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Posted on: June 15, 2015
Loving Sairam and greetings from Prasanthi Nilayam.
We continue our study of Swami’s Dharma Vahini, and I hope you recall that in the previous episode I ended with a quote that referred to converting work into worship. I told you then that this is a topic I shall deal with later. However, to set the stage for what follows, I think it is desirable to repeat that last quote once more; here it is:
So, seeing the Atmadharma in every single act of yours, transforms it into an act of worship and elevates it; moreover, the act ceases to be binding, as it otherwise would. If the duties of worldly life are performed with NO regard to genuine Sathya and Dharma, it is as unholy as treating God as stone.
The essential point of the quote just offered is that our actions, no matter what they are, must always be totally in tune with Sathya and Dharma. This is a very important point that needs some elaboration but before I do that, let me quote Swami once more as this quote also deals with the same issue.
Practical Dharma or Achara Dharma as it is often called, when pursued apart from Sathya and Dharma, and Sathya and Dharma divorced from Achara Dharma are both equally barren of results. Practical Dharma on the one hand and Sathya and Dharma on the other are both inextricably intertwined, and should be treated as such. The senior officer needs the work of the junior official as much as the junior official needs the help of the senior officer.
What Swami is saying is that we cannot dismiss Atma Dharma as a hairy-fairy thing; in fact it is not, it is a Fundamental Principle. At the same time, when it comes to ordinary daily life, we DO need practical rules. That is what Achara Dharma or Practical Dharma is all about it. Any connection between Atma Dharma and what Swami calls Achara Dharma? You bet there is; Practical rules had better be consistent with Atma Dharma; one cannot dismiss Atma Dharma as being irrelevant, simply because we are dealing with so-called practical matters. Here is a simple example.
These days, many say: “Listen, corruption is here to stay; we just cannot avoid it; we have to be practical. If a bribe has to be paid, then it has got to be paid; we want things done, don’t we?” In other words, ‘practical wisdom’ of these days seems to condone corruption; but is this so-called practical rule in conformity with Sathya and Dharma? Obviously not. So, what is convenient does not necessarily become Achara Dharma; that is what we have to be careful about.
Now Atma Dharma is just another name for action in conformity with the Nature of the Atma. Atma means God and we know, don’t we, that God is Sathya and Dharma? Have we not heard Swami say Sathya is God, and Dharma is God?
So, it is not as if Atma Dharma is some abstract stuff that has no relevance to daily life or the world we live in. On the contrary, it has everything to do with it, since the world simply cannot exist without honesty and integrity.
I do hope you are getting the broad idea. I realise that for most of us who have spent a large part of our lives without bothering about Spirituality, concepts like Atma Dharma might appear quite strange and in fact irrelevant. Swami is constantly reminding us that is a wrong impression; rather, Atma Dharma is very relevant in daily life, particularly so these days.
Most of us tend to think that topics like the Atma, etc. are meant to be discussed and talked about only in Satsanghs, that they are abstract and have no relevance to daily life. The brief comment I made about corruption shows that this is a totally erroneous point of view. The question now arises: “Why is it that the notion of the Atma is so far from our daily life? How come we have started believing that the Atma is irrelevant to normal day-to-day life?” The short answer to that is that we are not free but bound!
People may be shocked on hearing this and ask: “What? We are not free? Who can say that? I am not in jail. I am a free citizen whose rights are protected by our Constitution,” and so on. That may be true from a worldly point of view but honestly, how many of us can truly say: “I am free from the clutches of Kama, Krodha, etc.?” Hardly any; the truth of the matter is that almost all of us have attachment and are bound by various degrees to friends, relatives, desires and so on. Why is all this relevant? Because, when one is bound and not free in the sense just mentioned, then sticking to Atma Dharma becomes very difficult. In other words, the practice of Atma Dharma improves, even as we shed our attachments and various other Spiritual imperfections. With this background, let us listen to the next quote.
Who then is the bound, and who, the free? Both the so-called bound and the self-proclaimed free are bound to their desire to be happy and comfortable. Until the fundamental secret of the Atma is recognised, the outer state of bondage will persist. When that is done, the burden of slavery to the senses and to the objective world will be diminished. Then, the code of behaviour towards the objective world will be merged with the code towards the inner Divinity and so the urges will all be cooperating harmoniously.
Before I consider this quote, let me offer another one since that too is relevant in the present context. Swami says:
The shackles of bondage cannot be avoided by a mere change of the type of activity. They can be avoided only by changing the point of view from the Deha (body) to the Deva (God), from the Created to the Creator. The moral qualities also will thereby be rendered stronger. Some persons hold the opinion that being employed is bondage, while sitting at home without any specific work is freedom! This is a sign of want of intelligence. When employed in a job, one has to obey the superior officer. But, can one escape the demands and compulsions of relations even while at home? Well, even when one is amidst friends only, can he avoid the necessity of acting according to their fancy? Can one be free at least from the need to take care of one’s own body and cater to one’s own comfort? How then can man feel free, while in the cage of bondage? All life is a prison, whatever the difference between one type of sentence and another. It is so, as long as the attitude of identifying the Self with the body is there.
There is a lot that has to be digested here! The first point is that bondage in the sense mentioned earlier arises when we suffer acutely from what Swami often refers to as body-consciousness [the word He actually uses is Dehabhimanam]. The body, says Swami, is not to be dismissed as meaningless or inconsequential; far from it. Without the body, how can one perform actions? Thus the body IS important. That said, it is equally important to realise that the body must be used in the proper way. That is to say, it must be made an instrument that serves the Atma within. In turn, this means that the individual must focus more on the Atma rather than the body, which is a casing given to us for operational purposes. This is what Swami means when He says that attention must be shifted from Deha or the body to Dehi or the Indweller in the body. Unless this change of perspective is achieved, it would not be easy to adhere to Atma Dharma. This is a very important point and must be fully absorbed; in fact, it is the essence of Karma Yoga, a key element of the Bhagavad Gita.
Now comes the question: “All this is fine but why on earth must one struggle so hard to adhere to Atma Dharma? What is there in it for me? Is there anything in it at all?” This is a worldly sort of question, one very likely to be asked these days, when everyone is obsessed with cost-benefit analysis! Swami gives the answer:
The True Dharma of the individual is to taste the bliss of merging with the Absolute, and attain true Liberation. A person who has reached that stage can never be bound, even if he is put in the grimmest of prisons; on the other hand, for a person who is the slave of the body, even a blade of grass can become an instrument of death. The true Dharma is to be immersed in the Atmic Bliss, the Inner Vision, the steady faith in the identity of one’s real nature with the Absolute, and the realisation that all is Brahmam; these four are the authentic Dharma.
In this physical existence as particular individuals, these four are named for the convenience of practice (but yet saturated with the Inner Dharma of Atmic Reality) Sathya, Shantham, Prema and Ahimsa, so that particularised individuals who are only personifications of that Absolute can follow them in daily life. The mode of pursuit of Dharma, now as in the past, is to adhere to these high principles in every act and thought. The Sathya, Shantham, Ahimsa and Prema of today are but the Unintermittent immersion in the Atma, the Vision fixed on the Inner Truth, the Contemplation of One’s Real Nature and the Knowledge that all is Brahmam, the one and the only. These, the Fundamental and the Derived, must be coordinated and harmonised. Then only can it be termed Atma Dharma.
That was a somewhat long quote and may be you got a bit lost. Don’t worry; I shall make it simple for you. Basically, what Swami is saying is this: “Listen, all of you are all the time seeking happiness. You chase money; why? Because you think with money you can buy happiness. That is wrong! With money you buy only worries!! If you want true Bliss and permanent happiness, then you had better follow Atma Dharma!” This is what Swami means by saying that all actions must help and assist one in tasting True Bliss or Ananda.
May be I should add a few more remarks that would explain things a bit better. The world we live in is basically a dual world with pairs of opposites tied together – like success and failure, joy and sorrow, happiness and misery, and so on. This tie up is intimate and the opposites are really like the two sides of a coin. Can one ever have a coin with just only one side? Thus, in practical terms, if we want happiness in this world, we can at best get only temporary happiness. The person may be happy today but tomorrow, it would be misery for sure. So, says Swami, seek Ananda or permanent Bliss. Now where is this Ananda found? In India, Tibet, Canada or Africa? The answer is not in this world! Does that mean one has to wait for death and go to some other world to find Ananda? Not at all, and that is the beauty of Swami’s Magic Formula.
Remember what He said in the earlier quote? He told us to shift the perspective from the Deha to Dehi. This is an important point that needs careful explanation. In brief, Swami says: “Live in this world; you have to and there is no escape from it. Do what you have to; Destiny has placed you in a certain position, accept it as God’s choice. In that state, do the best you can.”
The question now becomes: “What does one mean by ‘do the best you can’?” It simply means the following:
Firstly, perform your action with purity of thought, word and deed.
Next, work without any concern for success, reward, etc. that is to say in the spirit of what is called in the Gita as Nishkama Karma – that is, perform your duty in the spirit of selfless service.
Thirdly, regard whatever it is that you are doing as an offering to God.
OK, one does all this; then what? Ah, that is precisely where the secret is! You see, once this becomes a habit, one’s attention would be focussed almost entirely on God because the entire activity becomes God-centric. This is what Swami means by saying shifting the attention from the Deha [or body] to Dehi [or the Indweller/God].
You may wonder: “OK, one does all that, then what?” The answer to that becomes evident if one goes around Prasanthi Nilayam and observes closely. There are people, whom one would normally miss; that is because these are all very ordinary people engaged in ordinary tasks. There are, for example, old ladies who day after day, no matter what their age, spend a lot of time cleaning the Mandir, keeping it spotlessly clean. Then there are others who day after day, go out to gather flowers and make garlands for use in many places in the Mandir. There are yet others, who get ready the many items required for the daily Puja, and so on it goes, all over the place, from the Canteen to various units scattered all over the Ashram.
All this is a wonderful example of Nishkama Karma. By being so engaged fully, these people live in a world of their own, experiencing Ananda throughout the day. No, this is not delusion or self-deception or self-hypnosis. Those are fancy words that can be used to dismiss all that I have described. By the way, these people also face problems ranging from personal problems of various kinds to health problems. Yet, they are able to rise above these problems and maintain themselves in a state of Bliss, because they are united with God all the time, via every little thing they do. For them, every single act is for God, and an offering to God – that is the key point. In other words, if the actions that we routinely perform, be it cooking or teaching or even piloting a plane, if all these actions are made God-centric by changing the attention from Deha to Dehi as Swami puts it, then we experience Bliss even while leading our normal lives; that is what the example of the ladies in Prasanthi shows. However, this does not mean one has to be physically here to elevate oneself to that state of Bliss. God is everywhere and thus one can serve Him everywhere, which means that one can really experience Bliss wherever one wants, provided one makes the change of perspective that Swami recommends.
Which automatically brings us to the next quote of Swami:
It does not matter what your activity is, or what name and form you have chosen. Whether the work is of this type or that, so long as the Atma Dharma is the base, and Atma Thathwa (Atmic principle) the root, it is Dharma beyond doubt. Such work will bless one with the fruit of Shanthi (peace).
In daily practice, when acts are motivated by the basic Principle of the reality of the Atma, every act becomes stamped with the seal of Dharma. But when acts are motivated by convenience and selfish interest, the Dharma becomes pseudo Dharma. It is a variety of bondage, however attractive it may be.
The quote you just heard is an important one, and can be summarised as follows. Make sure always that every activity is properly spiritualised. I am sure this remark would mystify most listeners, and so maybe I should narrate a little anecdote here to make my point a bit clearer.
Many years ago, when I was the Vice Chancellor here, Swami used to go to College on most Sunday mornings to talk to the students. As the Vice Chancellor, I had to be there to receive Swami, and formally welcome Him and all that; the usual protocol duties you know.
For Swami it was a moment when He could freely talk to students, take questions from them, give advice and so on. And almost invariably, He also gave a Discourse. During one such Discourse, He suddenly materialised a gold Schaeffer pen, took it apart and explained how a product is priced! We were all stunned of course. At the end of the proceedings, just before leaving, Swami turned to me and gave me that pen! Boy, was I in the seventh heaven?
I kept the pen very carefully and used it only for taking notes during Swami’s Discourses. One afternoon, sometime after all this, Swami called me into the Interview room. This was quite common as He often had some instruction or the other for me. That day, Swami looked at me, and found that I was carrying an ordinary ball pen in my pocket. So He asked me: “Where is the pen I gave you?” I said, “Swami, that pen I use only for Spiritual work.” Swami then gave me a long hard look and then said slowly – I will never forget it – He said: “In life, everything is Spiritual!” I was stunned and it took many years of reflection to understand the meaning of that statement.
If you think about it, that is the essence of the Gita and all that I have been saying about Atma Dharma! In what way? Well, maybe I should keep that for the next time!
Meanwhile, thanks for being with me and I hope you benefited from hearing this talk.
God bless, Jai Sai Ram.
- Radio Sai Team
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