Running After The Shadow
Sri Swami Sivananda
This article is from the book Brahma Vidya Vilas.
A drama asserting in unequivocal and convincing terms the paramount importance of the Divine Life and Spiritual Propaganda at all times and in all conditions–in war and peace, in freedom and bondage, in poverty and luxury.
A conversation takes place among four friends–an advocate, a doctor, a professor of Economics and a spiritual culturist. The politically and economically degraded condition of India is attributed to the emphasis laid in the past by Indians upon spirituality. The spiritual culturist meets the arguments halfway, when his Guru, a Swamiji, appears on the scene and, by his brilliant exposition of the essence of spirituality, opens the eyes of all to the Real Truth.
Also this play serves as an introduction to the Plays that follow.
Scene: Drawing room of a wealthy advocate. He is talking to a friend–Spiritual Culturist–who is a selfless worker in the religious field. Two other friends of the advocate enter at this time. One is a Doctor, a follower of the Epicurean school, wholly engaged in earning money and feeding his own family with luxuries and comforts. The other is a Professor of Economics who strongly believes that industrial expansion and economic independence alone is the ultimate goal. After usual introductions, the topic of conversation is switched on to the problem of the hour.
Advocate: (Addressing the Spintual Culturist): My friend, I am strongly of the opinion that your precious energy and intellectual capacity are being wasted in worthless activities which cannot solve our immediate problems.
Spiritual Culturist: The immediate problem can only be solved by striking at the root-cause of our present state. A nation cannot survive or prosper unless the majority of its individuals possesses a high degree of culture and character. India had a glorious past and a culture of its own, which is now confined to a few. We must revive it and raise it to more glorious heights if we are to regain our lost heritage, both material and spiritual.
Professor: But how can the masses and lower middle classes, who are steeped in poverty, who cannot make the two ends meet and who have nothing to eat, assimilate these cultural teachings before their physical needs are satisfied?
Spiritual Culturist: If our well-to-do educated people first develop their character and culture by practising religion and philosophy in their daily life, we shall regain our lost glory and economic independence, by generating the spirit of self-sacrifice and selfless service among them for the uplift of the poorer classes.
Doctor: I do not believe in all this talk about culture and character or economic betterment of the masses. Where is the time or leisure for any public work? Everyone should mind his own business. All my time upto late hours at night is occupied by professional activities and calls. I must have time for recreation, shopping, cinemas and other social obligations.
Spiritual Culturist: You seem to have a gross and limited vision and are ignorant of higher, transcendental matters. This is an Asuric attitude of life described in the Gita (Ch. XVI) which leads to degeneration, bondage and suffering in the future lives. Where there is a will, there is a way. If you earnestly wish to serve humanity, you will find the leisure and energy also.
Advocate: I think we should direct all our energies to the political and economic field instead of wasting our energy in the propagation of spiritual culture. When we get freedom and economic independence, we shall see about culture, character and the life hereafter.
Spiritual Culturist: In that case you should also stop your eating, drinking and professional activities until freedom and economic betterment are attained. Culture, character and religion are as important for the soul, as food is for the body and wealth for material life. If you wait till freedom is attained, you may never be able to progress at all. Who can say that freedom will be attained in his lifetime? You will be wasting this precious life and human birth.
Professor: It is the overstress on spiritual life and religion that has brought about our downfall and slavery. We neglected our material progress in the past, hence others overpowered us and we have remained a poor and backward people. We should, therefore, develop our material resources and physical powers and reach the same peak of progress, power and comfort as the western nations, before we can even think of dabbling in idle pursuits like religion and philosophy.
Spiritual Culturist: Even those who work in the political, economic and social fields cannot turn out beneficial work, without disciplining themselves on a spiritual basis, and without undergoing religious training. Social and political leaders, with a few exceptions work with selfish motives and fight for their own name, fame, wealth, superiority and power.
Doctor: No nation in the history of the world has ever gained freedom or economic independence by the study of scriptures and leading Divine life or by prayers, Bhajans and Kirtans.
Spiritual Culturist: India has been in bondage for only a few centuries. Of what significance is this period in comparison with the millions of years which have elapsed since the advent of man on this earth? Even if we regain freedom now, it may not last for more than a few hundred years and the people then living will have to make stupendous efforts to regain it. A thing which does not last for ever, cannot be the ultimate goal of life. It only provides a field for selfless service leading to purity of mind and heart. To that extent, work in that field is helpful. It is a means for progress on the spiritual path and should not be confused with the end or goal.
Professor: We must strike a mean between spiritual and material life. By over-stressing the spiritual aspect, we have come to the present stage. Hence we should have more of material and industrial progress, as far as India is concerned.
Spiritual Culturist: I agree that we should have harmonious development and fullest expression of the spiritual and material aspects of life. But it was not over-stressing of spiritual life but rather that of material life and its concomitant evils, such as lust, greed, jealousy, disunity and selfishness, which brought about our downfall in the last few centuries.
Two types of workers–social and religious–are necessary in the modern world, for achieving a balanced development in both the fields. A carpenter has a different field of work, from that of an electrician. You cannot expect one to do the work of the other. Both are necessary. Constructive work in social, economic, political and industrial fields is equally essential. I have never advocated that this aspect should be ignored.
But religion alone can save people. Without religion man is nowhere. Political freedom cannot root out all the miseries and evils of the world. You can only have a little more comfort. The world is like the tail of a dog, which can never be straightened. Bread, butter, jam and biscuits cannot give everlasting happiness. Modern luxuries of western people are enemies of spiritual life and peace. They will pull us down. After all, man wants very little on this earth.
At this stage, enters a Swami, who is the Guru of the Spiritual Culturist. His tall and stalwart figure, lustre, aura and magnetic personality are so awe-inspiring that everyone gets up and prostrate at his feet. This Spiritual Culturist gives a brief account of the controversy, which had just ended.
Swamiji: That work alone, which removes the prime ignorance of man and gives him inner peace and eternal happiness, can eradicate human sufferings in toto. That work is spiritual propaganda or dissemination of the Science of Self, Brahma-Vidya, and the Science of Yoga, Yoga Sastra. It is the crowning glory of human activities. This work is the highest form of Sacrifice or Yoga. There is nobody on this vast earth who is dearer to God than such a selfless worker in the Spiritual field (Gita: XVIII-60).
You will have to strike at the root-cause of all human miseries, which isignorance of the nature of Self and the true goal of life. The Science of Self is the true spiritual wealth of man. It is inexhaustible.
India alone possesses this Supreme Divine Wealth. Even the richest and most highly cultured people, from all parts of the world, come to India to practise Yoga. They seek the guidance of its Rishis, seers and sages, and acquire this imperishable wealth.
No one can rob India of this inexhaustible wealth. India is ever rich and will remain rich forever, both materially and spiritually. Her resources are vast and limitless. She was invaded and plundered by several nations and yet her resources are abundant. She is ever free and will remain free. Her culture and civilisation rank foremost in the whole world.
Happiness does not come from wealth. Western nations are quite restless despite their enormous wealth. Selfishness, greed, hatred and jealousy have killed their peace. From this we can infer that spiritual life alone can give real, everlasting peace and happiness.
The disputes between saints and householders (as it whether spiritual life or material life is better), between dualists and non-dualists (as to whether God and soul are identical or separate), between political and spiritual workers as to which kind of work is more urgent or essential, have been going on from beginningless time. It is very difficult to convince the householders, dualists and political workers until their minds are purified and cleared of wrong impressions by Sadhana and experience.
Those who work in the spiritual fields should not enter into arguments with workers in other fields. They should co-operate with all selfless workers, in whatever field they may be working. They should continue their own work with unabated vigour.
May true discrimination and light dawn on the people who are too much engrossed in this transitory world and its material life, who have ignored the spiritual side of life altogether, who are thinking too much of the body and its comforts, who have forgotten all about their essential Divine nature and who are running after the Shadow, leaving behind the real substance, viz., God–who is the inner Self of all beings and the ultimate goal of human evolution.
May all beings in the whole universe attain peace and eternal bliss!