What Has to be Known?
Sri Swami Chidananda
This article is from the book Ponder These Truths.
Radiant Immortal Atman (Self) ! Beloved and blessed children of the Divine ! You are all mumukshus and jijnasus. A mumukshu is one who aspires after moksha or liberation. A jijnasu is one who is in search of jnana (knowledge) and therefore is actively making endeavours to grow in knowledge and obtain wisdom. What is it that has to be known ?
Everything in connection with the spiritual path has to be known. And if you do not know it, you have to pay the price. You will be made to know it in the bitter way, through experience. The mother teaches everything to the child when it is growing up and starts to move about the house. She teaches the child what to touch, what not to touch, what to go near, what not to go near. She teaches how fire will burn, a sharp knife will cut, a carpet edge can trip. All these things the mother carefully teaches; otherwise, the child will burn itself, cut itself or stumble. Similarly, everything about the spiritual life has to be known.
The spiritual life is lived by the seeker in a body. Therefore, laws governing the welfare of the physical body have to be known: suitable food, unsuitable food; healthy habits; right posture, wrong posture; the correct amount of sleep, the tendency of the body to develop good and bad habits if the same action is repeated. All of these one has to observe and try to know about one’s own body. If one does not know, then one suffers and is not able to perform at peak efficiency. Sadhana also suffers.
Everything one does, one does through thoughts of the mind. You think, you plan, and then you put it into action. Therefore, knowledge of the mind is also essential. Mind is wayward. Sometimes it does not listen, it goes the wrong way, it does things which it regrets afterwards. So, how to keep the mind in the right direction ? What is it that governs the mind, chastens it, checks it ?
It is the discriminating faculty, the intellect. It is called buddhi. Therefore, everything regarding the buddhi is to be known: how to initiate right enquiry in the buddhi, how to keenly observe and perceive differences between things seen and draw correct conclusions; how the buddhi must function in discriminating between the positive and the negative, that which elevates, that which takes you down; how to know what is sattvic, what is rajasic, what is tamasic, what are the signs of each.
So the buddhi engages in study in order to acquire knowledge. It reads the Gita : it studies the fourteenth chapter on the division of the gunas, the sixteenth chapter on daiva–asura and the sixth chapter, raja-yoga. It learns about the behaviour of the mind, its habits, the laws that operate upon it. Not without reason, therefore, Guru Maharaj Swami Sivananda produced an entire volume, which is now known worldwide, Mind, Its Mysteries and Control.
And then, you may be very intelligent, full of knowledge, full of ability to enquire, distinguish between right and wrong, but if you do not have a high sense of moral rectitude, a high sense of ethical correctness, then in spite of your knowledge, in spite of your keen, brilliant intellect, you will be a slave. You will be a little creature moving about in a petty circle upon a lower level, in darkness. Therefore, as Sri Ramakrishna used to say: “Such a person is like a leaky pot which you try to keep filled with water. No matter how much you might try to keep it filled, within a matter of hours or days it will be empty.”
It is futile to gain and keep losing and therefore it is not without reason that Guru Maharaj wrote entire books called: Ethical Teachings and How to Cultivate Virtues and Eradicate Vices. He wrote many books on dharma, right conduct and behaviour. Look at his “Spiritual Diary,” his “Twenty Important Spiritual Instructions,” his “Sadhana Tattva” which includes sections on ethical culture, health culture, energy culture, will culture. In almost all his books he again and again reiterates the importance of the moral and spiritual regeneration of the world. Reflect upon this; you have to know about this aspect.
And, of course, you must have spiritual knowledge, about Yoga and bhakti (devotion) and sadhana in particular. You need to know about viveka and vairagya, samadhi and jnana; dharana and dhyana, yama and niyama, navavidha bhakti (nine modes of devotion) and sraddha ; the kundalini, asanas, pranayama, mudras, bandhas (classes of hatha yoga exercises). You have to know Vedanta.
All this knowledge must be gradually acquired. You have to know about your body, your mind, your intellect, about ethical principles, moral rectitude, behaviour, about spirituality, about Atman and anatman (not-Self), about Brahman and maya, about the permanent and the impermanent, about the universe and man – everything. Therefore Lord Krishna said: “Know that knowledge by prostration, by question and by service; the wise who have realized the truth will instruct thee in it.” Ask and it shall be revealed to you. You have to ask – going to satsang. You have to ask books also, tap knowledge from books. And books alone will not be sufficient; you will not be able to understand the import of books unless they are explained to you by an elder who has gone through the mill.
Integrated knowledge is thus necessary if you are to move towards the Goal sufficiently equipped. Therefore the entire personality in all its different dimensions and aspects has to come into active function. The mind, the intellect, the moral consciousness all have to be exercised. Then alone spiritual progress becomes progressive, positive and creative. We cannot remain half-hearted; it is a full time task. If you apply yourself to it as you ought to, you will not have any time for useless pursuits or vain occupations. It is only then that all things are in a very keen, alert, fit, sound condition.
If you exercise your body, your muscles grow, develop, strengthen. If you do not exercise, your muscles become flabby, they atrophy. The more active you keep your mind, intellect and moral consciousness, the brighter they will become day by day – sharp, incisive, alert, awake and efficient. They cannot do this for themselves. It is you with your discrimination, determination and intelligence that must keep them intelligently engaged in activity day after day.
The constant positive application of these faculties – the body, mind, intellect, ethical consciousness – is termed abhyasa (practice); and the protection of these instruments, preventing them from taking the wrong direction, from sliding down or from ceasing to move constantly upwards, is called vairagya (dispassion). This very important negative, protective sadhana (vairagya) may not bring you anything, but it will certainly ensure you against loss.
These two keynotes of sadhana-abhyasa and vairagya-have been placed before us in the Gita by Lord Krishna. He said, “This is the key to success.” These twin factors can work miracles for you; they can achieve for you what is seemingly impossible. Fully dwell upon their significance and importance and try to understand their implications.
Therefore, we have to strive for integrated knowledge, all-round knowledge, covering all aspects of our life, because all these aspects are very much with us and have to be with us. We have to function through them upon this glorious spiritual path that leads to liberation and blessedness. Integrated knowledge backed up by a high sense of ethical consciousness, and this backed up by resolution and determination not to fail but to succeed – all these things are components of the authentic and genuine spiritual life, not an inferior or middling, but a superior spiritual life.
That is what you should strive after. To be thus engaged in a high quality spiritual life is your privilege. Therein lies your guarantee of supreme blessedness. Ponder these truths, so that out of them much benefit may accrue, so that your spiritual life may become dynamic and progressive and bring the Goal nearer day by day. God bless you in this sincere and earnest endeavour, in your abhyasa and vairagya, in your sadhana and in your striving for knowledge and liberation !