Holiness Swami Rama~
on the walls of the great temple of Delphi in ancient Athens were the
words, “Know thyself.” This theme has pervaded all of human
thought—in the West it is the legacy of Greek philosophy, derived from
the still more ancient traditions of Eastern wisdom. Everyone wants to
know himself and to understand the meaning and purpose of life. It has
been the goal of the Indian sages to teach humanity that the problem of
life is to know how to live—not only within oneself but in the external
world. To live in the world we have to understand the Law of Karma
(action) and how to perform our duties.
Sanskrit word for “action” is karma,
derived from the root kri which
means “to do.” A man does his action and gets remunerated for it—in
turn transferring this remuneration to others for work done by them. Thus,
fruit has arisen out of action and action out of fruit. From time
immemorial, life has been conducted in this manner. This is called the
wheel of karma. To act with the motive of gaining fruits is to invite bondage.
Relinquishing them frees us from all miseries. Let us consider how this
all men understood the value of dedicating everything that they had to the
welfare of all beings, no one would be living only for himself. All beings
would be linked by their mutual consideration for each other. Those who
live for the welfare of all are maintained by the Self of all (the Lord of
who feels delight in giving up the fruits of his actions is a real Yogi.
Without giving up this fruit, perfection cannot be achieved.
Selfish desire for the
fruits of action is the root cause of all miseries. Whoever depends upon
the fruits of action for self-satisfaction finds himself bound. In the
modern world everyone retains the fruits of his labour for himself. Such
grasping possessiveness gives rise to a self-created world of evil and
suffering. Only a fortunate few are devoted to the well-being of others
and carry out their duties selflessly. The majority of human beings are
deeply plunged in grief because of their inability to grasp the illusory
quality of the “enjoyment” which they believe will lead to everlasting
happiness. It is exactly like a mirage. To extricate such ignorant people
from the bondage of misery is indeed difficult, if not impossible.
Before a man understands
anything about his actions and duties he must be taught to have a proper
attitude. Attitude plays an important role in man’s life. Everyone with
a secular bent of mind thinks and speaks in terms of “me” and
“mine.” This is “my house”, this is “my property”, this is
“my wealth”, and so on. No one except the person and those close to
him are entitled to enjoy this wealth. This is the attitude of modern man.
Most of the rules and regulations which govern human society today are
designed to preserve the fruits of action. All the governments of the
world give protection to the selfish quality in people. Will there ever be
a day when man learns to do his action skillfully, giving up the fruits of
his action for others ?
Very few, however, after
understanding the point of yew being presented here, will be prepared to
forego their so-called rights to the fruits of their action. Alas,
speculation about establishing heaven here and now remains a dream for
many. if humanity really wants to uplift itself, it will be possible only
when it realizes the importance of selfless action and freedom from the
strong rope of karma. Humanity needs reorientation; its attitude must be
The scriptures declare that
there are two paths—-the path of action and the path of renunciation.
But I say the path of right attitude will also he’p man in establishing
a better society.
tyaga is the only
principle that can help humanity as a whole to establish everlasting
peace. This remarkable principle is to remember to carry out one’s own
duty no matter what, and without desire for the results. But there are
three obstacles in the path of doing one’s karma successfully. They are
the fruits of one’s own actions; not giving them away to others.
doing one’s own duty skillfully and selflessly.
what is improper, that is, doing what becomes an obstacle n the path
to these obstacles a man fails to progress.. Properly understanding and
applying three principles will help man in attaining wisdom and liberation
from the bondage of miseries:
Giving up the fruits of one’s action.
one’s own duty with skill and for its own sake,
the desire for self-enjoyment No one can ever attain freedom without
abandoning selfish longings for the objects of enjoyments. It is
necessary that one should learn to abandon longings for selfish
enjoyments and start doing karma selflessly for the sake of others.
the path of unfoldment and growth man should learn to expand himself. Such
expansion is possible through the enjoyment which is found in selfless
action for the welfare of others. One who wishes to secure mastery over
his action should learn to do his action so that first, it does not become
an obstacle in the path of enlightenment; second, it
becomes a means and a matter of enlightenment; and third, the
technique of proper enjoyment becomes an art of living, and strength is
central to this art.
However, strength should not be
based on the false values presently guiding the conduct of life but on the
true nature of the Self within. When man becomes aware of the source of
this strength within himself, he will be able to master the technique of
enjoying the things around him, yet remain above and unattached to them.
The highest pleasure is to find delight in serving others through actions
and speech which are known as karma. A man who has learned that it is
important for him to know the art of doing his action, naturally wonders
what is the precise significance of this action or karma ?
Patanjali, the codifier of Yoga
Science, says that having control over the senses, studying the prescribed
literature, and turning one’s attention to the highest Lord within are
the actions to be performed to secure mastery in life. With a view of gaining
tranquility and lessening afflictions of the body and mind these
disciplines should be practiced.
There are five afflictions :
(1) nescience, (2) self-conceit, (3) attachment, (4) hatred, (5) false
pride. Some of the afflictions remain dormant and it takes sincere effort
for one to have freedom from their bonds. All the mental attitudes cause
difficulty in mastering this discipline, but constant practice helps one
in attaining the goal.
Karma is far greater than the
mere sum of a person’s actions, for it includes both the effects of
which actions are the causes and the impressions or tendencies created in
the subconscious mind by those actions. We speak of the cause and effect
relationship between actions and their results as the Law of Karma. This
law governs on the plane of human life and consciousness with the same
exactness as do the laws of mechanics on the physical plane. And key
factors in the working of karmic law are the samskaras
or “impressions” deposited in the lake of the subconscious mind as
a person’s character, circumstances and activities. It is the goal of
Yoga Science to liberate men from the bond of karma and to help them
attain unity with the infinite.
may be thought of as a rope of many cords, twisted together to give it
strength. The rope of karma is inextricably woven into the fabric of every
life; it binds all who breathe. The harder we struggle to escape from the
rope of karma, the stronger its grip becomes. To become free from it, we
must gain knowledge: knowledge of the Self, of the mind, and of the Truth
knowledge is obtained from the external world through sense perceptions
training by parents and schools, from neighbors and the traditions of
society, and so on. All such knowledge is called in Sanskrit, apara
vidya, knowledge of this shore. Vidya
means ‘knowledge”, para means “beyond”, and a is a
prefix of negation. Thus, apara vidya means knowledge not from beyond but from here. But only para
vidya or knowledge of the
beyond will lead to enlightenment and liberation. Apara vidya is the kind of knowledge normally obtained through the
process of reasoning and from the contact of the mind and senses with the
material world. But for para vidya the
serious aspirant needs to unlearn all that has been learned in this way.
In order to gain the knowledge which will free him from the rope of karma,
he must first become free from all he has learned and has been in his life
this unlearning process, it is found that unconscious knowledge is much
stronger than conscious knowledge. If a person is told not to meditate on
a monkey, it is predictable that he will spend most of his time in
meditation preoccupied with the monkey. This illustrates the unconscious
component of all learning. The conscious mind is very crowded, and merely
training the conscious mind proves of very little value in obtaining
higher knowledge. We must get through the superficial levels of the
conscious mind to the unconscious mind. The important question is to what
extent this is possible can we consciously train the unconscious mind?
This question is a frustration to many who would be teachers, especially
Yoga teachers, for it implies that the true knowledge of a Yogi is largely
unconscious learning and cannot be transmitted verbally or intellectually.
Much of what passes for knowledge is mere imitation which does not help us
at all in gaining higher knowledge and freedom from the rope of karma. A
true Yogi will teach his students more by example and subtle influences
than by verbal communication.
Most of what we receive as
knowledge from the external world has a disturbing effect on the mind,
much like the disturbing effect of a pebble breaking through the
mirror-like surface of a stilt pond. Thus, the first step in significant
learning is not a great leap by which wisdom is instantly attained, but
rather becoming free from disturbances on the surface of the mind. The
seeker must do this for himself; no one can give him ultimate wisdom or
the state of enlightenment called samadhi.
He must light his own lamp. To do this, it is first necessary to
become free from what one has created both consciously and unconsciously.
For the most part these creations are actual barriers around the Self.
Consequently, most of such learning does not lead to enlightenment but
rather serves as an obstacle to such an attainment.
It is the karma created by a
person’s own actions, not by any cause external to himself which is
responsible for his present condition of life. It is of no avail to blame
God, fate or circumstances. The fact that an individual suffers from past
acts is not a disparity in God’s law but the failure to order his life
by the law within his own being.
Nor does much praying or
wishing help. Going around all day saying, “God, God” does not help to
change a person’s condition
any more than a child can get what he wants by crying “Daddy, Daddy”
all day long. Conviction is more important than belief—conviction that
through seeking we may help ourselves. Belief is no consolation in a
time of crisis. One’s own beliefs often prove to be fragile and
disappointing. Belief in God which is mechanical, and appeals to Him for
“favours” cannot yield freedom and liberation. The aspirant must
continuously prepare himself for receiving true knowledge that will
enlighten and liberate him. He must look for the deeper levels of knowledge
beneath and behind the superficiality of fact and cognitive experience.
This is illustrated by the three levels of teaching in the Bible. The
first is what might be called ordinary teaching. It can be understood by
most people regardless of their state of preparedness and is exemplified
by much of what is contained in the Old and New Testaments as history,
laws, and factual data.
second kind of teaching is for disciples, that is, for those who have
undertaken a disciplined program of preparation for enlightenment. An
example of this is the Sermon on the Mount or Christ’s statement :
“You must be perfect like your Father.” Most people are unprepared to
hear these words, for they are unwilling to strive to overcome their
imperfections. Buddha and Krishna, as well as Christ, tell us that we may
be free from imperfections but belief in gods and religious faith are not
enough to help overcome the imperfections in ourselves. Rather, we must
become students of life. We are helpless unless we study our own actions,
and to do this properly it is essential to follow the second kind of
teaching in which the meanings and implications of actions become clear.
Such teaching is found in Christ’s great sermons, Patanjali’s
codification of Yoga Psychology, and the Bhagavad Gita.
third kind of teaching in the Bible is the highest, and it is called
“revelation.” The Book of Revelation is in this category. This book
seems to be based on the experiences of John. The Book of Revelation tells
us that Christ revealed his great Truth to His beloved, John. Revelation
is knowledge which can be received only by one who has achieved a high
state of purity and preparedness. This knowledge comes not through
intellectual ability nor through the conscious mind, but by an act of
grace, achieved through one-pointed mind, self-purification and
meditation. Revelations are possible only for one who has known and
experienced truth directly. Such a person is a guru.
In the Book of Revelation we
read that the Book of Life is sealed. Who is it that opens the seals ? It
is not a man nor a god, but a lamb. This teaches the importance of
humility and the need to purify the ego. The lamb symbolizes the elimination
of imperfections and attainment of perfection. It also suggests the
process of preparation that is necessary to perceive the Truth. Normally,
society teaches people to inflate and worship their egos. To receive
revelation or truth it is necessary to reverse that trend by purification
of ego-centered consciousness.
The Book of Revelation also
teaches that direct experience is the true source of knowledge. A great
master teaches only on the basis of his own experiences. True knowledge
does not come from within. A disciple may complain and say, “My teacher
is not showing me God”, but the teacher will answer and say, “First
tell me what kind of God you want to see, and then I will show Him to
you.” The choice belongs to each individual; each must decide what it is
he wants to know. Each seeker must perfect himself. Do not expect the guru
to do these things for you. The disciple must view himself as though
standing on the bank of a river, asking, “Who am I ?” as the river of
life flows before him.
Too often people brood over the
past or fear the future instead of learning to live here and now. We
should not dwell on what is irretrievably past or on what may never come.
We must strive to eliminate the space between our thoughts. Once this
space has been eliminated, time is also eliminated, and without time there
is no causality. Life should be like a stream; it should flow without a
break. The water that has gone by and that which has yet to come should be
of no concern. Only the present should occupy us, filling our every moment
until we expand into the consciousness of the whole stream which remains
stable and ever-present despite the flux of what appears to be change.
studying the philosophy of life, we discover that man is in the bondage of
karma. Whenever you perform an act of which fruits you desire or seek to
acquire, you become bound by that act. All actions are binding as long as
we are not free of their fruits. Even the fruit of good deeds binds us.
You cannot attain freedom by doing good while you are still attached to
the results of your good deeds. Incidentally, in the Eastern view,
“badness” or evil is not seen as a separate force as it
is in the West. Evil is imperfection, but not something that exists in
and of itself. We should not regard ourselves as lost sinners. Feeling
guilty only gets in the way of our growth towards perfection. Our task is
to become free from attachment to the fruits of both good and bad deeds.
The state of freedom from bondage is the state of perfection.
teaches us how to perform actions without becoming attached to their
fruits. We seek the fruits of our actions only because we are unaware of
our real needs. There is just one need which really matters—to attain
freedom from the state of misery. That is what Christ meant when He said,
“You must be perfect like your Father.” This doctrine is also central
in Hinduism and Buddhism. To begin the journey toward freedom we must
analyze the nature and source of the cord of action and of the other
fibers which lie beneath it. Anything that happens in the external world
is preceded by something happening internally. Conscious or unconscious
thinking precedes all acts.