Cultivation of Positive Values and Qualities

From On the Wings of the Swan, Volume V, Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

If people want opportunities and chances in life, they can use different methods to cultivate positive qualities and values. For example, people who find it easy to become aware of their shortcomings in behaviour or thought may work on their opposites to develop positive attitudes and thoughts. Whenever one becomes aware of something negative, an attempt can be made to conquer that tendency in such a manner that it becomes an opportunity to develop positive attitudes. When there is anger, one tries to establish the opposite of anger. This requires a moment to moment observation of what is happening in the form of responses and reactions to different mental states, and to external situations or conditions which trigger the mental states. This is a good method, but it requires preliminary work on developing awareness, and it means a good line of communication with a teacher or guru is required.

Positive qualities

The first step is to develop awareness of what one is doing. One needs to chalk out one's weaknesses before they can be worked on. One needs to find out what triggers negativity within and what upsets one's balance. One's basic needs must be discovered, what is lacking in a situation and what is needed to make life more harmonious. It may sometimes be necessary to change the environment so that there is an inner and outer shift. Finally, without being egotistical, one needs to discover what one has to offer.

Everyone is trying to build up positive qualities in some way or the other, consciously or unconsciously. People are trying to figure out where they stand in this world. What are the values they are supposed to follow, as written in various scriptures? How can they follow them without becoming too orthodox and restricted? All the definitions of consciousness show that self-pity and similar traits which are developed due to weakness are not supposed to be part of one's consciousness. Therefore, one should try to understand how matter or the gross body is working and how consciousness works. Positive qualities and values can be built up by trying to understand what consciousness is. This method involves figuring out what is generated from inside and whether it is applicable for one's development and growth or not.

Yoga states which positive qualities must be activated. Rather than chasing a fantasy, from the beginning one should identify different qualities in relation to one's nature, behaviour and attitude. There are certain aspects of one's nature which cannot be changed overnight. If people try to change themselves without first recognizing their personality, they go through a personality crisis. By superimposing a discipline or an idea on one's performance, behaviour or mentality, which may not necessarily be compatible but sounds attractive, one cannot acquire a positive quality or value. Yoga applies the formula: first self-recognition and then self-transformation.

Meditative approach

The first approach is meditation. It includes relaxation, awareness, and willpower or the will to change.

Relaxation: The nature, mind or personality of everyone is in a state of tension, alertness and activity. If one looks at a drawing of a wave pattern, one can see the ascent and descent of that particular wave. If one considers this wave to represent the state of mind, whatever one's responses, projections and reactions are to a situation, they will always happen when the mind is at its peak. When the mind is at its lowest ebb and one is exposed to the same situation, one says, 'Why bother? What have I got to do with it? Although one is exposed to the same situation, at one point there is involvement and at another point there is no involvement.

Everyone has the ability to find a solution, but why does one only take an interest sometimes? This happens because of the mental peaks. Relaxation implies that the normal levels of tensions and activities of the mind can be managed in such a way that one is not subject to mental highs and lows so there is no block in one's approach. In the state of relaxation there is no restriction or limitation in one's assessment of the situation and the self-created barriers are lowered. When tensions are lowered, free play is given to one's ability to analyse and reflect upon what has happened, and to come to a correct judgement or decision.

Awareness: Awareness implies that one knows what has to change. Awareness implies one has an idea of what is the right method for one's involvement or participation, and that one is able to use past experiences to manage or transform a particular condition or situation. Awareness is the link with buddhi and as one develops greater awareness, the buddhi dimension is accessed more and more.

Willpower: Willpower is maintaining conviction, adhering to the right situation and proper context and having faith and belief in it. If one distrusts a process, it is not going to have any effect. If one can trust or believe in the process, the mind becomes compatible with the process and it can be changed.

There is a statement in the Yoga Sutras (1:14) which has been repeated in relation to one's practice:

Sa tu deerghakaala nairantaryasatkaarasevito dridhabhoomih.

Sadhana becomes firmly grounded by being continued for a long time, with reverence, without interruption.

This statement is simple. In order to reach a point of perfection, one needs to follow the process for a long period, deerghakaala. One needs to be regular. Regularity implies continuous awareness. If continuous awareness is not there, regularity is not there. Satkaara, faith, refers to willpower. Willpower is not an intellectual conviction, believing in something rigidly to achieve something. Willpower is the entire personality being in tune with one's aspirations, with what one is doing and believes in. When there is harmony between personality and aspiration, all kinds of blockages are easily removed and one achieves the target without any problem. Willpower is tuning the mind to an idea, an action, a belief which motivates one to achieve the aim one has set for oneself.

These three components become part of meditation and help one to adopt different values and qualities. The more the awareness and ability to relax and adjust to different situations increase, the more one is able to fine-tune one’s personality, and the less conflict is encountered.

—August-September 1998, Ganga Darshan, Munger