This article is from the book Awake! Realise Your Divinity!.
Radiant Atman! The words aviveki, viveki and sadhaka refer to three different types of individuals. An aviveki is a person who does not discriminate. All the lessons in life which God sends him or her are wasted, because he or she is in ajnana (ignorance). And ajnana is the outcome of aviveka (non-discrimination).
On the other hand, a viveki is a person who does discriminate. He learns the lessons of life, but they have no effect on him. His learning and the lessons he has learned are stored up in his head; they produce no fruit because they are not applied. He does not allow these lessons to have a powerful impact upon him.
But a true sadhaka (spiritual aspirant) is one who is both a viveki as well as one who actively reacts to whatever lessons life brings in the course of going through it, the experiences that form part of it. Nothing is wasted upon the true sadhaka. Everything produces a change, a transformation for the better. Everything brings forth from the true sadhaka and seeker a certain positive, creative response, after which he is never the same as before. He is changed. His character, his nature, his very life becomes enriched, enhanced by something new which was not there previous to the impact the experience had upon him.
Two hundred years ago, there was born a grandchild, a baby girl, in the family of a very renowned Japanese warrior, a samurai. He was a great warrior, very brave and heroic. And the baby girl was a most beautiful child. She grew up to be a maiden of such exceptional and unusual beauty that the family thought it fitting that she be offered to the Empress of the country as a handmaiden or servant.
At that time the Japanese were ruled by emperors. So they took her to the palace and the Empress and the entire royal family were also struck by the beauty of this girl. She was found to be very keenly intelligent, very active and very perceptive. So she soon became a favourite and an important part of the Empress’ retinue.
Unfortunately, within a few years, while the girl was still in her teens, the Empress, whose health had been apparently perfectly normal, suddenly passed away. This sudden passing had such a profound impact upon this young girl that something stirred deep within her and a sudden change came into her entire psychology. She said: “What is this life? Everything is vain. Everything passes away. There is no stability; nothing can be relied upon. Nothing is real. Everything is evanescent, transitory, ephemeral, perishable and passing.”
She was very intelligent person, and so profound was this conviction that she lost all interest in life and determined then and there: “I must pursue the path of meditation and enlightenment.” She determined to become a Zen nun, a seeker and a meditator.
Everyone was shocked. Her whole family was in an uproar. They said: “Impossible! It is against our family tradition. You are too young for this; you are unprepared. You must marry. Moreover, it will not be possible for you to be a nun having such great beauty as God has endowed you with.” She yielded to them upon one strict condition–that after she had mothered three children, the marriage agreement would be at an end she would then become a nun. No one believed that such a thing would be possible and so they readily agreed and arranged a match for her. She also told her future husband and in-laws the same thing–that only on this condition would she be willing to enter into wedlock.
All agreed and so she was married. Dutifully she served her husband and in-laws, took a full interest in family affairs, looked after the household and behaved in a one hundred per cent normal way. But, at the same time she was a keen student of Zen literature and practised meditation. Still, in all ways she was an efficient house-wife, a good wife, and obedient daughter-in-law and a good daughter to her parents.
However, after the third child had been born and reared for a few months, she suddenly announced that her promise had been fulfilled. She would no longer continue in the family life and instead would take to the life of a Zen nun. In spite of all protests, she shaved her head and silenced them with a reminder of their promise.
She then left everything, put on a nun’s robe and wandered away in search of a Zen master. She went to a great city where a famous master was and asked to be taken in discipleship. She was refused due to her beauty. She went to another master where she was also refused on the ground of her beauty.
Therefore, she determined that this obstacle should be removed. So, one day, in the privacy of her room she made a big fire, put a iron rod into it and branded her face. She made her face ugly beyond recognition and thus lost her beauty forever. She then went back to the second master who immediately accepted her as a disciple. She soon became a very earnest and sincere practitioner of the Zen way of life and advanced spiritually in an amazing manner.
Such was her determination. And it was all due to the way in which she was able to react when confronted by the sudden death of her patron, the Empress. Of the hundreds of others who must have been in the service of the palace and the Empress, some would have wept, mourned for some time and then adjusted themselves. Others might have been thoughtful and reflected and for some time had some smasana vairagya (graveyard dispassion). They might have stopped wearing ornaments or good clothes. But soon they too would have reverted to normal, back to square one, as they say, or into the old rut. But here was one who was not only not an aviveki, not only not ignorance, not only not merely a viveki, but was one who was also practical, who had the viveka and immediately applied it to her own life.
Similar indeed was the case of Prince Siddhartha. He was a uttama adhikari (best qualified aspirant), a practical spiritual seeker, who was ripe to react to the experiences of life in a creative and transforming manner. And that was what made him first a renunciate, a tyagi, then a tapasvi, then a Yogi, then a jnani, then an enlightened Guru, an uttama tattvavetta (one who fully knows the truth) and finally a world teacher. And the whole world has benefited. Because he was a uttama adhikari, he did not go through life’s experiences blindly with eyes closed, in a state of ignorance, in a state of non-discrimination and non-enquiry, avichara and aviveka. Nor did he merely go as an intellectual vicharavan and viveki.
Intellectually we may make enquiries, come to conclusions, learn things and then do nothing about it. So we are only burdened with knowledge. Life is left untouched. But Prince Siddhartha was a practical spiritual seeker, and he reacted to even simple ordinary experiences which leave millions of others just cold. Everyone has seen old age; everyone has seen disease; everyone has seen death. They are seen but nothing happens.
It is only when metal is touched by a philosopher’s stone that it becomes gold. If clay or wood comes into contact with a philosopher’s stone, it will remain clay or wood only. If a person of metal comes in contact with even day-to-day experiences, he will be transformed. Siddhartha was a person of metal; he had the right stuff in him. And this beautiful Japanese girl also had the right stuff in her. There was something there ready to absorb, to react, to get transformed. And, therefore, a transformation took place.
Today is Sri Buddha Jayanti. You should, therefore, ponder Buddha’s life, his ideal reaction to experiences and the memorable and epoch-making step that he took. When he felt this profound change, he did not keep quiet about it. He was a practical Yogi. He took a bold step and became a renunciate and a seeker. Then he became an austere practitioner, a tapasvi, practised Yoga and meditation and became a jnani and a world teacher.
The great poet Sir Edwin Arnold has written about him in wonderful, inspiring poetry, The Light of Asia. And a very readable and most absorbing biography of Buddha was written by Adam Beck. Then Professor Edwin Burtt from Cornel University near New York has written Teachings of the Compassionate Buddha. It is worthwhile purchasing a copy and studying it. During the late forties, Professor Burtt stayed in this Ashram for two or three weeks during a visit to India and Nepal. He gave a series of talks on comparative religion before Guru Maharaj Swami Sivanandaji.
So, it is not what the jiva keeps experiencing in this life that really enriches it or transforms it and lifts it up to sublime heights, rather it is actively exercised vichara and viveka. More than that, for even this is not sufficient, it is how one reacts in a living manner, in a vital manner to experiences. It is this that becomes the transforming factor in the life of a true seeker.
This is so not only in the spiritual field but also in the secular field, even in the business field. If a businessman’s son goes on like a fool, he will never learn anything. The same son, if he is not a fool but a keen observer, may learn many lessons about the business world, but if he does not react to them, he will not be successful. It is only the one who keenly absorbs these experiences, reflects deeply over them, applies the lessons learned and brings about changes, it is only such a one that becomes a successful business person and perhaps a multi-millionaire. It all depends upon whether one vitally and in a living manner reacts to the experiences that one undergoes. It is that which determines one’s transformation in life.
That is what the life of Buddha teaches us. He reacted in a wonderful manner, in a living manner, very early in life. Thus it was that at a young age he became a great enlightened and illumined teacher of his own times and has gone down as an immortal personality in human history. Even though it is well over 2500 years since he was born, even today his teachings are followed by millions of Buddhists. And the world also remembers him, both East and West.
That is the result of the living way in which he faced life, underwent experiences and responded to them in a living way. May this be well absorbed. May this be deeply pondered. That is the benefit of observing such occasions as Buddha Jayanti. May you all try to make this a period of special study of Buddha’s life, his teachings and what they imply, what message they have for us. May we become enriched by his lofty and sublime example, life and teachings. God bless you all!