A man with eight PhDs – he was proud of his achievement – met a monk. The monk asked him, “Why have you been so foolish in life?” The man said: “But I have eight PhDs!”
“I have understood you; it is foolish to spend the best part of life reading instead of enjoying the birds, stars and the moon”, said the monk.
“You may have knowledge but not clarity; you may know a lot and yet understand nothing”.
What does one have to understand about life?
You have many centres: Intellectual centre, an emotional centre and a body centre. In each centre, there is a mechanical and magnetic part. The mechanical part acts like a machine while the magnetic part acts with ore awareness.
You have to transform yourself. Your mechanical movements and thinking have to change. Your mechanical emotions like jea- lousy and hatred have to be overcome. You can do this by bringing in more awareness.
Then a complete being will emerge. When you increase awareness, even poison can turn into medicine; and with no awareness, medicine can become poison.
Why are we so mechanical?
A king dreamt that he was a beggar. His guru, in his dreams, told him the truth that he was a king and not a beggar. Now was he to argue with his guru or just wake up?
The question of “why” cannot be answered. When did time begin? You cannot answer such a question. Which came first, egg or hen? There is a logical fallacy in the very question. Realise that we are mechanical. Bring in more awareness and see the life-transformation.
Even inert objects have life. Treat any object with loving awareness and it will guide you mysteriously. Your intuition and purity have to increase to receive this message. When you bathe, lovingly talk to water.
We may think that no one knows what we are thinking, but our thoughts produce vibrations that can be picked up by others at a subtle level. Once, one of Emperor Akbar’s ministers advised him to be careful about what he thought of others.
The minister said, “Thoughts are very potent. Let us try this experiment. See that man coming down the road? As he approaches, i want you to think angry thoughts about him and let us see what happens”. The emperor looked at the stranger and thought, “This stranger should be beaten up”. When the stranger drew near, Akbar asked him, “What did you think when you saw my face”. “Excuse me, emperor, but i wanted to beat you up and break your head”.
No words were spoken; no actions were done, but the angry thoughts of Akbar towards the man were picked up, and the stranger was tempted to react in a violent way. We may not say anything, but our anger may create a negative vibration all around through aggressive body language, facial gestures, and angry tone of voice. This not only affects the recipient of our anger, it also boomerangs on us, disturbing our peace of mind.
We can deal with anger in several ways. One way is to project the long-term consequences of our anger as a deterrent. Or set a goal and then realise the effect that anger may have in preventing us from attaining that goal. A third way is to use meditation to break the physiological response to anger.
Projecting the future consequences of anger can prevent us from acting with anger. Becoming conscious of this could help us respond nonviolently to situations, as did Gautama Buddha when someone abused him one day. Buddha listened patiently and since there was no reaction, the abuses stopped coming his way.
If we set a goal to meditate every day, then we can guard against intrusion on that time. Say to yourself: “If i allow this anger to take control, then it is going to cause me to waste sitting and thinking about how angry i am. How can i calmly meditate and focus on what i am seeing within?” To have fruitful meditation we need to overcome anger, but to overcome anger we need to meditate. It is not so much a catch-22 situation, however, as it is a cycle of success.
No matter what level of meditation we are at, the time we spend meditating can calm us down so that we do not respond to a situation of anger. Meditation provides us with a physiological response to control the anger. Our heartbeat slows during meditation, which has the corresponding effect of slowing down our brain waves. We enter a more relaxed state of body and mind. In such a state, anger has less chance to gain strength.
As we calm down and our anger subsides, we can increase our concentration in meditation. The more time we spend in meditation, the more practised we become in being calm and balanced.
I did a great deal of sadhana in cremation grounds. These are good for sadhana, for realisation. Whenever I saw all those dead bodies, I would tell myself that eventually, this was going to be my state.
There, gazing at the grounds, I would recollect Kabir’s verse: “What is so remarkable about his body?/ What is so remarkable about this mind?/ What is so remarkable about your wealth and everything else that you have?/ As you are watching these things, they fade into dust./ Look at your own life/ As you are watching it,/ it just withers away”.
We cling to wealth, we cling to the mind, but in the end, none of these matter; they leave us when we die.
We fear death for no good reason. We are going to die anyway, so why not accept it with courage? Very few are happy about dying. People know that they are going to die eventually but they never want to die right now, in this moment.
When a person is about to die, all his actions – good or bad, virtuous or sinful – appear as images before him. There are two paths after death. One filled with light and joy, and the other with darkness and fear. If you have been virtuous on earth, you will attain heaven. But just as the pleasures of this earth pass, so do the pleasures of heaven.
As long as one has a fund of merits one can enjoy these pleasures, but the moment one’s merits are spent one must leave heaven and be reborn. One who has committed many sins will suffer in hell. But once he has undergone the consequences of his bad actions, he is reborn.
When a person dies, he has to abide by the judgment of God. We reap the consequences of our actions that are governed by the law of karma. The ways of karma are unfathomable but the fruits always correspond to the actions.
When an individual dies, the soul leaves his body and adopts the next form according to his karma. In the case of great beings who have become one with the highest, the prana does not leave the body as it does with ordinary people.
The Upanishads say that during a saint’s final samadhi, the prana merges in the sahasrara and does not leave the body; for such a being the cycle of birth and death has come to an end.
One’s condition at the time of death is the result of one’s actions. Therefore, one must meditate. Bhartrihari said: ‘‘As long as the body is healthy,/ As long as old age is far away,/ As long as your senses are strong,/ You should remember the Lord’’. To wait until one is dying is like trying to dig a well when one’s house is on fire.
There are two things one must remember all the time; God and death. Whatever a person thinks of when he leaves his body, that alone he attains. Therefore, whatever is in one’s mind at the moment of death is significant.
Holy chants keep reverberating inside us. Those who remember God constantly in this way will attain the state of God at the time of death. They have no fear of death.
There are hundreds of popular institutions that teach us how to make our lives better. To make them more healthy, more organised, more productive, more stress-free and, hopefully, more happy. Interestingly, though death is such an important happening in our lives, we do not pay much attention to it and there is no institution that really teaches about death, what it means and how it affects us. There seems to be no takers for a course in the Art of Dying!
All of us fear death because death brings to an end our life on earth and also because we are apprehensive of what will happen to us after we die. To not get intimidated by fear of death we must know the art of dying.
What is death? Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita that He is death ( kala ) in the form of Time (also kala ). Time consumes everything, from the tiniest atom to all those mighty universes in the material world. The Vedic concept of death is that it is an integral part and a recurrent happening in the continuous life of every living entity on earth. Krishna tells Arjuna in chapter two that there is no death for the jiva or soul, “Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor these rulers of men. Nor shall all of us cease to be hereafter”. Death pertains only to the physical body and “… the soul merely changes bodies just as the body changes clothes”.
The Katha Upanishad explains the Vedic concept of death and Garuda Purana deals comprehensively with rituals pertaining to death, graphically describing the soul’s journey after death to its next birth.
Most believe death is the ultimate happening in one’s life. But there is more, depending on your karma. Each new birth affords us an opportunity to better our circumstances through performing good karma, which means following the injunctions laid down in the shastras . We, however, choose to fritter away our lives in mundane activities mainly to satisfy our sensual cravings.
Adi Shankaracharya says that one is very fortunate to have got human birth for it is the only vehicle by which one can attain the ultimate goal of life, moksha or liberation, and hence it must not be wasted in living a frivolous life. More fortunate is he who has a burning desire for liberation. And still more fortunate is the one to get a bona fide spiritual master to take him to this goal.
Krishna says: “Whatever object a person thinks of at the time of death, he attains to that object alone… Whoever thinks of only Me even at the time of death, attains to My state on abandoning his body. There is no doubt about this”. He once again reinforces: “He who, at the time of his death, engages himself in remembering the Supreme Lord with full devotion, will certainly attain to Him”. This is possible only if one has Him constantly in one’s thoughts for which one needs to do spiritual practice or sadhana .
Some even crave a painful death so that they are forced to cry out to God, thereby remembering Him during the last moments. However, if your desire to be with Him is consistent and strong, it will manifest at the final hour so that you are united with Him.
We spent a tension-filled week in the office recently with many of us awaiting news of promotions and increments. As rumours snowballed, hurried meetings took place in corridors.
Some people were ashen-faced, others were jumping with joy. Some criticised the ‘system’, others consulted experts. I decided to escape to Haridwar and experience a peaceful meditative week.
The ashram was serene and peaceful. All one could hear was the chirping of birds. In the afternoon, a smiling boy of 25 came to clean our room.
He said he could not come earlier as he had to clean 50 rooms all on his own. Seeing my shocked expression the boy grinned and assured me that it wasn’t that bad a situation.
He revealed that he had joined just three days ago as a sweeper-cleaner. A month back, he was working as a motor mechanic in a private company but got laid off with many others.
Wasn’t that terrible, I inquired gently. “No, Ma’m. It’s all destined. I am young and hard working and I will find a good job again, God willing. Why should I worry?”
But a loss of Rs 5,000 wasn’t small, I pursued. “Money comes and goes, like this Ma’m”, he said and snapped his fingers. What a brave boy, I thought.
And here was I who had ‘escaped’to the serenity of Haridwar. Despite a string of academic degrees, achievements and experience we still panic because we are afraid we would not move to the next grade.
Life is in itself a laboratory that helps us observe and learn if only we keep our eyes and ears open. No wonder, a ripe mind like Dattatreya’s could learn from nature and make not one or two but 24 gurus from his wanderings.
These were: earth, air, sky, water, fire, moon, sun, pigeon, python, ocean, archer, moth, snake, bee, spider, firefly, fish, deer, hawk, honey-gatherer, child, elephant, sparrow and a courtesan, Pingala.
To learn from life and one’s experiences one must be open, receptive and flexible. Learning is a state of consciousness that enables one to learn from all situations if only one retains the innocence of a child.
Even a humble servant can teach us qualities of generosity, forgiveness, unselfishness and the strength to bear burdens.
Swami Chinmayananda said that the road sign ‘U Turn’ could be taken as an indicator that we ought to turn the direction of our life towards spirituality instead of trying to change others.
Ordinarily when we listen to saints, read scriptures and attend satsangs we examine and dissect the speech and actions of the saint, even if he is one’s guru.
Thus we shift from guru to guru, looking through the prism of ego. We are unable to understand the essence of teachings because we fail to become a disciple. So, even when Krishna Himself asks us to accept success and failure with equanimity once our job is done, we still get extremely miserable at failures and are elated at success.
To understand wisdom one need not listen to moralistic lectures, or intellectual sermons. All one needs is a childlike mind, a mind free of concepts and rigid ideas.
With such a flexible mentality, wisdom flows from every side; from road signs, servants, spiders, snakes, courtesans, children etc. Then all of existence becomes one’s guru because one is a disciple.
One would be able to face all kinds of situations and there would be no reason to run to sages for practical advice on how to manage one’s daily life.