Four Foundations

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

There are four foundations for development, growth and success in life:


The first is conviction. You have to know the nature of life and the nature of life is performance, karma. Life without karma, life without action is no life. Even in the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says to Arjuna that the entire experience of life is an experience of action, right from our birth till our death. When we involve ourselves in action, our mind plays tricks, and when we fall prey to the tricks of the mind, we subject ourselves to the experiences of success and failure. Corresponding to that, a particular mood comes up of either happiness or dejection. They both represent a state of mind that is identifying with an experience. Happiness identifies with a pleasant experience and suffering indicates a negative experience. So happiness or success, suffering or failure, are the outcomes of identification with action and with the world: with our aspirations, expectations, motivations and desires.

The most important thing in all this is the conviction that 'I can achieve'. If one has that mentality and belief, it will lead to development and growth. People either become over-achievers or under achievers, but most of the time people identify too much with their responses and expectations, and there is less identification with the process of achieving. The process of achieving is enforced with the conviction: 'I can'. Once you know that you can then nothing is impossible. How do you spell the word 'impossible?' I-M-possible, and a person with conviction knows that nothing is impossible. The only trick is that you have to connect with a positive frame of mind.

You can connect with a negative frame of mind with conviction, just as you can connect with a positive state of mind with conviction. If your conviction relates to a negative or destructive state of mind, then the outcome will be negative and destructive. On the other hand, if you associate conviction with the positive, then the outcome will be auspicious. Without wisdom, conviction can be detrimental. With wisdom, conviction becomes a force that transcends all human barriers. Therefore, conviction with positivity and with wisdom, the conviction that 'I can achieve', is the first quality, and this leads to the attainment of excellence and perfection in life.

Participation and involvement

The second foundation is participation and involvement, and this is in continuation with the first. If life is karma – if for material gain we have to perform karma, if for spiritual gain we have to perform karma, if for mental peace and harmony we have to perform karma – then our participation with karma has to be total. There cannot be rejection of karma of any kind, at any time, as karma is the nature of life. The more you participate with karma, the more you interact with life. The problem is that people do not see karma as a way to improve their own nature, skills and personality – but once this understanding comes then every action becomes a pleasurable action, even the most routine one.

Some people say they are tired of routines. People who say that have no inclination or understanding of what karma is or what karma yoga is. For them participation in life has become routine, and when something becomes routine it stagnates and you get bored. But if every moment, if every action is seen as a chance to improve one's skills, one's nature and one's personality, then no matter how many times you do something, the feeling will be that it is being done for the first and last time, and that you are giving your best to it. Even though you may do the same thing every day for twenty years, each day will be a new day and each involvement will be as though it is the first and the last involvement. And if it is going to be the first and last, then give it your best shot. Why say, 'I will do better tomorrow' or 'I will deal with it next time?' That indicates separation from involvement and participation. If you put things off to the next time, that means you are not interested, and whatever the action is, it feels heavy, like a burden. Opportunities for growth, development and success come if there is absolute and total participation.


The third foundation is trust. Trust in what? In every person's life there is someone who inspires them, who encourages them to discover something better, and trust has to be in that person. It can be the guru, a friend, or a location where the environment is conducive and where you feel free. Any place or person in which you are able to feel that inspiration becomes the object in which you can place your trust. After all, even places become centres of energy, tirthas, where most of the internal desires can be attained. We place our trust in tirthas, in different images and forms of God, or in the form of the guru or some friend who inspires us, knowing that this person will not let us down. When we have that level of trust the fame of inspiration keeps burning all the time. With the loss of trust, this fame of inspiration and motivation dies down. Therefore, trust is another important ingredient: trust in those people who inspire us and who are models to be emulated.

It is said that everyone needs a hero in their life. We choose our hero according to our preferences, needs and mentality; but the ultimate hero in this world is not the Bollywood star or a person who lives in some ashram. The ultimate hero of this world is God, divinity – and the person through whom the force, the energy of God flows to illuminate our own dark, dull corners of mind is the person worthy of our trust. This trust has to be preserved and protected from other influences. When you have a piece of gold jewellery, you wear it occasionally. You do not wear it every day, showing off to everyone that you have this piece of golden jewellery. Rather, you protect it from prying eyes and hands. You safeguard it from theft by putting it in a safe, and you only use it when there is a need to wear it. In the same manner, this trust has to be protected from other influences. Many times, I have seen that disciples mistrust their guru more than they mistrust their associates. If that is the case, then why come here? Why do you say, 'Guru is my everything', and then distrust the guru?

Trust is something that should not be taken lightly. When you have doubts and questions, really they are not in relation to the guru or teacher, but in relation to yourself. You are reflecting your own inability to comprehend, grasp and advance. You are falling prey to your own weaknesses, and as you are unable to understand your own weaknesses, you cast aspersions on other people. Distrust is the first breakdown that happens when life deviates from its original path and goal while trust is a power which comes alive in you with purity of intention and identification with the source of inspiration.


The fourth foundation is faith. Faith in the Divine Will, in the Cosmic Will. Identifying with faith and the feeling of 'Let Thy Will be done', rather than identifying with reactions and enjoyments and believing oneself to be the doer or the enjoyer. Learning to flow according to the Divine Will indicates the development of faith. Faith is not only an intellectual concept that 'I believe in this person, I have faith in this thing, I have surrendered myself to this power.' If you try to understand trust and faith with your intellect, one hundred percent failure is guaranteed, as these are not the expressions of intellect. Faith and trust are expressions of a pure and innocent heart.

Faith and trust, conviction and participation, these constitute the foundations for development and growth in life. Other things such as wisdom, awareness, discrimination and satsang, are incidental. They are like the coverings on the bed. The bed is supported by four legs: the conviction that you can excel, participation with the knowledge that this is the first and the last time that you are involving yourself in something, trust and faith. These are the legs of the bed on which you lie to have a peaceful rest. These are the four foundation stones of the house in which we live, where we can express our own strengths. The other qualities are only decorations in the rooms, nothing more than that. You can decorate your room in the way that you like with this virtue, with that quality, with this understanding, with that perception; that is your choice. However, the basic foundations are conviction, participation, trust and faith.

1 August 2008, Ganga Darshan, Munger