Purushartha -Self Effort
Swami Chidananda

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Blessed Divinities! Immortal Souls in the form of spiritual seekers, gathered together in the sacred spiritual presence of beloved and worshipful Holy Master! There is a word that is used in two senses in the context of Indian philosophy. In one sense it means certain values and goals to be striven for, that are to be kept before us as our aims to be achieved in life. In another sense it implies all the effort we put forth, all the endeavour that a person who wishes to achieve something, to attain some goal, engages in. It means, therefore, both the exertion, the dynamic effort and endeavour that enables one to achieve goals, as well as meaning the supreme values and worthwhile goals that are to be kept before our vision in order to attain them. That word is purushartha.

All of you know that Hindu philosophy speaks of the four purusharthas that every human individual strives to attain—purushartha chatushtaya. And all of you also know that they are summed up in the words dharma, artha, kama and moksha.

In whatever sense these words are used, there is one thing that it ultimately brings home, namely, ends are obtained by endeavour. Worthwhile attainments and goals are the fruit—note that I do not use the word “result”—they are the fruit of endeavour. They are the fruit of effort. Gurudev sang a song: “Do real sadhana, my dear children.” He said, “Do real sadhana.” Doing is there, it means effort. It means action, it means dynamism. It means well directed, intelligent, purposeful rajas, a rajas that does not direct you, but that is directed by you.

Go through all the eighteen Puranas. Recently you have completed the Durga Puja and during that period you covered the thirteen chapters of the Devi Mahatmya. The whole narrative is filled with action, action, action, effort, every type of effort, all types of effort, repeated effort, ultimately granting the desire, fruit, victory. All the eighteen Puranas contain sustained effort: if one type of effort fails, another type of effort; if that fails, another type of effort—whatever is necessary for successful effort: go and do penance, get this weapon, get that weapon, go and obtain a boon.

This seems to indicate without any shadow of a doubt that no matter how much knowledge you may have, how much knowledge you may get out of the scriptures, out of study, Sanskrit and grammar, Upanishad, Vedanta and philosophy, no matter how much you may accumulate in your mind, unless it is backed up by effort, it will only be a liability, not an asset. It will be a burden and perhaps make your problem more complex, rather than simplifying your problem and being a solution.

Not to know is not very good. To know is perhaps better. But to know is not at all sufficient unless it is applied and actively translated into dynamic living and actively translated into sustained, systematic effort. All scriptural knowledge is in order to know what type of effort to engage in, what is the action to be adopted in order to reach the great Goal. They chart out the way and tell you the mode of action to adopt. And when that mode of action is adopted according to the way charted out, then you arrive, the journey is completed, the destination is reached.

Significantly, we have a hint at this in a very important part of an Upanishad, in what is otherwise a very puzzling passage. Avidya means ignorance or wrong knowledge or absence of knowledge or the opposite of knowledge. Vidya means knowledge. And the Upanishad says that one who follows avidya goes into darkness and bondage. Then immediately it goes on to say that one who follows vidya goes into greater darkness and greater bondage. At first sight it seems to be very paradoxical, very confusing. Those who follow avidya go into darkness—one can understand this. Those who follow vidya go into greater darkness—that becomes difficult to understand.

Here, vidya means knowledge of the scriptures and all that is studied, learned and stored. If it is not followed by the requisite effort, it becomes only a burden, sterile; it becomes a liability. Perhaps it complicates the issue by making one more egoistical. It can enmesh you more than you were enmeshed before.

Many of the greatest illumined saints were unlettered. They did not have schooling, they did not have Sanskrit jnana, they did not have knowledge. There was an illiterate Bihari village boy who was working as a servant in a rich man’s house in Calcutta. That rich man had become very devoted to a saint and visited him frequently. And as you know very rich people do not move about unless they have some servant with them. And so this illiterate village boy used to accompany his master every time he went to this saint.

The proximity of the saint, the words of the saint and the bhajans he sang deeply impressed this young boy. He had no knowledge, he had no schooling, he was illiterate; but he was moved, these things went into his heart. Gradually these satsangs brought into him an eagerness to live like the saint. He kept it to himself; after all he was a poor servant.

Later on the saint fell seriously ill. The rich devotee used to send fruits and other gifts to the saint. He saw that the boy was eager to do any service connected with the saint. The master was not unsympathetic; he understood the boy’s heart. He encouraged him and if he wanted to send something to the saint he gave it to the boy. Ultimately he permitted the boy to stay with the saint and serve him.

Later on this unlettered, illiterate, uneducated village boy from Bihar became one of the great sadhaks and tapasvi disciples of that saint. His name was Latu and he became a great saint himself. It was such a wonder that such a person could become a mahapurusha that he was called Adbhutananda—the Astonishing One.

I am just citing one instance. Sabari had no schooling, and peculiarly enough the saint who I was referring to also had no schooling. The person who inspired the great mathematical genius and Vedantin Rama Tirtha was a humble old villager who was not educated. Kabir was not a university man. Janabai was a maid-servant. Angana was a Harijan servant of a Brahmin landlord. Kannappa was a tribal. Dhruva had no schooling. But all of them—whatever little glimpse they had, they put into action. They did great effort. More than knowledge, effort pleased Lord Rama in Hanuman. For all that he did, He embraced him and hugged him to His breast—for all that he did.

So, therefore, purushartha is the key to realisation. You may know only a little, but you put it into practise. Gurudev said Twenty Spiritual Instructions are enough to grant you Self-realisation, and when he said that he knew what he was saying. And he was saying the truth. Not that he discouraged studies, but he wanted to emphasise action, not dry studies.

If you want to become a professor, a lecturer, then studies are very necessary, absolutely indispensable, very important indeed. But if you want to become a dynamic Yogi, more important than tons of knowledge is practice, action, purushartha, sadhana, yoga abhyasa. Spiritual life means engaging in active spiritual endeavour, it means purushartha.

That is what all the Puranas, all the scriptures very vividly, unmistakably and unambiguously bring out before the discerning one. Being and doing have precedence over knowing. Thus all the great ones have said. Let us deeply ponder this truth and be engaged ever in right endeavour. God bless you all!

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