Anyone Can Preach But Only a Middling Few Can Practise What They Preached

Question: There are people who are good at giving spiritual advice to others but when their lives spiral into an abyss of pressure and turmoil or when they face crisis, they fumble, tumble and flip, not being able to practise what they preached. Why is that so?

Swami Dayananda: “Paying lip service to obligatory values is no more useful than the chorus of parrots in a tree, who were singing out, ‘Be careful of the hunter’s net!’ A wise old parrot had seen the hunter coming and had called our the warning. But the silly flock did not look at the ground to spot the hunter—to understand the fact of the situation—to establish a personal content for the words they had heard from the old bird. Instead, they continued to sit happily on the branches of the tree repeating the words which were empty of any real meaning for them: ‘Be careful of the hunter’s net!’ Even after the net had descended upon them, they wriggled and squirmed, caught in the web, screeching: ‘Be careful of the hunter’s net!’

“When I claim as my standards values in which I fail to see any personal gain for myself, I am in as risky a position, so far as expressing those values, as were the parrots in the tree, who mindlessly repeated the warning.”

(pg. 17, The Value of Values)

Who Can Help and Guide Others?

Question: Don’t you think it is a meritorious thing, or perhaps even a highly spiritual endeavour to help others. I am sure there are a lot of people I can help, especially those in spiritual field. Often, when they come to me for help, I cannot turn them away: I set aside some time for them. 

Swami Prajnanapada: “The blind should not try to lead the blind. (The person who seeks to help others) should first see light himself, and, after he HAS, it will be time enough to help…. to be able to help others, one MUST be a helper first, that is to say, one MUST acquire the ABILITY and technique to help… (If you want to help others) You MUST FIRST equip YOURSELF…. equip yourself with the ability to help… You must make sure that you are COMPETENT to help… If you are yourself in doubt, you can HARDLY dispel another man’s doubts.” (pgs. 109, 110, Talks with Swami Prajnanapada)

Question: Who then is capable of spiritually guiding others?

“(Only) a very good sadhak can…(He) can not only inspire people but also LEAD them and GUIDE along the spiritual path.” (pg. 20, Voice of the Himalayas by Swami Sivananda

Question: Who is deemed a good sadhak?
“Fully realise the IMPORTANCE of becoming a changed man ETHICALLY and MORALLY, before YOU can claim to be sadhak,” Swami Sivananda (pg. 322, Sadhana)

Question: So, there is no way for me to help change others?

Paramahansa Yogananda: “Let YOUR example be THE way to change others’ lives.” (Yoganandaji’s address on 6.3.1952: Rajarsi Janankananda, pg. 153)

Swami Sivananda: “You can BEST serve…your fellow-beings… by conscious Self-culture, by LIVING for the realisation of the self.” (pg. 109, Sermonettes of Swami Sivananda)

Mata Amirtanandamayi: “Don’t try to change the world or other people before YOU are able to change YOURSELF.” (pg. 28, Awaken Children Vol. 6)

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa: “Who are YOU to help others?… This sort of too much preoccupation of helping OTHERS is also a sort of DELUSION, and egoistic DELUSION.” (pgs. 200-201, Swami Sivananda: Saint, Sage and Godman by Swami Chidananda Maharaj [A Divine Life Society Publication]).

Question: What about preaching?

Swami Sivananda: “When people who are inharmonious within themselves begin to PREACH, they can ONLY spread disharmony, even though they might avowedly strive to spread peace. The rishies have called this ‘the blind leading the blind.’ ” (Swamiji’s speech on 3.10.1950: pg. 244, Sivananda’s Lectures: All-India and Ceylon Tour).

Which is the Easiest Path to God?

Question: There are so many paths or ways to God, it seems. I wonder which is the correct way?

Swami Sivananda: “Man is a composite of three fundamental factors, namely, will, feeling and cognition. There are three kinds of temperament—the active, the emotional and the rational. Even so, there are three Yogas—Jnana Yoga for a person of enquiry and rational temperament, Bhakti Yoga for the emotional temperament, and Karma Yoga for a person of action. (pg. 9, Introduction to the Bhagavad Gita by Swami Sivananda).

Question: But which is the correct way to God? In one place in the Gita, for instance,

  1. Lord Krishna praises Karma Yoga: “The Yoga of action is superior to the renunciation of action”—(Chap. 4.2); 
  2. Yet in another place, He praises Raja Yoga: “The Yogi is thought to be superior to the ascetics and even superior to men of knowledge; he is also superior to men of action. Therefore, be thou a Yogi, O Arjuna!”—(Chap 6:46). 
  3. Similarly, in another place, Lord Krishna praises the path of Bhakti Yoga: “The highest Purusha, O Arjuna, is attainable by unswerving devotion to Him alone within whom all beings dwell and by whom all this is pervaded!”—(Chap 8:22). 
  4. To confound it further, He has also praised Jnana Yoga: “Noble indeed are all these; but I deem the wise man as My very Self; for, steadfast in mind, he is established in Me alone as the supreme goal”—(Chap 7:18).

Swami Sivananda: One Yoga is as efficacious as the other… A beginner is confused when he comes across these seemingly contradictory verses. But, if you think deeply, there is no room for any confusion. Krishna praises each Yoga in order to create interest in the aspirant in his particular path. The Gita is a book for the people of the world at large. It was not meant for Arjuna alone. Each Yoga is as efficacious as the other. (pgs. 9, 12, Introduction to the Bhagavad Gita by Swami Sivananda).

Question: So, which path should I follow? And, will the path that I have chosen help me spiritually, and finally give me liberation? Or, should a person who is following a certain path now, for instance, Jnana Yoga, change his path to another (efficacious one) that will help him to attain Him?

Swami Sivananda: Any spiritual path pursued with real sincerity and faith leads the aspirant to God-realisation. (pg. 210, Voice of the Himalayas by Swami Sivananda)

Stick to one path with all your strength and single-minded devotion. (pg. 235, Voice of the Himalayas by Swami Sivananda)

If you are sincere, you will surely attain God, which(ever) path you follow. (pg. 237, Voice of the Himalayas by Swami Sivananda).

Question: I am not sure which path is good for me. Which is the easiest way to follow?

Swami Sivananda: Jnana Yoga for a person of enquiry and rational temperament, Bhakti Yoga for the emotional temperament, and Karma Yoga for a person of action. (pg. 9, Introduction to the Bhagavad Gita by Swami Sivananda).

Of all the various paths that lead to perfection, the path of devotion (Bhakti Yoga)  is the pleasantest and easiest. (pg. 86, Voice of the Himalayas by Swami Sivananda)

The path of devotion (Bhakti Yoga) is the easiest and surest of all the ways for attaining emancipation. (pg. 83, Voice of the Himalayas by Swami Sivananda)

By devotion he knows Me in truth, what and who I am; and knowing Me in truth, he forthwith enters into the Supreme. (Bhagavad Gita 18:55)

Obsessed with Helping Others

If you are one of those who are obsessed with helping others, and who feel that you should bring succour to the sick and the poor, comfort the wretched and make the world a better place to live in, you might be interested in what Swami Sivananda has to say about your (what Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa dubbed) “egoistic delusion”:

What a fool you are! The precious human life has been given to you to meditate, to develop devotion, to do Japa and to do Sadhana for the Realisation of God, but you are wasting your life in this pursuit. Many Sankaracharyas have come, many Buddhas have come, and many Jesus Christs have come, many prophets have come, but no one has been able to change this world. The world is like a dog’s tail; it will always be crooked. If you try to straighten it, it won’t straighten. If you put a dog’s tail in a pipe and tie it up, as long as the pipe is there, it will remain straight. But when you take the pipe out, the tail will curl up again. The world is like a dog’s tail, it cannot be straightened up, and you are only a fool if you try to do so, and your life will be wasted, it will go away.” (pg. 197, Swami Sivananda: Saint, Sage and Godman)[A Divine Life Society Publication]). 

Adding to this, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa has said, “Who are you to help others? Can God not help people who need help? Don’t think that He cannot do it, (that) He is not capable of helping the sick and the poor, and (therefore) you should do something. This sort of too much preoccupation of helping OTHERS is also a sort of DELUSION, and egoistic DELUSION.” (pgs. 200-201, Swami Sivananda: Saint, Sage and Godman by Swami Chidananda Maharaj [A Divine Life Society Publication]).

About this delusion, Swami Chidananda says, “…if you enter in the field of service and give all your time, energy and attention only to the service of the society and humanity, then, you are firmly caught by Maya. It becomes an obsession and a great delusion. You are not supposed to live all your life only serving the society and running around for that. Then, you will be committing a great mistake. You will miss the Goal for which you have come. You have not come here for merely doing social service…(Swami Sivananda) empahsised service only for those who (have) absolutely no spiritual idealism and who (are) continuously immersed in living a life of selfihness, of self-centered activity with no higher goal or ideal…” (pgs. 207, 208 Swami Sivananda: Saint, Sage and Godman by Swami Chidananda Maharaj [A Divine Life Society Publication]).

Helping Others

Swami Prajnanapada: “We can help others only to the extent of trying to secure for them those material things we desire for ourselves. One should realise that the same desires, the same needs are common to all. We can, therefore, help only in securing those things for them. In matters of knowledge, however, there is no helping until one is enlightened oneself. Any attempt to guide others before one has become enlightened himself will only result in misleading others.

Eswar Chander Vidyasagar was once requested to tender advice to a friend in distress. He replied that he was not prepared for another thrashing, and therefore, begged to be excused. The meaning is that he was not really in a position to guide and might probably misguide, which may lead to the thrashing. The blind should not try to lead the blind. They should first see light themselves, and, after they have it will be time enough to help.

This does not mean that you must necessarily wait until you get complete enlightenment to be of help to those in need, and who deserve the help. But the man who seeks help must have felt the imperative need for assistance. He must have tried his best to solve his problems and, not having solved them, comes to you for help. You may avail of such opportunities for help, making sure to stand on your own firm ground at the same time. You should never be carried away by sweet flattering words. Under these conditions, you may tell what you know. Your advice should be based on certain knowledge, solidified by experience. For, to know is to be. Without being there is no knowing. And to be able to help others, one must be a helper first, that is to say, one must acquire the ability and technique to help.

Advice should not be wasted on people for whom the need has not arisen. One must first satisfy himself that the other is ready to receive and follow the advice. The teacher must wait until a question is asked, until a doubt has arisen in the pupil’s mind. Doubt, doubt, doubt must first make its appearance. That is the criterion for the need for help. When will the doubt come? Only after going through the experience. So, encourage everyone to go through actions. When he faces difficulties or disappointments, doubts will arise and that is the opportune time to render help. Genuine doubt must first make its appearance. A casual enquiry or mere curiosity will not do. But to help, you must first equip yourself.

How did Krishna become an engineer? He went to an engineering college to equip himself as an engineer. He leanrt both the theory and practice of engineering and came to Tatas to practise it. If one wants to dance, one must be a dancer first. If I give you a good surgical knife, can you straightaway go and operate? No, you have to become a surgeon first, that is, join a medical college, learn both the theory and practice of surgery and then you can operate safely.

Mere theory will not do. So, to be of help to another, you must be a helper first, that is you must equip yourself with the ability to help. You must learn the technique of helping. You must make sure that you are competent to help. Your mind must be clear first. If you are yourself in doubt, you can hardly dispel another man’s doubts. If you feel confident, then, you can talk.

To talk to another, you must first understand him and deal with him at his own level. Otherwise, there will be no communications. When you talk to another, the very first idea that you should hear in mind is that he is different, and so you will have to adjust your way of talking to suit him. That is what is called talking ‘to’ him. You cannot have your own way for everyone.

Different individuals need different advice. What is suitable for one may not suit the other. Your advice should also be appropriate to his need. You should never impose yourself on him or impose an ideal on him, as that will create conflict. Nor should your advice be beyond his reach. The advice given should be practical. He must not find much difficulty in implementing it. It should be slightly difficult, so that it calls forth his effort, and these efforts culminate in success. For, success breeds success, and nothing succeeds like success. This will help him to build up his self-confidence.

You should then see if the recipient is fit to receive the advice. He should be eager, sincere and receptive. Then only will the advice stick. He must put his questions in the proper manner, and be ready to serve the guru in all the ways he can. That is the proper person to whom advice may be tendered.

The pupil should,on his part, never swallow the words of the guru. He must examine them, experiment with them and satisfy himself that they are sound. He must ponder over them from all angles, and make sure that the advice is correct. Then, he must turn them over in his mind repeatedly, so that they become his own. And, finally, he must put them into practice. Practice will make him perfect in due time.

Before tendering advice, first hear him fully and patiently,. Then, if you have a clear idea about it, you may express yourself. You may, or rather, you have the right to say only when you know the truth about it. Be sure of your ground and then talk. Otherwise, lend your ear to everybody.

In guiding, one is merely to place facts before the other and not opinions or conclusions. Let him, through the facts, form his own opinions, and draw his own conclusions. You may explain as much as you like but you must leave the decision to him. If the decision is wrong, he will learn by experience. You should encourage him to walk independently. And, always remember, that advice is for action. It shiould not be treated as a pastime, nor a debate. If you are not prepared to act, you may as well save the trouble of going in for the advice.

Having got the advice, you must make it your own by turning it over in your mind repeatedly and viewing it from all angles. Then, you will be convinced of the soundness of the advice. But conviction alone is not enough. By repetition and pondering over it frequently you must develop the strength of conviction. Then, this conviction will become irresistible and it will be translated into action. That is being.

(pgs. 109-112, Talks with Swami Prajnanapada)

Note: Swami Prajnanapada (1891–1974) was a traditional Hindu swamiji who taught Advaitic Vedanta. He was a direct disciple of Niralamba Swami (1877-1930), a friend and contemporary of Swamiji Sri Aurobindo.

Importance of Discipline and Dangers of Concentration

Swami Yatiswarananda: “The great ones first of all taught us the prime importance of moral life which should go hand in hand with spiritual discipline. As in our worldly affairs, so also in the world of the Spirit there must be systematic practice. We must be able to prepare ourselves so that we may in the proper mood follow the spiritual path. Sri Ramakrishna had a great disciple, Saint Durgacharan Nag—Nag Mahashaya as he used to be called. His father was very much attached to him, but the old man used to do a lot of japa. Once when he was told, ‘Your father is a great devotee’, Nag Mahashaya replied, ‘What can he achieve? He is much attached to me. An anchored boat does not move.’

There is a story behind this saying. One moonlit night, some drunken men took it into their heads to go on a boat ride. They went to the ghat, hired a boat, sat at the oars and started rowing. They rowed and rowed the whole night. Early in the morning, when the effect of drink had gone, they found to their surprise that they had not moved an inch. ‘What is the matter? What is the matter?’, they asked one another. They had forgotten to raise the anchor!

“I hear constant complaints from people: ‘We are doing our spiritual practice, but we do not make any progress.’ The reply is here: At the time of your spiritual practice are you able, at least to some extent, to free your mind from worldly matters and give your purified mind to God? That is the point. We need training in all paths. Some of you might have read Swami Vivekananda’s books, Janana-Yoga, Karma-yoga, Bhakti-yoga and Raja-yoga. Whatever path one may follow, one needs discipline, proper training of the mind, and creation of the proper mood. If the mind is trained and the mood is created, one can carry on one’s spiritual practice with great success.

“Our trouble is, in worldly matters we may be methodical, but in spiritual affairs we are sloppy and impulsive like children. I have seen grown-up people and big officials often talking like children. First of all, a mature inner personality is to be built up. Many of us are persons but have no personality. We are individuals, but have no individuality. Through moral practice, through the discharging of duties, through regular worship, a spiritualized personality is to be built up. It is only then that our spiritual practice becomes fruitful. Our japa and meditation will then prove to be a source of great blessing.

“I repeat, in all the paths, in all the Yogas, a strict discipline is necessary. If I follow Karma-Yoga, my mind must be completely calm. I must try to be detached from the things of the world and from the fruits of karma.

“If I follow Bhakti-yoga, I must have the attitude of total self-surrender to the Divine. Further, there must be great yearning for God, a spiritual hunger that cannot be appeased by anything of the world. Through prayer, through japa, through meditation, and ultimately through divine contact, the spiritual seeker appeases this spiritual hunger and finds supreme peace and bliss in divine realization.

Many want to follow Jnana-yoga, but the mind is to be trained so that it can follow the path of extreme self-analysis‘I am not the body; I am not the mind; I am not the ego or the senses; I am the Spirit.’ For this the teachers of Jnana-yoga insist on certain preliminary qualifications. The aspirant must have perfect dispassion for enjoyment in this and future lives, and must have the capacity to discriminate between the Permanent and the impermanent. Further, he must have great self-control, sraddha (faith) in the supreme Spirit, forbearance, and must be able to practise concentration. Finally, he must have intense longing for liberation.

“Many people say, ‘Oh! I am not able to practise concentration.’ Knowing the persons, that their minds are not pure enough, I say to them, ‘It is good that you don’t have concentration.’ If an impure mind gets concentrated, it becomes like a bombshell. Aren’t we concentrated when we are angry, when we are full of hatred and jealousy? That concentration is no good. It is actually dangerous. So, an amount of preliminary spiritual; discipline is necessary. The path of Yoga, according to Patanjali, consists of eight steps or disciplines. You have to practise these disciplines systematically. One cannot get established in spiritual life all of a sudden.

(pgs. 288-290, Meditation and Spiritual Life)

[Note: Swami Yatiswarananda was a direct disciple of Swami Brahmananda, who in turn was a direct disciple of Swami Ramakrishna Paramahamsa).

How to Preach? How to Reform Others? — Reform Yourself; Change Yourself; Discipline Yourself FIRST!

Swami Sivananda: “First of all, discipline yourself thoroughly. You must be a living, walking and talking example of divine life. That is the more effective way of preaching and when you preach, your words will have the weight of your own personal experience and will have the courage of your conviction.” (pg. 152, Sermonettes of Swami Sivananda)

“You can best serve your nation, your Lord, your fellow-beings, and yourself by conscious self-culture, by living for the realisation of the Self. A nation’s prestige depends upon the few such self-cultured sons and daughters of the land. When time has effaced the memory of all else, it would be the man-of-God who will ever be remembered. Therefore, become a man-of-God by realisaing God here and now.

“Reform yourself. The society will reform itself. If every one of you who reads these lines makes up his mind to lead the divine life from today, from this moment, what doubt is there that the entire society of which you are the units will be reformed.

“Come, then: take a resolve today that you will live every moment of your life for the realisation of God. Selfless service to humanity, Japa, Kirtan, Dyana, Svadhyaya, Charity — all that you do every day should be directed towards this one end and aim.

“May you all shine as Jivanmuta in this very birth!” (pgs. 109-110, Sermonettes of Swami Sivananda)

Self-mastery is the watchword of all self-culture. Reconstruction of society is impossible without reconstructing ourselves. So, one has to set one’s mental house in order.” (pg. 127, Sermonettes of Swami Sivananda)

 “Discipline is absolutely necessary in the spiritual path. In the college, there is discipline. Is not discipline needed in the office, too? How much discipline they need in the army? If a button is missing in the uniform, the soldier is court-marshalled. To attain immortality, eternal bliss, how much more intensely should you discipline yourself! Exert, strive,endeavour to discipline the senses, mind and the body. Do Asana, Japa, meditation, regularly. Get up regularly at 4 am and practise them. Discipline the thought, speech and action. If you cultivate so, you are bound to attain that indescribable state of Brahman sooner or later. (pgs. 80-81, Sermonettes of Swami Sivananda)

Is Annadana Supreme?

26th MAY, 1948


Sri Natarajan had come from South India on a fund collection mission on behalf of Akhilandeswari Temple. They had found it difficult to carry on the work—Pancha Prakara Utsavam—which was being done by his father. He had come to Delhi for the purpose of collecting funds. He did not meet with the success he expected to achieve. He requested Siva to bless him for success in the undertaking.

Siva was silent for a while, watching the two, one would have gathered the impression that Siva was unmindful of the visitor’s plea. He was listening all the while, besides doing his own work.

The pen was put away!

‘Do some Anushthan. This sort of running about for money is no good. By sheer Adhyatmic power you must invoke God’s grace and you will get what you need. Money will come to you. You need not run after money. Reduce the food expenses in connection with the function. What money is collected you must try to utilise it for cultural purposes. Food will only create more quarrels and unnecessary crowd.’

‘Start a Sanskrit College. Bring out translations of the Vedas and Upanishads. Then people will be benefited; they will appreciate your work and money will pour in. Study the working of such colleges elsewhere. Take suggestions from Sri S.V. Iyer of Chingleput—he has organised a Sevashram there.’

‘That is the way to work. Then people will come to know of your spirit of service and will themselves come forward to help. No one nowadays will give you charity for the sake of feeding!’

‘Swamiji! Food is also necessary, isn’t it?’

‘Yes, that also. But the main thing is cultural service.’

‘Annadana first and….’

‘No. No. Jnana Dana first and Annadana next. You can give a man food—in a few hours he is hungry again. Further, if you don’t satisfy him and feed him according to his likes, he will abuse you.’
Sri Natarajan actually experienced the truth of this saying—he kept still for a long time trying to digest the food-for-thought Siva had given him.

Excerpt from Inspiring TALKS Of Gurudev Sivananda

An Avadhoota Had 24 Gurus

Yadu who was versed in religion saw a young Brahmin Sannyasin, full of wisdom, wandering about fearlessly and put him the following question as Yadu was eager to know Dharma.

Yadu asked, “O Sage! How did you, doing nothing get this clear wisdom and light by which you were able to give up all attachments and roam like a child fearlessly in perfect bliss?

“Generally in this world people exert themselves for virtue, wealth, desire and enquire about the Atman only with the motive of attaining longevity, fame and wealth. You are able-bodied, full of wisdom and skill and good-looking. Your speech is sweet and is like nectar and yet you neither work nor exert in the least. You like nothing. People in this world are scorched by the fire of lust and greed. You are not at all afflicted by the fire. You appear self-satisfied and blissful, just as an elephant immersed in the cool waters of the Ganga does not feel the heat of the forest fire on the bank. Please enlighten me as to the source of your joy or bliss. Tell me how you derive bliss in your self alone, untouched by sense objects and living a solitary life? You have neither family nor sensual enjoyment. Whence then is your bliss?”

Sri Krishna said, “Being thus asked and honoured by the intelligent Yadu who has devoted to Brahmins, the noble Brahmin spoke to the king who stood bending in reverence.”

The Brahmin said, “Many are my preceptors, O King, whom I resorted to through my own understanding; with the wisdom imbibed from them I roam about on this earth free from attachments. Listen who they are.
The earth, air, sky (Akasa), water, fire, the moon, the sun, the pigeon, the python, the sea, the moth, the bee, the elephant, the honey-gatherer, the deer, the fish, the dancing girl Pingala, the osprey (raven, Kurara), the child, the maiden, the arrow-maker, the serpent, the spider, the beetle (the wasp)—these, O King, are my twenty-four Gurus or teachers whom I have resorted to. I have learnt all my lessons from their characteristic traits. I will how narrate what I learnt from each of them.

“A wise man should not swerve from the path of righteousness, though he is oppressed by creatures who are themselves under the direction of providence. This forbearance I have learnt from the earth. I have learnt from the mountain, which is a part of the earth, that all our actions should be for the good of others, and that our very existence is for the sake of others. I have learnt from the tree, which is also a part of the earth, that I should be at the disposal of others.

“The sage should be content with mere supporting his life. He should never long for what gratifies the senses so that knowledge may not be destroyed and the mind may not be dissipated on worthless objects.

“The Yogi should not be attached to the objects, like the air, although he is placed in the midst of objects with different attributes and though he is placed in the physical body. His mind should remain unaffected by the good and evil consequences of the objects, just as the air remains unaffected by the good or bad odour of objects over which it blows. The soul enters the body and the attributes of the body seem to be its own, but it is not so. The air is charged with odour but the odour is not the attribute of the air. This I have learnt from the outside air.

“I have learnt from the Prana (vital air) that one should eat to live and not live to eat. He should not eat to give strength and nourishment to the senses. The food should be just sufficient to feed the flame of life.

“Atman is all-pervading. It is not affected by the body and the bodily attributes. This I have learnt from Akasa which is all-pervading and is not affected by clouds and other objects. Even though the sage lives in the body, he should contemplate through his identity with Self or Atman which is all-pervading like the sky (Akasa), which runs as a substratum or a thread in the garland of flowers through all movable and immovable objects, which is not subject to any limitation in respect of time and place and which is not touched by anything else.

“Naturally pure, smooth and sweet is water. So is the sage among men. He, like unto holy waters, purifies others by mere sight, touch and the utterance of His name. This I have learnt from water.

“Bright, powerful in knowledge, and glowing with asceticism, with no receptacle for food except the belly and eating everything, the sage, like fire, is not polluted thereby.

Sometimes he remains unnoticed. Sometimes he becomes known to those who desire welfare. He eats the food offered to him by pious devotees and burns up their past and future evils or impurities.

Fire is the same and only one, though it enters fuels of various sorts. Just as fire burns in a triangular, circular, rectangular or other shapes, according to the shape and size of the wood, so also the Lord of the Universe, who has created the world and entered into all beings, appears different because of the different bodies (Upadhis) in which He resides. He enters this Universe of various objects, high and low, created by His own Maya and appears to be like every one of those objects, just as fire does in different kinds of fuel. Birth and death are for the body and not for the Atman, and are caused by time, just as the flames are subjected to change but not the fire.

“The waning or waxing conditions of the moon are due, not to any change in the substance or luminosity of the moon, but, to the fact that only part of the sun’s rays get reflected by it. I learnt therefore that the birth, growth, decay, death, etc., are states of the body and not of Atman which is illimitable, birthless and deathless. The moon remains as it is, only there is an apparent change over it owing to astronomical motions.

“The sun draws water by its rays and gives it all away in time. The sage takes in order to give but not in order to add to his own possessions. Just as the sun, reflected in various pots of water, appears to the ignorant as many, so also the Atman appears as such in different bodies on account of the Upadhis caused by the reflection through the mind.

“Too much attachment is bad. One should not have too much affection or attachment for anyone. Too much attachment towards anything causes one’s own destruction. This I have learnt from a pair of pigeons. In a certain forest, on a certain tree, a pigeon built a nest and with his mate lived there for some years. They were much attached to each other in love. They reared their young ones with great affection. One day they left their young ones in the nest and went about in search of food for them. A hunter came and caught the young ones by spreading a net. The parent birds returned to their nest with food. The mother had too much affection for the young ones. She fell into the net of her own accord. The male pigeon also fell into the net himself. The hunter caught the pigeons with the young ones. He was quite satisfied and went home.

Thus the miserable family man, who has not controlled his senses, who has not withdrawn his senses and mind from the worldly objects, who finds delight only in the married life and maintains his family with intense attachment, comes to grief with all his relations like the pigeons (Kapotha and Kapothi). He who, attaining a human birth which is like an open gateway to Mukti or the final liberation, is merely attached to the householder’s life like the bird, is considered as one who has fallen from his status.

“The pleasures obtained through the avenues of the senses, whether in this world or the next, are transient and fleeting. The wise man never hankers after them.

“The huge Ajagara serpent remains where he is and is content with whatever food that comes to him. Like the Ajagara, one should make no effort but only swallow the mouthful that is brought to him by chance, delicious or distasteful, much or little. If no food reaches him, he should lie quiet even for a long time without any food and without any exertion to get it; because, he should, like the Ajagara, subsist on what providence brings to him or destiny decrees. Holding still the body endowed with energy, fortitude and strength, he should lie wide awake and not exert, though he has sound organs.

“The sage should be calm, profound or deep, difficult to fathom, illimitable and immovable or not liable to be perturbed by worldly circumstances like the tranquil ocean. The ocean may receive volumes of water from the rivers at times or may receive no water at other times but it remains the same. Even so, the sage who has set his heart upon the Lord, neither swells with joy when he has an abundance of enjoyable objects, nor shrinks with sorrow when he has none.

“The man of uncontrolled senses, seeing a woman, the God’s Maya (enchantment created by the Lord) and being allured by her behaviour and feelings, falls into the blinding darkness and comes to grief, just as the moth falls into the fire. The fool, who with his mind allured by women, gold ornaments, clothes and other things created by Maya, regards them as objects of enjoyment, loses his correct vision and perishes like a moth.

“The sage should wander from house to house taking handfuls from each house till he gets just enough food for his sustenance, without making any house feel burdened, like the bee which gathers honey from all flowers.
“The intelligent man should extract the essence from all scriptures, great or small, just as the bee does from flowers. The sage should not store food for the evening or the next day; the hands or the stomach should be his vessel; he should not hoard like the bee. He who stores food is destroyed with his store like the bee.

“The Sannyasin should not touch even the wooden figure of a young woman even with his feet. If he does so, he would be caught as is the elephant through its attachment for the touch of the she-elephant. The wise man should shun the company of women as if it were death to him; for he would be killed like a weak elephant by other elephants.

“The miser who hoards wealth, neither gives nor enjoys his riches. Whatever he collects with difficulty is carried away by someone else, just as the collector of honey carries away the honey collected by the bees.
“Like the collector of honey, the Sannyasin first enjoys those good things which householders collect through hard-earned wealth in order to enjoy.

“The ascetic should not listen to sensuous music. He should learn a lesson from the deer which, enamoured by the hunters’ music, gets ensnared. The sage Rishyasringa, born of deer, listened to the sensuous music of women and was easily entrapped by them. He became a toy or a playmate in their hands.

“Just as a fish that is attracted by baits falls an easy victim to the bait by means of the hook, so also the foolish man who allows his sense of taste to overpower him, who is stupefied with the charms of taste and delicacies by the turbulent and greedy tongue, meets with death. Tongue or the love of taste is most difficult to conquer. If the sense of taste is controlled, all other senses are controlled. One cannot become master of his organs until he controls the organ of taste. No man can be said to have conquered his senses unless his organ of taste is completely curbed. Thoughtful men soon subdue their senses by fasting.

“There was formerly in the city of Videhas a public woman called Pingala. I have learnt something from her. Listen to it, O King! One day she put on beautiful dress and waited at the door of her house in the evening, to receive and bargain customers for the night. She invited some persons but sent them away as she thought some other wealthy man would richly pay her. With this inordinate desire she waited sleepless at the door, now going in, now coming out, till it was midnight. Through this anxious expectation of money, she spent the night in a fever of hope, worry and disappointment. She felt extreme disgust for her life of greed and desire which made her unhappy.

“In her utter disappointment she sang, ‘Indifference to worldly objects is like a sword to cut asunder a man’s fetters of expectation or cords of desires. One does not wish to get rid of the bondage of the body until he has become disgusted, just as no man without insight into the truth or knowledge could rid himself of the notions of “I” and “Mine” or the clinging to the objects.’ Pingala said, ‘Lo! How deluded am I for want of control over my mind! How foolish am I to seek the satisfaction of desires from such creatures as men!

“Discarding Lord Narayana or the Eternal Atman, seated near in my heart, who is a fit lover and can satisfy me, who can give me everlasting bliss and wealth, I am courting a puny man who cannot satisfy my desires and who causes misery, fear, disease, grief and infatuation. I have been indeed very stupid.

“Oh! In vain I have afflicted my soul by this most reproachable mode of living, viz., that of a public woman; I have sought wealth and pleasure from pitiable mortals, who are greedy and slaves of women, by selling my body to them.

“Who, other than myself, would be taken to this house which is built of bones which are like beams, rafters and posts of a house, which is covered over with skin, hair and nails, which is furnished with nine openings for discharging filth and filled with offal and urine?

“In this town of Videha, full of wise beings, I am the only woman who has tied her hopes, happiness and desire, to the body. I am the only silly being or wicked woman who seeks any other source of enjoyment or object of desire than the Lord who bestows Self-realisation.

“He is the true friend, protector, Lord, most beloved one, the master and the very Self or Atman of all embodied beings; winning Him over, by giving up the body to Him, I shall enjoy His company like Lakshmi and find everlasting happiness in Him alone.

“What is the use of serving others? The favours of gods and mortals are limited by time, capacity and various other obstacles. What delight can the sense-objects, men or the gods confer on women? All have a beginning and an end.

“Surely I must have done something in my previous births to propitiate Vishnu, for it is by His grace alone that this Vairagya (dispassion or disgust) cutting at the root of all unholy desires, has arisen in my mind. Through His grace only, I have attained the way to everlasting happiness and peace.

“If the Lord had not been propitious to me, such disappointments, as lead to renunciation and dispassion, would not have arisen, which enable one to abandon all attachments and attain happiness.

“I accept, with humble devotion, this gift of the Lord on my head. I now abandon all vain expectations and evil desires and take refuge in the Supreme Lord. Contented, full of faith in the Lord, living on what chance brings to me, I shall enjoy the eternal bliss of the Lord, Paramatman. Who else but the Lord can save this Jiva who has fallen into the deep pit of Samsara (births and deaths), with eyes blinded by the objects, with the vision robbed by the senses, and who is swallowed up by the serpent of Time.

“When one realises the evanescence of this universe, when he beholds the universe in the jaws of the serpent of Time, he will surely and firmly scorn the fleeting, doubtful, worthless, illusory pleasures of this world and the next. He will become very cautious, turn himself away from the illusory sense-objects and will seek repose in the eternal bliss of his own Atman. When one becomes disgusted with everything else, Atman is the protector of Atman, the Self alone is the saviour of oneself.”

The Brahmin said, “Pingala having thus determined in her mind, and fixed her mind on the Lord, gave up all hopes and expectations due to hankering for lovers, sat on her bed with a serene mind. She abandoned all unholy desires that troubled her and became happy. She slept soundly with a tranquil mind. It is hope that gives us trouble. Without hope we are happy. Desires, hopes and expectations are the source of grief. Abandonment of all expectations and desires is the greatest bliss. It is the happiest state. Vairagya is the source of bliss as can be seen from Pingala who slept happily, casting aside the hankering for lovers.
“The source for affliction and misery is indeed the acquisition of anything whatsoever that men hold as dearest. But that man who knows this truth, gives up all possession and does not think of any acquisition and attains unlimited happiness.
“An osprey (Kurara—a bird of prey) had a piece of flesh in its mouth. The stronger birds that had no flesh pounced upon it, but the Kurara dropped the piece of flesh and became happy. Renunciation of dear objects is good. It gives peace.

“I do not care for honour or dishonour. I do not think of the house, wife or children. I sport in Atman and take delight in Atman and roam on earth like a child.

“Only two are free from anxieties and immersed in the highest bliss—the child that knows nothing and the man who has realised the Supreme Being, who is beyond the influence of the Gunas.

“In a certain place, a girl herself had to attend to the comforts of those who visited the house to ask her in marriage when her relations had gone out to some other place. As she was husking the paddy for their meal in a solitary place, the conch bangles on her wrists made a great noise. The intelligent girl thought it disgraceful and was very much ashamed of her poverty. She thought that the party might detect her poor condition. She broke the bracelets one by one, leaving only two on each hand. Even those two bracelets produced a sound when she went on husking. So she removed one of these also. No sound was then produced from the remaining one though she continued husking.

“Wandering over the world in search of truth and experiences, I learnt from the girl’s experience the following instructions. Where many dwell together there would be quarrel. Even between two people there would be occasion for debate or talk. Therefore, one should live alone like the single bangle on the hand of the girl.

“Having controlled the breath and practised firmness in seat, one should, like an archer taking his aim, fix or centre the mind on the Supreme Self. He should be on the alert to keep the mind steady through renunciation, constant application and systematic practice. Just as the fire exhausts itself when the fuel is consumed, so also the mind firmly checked in its outward wanderings, becomes oblivious of the diversities caused by the Gunas, slowly shakes off the bonds of Karma, abandons gradually the impulsions to work, gets free from Rajas and Tamas through increased Sattva, subsides and attains tranquillity in the absence of the fuel of Gunas and their products and the sense-impressions which feed it. It becomes one with the object of meditation. It becomes entirely absorbed in the object of contemplation. Then having his mind entirely absorbed in the Atman, he does not see anything else at that time, inside or outside, just as the arrow-maker with his mind absorbed in making the arrow, did not see the king passing by his side. I have learnt concentration of mind from the arrow-maker.

“The wise man should wander alone. He should be homeless and be ever alert. He should resort to a cave and should not exhibit his real worth. He should remain without friends. He should indulge in as little speech as possible.

“It is very troublesome and useless for an ascetic to build a house as his body is fleeting and perishable. Just as the serpent enters and makes itself comfortable in any hole dug by others, so also he should make himself comfortable at every chance residence or place that comes in his way. He should have no fixed abode.

“Just as the spider brings the thread out of itself, spreads out the web, sports in it and devours it itself, so also the Lord creates the universe out of Himself through His Maya consisting of three Gunas, sports in it and takes it back again into Himself.

“Whatever form a man constantly thinks of through love, hatred or fear, that he attains in course of time through concentration on the form he thinks about, just as a worm becomes the wasp.

“Thus from the above twenty-four preceptors I have learnt the various instructions.

Uddhava Gita 2:24 – 4:23, Bhagavatam 11:7:24 – 11:9:23 (Swami Sivananda’s translation)

The Best Part of Knowledge by Swami Chidananda

The whole of the spiritual life is an acquiring of spiritual knowledge. The guru is a source of spiritual knowledge: Scriptures are the source of spiritual knowledge. Special books on specific topics or aspects of the spiritual life and sadhana are also a source of spiritual knowledge. The function of knowledge is to remove ignorance. We replace ignorance by knowledge. It is knowledge itself that does this function of getting rid of ignorance and taking its place. It removes darkness and brings light.

But, apart from its function of getting rid of ignorance, let us ask a different question about knowledge itself. What is the best part of knowledge? Have you ever considered this? We have knowledge, but what is the best part of this knowledge that we have acquired? We may say that knowledge by itself is undivided—it is one integrated thing—but there are parts of knowledge in relation to us.
When we consider knowledge and ourselves, when we consider knowledge and its relationship to ourselves, it is dual. We are related to knowledge, and knowledge is related to us. Therefore, the question of what is the best part of knowledge acquires a certain relevance. It also acquires an importance.
The first part of knowledge is that we now know something that we did not know before we acquired this knowledge, before we were blessed or graced with this knowledge. The guru gives blessings in the form of the knowledge that has the power to gradually liberate us. Thus, you did not know, and when you got the knowledge, you knew. So knowing is a quintessential part of knowledge—enabling us to know things that we did not know until it came into our experience. Knowing, therefore, is the essence of the matter.
However, what is the difference between a person who does not know and a person who knows? Is there any difference at all? That is the next part of knowledge—when the knowing of the knowledge makes a difference in the person. The person is more perceptive, more understanding, more tolerant, more sympathetic. They act with a greater spirit of give and take. Knowledge can do all these things, but there is a big IF. That big IF is that knowledge can do all these things only if the person allows this knowledge to have a transforming effect upon their being. They become a better person because before they got the knowledge they committed many errors. After they acquired this knowledge they begin to avoid all those errors. They act in a different way, a better way, a nobler way.
So, knowledge is knowing, and when this knowing brings about a change for the better in us, it also becomes being. Knowledge first becomes knowing when previous to that we did not know. But then, if we are satisfied with keeping it at that level, and it does not bring about any change, then there is only one part of knowledge that is present—not a better part of knowledge. The second part of knowledge is becoming someone different in a positive and creative way because of the knowledge. The second part of knowledge is being.
And there is still a better part of knowledge. This change must become a social asset. It must become a value that has an effect in terms of other people’s well-being. It is here that the third part of knowledge comes into our consideration. Out of becoming a knowing person and then a changed person, we turn this knowledge and its knowing and being into a social asset, a value in human relationship—a value not only to our own self-culture, self-evolution and ethical and spiritual progress, but a value also in terms of the well-being and happiness of others.
Perhaps this is the best part of knowledge—the doing part of knowledge—bringing knowledge into actual manifestation in a creative pattern of human relationship, behaving with others so that every act that you do becomes a source of benefit to others, every act is, as it were, a seed for the well-being of others, the good of others, bringing into their lives something positive, something helpful, something for which they feel grateful. That is the third part of knowledge, the best part of knowledge.
Knowing is good; it is a wonderful part of knowledge. Being is better. It is really a very praiseworthy part of knowledge, a very, very valuable part of knowledge. But doing is best because it affects in a positive, creative and beneficial way all other lives whom you touch as you move about in this world and live your life. It becomes a benediction, a boon, a blessing, a great desirable value in your life with others—all others, all of God’s creation. Therefore the best part of knowledge is knowledge in practice, the transforming effect of knowledge upon your being being a source of auspiciousness, good and benefit to others.