When there is high atmospheric pressure, it rains. Similarly, when there is high pressure in man’s mind, it rains there, too. When the pressure of the thoughts in the mind increases, when too many thoughts crowd into the mind at once, it results in depression. Just as you cannot understand what a person is saying due to the different noises on a railway platform in Bombay, it is the same in the mind when a lot of thoughts come together. It is called kshubdha avastha, a numb condition. Fewer thoughts come in a distracted state of mind, but many thoughts come under pressure. The funny thing is that one does not realize it. This is man’s greatest weakness. If you ask him, “Are there many thoughts in your mind?” he will say, “No, there are no thoughts.”
There is no man in the world that can see himself. Yes, everyone can see the other person. I know how your face looks and how you wear your hair, how your nose is shaped, how you speak, sweetly or harshly, whether or not you sing well. I can know all this, but you will never know it. Everybody is in the same boat. All the creatures in the world are ignorant in this aspect. What a man is like is something others know. Just as one can know one’s face by looking in a mirror, similarly one may know one’s own nature by listening to criticism: the one who gossips about you and criticizes you tells the actual colour of your face and nature. That is why when someone criticizes something you are doing, you should not react immediately, nor offer a justification. Just agree that it is so, contemplate upon it, and then do some soul-searching.
During self-introspection, a man makes his viveka, discriminative faculty, the judge; it does not side with him. An advocate or lawyer will argue on your behalf, but not the judge. You should not be partial to yourself. This is called swaalochana, self-criticism. Christianity says that you must critically inspect yourself. Tulsidas has also said: Mo sama kauna kutila khala kami – “Who is as crooked, devious and lustful as me!” This indicates that he has accepted the need for self-criticism.
It is very difficult to truly see your own face. When others praise you, saying how beautiful you are, how humble you are, that you sing very well, you write very well, you are very good-natured, you are a very good worker, very decent, then you accept this as your nature. Yet, when you are being criticized you develop a long face. You try to save yourself by saying, “No, no, I do not behave like that, I do not backbite, it is not my habit to gossip about anyone.” A man will justify himself when he is being criticized, and he will puff up when he is being praised; his ego will come into play.
A human being has two major problems: the tendency to justify upon being criticized and developing egoism when being praised. Say, a girl is a good singer. She receives a letter of recognition for her talent, gets an award of fifteen thousand rupees, and her name also appears in the newspaper. All this causes arrogance and pride. After that, when she hears any criticism, she tries to justify herself. Both are faults. One has to maintain an appropriate attitude on both occasions.
The most helpful thing here is contemplation and atma-nirikshan, self-inspection. If someone says that you speak very well, write very well, or you are a very good leader, say to yourself, ‘Yes, if they believe it, it must be so. However, look at the quality of Gandhiji’s leadership, at the kind of singer Tansen was, what a warrior Rana Pratap was, the keen political strategy of Shivaji; there is nothing like this in me, I will have to improve.’
A man should be modest and humble when praised. He may say whatever he likes, but on the inside, he must feel differently. Also, there should be acceptance in your mind when you are being spoken ill of or criticized: ‘Yes, this is right.’ However, when you are being praised, there should be no tacit acceptance. On the other hand, think, ‘Okay, I have won a prize at school, but the world is such a big place.’ Just as a tree laden with fruit is bowed, a virtuous person is humble because of his good qualities. A man who knows how to take pressure will rule the world. A person who wins under pressure has endurance. What I am saying is not easy. This is a very difficult thing. Kabirdas says:
Nindaka niyare raakhiye, aangan kutee chavaaya,
Bina saabun paanee binaa, nirmala kare subhaaya.
Keep those who criticize you in your room,
so that your clothes can be cleaned without soap and water.
If you kept your critics near you, then you would not need detergent and water, because the dirt will be churned up by the critics instead. However, this does not happen. Tulsidas continues, saying that a person always ignores his critics, but keeps those who praise him close by. It is the same all over the world.
Socrates said, “Know thyself.” It is said in the Upanishads: Atmanam vijnanimahi – “Know the atman.” Ramana Maharshi used to say only one thing. He did not even know Hindi, but when someone came to him for instruction he would say: Nana yara, meaning – “Ask yourself, ‘Who am I?’” Think about this.
Know yourself, recognize yourself. Without recognizing yourself for what you are, these things are difficult in life. Many times you will be tested. In the family, in society and in institutions you will be presented with testing times. Wherever you go, you will find tests and challenges.
How can one become more tolerant towards the shortcomings of others?
To become more tolerant of other people’s faults, one should first be able to see one’s own shortcomings. When you can see your own weaknesses, then you will understand. If you see a fault in someone else, also look for it within yourself.
Buraa jo dekhana maina chalaa, buraa na milyaa koee,
Jo dila dekhaa aapnaa, mujha saa buraa na koee.
When I tried to search for bad people, I did not find anyone who was bad;
when I looked into my own heart, I found that no one was as bad as me.
Saints and holy men use this technique; instead of looking at another’s faults, one should look for faults within oneself, but this does not often happen. If you see too many faults in yourself, then your self-confidence goes down. You will feel as if you are unworthy. That is why self-introspection is not a natural law. It is nature’s law that one cannot see one’s own face. Nature has made this law for everyone. People are unable to find their own faults and negative qualities even after searching for them within. At first, you see the fault in another: that person is lazy, talks too much, is very egotistic. Then you analyze those faults, ask what is arrogance and what is jealousy. At first, study these things in others, you will not find them within no matter how hard you try. I can openly say to all of you sitting here that no matter how hard you try, you will not find any fault in yourself. You will find faults only in others.
This is the law of nature. First study another, and then you will know about yourself. How do you know that eyes are supposed to be a certain way? It is because you saw another person’s eyes; you saw their nose, lips, hair, forehead, and only then did you know that your own must be similar. Nature has created others as mirrors for us to know ourselves. The other person is your mirror. He shows you what anger is. What do you know about anger? You know about it when another person gets very angry in front of you. Then you say to yourself, ‘Oh, this man is very angry, so this is called anger.’ Looking at your parents you will think, ‘My parents love me very much. So this is love.’ The people around you are the textbooks from which you learn about love, anger and hatred. This learning allows you to search for the same fault within yourself.
It is a mistake to look for bad qualities within yourself from the start. That is why at first you gossip about and criticize other people. It is natural to criticize another. It is a law of nature in the process of expansion and evolution of the human mind. How can you state at the start that you are unworthy when you do not know what being unworthy is? That is just forming an opinion, an opinion that you are worthless and of no use at all, without really knowing what it means. This hurts the individual personality. It is the same situation when you praise yourself, ‘I am very beautiful, I sing very well, I am very good.’ However, do you know what beauty is? What a tuneful voice is? What goodness is? First get to know beauty, music and goodness, and then you will find them within yourself. Otherwise, stating “I am good” will be full of egoism. That is why we have to understand the laws that nature has made while creating life. If someone criticizes you, speaks ill of you, let him. Keep quiet. Do not react. Then, when you are criticizing someone else, look within yourself to see if you can find the same fault there.
The hardest thing in the world is to know oneself. A man can know all things in life yet not know himself. To know one’s self is self-realization. This is not an ordinary achievement, but a very high achievement. We say, “You are very good, very wise,” but to know one’s own self is the greatest achievement in life. The Upanishads call this atmajnana, self-knowledge; someone else has called it God-realization. Swami Sivananda used to say that both are the same, to know God or to know yourself is the same.
—30 October 1997