(Counsel given by Sri Swamiji to a devotee from outside India. Reproduced by Dr. Bhagyanathan ji in the June 2017 issue of Madhuramurali monthly magazine)
The greatest treasure bestowed on each and every one of us by the Lord is this Life! Moreover, while there are 84 lakhs of living creatures, this human birth that we have obtained is the rarest of the rare – say all the Shastras, and all great souls sing on its greatness.
Speaking of this human birth as the supreme is not based on the bias of our having been born as humans. It could be attributed to prejudice if it were the opinion of ordinary, self-centered people. But when the Lord’s devotees, who have no bias and not an iota of selfishness, speak of the greatness of human birth we are able to comprehend its veracity. You wonder, “But why is this birth glorified?”
It is only in this human birth that we have the opportunity to attain realization of God or liberation (Mukti) which is the very purpose of our birth. This life is indeed amazingly an interesting journey. From the time we are born bearing this body until the last moment when this body is shirked, this life is a path mixed with sweetness and bitterness, success and failure, achievements and disappointments, happiness and sorrows, praises and humiliations.
Well! Though it has been said that its goal is that bliss filled liberation, do all men journey on this path with one-pointedness? – No, it is not so. Only after climbing countless steps is one able to sit on the throne placed at the top. Even if we have begun the climb by placing our foot on the first step, even if we are pleased with ourselves for taking the effort in the right direction, we do find that it is filled with several hardships, struggles, and blunders!
What should be the general objective of all, at the very outset? Not harming others in any way; not making habit of wicked deeds that would affect our life or the society. Such goals are common to humanity in general. But does one stop at this?
A person who has been living according to his own whims and fancies says, “I enjoy worldly life and its pleasures. I am very happy to be with my kith and kin and watch television, enjoy sports, entertainment and go on vacation. I am not slave to any bad habits. I do not harm others. In fact, I do not fail to help others to the best of my ability when the need arises. Let me spend my life happily in this manner!” He can spend his life on such lines. There is nothing wrong in it.
But all the matters that we get involved in, at every moment of this life, not only adds to the load of ‘karma’ but also leads to successive births! Birth followed by death, again a birth and death and again a birth and death! How long are we to move in this cycle? Have we not moved in this cycle several crores of times and, finally, due to the blessings of the Lord obtained this human birth? Therefore, only when the thought that we should realize God and bring this birth to an end arises do we step into the next phase – spiritual life.
Do you know when most of us meet God for the first time? In our school days before writing our examinations, the day the result of the examination was announced; at the time when someone dear to us had been admitted to a hospital; the day we attended an interview for a job; the time when we heard from an astrologer of some grave danger awaiting us or someone dear to us….in short, we approach God only as one who removes our sorrows and fulfils our desires. So, if our desires are not fulfilled we get angry with God. We even dare to refute His very presence. However, the compassionate God, in order to hold us, who have approached Him on some ground or the other, closer to Him, lifts us up and blesses us with Satsang and Guru.
Slowly matters like spiritual sadhana, dhyana, yoga, bhakti, mukti enter into us through our ears and begin to softly touch our mind. Realizing that there is no pleasure in worldly life we take an effort to renounce it and involve in intense spiritual sadhanas. Some go beyond this and embrace an ascetic life.
“Well! Without getting enticed by worldly pleasures I have begun to involve myself in a spiritual life. Can there be any other hazard? There is nothing to be caught in!” – the moment a spiritual sadhak laughs conceitedly in this manner he comes to realize that all that he has had to pass until then was absolutely nothing and that blunders and slips in spiritual life are vast.
A wonderful man lived in a town. He was well educated, wealthy, had lived a righteous life and earned name and fame. He had enjoyed a good family life much to others’ envy. He then attained a Realized soul for his Guru, renounced the world with deep discrimination and engaged himself in spiritual life. Practicing sadhana for several years and without becoming a slave to any kind of pleasure he embraced ascetic life to the admiration of all those who saw him.
One day, another Swamiji came to this town with a horde of his devotees and attendants. The silver throne, chowry-fan, umbrella, etc. were beyond all verbal descriptions! The ascetic who happened to pass by saw all these. The thought, “I am also an ascetic, but nobody revers me this way!” arose in his disturbed mind. But the very next moment the thought, “What is the use of all these? Renouncing everything and sitting on a darbasana (seat made of darba grass) is truly a high matter!” arose in him and cheered him up.
A little while later, his Guru’s laughing voice was heard from within.
“O, wonderful is your asceticism and simplicity! Is not even a moment’s yearning for such reverential treatment a desire? Is it not pride to rejoice thinking, ‘I am so simple using a darbasana for my seat while that Swamiji sits on a silver throne!’?”
Our ascetic at once bent his head in shame. He bent his head in shame thinking of how his Guru had pointed out to him that in spite of moving beyond worldly life and progressing by several steps in spiritual life it was not so easy to reach the final goal.
While it is so on the one hand, there is yet another danger for an intense spiritual sadhak who has attained a satsang and gradually becomes familiar with Itihasa-Puranas and bhaktas’ kirtans. For example, a devotee who was ignorant about our traditional music and its unparalleled melody happened to listen to Thyagaraja Swami’s kirtans in a satsang. The purpose for his coming to the satsang was to receive guidance from the Guru, practice intense sadhana and realize God. Losing his heart and soul in Thyagaraja Swami’s kirtans and deeply desiring to know more he moved into it. This was several years back. Only after moving into it did he realize that it was an unfathomable ocean! Till date that wonderful friend, in order to fathom the depth of that ocean, has been attending Carnatic music classes and Telugu language classes. But neither has he succeeded in this endeavor nor has he taken to chanting the sweet Rama Nama about which Thyagaraja Swami speaks through his kirtans!
It is not his fault. The beauty and attraction of this subject matter are such, which is due to divinity contained in it. This is true of every subject matter and art in our Sanatana Dharma.
Be it the Vedas, Shastras, Upanishads, traditional music, traditional dance or be it our Tamizh language that is sweeter than honey… all those who have stepped into any of these to fathom its depth have only realized that no amount of births can help them succeed in their quest. That is the glory of our traditional treasure! It is meant only for those who have sacrificed their very lives for the particular department of study or art and have set only that as their very purpose of life.
But it is important for spiritual sadhaks – who have renounced the material world in order to attain Mukti, which is the purpose of life – not to involve themselves in such wonderful matters but remain one-pointed in the Guru’s upadesa (counsel). That one-pointed effort itself will seat them on the throne of Mukti that is set on the highest step.
Originally published in Madhuramurali Tamil monthly magazine June 2017 issue.