.  Why do we not change? Why do we, even after studying advanced texts like Upanishads or Ashtavakra Geeta, fail to follow in practice the simple guidance of elementary works like Bhaja Govindam? “Do not feel proud because of your wealth, popularity or youthfulness,” says the composition but we are all the time giving much importance to acquiring money, having more people listen to us and looking good in the eyes of others etc. We make some superficial changes in our way of living but cling to good old habits, which have been a part of our personality since childhood. This complexity of contradiction is not resolved by merely adopting a new set of do’s and don’ts. We have to step aside, take a little time off from routine activities and ways of thinking. We have to do ‘out of box’ thinking to crack this puzzle. Seeking the Uncaused We must seek the akrita, the uncaused, says the Upanishad. This uncaused is already with us but we do not see it. We are complete, as per the vision of the Vedanta, but we are convinced of our incompleteness as stated by ‘thought’. Thought, playing the devil advocate (and not just devil’s advocate), argues vehemently that nothing is all right. Being victims of a hundred conditionings, we are told by thought, “You are incomplete unless you get that car; you are not ok unless you write a few books and they are sold in large numbers; you are a loser if she or he does not love you (and it is of no value if you have love in your heart); you must compete with others (and don’t ask how long this struggle will be).” Thought is the hidden tyrant within us and all of us – the rich, the poor, the educated, the illiterate, the famous and the commoner – are simply hijacked by thought to an alien domain of unrest. We discover rest when thought shuts its mouth. The uncaused is not another thought. A divine thought or a good thought is not the home of the uncaused. It is rather the other way around. The uncaused could be the launch pad for noble thoughts. The truth of pure awareness – the uncaused – is primarily the home of the bliss of silence. “Out of purity and silence, come the words of power,” roared Swami Chinmayananda. When the (former) seeker abides by the Self – the uncaused – there emerge from her countless noble thoughts. What she speaks would then have power and grace. Her thoughts, words and deeds have the power to heal. Her ways have the grace to bring smile on people’s faces. Being and Becoming The field of the ‘caused’ is characterized by becoming. Whether you like it or not, you become many things – old, senior, famous, unpopular etc. The role of karma – anything you do – is to act as the cause of this becoming. Swami Chinamaynanda used to say, “What you are is the result of what you did in the past. What you do today will decide what you will become tomorrow.” He of course spoke of the combination of the past and the present when he said, “Your future is your past as modified by your present (action).” Swami Vivekananda often mentioned how the world is made of three factors – time, space and causation. The phenomenal world is in the tight clutches of causation, no doubt. The noumenon, the Reality, however is uncaused. It is not in marked by becoming; it is the ground of being. We are the changeless Existence-Awareness principle. Called sat-chit, this true nature of ours is not a matter of choice. We are that, whether we like it or not. In ignorance, we are taken on a roller coaster ride by thought. The field of becoming is marked by much hue and cry though there is laughter at intervals. When they asked Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, “What is the difference between your world and ours?” the enlightened master of Mumbai said, “A lot happens in your world. Nothing happens in mine.” That is the ground of being. “The true way to remember the Reality is just to stay firmly by It,” says8 Shri Ramana Maharshi. This is so because, if the Truth were different from us, we could remember it through thought. We are That, so let us just BE that. How do we stay as the Reality? What is meant by just BEING, and ‘not doing anything’? Our excessive attachment, despite all its pain, to ‘doing’ (karma) is behind our asking a hundred questions beginning with, “How do we..”. Krishnamurti often quipped, “That is a wrong question,” when people asked him how to be attentive or how to watch thought etc. He objected to their asking for a method to be alert and pointed out that method meant time, which meant the past and so on. Being alert implies we are in the present. To notice inattention is all that is possible and not a list of steps to stay attentive. All methods further strengthen the self, Krishnaji would remark. Getting Out is Easy In a witty remark, Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj said that we are caught in a net, no doubt, but it is easy to get out because, if we observe carefully, there are many holes in this net! When we are seized by desire, for example, it appears that maya (illusion) is holding us hostage. If we step back a little and watch, we notice that we really do not know what we want. Perhaps we do not want anything at all, really. No wonder people in this world, who fulfilled their desires at one time, are as miserable as ever before. The poor are uncomfortably unhappy, Chinmaya remarked, and the rich are comfortably unhappy. We are of course not talking about basic human needs here. The functional domain and the psychological domain are different from each other. They are like true and imagined needs. Most of human suffering is due to the latter category. (Add to the list the misery of some people who want to get liberated, struggling as they are with some concept of liberation.) We need to slow down, take a new look at the way we live. We need to give up our habitual tendencies of seeking pleasure in the field of the known. The known is mere memories. To get in really means this giving up of mechanical pursuit of memory. The memory of good coffee makes me desire coffee. I should ask myself, “Am I seeking coffee or am I running behind a piece of memory?” So is the case of our dislikes, hatred, enmity etc. Can we rise above memory, the dead past, and stay alert in the dynamic present? If we can, we get in. We then get out of samsara. End Notes: 1 bandhaya vishayasaktam – Amrita Bindu Upanishad, mantra 22 paraanchi khaani, Kathopanishad – 2.1.13 shvobhaavaah, ibid 1.1.264 pareekshya lokaan, Mundakopanishad 1.2.125 nitya, amrita, abhaya, kootastha, achala, dhruva – from Shankara’s commentary on Mundaka mantra 1.2.126 shrotriyam, brahma-nistham – Mu. 1.2.127 maa kuru dhana-jana-yauvana-garvam – Bhaja Govindam8 Saddarshanam – 1.