Lifestyle Management through Jnana and Karma Yoga

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati, satsang to Yogic Studies Students, Ganga Darshan, Munger, India, 16 January 2009

If you consider that the waking period of the day is always twelve hours, regardless of whether it begins at ten or at six, then it is those twelve hours which you need to adjust properly. How can you derive the maximum from life in terms of physical health, mental well being, and also have an opportunity to nurture yourself spiritually? You organize yourself in that twelve hour period by adjusting your practice. In order to live a balanced life, this adjustment and understanding is necessary. But another aspect of yoga has to play a part in the management of lifestyle. That aspect is jnana yoga and karma yoga.

Cultivation of awareness

Jnana yoga is cultivation of self-awareness. A properly guided awareness develops into knowledge and understanding. Without awareness, the process of knowing is not complete, and therefore the basic foundation of jnana yoga is awareness.Jnana yoga can be translated as the yoga of knowledge, as the yoga of self-enquiry. In the process of jnana yoga the first rung is awareness, knowing, the beginning of observation and self-awareness. Try to have the component of awareness during as many moments of the day as possible. It may be a few minutes only, because the span of awareness is very limited. If you think you are being aware, you will also realize that you are being distracted. There is a very fine line between awareness and distraction; they go hand in hand. You should be able to differentiate between focused awareness developing, and awareness converting into distraction. Here the understanding of each individual comes into play.

SWAN principle

Through self-observation and self-perception, identify the SWAN principles in your life. What are your strengths and your weaknesses? Do you need to convert any weaknesses into strengths, or can you just ignore them? Many times when you make a list of your strengths and weaknesses, you think about how to overcome a weakness. But is it really necessary? There are many aspects of your personality where you can divert your attention, which may not be necessary for your growth and development. Just because you are attracted to something does not mean that it is important in the long run. In the short term, infatuation can make you decide anything. Generally, in life the problems begin when your vision is only short term and you can't see beyond certain moments in your life.

If you want to search for gold, you have to remove tons and tons of dirt in order to discover one tiny nugget. Similarly, it is one thing to make a list of strengths and weaknesses, but it is another to identify what you are going to be. It is impossible to be everything. Nobody throughout human history has had everything. Out of a thousand, maybe you can acquire ten or twenty qualities. Maybe you can acquire forty or fifty, even a hundred, but never a thousand. Life is not long enough to acquire all the thousand qualities.

Towards a goal

Whatever you can acquire, even if it is five qualities, that is your achievement and fulfillment. There is a limit to evolution in this life. After all, when you die evolution stops. Maybe something else happens, but the perceivable, physical, material evolution stops after you die. You have to have an awareness of how you wish to see yourself in five, ten or fifteen years. What you wish to become in fifteen or twenty years is the aim of your life.

A student decides to become a doctor or engineer only after qualifying up to a certain level of schooling. Then the preparation begins to achieve excellence in the chosen profession, and that takes time. You do not become a doctor in one day. First you undergo the general training, then the basic medical training, then the specialized training and then even further specializations. You only become a general practitioner after you complete the basic medical education. Even after receiving a degree you don't become a qualified, experienced practitioner. The experience which you gain through involvement in the profession, as a surgeon for example, ultimately makes you known and recognized. You can have a degree as a neurologist and never operate on anyone, but if you operate on a thousand patients and cultivate that skill you will be recognized as an authority. It is not the degree which is final but the experience that comes afterwards. Participation and involvement make you what you want to become.

You have to apply the same principle in your lifestyle, by discovering how your nature or personality functions and what your shortcomings and strengths are. Find out which qualities, skills and understanding you need to cultivate in order to become what you want to become in ten, fifteen or twenty years time. The SWAN principle should help you to analyse and understand the direction and focus of life.

Who am I?

You will not get anywhere by thinking `Who am I? I am one with the transcendental.' You will never get the answer to this type of self-enquiry until you have the right mentality. In order to cultivate the right mentality you have to start with the personal discovery of what makes the machine tick.

You have a basic understanding of how your car functions, the radiator, brakes, clutch, fluid and spark plugs. If anything happens to the car, you know how to take care of it. In the same manner, you have to know the nuts and bolts of your personality. You do not have to discover or worry about petrol being converted into propulsion, but you have to know how to look after the brakes, clutch and gears of your personality. The component of self-observation and self-tuning comes with the application of the SWAN principle.

Attitudinal change

The third component is attitudinal change. You have to decide if the glass is half empty or half full. If you say it is half empty, then you are aware of the absence of water. If you say it is half full, then you are aware of the presence of water, even though it may be only a half or a quarter full. You are aware of the presence of water, not the absence of water. The awareness of absence will lead to personal suffering, whereas the awareness of presence will lead to contentment and acceptance. Attitudinal change has to come in those situations where you interact regularly in your day-to-day life.

Total involvement

To bring about this attitudinal change in normal life situations, to assist the process of jnana yoga, you practice karma yoga. Your regular job can be called karma yoga if whatever you are doing, you do it for the very first time and the very last time in your life. If you think it is the only time you are going to do it and you give it your best shot, then that is karma yoga.

Each day is a new day and what you do today is not related to what you did yesterday. What you do tomorrow will have no connection with what you do today. Even if you are sweeping the same corner in the ashram every day and may be familiar with every nook and cranny of the space, you do it as if it is the very first time in your life. Therefore, there is total involvement and anticipation and you never feel bored.

Involvement and anticipation have to be cultivated, so that there is no boredom. I have never seen a moment in my life when I can say I was bored, no matter how deeply I analyse it. I am trying to live this principle of karma yoga, so that every day is a new day and my involvement is always unique in that moment. This is the concept which says: live in the present. I have never thought how to live in the present: I live, right or wrong. The wrong today will be righted tomorrow and the right today will be improved tomorrow by my own efforts.

Karma yoga is not just hard physical work. It is knowing that your involvement demands full awareness, attention, creativity and expression in each and every moment. This creates immunity to the results, reactions and responses of the action. You will be able to face the shocks in a much more balanced way if you can develop immunity to the responses and reactions of your own actions.

Be a karma yogi and a jnana yogi

Karma yoga has to assist jnana yoga. It is the merger of karma yoga and jnana yoga that ultimately leads to an improvement in lifestyle. As a mother, go on looking after your children and fulfil their demands. As a father, be responsible for your actions and fulfil the demands that are placed on you. As an individual, be aware of your commitments and obligations and become involved with the attitude of a karma yogi and a jnana yogi. You only have to become aware, adopt a positive attitude and observe yourself.

You have to add only a few ideas and attitudes to your life. No other restrictions apply. Eat, drink and be merry. Live life the way you want to, but as a karma yogi and a jnana yogi. This combination will develop your inner spiritual strength. Then the world will not pose any problem, because most of the time confusion, strife, struggle, hatred and terror begin due to false understanding or misunderstanding. Whether it is social or global terror or ashanti, absence of peace, dissatisfaction, hatred or jealousy, whatever the negative quality you experience in the world may be, it always begins with one seed, the seed of misunderstanding. Even relationships are destroyed by misunderstanding. A lifelong friendship can be destroyed by one single misunderstanding. It means that one misunderstanding has the power to destroy the goodness that you have cultivated over the years. The power of misunderstanding is one of the most potent powers of human life. It can give birth to rage, hatred and terror. It can destroy life. As a jnana yogi and a karma yogi you can avoid the situation by cultivating awareness, self-observation, self-regulation and eventually by learning to develop immunity to your own responses, behaviours, expectations and desires.

You need only four points to manage a yogic life: firstly, cultivation of awareness; secondly, self-observation and self-regulation, the SWAN principle; thirdly, attitudinal change; and fourth is total involvement so that you can express your absolute creativity in that moment. Karma yoga becomes the medium through which you can come to this level of creativity and participation. As a side effect, you develop immunity from your own expectations, desires, ambitions, losses and gains. These four points become part of the lifestyle of a person who is aspiring to become a yogi in the course of time.