There are four gates to the kingdom of shanti or moksha. At these four gates stand four guards. If you become friends with the guards who are guarding the doors to the realm of peace and liberation, you may enter it. If you are not friendly with the guards, no matter how high and mighty you may be, you will not be permitted to enter. The only condition to enter the realm of moksha is to become friendly with the guards. The trick is that if you can become friendly with one guard, he will introduce you to the others too, and you will become friendly with all four. That applies to the family too. If a stranger becomes friends with the son, the son introduces this friend to his parents, sisters, brothers and other friends, 'Look I have a new friend here. In the same manner, if you are able to become friends with even one guard, he will introduce you to the other guards. They will also become your friends. Who are the guards? The first guard in the realm of moksha is shanti, peace; the second guard is vichara, reflection; the third guard is santosha, contentment; the fourth guard is satsang, positive association.
Attainment of shanti in this dimension is the first guard. Reflection is another guard, so that you can strain out the unnecessary stuff. Just as you strain your tea and the strainer catches the tea leaves and only the liquid comes out into the cup, in the same manner, through reflection you can strain your behaviour. Keep the rubbish in the strainer and allow the pure water to come out through reflection. Become friendly with contentment and satsang.
Sri Rama says, 'What do you mean, shanti is a guard? How can shanti be a guard?' Sage Vashishtha says, 'Shanti is always the first guard. It is not the last to be attained; it is the first to be acquired.' You think that shanti, peace, is something that comes at the end, however, this is wrong. Change your idea today. Shanti is the first requirement. Shanti becomes your friend when there is serenity of mind and the emotions are calm. In your life, whether you are active in the family, society or profession, what are the two things that are always affected? The mind and the emotions. If there is a difficulty or strife in a relationship between a husband and wife who may be otherwise compatible, the emotions and the mind are affected. In a profession, stress affects the mind and also the emotions. In regular interaction in society, the mind and emotions are involved. Therefore, you first have to find a way to calm your mind to experience serenity of the mind, and a way to calm your emotions. If you can do that, then the serenity of mind and the calmness of emotions will give birth to the experience of peace and harmony. Always work for maintaining mental and emotional balance as the first step, no matter what situation you are facing in life. This is the theory and description that Sage Vashishtha has given to Sri Rama to discover shanti in life: management of the mind and the emotions.
Sage Vashishtha further says, 'Serenity of mind is attained with the reduction of vasanas.' You might have heard Sri Swamiji make a similar statement in his satsangs. People ask him, 'How do we know if we are making progress and growth in spiritual life? What are the milestones, the indications of our progress on our spiritual path?' Sri Swamiji answers by saying, 'When you are able to manage the ambitions, the desires of the mind, and there is a gradual reduction of them, then you will know that you are progressing on the spiritual path.'
The same question was asked of Mahatma Buddha, and he gave the same answer. He said, 'Elimination of desire is an indication of growth in spiritual life.' This does make sense, as desires are what connect you with the world of senses and sense objects. Whenever you encounter any kind of mental or emotional problem, you will discover that the root of that problem is always a desire, a desire to be something, to have something, or to be recognized as something. Desire or vasana is always there, and it is the cause of mental and emotional imbalance. Therefore, serenity of mind and of emotions is acquired by understanding the desires, aspirations and ambitions. That is step one.
The moment you are able to work through your mind and emotions by managing your vasanas, the guard whose name is Shanti becomes your friend and comes to your aid. If you can become good friends with Shanti, he will stand beside you at all times. In all the difficult situations he will be beside you, and you shall never be disturbed or affected by the external situations. Therefore, analyse your vasanas.
The second guard is reflection, enquiry, atma vichara. The purpose of reflection is to dispel the cloud of ignorance. Its purpose is to cultivate a better understanding. Generally, when you reflect, you begin to brood on the problem and don't search for a solution. It is the normal condition of life that if there is a thought process or any kind of reflection, it is usually about your suffering or what you do not have, which I call 'the worry factor'. In your life, reflection is not pure. Reflection takes on the garb of worries.
When reflection takes on the garb of worries, then you go deeper into a state of mind from which you cannot extract yourself naturally, freely and spontaneously. You get caught in the vortex of that thought, idea, feeling, sentiment or emotion, and it sucks you down; it takes you down. As you get sucked into that feeling and vortex of worry, wisdom and knowledge disappear and you encounter more darkness. It is like diving down deep into the ocean. If there is a vortex in the ocean and you are caught in it, you simply go down. You leave the sky, the sun and the wind above and are surrounded by water and you suffocate there. That is avidya, ignorance. The negative side of reflection always pulls you down into a deeper state of ignorance.
Instead of worrying about something, reflect upon it to discover the solution to that problem. Instead of worrying, 'I am like this and like that', reflect on how you can cultivate your strength to avoid being like that and instead be something different and better. Through reflection, guilt and ignorance and all such things can be avoided. The clarity of mind can be maintained. With clarity of mind comes wisdom and knowledge. That wisdom and knowledge become atma vichara, reflection on one's own self.
I will give one example from Sri Rama's life. In the Ramayana it is described that when Sri Rama was living in the forest with Lakshmana and Sita, his father died in Ayodhya. The younger brothers of Sri Rama, named Bharata and Shatrughna, came to him in the forest to request that he return to Ayodhya and take charge of the kingdom. They came with the entire court, the army and the family to supplicate Sri Rama to return. As the army, the courtiers and the family members were marching from Ayodhya to Rama's place of dwelling, all those who saw them on the road felt that Bharata was out to destroy Sri Rama so he could inherit the kingdom. Lakshmana was out in the jungle collecting fruits, and from the top of a tree he saw a dust cloud, and realized it was the army of Ayodhya marching towards them. He said to himself, 'Bharata is coming to kill us so he can inherit the kingdom.' He ran to Sri Rama and said, 'Hide! Bharata is coming with the army to kill you.' Sri Rama was sitting quietly. He said, 'What do you mean, he is coming to kill me?' Lakshmana replied, 'Yes, he is coming with the entire army. Father is dead; you, the oldest prince, are the successor now. If he kills both you and me, he will become the king. That is his intention. His mother Kaikeyi must have poisoned his mind. Quick, let us hide.'
At that moment, Sri Rama reflected. He did not go by what was said by his closest brother, Lakshmana. He reflected, and analysed the nature and character of Bharata and of all the people accompanying him. He arrived at the conclusion, 'No, their intention is not bad; there is no need to hide. He is coming to meet me.'
Now, put yourself in his place. You would have believed other people, you would have worried about the situation, you would have taken out your AK-47 and said, 'Okay, let him come, I am going to shoot him first.' There would not have been any reflection on your part. There would have been a reaction, not reflection.
Many times, the in-charges of the ashram come to complain about something, and they say, 'This person is like this and like that. You should tell them something.' I say, 'Do you want me to react like you are reacting, or do you want me to act as a guru?' Then I think, I reflect, and I find a way to manage the situation in which everybody is happy. This is an example, but something which can be emulated by everybody.
In worry, anxiety and frustration there is always reaction and no reflection. Reflection takes place when you are able to see the situation in a different light. When you are able to analyse the nature, then it is possible to discover that something is being said out of jealousy and not genuine concern. Often, it is not the other person who is at fault; it is the one complaining who is at fault. That is reflection. The idea of reflection, however, goes much deeper. Reflection is where you keep your focus before you all the time and you do not get swayed by the influences that surround you. Utilize your wisdom and knowledge, and dispel the cloud of ignorance from your life which makes you do the wrong thing and reap a negative result. If you can become aware and cultivate this understanding, this quality of knowing and observing, they become the stepping stones which lead you to a reflection between you, the nature and the divine. You discover a connection and link among the three, and the sensorial links are severed. In the course of time, this reflection becomes jnana. It becomes the realization of, 'What I am.' With this realization, avidya or ignorance disappears.
The third guard to the gate of moksha is contentment, santosha. Contentment is an expression of a harmonious and balanced mind. One who does not desire or crave anything, one who is satisfied, yet active and dynamic, is in a state of santosha. Often, contentment is seen as a negation of effort. Often, people say, 'If I am content, it means that I don't have to make any effort. I don't have any desire, I don't have to want anything, I don't have to like anything; I just have to be satisfied with what I have.' That is wrong, as it goes against the very principle of contentment. Contentment does not deny effort. Contentment emphasizes purushartha, the effort that you make to become better. It is not just an action or performance of life, but it is a continuous effort to become better each day.
To illustrate this idea, look at your own life. What effort do you make each day to improve a shortcoming of your character, nature, mind and personality? You read scriptures; you listen to sadhus, saints and satsangs. You also eulogize people who you hear and say, 'Oh, what a wonderful speech.' However, at a personal level, have you made any effort to improve yourself even half a percent on a daily basis? Even a quarter percent on a daily basis?
Nobody makes that effort, and yet everyone wants to have the attainment. Contentment does not deny purushartha. It is an attitude, an awareness that 'Yes, I am happy.' Just as you are aware of your suffering on a day-to-day basis, on a moment-to-moment basis, you have to be aware of your happiness on a day-to-day and moment-to-moment basis. If you have a fight with somebody, the whole day you will be aware of that person, right? The whole day the thoughts about that person will go around and around in your head about that person; about all the awful things said and done. Just as you are aware of your pain and suffering constantly and continuously, can you make the effort to become aware of your happiness constantly and continuously? If you can do that, then you are santosha, then you are contented. It is an awareness, an attitude.
Identify, maintain and sustain for extended periods of time, for as many days as possible, your connection with internal happiness, and minimize the experiences and projections of pain and suffering which emanate from you. That is contentment. If you develop friendship with the third guard, no situation in life can adversely affect you.
The fourth guard is satsang, which means to be in the company of truth, in the company of good people. A discourse or discussion is not called satsang. Many people give discourses and answer questions, but that is not called satsang. Satsang means an inspiration which you receive and maintain within. When you encounter a sage, and he looks at you with his benevolent, peaceful and compassionate eyes, that look is also satsang. With that look, something changes in your mind, something changes within you; you identify with a positive quality. Whether it is positivity, compassion or love that you find in that look, you say, 'Just the look transformed me.' You say, 'What a beautiful feeling it was when he looked at me.' This means that something inspired an energy arousal within you, which made you happy. Therefore, no matter what your mood is, smile at everybody every morning and say, 'Good morning.'
What harm is there if you look at someone, smile and say, 'Good morning'? That creates a positive feeling, does it not? A happy look and a happy smile can create a positive feeling more so than a frowning look and face. Even that is satsang sharing of your happiness, your optimism, your contentment with everybody, uplifting each one as you go.
I am giving you two different ideas of satsang. Satsang is sharing of your happiness, wisdom, love and compassion. Satsang is sharing the light and not spreading the darkness. Understand this properly. A positive, appropriate communication, which can motivate and inspire a person to be more active, optimistic and positive, is called satsang. Whether it is a sentence, a lecture, an answer to a question, a simple glance or simply being in the presence of an enlightened master, satsang transforms the inner nature.
Satsang removes the depressions of the heart and brings joy in the emotions. It removes confusion of mind and gives a sense of hope in the place of hopelessness. It allows you to express the better part of yourself. People will always love and appreciate your better part. What people don't like or appreciate is your negative part. Nobody likes your negative side, but everybody loves your happy, positive side. Thus, satsang is the fourth guard, to remain contented, happy and joyous. Just a simple smile means 'welcome' to everyone.