A Philosophy For Total Well Being

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

Whatever our concept or idea of well being may be, whether it is physical, social, personal or global, we have to look at three components of life. The quality of mind which makes us connect with the world, enjoy the world and participate creatively in the world is the same mind which can take us in the other direction. We can be frustrated, depressed, unconcerned, self-centred and selfish. Therefore, the mental component is very important in order to imbibe well being.

Meditation and other practices of yoga are not important in dealing with the mind. It is the basic understanding or philosophy of mind which has to be developed first. We need to have understanding, awareness and a philosophy in life. The idea of wellness begins from this point onwards, because the philosophy of life indicates the future behaviour of the mind. The philosophy of life to which we adhere indicates our progression in life. It is not a belief system or religious philosophy, but something more practical and concrete which allows us to experience tranquility, joy and peace within.

The first component in the process of well being is to have a good philosophy in life. The second component of wellness is modification and fine-tuning of lifestyle. Until we modify our lifestyle, unless we make the effort to change our environment and our conditionings, behaviours and habits, well being cannot be experienced.

The third component is the routine of our daily life, which has to be modified so that we are not accumulating stress and tension, confusion and conflict. Instead, we are able to progress in a gentle, systematic, relaxed way through our daily routine.

Therefore, lifestyle management, routine management and mind management with the help of a philosophy constitute the process of acquiring well being in life.

Philosophy of life

Your philosophy of life is a conditioned philosophy, but the practical aspect of philosophy is more important than the theory. Philosophy is not ideas of God, creation, universe, existence and soul, but an understanding of the evolutionary process of life.

We are all going through a process of evolution. From birth till death we are evolving. The body is evolving. After all, when we were born we were only thirty centimetres long, but since then every cell, organ and even the bones of the body have been growing, developing, maturing, and evolving. The hair has evolved from black to white. The eye-sight has evolved and now we use glasses. The teeth have evolved and we use dentures. We are always going through a physical process of change and transformation. Similarly, we progress, evolve and mature mentally and emotionally.

However, there is one component of our life which we have not really looked into and that is spiritual life. We confuse spiritual life with religious life, which is altogether different. Spiritual life is one eye, religious life is the other eye. These two eyes do not see each other, but together they can see the world. Spirituality means connecting with what is auspicious, appropriate and good in life, by connecting with one's own inner source of strength. A spiritual discipline indicates a way to improve the human personality.

Yamas and niyamas

In the system of ashtanga yoga, the first two branches are the yamas, self-restraints or rules of conduct, andniyamas, rules of personal discipline. Asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi follow. Yamas and niyamas represent the spiritual philosophy, something you identify with, and this identification is with a positive trait and conditioning of the mind.

The five yamas should be understood as practical applications in life. The first yama is satya, truth, truthfulness, then come ahimsa, non-violence, asteya, honesty, aparigraha, abstention from greed, and brahmacharya, being established in the higher reality.

These five yamas constitute the yogic philosophy and rectify the behaviour of the human personality and nature. Truth is not a word but a state of life and consciousness. It is the realization of being sincere and not false. Our life is full of falseness and we engage in manipulations. Even the so-called spiritual and enlightened people crave power and manipulation, because they have never looked into the component of yama and niyama.

People believe that meditation is the first and foremost practice, but common sense says that if meditation was first and foremost, then meditation would be the first stage in the sequence of ashtanga yoga, and not the seventh stage. If Sage Patanjali had wanted meditation to be the first stage, he would have placed it first, and the yamas might have come at the end. So-called exponents of yoga today manipulate the system of yoga and do not see the relevance of the sequence as defined in the tradition for improving the quality of life.

Responsibility

Yoga practitioners who practice meditation for thirty or forty years are still unable to deal with or confront the dissipated nature of their mind. They cannot manage their problems, jealousy and envies. They are unable to realize that the basic structure has to be rectified first. The house has to be constructed before one can begin to live in it. The construction of the house, the pillars, walls, floors and ceilings are the yamas and niyamas.

If you are not willing to take responsibility for your health, happiness and prosperity in life, then why make the attempt to go through a process and keep on questioning? Yoga is taking responsibility for yourself. Postures, meditation, kundalini or hatha yoga kriyas do not represent yoga. They are different systems and practices belonging to a group called 'yoga'. It is your conviction and motivation to change and bring the beauty of the universe into your life which is the aspiration of yoga.

If you are a true and sincere seeker then you have to start your journey with the first step, which is developing the right philosophy for your growth and progress in life. This philosophy begins with the association with satya, truth.

Satsang

The foremost condition is realizing one's associations and connections. Is the association positive, truthful and uplifting or is it destructive, detrimental and depressive? You have to understand this point carefully. Do not link the idea of association with your marital life, partners or any other person. From the yogic perspective, you need to associate with those people who can inspire and encourage you to face life with dignity and who can help and encourage you to follow a system by which you can realize the beauty life has to offer. A positive association cultivates a positive mind. When you are surrounded by good people, you feel good and when you are surrounded by negative people, your thoughts, expressions and attitudes become negative.

One rotten apple can influence the entire bucket and make all the apples rotten, but a hundred good apples cannot improve the quality of one bad apple. That is the power of negativity and conditioning. One rotten apple has the capacity to destroy all the other apples in the bucket, but the other hundred good apples in the bucket cannot change the rotten apple.

This is an example of association. Just as you remove the rotten apple from the bucket, are you able to remove a rotten influence or association from your life? If you can, you are on the path of well being. However, if you cannot, then do not think about well being., because there is no middle path and no adjustment. Either something is rotten, or fresh and pure. Therefore, spiritual disciplines require you to be constantly aware of those influences, people, and conditions where you are restricted and of those places and situations where you are able to express yourself and grow.

This is known in Sanskrit as satsanga. Sanga means association, coming together. Sat means realizing the true nature. One who realizes his truthful nature and associates with those who are truthful is a satsangi, one who is involved in the process of truthful association. Satsanga does not mean lectures and discussions. Satsanga means to associate with truthful nature, and you have to bring this into your life. Decide who your friends and associates are going to be. Most of your decisions are not mature decisions, but are based on your likes, dislikes, ambitions and needs.

Just look at your interaction and participation in society and how distinct you are from each other. You do not know who your neighbours are, you hardly see them. You live in an isolated world and social thinking leads to further isolation. It is a trend that is evolving and gaining more and more strength. It seems that the quest for material happiness isolates the individuals, whereas the quest for spiritual experiences unites people. There has to be a balance between the material and the spiritual. Therefore, bring them together and start yoga with defining your associations.

Positivity

The second means of cultivating a philosophy of well being. is to maintain an optimistic and positive attitude. If the attitudes are negative then there is no inner, mental clarity. The mind goes into the dark space and the world looks gray and glum. Therefore, one has to observe and modify one's attitudes and maintain positivity in all situations, knowing that 'this too shall pass'.

The world is not only suffering. You identify with suffering because it seems to be much greater and happiness seems only like a sprinkling of salt on top of the vegetables. Therefore, never try to have fifty percent sorrow and fifty percent happiness, it is a big imbalance. Ninety percent sorrow and ten percent happiness is a very good combination. That is how you have to see your own expressions, attitudes and mentality in life as well. Start with ten percent of optimism and positivity and you will begin to love it. Then, in the course of time, keep increasing the percentage until you are fully stable in that positive, optimistic attitude.

Searching for the right association and developing the right attitude is a philosophy of life, because it is something practical which you can experience and feel in your own self. How can one talk of love, compassion, God, the transcendental and the divine without having undergone the purification of the mind, behaviour and character?

Humility

The first item of the philosophy of well being. is association, the second is a positive and optimistic attitude and the third is the cultivation of humility. Humility indicates absence of arrogance and ego. Humility indicates a balanced self-esteem, a positive self-image that one cultivates and corrects with the softer sentiments and emotions of life. Cultivation of humility is the sattwic quality of mind, whereas arrogance is the tamasic quality of mind. Humility means that one has been managing one's ego. Without managing one's ego, it is difficult to have humility in life.

You can cultivate humility by knowing that you are only a contributor and not the master of your life. If you think you are the master of your life, then arrogance comes in, but if you think you are a contributor to the betterment of life, then there is greater appreciation of what you do and how you do it. Humility is seen in your actions and in your life. It does not mean becoming weak or turning the other cheek if somebody slaps you. Humility means that you are not affected by the ego manifestations. No hatred or jealousy can touch you. No arrogance can alter your perception and you remain simple and pure. Simplicity and purity constitute humility.

The outcome

Association, positive disposition and humility are important and should become the personal philosophy of everyone. If you have this as your personal philosophy, then you are on the path of well being. Contentment, peace and joy is the natural outcome of living this philosophy. When you drink water, the thirst is quenched. You do not have to say to yourself, "My thirst is being quenched, my thirst is being quenched."

With the practice of hatha yoga, only physical well being. and with the practice of raja yoga only mental well being. will come. Emotional well being. will not be acquired through bhatki yoga nor intellectual satisfaction by jnana yoga. All this will happen once you are able to live the philosophy of right association, positivity and humility.

—Balatonfoldvar, Hungary, 22 May 2008