The technological developments of recent times have propelled the human race on a fast track of material progress. The dignified and leisurely pace of life is almost passé. People face tough competition to excel at every stage and in every sphere of worldly life. Our lives are marked by daily frustrating commutes to the work place and back, speedy means of travel, and instant communication using the latest gadgets. Urbanization is rapid and consumerism is rampant, as market driven economies are using novel ways to attract consumers. A blitzkrieg through the glamorous world of films, television, media, and sports pervades everywhere—in homes, on roads, doling out promises of instant gratification and overnight stardom.
Those who are capable of enjoying the fruits of material progress and facing the challenges of modern life are considered fortunate by society. But it is really a challenging task for those who are running this difficult race today. People are under constant stress to achieve social status and material prosperity. As a fallout, human relationships, family bonds, and value systems are strained. Demanding lifestyles translate into lesser physical exercise, irregular sleep patterns, and anxiety disorders, all resulting in various diseases. Stress and work pressure eat into our time and we end up spending less quality time with family, friends, and loved ones, resulting in broken relationships and superficial interactions. Pent up emotions and lack of creative and relaxing activities translate into erratic human behaviour and lack of compassion towards one another. People find it difficult to make even basic sacrifices and adjustments in life. Problems are further compounded by the usual human traits of greed, anger, jealousy, hatred, lust, and so on.
The purpose of stating all this is not to paint a bleak picture and conjure up an entirely grim scenario. Instead, the purpose is to help individuals identify their problems and remedy them by applying time- tested techniques that have been handed down over generations.
To understand how important it is to manage our lives effectively, we need to look at life in a holistic manner. Whether we are householders, monks, students, businessmen, servants, ministers or even ‘nobodies’— we are all engaged in unceasing work, all through our lives, from birth to death. But most of us never pause to think, even once, why we do all this work.
Propelled by the insatiable material, emotional, and intellectual goals that modern social life demands, one naturally feels an urge to struggle for a better state of life than the present one. Each person tries, in his own way, to attain his cherished goals. Usually, one chooses his goal of life based on his psychological constitution and the environmental conditions in which he is placed. Changes in the goal may occur as one evolves physically, emotionally, and intellectually. Generally, man wants to achieve that which he thinks is within his reach. The question arises then, why does man aspire for a better state of life? It is because we all feel that upon attaining a higher state of life we will he happier, more at peace, freer, more powerful, and less miserable. We are somehow discontent with our present state of existence and want to get rid of anything that tends to limit us. In the heart of hearts every being craves for unalloyed happiness, uninterrupted peace. This is the inner quest of all humans and we are all trying best to attain it in our own ways, consciously or unconsciously- This search for peace, contentment and happiness is the underlying motive behind all our pursuits in life. From this it becomes obvious that we work incessantly only to attain contentment, happiness or bliss.
Some may admit that they work to obtain money or possessions r power, but a little bit of introspection will tell that these are only means to the real end—bliss. Animals too are struggling to attain bliss, but they are guided by instinct. They lack the intellect that we humans possess, the faculty that enables us to make decisions and discriminate right from wrong. Unfortunately, most humans function purely on the basis of instinct and make little or no use of their intellect.
The sages of India, since time immemorial, have applied their mind to find out the true nature of the individual. They have concluded that bliss is our real nature and that we are amritasya putrah (children of immortality). Whether we know it or not, we are constantly struggling to regain our true nature. In the process, errors and wrong decisions born of ignorance may lead us astray, but sooner or later, a time will come when we have to realize our true identity.
However, looking at the world around us, it appears that people are not bothered about attaining the kind of peace that we have discussed above. It is true that differences in individualities are shaped by what are called as samskaras (latent impressions on the mind). Therefore, each individual’s approach and outlook will be different and we cannot set a general standard for all to adhere to. The common observation is that in spite of our ceaseless efforts, the peace and contentment that we desire, constantly eludes most of us. Even those who appear to be happy with the means to fulfil their desires are seen to suffer a lot, since they want more and more of what they have been handed on a platter. Then there are those who appear to be confused and lost and keep on blaming this or that for their failures. Some are able to achieve their desired goals after hard struggles, hut the desired happiness still proves to be a chimera and a delusion for them.
If the end result brings unhappiness and frustration, all efforts appear meaningless. However this struggle is not completely worthless, as it is through this process that the individual gains experience and knowledge, thereby moving ahead towards his ultimate goal. It is like the shaping of an ornament from a piece of gold. The gold is to be heated and beaten to craft it into a valuable piece of art. Each mark or bend in the final artifact will have much effort invested in it and it is this effort that adds to the value and beauty of the ornament. Similarly, the various desires, actions, experiences, achievements, setbacks, and the knowledge that we gain as we live life, get uniquely reflected in our respective personalities, making us richer in wisdom and helping us develop emotional balance.
The extent to which we train our mind by strengthening our will-power and intellect will determine our personality. Our personalities can be said to be the outcome of our mind and its various reactions to external stimuli. A person is said to have an integrated personality when there is perfect conformity between his knowledge and actions. Such a person not only possesses wisdom, he also has the ability to conduct all his actions in a manner that reflects this inner wisdom. How one feels, eats, behaves—these and much more—shape an individual’s personality.
The mind is very choosy. Usually, it dictates terms—it likes this, it does not like that. Using our intellect, we need to dictate it to follow the right course of action and avoid the wrong one. And we cannot direct our mind unless we control it. How then do we control our mind? Despite best efforts, our resolutions to control the mind gets weakened by gross and subtle desires and very often we get carried away by our drifting mind. We then feel weak and hopeless. How then should we strengthen and reform our character, to be able to develop a strong personality? Flow can we improve our will-power and develop confidence in our abilities? What concrete steps will help us attain our chosen goal of everlasting happiness, bliss, and peace? Here lies the importance of learning the art of managing one’s personal life.
Vedanta: A Brief Introduction
Blessed indeed are we in India, to have inherited the accumulated knowledge in the form of spiritual truths which have been revealed from time to time in the hearts of men and women, purified by the practice of self control and meditation. Such fortunate souls are called rishis, or seers of truth. Rishi-hood cannot be confined to a particular faith, caste, period, country or sex; quite a few of our rishis were women. They imparted their instructions in the crowded courts of kings, as well as in retreats beyond the bustle of the city. The super-sensuous experiences of these seers have been embodied in the Vedas. Twofold is the philosophy taught in the Vedas. One is the philosophy of pravritti or action and the other is the philosophy of nivritti or withdrawal from action, i.e. meditation. Both are required to establish a stable world order. Outward-going energy is pravritti and inward-going energy is nivritti. These energies are to be harmonized by the individual and the society, to ensure true material prosperity as well as spiritual growth and fulfilment for all beings. The Upanishads give us such verified and verifiable truths about human beings and the universe. The Upanishads are also known as Vedanta or the concluding chapters (anta) of the Vedas. The word ‘Vedanta’ literally means the end or goal of the Vedas, their essence. Vedanta, as a philosophy, is based on the Upanishads.
Practical Vedanta: Swami Vivekananda’s Definition
Swami Vivekananda, during his extensive travels, came to the conclusion that in order to change man’s condition for the better, religion must become a dynamic force in people’s day-to-day lives. The sacred must permeate the secular. The Vedanta of the forest must be carried to the doors of every person, so that a teacher could be a better teacher; a student, a better student and a clerk, a better clerk.
Swami Vivekananda gave four lectures in London on Practical Vedanta in 1896 and one lecture in India on ‘Vedanta in its Application to Indian Life’ in Madras in 1897. In his first lecture on Practical Vedanta (The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, vol.4, p.292), Swamiji says:
‘In various Upanishads, we find that this Vedanta philosophy is not the outcome of meditation in the forests only, but that the very best parts of it were thought out and expressed by brains which were busiest in the everyday affairs of life.’
‘Everything goes to show that this philosophy must be very practical; and later on, when we come to the Bhagavad Gita... curiously enough, the scene is laid on the battlefield, where Krishna teaches this philosophy to Arjuna; and the doctrine which stands out immensely in every page of the Gita is intense activity, but in the midst of it, eternal calmness. This is the secret of work, to attain which is the goal of Vedanta. Inactivity, as we understand it in the sense of passivity, certainly cannot be the goal... nor does inactivity become activity when it is combined with passion. Real activity, which is the goal of Vedanta, is combined with eternal calmness; the calmness, which cannot be ruffled, the balance of mind, which is never disturbed, whatever happens. And we all know from our experience in life that this is the best attitude for work.’
Speaking about the need to throw open the Upanishads to all human beings and the need to make the Upanishad teachings practical, Swamiji says:
‘The Upanishads were in the hands of the Sannyasin; he went into the forest! Shankara was a little kind and said even Grihasthas (householders) may study the Upanishads, it will do them good; it will not hurt them. But still the idea is that the Upanishads talked only of the forest life of the recluse.., the only commentary, the authoritative commentary on the Vedas, has been made once and for all by Him who inspired the Vedas—by Krishna in the Gita. It is there for every one in every occupation of life.’
Swami Vivekananda also upheld that the great truths realized by sages, ancient and modern, are not dogmas to be believed unquestioningly. They are meant to be realized and thereby verified. Truth is eternal and it already exists. But it is only when the mind is made absolutely pure and subtle that we achieve the concentration required to realize the subtlest of truths.
Everything depends on one’s mind. Nothing can he achieved without purity of the mind. It is said, ‘The aspirant may have received the grace of the Guru, the Lord, and the Vaishnava; but he comes to grief without the grace of the ‘one’.’ That ‘one’ is the mind. The mind of the aspirant should be gracious to him.
We need to know what is meant by purification of lie mind and how to purify it. And more importantly, low do we manage our mind until it becomes absolutely pure and subtle?
Purification of the Mind: An Easy Way
The technique of managing our lives effectively, called SDM, contains ‘5’ which is an easy way to purify our mind. Every minute that we spend in Satsanga, which is the company of holy people, holy books, and so on, makes our mind that much stronger and purer. Even spending time in remembrance of the inspiring lives of holy people is included in the definition of Satsanga. When we reflect on the teachings of the great avatars and saints, our mind gets inspired and motivated to follow in their path, or at least, attachment to worldly things diminishes to some extent.
Each era has produced towering personalities like Rama, Krishna, Buddha, Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, Nanak, Ramakrishna and many others who elevated and changed the course of human development, so much so that each one of them is considered to be either a divine incarnation or God’s messenger, by the faithful. Although they were normal human beings, they rose to the level of Gods and so; we can also aspire to be like them. Every great life has lessons galore for the teeming masses. It reveals the meaning and goal of life, and also shows us the right path. We look forward to be guided by their ideal conduct and teachings. The path shown by them may appear to be many, but the goal is only ONE—to lead us to contentment, happiness and bliss, or in other words to reveal to us, our true nature!
The life of a great person, whatever his area of specialization, always inspires. The incidents, small or big, in the lives of the great, serve as guidelines for others. Depending upon our temperament and the capacity to imbibe, we can learn lessons like love of God, love of man, modesty, simplicity, gentleness, forbearance, chastity, rationality, practicality and so on, from their lives. Swami Vivekananda says, ‘As I grow older I look more and more for greatness in little things. I want to know what a great man eats and wears, and how he speaks to his servants...’ When we read their lives we do find extraordinary greatness even in small day-to-day events.
And let us remind ourselves that we have set out to learn the art of effectively managing our lives with the aim of attaining happiness and peace through all our actions. In the second chapter that follows, the reader will be guided by the exemplary life of the Holy Mother, Sri Sarada Devi. A seemingly ordinary looking life was in fact a living example of the practical implementation of the precepts of Vedanta and is a source of inspiration to millions of people.
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