This article is from the book An Instrument of Thy Peace.
I want to bring to you a little message that holds the central secrets of success in attaining the goal of life. As a matter of fact, it contains the basis of success in all human endeavours, no matter in which area it might be. An effort will succeed if these secrets are utilised–even if the effort is pointed in the wrong direction. If you want to become the Al Capone of the underworld and shine as the Number One Crook, if you apply this method you are bound to succeed! If you apply it in any direction, it will give you success. However, we are more concerned about using this to find success in our spiritual life than we are in becoming Number One Crook!
Two great laws are at the back of this secret, and the first one is: What you think, that you become. This is a universal law. You should always ceaselessly affirm that which you want to become, and then one day you will end up becoming that. This law is inevitable and nothing can hold it back. The second great law is: Persistent effort in any one direction overcomes all obstacles. No obstacle can withstand the assault of persistent effort. That is why in the Srimad Bhagavad Gita, when Arjuna tells Krishna that it is impossible to control the mind, Krishna replies that if one keeps on persisting in this effort, one will overcome, and the mind will be subdued. Persistence overcomes all obstacles and ultimately reaches its goal. Whatever it is you are pursuing, you will get it with persistent effort.
The first law is once again: what you think, that you become. Think you are good for nothing, and you become good for nothing. But, how could you really be good for nothing? It is an insult to God to think that you are good for nothing. Maybe your goodness is temporarily covered up, but it is in fact there. If you think that you have got the potential for everything beautiful, then you will become that. Think like God, and you will become like God. Think like a sinner, and you will become like that. Think that you are unhealthy and weak, and you will always be in a mess regarding health. Think that you are full of health and strength, and you will end up becoming healthy. Because you are thinking that way, those conditions become actualised.
This is the law that Vedanta invokes in its approach. It rejects the assumption that you are only this conglomeration of flesh, bones and organs. It asserts that you are the Atman–ever-pure, ever-perfect and divine. At any stage, if there is a wave of anger or jealousy, you assert that you are not this anger or jealousy. You have nothing to do with it, for you are the Atman, which is always full of peace, joy and light. Reject the different conditions of mind and intellect, and affirm your all-full divine spiritual nature.
If you are always fearful of things, you will attract to yourself conditions of fear. Have firm trust in God, and all conditions will correct themselves. They come and then they go when you do not respond to them. You do not allow them to hold onto you, because you have made yourself a centre of faith and fearlessness. This great law very much governs your entire life. Invoke this law and think of what you want to become. “I am the Atman; I am a child of God; I am shining with divine radiant spirit.”
These thoughts should occupy your mind day and night, waking, dreaming and sleeping. We must affirm this truth by repeating it, visualising it in our mind, writing it down, and by practising it. We must try to bring this feeling into our daily lives–even in the midst of the most adverse conditions. You must persist in being what you are. This great law is the secret of success in your spiritual life. This practice requires no previous background, so start right now from where you are. One day success and fulfilment will be yours.
The second great law is, once again, that persistent effort overcomes all obstacles. As an example, I could describe a situation found at the public water taps in rural India. The entire locality has to fetch its water only from that one tap, because there is no proper water supply in most parts of the country. Sometimes these taps go out of order and cannot be completely closed, and the faucet keeps dripping on the granite stone, and a hole is made in the stone just from the accumulated effect of these drops of water!
There is another phenomenon observed with the wells used in India. When the rope is used to pull the bucket up out of a well, the rope rubs against a granite slab that serves as the wall of the well. After a few years, the constant rubbing of the rope causes a groove to be formed in the granite. Taking this as an example, one can say that nothing can withstand the power of persistent effort. No matter how difficult or how slow the process seems, don’t despair, and be sure to keep on persisting. Bondage does not easily give way, but one must continuously keep trying to get free of it. One day it will give way.
Long, long ago in ancient India the forest-dwelling sages had to make a fire sacrifice every day. They did not have matches, so the only way to have fire available whenever they wanted it was to have the fire burning twenty-four hours a day. However, on very special occasions they did not make use of this ordinary fire, and a new fire needed to be started and used specifically for that purpose. To start the fire, they used a block of heavy wood with a slight circular depression in the middle. A peg was rubbed against the wood, and as they persisted in the rubbing, slowly heat was produced at the point of contact. They had cotton or dried fibres of plants or wood bark and kept it close to the heat, and at some point the fuel suddenly caught fire. It might have taken an hour and a half to light the fire, but through that effort the sacred fire was created. Even so, just as persistent effort ultimately brought forth fire where it did not exist, persistent effort in your spiritual life will bring forth illumination where it might not have been before. Similarly, if you are looking for water, you must start digging and keep on digging, and eventually you will get water.
These are examples given by the great teachers to put heart into the seeker. In spiritual sadhana, persistent effort overcomes all obstacles standing in the way and ultimately secures its ends. There is nothing that persistent effort cannot bring to you. To prove this point, the stories of the Puranas abound with narrations of numerous instances in the past where seemingly impossible things were achieved through sheer force of persistence. One great classical example was the story of a certain sage who lost his entire family in a tragic circumstance, and the funeral rites were never performed for them. Many generations afterwards, this fact was brought to the attention of one young man of that family line. Their ashes had been scattered in some region, but the celestial River Ganges needed to pass over these ashes in order to purify them.
This young man resolved to bring the Ganges down to earth, and to do so he renounced everything and started doing penance. He persisted so long that ultimately the gods had to yield, and they asked the Ganges to descend and honour his request. One further obstacle though was that the descent might destroy the earth, so through more of the young man’s penance, Lord Siva consented to take the immense flow of the river on his own head. Yet, for various other reasons the young man had to do even more penance to finally fulfil his goal. His name, Bhagiratha, has become a byword for great persistence and extraordinary effort.
In another instance, a married couple had not been blessed with children and they were sore at heart. They went to a sage and begged him to assist them. He said, “Worship Lord Siva, and if you sincerely and earnestly persist, He will appear to you and grant your prayer.” So they both worshipped together for years, and at long last, pleased by their worship and prayer, Lord Siva appeared. He told the man, “Due to your great devotion and earnestness, I shall send you a son, but you must choose between two alternatives. The child can either be a beautiful, ideal son with amazing talents who will only live to his sixteenth year, or you can have a son who will live to be a full span of 100 years, but he will be a dullard and a moron. What do you want?” The couple was in a dilemma, but ultimately they said, “We want the beautiful and ideal son.” Siva blessed them and soon the child was born. He was a wonderful, beautiful child who manifested all the divine qualities as he grew up.
Like that, fifteen years passed in joy and peace, but when they celebrated his fifteenth year, suddenly they remembered that the next birthday would be the fateful one. The young boy noticed his parents’ sadness, but they put him off until the middle of the year. The boy suspected something was very wrong and became adamant. “Unless you tell me the cause of your sorrow, I will not eat.” Reluctantly, the father related the whole background. “There are only twelve months left for you.” The boy said, “Never fear. I will go and do intense penance and make Lord Siva take this all back. Let us see what happens, but I cannot bear to see you sorrowing on my behalf.” Every day he got up at 3:30 in the early morning darkness, took a bath in cold water, brought fresh water and bilva leaves from the jungle to offer to Lord Siva, chanted Om Nama Shivaya,meditated on Lord Siva, and prayed to Him constantly. This young boy with spotless pure character went on doing this with all his heart into the eleventh month of his fifteenth year. As the last days started approaching, his fervour and determination increased.
The fateful day arrived and the young boy, named Markendeya, got up, took a bath, fetched water and then said with determination, “Today I will not get up from my worship.” The whole day he sat close to the Siva linga,but soon darkness fell, the entire atmosphere changed, and his heart was gripped with a foreboding fear. Repeating the divine mantra with great force, the courageous boy looked behind him and saw Yama, the Lord of Death, who said, “Come, your time is up.” Yama cast a noose onto Markendeya’s neck in order to take his life, but Markendeya turned from him and addressed Siva for protection.
Immediately, the Siva linga broke open and out sprung Siva in a terrible temper! Yama jumped down from the buffalo he was riding, prostrated and said, “Please forgive me, I have made a blunder,” and the Lord of Death cringed before Siva. Yama was actually doing his duty, but then he was daring to approach a devotee who had surrendered himself to the Lord, and this is unpardonable. Lord Siva said that Markendeya should not be touched, and He blessed Markendeya with everlasting life in the same body. He said, “You will ever be a glorious example of firm adherence to vows, courage and persistence.” Markendeya’s penance in the face of certain death is a byword in the spiritual Hindu tradition, and it is believed that this sage ever remains a fifteen year-old boy.
There is another extraordinary story in a different context. A young princess named Savitri was married to the son of a sage who lived in the forest. She was a very, very humble girl who served her father and mother along with her husband, but unfortunately the husband was doomed to die at an early age. She knew when his last day was, and she insisted on going with him to the forest to cut firewood on that particular day. At midday his time had come, and he felt a bit odd. He thought it was just sunstroke, but Savitri knew better. She told him to lie down and put his head on her lap.
Yama came, but she said, “Stop. Because of the power of my absolute chastity and fidelity, you cannot touch him.” Yama replied, “The power of chastity is surely the highest power in the world, but then I am not doing a function pertaining to the world. This is celestial business, and I have to take him.” He put the noose around the young man and took away his spirit. Savitri saw that her husband had died, and she pursued Yama. There was then a wonderful dialogue between Savitri and Yama, and ultimately she made Yama bring the soul back into the body. The young husband came back to life and wondered what had happened to him! They went home, and the mother and father blessed their daughter-in-law. The point is that through persistent effort, even death itself can be forced to give back the dead.
I want once more to emphasise my first point: what you think, that you become. If you invoke this law and apply it in your spiritual life, you can become established in the highest state of divine consciousness in this very life. There is no doubt about it. Similarly, there is the second great law that there is no obstacle in this universe that cannot be overcome and conquered by the power of persistent effort.
Fight bravely in the battle of life. Arm yourself with the shield of discrimination and the sword of dispassion. March forward courageously. Yield not to temptation. Meditate upon the inner self regularly. You will enter into the limitless domain of eternal bliss and everlasting peace. You will build a life of calmness, strength, equipoise and peace. Let Markendeya, Bhagirata and Savitri be inspirations for you. May the Lord bless you.