This article is a chapter from the book An Instrument of Thy Peace.
The mind is but a reflected consciousness. The seeming intelligence, power and perception of the conscious mind are only a borrowed light. The real source is Atman, not the mind. Just as the body is inert, the mind is also inert. The mind is highly subtle matter; nevertheless, it is matter as distinct from spirit. Ultimately all wisdom, knowledge and power derive from spirit. A mirror catches the direct light of the sun shining in the sky, and the mirror becomes so powerful with light that it can brighten a darkened room. Seemingly the light comes from the mirror, and yet there is in reality no light in it. The same is the case with the mind.
Whatever power the mind is manifesting, it does not ultimately belong to the mind as such, but the Atman that is beyond the mind. That is the true source of light and wisdom. Vedanta has the term “reflected consciousness,” so mind is understood as only shining with borrowed luminosity. You are a radiant centre of pure spiritual consciousness, and that is your “true face,” as they say in Zen. What was your face before you were born? What was that faceless face when this face did not exist? You are a mass of radiance, and that is your eternal countenance when no name, no body, no form and no face existed.
How then can one invoke these deeper powers beyond the mind? The most important insight we get from Vedanta in this matter of tapping the inner source of strength, power and peace is what is called atma-bhav. This term means “to abide in the Self, to be aware of yourself as the Self”—not as the little, ineffective, limited human individual subject to so many stresses, worries and problems. Through atma-bhav one is grounded in this inner attitude that, “I am the eternal spirit; I am Atman; fire cannot burn me; water cannot wet me; weapons cannot injure me. I am the unborn, eternal and permanent.” To always be firmly based in this truth is strength. It gives us power over the constant assailments of the mind, which subjects us to so many negative moods and tendencies. If you want to triumph over them, be based in this unshakeable position of strength in Self-awareness. Abide in Self-awareness—atma-bhav. Be rooted in this awareness, and do not allow the erroneous consciousness of your apparent human personality to hold you down. This is a sadhana that you must keep up, because through long ages we have somehow or another got into the habit of being only in this little human consciousness.
This limited body-consciousness dies hard, so Vedanta suggests keeping up a continuous current of affirmation of our true identity. It is not an affirmation of a condition that does not exist at present and which would need sheer force of affirmation to be brought into being. On the contrary, one is emphatically affirming with great faith a condition that is never changing and beginningless. It has been covered over by an erroneous consciousness and wrong identity, but it hasn’t got to be re-created—it has instead to be uncovered and brought into manifestation.
To that end, Vedanta and its great exponent Sankaracharya have shown us the way of absolute affirmation of the truth of your Reality. This affirmation creates atma-bhav. At present, you have got the feeling that you are this body with an age, height, weight, shape and so on. But no, this is not what you are. This is what you think you are, and this is what you appear to be to others. But what you truly are is something tremendous, and if you begin to affirm that and feel that and be that, then all weaknesses and fear will vanish. From the insights of yoga and Vedanta comes this great revelation to us: be your true, glorious Self and you shall overcome everything. Atma-bhav arouses the higher awareness of your true imperishable nature, your real spiritual identity. This should be supported by the fire of meditation, but moment by moment affirmation does not require any special place or time. You can live constantly with affirmation, and you can make it a way of life. As I said, the old thing dies hard, so you should give this higher consciousness great support. You should try to bring this affirmation into your daily life and activity, strengthen it every day, and give it an unshakeable base.
That unshakeable base is daily meditation—going into the silence, and in that silence evoking the inner centre of your being. These periods of daily meditation not only become a sound foundation of continuous affirmation, but meditation also becomes simultaneously the wellspring of peace. In the period of meditation, the mind recedes into a state of rest. The consciousness is lifted up from the mundane world and enters into a state of quiescence. There you have peace, and the more you cultivate this inner state of meditation, the more peace comes into your being. If you continuously keep on with this practice of meditation, day by day inner changes are brought about in the brain and nervous system. Gradually the entire nervous system becomes more calm, relaxed and serene.
In that state of calm, peacefulness is experienced without recourse to any doubtful alternatives. You don’t have to resort to marijuana or any type of “down pills” or “up pills”—no substances are necessary to make you calm. Peace becomes the state of your mind. One reason for a great deal of restlessness and weakness in these modern times is the individual’s attachment to outer experiences. There is an excessive craving for external stimulation—sight, sound, colour, activity and sense satisfaction. One goes to smoke a cigarette, flip through the pages of a magazine, or look at some programme on television. One has lost the ability to keep quiet without exercising the senses, and always the senses must be kept fed with some sort of excitement or satisfaction. This is a disease more typical of the modern person, and it is especially pronounced in big cities. Concrete walls rise up around the person from everywhere, canyons of buildings hem him in on all sides, and he is completely dwarfed by his urban environment.
The attachment to things and the desire for change, excitement and stimulation are an indication of restlessness. You experience an emptiness when you are just with yourself, and you want to fill it. It is a sort of subjective bankruptcy, because you seem to be insufficient unto yourself. This bias is not natural or based on reality. If man were only to know himself in depth, he would see that he is completely full and needs to have nothing added. But instead of being in this freed state, man feels a sense of loneliness, emptiness and isolation. He is afraid of this emptiness and wants to fill it up with sights, sensations and entertainment. But again, because this movement is essentially unnatural, it leads to restlessness.
The way to overcome this restlessness is to develop vairagya. As long as there is craving for some sort of sensation outside, you cannot overcome this lingering feeling of emptiness. Vairagya is a state of not craving anything, and it is developed through the awareness within that you do not need to be supported by anything—that you are sufficient unto yourself. The Self within is complete, and therefore you don’t need to be propped up as if you had no backbone. You create within yourself a state of dispassion towards objects, and you do not crave anything. In this way, the attachment to these outer props gets shaken free, and you become established in the state of detachment and dispassion. This is vairagya.
Raga is intense attachment for things or sensations, and the absence of raga is vairagya. A great yogi wrote one hundred verses on dispassion in which he said that everything is fraught with fear in this world, and only vairagya can bring liberation from this fear. If you can say, “I want nothing for myself,” then you have nothing to fear. With “I want nothing for myself,” you can say at the same time, “I do not fear.” If you are attached, you are always full of fear, but where there is dispassionate non-attachment, there is no fear. There is peace instead.
One of the avenues of draining away energy from your body and psyche is too much talking. It is a great waste of energy, and it can leave you feeling weak and exhausted if you don’t have a very strong constitution. Gurudev used to say that every day you should have a period of silence. Observe at least two hours of silence each day if you can—just be silent and do not talk. Talking leads to gossip, and gossip brings about distraction. Where there is distraction, there is restlessness. A great deal of restlessness is occasioned by the distraction created by too much talking, so all mystics and saints have advised a period of silence. The Sabbath is meant to be a day of silence, prayer and meditation; therefore, during that time you should not engage in any activity that draws you outside yourself.
Cultivating the habit of silence is a source of inner peace and strength. The distracted mind is weak, but through the practice of silence the mind gradually becomes concentrated and strong. Conservation of energy adds to your vital potential and strength. Persistent efforts to cultivate the practice of silence also bring about a heightened will-power. Man becomes gregarious from being in society, and there is always the temptation to talk. Silence has become difficult for him, and in order to maintain the flow of silence, you have to exercise will-power. By an effort of the will, you maintain your silence, and at the same time, maintaining silence becomes a good training for developing the power of the will.
I would like to suggest that in order to be a strong and determined person, you have to have a definite goal before you. If you have a clear-cut goal, then your entire life’s direction can be changed from the negative to the positive. You know what you are aiming at and exactly in what direction you should go to attain what you have set your heart upon. It makes a tremendous difference, so this particular approach found great favour with Gurudev. He always used to say, “Live for a definite goal. Have a definite ideal and work towards it.” Lacking aim or purpose, you are at the mercy of external or internal forces and the push and pull of any temptation or desire.
If however your course is set, no one can divert you. It is good to fortify yourself through this resolve. It is a defence and a safeguard from digressing into the wrong channels. Have a very clear-cut aim. That can save you from a great deal of trouble and can give your life a strong positive current. Back this up by having certain principles upon which you base your life. Never swerve from these principles, come what may. Have carefully selected noble principles that lift you above the common run of life and lead to greatness.
Life without principles or purpose is foolish and silly. Unprincipled living is determined by the sheep mentality—if everyone goes this way, I will also join the crowd and go with them. No, dare to be different! Have certain principles that will give you firm guidelines, and then you will never be at a loss when faced with alternatives. One resolves, “This is according to my principles, so this is my choice. These things are not in accordance with my principles, so out they go.” You have then a method of acceptance and rejection based upon a definite plan, so it saves you from a great deal of vexation and vacillation.
One should unswervingly adhere to these principles and not compromise. If these principles are there, they impart to your life a great deal of firmness and strength, and they create within your mind a permanent background of thought. You will never be at a loss. When the mind is occupied and engaged in something, it has a job to do, but when it is not occupied, it need not be at loose ends because it has a permanent background in which to repose. It is wise to create within your mind a certain background of thought—especially in times of weakness. All of us have these times, because troubles are unavoidable, but one can maintain the practice of immediately visualising the ideal at that moment. Whether it is the remembrance of the divine name, the thought of God, or the recalling of a great saint, it is a thought that immediately lifts you up from the ordinary level.
There are many great ones who have given us inspiring examples of sticking to their principles—come what may, never caring for the negative opinions of people, they stayed firm in their resolve. You must be able to visualise that person or thought in times of stress and agitation. Similarly, it goes without saying that the practice of the presence of God and the remembrance of God lead to the same uplifting background of thought. However, if the remembrance becomes merely mechanical, then it will not be so effective. Remembrance can become like that if it is taken for granted—but it should not be like this. Remembrance should be revived every day with deep feeling and veneration, knowing the sanctity and great exalted status of remembrance. Vital remembrance is a great sustainer of strength, power and goodness, and it brings with it the power to overcome adversity.
There are two other similar techniques advised by Patanjali in the science of yoga. If you are overcome by too much restlessness and trouble, he advocates a method of evoking one thought and determining to hold onto it. All the other things outside this concentrated thought will gradually pass away. Keeping yourself completely focused upon this one thought or pursuit, don’t lose hold. If you throw yourself into one thing exclusively and absorb yourself completely in it, it is good both in the short term and the long term. It is conducive to snapping out of an undesired inner mood, and it maintains a state of positive thought over a longer period.
The other method is that of substitution. To purposefully change from a state of restlessness to strength, you must change the thought that is bugging you by substituting and evoking the diametrically opposite thought. Hold it; let it fill the mind; repeat it; visualise it; affirm it. Think strongly of it and the other thing will be eliminated. By evoking a feeling for its opposite, the negative state will vanish. It cannot stand, as two opposite things cannot occupy the mind at the same time.
If you want to have peace, bear no ill will towards anyone. Bearing no ill will towards anyone should not depend on the other person’s attitude towards you. He may have ill will, but you should bear him no ill will. To feel nicely about people who feel nicely towards you, and to be upset by people who don’t feel nicely about you is simply the way of the world. If you want to be something exceptional, bear no ill will towards anyone—no matter what the occasion. You will have peace. If you have a feeling of enmity towards anyone, it destroys your peace of mind.
Patanjali mentions a certain psychological approach to the world that he says is the way to peace. If you want to have your peace unaffected, keep a certain attitude in the four levels of relationship that you have. Patanjali says to always have a friendly attitude towards your own equals, friends, colleagues and companions. If they are happy, be happy and don’t be unhappy out of jealousy because they are happy. Never wish them any harm, because at times among colleagues there can be a spirit of competition, and that is no good for your peace of mind. You would be very unwise if you give in to this all too common human failing. If both of you are trying for something, and somehow you fail and the other succeeds, you could then say, “What does it matter? It is good. Someone has to succeed, and I am happy about it.” If the other person is happy, if he succeeds, or if he is popular, you are happy for him, and then there will be no fire burning in your heart. So, Patanjali says that towards those with whom you are equal, have a feeling of friendship. There is peace of mind and serenity, a restfulness of conscience. Let that be your attitude—an affectionate attitude of friendship and well wishing towards your equals.
Towards your superiors—people who are more than you in strength, power, talent, authority or official position—have equanimity. Don’t be perturbed and don’t let them make you feel upset. Sometimes in their presence one may be a little timid and nervous. Don’t be nervous! Have a vedantic attitude—after all, he is a man just like you, and the other things are only qualifications. Have serene equanimity, then your mind will be calm. Don’t be over-awed and overcome, but have serenity in their presence. I need not say much about this particular thing to Americans—they already have naturally got a feeling of equality built into them! But in some countries this deference to authority is very much there, and it needs to be addressed.
To those who occupy a lesser position than yours in any way, do not look down upon them, and don’t have a condescending and overbearing attitude. This stance will give you a superiority complex and is not conducive to a good relationship. But we often tend to be like this—overbearing, not caring, insensitive and riding roughshod over the feelings of others. It is a human weakness, and we often do it. We must have kindness and compassion to anyone who seems lesser in any way. It may be in social status, in wealth, age, position, power—whatever it may be—be kind and compassionate. Then you will have peace of mind.
The fourth in this series is your attitude towards wicked people. They are always there in the world. We are apt to become very upset about them, but it is of no use. They are what they are, and they are not going to change. Just be indifferent, because in this case indifference is wisdom. The best attitude if you don’t want to be upset is just to ignore them. These then are the fourfold attitudes: an affectionate feeling towards equals; an attitude of equanimity and equipoise towards superiors; an attitude of kindness and compassion towards people lesser than you; and an attitude of indifference towards wicked people. These attitudes are conducive to peace, and this is the essence of raja yoga.
Another key topic regarding peace of mind should be noted here. It is incapacitating to be constantly eaten up by guilt feelings for whatever you might have done or whatever you might have failed to do. If these guilt feelings are taken beyond reasonable limits, they become a negative burden and exert a downward pull on you, and they can render you very ineffective. However, if the guilt feeling makes you remorseful and you genuinely repent what has been done or left undone, this is right and natural. Make repentance and then resolve not to let it happen again—then forget about it. You have in that instance gone through the fire and come out purified. It is finished.
Once their purpose is served, throw all guilt feelings overboard. Whatever you have done might be very sinful and nasty in the eyes of man, but not in the eyes of God, because He is all-forgiving. Therefore, standing before Him, know that in His gaze you are already forgiven. There is no sin that is too great for Him, so get rid of these guilt feelings. Elevate yourself from this enervating, painful negativity and stand clear. These are the various sources that will give you the strength and inner power to overcome life’s temptations and problems, and they are the essential sources of peace that you should achieve in this life. Through these inherent qualities you can have and maintain peace.
I conclude by bringing you back to the original starting point. The greatest source of strength, power and peace is atma-bhav. That is to be rooted in the awareness of your truth, your reality and your essential Self—instead of getting involved in a wrong identity that is the source of all weaknesses, trouble and agitation. To be firmly rooted in your essential inner spiritual identity is the greatest source of strength and peace.
These ideas are for you to carefully sift, study, ponder and apply. Enrich yourself and benefit from these things that I have shared in the name of worshipful and beloved Holy Master, Gurudev Swami Sivananda. God bless you. May grace be with you and may your Self be with you. When Self-awareness is there, many vexations and complications vanish. When the Self is not there, It is replaced by an impostor—the wrong personality—and many complications and troubles arise. Let us abide in the Self and all that it means. Let there be bright light within and not darkness. The source of all true strength, power and peace is your own Self in the depths of your own being. Om Tat Sat.