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Yaa nishaa sarvabhootaanaam tasyam jaagarti samyamee
yasyaam jaagrati bhootani saa nishaa pashyato muneh // 2.69 //
In what is night to all beings, the wise man is awake; and that which is day to the world is night to the wise man who sees the truth.
Arjuna’s questions were about the man whose wisdom has become steady, a sthitaprajna. He wanted to know what kind of a man he is, how he talks, how he sits, how he moves about and so on. The verse under discussion here is a continuation of Krishna’s answer to those questions.
A man’s wisdom becomes steady in the true sense of the term only when he wakes up from the dream, we call our waking life, when he comes out of his dream world. So long as he is living in his dream, his perceptions about himself will be wrong, his perceptions about the world will be wrong, his perceptions about life and the people around him will be wrong, his relationships will be wrong. They will be exactly the perceptions of a dreamer about himself and are bound to be erroneous.
There is a famous story about the Chinese saint Chuang Tzu whose name is also spelt Zhuangzi. One night he dreams he is a butterfly, flitting about from flower to flower, drinking honey from each flower, conscious only of his existence as a butterfly. All his needs were those of a butterfly, his fears were those of a butterfly. And then he wakes up and sees himself as Shuangzi. That day when he met his disciples, he told them about his dream and asked them, “Tell me now, am I really Zhuangzi who dreamt he is a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming he is Zhuangzi?”
In the ancient Indian story about Narada and maya, Narada sees himself parched and searching for water in a village where he meets a beautiful young girl and falling in love with her, marries her. Years pass happily and they have several children, they become rich and then a terrible flood comes and carries away everything they own and their children. Screaming in grief he wakes up from his experience and realizes he is still with Krishna who had asked him to fetch some water for him and all his life as a husband of the woman and father of their children was no more than a dream, a mere illusion caused by Krishna’s maya. The difference between the world of the ignorant and the world of the awakened is the difference between the world of maya Narada experiences and the world of reality.
The enlightened man’s life is totally different from that of an ordinary man. That is what Krishna means when he says the man who has seen the truth is awake in what is night to all beings and that state in which all beings are awake is night to him. In many ways what is real to the unawakened is unreal to the awakened and what is unreal to the unawakened is real to the awakened. To the unenlightened, he is different from everything and everyone else, but to the awakened, he is one with all existence. The pain of others is his own pain for him, and for that reason he feels empathy for the whole world. Asuri values like fear, anger, jealousy, lust, intolerance, hostility and so on do not touch him. He lives in the world but is untouched by the world, like a lotus leaf in water.
The scriptures including the Gita say that a lump of clay, a stone and gold are the same for him – sama-loshta-ashma-kanchanah. The unenlightened live for wealth, pleasures, power and fame but these are not important to the enlightened man. He does not hate them, they are welcome if they come, but he does not run after them. It is the same with success and fame and all other things the unenlightened run after. Their coming does not make him elated nor does their loss make him worried.
There is a Taoist story about an old monk who fell into a river because of a flash flood while he was sitting and meditating on the bank one morning. The current was very powerful and the people who came running saw the torrential current carrying him downstream. The old monk was weak and frail and they concluded there was no chance of his escaping. And yet by evening, the monk was back in his usual place on the river bank. On being asked about the miracle, he explained there was no miracle. As water swept him off and began carrying him down, he just surrendered to the current and, without resisting, floated with it. Sometime later it deposited him on the bank far downstream and that is how he survived, he said.
The enlightened man is like the old Taoist monk. He surrenders to the current of life. He has no personal goals because he knows that all personal goals are against the goals of the total and surrenders his will to the will of the total. That is why Krishna calls him an anarambha – he does not make any arambha of his own, he does not start anything on his own. He accepts whatever the total brings to him and does whatever the total asks him to do – and he does it with total commitment and dedication. He knows he is just another leaf on the tree of life and individual leaves have no goals other than the goals of the tree. He knows each wave is a part of the ocean and has no separate existence.
If a cell in the body starts growing on its own and not in tune with the body, we call it cancer. This living in tune with the universe is what the Vedic people called ritam. To the Vedic people ritam meant living in tune with the total, in tune with the changing seasons, with the rhythm of days and nights, with the rhythms within our body, with waking and sleep, with hunger and its appeasing, with thirst and its quenching. To them ritam was the essence of existence, the highest wisdom of life, and whenever you deviated from ritam, you created confusion in the world, in the society and in your own personal life, as we are doing today, threatening the very existence of our green planet as a home for human and animal life, making around one thousand and five hundred species of living beings disappear forever from the earth every year, making our forests and fresh water and fresh air disappear, making our joint families and intimate communities and neighbourhood disappear, turning individuals sick, creating new diseases to plague the earth.
A beggar in a small town one morning had an idea – he spread a rumour that the richest man in the city is celebrating his son’s birthday and he is giving every beggar who comes to him five hundred rupees each. So, all the beggars who heard the rumour got up and started running towards the rich man’s house. News soon spread all over the town and beggars in their hundreds rushed towards his house. For some time the beggar who had originally thought up the idea watched it all with amusement. But soon a doubt started taking shape in his mind – so many people are running there, is it possible that the man is really giving away money? No, it’s all a lie, he told himself again and again, but as he saw more and more beggars running, he too got up from where he was sitting and began running with the crowd. In case everybody is getting it, I’d be a fool to miss it, he told himself.
We are like that beggar, but the enlightened man lives in the world of reality and not in the world of self deception. He knows the source of happiness is within himself, and he does not chase the objects of the world in the belief that they will make him happy.
Since the enlightened man has no goals of his own, has no plans of his own, he has no stress, no tensions, no anxieties, no worries or disappointments. He is at peace with himself, at peace with the people around him, at peace with the world. He is not in a rat race to be better than his neighbour, to own a bigger car, to own a bigger house, to land a better job, to possess more wealth.
In his book Is the American Dream Killing Us?, Paul Stiles speaks of how the typical day in the life of a modern American executive begins:
“The alarm is ringing. You jerk awake, tense, aware only of the blare, then fall back in recognition. There is a brief moment of peace, as if your consciousness were confused about what to do next, and then it hits you, arising from your subconscious, where it has lain all evening: The List. All those things you did not complete yesterday, and all those other things you have to get done today.... Okay, you think: just put your feet on the floor.”
Paul Stiles then describes the mad race that follows: waking up the kids, letting the dogs out, the showers, getting the paper, breakfast.... A matrix gone mad, Paul Stiles calls it and to anyone who looks on, that is what it is, though you do not have time even to realize that fact, so tightly packed is your day, with every waking moment filled with things to do.
The enlightened man is not part of this matrix gone mad. He has time for his soul to catch up with him, if he is in a traffic jam he has time to look around and see the beauty of the place, if he is in a restaurant, he has time to enjoy the meal and does not have to rush through it or pay the bill before the meal is over, he has time to smell the flowers and feel the breeze. He has time to climb mountains, swim in rivers, play with his children, tell them stories, listen to their stories, fears, problems and triumphs. He has time to enjoy a bicycle ride, watch a flower opening and a plant growing, listen to bird songs, walk barefoot on grass, read books and watch movies.
There is a big difference between a donkey and a horse. When the washerman loads the clothes for washing on the donkey, it hangs it head down and walks straight to the ghat and stops only when it reaches there. After the washing and drying are done, when the washerman reloads the clothes on it, it walks straight back home, looking neither left nor right. The donkey is not interested in the world around it, not interested in anything that does not directly concern it. Whereas horses need blinds, they are interested in what is on their right and what is on their left. They are full of life, spirited and adventurous until they have been broken by man.
We can live our lives like the donkey or the horse – the choice is ours. The awakened way is to live taking interest in the world around us and the immense beauty that surrounds us – that is the way of the horse. When we live only for working and making money, only to compete with our neighbours and friends with no time to enjoy life, we are living like the donkey and our life is not very meaningful.
A student of mine in a business school got a highly paid job in London after his studies and had been living there for eighteen months when I heard from him. In those eighteen months in London, he had seen only his apartment and his office and nothing else of the city. In the morning a chauffeured, curtained, air-conditioned car came and picked him up and drove him to the office where he worked until it was late in the evening and then he was brought back home by the same car. By the time he reached back home he was completely exhausted and had no energy left for anything. Weekends he brought work home and barely managed to finish it before the next week began. True, he made lots of money but apart from money, there was nothing else in his life.
There is a beautiful story about a little child going to school for the first time in a village. The school was not very far from his home and on the first day the father and the son walked to the school together and it took them twenty minutes. All of the first week the father walked the child to school and every day it took them twenty minutes.
The next week the father decided to send the child to school alone – it was a village where everyone knew everyone and was safe, and the child knew the way to school well. However, on the third day of that week when the child came back from the school, there was a small note in the child’s pocket – a note from his teacher to the father. The note said the child had been coming late to school late by half an hour the last three days.
Total twenty minutes distance and the child is late by half an hour every day! The father wanted to find out what was happening. So the next day he quietly followed the child to school at some distance. And this is what he saw. Some distance from home there was a bicycle repairing shop where the mechanic was repairing a puncture. He had opened the tire of a cycle, pulled out the tube from inside it and was repairing it. The child stood there and watched it all until the mechanic finished his work and put the tube inside the tire and the tire back on the cycle. It was only when the work was over that he moved on towards the school.
As the father watched from some distance, the child started walking again towards the school. When he came across the small curio shop on the way, he stopped and watched the many colourful things on display there and when his mind was full of it, he started walking again to school.
It was some distance away that he came across a ladybug among the grass. The child removed his schoolbag from his shoulders, dropped it on the ground and stood and watched as the colourful ladybug slowly moved across a blade of grass and then dropped on to another blade of grass and started moving across it. After watching it for a while, the child stepped into the grass and tried to catch it when the ladybug fluttered its small wings and took off to another grass bush. It was only then that the child picked up his bag again and started in the direction of the school. The father now realized how his son had been reaching school half an hour late the previous three days.
One of the Sanskrit words traditionally used to describe an enlightened man is ‘balavad’. Balavad means like a child. The enlightened man has the qualities of a child. His mind, his intelligence and his imagination are like those of a child. He has what Zen calls the beginner’s mind. Unlike the adult mind, his mind still retains its original childlike curiosity, energy, intelligence, imagination and creativity. Like a man who has fallen in love and finds beauty everywhere, for him everything is tremendously beautiful and filled with incredible magic. Like a child, he has the ability to always live in the now. While life is boring and stress-filled for the ordinary man, for the enlightened man it is ever new, ever fresh – sadyojata, just born, as we say in Sanskrit.
The enlightened man’s world is different from that of the ignorant in many other ways too. The ordinary man runs after the world whereas the world runs after the enlightened man. Speaking about the powers of an enlightened man, the Mundaka Upanishad says:
yam yam lokam manasaa samvibhaati
visuddha-sattvah kaamayate yaams cha kaamaan
tam tam lokam jaayate taams cha kaamaan
tasmaad aatmajnam hy-archayed bhootikaamah.
“Whatever world a man of inner purity imagines with his mind and whatever object he desires, he attains that world and that object. For that reason, if you desire prosperity, you should worship a man who has known his own self.”
Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi, my param guru, is an excellent recent example for this Upanishad statement. Though Maharshi never claimed he caused a miracle, miracles used to happen around him regularly. Numerous sick people have been healed with his blessings, including one of my teachers, Jagadeeswara Sastrigal, who was saved from possible death in his youth by Maharshi. After that Sastrigal became so devoted to Maharshi that the next forty-five years, until Maharshi’s death in 1950, he lived with Maharshi in his ashram in Tiruvannamalai and became like a son to him. Hundreds of devotees have narrated incredible incidents happening to them through Maharshi’s grace.
One of my articles available online called Buddha in the Business World discusses what happens when a man who has spent much time in spiritual practices and purified his mind enters the world of business. The article is inspired by the Nobel Prize winning German writer Hermann Hesse’s novel Siddhartha. As demanded by the city courtesan Kamala, young Siddhartha, a spiritual seeker, becomes an assistant to the traditional merchant Kamaswami, the richest man in the city. However, soon he starts doing business on his own and in three years’ time becomes richer than Kamaswami. When Kamala one day claims that his success is due to her because she had sent him to Kamaswami, Siddhartha expresses his gratitude to her but says his success is not due to her but due to his mind. The years of spiritual sadhanas he has done, says he, has made his mind so powerful that if a thought enters his mind, it becomes reality. Siddhartha of course is a fictional character but that is what happens in reality too: “Whatever world a man of inner purity imagines with his mind and whatever object he desires, he attains that world and that object.”
Each of us carries our psycho-spiritual atmosphere with us. In his book Social Intelligence, Daniel Goleman, the famous author of Emotional Intelligence, speaks of the interconnectedness of our minds. When an unhappy person enters a room full of happy people, the joyfulness of the group is reduced. Similarly the arrival of a person full of joy and enthusiasm to a room of bored people changes the atmosphere of the room – his enthusiasm is infectious. Goleman says this is because our brains and minds are interconnected in ways science is yet to fully understand.
One of my professor friends in a top business school visited another professor in another top business school, a very rajasic, restless man full of ambitious plans, and spent about half an hour with him. Later my friend told me that the rest of the entire day he could not relax – he had been infected with the rajasic inner atmosphere of the person he had visited. The inner atmosphere of the unenlightened man is full of anxieties, worries, tension and insecurities. In contrast, the inner atmosphere of an enlightened man is serene, peaceful and full of joyfulness. His presence heals. In that sense too, the enlightened man lives in a world different from that of the unenlightened.
Many people have reported the power of the presence of Ramana Maharshi. Scholars, psychologists and academicians all used to come to him from all over the world with a thousand questions in their minds and after remaining in his presence for some time, they used to find their questions answered, with complete clarity dawning in them though neither Maharshi nor they spoke a single word. The peace that emanated from Bhagavan and surrounded him was so powerful that devotees have reported entering deep samadhi and remaining in that state for long periods of time the first time they entered the small hall in which he normally sat or reclined.
There is a widely reported incident about former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. During the days of the national emergency declared by her, once, when she was ready to explode with stress, she visited the former Shankaracharya of Kanchi Chandrasekharendra Saraswati. On the way to the visit the journalists with her in the plane noticed how tense she was and on her way back after the visit, they noticed how calm and serene she was. They asked her what had happened, and her answer was “I told the acharya all my problems and he answered all of them. Neither he nor I spoke one word.”
The healing had happened in the silence the sage radiated. That is the effect the inner world of great masters have on others. Like the spring season that makes trees flower by its mere arrival, the existence of an enlightened master blesses the world.
In terms of neurobiology, the ordinary man with his worries and anxieties remains some ninety to ninety-five percent of his waking time in the beta state in which electric waves in his brain move restlessly, between 14 Hz and 100 Hz. Occasionally he might get into the alpha state in which his brain and his mind calm down – the brain waves slow down to 8 Hz to 14 Hz. The theta state and the still deeper delta state, in both of which his brain is calmer and his mind more serene, are for all practical purposes beyond his reach. Whereas regular meditators who have travelled deep into meditation and attained enlightenment remain constantly either in the theta or the delta state, as proved by numerous laboratory studies in the west have found. For that reason, the inner atmosphere of such people is full of peace, serenity, joyfulness and they radiate these to the world around them. That is the reason why Adi Shankaracharya in his Vivekachoodamani calls them vasantaval-lokahitam charantah, those who do good to the world like the spring season.
The powers of a man who has achieved enlightenment are the powers of a man who has achieved inner silence. To the mind that has become still, the whole universe surrenders, says Zen, speaking of inner silence. Since his speech originates from his inner silence, his words are powerful, each word more powerful than a thousand words originating from a chaotic mind. One of the terms used by India for a man who has achieved inner silence is muni and it has been said such is the power of the muni that whatever a muni says becomes true.
People who have become silent inside command other’s obedience by their mere presence. Tibetan traditions say that when they ask one person to do something, sixteen people run to do it. Taoism speaks of such people as the best leaders. In The Tao of Leadership, John Heider says:
“The wise leader speaks rarely and briefly. The leader teaches more through being than through doing. The quality of one’s silence conveys more than long speeches. Be still. Follow your inner wisdom.
“In order to know your inner wisdom, you have to be still. The leader who knows how to be still and feel deeply will be effective. But the leader who chatters and boasts and tries to impress the group has no centre and carries little weight.”
The leadership of such a person is transformational. His power comes not from his position and authority, which he may or may not have, but from his personal impact and influence on people. He inspires rather than demands. His emphasis is on empowering rather than controlling; on giving rather than getting, on dedication and commitments to the other rather than claims from the other. That is why a leader with inner silence will make the best leader.
Whether it is in the spiritual world, the social world or the corporate world, the impact of an enlightened man is very different from that of an ignorant man. That is why Krishna says the wise man is awake in what is night to the ignorant and asleep in what is day to the ignorant.
The ignorant and the wise live in two different realities.
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