This article is from the book What The River Has Taught Me.
People very often fail to draw a distinction between good life and God-life or Divine Life. There are many well-intentioned individuals who think somewhat on the following lines: “Well, I am leading a good life. I am happily married. I live a clean life. I don’t drink; I don’t smoke; I have no bad habits. I am a vegetarian; I don’t take even eggs. I don’t cheat anyone. I earn by the sweat of my brow. What more do you want?”. Essentially, these are good people. They are certainly superior to the rogues and cheats and scoundrels of this world. They follow certain ethical codes. They pass for respectable citizens. All this is good. All these qualities make a good foundation. But, a foundation is not a building. It is not enough by itself. The superstructure, the building, has to come up.
Goodness is not Godliness. Goodness makes for a good life in this world, but it will not bring spiritual salvation. The so-called good people are often selfish people tied down to their families and close friends. Their heart is still constricted. They are still followers of the Preyo Marga (path of immediate pleasure). They have some vague ideas about the Sreyo Marga (path of ultimate good), but are afraid to step on to the Sreyo Marga, afraid to pay the price of the Sreyo Marga. They have their fears about the sacrifices they will be called upon to make if they step onto the spiritual path. They cannot reconcile themselves to thoughts of making charity, loving strangers and enemies, eating in moderation, practising austerities, controlling anger and jealousy and things like that.
If a person wants to register spiritual progress in life, he should first have this misunderstanding in his mind cleared. A good life is inadequate. What these people mean by ‘good life’ will be found to be, on close inspection, just a ‘non-evil life’. It is negative goodness. This alone will not do.
Every man is a combination of beastliness, human nature and godliness. People who boast about their good life will generally be found to have transcended the beastly qualities in them, but that is only a beginning. They are still very much subject to the innumerable human foibles, failings and likes and dislikes. They suffer still from human vices like anger, jealousy and lust. Quite often they will justify their wrong actions by expressing a thought like this: “Arey Yaar! After all, I am human. In a fit of passion, I made a mistake” or “In a fit of anger, I committed that crime” or “Under a sudden impulse of greed, I made that blunder”. These good people have still to conquer the human vices in them and cultivate the divine virtues or Daivi Sampat enunciated in the Gita. That is the beginning of spiritual practice. That is the beginning of a divine life. That is stepping on the road to Heaven.
These men of little understanding–of meagre spiritual wisdom–identify good life with a pleasant life. They are men of weak will who are unwilling to face the unpleasantness and rigours of a truly spiritual life. You can see these people all over the world, in all walks of life, in all religions. Some of them openly deny the existence of God, but mostly affirm allegiance to formal religion, because they still have a flickering conscience. Their inner conscience, the voice of God within them, is still not completely stifled, is still not totally dead.
Not only that. These friends suffer from a false sense of self-satisfaction and self-sufficiency. Since, by virtue of a little meritorious action in their previous lives, God has blessed them with creature comforts in the present life, they feel no need for any God, for any extraneous help. Their philosophy is: “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die”. If you ask them, “What will happen to you in the next birth if you don’t accumulate merit by virtuous actions in the present birth?”, they have their ready answer which they fling at you “Who knows if there is another birth? Who knows what happens when you die?” For them, the present life is all. Even if you try to tell them about the reincarnation theory, which has been demonstrated and reinforced by the discovery of so many real-life instances and supporting evidence, they are in no mood to listen. They have a closed mind. They suffer from a sense of self-sufficiency.
Self-sufficiency and self-justification are among the greatest stumbling blocks to spiritual progress. The man who is ignorant but is willing to take in wisdom from whatever source it comes, in other words, the ignorant but humble man, can be helped by a man of greater wisdom. The man who is already wise, but who is unable to practise his wisdom in daily life because of his overwhelming pride, also has a chance to improve, because his pride will encounter resistance from the universe and will be quelled in due course. Then he will become humble and will begin to live wisely. But the ignorant man who is at the same time arrogant, who is at the same time filled with the notion that he is all-wise, is the most difficult of all to reform. Even God cannot help him. His is a hopeless situation.