This article is from the book An Instrument of Thy Peace.
There are a fortunate few into whose lives God has brought an awareness of a goal higher than merely being born, making a living and being called successful. Often we say, “He has succeeded in life; he has distinguished himself in his career, earned a lot of money, and attained a high social position.” Yet, is being a successful person merely accumulating some things, being called a success, and then leading a comfortable life? In terms of ultimate values it would be a very small life. In an impartial evaluation, one could ask, “What did he actually accomplish? He was born, managed life competently, and then ultimately he died.”
Death seems to be the ultimate outcome of whatever you might apparently have gained or achieved–name, fame, position or wealth. To live a life of striving and desiring, then to leave all you have worked and sweated for and go into oblivion–isn’t that the ultimate irony of death? Who cares about you once you have gone? Who is thinking of all the great bigwigs who shouted and thundered while they were alive–the politicians, financiers and multimillionaires? Who really cares for them? If the truth were known, ants, flies and worms all take birth, manage to live for a while, and ultimately perish. If you want to be completely frank, what is the ultimate difference in this respect between the multimillionaire and the insect? Maybe the insects ate each other, but they couldn’t help it. Yet, maybe the insects did not do many of the nasty things the millionaire did–no lies, tax evasion, bribery, dishonesty or hurting people.
Man in his cleverness many times cuts a sorry figure in comparison with the animals. In one of his humorous moods, Swami Sivananda wrote a poem about a conference of monkeys. They deliberated and came to one important conclusion: they should register a firm protest against Darwin for having said that monkeys were the ancestors of man! No monkey ever does the horrible things man does in society, so the monkeys rejected the idea as an insult. If one considers the way in which man is making use of his God-given intelligence, then they surely had a right to be insulted.
The great masters of wisdom of the East had a much more elevated vision of the possibilities of mankind. They have always preferred to evaluate man and his life in terms of the search for a higher meaning in life. They discovered in man a dimension that was more than merely mental and physical and was not limited in time. Their discovery is one of the most important insights of human society, for out of it came an experience of a state of absolute illumination, wondrous beatitude, indescribable bliss and perfect peace and freedom. Those who went into that experience were ecstatic. The scriptures are replete with expressions of this unbearable ecstasy.
This experience threw open the doors to absolute perfection and freedom. Man has access to tremendous pinnacles of higher experience and the ability to rise up and become established in that experience. These great realisers said, “Yes, man has this potential for perfection, because he was made in the image of God. If he can become a seeker, he can exert rightly and attain That. Nothing can come in his way if he has the will and he wants it heart and soul. Seek and ye shall find; ask and it shall be given. That is your birthright.” All great messengers of God have again and again borne out this truth.
Swami Sivananda said that man is an extraordinary mixture of the animal, the human and the divine. Man has the same biological nature as the animals–hunger, thirst, fear, procreation and the desire to survive. There is at the same time a uniqueness that is denied to any other form but man–such as reasoning, the ability to discover, to be aware, to ask questions and to progress in knowledge. What is more, what the physical sciences cannot see is that in addition to these evident aspects, there is also an unseen, nonmaterial dimension available to man. The true identity of man is deathless and eternal. This was clearly perceived by the mystics and the illumined sages, who boldly stated, “You are divine, you are a child of immortality.” These sages called on mankind to claim its birthright. They possessed the vision of this divine dimension of man’s personality that is not seen by scientists, because despite tremendous knowledge in their own fields, the scientists have only the outer knowledge.
These great sages saw all of life’s endeavours in the light of that supreme destiny of man. For them the real attainment always had to do with this ultimate fulfilment, and success in life was meaningless if it did not relate to that supreme goal. A life lacking in the aspiration for this attainment would have been wasted. No matter how much you have succeeded and how wonderful your life is, if it lacks this ultimate purpose, you have gone off the track and wandered into a desert.
These selfsame masters were not mere impractical visionaries who ignored the secular aspects of life. They gave it its due, and they said, “Yes, do all that you have to do in order to prosper in life. Acquire the necessities to live a successful and comfortable life, and of course strive to improve your lot.” They never looked down upon man’s endeavours to improve his situation, but these endeavours should not be limited to just physical well-being. You should also try to improve yourself as a person by building up your character and integrity through your principled living. Life becomes meaningful only if, in addition to living a life of comfort above want, it also brings a person further towards the attainment of that supreme goal. Otherwise, this life had no intrinsic worth. Just to make a living and to manage to get along comfortably is not enough. It is necessary, but it is not all.
A very important element here has to be kept in mind. When the Eastern masters spoke about inner unfoldment, they were always aware that within man there is the potential for both the positive and the negative. We are swayed by both forces–that of light and that of darkness. In terms of inner unfoldment, they were always trying to encourage the highest being. The sixteenth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita speaks about this twofold aspect of the human being: demoniacal and divine. The unfoldment of the divine leads to liberation, and the domination of the demoniacal leads to bondage. That superior part of you thinks in an elevating way, while the inferior part revels in petty, selfish and hurtful things. Their concept of inner unfoldment was based on this higher being of light within. There is in you a sleeping God, and so the beauty of your higher nature should be unfolded.
The great masters’ concept of this process of unfoldment was not merely to try to develop superior abilities, which would give you a keener intellect and a better memory so that you could succeed in your profession. Nowadays, there are many courses in the marketplace based on this idea of self-improvement in order to tap one’s inner resources and also to make more dollars! While we can’t treat them with contempt, we can say that one should not be completely caught up in this alone, because there is something greater to be attained. If you are satisfied only with these things, you may become a more dynamic and magnetic person, but you will eventually die as a dynamic and magnetic person!
Supposing all these advertised powers and abilities did come to you after a six-month course. If you are a person of strong will and determination and if you apply yourself, perhaps you will get the power to influence people and be more successful in your work. But supposing that in this process of self-improvement, you have not fundamentally changed yourself in terms of dealing with your own mind? If you have not conquered your mind and mastered your lower senses and appetites, what will be the ultimate outcome of these newly acquired abilities? They are bound to be misapplied one day or another, because if you are still at the prey of your desires, you will remain the same person with all your shortcomings and weaknesses.
Then these abilities will be a doubtful endowment. They may be applied in some positive ways, but they may also be applied in a negative way, and that may happen not once but 101 times. You have managed to tap the inner resources and have got superior abilities, but as a person, what happens to you? It does not necessarily mean that you have become a better person. There is a distinction between being a more effective and successful person and being a better person. If there has not been simultaneous progress upon the ethical level, the unfoldment of these abilities may be dangerous.
To come back to our original theme, the entire approach of the great masters of the East towards the science of inner attainment was always based upon the fundamental vision for the individual on this earth plane. What have you come to this earth for? Inner attainment is always oriented to the supreme fulfilment of man’s life in terms of this crucial question. The masters evaluate the unfoldment of the individual in terms of the unfoldment of the superior being.
The interplay of the three gunas in human nature was also something always in their awareness. True unfoldment in their concept meant transformation of the being from a state of predominance of tamas andrajas into a state of sattva. The individual would gradually succeed in the control of rajas and tamas–liberating himself from tamas in its various aspects and gradually mastering the activities of rajas, so that it could be directed to the desired channel.
This transmutation of the gunas becomes a valuable aid in that awakening to the innermost depths of being where the God within lies slumbering. Therefore, the masters would want the unfoldment to bring about the conquest of tamas and the mastery of rajas. The valuable dynamism of rajas could be utilised by giving it a higher direction, and it would become a valuable factor in bringing about the awakening of the divine. For it is through the awakening into the divine element of himself that the individual would ultimately fulfil his mission on earth and attain to God-consciousness.
As the unfoldment takes place, man’s emotions and senses will move from being base and gross to gradually becoming more subtle and refined. The emotions become associated more and more with idealism and noble sentiments–the desire to love, to be an inspiration, to bring happiness to others, to share, to relieve suffering, and to lighten the burden of others. The cleansing of the emotions and sentiments brings a quality of refinement and subtlety that was not in them before, when they were only involved in the senses and their grosser habits. This is inner unfoldment.
Conversely, the thinking of an unrefined man in whom there is no unfoldment remains at a rather prosaic level. His thinking revolves around the three lowest chakras that represent the animal in man–the centres of excretion, sex and the stomach. The thoughts of the individual have to be raised from this lower level to more sublime goals. In the concept of the great masters of the East, the higher unfoldment of an individual was to raise the level of consciousness beyond these three lower centres and bring it into gradually ascending higher levels of thinking and aspiration.
The primary mission of man is to make this earth life into a part of this evolutionary process–if possible, right up to the very top! As unfoldment proceeds, you become more and more a self-conquered person. The concept of inner unfoldment was that you should become a king within your body dominion and not a slave. Self-mastery becomes a progressive conquest of the different levels of your being. That is the true inner unfoldment, and this conquest was indispensable if you were to become established in a life of idealism.
Buddha once posed a question: “Who is the greater being–a king who has defeated another kingdom or one who has conquered his own mind?” He himself gave the answer: the greater one is not he who has conquered with armies, but he who has subdued his own passions and mind. The conqueror of kingdoms may still be the slave of his desires; he may be miserable and have no peace of mind or happiness. But the one who has conquered his mind will shine in virtue, as he will have liberated himself from the net of desires. Therefore, trying to be a success in your outer life is perfectly legitimate, but if you only do this, it would not be sufficient.
The great master Ramakrishna once told a story about farmers who leave some inferior grain lying out in the granaries in order to keep the rats satisfied so that they don’t try to eat the better quality grain. In a similar way, maya has put many attractive things in front of you as “inferior grain” so that you will nibble it and bypass the highest attainment. You may think you have been very clever, but you have in fact been foolish. Fully occupied by cleverness, you have managed to become an effective personality, and then what–you die and then maybe you get two lines in the obituary column of the Washington Post!
But, instead of this foolishness, you can attain divine perfection. Any process of unfoldment you launch upon will ultimately take you there. If you strongly will it, it is possible. “Seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven.” That is why, in the context of Eastern religious tradition, when they gave the fourfold values (artha, kama, dharma, moksha) for an individual to strive after, they gave liberation through divine perfection (moksha)as the highest supreme value. Artha would provide for the secular value–to accumulate honestly earned wealth to acquire the necessities of life. Through kama you fulfil the legitimate desires and longings of your heart, taking care that this process does not deprive you of that ultimate goal. Through dharma you base your life upon the firm foundation of moral and ethical principles that the masters gave.
Liberation will not come by itself. You must know that it is important, you must have a desire for it, and you must work diligently for it. On the basis of your secular life, work hard to acquire the money to lead a comfortable life, but then let the quality of your efforts in making a success of your secular life not be divorced from the ethical element. Otherwise, you will succeed, but at the same time you will fail, and forever you will be the loser in the highest sense. To succeed in life, our vision should always be fixed upon that great goal, and our concepts of inner unfoldment should be oriented in that way.
In none of this have I meant to say that we should not make effort to improve ourselves or get greater intellectual abilities or learn new skills. No, by all means make use of these, but don’t stop short. When you employ self-improvement techniques, let there be simultaneously improvement of yourself as a person; otherwise, you may be putting them to the wrong use. You will win battles but lose the war. Everybody wants shortcuts, but there are dangers, because the mind is very tricky. You may throw a boomerang out thinking it will come right back to you, but if you don’t throw it correctly you might lose it.
The Eastern approach to this entire subject of inner unfoldment was first and foremost based upon the vision of ultimate fulfilment, and an awakened being with an awareness of consciousness can fulfil the mission of man on earth. May Master’s benedictions always abide with you and give you a real inner unfoldment leading to the supreme attainment.