by Swami Krishnananda
The qualities which a spiritual seeker is asked to cultivate in addition to kshama, dhama and uparati, whose nature we have been studying all the while, are titiksha, shraddha and samadhana. These are the power of endurance, faith, and the capacity to concentrate the mind, which form what are known as the satsampat or the sixfold virtues.
Of these latter three, titiksha comes first – fortitude, as we usually know it. Archarya Sankara defines titiksha in his Vivekachudamani as that character by which we complain not against existing conditions. Do not make an adverse remark about prevailing circumstances, and do not feel agony about existing situations. Sahanaṁ sarvaduḥkhānam apratikārpūrvakam, chintāvilāparahitaṁ sā titikṣa nigadyate (Vivekchudamani 24) is what Archarya Sankara tells us. Titiksha, therefore, implies withdrawal from a temptation to retaliate – a total absence of the sense of vengeance – non-complaince against the conditions prevailing, and absence of any kind of sorrow in the mind on account of external conditions.
Now, these are all very hard things indeed for people living in the world, because the very essence of human life is the attempt at changing conditions. There is perhaps none who would take things as they come and also see good in the way things come. The very essence of pragmatic life, so to say, is the effort to change circumstances, to convert the future into what we regard as better than the present. The usual tendency of human life is to bring about a reorientation of things, to create newer and newer possibilities of life and create conditions of greater comfort and ease of living, and to put forth hard effort for this purpose.
But the argument of titiksha seems to be quite contrary to this usual predisposition of human nature. This would mean that to enter a spiritual way of living and to see things from a spiritual point of view, one has to remake oneself and not be satisfied with being an ordinary human being. There is no use taking things as the public usually takes things. The public eye is different from this subtle eye which sees things in their proper essences.
Generally, there is a perennial complaint against conditions outside. We have to protect or guard ourselves against unfavourable circumstances. This is a need that we feel throughout our lives. We build houses, keep arms with us, bodyguards, etc., and remain in a state of anxiety due to a secret suspicion that things are not all right; they ought to be better. Sometimes we call the world a dog’s tail. But all this is not going to perturb the world. It has been what it is, and Herculean efforts of people, stalwarts that trod this Earth to change it, do not seem to have had an impression upon it. There might have been psychological satisfactions for people who have tried to amend it, but the constitution of the world has remained the same always.
The effort to change circumstances outwardly is no doubt the usual inclination or tendency of the human mind, but the spiritual law ordains that energy be not wasted in unnecessary contemplation of factors which are totally extraneous to spiritual fulfilment. There are many more things for us to do in our spiritual life than the earthly life would demand of us. If all our efforts are to be wasted in creating comfortable circumstances, favourable conditions, avoiding what is unpleasant and so on, perhaps much of our time, or all our time, will go only in these attempts. There will be very little time left for us to construct an inner life of our own. While being busy with the facilities of outer life, we are likely to ignore the good of the inner life. But the argument may come forth: “Are we not to contribute our might to change conditions so that our lives may become easier and happier?” As I mentioned earlier, the spiritual attitude to things is a little different from the normal attitude of people in regard to the world. The spiritual attitude is supernormal and not the usual sensate outlook which the man in the street entertains in regard to his personality as well as to outer conditions.
There is a very famous mantra in the Isavasyopanishad which should come to our rescue in properly evaluating circumstances prevailing in the world. Kavir manīṣī, paribhūḥ, svayambhūḥ, yāthātathyato'rthān vyadadhāc chāśvatībhyas samābhyaḥ (Isa 8). This is something startling, no doubt, if we understand what it really means. What the mantra in this passage seems to make out is that the Creator, when He projected this cosmos, has so arranged the pattern of things that they do not need interference. The arrangement is complete to the core. Everything that is necessary has been provided. No one can meddle with it. No one can interfere with it. No one can change it. No one can improve upon it. No one can add to it or subtract from it.
This seems to be the meaning of the Isavasyopanishad when it says, yāthātathyato'rthān vyadadhāc chāśvatībhyas samābhyaḥ: For all times to come, provisions have been made by the Creator in such a dexterous manner that they shall come to the people who are really in need of them at the appropriate hour. The universe is like a general store, and it has everything in it. It lacks nothing. There is no need to invent or create anything for one’s practical existence. They have only to be summoned into action. The process in which these resources of the world are summoned into action in respect of the world or the created beings is also determined already.
The essence of the teachings of this whole passage seems to be that a complete change of things will not be possible. There is another very important factor which will throw a little light on this issue. There is what we call the state of omniscience. If omniscience is supposed to be a character of God, the Creator, we would notice that it implies foreknowledge of things. The knowledge of the future is implied in what is known as omniscience. What is going to happen is already known in the present. This is a part of omniscience. Whether it is God or anyone else who has been endowed with this quality, it makes no difference to us. If there is any such thing as all-knowingness, it should mean ‘the present knowledge of a future occurrence’, which also implies at the same time that the future is also fixed at the moment it is known. If the future is going to change, there cannot be omniscience, because something else may take place in the future, different from what is known now through omniscience.
It is said that in His omniscience, past, present and future get fused into a single eternal now and here. There is only presence, and no past and future for omniscience. And it is not a presence of a temporal nature; it is not a now that we can think of in terms of time. It is a transcendental Now which we cannot describe in terms of language because all language is temporal, limited to time. It is something which we cannot understand, but the implication of it is however that the future and the past commingle in the present, and there is only a single unitary knowledge. If someone, whoever it may be, can know the future, it would be enough argument against the possibility of any kind of interference with the existing order of things.
Yāthātathyato'rthān vyadadhāc chāśvatībhyas samābhyaḥ: Knowing this, cultivating this virtue of viveka, being contented with what one is being provided with, the spiritual seeker is asked to divert his or her attention to the acquisition of higher spiritual qualities rather than to the acquisition of material values for the sake of personal physical comforts.
Thus, titiksha is a power which the sadhaka cultivates in himself, by which the so-called unpleasant visions of life, the seamy side of existence, is seen in its proper colour and context, and thereby tolerated. Now, in the beginning, this toleration means bearing even what is unpleasant and ugly. This is a lower form of titiksha. Even if someone gives us a clout on the head, we somehow bear it. “Let it go.” This is one kind of endurance. For spiritual aspiration, we may bear with these unpleasant things, but these forms of endurance will not stand us in good stead always because we cannot merely live by the power of will. The use of the willpower is a kind of effort that we put forth to counteract forces which appear to be unfavourable to us at a given time. But this cannot be regarded as a normal kind of living. The normal life is that state of affairs where we do not think of the circumstances, where we do not have to think of them at all on account of them being favourable and equitable.
It is usually said that the best form of administration is that whose very presence is not felt by people. If we are constantly aware of a government on our head, it means that it is not working properly. Likewise is the nature of things in general. We are not to be bothered about things too much. We bear them somehow or the other; that is a different thing. But to be pleased with them, to be satisfied with them, is a higher quality. To see ugliness and yet not mind it is one thing, but to see beauty is a greater virtue. To see defect and entertain simultaneously a desire to overcome it and yet not mind its presence is a kind of titiksha or fortitude. But not to see the defect at all, and on the other hand to see a meaning which is coextensive with the nature of things, would be a higher quality.
So titiksha can be lower or higher. In the beginning, it is a capacity to bear unpleasant circumstances. We may call it power of will in the earlier stages. We somehow bear the cold of winter and the heat of summer, though we know it is very unpleasant. Sometimes we may even bear hunger, tolerate people who are annoying, irritating, unpleasant, etc.; but the spiritual form which titiksha takes and which it has to take, and which is really what is meant by titiksha in a spiritual sense, is that inner strength which one develops by a new vision of things altogether. This vision has already been described under what is known as viveka, which is followed by vairagya. We have already seen what viveka could be and ought to be in our earlier studies.
With a correct appreciation of values and understanding of the true nature of things, the power to endure existing circumstances comes about automatically. We take things as normal on account of this higher and broader vision of things. We are not surprised at the events that take place in the world. Nothing makes us feel consternation. There is nothing that is startling in this world. It is startling only to those people who expect something different. But why should we expect anything at all? The mistake lies in the person who expects things. Either we have the extended vision of the whole of Nature, whereby we can know even things which are going to take place in the future, in which case again there is going to be no such thing as surprise, or if this is difficult or impossible, we expect anything and be prepared for everything. Be prepared for the worst. Nothing can be worse than the worst, and so when we are prepared for it, there would be nothing in the world that can agonise us.
Now, these characteristics which the spiritual seeker has to develop are very difficult things to cultivate, because the most difficult thing in the world for a person to cultivate is to look small before others. Nothing can be harder than that. It is only a small person who is content to be at the back, rather than at the front, and who can tolerate things. It is only the bigwig that cannot tolerate. But the smaller person who occupies a humble position in life and is satisfied with the lot in which he is placed will have the necessary strength to bear things as they come.
One of the reasons why we cannot bear things is that they often go contrary to our desires. The world is not ruled by our desires. The desires have to abide by a law that is already existing. Nature does not care for either this person or that person. It has no friends or foes. It is not the intention of Nature to satisfy us or to give us pleasure, so it is foolish to imagine the law intends pleasure for people. It is not so. The law intends good for people, not the satisfaction of an impulse of any particular person or group of people. Hence, to abide by the law of God, to put it properly, would be one of the ways of developing an inner strength by which the conditions of the world not only do not torment, but also assume a meaningfulness and a beauty, a system, an order and a method in their working, so that we become capable of enjoying the world as it is rather than suffer it.
How can we enjoy the world as it is unless we change it, convert it altogether? This is a new art of living. The art of spiritual living is the art of understanding, rather than the effort at converting things. The art of spiritual living is the technique of feeling with the inner law that operates behind any given circumstance, and to appreciate it in its proper context. Great saints alone can develop this character – and very great saints, even then, not ordinary ones, because that would be to see God’s face in the manifestations.
Who can bear the vicissitudes of life who has not developed a Godly life in oneself? Only God can develop God’s creation, nobody else. He alone can understand its meaning, and the more we are capable of entering into this meaning, the more also we are able to bear when Nature comes in its different colours and forms. Sā titikṣa nigadyate: This is fortitude, a very important characteristic, because if we always have a complaining and detesting nature towards things, then that would also imply a similar attitude from the outer world in regard to us. The world is unfortunately made in such a way that it reacts towards us in the same way as we react towards it. Some poets and saints have compared the world to a kind of reflection that we see through a mirror. We see our own selves, as it were. If we smile, the reflection also smiles in the mirror. If we frown, it frowns; whatever we do, that it does in respect of us. There seems to be some truth in this great proclamation.
It is difficult to understand our duties in this world because we always stand as persons rather than principles of impersonal aspiration. It is true that we are persons, and nobody can escape this contingency. We are human beings – bodies. But we are expected, as humble seekers of God, to entertain an impersonal aspiration even in this personal body encasement. The impersonal aspiration it is that is to keep us alive in this world. That which expands itself to greater and greater extents would be the tendency to the impersonal. Well, what else could be the good of life, if it is not this tendency to develop oneself into the larger and larger extensions of impersonality? God is the highest of impersonalities; the Supreme Impersonal is God, and the spiritual aspiration is the tendency to the achievement of this impersonality of living.
The more we become impersonal in our attitude, the more also is the strength of our mind. And the lessons on self-restraint which we have been studying on earlier occasions would be guiding lights for us on our path, to tell us how we can become impersonal in this manner. The bodily existence is the rudimentary or the crudest form of personality. From this crass personal existence of bodily living, we have to extend our vision to the mental and the intellectual levels where we are supposed to be more impersonal. A boor, an animalistic type of person living only for the satisfaction of impulses, cravings, etc., who lives wholly a bodily existence, may be the lowest unit of our evaluation. But a very cultured person, intellectually educated, psychologically trained, will not behave like that. The person trained in logical thinking and psychological analysis of life will be capable of greater self-restraint and maintaining social etiquette in life than a boor. This is a simple form of impersonality that people develop by education and culture. A cultured person, well educated, is more impersonal in attitude than an untutored village rustic.
But all this impersonality of ours is tentative. It is brittle and can break any day. Sometimes it is stifled by the passions of life, and our etiquettes go with the winds, even though we may be cultured. So this possibility is not ruled out in cultured and educated people. But it is a tendency of the mind, a good tendency which indicates its longing to become wider in its perspective and understanding than is the case of pure bodily living, by effort, through study, satsanga and contemplation. We have to develop this power of introducing into our personal life the system of what is impersonal because the impersonal, and not what is personal in life, is the signal of the real.
We cannot ordinarily see impersonality; we think in terms of bodies at all times. But some amount of effort is needed to summon impersonality and become more charitable in our thoughts and feelings. This generosity in thinking and feeling is a sign of impersonality in our living. By self-restraint, by contemplation on what is immediately above us, we can develop the power of endurance – titiksha.
In any stage of living there is something above; we can never reach the highest at any time. If the effect rises to the level of the cause, that cause would be realised to be the effect of some other cause above it and so on, ad infinitum, perhaps. Every cause becomes an effect to a higher cause; thus every state of being has a determining factor about it, and morality is nothing but the determining of the lower by the higher.
If we are contented with merely what we are and do not want to abide by any kind of law that determines it, then that would be the law of immorality. But the moral sense is that state of consciousness which regulates the lower state of living in terms of the demands of the higher. In other words, the personal is to be governed by the laws of the impersonal. The effect is to be determined by the nature of the cause. The gross is to be regulated by the laws of the subtle, whatever it be.