For the wheel of existence, the mind is the focal point, the central hub from which all worldly activities emerge. To be able to penetrate this focal point and obtain a vision of the immortal self that is beyond, you must cultivate the practice of non-attachment. Make every effort to develop this most important discipline.
Renunciation or detachment can also be thought of as non-attachment. Non-attachment is when the mind and the senses become unaffected by the objects of the world and remain indifferent to their attraction and repulsion. The mind covers the true self; therefore, the mind can be described as a veil. It is a veil of ignorance, for it hides your true self and keeps you unaware of its magnificent presence within you. But, the mind, itself, is tied down by the sense organs, and the sense organs are attracted to the objects of the phenomenal world, and get bound by them. Therefore, the first step in realizing your true self is to gain control over your sense organs. For this, the practice of non-attachment is essential.
Once you are free of attachment to the sense objects, then the sense organs will no longer be able to bind your mind. A mind unencumbered by the senses becomes pure and transparent. It no longer imposes its covering influence over the atma. When the veil of the mind dissolves, your true self becomes aware of itself. Then you are immersed in the unity of all existence and enjoy the bliss which is your true nature. The Gita has taught that non-attachment is crucial for realizing your true self. That true self is the one supreme self.
Detachment or non-attachment has also been emphasized in the yoga classic of Patanjali, a great seer of ancient India. He taught that detachment is the natural property of a mind which remains unswayed by the sense organs and the objects which attract them. Such a mind, being free from the slavery of the sense organs and sense objects, is pure and unaffected by delusion. You gain a pure mind when you see all the objects of this world as transient and changing. The ancient wisdom teachings have declared that from the lowest creature in the phenomenal world to the highest, right up to the heavenly beings, everything is ephemeral and undergoing change. Knowing this, you should relinquish all attachments to sense objects. Any attachment will gradually but steadily lead to bondage.
Just as removing the firewood from the fire automatically extinguished the flame, removing the sense objects from the senses automatically renders them impotent. The wisdom teachings have stressed in a most forceful way that only that person who does not care for anything less than full realization of the supreme self, is a person of true renunciation. Neither objects of the world nor even the heavenly abode of the Lord could sway him from his one-pointed focus.
There is a story related in one of the ancient wisdom teachings about a very wise young boy, who, because of an oath made by his father, found himself in the realm of death. The god of death tried to win over the boy. He said to him, "I will give you complete mastery and lordship over all the wealth and all the power of the world, and I will give you all the pleasures of the heavenly world." But the boy replied, "This world and all the worlds beyond are but transient; they will not last. I do not want anything to do with that which comes and goes. I only want to have the vision of the supreme self. I want to realize the ultimate truth, that which never changes. The world with its bondage and all the sorrow that goes with it is for the person who is swayed by the objects of the senses. They do not interest me in the least."
Let us suppose that you have been living in a particular house for a long time. One day you have to shift to another dwelling. You pack all your belongings and put them in a conveyance and bring them to the new house. Now, it is a common experience that you even go to the extent of wrapping the worn out slippers and the old broomsticks in newspapers to carry them with you because you think that they belong to you. What is the reason for this attitude? The reason is that you have become bound by your attachments to the sense objects. You have so much interest in packing up all those old things and taking them with you because you are attached to them. You feel they are yours.
But then, consider another example, that of a college principal or the headmaster of a school. In every educational institution there will be a number of valuable articles. For instance, in the lab there will be some highly valuable equipment, many tables, chairs, other items of furniture, a wall clock and so on. When the headmaster of that school retires or is transferred, he feels no attachment to these things. And so he leaves with the same free mind that he had when he came. He does not worry and bother himself about leaving behind all those valuable articles when he goes. The reason is that he knows perfectly well that none of those things belong to him. They belong to the management or to the school trust or to the government. Therefore, with a sense of detachment and indifference to those objects he leaves the school.
Where there is a sense of my-ness and possessiveness, there will be suffering. If you do not have that feeling of possessiveness you will not be bound by anything and will not suffer. Therefore, for all bondage, suffering and sorrow, it is just the I-ness or my-ness that is responsible. Like the school principal, you may make use of all the objects that you find in the world. Do not give up the objects themselves, and do not give up your actions and activities. Just give up the attachment that you have towards the objects and give up the attachment that you have towards the world and your activities in it.
Another way of saying this is, give up the fruits of your actions. Perform your duty with a sense of complete detachment, realizing the defects in the objects. Once you understand the underlying laws that govern the world and recognize the defects that are inherent in both the objects of the world and the relationships you have in the world, you will quickly be able to overcome the attachments you have towards them.
Before you were born, who was the parent and who was the child? Before marriage, who was the husband and who was the wife? Only after birth was there a parent and a child. Before birth there was no such relationship and after death there will be no such relationship. It is only during the short transitional period in-between that the feeling of possessiveness and attachment arises. This is all due to defects in your vision and defects in your approach. It comes from a narrow-minded, short-sighted attitude. For all your sorrows, it is your feelings and attitudes alone that are responsible. Once you recognize the defects in objects and relationships you will have no desire to possess them.
Try to understand the principle of detachment. You must reach a state in which you do not have any kind of attachment and bondage even during the dream and deep sleep states. If you encourage a sense of attachment during the waking state, it will also be there in a subtle form during the dream state and the deep-sleep state. The dream state may be compared to a reflection in the mirror. Whatever you experience in the waking state will impress itself into the dream state, and will be seen as a reflection there. Therefore, the waking and dream states are something like the object and its image. If in the waking state you take the right path, recognizing truth and conducting yourself in the light of this truth, then you will be treading the right path even in the dream state. To succeed you have to recognize the defects of the sense objects and overcome them by giving up your attachment to them.
Because of the passage of time everything undergoes change. Food which is freshly cooked today is tasty and delicious. While it is fresh, its potentiality for giving strength and health are very good. But the very same articles of food become toxic after a lapse of two days. Whatever food you consider to be good, to be useful, to be healthy and beneficial, will after a period of time change into something bad, something useless, something unhealthy and harmful. These changes are unavoidable.
In the context of change, you can also see the four types of devotees: the one who is afflicted and seeks relief from pain and suffering, the one who seeks material boons and prosperity, the one who seeks spiritual knowledge, and the wise one. Over a period of time the very same person is likely to progress through all these stages.
We can also consider the changes that occur in the course of a lifetime. Immediately after birth the new-born is called a baby; after a few years it is described as a child; twenty years later the same person is considered an adult; and after another 30 years it will have become a grandparent. These are not four different people. It is the same person all the time, but because of the passage of time different names are given, in accordance with the different stages of life that the individual is passing through.
A human being's life, which is most difficult to obtain, undergoes many changes as time goes by. When this is true for human beings, then how much more must it be true for all the other beings and objects of the world? If you ask what is the greatest defect in a human being, you will find that it is the changes which occur in one's physical being. Whether good or bad, these changes cannot be avoided. As changes are inherent in everything in the phenomenal world, you should not develop any attachment or any sense of my-ness for anything or anyone.
Who is the father? Who is the mother? Who are the children? Who are the family members? Who are the friends? These are all changing forms. You cannot answer these questions for all time. As you become aware of all these changes that are constantly occurring in all these relationships, then how can you develop any attachment to them? The Gita has taught that one has to recognize all the changes that come about with time as fundamental defects and flaws. Therefore, develop complete detachment from the defective forms which are experiencing these changes. They have no permanence.
Detachment or non-attachment is the first important discipline that should be undertaken. The second is constant practice. What kind of practice can be called constant? One kind is austerity or penance. The moment people hear this word austerity they get a little frightened. They inevitably associate austerity with going into the forest, eating whatever fruits and roots are available there and exposing themselves to all kinds of risks and sufferings. Truly speaking, that is not austerity; that is just putting the body through some suffering and punishment.
It is not the body that must undergo the suffering, but the mind. The mind tends towards either sloth and chaos or endless activity, and is filled with the sense of doership and possessiveness. Austerity is putting such a mind with all these negative tendencies that cling to it, through real torture, until all these tendencies let go their hold. Austerity also means removing the defects that are inherent in the sense organs. This is the real austerity. There are three types of austerity. One is the physical austerity of the body, the second one is the vocal austerity of the tongue and the third is mental austerity of the mind.
Physical austerity refers to using the body to perform good actions, which includes worshipping the Lord and expressing your sense of gratitude by serving great souls. If you earn their grace, the selfish aspects of I-ness and my-ness will slowly get reduced. Once these negative qualities decline, then automatically positive qualities and actions will develop. At that point, you will naturally be attracted to the company of like-minded spiritual beings and be inspired to study the Gita and other sacred texts.
In addition to this, you will undertake charity for education, for medicine and hospitals, for poor feedings and other good causes. And just as, traditionally, the different types of charities such as giving away gold and cows and land were the means for using the body in sacred activities, so also you will now be using your body in a sacred way. Since you will not be doing any harmful or prohibited activities, you will not put yourself under the spell of the sense of doership and possessiveness. You will free yourself from bondage to these two qualities. All of this can be described as bodily penance.
Vocal penance is the use of good and noble words. Even when you speak the truth you should not be severe or sharp-tongued. You must be careful not to hurt anyone. In this context, the Gita has said that truth must be sweet and nonviolent. Use the sacred tongue which has been given to you for giving joy and delight to others and for helping them. Do not give any suffering to another's mind. Use your thoughts to help you concentrate and think of the Lord. Use your tongue to describe all the glorious attributes of the Lord. Use words which are highly helpful to others. Use your talk to show the right path to others. Explain to others all the great and good spiritual experiences that you have had. Correct people if they are going on the wrong path by using good words and a sweet tongue. Make sure that no amount of falsehood enters your heart, or enters your talk. This is the way to become an adept of truth and nonviolence.
If you are following the path of truth there may be quite a few problems that you will encounter. A particular sage performing penance had taken an oath to take the path of truth and nonviolence, come what may. A cruel hunter who heard of this tried to induce the sage to break his vow. The hunter pursued a deer and drove it in such a way that it had to pass in front of the sage, immersed in his austerities. The sage saw the deer hiding in the bush. The hunter came running and asked the sage, "Have you seen a deer passing this way?" The sage was in great conflict. If he told the truth he would cause harm to the deer, but if he did not tell the truth he would be breaking his vow. On the one hand, he would commit the sin of causing harm to another being, and on the other hand, he would commit the sin of lying.
The sage found a very good way of dealing with this dilemma. He answered the hunter's query in a somewhat enigmatic way. He said, "The eyes which see cannot speak and the mouth which speaks cannot see. I cannot make that which has seen speak, and that which can speak see. That is the truth." Even in such difficult situations one should not tell an untruth, but one may not be able to tell the truth either. When you are engaged in the vocal type of austerity, difficult situations of this kind may arise. You should make every effort to see to it that you escape without uttering any falsehood. Whatever be the circumstances, do not tell a lie. If you cannot tell the truth then it is best for you to keep quiet and observe silence, rather than uttering an untruth.
Consider the third austerity, the mental austerity. In this type of austerity you will have to develop good qualities and virtues. Whatever thoughts may be flashing through your mind, your face will show the reflection of them. That is why it is said that the face is the index of the mind. All thoughts will be reflected on your face. If you are grief-stricken mentally, your face will reflect that state. If there are sacred thoughts in your mind your face will be very cheerful. The effect of the mind and its thoughts can easily be seen in this way.
Only when you have sacred thoughts, sacred feelings and sacred ideas in your mind, will you be able to live a happy and cheerful life. If there are bad thoughts torturing you, then whenever somebody comes and talks to you, even if you try to smile, your smile will be artificial and it will betray the disturbed inner state in your heart. You should not allow yourself to be driven to such a state. Always keep yourself happy. When will you be happy and joyous? Only when your thoughts are good and sacred. In order to have such good and sacred thoughts in your mind you should exercise control over your thoughts.
At least for a few hours a day you should observe silence. Then the mind will get some rest from words and thought waves. Repetition of the holy name and concentration on the Lord can also be practiced to give some rest to the mind. Repetition of the name and thinking of the Lord brings about both inner and outer purity. Just as you bathe your body every day and transform it into a clean outer vehicle, the mind, too, has to be given a regular purification bath to renew its freshness and sacredness. Now you are concerned mostly with physical cleanliness, but you must also engage in mental cleanliness, which is equally essential to life. Good thoughts, good feelings and good actions go a long way to bring about inner cleanliness.
Austerity truly means bringing about a physical, vocal and mental unity by letting actions words and thoughts become one. This is the real austerity. A great soul is one who has been able to enjoy the unity of all these three attributes. If the thoughts, the words, and the actions are different, then a person cannot be considered a great person.
Worldly experiences are governed by combinations of the three attributes. Of these, inertia and chaos give rise to a slothful nature, action and reaction give rise to an active, passionate nature, and rhythm or calm gives rise to a pure, harmonious nature. Austerity refers to transforming the first of these two, the slothful and passionate natures, into the pure, calm, harmonious nature. This can be brought about by controlling sloth with the help of the passionate nature and then by controlling passion with the help of the pure calm nature. In this way you can enjoy the harmony of all three natures, being joined together as one. Ultimately, when all your actions, words and deeds have become totally unified, you will have overcome all worldly attributes and you will be free even from the limitations of the pure calm nature.
For example, suppose you have stepped on a thorn. If you want to remove the thorn from your foot there is no need to look for a special instrument. Another thorn is sufficient to remove the first one. Then you can throw both thorns away. In the same way, the two lower natures which have been giving you so much trouble, can be removed with the help of the thorn of the calm pure nature. Until you have removed these two lower qualities, you need the calm quality. The calm quality may be described as a golden chain, the passionate quality as a copper chain and the slothful quality as an iron one. All three chains bind you in the same way. The value of the metal of the chain may be different, but they all bind nevertheless.
If an individual is bound by a golden chain, will he be happy in that situation? No! Bondage remains bondage, be it from a chain made of gold or one made of copper or iron. So, even a pure, calm nature causes bondage, and in the end you have to get rid of this also. You must free yourself from all bondage. But until you reach divinity you need the pure, calm, harmonious quality. Once you merge in the Lord, there are no more distinguishing qualities of any kind. In that state the question of the three qualities does not arise at all. When you have offered up everything and become one with the Lord you rise above these attributes and become totally free of all chains.
The Gita has taught that in order to control the mind, constant practice and renunciation, are essential. Practice does not refer to just the observance of daily religious rituals. Practice means using the body, using the tongue and using the mind in such a way that you do not develop attachment. Practice means orienting your whole life towards the one goal of reaching the divinity. Every word you utter, every thought you think and every deed you perform should be pure and associated with truth. This is the essence of all austerities. Truth and purity are the real instruments for success on the spiritual path. My wish is that you develop these noble qualities and thereby sanctify your life.
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