saddaashiva samaarambhaam, vyaasa shankara madhyamaam
asmadachaarya prayantam, vande guru paramparaam
gurave sarva lokaanaam, bhishaje sarva roginaam
nidhaye sarva vidyaanam, dakshinamoortaye
Salutations to all the preceptors par excellence right from Sadaashiva through Vyasa and Sri Shankara down to my own in the tradition. Sri Dakshinammorty is the preceptor for all worlds, physician for all ailments, treasure and fund of all learning!
Satsangatwe, nissangatwam, nissagatve nirmaila buddhih
Bhaja govindam bhaja govindam bhaja govindam moodha mate
In this satsang, while contemplating the lotus feet of the celestial Gitacharya we let us remember this famous sloka:
matchitta madgata pranaa bodhayantah parasparam
kadhayan tascha maam nityam tushyanticha ramanti cha.
The eye, lens, sight and understanding,
the responsibility of the individual’s own
The topic of the day is ‘Adjusting the lenses’, adjusting the instrument and organ – the eyes − which see, comprehend and then absorb the external reality. The saying goes sarvendriyanam nayanam pradhaanam. Of all the sense organs the eye is of primary and paramount importance. We will now try to understand the primacy and significance of having the right lens, which projects the object as it is without any distortion. Defect of vision is well known as drishti dodsha, which also means faulty vision. The fault may not strictly be in the eye. If it were so an ophthalmologist can be of help. But it could be in the one who sees, the seer, too.
This needs careful and deep thinking. Since it is the individual’s own effort that is necessary for the adjustment of his vision, the title is adjusting our own lenses. It is common knowledge that the eye is one’s own and it is the lens in the eye that enables one see. See we must and see things well to understand the external reality, which is really a means to understand Absolute Reality. Unless we see properly, unless our lenses are finely tuned to see things as they are, we are liable to make mistakes, harming ourselves and, sometimes, harming others also.
Adjusting the lens is not a matter for the optometrist, still less it is one of adjusting your spectacles tilting them above on to the correct place on the nose bridge for greater comfort and clearer visibility. It is the individual’s responsibility to look at things in the way that is the best, to acquire the competence needed to judge and act appropriately.
Vision and Attitude
Adjusting lenses is a figurative way to suggest cultivating the right and proper way to see, understand and respond to things. Seeing things correctly would help cultivating a right attitude leading to a good and understanding vision. Long ago it was said that the mind in itself and in its own place makes a hell of heaven or a heaven of hell. Coming to brass tacks, in real life, it is one’s own attitude, that is the capacity to see (which means the correct lenses) that make life either as pleasurable, meaningful and worth living on the one hand or otherwise. There could be broadly two ways of looking at life, yielding two perspectives. Broadly there are two perspectives, the tragic and the comic. The comic (not merely the laughable) is said to be more pleasing, and, in the long run, life-sustaining. The tragic perspective too contributes to creating a salutary effect by sobering down the effervescent eddies of tears caused by grief.
(Tragedy – hospital effect – purgation – pity and terror)
To borrow a figure from the theatre (in our national psyche there is a stable and rooted conviction that all the world is a stage and all men actors playing their roles as directed by the creator) God is sometimes envisioned as a sootradhari in this jagannataka. A writer said that the whole play, that this life in the world is, is a comedy for those who think and a tragedy for those who feel. Coming to feeling, it is highly subjective, the thing seen through the individual lenses. The same scene may appear to some very painful but natural but to some not very logical and hence absurd. All of us have feelings and all of us to some extent or the other thinkers also. But then, most of the time we reveal ourselves occupied totally with the one or the other in exclusion to the other. This lands us in trouble. A man who knows the art of living (this needs both thinking and feeling going beyond the not always worthy activity of making money and money- related activities).
(Philosopher weeping – wayfarer’s advice – it’s useless – reply weeping for that very reason.)
What is necessary is a balance between the heart and the mind, balance between the thinking and feeling. Thought has to be perfected and feeling has to be held under control.
We have the moral sense, which really does not have much to do with university degrees or bank balances. Right from our childhood the parents, school and everyone around have given us some idea of good and bad. We have been given the idea in the simplest formula: paropakaaraya punyaya paapaaya para peedanam. (Example of a mother telling the eight-month old baby not to harm the ant). Helping others gives punya, merit; harming, injuring, inflicting pain is paapa, sin. We commit offence and violence, himsa, not out of ignorance but because of something else. That something, among several other things, is the inability to see correctly and properly owing to drishti dosha, because of the inability to adjust our lenses. This ability to adjust lenses comes from ripeness, maturity of the mind. A mature mind and a heart in the right place are essential for real happiness in life. Happiness is contentment. There is no happiness higher than contentment, tripti.
Swami Gokulananda quoted an English poet once “The world is too much with us, Getting and spending we lays our powers waste…’ As all of us are educated and as English language came to be essential for a certain kind of living, we were forced to read English poetry also. But did we get the benefit of the poet’s ideas? No, we are not eager to be benefitted by any ideas either Eastern, our own, or the Western. The reasons for this are many and we can take them up some time later. That poet, Wordsworth, also wrote another poem: ‘Let nature be your teacher.’ Anybody familiar with Gayatri knows how our sages and seers down the ages and the pious and devout among us even today have been, and still are, worshippers of nature. Worship is respecting and treating someone or something as noble, powerful and capable of blessing us. What is not worshippable that is around? The tree, the river, the sky, the earth, fire, the breeze, our forefathers worshipped everything in nature. (Explains pantheism)
It is of urgent importance to understand how we look at things and how they ought to be looked at to get the best of our vision. Though life is like a play, for the actual participants in action in this world, life is real and it presents problems and offers pleasures also. A drama is unreal –imaginary. But life is real. It cannot be looked upon either as tragic or totally comic. We want to live, notwithstanding the suffering that is subsumed in it. We will do well to equip ourselves to face all contingencies with the capacity to adjust the lenses. The ordinary human being is exhilarated by joys and confused and thrown in despair by problems. To meet both what is needed is equanimity, level-headedness and a capacity to keep the great device inside, what is called manas. One should cultivate an inclusive vision that is neither gloomily tragic nor flippantly comic.
Only an inclusive vision explains and accounts for the ‘human condition’. The human condition is compounded of both tears and laughter. Tears are unavoidable but then as laughter both are part of living. Laughter is desired but the goal is not laughable. By acquiring a philosophical attitude, one must learn to look at both with equanimity. This is a function of the correct adjustment of lenses and the cultivation of a cheerful, inclusive vision.
Acceptance, tolerance, cheerfulness, faith in a supreme power, resilience, forgiveness, capacity to endure all these are necessary. The advantage of cultivation an inclusive vision is that it enables us to see the contradictions and the inherent absurdity in human acts, roles and projects. Example: A uffoon becoming an MP, a criminal a Minister etc. This enables us to accept human acts and human mind, with all man’s weaknesses and failures. Those who have belief in providence and God would not be easily disturbed or shattered. Such people can be considered samadarasanas for they have a rich sense of humor and a sort of philosophical amusement at all contradictions and illogicalities. God’s prank, or leela is such, they tell themselves.
Life is a strange mixture, call it a combination if you will, of the tragic and the comic. It is necessary for us all to acquire a perspective that can react healthily to all situations. A great American writer on culture, religion and art, Susan Langer, (1895 – 1985) in Feeling and Form wrote: “The fact that the two great rhythms, comic and tragic, are radically distinct does not mean that they are each other’s opposites or even incompatible forms. Tragedy can rest squarely on a comic substructure and yet be pure tragedy. This is natural enough, for life from which all felt rhythms spring contains both in every living organism.”
The implication of all this for enthusiastic livers is to cultivate serenity and equanimity, cheerfulness and compassion. Only adjusting the lenses makes the cultivation easy. If the greatest of literature have reflected inclusive vision, the greatest of the scriptures, Srimad Bhagavad-Gita, has identified this attitude much earlier (possibly five thousand years ago) as the quality of the learned knowing ones. Sri Krishna, the divine charioteer enjoins us to practice cultivating the saint’s eye-view, sama drishti. The spiritually evolved have this quality.
Vidya vinaya sampanne brahmane gavi hastini
Shunichaiva swapaak echa pandithah samdarsinah
The learned ones, the panditas (they are jnaanis also, the knowing ones too, for learning with out application and practice is just tinsel appearing as gold) look upon the learend pious brahmin, the cow, the elephant, the dog and the one who cooks and eats dog’s meat with sama drishthi, equal temper of mind.
At another place Bhagavan Srikrishna tells Arjuna
Sarwabhootastha samaatmaanaam sarwa bhootaanichaatmani
Eekshyate yogayuktaatmaa sarwatra samaddarshinah
The one who is yogi, the one who is evolved in yoga, looks at all and everything as inherting his own aatma and all living beings as created in the same aatma. They spiritually evolved bless us and guide us to acquire this if only we ask them for their help and support. There are many, very many highly evolved souls in all countries and all states. We will remember and seek help from some of them soon, in this very session.
Our dharma is sanatana dharma, the vedic dharma. We are told time and again by jnaanis that Hinduism is not a religion but a way of life. Let us understand why this is true. Religion cannot exist independent of our life or way of living. When it is accepted as an integral part of people’s belief and way of living, it is no longer a religion in the abstract sense. Any religion divorced from practical religion is not worth any attention. Conversely when we do not accept and adopt it as a way of our life, there is no point in calling ourselves as followers of this or that religion.
Catholicism is also a way of life: here is what a 14th century Catholic ‘illiterate” mystic said
Sin is behovely
All shall be well and
All manner if things
Sin or man’s incapacity to escape from error or suffering can become behovely without disconcerting one if there is a proper inward discipline and an ability to look at things in their perspective. Such a person, who can look at all with equanimity is nitya santushtha, the ever contented, the one above dualities. (Example Jean val Jean - Bishop’s candle sticks)
Lal Ded a 14th Century Shiva Yogini from Kashmir was an ordinary housewife to begin with. With intense saadhana and great vyakulata (recall what Swami Gokulananda said in his holiness’s talk on Steps to Pefection) she could find the ultimate truth for herself and as a blessed devotee of Paramashiva she came up with some vaaks, sayings which are poetic in essence.
The soles of my feet wore off on the roads
While I wandered in search of Him.
Then lo! on a sudden, I saw
That He was all and everywhere,
I had nowhere to go in search of Him.
This was the Truth of a hundred truths.
Whoever learn of it, will they not wonder?
Will they not be mad for joy?
Swami Medhasananda in his book on Kashi Varanasi at the cross roads quoted the teaching of Mahatma Trailingaswami, the Walking Shiva of Varanasi, as Sri Rakrishna Paramahamsa called him. The mahatma lived for two hundred and eighty years. Sri Ramakrishna met him twice in 1863 and 1868. The following is a brief excerpt from Trailingaswamy’s teaching:
Sishya: What is a bond?
Guru: Attraction to desires.
Sishya: What is mukti?
Guru: To have no other desire except that of merging in Eeshwar.
Sishya: What is the most horrible naraka?
Guru: Our body.
Sishya: Where is swarga?
Guru: This very earth is swarga, if desires die.
Sishya: How can the earthly bond be severed?
Guru: By attaining aatmajnaana.
Sishya;: What would give mukti?
Sishya: What is the cause for naraka?
Guru: The discrimination against a woman.
Sishya: What is way for the attainment of swarga?
Guru: Ahimsa, non-violence.
Sishya: Who is the enemy of Man?
Guru: His own senses.
Sishya: Who is Man’s friend?
Guru: His own senses won over.
Sishya: What is maaya?
Guru: Excessive love and attachment.
Sishya: What is the everlasting ailment?
Guru: Samsara (family).
Sishya: What is the cure for that?
Guru: Being unattached.
Sishya: What is the means for the acquisition of brahmajnaana?
Guru: Sat saangatya, good company.
Sishya: Who is moorkha? (The ignorant one, a stupid)
Guru: The one without viveka. (Sense of proportion or discretion).
Sishya: Who is a pundit? (A learned one)
Guru: Jnnani. (the knowing one).
Sishya: Who is a dharmik?
Guru: The real pundit.
Sishya: What is the thing to be done?
Guru: Cultivating bhakti, devotion, to god.
Sishya: What is vidya?
Guru: That which gives brahmajnaana.
Sishya: What is gain?
Guru: The acquisition of brahmajnaana.
Sishya: Who is dhanya? (The one fulfilled)
Guru: The one who helps others.
Sishya: Who is one worth worshipping?
Guru: Tattwajnaani, the one who knows tattwa.
Sishya: What or which is the best vrata? (Observance)
Guru: Charity to the deserving.
Sishya: Who is a beast?
Guru: The ignorant one.
Sishya: Whose company has to be avoided?
Guru: That of the ignorant, the sinful, the mean and the wicked.
Sishya: Who is the faithful?
Guru: The one who has tattwa jnaana.
Sishya: Who are not to be trusted?
Guru: Women. (For yoga sadhakas)
Sishya: How does one avoid grief?
Guru: Dharma and upaasana (following dharma and worshipping god).
Sishya: What is the root of all grief?
Sishya: What is meant by manovinaasana? (Destroying the manas)
Guru: Moksha, salvation.
For adjusting the lenses what is needed most (besides faith in the supreme being and the supreme goal of mukti) is sankalpa shuddhi, the purity of intention and manojaya, winning the manas. Mano nashana, destroying manas and along with it all desires, all likes and dislikes, is a noble ideal but then it is not easy except for a mahatma or mahapurusha. But disciplining the manas and holding it under control are possible with individual effort under the guidance and with the blessings of a guru, a preceptor.
(Manas is a wonderful word in Sanskrit and in all our languages no perfect single word equivalent in English)
Controlling the manas is no easy matter. Manas is compared to a monkey which cannot keep still even for a moment. The greatest of people could achieve control over manas with the greatest difficulty. I just told you about Kashmiri Shiva yogini Lal Ded. Lal Ded was born into a family of the devout. She did not have much education, in the modern sense of the word. She had a guru who had great respect for this young woman. Once she went to see him at his home. She was stopped being told that the guru was in pooja. She smiled and said, “Pooja! His mind is on the horse he tied in the meadow!” The guru came out asking her how she knew it! Many of us also sit at pooja but how concentrated is our mind on the deity or the ultimate reality! I tell you this only to underline the difficulty in controlling the manas and concentrating all our attention on our worship, at least during the pooja time.
Spiritual progress can be achieved by winning the six enemies, the arishad varga shedding ahamkaara and wiping out vasanaas. All these are possible only through looking inward. So the logical conclusion is think, think and again think and adjust your lenses, turning the searchlight inward.
God is merciful, god forgives us our sins; God is Love. God understands those who have no faith. He understands human weaknesses and ignorance. All this is true. But shall we continue to be ignorant, lazy and unbelieving? Let us pray to Him to give us strength to strive to be worthy of His grace! In short, let us try to merit His grace by cultivating the proper attitude to know Him!
Om tat sat!
Swami Gokulanandaji Maharaj of Sri Ramakrishna Ashram (New Delhi) once asked me to speak at the ashram and I was asked to give the subject in a minute. When I said “About - adjusting our lenses!” the Swamiji looked up into my eyes once and said “Yes! Go ahead?” That was a benediction.