The Subtle Awareness
Sri Swami Atmaswarupananda
Early Morning Meditation Talk given in the Sacred Samadhi Hall of Gurudev Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj, Sivananda Ashram, Rishikesh
One of Gurudev’s most famous songs includes the line, “Practise ahimsa, satyam and brahmacharya (non-injury, truthfulness, purity). This is the foundation of Yoga and Vedanta.” Indeed, he has made the condition of our membership in The Divine Life Society the practice of ahimsa, satyam and brahmacharya. Why has Gurudev placed so much emphasis on these three virtues? And in what way are they the foundation of Yoga and Vedanta?
The most obvious answer is that if we practise non-injury, truthfulness and purity in thought, word and deed, it will make us into better people, more suitable for the study and practice of Yoga and Vedanta. And that is certainly a good answer. But it has one drawback. So often when we do, through great effort, become better people, it brings with it a subtle ego: “I am now a better person. I am a better person than so and so. They too should be undergoing the practices that I am.” But, of course, the whole purpose of the spiritual life is to get rid of the ego, and so if the practice of ahimsa, satyam and brahmacharya is building our ego, then, in fact, we’re taking one step forward and one step backward. Therefore, perhaps the foundation that Gurudev is referring to, and the purpose of our practice, is more subtle than it would appear to be on the surface.
What could that foundation be? What could that subtlety be? Most of the time as human beings we function in an instinctive or unconscious way. But the essence of God- realisation, of spirituality, is to be awake, to be aware. And what is it that the practice of ahimsa, satyam and brahmacharya require? They require that we be awake, aware. You have to be aware to practise non-injury. You have to be aware to practise truthfulness. You have to be aware to be pure, to have self-restraint.
It is actually this awareness that is the foundation of Yoga and Vedanta. This awareness takes us above animal consciousness, ego consciousness. It makes us aware of the movement of our mind, the movement of our ego. It actually helps us to transcend the three gunas and the pairs of opposite which are movements in our mind. How do we transcend them? By becoming aware of them and then choosing which guna we should follow, which of the pairs of opposites we shall follow.
It is this awareness that allows us to understand the scriptures. If we try to understand the scriptures from the point of view of the ego, we will either just perpetuate our ignorance or run around in circles, always confused. But if we study the scriptures and practise Yoga and Vedanta from this point of subtle awareness, we will understand their true import.
This awareness is not different than the understanding heart that Gurudev asks us to pray for daily. It is not different than abhyasa. It also gives us vairagya, dispassion, for the movements of the mind. When we’re lost in the mind, we don’t understand or realise what a disaster it is. But by practising ahimsa, satyam and brahmacharya, we become aware of the mind, we develop dispassion for its irrationality. Thus it is this awareness, this impersonal awareness, that is the true foundation of our spiritual life, of Yoga and Vedanta, and it is the gateway to realisation.