The last point that Shankara makes is that there’s the Karma Yoga with its three elements: to bear bravely the opposites, to perform actions for the sake of worshipping or pleasing the Lord and lastly to practice samadhi, first on the things in the world, and then there will be a flash of (our teacher used to call it God-vision sometimes) Shankara calls it seeing the Self, right vision of the Self. Then the samadhi is on the Self, and four times Shankara in his great Brihadaranyaka commentary says that this phrase, ‘As the Self alone he should meditate on Him’ contains the essence of the Upanishad. He calls it a sutra – ‘He should worship Him as the Self alone’. This is when, in chapter 13 verse 4 of the Gita, it says that these things are spoken by the great rishis in beautiful songs and they’re also established by the Brahma-sutras, which are well-reasoned and definite in meaning.
The example that’s given of a Brahma-sutra, well-reasoned and definite in meaning, is this phrase, ‘As the Self alone he should meditate on Him’. Shankara says, these words give an exact meaning, they’re not to be interpreted away or changed. This then is Shankara’s programme and if we look for it we’ll find constant references to it. Karma Yoga and the three elements which we have to remember – the brave endurance of the opposites, the performance of actions as a worship of God and then practice of samadhi on the prescribed things which the Gita and the Upanishads give. Then there’s a flash of God-vision, then that flash is affirmed by meditation on the Self and finally Shankara says there is moksha, there is peace.
As an example of comparative actions, a Japanese man – rather unusually – he completed the Zen training and then decided to become a priest. He did it as a layman. He said when he first wore the priest’s robe (and there’s a very old-fashioned wicker hat, looks like a mushroom top in a way) he used to go about in this although, even then, it was already getting old-fashioned. He said, “I thought to myself, even if this is old-fashioned, even if few people do it, I am showing that there are people in the world who give up everything – and I’ve given up everything.” He was a professor of business studies at a big, important university in Japan. “I’ve given it up completely – and this robe, without my saying anything, shows it.” But finally his teacher said ‘No. Don’t go about like that!’ and he said finally he came to understand it.
When our teacher came to this country he used to wear a turban in the Indian style – it’s quite natural. One of his pupils said that he was with her at Hampton Court and our teacher was wearing this turban. They passed a mother with her child, a little boy. The mother said as they passed, softly to the little one, “That’s a holy man.” So the boy said, “How do you know he’s a holy man.” The mother said, “Shush. Look at his hat, that’s called a turban. It’s only holy men who wear that!”, and after that our teacher never wore a turban.
Well, he said that action and behaviour are on an entirely different basis. He gave an example: we think, “How can a man who has nothing and does nothing do any good to the world?” He said his teacher’s teacher, Swami Krishnandaji, was walking in the Himalayas and he saw some pilgrims who were destitute, they had no food. He suggested to a monk to set up little stations for the pilgrims and the monk, on that one phrase, devoted his whole life to do that. In the next 40 or 50 years these stations were set up along the pilgrim routes.
In another example our teacher told us once (several times he refers in his lectures to it – but a full account was only once) that he saw a great waterfall in Kashmir. He generally says, “The thought occurred to me that if that force were harnessed it could make electricity for all the villages.” But in actual fact he said this to the chief engineer of Kashmir state. The chief engineer was taken with the idea and succeeded in getting the Maharaja to put up the capital. The hydro-electric station was built and the rush, the tumult, of the water was turned into the little twinkling lights in the villages. Our teacher said this is an example of transformation of the force of the inner activity, passions, ambitions and fears into these twinkling lights of illumination.
© Trevor Leggett
This series of talks are:
This series of talks:
Section 1: The Transformation of Karma Yoga