The Path and the Goal Are the Same
Sri Swami Atmaswarupananda
Early Morning Meditation Talk given in the Sacred Samadhi Hall of Gurudev Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj, Sivananda Ashram, Rishikesh
Most of us here are what we might call children of the Vedic way of life. Of course, some of us are adopted children, or as Swamiji once said, we have adopted the Vedic way of life. But in any case, to each one us, consciously or unconsciously, the Vedic way is central to our life. And of all the ramifications of the Vedic way of life, there is nothing more important or more intelligently thought out than the stages of life–student stage, householder stage, retired stage and sannyas or renunciate stage–and the aims of life. Indeed, if we wanted to describe the Vedic way of life–like any way of life–it could be described in terms of its aims.
While the Vedic way of life lays down four aims–dharma or righteousness, artha or the earning of wealth, kama, the satisfaction of legitimate desires, and moksha, liberation–in actual fact, the earning of wealth and the satisfaction of legitimate desires are meant to be done in the context of dharma with the ultimate aim of moksha always in mind. So that from this point of view, we could say that the essence of the Vedic way of life is dharma and moksha, and certainly that would not contradictGurudev Swami Sivanandaji’s teachings. He constantly said that the goal of life is God-realisation and his fundamental teaching is Be good, Do good.
Generally speaking, dharma usually means the way we should act and moksha our eventual liberation. However, the fundamental declaration of the Vedic way of life is that One alone is without a second. Therefore, any other teachings or aims must derive from that fundamental truth. Dharma, therefore, means functioning in accordance with the truth that One alone is.
What am I to do in a certain situation? Remember that One alone is. Everything is my own Self, and I act in accordance with that truth. That knowledge solves all ethical questions for us. How can we justify acting in a selfish way when everything is our own Self? We, therefore, act in harmony with the will of God.
And what is moksha? Moksha is spontaneously acting according to the will of God. It is the firm knowledge that all is One, and spontaneously we act in the light of that knowledge. What then is the difference between dharma and moksha? Dharma means that with our minds we consciously act according to the will of God. Moksha means that we do it spontaneously, because there is no second factor in us saying I am a separate individual who needs to act according to dharma. The question of separation is gone forever, and, therefore, we act according to our true nature spontaneously, instead of acting according to our true nature by effort.
This equivalence between dharma and moksha reminds us of the saying: The path and the goal are the same. What is the difference, in the final analysis, between someone who is spontaneously acting in the knowledge that all is One and one who is consciously, by surrender, by understanding, acting in the knowledge that all is One? Furthermore, if One alone exists, then the only real sin in this world is not acting in that light–it is acting as if I am a separate individual who can look after my selfish interests and ignore the Whole. This is what creates karma which will have to rebound on us. However, if we consciously act in the light of dharma, on the basis that One alone is, then we are free from karma and the ego, we are liberated from them. But, of course, our goal is to be permanently liberated from them, and that is why the goal of life is God-realisation.
This is an entirely different way of looking at our sadhana. Because most of us feel that I am a separate individual who needs to be liberated so I won’t be reborn. Whereas, in actual fact, I am That, because there is nothing except That, and my salvation and happiness is in living according to that truth–until I become so habituated to it that it becomes my natural state. Whether it becomes my natural state by an awakening, that is, as Swamiji once described, “Oh!” or whether it becomes my natural state through some cosmic inner explosion, doesn’t matter.
If One alone is, all that matters is that we are acting in accordance to Its will. Lord Krishna says, “I have got everything in this universe, but I keep working, I keep acting.”
We were born into this world to act, not to sit and do nothing, not to reach some blissful state. Our glory is to act according to the will of the universe, to participate in the universe, not as a tree or a cow, but as an intelligent human being.
Swamiji has also, in his own way, tried to point out the equivalence of dharma and moksha, the path and the goal. I would like to read a couple of passages that will help to illustrate this. The first one is from his latest booklet called Renunciation.
“When the early enthusiasm and anticipation in the spiritual life has worn off and seekers seemed to have got stuck somewhere midway, neither here nor there, making no progress, I always used to ask them to take a second look, from a different angle. I said, ‘This is all due to a wrong view that you have taken–that we have come here in order to attain God-realisation, and so it is something, a distant goal to be attained; therefore, we should be up and doing and daily moving forward and upward towards that goal, in that direction.
‘This is a view given in the beginning to attract the worldly-minded person. But then, in actuality, the life that has been given to us is meant only to be devoted to God, meant only to remember Him, meant only to pray to Him, meant only to glorify Him, meant only to proclaim to all the greatness and glory of God. There is no other purpose for life. And if you live a life engaged in glorifying God, constantly thinking about Him, taking His name and praying to Him, and standing witness to His divinity, His all-perfection, that itself is the fulfilment of life. You are justifying your existence by living in order to glorify God, living in order to proclaim His grandeur, His greatness, and living in order to be constantly immersed in Him.
‘There is no question of achieving something you have not achieved. If you live for God and constantly bear witness to His greatness and grandeur and glory, and if you do this all your life, then you have not lived in vain. You have lived a worthy life. All glory to you. This is a fact. You have fulfilled God’s purpose in sending you here–to proclaim His glory and to bear witness to His greatness in and through your life.'” In other words, everything for God, nothing for ourselves.
The second quote is from a talk Swamiji gave several years ago:
“Success is the ability to give oneself totally and to dedicate one’s life for that great attainment. That in itself constitutes success. If you can but enter into this great journey, enter into this path of perfection and liberation, and keep on with it–with all the powers of your being–and thus give the totality of yourself and your life until the very end, you have gloriously succeeded. There is no doubt about it. All the applause of the heavenly world is yours. The celestials rejoice, and God looks upon you with great joy, great love, with great satisfaction indeed: ‘Worthy is this child of Mine. Worthily has it used the gift of life given to it, worthy is it of being regarded as My own.'”
So while Swamiji is using a slightly different context, we catch the point that life is how we live it. Do we live life on the basis that I am an individual that has wants that I must pursue? Or do we live our life on the basis that One alone is without a second, which means that I live my life to express That. My goal is God-realisation because I want to express it spontaneously–without any idea of there being a second–but as long as I have an idea that there is a second, then I live my life, not to get anything for me–because I am already what I am seeking–but to express the truth of the universe to the very best of my ability. Thus, the equivalence of dharma and moksha and that the path and the goal are the same.
Now, let us for a moment consider what might be lacking in our lives that is preventing us from living our life according to the highest truth that One alone is. I’m going to suggest three factors: First, we lack belief in the truth. In other words, we know intellectually that One alone is without a second, and in a gathering like this, in this atmosphere, we nod our heads and are convinced of it. But how do we live our life? Are we really seeing One alone without a second? This is a very serious question, and there is no easy solution. But we have to recognise this lack within ourselves and do everything we can to convince the mind of the truth.
We do this through our spiritual practices, especially through enquiry, and, of course, through God’s grace, when He gives us an experience. But we shouldn’t wait for the experience. During the experience there is no problem. We know the truth. But when the experience goes it becomes an experience that “I” had. See the ego pop up again! The experience was that One alone is. When the experience fades, the ego jumps up and says, “I had the experience.” It wasn’t even there at the time–that was the prerequisite of the experience. So we have to recognise that while we say, “Yes, yes, I know that One alone is,” we must be prepared to base our life on it. That means we don’t base our life on selfishness. We base our life on the fact that I am part of the Whole and everyone and everything else is also part of the Whole.
Because we have this lack of deep belief, the second lack we have is a lack of dispassion for the world. If God was real to us, if that oneness was real to us, we would see the world as it is, as the sages and Swamiji and Gurudev describe it–a mere nothing, a passing show. We would see that because God is not real to us, the world right in front of us becomes very important even though it continuously disappoints us.
In fact, most of us have an “If only” psychology. I am not quite satisfied or happy now, but if only I didn’t have this problem I’d be happy, if only I could get this, I’d be happy. I’m a student, if only I could graduate, I’d be happy. Then, if only I can get a position, I’ll be happy. If only I can find a perfect partner, I’ll be happy. If only we could have a child, we’d be so happy. If only we could get the child into a good school; if only the child can get a good position; if only we could get the children settled. It goes on forever till the day we die. We are never really satisfied, and we’re so caught up in it, we don’t see it. We keep on being, in spite of what the scriptures tell us, in spite of what the gurus tell us, convinced that we can somehow get happiness from the world.
The second thing we need dispassion for is our own selves. At times we may hate ourselves, be very down on ourselves, but most of the time we think, I’m not that bad. We should see ourselves in truth! We should see what our body is–how much trouble it gives us continuously. We should see our mind, how unreliable it really is. And as Swamiji once said, you’ve got to discover what a stinker you really are. But because God is not real to us, and we’re in this body and have this mind, we don’t look at it honestly, and, therefore, we don’t have dispassion for it. We don’t see ourselves for what we really are.
So we are lacking a belief in the truth and we’re lacking dispassion for both the world and ourselves. And third, and most important, because of the first two, we lack true aspiration for God. Swami Krishnanandaji used to say, “If you really wanted God, you would have Him this instant.” That is, if true aspiration was really there. But it is not, because we don’t really believe the truth, and, therefore, we are still clinging to this body and mind identification. We are scared to take the leap. We’re scared to hunger and thirst for God with everything that is in us.
So how can we bring about this hungering and thirsting for God with everything that is in us? We have to try to deepen our belief in God. We have to see ourselves and the world the way it is and have dispassion for it. But helpful along the way is what I would like to term “selfless-effort”–the effort I am making to deepen my belief in God, the effort I am making to have dispassion, the effort I am making in any of my spiritual practices is not my effort because One alone is. Therefore, like selfless service, we offer all our effort to the Lord. In all our spiritual practices, the thing that will bring us benefit is to acknowledge God, offer everything to God: “It is You, O Lord, who is making this effort through Me. Without You, there would be no effort, not even the thought of making effort.” So one thing we can do, that all of us can do, is to practise selfless-effort.
And then finally, if we want to see that the path and the goal are the same, there is only one way–which is a flowering of selfless effort–and that is to live a life of surrender and trust. Lord Krishna, in His final teachings of the Gita, tells us to abandon all dharmas, meaning abandon all our ideas about how to get salvation, and take refuge in Him alone. He will lead us, show us the way. We thus live a life of surrender and trust which means living a life free from the desires and the fears of the ego. And what is moksha? It is never again going back to the fears and the desires of the ego.
The guidance from Gurudev, Swamiji, The Divine Life Society and the Vedic way of life is that we are to live a life of dharma now–which is the equivalent of and the way to moksha. The purpose of life is not for us to get to some place, we are already what we are seeking. The purpose of life is to express It. We express It by deepening our belief in the truth, by having dispassion for the world, by making sure that all our effort is selfless-effort and finally through surrender and trust, taking refuge in the Lord.
The final result is always up to God; all scriptures tell us that. But surrender and trust, the living of the divine life is in our hands. It is an opportunity and a privilege that we are truly fortunate to have. Hari Om Tat Sat.