The Art of Living

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

There are many systems and schools of thought in the world. The common factor and centre of all experience in each one is the human being. Therefore, to conceive of a school of thought or belief, a philosophy or a religion, without the human being is impossible.

What are the basic requirements for leading a successful, happy and healthy life? Contentment, a feeling of harmony, an expression of creativity and an experience of inner peace, which comes with the knowledge that “I am not alone, I am guided, I am part of something which is not finite.” These are the basic requirements of life which can alter one’s nature, personality, attitude and aspirations.

Many people have found a method, a path, by which they can reach this state of realization. All the belief systems in the world have projected an aspect of understanding which is valid for a group of human beings with a certain type of mentality. We have to look at all of them as a process of education in order to develop our own understanding and mind, and finally to come to a conclusion based on our own experience.

There is an episode in the Ramayana in which Tulsidas describes the journey of Rama, Sita and Lakshmana in the forest. He writes that they are walking in single file. First comes Rama, then Sita and behind them Lakshmana. Rama represents the universal cosmic nature, God; Lakshmana represents the individual human nature; and in the middle is maya, the force, the shakti. This is a very apt description of creation and life because, although there are certain inherent qualities that we all share as human beings, due to the permutation and combination of the gunas these qualities are expressed differently in every life.

Realizing the connection

In this world we are linked with each other, we are not just individual units. The breath links us with our world. Who knows, maybe you are breathing in the same air that Clinton or Yeltsin or Her Majesty the Queen breathed in yesterday, so you may have a bit of each one of them in you. You have a part of everybody who lives in the world in you because we are all linked by the breath. This is a very powerful unifying force but nobody thinks about it. The air, the breath, is the force which connects us to life and to other people.

Similarly, the ancient seers experienced that there is another connection which joins us with the cosmic force. People may call that force God or by other names, but that connection is not known to us; it exists but we are unaware of it. The aim in true spiritual life, not sectarian spiritual life, is to realize that connection. Once the connection is realized there is a reaching out of feelings and emotions. We read of people who in childhood have been displaced from their families in different parts of the world. When they suddenly meet again thirty or forty years later, there is an immediate connection, a realization that the other person is a brother or sister or uncle or aunt. Prior to this realization they might have passed each other on the road hundreds of times without even looking at one another, but the moment the realization occurs that, ‘This person is the brother I lost in the market thirty years ago’, then all the dams of the heart and head burst open.

It is the same in spiritual life. Once there is realization of the godly nature then we become connected with that. It is a very natural and spontaneous process, not an intellectual one, not something which can be thought about. The situation which stops us from realizing that connection is known as maya or prakriti. Maya or prakriti is responsible for providing the experience of the finite nature, whereas the godly nature is infinite. The finite and infinite dimensions are the only two dimensions of existence, prakriti or nature representing the finite, and God, or the transcendental, representing the infinite. If God is infinite, then the finite nature is also part of God and, therefore, even maya and prakriti are known to be part of God.

This concept has been represented in the tantra shastras in the image of ardhanarishwara, in which Shiva is represented as a half male and half female figure. The person who is caught in this cosmic play is the individual. If the individual is closer to the infinite then there is no problem, but when the person is closer to the finite, there is a big problem. We are the problem with our head trips, our ego trips, our mind trips, our emotional trips, our sensory and sensual trips, our intellectual trips. We are always tripping, if not through the body then through the mind, if not through the mind then in other ways. This tripping is recognized as the cause of imbalance, distortion in the clarity of the self, conflict and suffering. which in yoga is recognized as raga and dwesha, attraction and repulsion.

Each one of us is a magnet. A magnet has two poles, one which attracts and one which repels. In our lives we also have two poles – attraction and repulsion. When we identify with the process of attraction or repulsion then we begin to experience joy and frustration. When there is identification with the joys and frustrations, there is anxiety and insecurity. When we begin to identify with the anxieties and insecurities, there is loss of clarity. When we identify with loss of clarity, there is disillusionment and uncertainty. When we identify with disillusionment and uncertainty there is death of the Self. This has been the statement of the Bhagavad Gita and a common experience for us all.

Finding one’s balance

So the purpose of spiritual life is to provide us with this balance. That is the only purpose of spiritual life. If you can live a life of balance one hundred percent then you are enlightened. If you can live a life of balance ten percent you are a sadhaka. If you can live a life of balance and harmony fifty percent then you become a swami. If you live a life of balance seventy-five percent then you become a yogi. If you live a life of balance ninety percent then you become a siddha. If you can live a life of balance one hundred percent you become enlightened.

This balance is not only external. You have to see it in all the dimensions of life – personal, social, global and universal. It is this balance which makes one into a being who is able to live a finite life in the realm of prakriti and have an experience of the infinite in the realm of the divine. This is the aim of spiritual life. Spiritual life is an art of living. It is not a belief, theory, concept, philosophy or religion. You can create your own ideas around the art of living, that is a different matter, but the art of perfect living is leading a balanced life, no matter what situation you are in. Christ lived a life in which he tried to balance the various aspects. Buddha and Mahavir lived lives where they tried to balance the various aspects. The saints and sages in the past tried to balance their expressions, participation and involvement in life. Yogis today are trying to lead lives where there is balance.

There is a theory in Advaita Vedanta that the world is false, illusory and the only reality is reality itself. Now this can be the sentiment of a person who has experienced it and come to the conclusion, “Okay, from my perspective the world is a dream.” When we have nightmares in which we are being persecuted and chased by people with guns and knives, we experience fear, anxiety, palpitations, which are exactly the same reactions we would normally experience in the waking state. Then, in the process of running away, we suddenly come to a crevasse, take a jump and begin to fall. We wake up, find ourselves falling out of bed and breathe a sigh of relief, “Thank God it was only a dream. Nobody was chasing me. I am safe in my bed, comfortable and warm.” However, while we were dreaming, that thought, that realization and that awareness was not there. So for sadhakas who have attained realization in life, it is all right to say, “I have woken up from my sleep, I can experience or feel that the world is illusory and the only real thing is reality itself.” It is an expression of their sentiment. However, we have to start from the beginning.

Spiritual evolution

The theory of evolution in spiritual life is not the Darwinian theory of evolution in which there is movement from one stage to the next. In the theory of spiritual evolution there is talk of going back to the source or centre, going back to shoonyata or nothingness. This is the concept of poornata, total achievement, fulfilment. Going back to shoonyata, to the source, has been the Indian belief – Poornamadah poornamidam poornaat poornamudachyate.

The evolution of a tree is from seed to seed, not from seed to trunk to leaf to flower to fruit. Only when the seed again becomes a seed, having the same potential as the original one, can we say that evolution is complete. Similarly, in our lives when we talk of spiritual evolution, we talk of going back to the source and having the same potential, purity and tranquillity as the source. Therefore, all mandalas and yantras, symbols representing states of consciousness or cosmic creation or the interaction of the tattwas, are contained within a circle. In the Buddhist tankas there are tantric mandalas and yantras containing descriptions of earth, heaven and hell. The figures are represented in the form of a circle which has no beginning and no end, yet everything is contained in it, everything is manifesting from it, everything is part of it.

All you need to do is learn how to keep your balance and harmony. The more you can expand the area of balance in your life, that change makes you a sadhaka, a sannyasi, a yogi, a siddha.

1997, Ganga Darshan, Munger, printed in YOGA, Vol. 9, Issue 5