The Integral Life of a Householder
by Swami Krishnananda

(Spoken on May 17, 1997)

Everything is controlled by something else. ‘Something else’ means everything there is, so that you appear to be existing by the pressure effected by comic forces from all sides in a particular manner. Because of the particular manner of the impact of the forces, you look like one person. If the impact was different, you would look like another person. You may be anything. You may be a human being, a man or a woman, or even a tree. Anything can take place. Therefore, neither a tree exists nor a mountain exists nor stars exist; nothing exists. Everything is a shape given to a pressure of a particular kind, exerted from every nook and corner of creation, so even the existence of a little thing is the action of God. Nobody works. Nobody exists. That is why Buddha said there is no soul. When he said there is no soul, he meant there is no individuality. There are only relationships or pressures like magnetic influences from outside, and they make things appear as if they are standing because of the pressure from outside. But they are not standing. The river is not existing; it is flowing. The flame of a lamp is not existing; it is moving. We are also like that. We are a moving cosmic operation taking place, and really we do not exist by ourselves.

But there is a kind of ego, an assertion of the individuality of an otherwise mere floating bubble. The bubble is asserting its individuality, which makes it feel that it is existing as a person; but it is not existing. It is blown off by the operation of another force, and that blowing off is called death. The force can blow another way, and it is called rebirth. Every action, every birth, death or experience is an operation of the centre of the cosmos. We do not exist here. The ego, or ahamkara, is the reason why we understand nothing. This great stigma is on everyone, and it will not allow us to think properly.

Therefore, you must seek deep meditation and expand your consciousness to the existence of everything in the universe so that when you think, you are thinking the whole universe at one stroke. You are not thinking any particular place – neither a place, nor a country, nor anything. The entire cosmic distance is yourself. In the Vaishvanara Vidya of the Upanishads it is said that you enter the cosmos, and the cosmos enters you, so that you do not exist at all. When you meditate, the cosmos meditates. The cosmos meditates on itself like a river entering the ocean, and there is no river afterwards. When the ocean thinks, it does not think like a river. The rivers are inside it. Though all the rivers are inside the ocean, the ocean does not think, “I am so many rivers.” It will not think like that. It thinks, “I am one mass of existence.”

Ashramite: Swamiji, when a little understanding comes, why does it not go deep down and take charge of it?

Ashramite: I told you there is a thing called ego. Ego is a pressure inside us which retains the idea that this shallow, balloon-like existence is existing. It is called maya, avidya, and so forth. The ego is a kind of devilish influence which makes us feel that we are independently existing. Even the stars are controlling you. The sun and moon and space-time, everything is controlling you. So what is your importance? That false imagination of importance is the ego.

Ashramite: How does it go?

Swamiji: By this kind of meditation.

Ashramite: When one meditates, one has to be satisfied with oneself.

Swamiji: There is no ‘oneself’. You should not use all these words.

You must know that things are not moving according to our prejudices, according to our religion, according to our customs, according to our cult and the cultural background into which we are born. All these have no connection with the truths of life. We do not want to know these truths. We are men and women, we are from India and America, we are religious or not religious, we are socialists or Marxists, we are philosophers, we are businessmen, we are merchants. These things have no meaning if we look at things from the point of view of the whole world.

You must transfer your mind to the total world, as if the world is thinking. You should not think like a person belonging to any place. You should think as the whole world is thinking. The world has no men and women. It may not even know that they are existing. The world has no differences of any kind within itself. The world is a big organism, like our body. It has no caste, it has no religion, it has no philosophy. It is just what it is. Can you live a life like that – just being what it is?

I am telling you all this because there is a sutra in the Brahma Sutra which is very intriguing, which no commentator has explained properly. Kritsnabhavattu grihinopasamharah (Brahma Sutra III.4.48). The meaning of this sutra is, the life of a householder is integral. Unfortunately, all the commentators of the Brahma Sutras are sannyasins. No sannyasin will accept that the householder is leading an integral life. They will say sannyasa is higher. Here also, there is some prejudice. We should never bring ideas of higher and lower in the scheme of things. All the commentators are sannyasins, and they abhor the word ‘householder’, so how will they write a commentary on this sutra? They are handicapped in saying anything. They cannot say that the life of a householder is wholesome. The general idea is the life of a householder is one of attachment to family, property, etc.

Then what does this mean? How is the life of a householder integral? Neither can the sannyasin accept that the householder is integral, nor can they say that the Brahma Sutra is saying something wrong because everybody has high respect for the Sutra. It is like saying the Bible is wrong, the New Testament is wrong, Christ is wrong. One cannot say that. They are all holy words. One may disagree with it, but one cannot say it is wrong. So what these commentators do is, they glide over this. They write only two lines that, according to the Upanishad, the householder’s life is considered as integral. They won’t say anything more, and pass over it

You have prejudices. That is very important. Cultural prejudice, linguistic prejudice, ethnic prejudice, anthropological prejudice, man-woman prejudice – you cannot get over it. In this condition, you can never reach God. It is not possible. God is not a man or a woman. He is not a Brahmin or a Kshatriya. He is not an Englishman or a Frenchman or an Indian. In what capacity are you going to God? “I am Christian. My God, I have come.” God will not know what is the meaning of ‘Christian’. He is just ‘I am what I am’. If you think “I am a Brahmin. I am coming to attain salvation” it will not cut ice.

In what capacity will you go to God? Any idea you have got about yourself is wrong. It is not possible to free ourselves from this prejudice as long as we have got a pre-oriented individuality that we are born into a particular family, culture and morality. Morality also differs. It is not a universally unanimous thing. There is a village near Mussoorie where each lady has five husbands. There are many social workers in India. They said, “These villagers are fools; we must go and educate them.” The village is so far, beyond Mussoorie in a far-off place, and nobody wants to go there. Some ladies belonging to a cultural group of India went there, and were discussing with them. One lady said, “Listen. You should not have many husbands. I am also a lady. I have only one husband.” They all laughed. “Oh, poor lady! She has only one husband. What are you going to teach us? You are a very selfish person. You have only one husband. I don’t want to talk to you. Go.” The social welfare workers came back defeated.

Now, do you think these ladies are ethically right? Draupati had five husbands, and we adore her as a divinity. What is all this, finally? There is a free life in America. Everybody is free; unconditioned movement is allowed there, except for what is illegal. In India there are terrible restrictions; there is one restriction for eating, another for washing, for moving, for standing, sitting, and even for looking. Everything is restricted here.

I am giving you an example of Western culture. It is a free culture. Because of the instinct of every person to be free and unshackled by anybody, everybody wants to follow the trend of Western culture. Even an orthodox Brahmin does not like his religion. He crops his hair, and wears a tie. Why should he wear a tie? He thinks that Western culture is higher. He dislikes speaking in his own tongue, and speaks in English only. What is it that attracts him? It is freedom, indeterminism, a kind of non-restriction of behaviour. Who does not like freedom? You want to bind me completely? The whole world is following Western culture. Everywhere, whatever country it is, all have the same Western dress, the same tie, the same way of thinking. Why?

There is something deep in us which is not in accordance with our adopted religions. We have two prejudices. One is, our religion is the best. Every Christian thinks Christianity is the best and that Hindus are pagans and Muslims are fools. That is why they are hell-bent to proselytise and convert people into Christianity by any means. Hindus think Hindus are the greatest people and that no religion is equal to Hinduism. Muslims think that Islam is the best and all others are foolish people.

What kind of people are we? Are we fit to attain God? A universal, omnipresent, indeterminable absoluteness which is God – can that fate be set in tune with our way of thinking? What is liberation? Where do we go when we reach the state of perfect freedom and immortality? All sorts of answers are given. Some say we can only be near God, some say we can be in the vicinity of God, some say we can be only in the kingdom of God, some say we can just sit near God, and some say we can be God Himself. All these ideas arise on account of our way of thinking. As we think, so we will become. The kind of freedom we expect will be the freedom we will get. As the kind of freedom we are expecting is conditioned by our empirical way of thinking, we cannot answer the question of what liberation is. We have a logic which is pragmatic, empirical, and practical. We cannot go beyond it. Does God think in the same way? Has God a logic which is differential or deductive? Does God argue? Does God require an argument to establish His existence?

Now I am coming to the point of the householder. All this that I have said is an introduction to this intricate subject. A householder is not to be considered as a man of attachment. He has truly an integral level. He is a highly disciplined person. A married man need not necessarily be a man with attachment. Attachment is prohibited. A person should marry for reasons of a different nature, but he cannot be attached to his wife, to his property, or even to his son and daughter. That this is not practicable and parents are attached to their children is a great travesty.

The word ‘householder’ has a unique meaning in India. There are four gradational achievements, or attainments, for the development of the person, arranged in ancient times in India. The first is conservation of energy, and is called brahmacharya – studying holy scriptures, serving the Guru, and maintaining self-control. Ancient brahmacharis were great, powerful people. If they uttered a word, it would immediately take effect. Brahmacharis were feared. You did not dare irritate them.

There is a story of a brahmachari. Parikshit was a king. He went hunting, and on the way he felt thirsty and searched for a place where he could get water. He saw an ashram, and went there. He saw a sage sitting and meditating. He said, “I want water.” But the sage was in deep meditation, and did not hear anything. The ego of the king started working. “Oh, great man, meditating.” In anger, he lifted a dead snake lying nearby with the end of his bow, hung it on the neck of the sage, and went away. The students, who were all under the tutorship of this Guru, came and saw a snake around their Guru. They ran to the son of this sage. “Come here, and see what is happening to your father. A snake is on his neck.” The son wept and cried. “My dear boys, see my power today, the power of my words.” The boy took water three times. “Whoever has done this misdeed, he will be bitten by a cobra within seven days.” What power he had!

Brahmacharya is the initial stage of conservation of energy. In ancient days it was believed that a person would live for a hundred years, so the calculation was that for twenty-five years one must live like a brahmachari with great energy arising out of self-control, study of holy scriptures, and service of the Guru. After that, he would enter married life and fulfil the duties of a householder.

The duties of a householder are interesting to know. It is not attachment to family; that is far from the truth. In Indian culture, attachment is never allowed. Duty is necessary. The fulfilment of the needs of personal and social relations is the duty of a householder. In the early days of brahmacharya, he is concerned only with himself. But it is not possible to live only by oneself. There is also society outside. There are impulses of self-restraint, there are impulses of social relations, there are impulses of acquiring wealth, there are impulses of seeing beauty, and there are impulses of being charitable to people. This is why the sutra says the householder’s life is integral. The householder is a highly respected person not because he has a family, but because he is doing a duty without attachment. Such a person is difficult to find. Everybody is attached. But the principle is not at fault merely because it is not followed due to the insistence of the lower instincts.

Nobody has thought over these matters, as there is no one without a prejudice. One thinks “I am a pope”, another says “I am a Sankaracharya”, and third thinks “I am a saint”. Why do they think like that? There is no such thing as a pope, there is no Sankaracharya or anything else. There is only an individual associated with the whole cosmos. Everything else is nonsense. If they carry nonsense before God, they will achieve only nonsense. Nobody can attain God with a prejudice in the mind. Integral life is a life of non-attachment on one side, and freedom from hatred on the other side. That is why it is called integral.

When the social relationships are well fed and taken care of, and the needs of the instinct of living a family life are also very well matured, then systematically, impartially, the householder retires from this duty of having relations with society, relations with anybody. Retirement means freedom from the necessity to be involved in social relations. Social relations are very important, and nobody can be free from that. But once one has passed through that stage and has graduated from it, then a super-individuality creeps in. Up to this level, people were individuals. A brahmachari is an individual of one kind. A grihasta, a householder, is an individual of a different kind. Now there is a concept of a super-individual who does not think in terms of personal self-restraint, study, seva, etc., nor does he think of social relations, but engages himself in uniting his mind to universal relations. This is a higher stage.

It has nothing to do with the dress. Whether you put on white cloth, yellow cloth or sannyasi cloth, it has no meaning. God is not afraid of all these clothes. They are all useless. You must be very careful and impartial in your thinking, and highly dispassionate, true to your own conscience. There is an interest in universal relations. All that the brahmachari did in his individual capacity, and all that the householder did in his social capacity, are transcended in the mental operation in terms of universal relation. That is vanaprastha.

People do not understand what this is. It is highly scientific, mathematically correct. Then comes sannyasa. Sannyasa does not mean a person who is wearing an ochre cloth. This is again social restriction, social distinction, differentiation, etc. A person whose mind is centred in the indivisible Absolute is more than a super-individual. He is cosmic relation; he is God Himself. Sannysins are respected as God Himself, not because they have a shaven head and wear ochre cloth, but because their mind is centred in the Absolute.

This is the reason why the Brahma Sutra says the householder’s life is integral. But no sannysasin goes deep into it. They just bypass it. I was thinking I must touch this point. It is better to be a little impartial and free from prejudice. Do not be afraid of all these limitations set by religions and cultural distinctions and patterns, etc.

You must be a hundred percent honest before God. It is very difficult because we carry ourselves there. I am Mr. so and so, I am Mrs. so and so; I go to God. No Mr. and Mrs. can go there.

Such is the great commentary that one can write on this intriguing sutra, most difficult to understand. Even to understand these implications will purify your mind. You are not what you are thinking. You belong to another kingdom of values altogether. You will be thrilled to think like this. “I am living in the kingdom of God now itself. Why should I aspire for it? I am living in it. Oh, glory!” The Upanishad sages exclaimed, “Oh glory!” There is no other word for that. “Oh glory, oh wonder, oh wonder! How beautiful, how grand, how magnificent! Oh joy, oh joy, oh joy!” These are the words of the great masters of the Upanishads.