by Swami Krishnananda
The unselfishness of an action is to be judged by the extent to which it bears relevance to the universal set-up of things. It has, in fact, nothing to do with my thinking, your thinking, or anyone’s thinking. The nature of Truth does not depend upon human thought and feeling. It has an existence of its own, and it, in its exalted supremacy and majestic universality and comprehensiveness, determines even the thoughts and the feelings of people;not the other way round. It is curious that every human being enshrines an intrinsic habit of holding that truths are judged by human thought, or much worse, one’s own individual thought. The human cannot become the divine merely because human history has passed through many centuries of temporal process. The divine is a qualitative transformation of the general attitude of consciousness and not a quantitative calculation of syllogistic conclusions. When Truth takes possession of us, we no more think it or judge it in our own way, but participate in its being, which is a different thing altogether from our definitions of truth, law and justice; goodness, virtue and rectitude.
It makes little difference whether one is a student on the path of devotion or the path of knowledge. Sadhakas, real as well as the so-called ones who imagine themselves to be such, often waste their time in wrangling over matters which have no concern with sadhana but which can beguile them into the belief that they are utilising their time most beneficially. It does not mean that there can be anyone who is perfectly free from all faults, for everyone has some defects which can be so serious as to be impossible of eradicating in one life. For the defects may be ingrained in one’s own nature and they die only when the person concerned dies. But the presence of such a defect should not discourage one in acting rightly, for to wait until the time when one would be totally free from all defects in order to commence sadhana would be like waiting for the cessation of the waves in the ocean in order to take a bath in it. Life is a perpetual struggle, an unending suffering, a series of vexations, agonies and anxieties, in which one thing follows even before the other has not subsided. Under these circumstances, we are likely to be satisfied with the observation that everyone has defects, and we are none the worse. Many times we go one step above and feel elated and superior just because there is someone inferior to us. The very presence of the small makes us look big. And we feel contented in looking at the picture of the world which is painted dark all over by our minds which do not want to see good in anything. These are the nets in which the minds of Sadhakas can be caught, and mostly they are actually caught, so that they pass away from this world in the same condition in which they are born, in spite of the efforts which they initially put forth when a spark of sattva splashed forth within them, for it can be extinguished easily by the storms that blow in the world.
The spirit of sadhana in the Inner Path is more important than the outward form with which most people usually busy themselves. One spends the whole day in counting beads, and thinks that his sadhana is over with that. Another attends the temple, rings the bell and does some exercises, reads a few books, so that the hours of the day are all filled up, which is all enough to make him think that he is busy with his sadhana. Now, all this is the outward form which sadhana may take, and a very necessary form, and it is quite all right as far as it goes. It loses its meaning only when it is deprived of the spirit and the purpose with which it is expected to be done. It is to be remembered that sadhana is not any kind of bodily action that is outwardly demonstrated in the world, but a state of mind, a condition of thinking, a consciousness in which one lives. Suppose one counts ten thousand beads on a particular day, with a heart filled with rancour and an emotion in a state of a ebullition caused by frustration, prejudice or jealousy, the beads are not going to do one any good. All actions are symbols of an inward mood of mind, and when the mood is absent, the action by itself has no significance. The majority of sadhanas are lost in the wilderness of erratic thoughts and confused ideologies. This is the precise reason why, very often, there is no success in sadhana, despite years of routines that are being followed, perhaps with great enthusiasm but bereft of the spirit needed.
It is difficult to make one understand that the spirit of sadhana is determined by the extent to which one aspires for God-realisation. This is such a difficult thing to grasp that no amount of explanation, ordinarily, has any effect on the minds of Sadhakas. We have heard the words ‘God’ and ‘Realisation’ so many times that they are likely to lose their meaning, due to their being glibly used every now and then in life. But gold does not become cheap just because we utter its name a thousand times a day. Its value is intrinsic. Unless our routine of sadhana is charged with the ideal of God-realisation, it will turn out to be useless in the end, and mean nothing in substance. Maya works in various ways. In one it acts as a preventive against the The resultant force of an action has one’s future determined by it. Patanjali, in his Yoga-Sutra, says that the class of society into which one is born, the length of life which one is to live, and the nature of the experiences through which one has to pass, are all determined by the residual potency of past actions. These potencies become active in this life itself or in a life to come. A famous verse proclaims: “The nature of one’s life, action, wealth, education and death are all fixed up even when one is in the womb of the mother.” Human effort has a relative value and forms a part of this universal law of self completeness, displaying the manner in which the impersonal reality behaves when it is cast in the moulds of personality and individuality. The doctrine of karma, therefore, is not a belief in fatalism as is often wrongly supposed, but the enunciation of a scientific law that operates inexorably and impartially everywhere in the universe, like the principle of gravitation.
Often it looks that we are constantly in need of an impetus to push forward our drooping spirits and to feed the flame with oil. But it is in the true spirit of karma Yoga that We have to launch forth any effort, in the sense that every viewpoint that we take has also to take into consideration every possible aspect of the matter and not merely one or two sides which are visible to the eyes. The reasons behind the shortcomings of a person, a family, an institution or a nation are not always clear before one’s vision, for, though these causes may be simple, one may not be willing to bring these issues into the daylight of understanding. The reason for this, again, may be variegated; it may be an incapacity to investigate, a blind faith, a personal prejudice, or a mixture of certain factors which ordinary dispassion cannot disentangle from the massive network of which it consists. To maintain one’s balance and peace of mind in this structure of God’s creation is difficult. Part of our sufferings, anxieties, ambitions and dissatisfactions may be traced to this patent fact of life. In every strata of human society, the main difficulty that confronts one is the mix-up of principles with personalities. This is a sociological derivative of the famous metaphysical doctrine of ‘adhyasa’, and our happiness is in proportion to the extent we succeed in extricating the principle from the personality, in whatever walk of life we may be, and wherever we are.
Swami Sivananda’s views on self-effort and necessity may be stated as follows:
An animal that is tethered to a peg by a rope of a given length has freedom to move within the circle drawn by the radius of that rope. But it has no freedom beyond that limit; it is bound to move within that specific range. The position of man is somewhat like this. His reason and discrimination afford him a certain amount of freedom which is within their scope. But the reasoning faculty is like the rope with which the animal is tied. It is not unlimited, and is circumscribed by the nature of the forces which govern the body through which it functions. As long as man has consciousness of personality, or individuality, and insofar as it is within his capacity to exercise the sense of selective discrimination; he is responsible for what he does; he is an agent or doer of the action, and such actions as these are fresh actions or kriyamana-karmas, for they are connected with the sense of doership. But if events occur when he is incapable of using this power of understanding, as, for example, when he is not in his body-consciousness, or when things happen without his conscious intervention in them, he is not to be held responsible for the same, as these are not fresh actions but only the fruition of a previous deed or deeds. Though every experience bears, to some extent, a relation to unknown forces, its connection with one’s consciousness constitutes the meaning of a fresh action. Effort is nothing but consciousness of initiative as related to oneself, whatever be the thing that ultimately prompts one to do that action. It is not the action as such but the manner in which it is executed that determines whether it is a kriyamana-karma or not. A jivanmukta’s actions are not kriyamana-karmas, for they are not connected with any personal consciousness. They are spontaneous functions of the remaining momentum of past conscious efforts which are now unconnected with the consciousness of agency. Experiences which are forced upon oneself or which come of their own accord, without the personal will of the experiencer involved in, them as an agent, are not to be considered as real actins. An experience caused by mere prarabdha does not cause another fresh result, but is exhausted thereby, while the kriyamana-karma tends to produce a fresh experience in the future, because it is attended with the sense of doership.
Sometimes, the causative factors of actions may manifest themselves, not through the consciousness of the experiencer, but through an external agency or occurrences having causes beyond human understanding. Even when a person is goaded by another to do an action, it is only an aspect of his desserts, in relation to the other’s, that works. In the state of spiritual realisation, such incitations cease. Efforts are automatically stopped on the rise of Self-knowledge, which is the goal of all effort, and not before that. As long as there is body-consciousness and world-consciousness, man will perforce continue exerting himself to achieve his desired end. The consciousness of effort is the natural concomitant of the consciousness of imperfection. Man, being what he is, continues by his own nature, to put forth effort until he reaches his goal. The question of free-will and necessity is a relative one, and it loses its meaning on the dawn of the wisdom of the Self.
The law of karma does not annoy one who has succeeded in overcoming the consciousness of ‘individuality’ and thinks, feels and acts in terms of the constitution of the universe taken as a whole. There cannot be an effect of reaction unless there is a localised centre which can receive the reaction. The impersonal consciousness is no such centre and so the reactions of karma cannot find a target where this realisation takes place. This is a clue to even our daily activities in life, and we can remain unaffected by the reactionary forces of the environment outside, for where no self-centred thought exists, the experience of reaction, too, cannot be. This rule applies not only to the siddha (perfected one) but also the sadhaka (aspiring one), for the law of karma is the law of Nature, which exempts no one from its restrictions and also excludes no one from its beneficiary clauses. karma is, thus, not merely the law of individualistic action but also of the working of the cosmos in its eternal completeness.