Wake Up!


Sri Swami Venkatesananda

This article is from the book “Multiple Reflections”.

What are the scriptures or texts? What is their genesis, and for whom are they intended? The question is very simple but very interesting because the scriptures have been with us for thousands of years, but our life seems to be the same as if the truths did not exist at all, as if we had nothing to go by. What happens to the scripture? Usually it adorns our libraries and is hardly ever looked at.

You might have noticed that whenever people are asked to read from the Bible or some other text, they go to their favourite passage and keep reading that. It is like wearing blinkers. We don’t see the whole truth, so the scriptures don’t seem to make much of an impact upon us.

So often we hear the truth, but even when it is spoken by a sage, a holy man, a yogi, a buddha, we pay just a nodding compliment to such truth. I have experienced this in India: someone admires the discourse saying: “Oh, it was marvellous, inspiring.” It was not supposed to be inspiring, it was supposed to shatter! I have heard such funny remarks after a discourse where the yogi had exposed the evil of wealth, for instance, and the best part of the audience were wealthy people. It did not touch them at all!

Why is it that in spite of all these great sages and their teachings no change has taken place in our lives? We are still trapped on the same merry-go-round. Probably because we have not undergone one fundamental preliminary, and that is an inner awakening. We seem to be externally awake all the time, but inwardly we are fast asleep. We buy these big tomes of scriptures and use them as pillows, hoping that the message will somehow jump out of the covers and into our heads. It does not happen. And when we go to listen to these great men, we are definitely psychologically asleep, and very often even physically asleep!

What is the first and foremost condition or qualification for being a true follower, a true disciple, or for even taking up the study of a scripture seriously? This definition is very beautifully put in that lovely scripture called the Yoga Vasistha. The fundamental requisite is that there should be a clear understanding and realisation that “I am trapped and I would like to be free from this trap.” If this is not there then the scriptures and lectures have no effect on us whatsoever. If you have the idea: “I am trapped, but I think I can find the way out”, then also there is no awakening. ‘I am trapped’ means I am trapped in every way, without redemption, without the possibility of an escape.

Take, for instance, the problem of loneliness and boredom. What do we do in order to overcome this boredom or loneliness? We try to escape into something that only confirms that loneliness. We find ourselves a friend (with whom we are unable to relate) and enter into a relationship. So together there is a boredom, together there is a loneliness. Or, we turn on the tape recorder or record player, but that does not take our boredom away. We are masking that boredom, that loneliness, and trying to escape from it. Thus we enter into a deeper, more dangerous and deadly trap. If that is not clear then the inner awakening is not there.

Is it possible to see that whatever we do we are in a trap? Anything that the mind creates is a trap. When there is this inner awakening then we will profit by scriptures and lectures–if we are not totally stupid and not, at the same time, enlightened. These are the qualifications. Totally stupid people have no problem at all, and the enlightened ones have no problem either. You and I, in the middle, are the ones harassed by problems.

Total stupidity takes various forms but one characteristic is the ability to function as if intelligent. These people shy away from asking the right questions and can answer all the wrong questions. They are philosophers who can create a sense of intelligence without being intelligent. What are the right questions? That is the most important factor. “I am trapped wherever and which ever way I look. From morning till night I strive for happiness and I find nothing but unhappiness.” The very fact that we continue to strive for happiness shows that we are unhappy. Face it. Whatever we do in order to augment our happiness only destroys it.

And yet intelligent people go on doing this. They want peace of mind and struggle for it. This struggle breaks the mind into several pieces. Then they catch hold of one little piece and think they are peaceful! That is the whole joke. Is that intelligence? Why is it that having understood this sequence of unfortunate events, we still pursue the game?

If it is decided that it is not possible to attain peace of mind or happiness here, give up. Is that possible? No. Something still stirs inside: “I am trapped; it must be possible to get out of this; I would like to get out of this.” If this twin aspiration is there and if you are not completely stupid or enlightened, then you can proceed to understand the scriptures. And where the scripture is not meaningful, you can also take the help of a teacher.

In the Katha Upanishad there is a beautiful declaration: uttishthata jagrata–wake up! No one else can do this for you. You can be the disciple of God Almighty Himself, but even He will not be able to wake up on your behalf. If you feel hungry, you yourself must eat. The guru is not going to do the eating for you. The guru may indicate to you, but it is your problem. And if you feel it is your problem, then you awaken, and then you are awake to the problem.

Unless you stop blaming others, including yourself, for the state you are in, you are not awake. When you are walking through a tunnel, you see the light in front of you and the light behind you. Even so, when you are in darkness you think you see some light in the past or in the future. It is an absurd pastime.

Therefore, a major qualification for the student of yoga is to realise that no one is responsible for the state you are in. No one can bring about a spiritual awakening in you. Someone can help, anyone can help, but you have to do it. This spiritual awakening is brought about by life itself, but even to be awakened by life, a certain grace and a certain inner alertness is necessary.

Waking up is easy, but to remain awake is not so easy. Those of you who have attempted to wake up early in the morning in order to meditate will appreciate this. You set an alarm clock, it rings and you wake up. But to remain awake after that is not so easy. The mind loves to sleep. Why? Because the mind is born of ignorance and therefore it loves sleep and it loves a thick psychological blanket.

Therefore, wake up! That is your problem, your responsibility, not the teacher’s. From there on, ever be vigilant. Whenever I use this word ‘vigilant’, I am reminded of Buddha’s famous teaching. In some texts it is said that during one of the Buddha’s last sermons, he told his disciples: “Live in this world as you would if you were living in a room with a live cobra at the door.” Can you imagine that? If you were in a small single room which had only one door and no windows, nothing to escape by, and you found a cobra sitting by that door in the middle of the night, what would you do? Would you sleep? Would you even nod? How vigilant you would be! Such must be the vigilance of the seeker.

It is possible for us to develop this vigilance if we understand that we are trapped and that whatever we do to get out of this trap leads us into a greater trap. Because the mind arises in ignorance and plays in ignorance, it can only create restlessness and disturb our peace. It may at times generate a feeling of happiness–which is a mere state of confusion. (If you have ever had true happiness for fifteen seconds, why did you give it up? Because it was not happiness at all!) If everything that we did ended in failure, we would stop doing anything. So the mind leads us from one unhappiness to another, and makes us feel sometimes that we are enjoying ourselves. That is the game the mind plays. When this understanding arises, what happens is vigilance.

If you are awake and alert, can you not discover the truth concerning life? With what does one discover the truth? Thought and mind cannot discover the truth because they are born of ignorance. What else do we have? There the questioner comes to an end. We can sit and think, but we have already understood that thinking leads us nowhere. We are awake, we are vigilant, but we do not know what else to do. Where do we go from there? Go to some enlightened person and be enlightened. Awakening is our job, our privilege. Enlightenment is possible with the help of the master. (Otherwise the danger is that we might regard ourselves as enlightened because our mind suggests we are enlightened–another trap.) So the commandment of the Upanishads is: uttishthata, jagrata–“awake, remain alert. Go to the enlightened ones and attain enlightenment.

Illustrating this, there is a little story at the very beginning of the Yoga Vasistha:

We are told that a great sage called Vyasa had a son known as Suka. He is said to have grown into a boy of sixteen at the very moment of birth, and walked away. The old sage Vyasa was very fond of his son and ran after the young man, calling him. This born sage, Suka, did not even answer the father. As the young boy was walking along, the trees responded to the father’s call.

Why was it so? Because this young sage had identified himself with the entire universe.

Such a born sage was instructed in the atma jnana, self knowledge, by his father, the sage. The boy himself had studied the scriptures and as his father was explaining to him, he thought: ‘I know this already.’ So he said to his father: “Father, what is the truth concerning this existence? What is the truth concerning this life? I feel that there is a cosmic oneness, and we are all so many.” The father said: ‘Yes, that seems to be right and that is what the scriptures also say. It looks as though your own understanding points in the same direction.’

Incidentally, there is an axiom: you cannot educate your own husband, wife or children–they will not listen to you.

The old man realised this problem and said: “My son, this is all I know; but there is no end to knowledge. It is better to have your realisation confirmed by an enlightened being, an enlightened sage. Only then will this little shadow of doubt that has arisen in your mind and which has made you come to me with this question, be completely dispelled. If you want to attain supreme enlightenment, I would recommend that you go to an enlightened monarch called Janaka. He will teach you further and will be able to help you to confirm your realisation.”

The young boy went to Janaka’s palace, stood outside the palace gates and announced through a messenger that Suka, the son of Vyasa, was there seeking his blessings. Janaka heard this but gave no response, no welcome. Instead, he asked his scavengers to dump all the garbage on the boy’s head and subject him to every type of indignity. This boy stood there, unmoved. “I have come to learn from this emperor, who is also a sage, and that is all. I am not interested in anything else.”

That is what is called concentration; that is called, dedication; that is called faith, enthusiasm.

At the end of one week the emperor had him brought into the palace. There was dance, drama, music and so on, and he was bathed in perfumed water. There again, he remained unmoved. “I have come to see the emperor to attain atma jnana.

This is called vigilance. Why is this vigilance so important? Because it is a sign of the recognition that all that is produced by the mind is bondage, whether it looks good or bad.

Eventually, after the end of the second week, Suka was ushered into the royal presence and the emperor said: “You shine like an enlightened being who knows already. What do you want me to say?” The young man replied: “Sir, my father said such and such, this is how I felt, and this is what the scriptures say…” The emperor responded: “Correct! I say exactly the same thing. Now, go!”

Thus, at the end of two weeks of torture, what Suka had himself realised, and what he had learned from his father and from the scriptures, was confirmed by the enlightened person. What comes from the lips of the enlightened person is not a product of the mind, and is therefore acceptable. This is the process of enlightenment, and if we adopt this method it is possible that our quest also might become fruitful.

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