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The canvas of life is larger than the self
Non - possessiveness - a universal framework.
The values of sacrifice, renunciation and sādhanā which are dependent on external factors
have to be redirected towards the innerself . When external sight transforms into an internal
insight, the path of liberation will be lit up for the soul to move on.

Many of us enjoy attending religious discourses. But more often than not, we only hear what is being said. We do not listen and imbibe the wisdom of the words. Therefore, although some of us are motivated after listening to discourses, when it comes to real life situations, our decisions are far removed from the lessons.

We often hear that this life is a golden opportunity to be utilized well. If not utilized, there is much to regret later. He who has lost this life has lost much. An Ācārya once said:
Any destruction in this life is massive destruction. If you stumble here, you will stumble everywhere. And if in this life you find the road to joy and peace, then rest assured, your difficulties will have found their shore for ever. If the locusts of desire are not steered away from the garden of the mind, the plant of joy will not grow. As long as there is life, there are bound to be temptations and therefore an everfl owing sea of desire. The question is - which of these desires are worthy of attention and which are the ones to be ignored?

At the outset, one has to reflect upon the issue of desires. What are the desires that are essential for a balanced life? And which are those desires that cause turmoil and burden in one’s life? For the fulfilment of those desires, which are essential, one has to make the right effort to clean out the grime and burden of unnecessary desires. Everyday, innumerable desires are born in the mind, and innumerable desires are thwarted. The mind is like a field, where along with essential grains, many wild weeds also sprout up. When the farmer sows the seeds, his only aim is to grow his crops. But along with grains, many kinds of grass find root, which are not just unnecessary, but harmful as well. If they are not weeded out well, they will grow like a wild forest in that field. As a result, the seeds which have been sown will not receive adequate nourishment. Any crop that grows well is meant for the betterment of the farmer as well as the nation at large. Man’s mind is also like the field where seeds of resolve are sown. If we are careless, the weeds of negative thoughts infringe our minds. As a result, the more pristine desires which may have been spiritual, familial, or patriotic will not get adequately nurtured.
The mind will be tempted to nurture the unhealthy desires. Therefore, it is essential that an intelligent person must create an inner strength to discriminate between his needs and desires. Herein lies the importance of introspection.

There are two types of reactions to this phenomenon called desire. Some people nurture their desires, and feel successful with the fulfilment of each desire. But there are some who aspire to vanquish desires even before they surface. They believe in relinquishing material possessions and try to conquer the desires that take birth in their minds. They do not gloat with pride when their desires are fulfilled, nor do they suffer in deprivation. The first category of people enjoy worldly success in the fulfi lment of desires whereas the second category of people experience spiritual ecstasy on conquering their desires.

A mind that is free of desires is calm and serene but a mind that is disturbed by desires is insatiable. The more you try to satisfy it, the more you get ensnared in its web. If life was like a smooth highway, one could speed through it without any stops or pitfalls. But, alas! Such is not the case. Life is full of difficulties and obstacles. And how do we face these obstacles? By always being hurt by them, and allowing the thorns of unrest, hatred and jealousy to pierce our very flesh! There is calmness and serenity before desires are born, but when obstacles arise in the path of desires, then the mind gets agitated, and as a result, negative emotions like anger and pride arise.

All of man’s desires can never be fulfilled; this is a universal law. In life, unfulfilled desires are always greater in number. On one hand, man’s heart and mind are constantly troubled because these desires are not fulfilled, and on the other hand, his mind burns with frustration against those circumstances and powers that create obstacles in the
fulfilment of desires. Often, a person begins to hate himself to the extent of committing suicide. There is not a single person whose every desire has been fulfilled, nor is it likely to ever happen. One who makes such a tall claim is obviously suffering from delusion or self-deception.

This is similar to the case of a man who first inflicts a wound upon himself with a knife and then bandaging himself, feels happy when the wound has healed. This is only an indication of his foolishness. After all, joy can exist only in the state prior to the wound, then why inflict the wound at all? So also the state prior to the arising of desire is the state of peace, contentment and joy. Infact, any experience of contentment stems from an absence of desire. To create desires is to inflict a wound upon oneself with a knife. The wound on the body may heal in time, but the wound inflicted by the knife of desire does not ever heal. And a wounded mind has no space to rest. It is always restless, always searching. Day and night the mind is troubled by worries and burdened by obstacles. And at the end of the day, even if the wound starts healing, of what use is it? The peace that existed before the emerging of desires is anyway lost forever. In its place lies the conflict arising from desire, which is akin to the self-inflicted wound. This is just like prāṇāyāma done in reverse. In fact, the entire analysis can be simply summed up by the argument that if there is joy in the absence of desire, then why entertain desire at all?

Religious scholars have said that an in-depth analysis of our emotions and desires will reveal that meaningless and petty emotions trouble the mind all the time. Even if we wish to fulfill desires so that there may be peace, only a few can be fulfilled; most desires can never be fulfilled. It is often the case that in the fulfilment of one desire, many new ones emerge. This life is like a palace that has a thousand doors, all of them locked. If a person tries to open the fi rst door, he will find the second one locked. After a lot of effort, he will open the second just to fi nd the third one locked. In this manner, his entire life is spent on opening one door after another. Until finally, in the maze of unlocked doors, the door of death opens before him and he has no choice but to enter it leaving all unopened doors behind.

When Rāvana was lying on his death-bed in preparation for the final departure, he was asked if he had a final wish. He said sadly, “Some desires, some wishes of my life remain unfulfilled, unable to fly, like a broken-winged bird. Now they have to remain within me, tortured. They cannot be fulfilled.”

When he was asked what these wishes were, he said:

“It was my desire that fire should burn, but not emit smoke and blackness. It should emit only brightness and light. That gold, which is so beautiful to the sight, should have a lovely fragrance as well. That the salty seas on all the shores of Lanka should have sweet water, so that it can be useful to all.

“There are many more desires, but these three desires are my most cherished ones. I have established my sovereignty from one end of the world to the other. I have created the Lanka of gold and acquired magical powers. And yet, here I lie, waiting for death to free me of the pain caused by my most cherished, unfulfilled desires.”

When one as mighty and powerful as Rāvaṇa accepts defeat at the hands of unfulfilled desires, then what can be said of ordinary mortals? From time immemorial, desires have emerged, have been extinguished and have re-emerged with greater passion. Even on becoming king of the heavens, Indra’s
desires have not been satiated. Such is the appetite of desires.

A wealthy man once said, “I aspire to spend time in religious activities. I yearn to attend discourses, but I have to work so hard to manage my basic necessities that I find no time.” It is this appetite of the mind which cannot be satisfied even with the wealth of a thousand emperors and that of Lord Indra combined. A handful of grain is all our stomach needs, but the appetite of the mind is so large that you can go on fi lling it, yet it remains unfulfilled. If fat is poured on blazing flames, will they ever subside? On the contrary, they will be further kindled. The same is the case of pacifying desires by trying to fulfil them. It is said in the Manusmṛti that trying to fulfil desires is like adding fat to fire.

Where is joy? Sometimes I wonder, after all where does it reside? As long as desires exist, whether you fulfil them or whether you allow them to remain in your mind, they will only frustrate you. As long as you try to satiate desires, the moment of total fulfi lment cannot arrive, and without that, how can everlasting joy be found?

A monarch who rules over six regions still thirsts for a seventh one! Just think - if the opulence of six regions cannot give contentment, then what is there in the seventh one which would satisfy him? Lord Mahāvīra has said:

For avarice is boundless like the sky.

The scriptures say that the hope to be able to fulfil all desires is like the woman whose countless children have lived and died, but her life has not reached its end. That moment when you will reach the end of your hopes and desires will be the moment when you will discover the spring of joy and peace in your soul. Material satisfaction is transient, the joy of the soul is eternal.

This is the crucial issue regarding sādhanā - how is one to stop this flow of impulses? As we reflect on sādhanā, a question looms before us - an old and deep question. As we dwell deeper into fi nding an answer, the question becomes more profound.

A person floating on the surface of water has no idea about its depth. So also, when we ponder over a problem, we may be just skimming at the superficial level. By believing that we are thinking deeply about the problem, we may be deluding ourselves. Constant and patient refl ection is an art to be learnt.

We are concerned now with the mind of the seeker. All actions, whether mental, physical or verbal, create subtle impressions in the mind. Thus the mind has impulses and values, some of which have been companions of the soul for many lives. The soul also gathers fresh impressions all the time. However, let me explain to you that impulses are not eternal. It is their impressions in the mind which have an endless flow. For example, anger is an impulse which has a beginning; so also greed and pride. But the stream from where they all emerge is eternal. To explain this simply, the stream of impulses has no beginning, no end. It flows eternally. It has been and will always be. From this stream, impulses like anger and jealousy surface in the mind at different times and in different forms.

As a seeker progresses on the path of sādhanā, he reaches a state of conflict within himself, a crossroad where he has to make a choice. It is here that the two roads of sādhanā are born. Some choose the path of suppressing impulses, known as upaśama, while others choose the path of slow lulling of impulses, known as kṣaya.

Let us now think. What happens when we get angry? When we are criticized, we feel wronged and angry. As anger increases, memory begins to deteriorate and our body becomes weaker. Do you understand that this feeling of anger is not born from an inner discrimination? Rather, it is born out of external pressure, influence and attachment. We wish to suppress our anger, to hide it so that others do not think of us as short-tempered; also because we do not want its negative consequences to affect our body. But just like fire is concealed in ashes, the heat of anger remains within us, masked in the veil of diplomacy.

You may recall – I recently stated in a discourse that if you want to see a person’s true colour, see him in his home. Outside, a person wears many masks, he responds to social and societal pressures, he fears for his reputation. Therefore, a person’s true colours are revealed only in the privacy of his home and not outside. At home, he is free of societal pressure and so is able to express himself freely. In man’s life, there is a constant play of diplomacy. He presents different facets of himself at different times depending on what is required of him, thus rarely revealing his true self. In today’s world, political diplomacy has invaded simple, mundane lives as well.

In the Mahābhārata, Vyāsa has stated the qualities of a king A king’s words are soft like butter, but his heart is like a sharp-edged knife.

That is, keeping his innermost thoughts hidden, maintaining an external calm, speaking sweet words of diplomacy, and weaving deadly plots to weaken an enemy’s barriers – these are the distinguishing features of a king.

Thousands of years later, this political ethos continues. I agree that in the past, such tactics were part of political policies, but today they have become an integral part of even our family and personal life. What was earlier considered as a necessary evil to combat enemies has now been adopted and justified as a way of life. A Sanskrit verse says:

Three indicators of a wicked person are: Face radiant like lotus, speech soothing like sandal paste and heart sharp like scissors.

In the past, these complex facades of the body, mind and speech were characteristics of a cunning mind. So the verse says that if you look at the face of a cunning man; it looks like a blooming lotus. A radiant expression, a welcoming smile and a soothing voice. But look into his heart and what you will fi nd is cunningness of such a high order that it spares no one, not even his best of friends. But in the present world, these have been mastered even by those who are known to be simple and sagacious.

Earlier, I spoke about those who mask their true selves in the presence of others. Such a suppression to create a façade before people is the cause of ultimate downfall. The upaśama of sādhanā is of a different nature altogether. By this, a seeker does not indulge in treachery, deceit or pretense any more, but his inner resolve is not yet strong enough to destroy the impulses. The fire of attachment and aversion that is within cannot be destroyed easily; it remains suppressed. But by the power of sādhanā, a momentary state of calmness or detachment is achieved – this is the upaśama of sādhanā. Therefore, at this stage impulses are merely suppressed. And at the first opportunity, these suppressed impulses rise to the surface.

In this regard, let me give you an example. Imagine your house is messy and has not been swept for many days. All of a sudden, you have visitors. So what do you do? In a hurry, you throw a beautiful rug over the mess so that your guests do not think that you have a dirty house. Thus the mess has not been thrown out but merely hidden. This explanation can be broadly used to understand the upaśama of impulses.

Look at this second example. Imagine you have filled muddy water in a glass jar and set it aside for a while, without disturbing it. Shortly, the mud will settle at the bottom, the clear water at the top. But what kind of clarity is this? If the jar is shaken a little, the mud will again mix into the water and make it murky once more. When mud settles at the bottom, it is upaśama, but when it rises to the surface again, it is in the audayika6 state.

Thus, supression of impulses leads to the state of upaśama, while their manifestation leads to the audayika state.

In the state of upaśama, the impulses of anger, pride and greed seem to be dormant and calm on the surface. But suppressed impulses cannot stay dormant for very long. The time-span of upaśama is said to be no more than antarmuhūrtta7. In every moment of our lives we experience the faltering of the mind. How unstable and fi ckle the mind is with its rise and ebb of emotions and thoughts! Don’t all of us experience this every moment of our lives? Thus, we see that suppressed impulses are easy targets of temptation. At the fi rst prospect, they rise to the surface again, and return to their audayika state.

In psychological terms, in the state of upaśama, the impulses that arise in the conscious mind retreat to the sub-conscious. There they remain hidden as sanskāras. In moments of confusion, they re-surface to the conscious level once again.

Just imagine – a thief breaks into your house, hides quietly in a corner and you are oblivious of him. How can your wealth remain safe? A moment of carelessness on your part and he vanishes with your valuables. How can we be safe from a thief who is within our home? In upaśama, the impulses stay hidden quietly like the thief, but for how long? After the antarmuhūrtta of forty-eight minutes, they become active once again.

Once a young lad was wandering on a cold, hilly terrain. At night, he came across a snake which lay unconscious in the cold. Assuming it to be dead, he picked it up fearlessly and put it in his pocket. He wanted to take it home to frighten his siblings. With this playful thought in his mind, he reached home, hands and feet frozen from the cold. He sat by the hearth to enjoy the warmth of the fi re. As the warmth reached into his pocket, the snake slowly gained consciousness. Before he knew it, the boy was dead from the deadly bite of the snake.

The snake frozen from the cold outside gained consciousness appears in water in which dirt has been mixed. from the heat. The invigilant boy who wanted to make fun of others, met his death.

Impulses like anger, pride, delusion and greed are like the snake which sometimes lies dormant due to the cooling and serene effect of sādhanā. But by believing that our impulses have been completely vanquished, or that anger and greed have been dissipated, we tend to become careless and invigilant. Because, in reality, these impulses have only been temporarily rendered inactive or unconscious, they have not lessened but have been suppressed. They can easily be activated with the slightest provocation. Once they awaken, the aspirant-like-existence comes to an end.

The lad had made an error in calculation by assuming that the snake was dead, a mistake that cost him his life. Often, such errors are made by our aspirants in the sphere of sādhanā. As a consequence, people often judge them as proud and haughty, and shirk them away as fraudulant mendicants.

Recently, newspapers carried shocking reports on the gross negligence of renowned hospitals where doctors without careful examination, declared unconscious patients dead. Due to this callous error, those unfortunate people were made to lie along with dead bodies in the mortuary. When some of them regained consciousness, there was obviously an uproar against the negligence and insensitivity on the part of the doctors.

A similar kind of invigilance often derails the life of the negligent, unsuspecting aspirant. He commits a grave error by taking for granted, even for a moment, that all his negative or physical impulses are dead. Therefore, when these impulses surface unexpectedly, his actions cause distress to those around him. The person is also shocked at his own negative impulses. Constant introspection of the self is of extreme importance in order to keep our impulses in check.

Calmness in the face of fear is the sign of true renunciation. Succumbing to objects of fear is not true renunciation. Fear can direct even an animal to tread warily. Take the example of an animal that is led to graze by its master in the field. However tempted the animal may feel to stop and chew the luscious grass, it moves straight on without daring to succumb. Why? Is this restraint? Has he become a yogī? No, this is not restraint, it is fear. The fear of the cowherd’s cane keeps him steadfast on his path. An Ācārya has stated in Sanskrit:

He who has overcome his impulses is one, who in the face of rampant corruption, immense material and sensual temptation remains calm and unaffected.

Even in an untoward situation, his worldly impulses remain dormant. Such detachment is possible only when one has earnestly and absolutely renounced from within. Such a renunciation is not an external garb. It is born not out of anger, greed or bitterness towards life, but from discrimination and vigilance. It is a true awakening of the soul.

How can we initiate a spiritual revolution in today’s world? Are changes in impulses and values necessary? Yes, they are. The thought process and vision prevalent in the present day sādhanā is not a healthy one, for it is directed by cowardice; it is false renunciation caught in the clutches of fear and shame. There is a need for change and revolution. A change in vision can change the universe.

Imagine you find your child indulging in an unhealthy habit like smoking. What would your first impulse or reaction be? Either you will resort to anger or you will say, “What are you doing? What will people say?”

The very statement – “what will people say” - stems from fear of others rather than concern for a loved one. Such logic cannot change nor squash his negative impulse. It can only suppress it and create the impulse of fear in him. By creating the fear of social disapproval in his mind you have encouraged him to follow his impulse, in this case to smoke, in hiding. Your intention may be to inspire him to think ethically, but your reason and logic fail to prepare an ethical grounding for him. In the same manner, there are so many customs and traditions in social life which you do not believe in, which you keep condemning, but continue to live up to. Only for the same reason – what will people say?

You want to protect a child by instilling societal fear in him because you yourself pander to societal pressures. Thus, you are caught between two worlds. But I say - a change in thinking and reasoning is the need of the hour. Old values of societal fear must be replaced by new values of self realization. Our vision needs rectification.

I once chanced upon a monk who was admonishing his disciple by saying, “Brother! What are you doing? What will theśrāvakas say?” I spoke to him saying, “Oh monk! I am happy that you stopped your disciple from wrong-doing, but your method was not right. This is not the way to impart wisdom to one’s disciple.“What will the śrāvakas say?” – by this statement, you have created within him the need to hide his impulses. You should have said, “How will your soul feel?” If you have restrained someone by external pressure, it means that there has not been an awakening, nor has a path towards self-reflection been etched out.” Until self-reflection is awakened, no man or woman will make an honest attempt to uproot negative impulses.

I often think about this and have stated on more occasions than one, that externally forced renunciation does not work. We speak of prohibition of smoking and consumption of alcohol. The ethos of this prohibition is correct, but it stems from a materialistic justification. Reasons such as bodily harm and wastage of money are worldly reasons and justifications for forced prohibitions. The strong pillars of renunciation cannot rest on such feeble foundations. We must learn to assess our lives based on what is good for the soul. Our inner vision has to awaken.

Is our renunciation true or is it a facade? The portrayal of religious conduct with regard to renunciation can often become melodramatic and therefore absurd. This is most often due to a need to make an impression in one’s society or community.

Once, on our return from Palanpur, many of us arrived at Sachore town in Rajasthan. It was an ancient region, and deeply influenced by another following. While one of our younger monks set out to receive alms for our meal, an elderly monk from our group advised him, “Today while receiving gocharī, you must make an impression. Let the people of this town always remember us as highly evolved and self-realized monks.”

In obedience, the younger monk went about receiving the gocharī with high-handedness. “Oh, this food is asūjhatā.10 It does not look like it was prepared with vigilance”, he fussed. People were astounded and exclaimed, “Oh monk! We have never seen such evolved saints earlier! Such an uncompromising attitude refl ects your austerity and inner will.”

Later the monk reported to the elder one saying, “Master, we have created such an impression that people have forgotten the previous saints.”

I was surprised as well as amused and observed, “What is all this? Why did you not do the same today that you do everyday? Or why don’t you do everyday what you did today? Why these double standards in behaviour?”

To this, they retorted, “After all, we don’t have to live here everyday. We have come for a day and we will go away soon enough. At least, the people here will remember that some great saints who were perfectionists had visited here once.” The point that I am making here is that the need to impress is not just a disease of the common man. It has corrupted even the so-called enlightened ones. When can one achieve a wholesome state? Even in the time of Lord Mahāvīra, this confl ict, this duality was prevalent. It was to end this conflict that he preached earnestly:

Whenever an aspirant observes any vow, performs any penance or act of sādhanā for his soul, he will be blessed with an inner vision and will therefore never be involved in deceit. For one who can see clearly within himself, there will remain no duality - asleep or awake, in solitude or in a crowd, he will only be his true, singular self.

Because, whatever he does, he does for his soul, rather than to create an impact on others. His actions and his speech are pure and devoid of dualities and discrepancies. Such is his ultimate ideal. As he says, thus he acts. As he is within, so he appears outside. As he appears outside, so he is within.

I believe that this is the purest picture of an aspirant’s life, a true reflection. And such a condition can exist only when an aspirant’s renunciation is illuminated with the light of his inner self - that light which will emanate from his depths and illumine his entire life. You may ask now, “When will this light within be lit, and how can this true form of renunciation be achieved?” My answer to you is this: Your inner light will dawn from the moment when you see the difference between uprooting your negative impulses and simply suppressing them. When this discrimination illuminates your inner gaze, it will inspire you towards true renunciation rather than renunciation by external forces. When impulses are uprooted, liberation will naturally follow.

We use the word ‘nirvāna’ to mean liberation. The actual meaning of nirvāna is ‘to be extinguished‘ – a burning lamp to be snuffed out. As an ācārya has stated in Sanskrit literature: What is the use of pouring oil in a lamp which is at the point of extinction ?

The renowned Buddhist scholar Ācārya Aśvaghoṣa has also used the word nirvāṇa in the same context.

A burning lamp is extinguished, its fl ame flickers away– can you tell me where that flame goes? Does it go down, or does it vanish into space above? Does it vanish in the easterly direction, or does it disappear into the west? It goes nowhere. When it runs out of oil, it is extinguished right there. It attains liberation.

According to the Buddhist philosophy, the same understanding applies to the soul. They believe that the lamp of our soul burns with the oil of attachment and aversion. But at a point, when the oil is completely emptied, the lamp of consciousness is extinguished. As the flame dies out, the soul, ripe with wisdom attains liberation at the very spot. It needs to travel no further.

Jainism does not accept the Buddhist theory of the soul getting extinguished. It has an independent understanding about nirvāṇa. At this juncture, I wish to tell you that Jainism also accepts the primary meaning of nirvāṇa as blowing off, to be put off. Until the fl ame of attachment and aversion does not get extinguished, until the volcano of passions does not become dormant, liberation cannot happen. When the flame of desires is extinguished, the soul comes into its pure form and attains its primal state. This is nirvāṇa, this is liberation. Nirvāṇa is not the snuffing out of the soul, but rather the snuffing out of attachment and aversion.

I reiterate once again that if we have to move towards liberation, if we have to attain liberation, then we must learn to put out the fire of anger and desire. It is not just suppression of these emotions, but an uprooting and slow lulling of impulses. The flame of sādhanā should be bright and blazing, not feeble and weak. We must move towards eradicating external pressures and circumstances that exert an influence on our sādhanā nowadays. The values of sacrifice, renunciation and sādhanā which are dependent on external factors have to be redirected towards the inner self. When the external sight transforms into an internal insight, the path of liberation will be lit up for the soul to move on.

Published By " Sugal & Damani Family "