Companions Until Illumination

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Radiant Divinities! The way spiritual, which leads to true peace, everlasting joy, divine perfection, illumination and liberation, commences with sad-vichara—right enquiry into why we are here, what we are here for, what is this thing called life? Our presence, our being and doing upon this planet earth is characterised as life—what is this life? With what objective are we to live?

Kastvam koham kuta ayatah (Who are you? Who am I? Whence have I come?)—such enquiry is sad-vichara. Sad-vichara also leads to enquiry about the ultimate goal and meaning of our life. Is life meaningless or has it got some meaning? If life is but to lead to the grave or a handful of ashes, then what is its meaning? Has man come here only to die?

I had occasion to quote from a poem recently: “Dust thou art, to dust returnest was not spoken of the soul.” There is something within you which is timeless, beginningless and endless, immortal and imperishable, deathless and indestructible, na hanyate hanyamane sarire (is not killed when the body is killed). Enquiry leads to that inner depth of your being. And that gives a significance and a deeper meaning to your life: “There must be some meaning, it is not meaningless, it does not end in death, there is a hereafter.”

It is that which gives a higher purpose for human existence, and it is about this hereafter that young Nachiketas questioned Lord Yama: “Some say ‘everything is finished when the person here experiences death, nothing exists afterwards.’ Others say ‘no, there is something within that exists afterwards.’ Who is right? What is the truth? What happens when a person dies? What exactly is death? Please, I want to know. Is there something that survives physical death?”

Yama was astounded that a young boy should ask such a question. He had promised to grant him three boons, and so this was not a mere question. Lord Yama was both puzzled and perturbed. He had given His word, yet here was this young boy wanting to know something which even the gods do not know, something which is known only after life-long sadhana, penance, prayer, reflection, deep meditation, yogabhyasa (practice of Yoga). How can one just give this as an answer to a query? So he tried to divert the attention of the boy: “Ask something else, anything else. I will give you things much more relevant to your present life, seemingly much more desirable, attractive, pleasant.” But He failed to change the mind of Nachiketas—“No, I want only this knowledge.” That is a most fascinating and deeply interesting part of the Kathopanishad. Nachiketas sought to know something about that which gives meaning to life, which gives a greater significance to our existence here.

There is something that is not affected by birth or death. There is something that continues to be even after the body perishes, and that is the real “you.” Sad-vichara brings out all these things and launches the jivatma upon a quest, upon a pursuit, upon a determined seeking. Sad-vichara is the entry point.

But, if you are not able to control the urge of the outgoing senses towards enjoyment of sense-objects, you will persist in pursuit of pleasure and temporary things, and the sad-vichara will come and go away; it will come to nothing. It will only be a theoretical, philosophical, academic speculation, giving a little bit of manoranjana (mental entertainment) and a little occupation for the mind and intellect. But it will not be effective or launch you into the quest.

Therefore, you must be able to turn away from the glittering attraction of outer sense-objects. You have to have samyam or dama (restraint or control of the senses). And it is only a person of some inner strength that can resolutely turn away from the glitter and attraction of sense-objects that keep on dragging the mind out, attracting the senses. So, viveka (discrimination) is required: “No, this is not good, it is only an outer attraction, it is not going to bring me to anything higher. I will only be a slave to my senses. My precious gift of human birth, my precious time, life, energy will blow away, become frittered away by these silly pursuits.” Having known this, one must resolve: “I shall not be deluded or fooled. I shall go the right way even though it does not look attractive. I must resolutely turn away from these outer attractions.” Thus you must discriminate between the merely pleasant and attractive, and the really good and sublime (preya and sreya). So the steps are right enquiry, restraint, discrimination and right resolution.

Thus one launches upon a course of good conduct, not allowing oneself to be enslaved by desire, deluded by sense-objects and their outer attraction. Rather one is led by reason, samyak-drshti (right vision) and viveka and therefore one becomes a sadachari (person of good conduct). One’s conduct and character become correct, in the right direction: as they ought to be, not as they ought not to be.

And it is not only the commencement of the spiritual life that rests on right thinking, right reflecting, right resolution, and the right directing of our entire human potential towards the attainment of the Goal that has been revealed to us by this process, but the edifice upon which our entire spiritual life rests, is based upon these steps. They are our companions at the commencement, and their presence with us is required until we attain illumination.

Even at the moment when He was upon the threshold of illumination, Buddha had to exercise great reflection, discrimination and resolution. He has to use tremendous will power. He had to exercise deep reflection and enquiry: “What is attracting me now, assailing me now, trying to overwhelm me now? Is this of any worth? Should I pay attention to this? Am I to succumb to this?” So, He had to do a great deal of vichara, viveka and once again arouse tremendous vairagya (dispassion)—not at the beginning of His spiritual life, not at the commencement of His quest, but upon the threshold of illumination. Ponder this point in Buddha’s life again and again. Never forget this. Remember this again, and again, and yet again.

A tremendous crisis overtook Jesus—one entire night in the Garden of Gethsemane just before He was about to consummate His life in the great sacrifice of the crucifixion—a tremendous struggle. The Bible says that He struggled so much against the desire to give up and to take the easier way, that out of the pores of His skin came drops of blood instead of perspiration. He was in a state of agony as He struggled between two pulls. And this was after years and years of sadhana and then three years as a Guru, teacher, preacher, calling people to the Kingdom of Heaven, awakening the world. Yet this was His condition: when it came to the point of a crucial test, He had to undergo a tremendous crisis.

Therefore, the need of enquiry, restraint, discrimination and resolution does not drop away the moment you become a Swami, or a sadhak, or an inmate of an Ashram, or you have entered the spiritual life. Do not delude yourself into thinking that the need for these important ingredients of the spiritual life is only at the commencement and then you can afford to become something else. They have to be with you until you attain illumination. Until you attain samadhi, you cannot afford to give them up.

This has been the teaching of one and all—all the great saints, all the great sages—based upon what they have had to undergo until the very threshold of illumination. What about you and me? There may be rare exceptions—one in a million. One does find exceptions. But it is not very wise to start by thinking, “I am the exception,” to count yourself as the exception. That is not very wise. God knows who the exception is; you should not think, “I am the exception.”

Thus, earnest, continuous right enquiry, right thinking, right reflection, right resolution, right directing of all your faculties towards the great end, as well as restraint and good conduct are to be your constant companions until you attain liberation. If you reflect over the matter, you will be greatly benefited; your spiritual life will be of a high quality, high calibre. If you forget this, God help you, God help you. We are very prone to easily forget the basic truths of spiritual life and then suffer.

There is a significant saying: “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” This does not merely mean after having attained liberty, if you want to keep that liberty, you will have to be eternally vigilant to safeguard it. It also means that if you wish to attain liberty, that throughout your quest for that liberty you must be eternally vigilant that you are not diverted away, pulled in the wrong direction, or allow yourself to slip and fall.

All sincere sadhaks must, therefore, be vicharsila, vivekvan, samyami, sadachari (engaged in enquiry, discrimination, be self-controlled, with right conduct). These are to be constant companions. They are the ingredients. You cannot afford to enter the battle with all your weapons and armour and then in the middle of the battle give them up. They are more necessary then than they were at the beginning. Until the battle is over, you cannot afford to give up your weapons.

Reflect deeply and be benefited. Then your spiritual life will proceed unhampered day by day. You will move steadily towards the goal of liberation and divine perfection. There is no doubt if you fulfil the conditions. Therefore think deeply, be wise, and attain perfection and liberation. Then rejoice!

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