Satsang at Ganga Darshan

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

Is it true that jnana yogis are always asking themselves ‘who am I?’

This is a false notion. Jnana means to know, and a yogi is one who is living what he knows. Therefore, a jnana yogi is one who is established in wisdom, and such a person is not going to ask silly questions. When you travel by train from one place to another, it is not logical to keep asking yourself ‘where am I?’ because you are moving and you know that you will reach your destination. In the same way, the jnana yogi, who is established in wisdom, began his journey with the focus of discovering ‘who am I?’, but the question arises only once in a lifetime, not every day. If it arises every day, it means that the person is not a jnana yogi, but is stuck in one place and can’t move forward. As the process of discovery begins the enquiry is left behind and each day is a new discovery. This discovery continues until the jnana yogi becomes established in wisdom.

To become established in something and to realize its importance, it is necessary to go through a crisis. If everybody in the world were healthy, medical science would not exist. Disease, death and suffering have led to research and the advancement of medical science. If we change an idea, it is because the previous idea was shattered. If there is a change in thinking, it is because the previous thought no longer has any purpose. Crisis acts as a catalyst for change.

The first chapter of the Bhagavad Gita is about vishad yoga, the yoga of grief. It is a beautiful concept. If you are grieving and you are able to provide a direction for yourself, that becomes yoga. If you fail to provide yourself with a direction and go further into the grief, then it becomes imbalance. It is like achieving balance in stress. Negative stress is distress, positive stress is eustress and the balance point is zero stress. If the string of a bow is too loose, there is no stress, no force, and the bow becomes useless. If the string is too tight, it may break because distress is created. There has to the right tension.

Similarly, in itself grief is not bad or negative; it is the management of grief that is important. If we are able to provide a direction to our thoughts and energies, grief becomes a factor in creating positive change and causing greater achievements in life. The same grief, when mismanaged, becomes a disease or imbalance which then governs the behaviour of the body, the brain and the mind, so there is sweating, dry mouth, frequent urination, sleeplessness, nervous breakdown.

Everyone should have the experience of positive grief, not grief in the way we understand it, but in its positive sense where it gives the desire for a change, knowing the futility of the condition in which we have been living. Once that stage comes, the process of purification begins. It happened to Sri Rama, to Arjuna, to Buddha, to Christ, to Prophet Mohammed; it has happened to so many people who have become luminaries in the world.

Knowing fully well that we cannot handle it, we don’t subject ourselves to grief. Our intense effort, tapasya, is not grief, it is pleasure. We meditate because there is pleasure in meditation. We like to practise mantra because there is pleasure in mantra. If we did not derive pleasure in meditation, we would not even practise it. If we do not derive pleasure from something, we are not attracted to it. But here we are not talking of those things that give us pleasure and therefore become our sadhana, but of those things that give us the opportunity to change an existing pattern that was the cause of our previous conditioning. Grief is the catalyst for that inner transformation. As seekers, as aspirants, we have to face this grief within ourselves and provide ourselves with a direction.

There is a very beautiful concept in tantra. The tradition says there are eleven Rudras who are manifestations of Shiva. The meaning of Rudra is one who cries. How can a person who cries all the time be identified as a manifestation of Shiva? Shiva is consciousness, and there are various layers and stages of progression in that consciousness defining different levels of existence and experience. In the same manner the eleven Rudras represent eleven stages of consciousness and each one has a specific pattern, a specific design, a specific yantra and a specific mandala. As we move from one to the other there is a letting go of the things that previously held us back. When those things are left behind, then grief comes.

Grief can be experienced in different ways. You can be a drashta, a witness, to it and this is taught in yoga. You can use a meditative process like antar mouna to discover the real cause. Or you can practise swadhyaya and analyse a state in which you have felt helpless and hopeless, and see what options there are for you to outgrow and move out of that situation.

We are always given choices in the world. The right choice makes us succeed in life. The wisdom has to prevail where we are able to make the right choice, not follow the wrong one. In order to make the right choice, one should be able to also look at the whole picture. If there is a photograph of yourself lying on the floor and an ant wanders across the surface, it will only see blobs of colour, not your face. If you want the ant to see your face, you have to pick it up, so it can see the whole image. In the same manner, when we are involved in a situation we don’t see the full picture, we only see blobs. We are frightened by these meaningless blobs and we don’t know how to handle ourselves in that situation. That is known as the pull of pleasure and pain, like and dislike. We get so involved that we feel we are a part of it, but being able to look at oneself by taking a step back is the concept of the drashta. To be able to manage situations and go through changes, crises and grief in an optimistic and positive frame of mind is viveka. Viveka is handling the mind with wisdom, being unaffected by different influences.

If somebody says you are ugly, or beautiful, these words make a difference in your mind and you respond. This is only a small example of the effect that words can have. Many other things affect you in the same way. To be able to maintain balance is sanyam. When we can maintain a balanced witnessing attitude, it is known as vairagya, dispassion. We can be surrounded by money, yet it has no attraction, be surrounded by people, yet remain in total isolation, be in the world, yet not belong to it.

The classic example is the lotus flower. It grows in water, it is nourished by water, it is surrounded by water, it cannot exist without water, yet the leaves and the flower remain totally unaffected by water and are absolutely dry. That is how a yogi has to be. A yogi is like a magician who is able to manage the psychic, invisible and spiritual, the physical, material and sensorial, and find the balance there.

How can we become desireless?

It is not possible to become desireless. Just as a car without an engine is useless, in the same way life without desire has no meaning.

We can classify desires as tamasic, rajasic and sattwic. Our effort is to move into a sattwic reality of living; that is the aim of the spiritual tradition and yoga. Our desires, passions and aspirations are rajasic by nature, meaning self-oriented. They become tamasic when we begin to try and better ourselves at the expense of other people. A sattwic desire seeks to uplift others rather than oneself. In the sattwic nature the desire is to be useful to others, but there are very few people with sattwic desires.

The tamasic nature desires to make others submissive. The rajasic nature attempts to control the situation and the environment, and be the master. In sattwa the little self is negated; the nature is caring, not uncaring, and one can witness and analyse what is really necessary and what is not. So desire continues, but sattwic desires have to be cultivated so that useless things are negated and we adopt those things that are useful for personal upliftment and enable us to help others

Please clarify the concept of non-ownership? It seems to contradict the active effort of maintaining the dedication and determination that are necessary to cultivate yoga in one’s life?

The concept of non-ownership is only a change of attitude, and should not create a problem. One has to perform the action, but one also has to observe the attitude. A positive attitude brings awareness of non-ownership; a negative, tamasic and worldly attitude creates the concept of ownership. When we are involved in worldly activity with a worldly state of mind, our performance and aspirations have a clear direction; we expect a particular result from our actions. If we don’t have that expectation, if we simply perform, expecting the best outcome but not being obsessive about it, knowing our efforts can take us only so far and then allowing divine grace to take over, that is the ideal state.

Farmers definitely expect an outcome from their efforts. At night they visualize the full bloom of the produce, and even the financial return from selling it. But after completing all the work possible, the farmer becomes dependent on divine grace in the form of rain, sun, storms, rats, animals, insects, viruses and bacteria. If there is a drought and everything dies, it is definitely a setback, but rather than feeling a failure, the farmer tries again.

There are two distinct events happening; first, the farmer’s own effort and performance and second, dependence on the grace of God and nature. In the same manner, in your own life do as much as you can easily and comfortably, with full gusto and joy, and then let divine grace take over. Why should your creativity and participation in an activity be subject to your expectations, ambitions and desires? Recognize your ambitions, desires and expectations, but also be aware of how far you can go through your own effort and know when to stop. That is the concept of non-ownership.

Would you talk about dharma? Psychologists claim that the function of feelings is to help us make decisions. Should we be guided by our feelings or should we let our intellect guide our decisions according to the laws of dharma?

According to the laws of dharma, there is no scope for either feeling or rationality. Dharma is purely an understanding of the natural interaction and the natural law which governs the individual, society, the world and the cosmos. Dharma is knowing the potential which exists in each and every dimension of this creation, and not only cognition of that potential but also living according to the appropriate conditions. In one word, dharma is appropriateness.

Some people say dharma is duty. Some say dharma is religion. Some say dharma is the natural law. But dharma, in spirit, represents three main functions: appropriate action, appropriate behaviour and appropriate thinking. As long as your thoughts, behaviour and actions are appropriate to the situations and circumstances, you are on the right track.

Dharma entails understanding. Dharma is not a reactive response to circumstance, but the appropriate response, which develops after you have understood and are in control of that particular situation, whether it be personal, social or global. If there is proper understanding of the situation, then dharma is natural and spontaneous. If there is no understanding of the situation, then there is a headache trying to figure out what one’s dharma is. Asking, “Should I do this? Should I not do that?” is confusion; natural and spontaneous expression is dharma.

If your child falls down and gets hurt, what would your response be? Would you think, “Shall I pick up my child or not?” or would you act spontaneously to help the child? If you act spontaneously, believing in something, that will be dharma, but if you act according to some intellectual process, you will never find the answer to what dharma is and further confusion will be created. Dharma cannot be rationalized. In order to live dharma you need to act as you would to protect your child, with that awareness and clarity. If the mind is clear, there is dharma. If there is no understanding, there is no dharma.