Experiencing Unity and Harmony

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

If we want to have a good time today, we have to forget the bad times of yesterday. The question is, can we apply this principle completely in our lives? Memory has been defined as a vritti, a pattern of the mind. Our interactions are based on memories of what happened yesterday, a week, a month or a year ago and many times of what happened a lifetime ago. Memory is the most difficult thing to eradicate in order to experience freedom. In its ultimate form, memory is a burden that ties us down to a particular way of thinking and behaving, nature and personality. All our actions are related with personal memories. Memory is the highest form of karma.

Managing memory

Yoga says that even memory, smriti, has to be understood and managed from the right perspective. Not just as impressions inside the mind, as images, or as mere understanding of the past, but as a way to wisdom. From each experience we should extract the wisdom, apply it and leave the memory behind. This is called the cleansing of memory.

Managing memory is an important step in managing our nature, personality and ego identity. We are what we are today, we desire what we desire today, according to the memories that have given us some happiness and joy. What we do not want today accords with the memories that have not given us happiness, joy, comfort, security and support. I recognize the areas that have limited me from growing in the past, and I come across these memories. I like or dislike a person because I have good or bad memories associated with that person. I like or dislike a place because I have good or bad memories associated with it.

Can we let go of our memories? Can we derive wisdom from the memories and let go of the negative content? If I fall, then I should be aware that I should not fall next time. That is wisdom. If I fall and decide, “No, I am never going to go there again because I always fall there,” that is not wisdom. This vritti, this modification of the mind, is the hardest one to manage because we cling onto our past rather than releasing it and experiencing freedom today. Experiencing this freedom is exactly what yoga can help us to do.

The simple rule is that if you want to enjoy the present, then you need to forget about the past. If you want to enjoy with a free mind today, forget the difficulties that you faced yesterday. Applying this principle in one's life is the aim and karma of yogis. By doing just this much you will be able to understand the spectrum of yoga. This transforms the mind and nature, and takes one from a self-centred to a selfless state of existence.

The difference between being self-centred and selfless is that in the former you are the centre of existence and in the latter, other persons become the centre of your attention. In the first, it is me, mine, the ego identity, the individual identity. In the other, the centre of focus is the other person. This does not happen immediately, it takes time, but you can strive for it. You make yourself the centre of your attention when there is a need to become aware of your personal demands and desires, but this awareness has to be based on righteous action, thought and understanding. These are the principles of human dharma.

Three principles of dharma

You have heard the word dharma many times. Dharma is not religion or belief. There are three components of dharma. Some people say it is duty, some say it is commitment, others say it is participation. They may be right, but I have experienced dharma as having three aspects: righteous action, righteous thought and righteous behaviour. Righteous action is based on wisdom, knowing this to be true and that to be false, and following the just path. Righteous thought is a thought that you recognize as positive or negative, and you are able to maintain your balance and do what is necessary at the appropriate time in the appropriate manner. Righteous behaviour is knowing the difference between the constructive and the destructive, and following the appropriate path. This is dharma. When we are able to follow the path of dharma, life, existence, the world takes on a different meaning altogether and then dharma becomes the method of transforming one's karma.

There are many dimensions to karma. Some people can look at it from the physical perspective of involvement to fulfil a desire or a need. Some can look at it from the perspective of a mental direction and mental make up. Others can look at it from a psychic and spiritual perspective and say, “This is my nature.” Some people simply impose their ideas on others and see everybody in the same colour, while others have the ability to discriminate between individuals and see who is happy and who is depressed. Karmas can be experienced in many different ways and forms, but for our understanding, karma is our interaction with life in its totality.

Karma yoga

The yogic approach is to see how we can best respond to a situation physically, how we can adjust and adapt to a situation, how we can apply our strength and wisdom to nurture and support life, how we can experience happiness and freedom while being deeply engrossed and involved, rather than thinking, “Oh, I am suffering because of my bad karma.” That is our interpretation of an existing condition or situation, but that is not our karma. If we think we are having bad times, then we can be sure that we are also having good times.

How we interpret a situation, how we interpret our involvement and participation in life is very much an individual approach. But to have this broad vision of the totality of karma in relation to the three principles of dharma is karma yoga. Why was the word yoga added to the word karma? The only reason I can think of is that it describes the state of harmony that we can bring into our lives by following the three principles of dharma, and applying them at every step as we move in life from birth to death.

Purpose of meditation

Meditation is used to deepen the awareness of the movement of our mind, to deepen the awareness of our participation in life, and if it cannot do that, it is not meditation. If it is used as a tool to hide away from the realities of life, it is just escaping from life. The purpose of meditation is to intensify awareness, to broaden the perceptions, to realize the potential of creativity, but not to attain psychic powers, siddhis. It helps to liberate our mind from the bondage of memory and karma. It helps to enlighten our mind and transform it. We have to look at yoga from this perspective.

Before coming to Australia, I had darshan of Paramahamsaji to receive his blessings, and he told me, “This time, teach them yoga.” I understood he was implying that so far we have been practising a lot of asanas, pranayama, kriyas, and so on, with the hope of experiencing something beautiful. But when he said, “Teach them yoga this time,” it was an indication that we have never really practised yoga, we have never come close to the spirit of yoga.

Unity and harmony

In spiritual terms, the spirit of yoga is unity, and in commonsense terms, it is harmony. We are struggling with our likes and dislikes, passions and desires. We want to take a step forward but always end up taking two backward. If we are sincere with ourselves, and ask what we have achieved in the course of our yoga practices until today, what will our answer be?

Apart from an external social identity – “OK, I am initiated, I am wearing geru, I can meditate and perform some asanas,” – what else have we gained? Have we gained a sense of total well-being, maybe not one hundred percent but say ten percent? I have my doubts. Can we control our anger when it explodes? We cannot control our frustrations and anxiety. We get carried away by the force of our emotions. If we had truly practised yoga, then many of the difficult situations and problems in life would not have affected us as they have done until now. This critical mind of ours is always looking at other people, trying to work out what they do, how they behave, how they react. We expect others to give us a hundred percent, but do we give them a hundred percent?

The spirit of yoga

The spirit of yoga is this: the tree gives fruit for others, it does not eat its own fruit. The river flows so that others may drink from it, the river does not drink its own water. The whole of nature indicates this selfless quality. We are the symbols of the selfish nature. This is where there is incompatibility between us and nature, between us and the Divine.

It has been recognized by saints, masters and enlightened beings of all traditions that we can take one more step, we can take that final step. That final step leads one to harmony and peace and, therefore, it is time for us to think about what we actually desire in our lives. In the span of eternity, our lifetime is not even the blink of an eyelid. Eighty or ninety years of life are not even a drop in the ocean, but we have the opportunity to use this time to improve our mind, nature and personality, and to become a better human being. This better human being is recognized in different traditions as an enlightened being, as a person who has attained nirvana, liberation, moksha, and transcended the limitations of the individual self. This individual self is the totality of mind.

Totality of mind is ego, intellect. People have said that initially we need to utilize the faculties of our own self, but eventually they have to be left behind. Sri Aurobindo has stated it many times: “In the beginning intellect was my friend, but now the intellect is a barrier which needs to be transcended. In the beginning I was motivated to walk a few steps by my desires, but now those desires are barriers.” So, as a yoga aspirant, as a seeker, you have to recognize that you have been provided with the tools to become something else, and these tools have to be used to experience the state of harmony and peace.

The purpose of life

We need to make a decision, a sankalpa, a positive affirmation, as to which direction we want our life to go in. We have a love-hate relationship with life, with our family and with the planet. This love-hate relationship continues on and on. Can we move towards love? If we can, then that will be our process in life. There are people who move towards hate. That is their process. The world is full of demons and devas. If you can identify with the quality of a deva, then you become a deva, and if you identify with the demonical quality, then you become a demon. The choice is yours. The spiritual and yogic traditions have said that the qualities of devas are better because they provide us with an opportunity to become one with the universe, to merge our spirit with the universal spirit. This is the purpose of our life in this dimension.

How we live, whether we take sannyasa or not, whether we live an ordinary life or not, is irrelevant. It is relevant at some stage to provide certain conditions of growth, but ultimately the vision of the goal is equally important to each one of us. Managing our mind and giving direction to the energies of the mind is our greatest challenge.

Live in the present

The mind combined with the heart and hands is the culmination of the life process; unity of mind and heart, and the ability to perform the appropriate action. Right now, there is a split between the head and the heart, so they must come together, not only in theory but also in practice, not only as a concept but also as an experience. Therefore, the greatest lesson of yoga is to enjoy and live fully in the present. Just by doing this, we can transform our personality, our nature, and have a creative, dynamic and optimistic outlook about ourselves. The feeling of well-being and fulfilment is then experienced.

Yoga makes us humble. Wisdom makes us humble. These are the milestones. If you feel that you are not humble but arrogant, you know that you have missed the path somewhere. If you can become simple and innocent, then you are in the process of overcoming the inherent karmas and mental impressions, samskaras.

The lesson for today is to try to enjoy the present with an optimistic and joyful outlook by trying to forget the trials and tribulations of yesterday. That will make not only your day but also your life.

—Rocklyn, Australia, February 1999