The Incredible Gift of Our Spiritual Heritage


Sri Swami Chidananda

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

Our Over-expectation
You Kill Time until Time Kills You
The Way to Bliss, Peace and Joy
The Great Lights of Humanity

As far as we know about the human race, since ancient times there has been a continuing development in human society. In the beginning man wanted to know where he could find food, water and shelter, but then a period came when, not satisfied with knowing only about his immediate physical environment, the desire arose to ask deeper questions. Past observances had revealed to him that all of life seemed to be an entry and an exit. He began to ponder, “Why am I here? Where did I come from? Where do I go?”

These questions were asked, but there were no answers forthcoming. Some adventuresome people with a pioneering spirit desired to pry open the door that held this mystery and see what was behind it. This was a totally new and unexplored dimension. People started out on this intrepid search into the realm of the spirit, and they began investigating not only the outer nature but also the inner field of man’s own being. They must have gained insights into what up until that point had been a hidden unknown. These insights are the content of the metaphysical, philosophical and religious domain of man’s life. We are the richer because these ancient people took up this enquiry as their mission in life.

Today, confused and agitated mankind has lost its sense of identity and does not seem to perceive a satisfactory meaning in life. If man could but recognise that the discoveries of these ancient seers are meant for modern man, then he could once again regain his sense of direction in terms of the meaning of life. There would thus be a solution to the problems that cause him to be a stumbling, despairing wanderer. This stumbling would be a needless and avoidable distress if only man could realise that these ancient teachings were meant for this modern age as well. They are for us today, because these insights are the common heritage of the entire human species and are tools that are meant to be used. They are so many lights for us to live by and to guide us purposefully to exalted goals. This rich legacy of the past forms a perennial, precious heritage for mankind in every century.

Sadly though, the true place in life of these great teachings has not been recognised, and we are the poorer for it. So much suffering could be avoided if only the proper role these teachings have to play in our lives was acknowledged. They constitute the true wealth of human society. Ultimately, unless the “why and wherefore” of life is properly understood, man’s life is bound to be a confused, futile wandering filled with a great deal of disillusionment, frustration and sorrow. But if we claim this heritage, make it our own, and live in the light of these great revelations that the ancients have left for us, then our way will be clear.

If one were to ask a large gathering of people, “What is the way that you deal with your own mind?” one would find that most of them had never before asked themselves this question. They would also likely not even know that there is a need to have some formula for dealing with their inner self. They have no well-defined formula or method of mind management. Most probably the situation is that they are themselves managed by the mind. They just drift and go in whatever direction the mind drags them. This situation prevails in the vast majority of human beings in modern society. It is like being in a vehicle but not being in control of the steering wheel. This would lead to disaster.

There should be a purpose behind thought, and this alone can save the human individual from falling prey to miscellaneous and uncontrolled ideas. Aimlessness is a great vice as well as a great danger. It is a vice because it is also a danger–harm can come from aimlessness of mind even as harm can come from a vice. Just as we like to have a very well-ordered room with everything in its place, in a similar way we need to think of making the same arrangements within our own mind. We are very particular about the way in which our exterior looks, but we don’t bestow the same attention on having a well-ordered interior. Every person needs to be shown the necessity of purposeful thinking, and it is best done at an early age.

Our Over-expectation

You see, it is our “over-expectation” as regards the objects around us that brings about disappointment and frustration. We don’t understand things as they really are, and we mistake them to be something they are not. They let us down, or rather, we get let down by our folly and failure to understand things in their true light. Finite things can only give finite experience, and imperfect things can only give imperfect experience. Things that are meant to fulfil a specific purpose will fill only that purpose. In this way, if we know that things of this outer world have utility–but we do not expect them to be the means of our happiness–then we shall avoid a great deal of disappointment and sorrow. We will then not suffer the grief of disillusionment, because we will not “over-expect” anything from this world of perishable things–other than what they were meant to give us. If on the other hand, we take finite or imperfect things to be the source of our happiness and think that by accumulating and keeping them we will become happy, then we will learn a bitter lesson.

A great deal of sorrow could be avoided if only man would not neglect the great bequest of his ancestors. He has skilfully made use of science, trade, commerce and transportation that are necessary for his outer life, but the inner life is thrown away as unnecessary and useless. This present century is the end product of a continual process of advancements in all areas of human life except two–the moral view of life, and the higher metaphysical, spiritual dimension of the human being. Their value seems to have been cast away as meaningless chaff.

Man has hypnotised himself into a state where he has become convinced that it is no longer possible to follow anything noble and sublime. Man seems to have reached a position where anything that is violent, selfish and brutal is quite possible, but anything lofty, noble and sublime seems to be just so much air. Why is this? Once again, part of the reason for this state of thinking today stems from man having decided to essentially ignore the philosophical and moral heritage that he has received from the past. The science of behaviour, the art of good conduct, and the science of the soul have been ignored to such an extent that today no government ever thinks it necessary to educate its own people in these areas of life. These vital aspects of study find no place in the system’s scheme of education. The vast majority of people in most countries study history, maths, language, science and everything else, but not how to behave. However, only by knowing these vital subjects–who you are, whence you have come, where you go at the end of your life, what is the purpose of this life–can man live a truly meaningful life.

The problem of man is self-created through his negation of this particular aspect of his global human heritage, which is ironically the most precious and vital of all the factors of civilisation that have evolved through the ages. This earth life without its divine destiny is merely a coming and a departing, a birth and a death. We have to open our eyes and behold the richness of this heritage. We would find in it the balm to assuage our sorrows and the light to lead us out of the darkness in which we are stumbling. From these primordial discoveries, we have the clear and unmistakable declaration that man indeed has a higher divine destiny to fulfil.

All biographers start from the birth of a person and end with his death. Hardly anyone ever looks beyond the outer appearance and questions, “Is this all?” They take for granted that the death of the body is the end of everything. But indeed, this earth life is only a link in a long chain. You are not here for the first time, and this is not the only life you have had. This earth life is a single event in a process that is ultimately meant to take you into a state of absolute perfection. The Maker of man has a definite, well-ordered plan for things.

In the eyes of God, man’s life is a progressive ascent into a state of divine perfection. This was the clear vision which the ancients had and which they declared in no uncertain terms. The rays of the sun heat the water of the ocean and cause it to evaporate; the water vapour then ascends to cooler levels, condenses into clouds, and the clouds release their moisture as rain. The rain descends to the ground, flows into streams, joins the river, once again moves towards the sea, and finally reaches the source of its primary origin. Thus the cycle is completed. Even so, the discovery of the ancient sages and seers of illumined, transcendental experience saw in man such a journey back to the source of his being.

You Kill Time until Time Kills You

If the worldly life of the human individual is seen as a single episode and separated from the ultimate process of returning to the source, then such a life fails to have meaning. Helpless in infancy, you grow up according to society’s pattern, you are educated and maybe learn a profession and start to earn money so you can feed and clothe yourself. Then like father and grandfather before you, you take a wife, have children, get a house, a car and a pension. You smoke a little, drink a little, play cards a little, have appendicitis and tooth trouble, get doctor’s bills and insurance bills, and experience your little sorrows, loves and hates. Then getting old and not knowing what to do, you sit in front of the TV, gossip, putter in the garden, or play golf. If taken by itself, this sort of life is simply a struggle to keep the body fed and clothed and oneself entertained.

You kill time until time kills you. That is all. Then you get a little tombstone in a graveyard with two lines carved in marble and maybe a few lines in the newspaper, but what did you get from it all? What does it all mean? You slave and cheat and offend people just in order to get money for things. For what end? Is there anything in this entire universe that you can take with you when you die? Ultimately you are born and you die, and life is a slow process of gradually moving towards the moment of your last breath. Modern man sees spiritual idealism as incompatible with his life and as meant only for the visionary or mystic. This precious faculty of rationality and intelligence is never put to its true function, which is to question the “why and wherefore” of life. The ultimate conclusion might seem to be that life is meaningless.

There was once a greedy merchant in the South of India, who later came to be a great philosopher after his eyes were opened by a peculiar set of circumstances. He found out that when you finally die, not even the broken end of a rusted needle will go with you. It is only by considering things in the context of the unseen and unknown dimensions that this worldly life begins to have meaning. Life must be considered in relation to the great discoveries that the ancient seers made regarding the ultimate mystery of mankind.

Two great universal laws govern man’s life on earth. The first law states that within the human individual lies latent perfection–a slumbering spirit divine. Life on earth is the process of gradually reaching up to a state where the dormant divinity awakens and the latent perfection is made manifest. When that becomes a fact–and not just an abstract concept–human life is no longer fragmented by unfulfilled desires, and it becomes full of shining spiritual completeness. It is a state where man is totally full, sufficient unto himself, and where he rejoices in his fulfilment with no more need of anything. That is the crown of supreme happiness in which he rejoices in the fullness of the Self. The whole of life is the process of this unfoldment, this upward ascent to perfection. You have come here to fulfil this law, which is the inner dimension of your very being.

A second law follows, which is the law of karma–the law of cause and effect, action and reaction. That law says reassuringly, “Whatever you wish to become, you can be.” If you bring into being the right type of causes, you can make your future whatever you wish it to be. This law is to be evoked as the means of attaining your divine destiny. It is the wonderful instrument given to you by the Cosmic Being and is for you to put to active use. What you wish to become you can be, if you engage in the right type of activity. Action is the product of thought, so as one thinks, so one becomes. Therefore, make use of this instrument in the way that is calculated to bring your greatest good, which is the fulfilment of your divine destiny. Make use of this body that God has given you in such a way that it becomes the means of attaining divine perfection. If you relate this understanding to your worldly life, you will gradually see that life is not a monotonous daily repetition leading towards death.

I’ll be a little crude now with your permission. Let us suppose that a fifty year-old man were to calculate the amount of food that had gone into his stomach over his whole lifetime. After an approximate calculation of all the hot dogs, hamburgers, gallons of coffee, alcohol and Coca-Cola, he would see that he had taken in so very much food and then passed it out of his body as faecal matter. It might make for a very unflattering depiction. He might then ask himself, “Is this all I have been doing all these years?” Then if he also recalled all the nasty, negative things he had said and done, he would not like to make a long study of that most unpleasant picture.

However, if he also looked at his earth life of eating and drinking in terms of the higher aspect of his being, he would understand that the earth life helps lead to the divine destiny. The law of karma makes your worldly life–intelligently lived and properly understood–not merely a process of eating and sleeping, but a process that will surely bring you to the supreme goal of divine perfection. “I am here to attain this perfection, to rediscover my lost identity as a part and parcel of that universal cosmic consciousness called God. I am here to make use of this worldly existence by giving it a spiritual significance, for I am in essence divine.” By imparting this divine quality, you make this life the means of attaining your highest destiny.

This is the teaching of the great ones and also an admonishment to make use of this life as a process of higher spiritual evolution. Look with the proper vision and perspective: life is a precious gift and not something to make you weep and wail. It holds a deeper meaning as an upward ascent into a luminous state of divine consciousness of joy, bliss and peace. The worldly life of man is pregnant with a deep and serious purpose, and it holds the seeds of man’s eternal fulfilment. Once you understand the law of karma, you have a golden key given to you by an all-loving providence that provides you with the means of attaining a divine destiny.

The Way to Bliss, Peace and Joy

How you utilise your worldly life will depend upon how you use this earth vehicle in the form of body, senses, mind and intellect. The senses were given to the individual human soul as avenues of perception to see the world of things, get knowledge and enable a person to live a life of understanding. If you subvert the senses into instruments of indulgence, then these senses will enslave you to sensual appetites and urges. They become then the source of suffering and pain. The art and science of living is to know how to be fulfilled on both the earthly and the spiritual planes and how to strike a balance between the two. Each should help the other; there should not be an inner tug of war and conflict. If you have succeeded in relating these two to each other in a positive and a creative way, then music will come out of your life.

Similarly, the mind was given to the individual soul of man to observe and understand life and to develop knowledge. However, if the desire-nature of the mind is allowed to dominate the consciousness, your behaviour becomes the source of grief and sorrow, because you are caught in the net of endless desire. Desire, by its very nature, can never be fully satisfied. As you go on fulfilling desire, it goes on intensifying. This has been discovered by the illumined sages who said, “Desire that has been aroused in the mind can never be subdued by the fulfilment of that desire. The more you keep fulfilling it, the more it intensifies and multiplies. Desire can be overcome only by transcending it.” But how can desire be transcended?

It is done through philosophical understanding and through realising your higher nature. One realises, “I am complete and self-sufficient. I am myself of the nature of bliss. I don’t need to run after fulfilling desires in order to find my happiness. I find that joy comes to me from my own inner Self.” If instead of this you make your mind only a playground for desires and cravings, then in this net of desire you will be caught in self-created misery and grief. Even if you take one hundred births through the ages, you will never be able to satisfy the endless desires and find happiness. Desire has to be sublimated, conquered and transcended, as this is the way to bliss and peace and joy. But who teaches this to our children, and who has this field of knowledge as part of their educational process? No wonder human society is so miserable!

Another great mistake in human life is allowing the intelligence to become gripped by ego. The function of the intellect is to govern the mind and to give it the proper lead so that it goes in the right direction. But through ignorance and lack of insight–or if our elders, parents and teachers fail to give us the knowledge to make life meaningful–the intelligence may become dominated by the ego. The intellect is then perverted into a centre of selfishness, and when this happens the intellect forfeits its status as a governing principle within our own psyche. It is no more able to direct the mind and to guide it, but instead it is gripped by self-satisfaction and desire-fulfilment. The pursuit of pleasure becomes the main activity of the intellect, and man suffers a downfall as the senses run riot. The mind becomes totally uncontrolled, because it is no longer exercising its proper function.

Such a perverted intellect throws to the wind all normal considerations, and it wants only to gain its selfish ends. Where the intellect is dominated by an ego identified with desire, the mind becomes totally entangled in the web of desire, and the life of man derails completely. The misguided mind does not care for moral principles or ethical standards, but without these, life becomes an animalistic process. Ethical standards and moral criteria alone make human life superior to that of animals.

When the intellect is under the influence of ego, it becomes perverted and ignores these standards. Man is then no longer able to attain his divine destiny. If this is clearly seen and man corrects his errors, retraces his steps and makes proper use of the mind and intellect as tools of evolution to grow in knowledge of his inner nature, then the intellect and mind become blessings and assets. Otherwise, they are liabilities, and man suffers as a consequence. What is more serious, his evolutionary process is retarded, he is enslaved by desire and dominated by selfish ego, and he puts a stop to the ascending process. Thus, God’s plan for man becomes thwarted. Man becomes his own enemy and the greatest obstacle in the fulfilment of his divine destiny.

The Great Lights of Humanity

All the great teachers of mankind have set a model way of conduct so that this misfortune may not occur. By their own ideal lives these teachers have exemplified this ideal model of conduct. We have before us the inspiring lives of the saints and seers who have appeared in all the religious traditions. These great ones have come to give an example and to set standards for the rest of mankind. Let us not be so ungrateful as to forget these great lights of humanity, whose lives have been beacons to guide us. Let us repay the debt of gratitude we owe them by constantly keeping them alive in our collective memory and in our own personal lives. That is the road to achieving our destiny and the way to fulfil the divine mission for which we have come.

This spiritual mission is to be fulfilled even as we are living our ordinary lives and doing our daily tasks and duties. No matter whether you are a shopkeeper, lawyer, doctor, teacher or labourer on the road–whatever you are outwardly–you are a soul on the path of evolution towards your divine destiny. This name and form are only your temporary identity. Your eternal Self is moving towards its ultimate unfoldment and the recovery of its lost divine perfection. Don’t forget that. These two streams–the temporary stream of worldly life and the continuing stream of your inner spiritual life–have to be lived simultaneously. If you live only the temporary stream of your earth life, you lose your way. You lose a wonderful, God-given chance, because He has given you everything that you require.

Thus, let modern man open his eyes and see himself for what he is and know this worldly life for what it is–the process of a gradual, upward ascent unto divine perfection, and not merely a prosaic process of eating, drinking, sleeping and dying. Fulfil your divine destiny by understanding the law of karma and utilising it properly. Think over these things, have noble aspirations, engage in sublime deeds, and at the same time engage in positive spiritual practices that have the power to bring about the quick unfoldment of the inner spirit of man. This practical spiritual life is the real inner heart of all religions. Every religion has within itself a mystical dimension where spirituality is practised as a definite technique for attaining divine perfection. This inner content of religion should be the aspiration of each individual.

The priest in the pulpit will not be able to give this to you. He can only administer the outer ceremony and ritual, because he gives you only organised religion. The aspiration comes from you. As an individual, you have to live your own religious life in a practical way. Religion will mean maintaining your personal relationship with God and moving steadily towards your ultimate encounter with God. That practical religion involves prayer, daily meditation and unceasing remembrance of God. That practical religion keeps awake within us a constant awareness of His presence everywhere. God did not just create the world and then go off somewhere like the tortoise that lays its eggs and then wanders away! God is immanent in His creation, He is present within and without, and He fills this hall at this moment. It is in the enfolding presence of the divine spirit that all things are being done. I speak. You listen. You understand. All is done in the presence of the all-pervading spirit divine. We live, move and have our being in this great Reality.

To practise always the awareness of His presence needs to become your own personal religion. You may go to church each Sunday, listen to a sermon, pray and sing, give a donation, and then go home, but what about the other six days? Morning and evening you must commune with God through prayer, meditation and remembrance. At all times, in the midst of your activities, wherever you are, whatever you are doing, you must cultivate the practice of His divine presence. This is the way of the unfoldment of the soul. This is the way by which your worldly life can become the means of attaining your higher divine destiny. This is the path to peace and happiness. This is what will give your life real depth, bring it sublime meaning, and give it a definite direction. There will be no more reason for confusion, despair and disillusionment, if only human society could accept from the past this incredible gift of its heritage: this spiritual vision with its deeper understanding of mankind and his destiny.

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