Mind Your Own Business!


Sri Swami Chidananda

This article is from the book An Instrument of Thy Peace.

This Atman-business!
The Story of Nachiketas


All life is one, and there is one common consciousness that links the life of all beings into one great cosmic unity. A poet once wrote, “You cannot pluck a little flower without shaking a star.” A little story here might give some indication of this truth. There was once a Sufi mystic who was established in this state of cosmic consciousness. He was a gardener, and one day a friend of his came to visit him, and they got to talking. The mystic somehow or the other got distracted, and the sharp gardening tool he was using hit his leg. His friend was startled when he saw that it was not blood that was oozing out of the wound, but a thin, pale fluid–plant sap! This Sufi mystic was in such an absolute harmony with the plants that he had entered into their very consciousness. His life and their lives were entirely one.

Many other stories could be told about mystics who have attained this state of cosmic oneness with all life. One such cosmic being was sitting in the courtyard of a great temple situated on the bank of a river. A ferryboat was carrying passengers across the river, and one disembarking passenger queried the ferryman regarding the cost of the fare. First there was a discussion, then hot words, followed by a lively argument, and suddenly the passenger lunged forward and hit the ferryman. This mystic sitting nearby was so sensitive that the blow to the ferryman caused him to fall over unconscious. It was as though the passenger had delivered the blow to him and not just to the ferryman!

There is another poem in which the poet says, “One touch of nature makes all life kin.” The poet here refers to the original nature in which all forms of life are related to the One. Vedanta proclaims the oneness of all existence–that there is one divine principle present in all things. The first sloka of the first Upanishad says, “Whatever exists is pervaded by the one great Cosmic Being. That Being permeates, saturates and pervades all things in the universe.” Even modern science is now confirming this great truth. At the back of all this multifariousness is something common to all life. If you can eventually touch it, you will experience cosmic consciousness.

The vedantic method is deductive, while the scientific method is inductive. The vedantic method starts with the one and proceeds to the many, and the scientific method starts with the many and proceeds to the one. Now it seems as though modern science, especially physics, is proposing a theory that corroborates nearly verbatim the central thesis of the ancient Shakta school of philosophy in India. The Shakta school postulates that universal energy or cosmic force is the ultimate factor in existence, and isn’t science saying much the same thing today? Science does not specify whether this force is conscious and intelligent or not, whereas the Shakta philosophy is very specific on this point. It states that energy or force is of the very nature of pure consciousness.

Modern scientists do not all accept that force is conscious, for if force is conscious, the implication is clear–there must be some vast intelligence guiding the movement of the cosmos. It would be an intelligence much greater than man’s, thereby reducing man to a mere pawn pushed about according to the decree of that great intelligence. This idea is so “ego-unflattering” that it is intolerable to most scientists. The Shakta school of philosophy plainly states that man borrows light from another source of intelligence. Without the light from this source the intellect would be inert, for it is that light which illumines the intellect and enables it to function. Man borrows it from pure consciousness, and it is therefore pure consciousness that lies behind man’s intellect and pure consciousness that alone is real.

The intellect is conscious when man is in the waking state, semiconscious when he is in the dream state, and unconscious when he is in the deep sleep state. This consciousness of the intellect is not continuous. When you wake up in the morning it rises, but it sets, so to speak, when you go to sleep at night. It is transitory and temporary, not permanent or real. If it were real, it would never be discontinued. The consciousness of “I am” on the other hand is always present, even in the deep sleep state. “I slept well,” you say on waking up in the morning, so the consciousness had been continuous. You affirm the existence of an ‘I’ at all times–waking, dreaming and sleeping. The I-principle is the substratum upon which all the three states of your consciousness are supported. This I-principle is common to all sentient beings, and it is the mysterious factor that binds life into one great cosmic unity. Ponder this unity, because eventually you must come to know it.

This Atman-business!

A seeker I know once said to me, “The world would be a much better place and people here would be much happier if everybody would do one simple thing.” “What is that?” I asked. She said, “Let everybody write in the air in huge letters, “MYOB,” for “Mind Your Own Business!” If everybody would mind his own business, the world would be quite all right.” I found another meaning in her little homily. Do you know what “your own” is in Sanskrit? The word in Sanskrit is Atman, and Atman is your own Self, so “mind your own business” really means, “mind your own Self!” Unfortunately, this Atman-business is the one thing we don’t want to do, because we like to mind other people’s business instead! This is why we do not realise our true Self. We should be filling our lives with a great concern for this Atman, reflecting over it, meditating upon it, living to attain the fullest experience of it, because this Atman is our very own Self.

Lord Buddha put much the same thing in a different way. In his parting message to his disciples he said, “Listen to me. Do not neglect your higher Self. Always be diligent in your own welfare. This is not selfishness but annihilation of the little self. When the petty self perishes, what remains? That which remains cannot be described in a way that is understandable to the petty self, for it has ceased to be.”

Do you know the story of Sinbad the Sailor? Sinbad was shipwrecked on an island, and one day he found an old man lying on the beach whose legs were useless. The old man begged Sinbad to lift him up, so out of compassion Sinbad raised him onto his shoulders. But as he did so, the old man coiled both his legs around Sinbad’s neck and locked them. From then on Sinbad was ruled over by this old man. “Take me here, take me there! Let me have this, let me have that!” Sinbad almost fell into despair, but then an idea came to him. One day he took the old man to some grape vines, and the old man gorged himself on fermented grapes and got intoxicated. In a swoon he loosened his grip on Sinbad’s neck, and then with one great shove Sinbad was able to throw him off. Just as this old man ruled Sinbad, so are we also ruled by something. The old man riding us is the ego, and this diehard ego has been holding us in a tight grip for ages. Our bondage is due to this ego, and we must shake it off to be free–that is the only way.

The Story of Nachiketas

In the Katha Upanishad, there is a boy called Nachiketas who asks Yama, the great Lord of Justice, “Why are all beings in this world in such misery?” Yama says, “You are asking for the knowledge of the immortal Self! Ask for something else, O Nachiketas! Even the gods long for this knowledge.” But Nachiketas is adamant, and soon recognising the worthiness of his disciple, Yama initiates him into the knowledge of immortality. “When He created all beings, the Creator put some rajas into their minds. The outcome of this rajas is the outgoing tendency of the mind. The mind loses itself in the countless objects of the universe, and the natural consequence of this loss is discontentment and dissatisfaction. As long as the movement of the mind is outward, man can have no peace, no rest and no bliss. Rare, indeed, is the one who perceives the true inner state of the mind, arrests its outgoing tendency, draws it inward, and turns it toward the Atman. He is the real hero, and he is the one who succeeds in entering into direct inner communion with the Atman. There he finds peace, rest and bliss.

“Be thou in-seeing, O Nachiketas! Withdraw your mind from passing phenomena and direct it deep within to the centre of yourself where eternity abides. You must discriminate and not allow the sense objects to draw your mind outward and lure you away from the path. It is at first very difficult, as unthinking and foolish men are easily beguiled and deluded. They forsake the path of the good and rush into the path of the merely pleasant. Beware! The path of the pleasant does not lead to peace. It seems to be very pleasant in the beginning, but in the aftermath it is very unpleasant and very painful. It is not conducive to your highest welfare.”

Who knows the difference between the path of the good and the path of the merely pleasant? Who is it that resolutely turns away from the merely pleasant and voluntarily elects to go in the direction of the good? The one who does so is the one to whom the victory comes. He is the one to whom the Atman yields itself. Be intent upon this Atman-business! This Atman is all your own. Awake, arise and walk not as one who slumbers, but as one who is wide-awake and who discriminates. They slumber whose discrimination is not active, even though their eyelids are open.

In my school days I once read a little story called, I think, The Vision of Meza. In the story, Meza is taken by his teacher up to the top of a mountain and told to look down into the valley below. As he is looking at the lush green pastures and the sheep and goats grazing on the slopes, a mist begins to cover the valley floor, and the scenery gradually disappears. Meza is trying to see through the mist when he spies a tiny bright spot shining with clarity. A bridge appears with many arches, but the ends of the bridge are shrouded in the mist. “Look carefully,” the master says, and as Meza looks again, he sees that the bridge is not empty but swarming with people. Some are dancing, and some are swaying and singing. Some are running after bright things, bubbles and butterflies. Some are clinging closely to possessions. Some are moving hurriedly forward at a fast gait. Some are moving along cautiously, with great care. Then some people suddenly disappear. Meza sees that very few people are reaching the other side. “O master,” he cries, “explain this to me!”

“This is the bridge of life, Meza. All these beings are trying to cross the bridge to the other side, but as you see, very few are able to do so because there are so many trap doors hidden in the bridge. They open downward into the stream so that most people are plunged into the water and washed away. Those who really want to reach the other side are rare, and of those, few are vigilant and careful enough to avoid all the pitfalls on the way. Great is the rejoicing on the other side when one or two are able to make it across.” Then the vision fades.

Remember The Vision of Meza. Be diligent, keep your gaze ever fixed upon the goal, and through discrimination avoid the pitfalls. Don’t rush towards the merely pleasant, but move towards the good–even though it is hard! Then, as I mentioned earlier, you should “mind your own business,” attain the atmic experience, and reach life’s goal.

You have heard these ideas, now ponder them, and do not allow them to leave your mind. Try to see in what way they are meaningful to you in your own life. Realising their significance, you will convert them into pearls of pure wisdom. Your wisdom will gradually grow and with it your awareness of the truth that all life is one.

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