It’s customary to begin a traditional talk with a classical verse or two verses, so these verses are from the Gita:
‘He sees who sees the Lord standing equally existent in all the beings, the undying in the dying.
He who sees the Lord standing the same, kills not the Self by the self.
So he attains the highest goal.’
And the third verse is:
‘Not by much learning,
not by a brilliant intellect,
not by hearing many things is the Lord within realised.
He who seeks Him alone,
to him the Lord reveals himself as Himself’.
That is from an Upanishad called the Mundaka. The first thing to say is that although there is a tradition of learning in the Vedanta schools, they don’t depend on much learning, as you heard in the verse, not by much learning, not by a brilliant intellect, not by hearing many things. Well, why then, have the study of philosophy? Why spend seventeen or eighteen years translating texts from the Sanskrit? One thing which I can speak of from personal experience is that it keeps you out of mischief. Think of all the harm I might have done in those seventeen or eighteen years, which I didn’t do because I hadn’t got the time. I’d like to have done a lot of harm, probably, but couldn’t manage it. This is not the main point. The main point is this, that if we don’t study a little of the outlines of one of the great traditional religious philosophies then we begin, not to have no philosophy, but to invent our own.
We begin to become fatalists. ‘Oh, if it’s going to happen, it’ll happen. Things always go wrong for me’. Well, there are lucky days and unlucky days, you know. And if it’s an unlucky day there’s no use trying to do anything, and if it’s a lucky day there’s no need to try, is there, because it will go well anyway.’ In this way we paralyse ourselves with self-invented philosophies and for this reason the teachers recommend us to study the outline of one of the traditional philosophers and to know well one short text, like the Gita or the fourth Gospel, about the same length, so that we have an inner resource in a time of great trouble or of great temptation, or of great fear.
Now, I just want to outline some of the points of the basic philosophy and attitude to life. This philosophy is not meant to be something theoretical that you just say and then, when you’ve finished it, you go and turn on the television and forget all about it. Instead to say simply, one or two of these main points:
‘Follow the Shastra, follow the great traditions’.
We think, ‘Oh, I’ll work it out for myself. Why not? I’ll use my own judgement. Why should I follow old texts?’ We’re taught in studying to think clearly.
This is not clear thinking. To give an example, we should search in our own personal experience for the application of these things. I give a personal experience in chess. I was quite keen on chess when I was a student; anything was better than studying law. So I got quite good at chess and I studied the theory of chess which, when I was young, had been analysed by masters who’d given their whole lives to it for about a hundred years. So I knew the theory of the openings. When I went to Germany, they were very keen on chess, and I used to play chess regularly against a very keen player. Now, he was probably a better player than I was, but he hadn’t studied the theory. So when we played a game he was playing out of his own head. I was playing out of the heads of the great masters of the last hundred years, so I could always get a superior position.
I knew it was superior. I knew it was the winning position, but because he hadn’t studied the theory, he couldn’t, in that short five minutes thinking, work out what it had taken them a hundred years to work out. So I used to say: ‘Edgar, it’s gone’. He’d say: ‘What? What? No’. I’d say: ‘It’s gone’. And he’d lose. He’d say: ‘Oh, no, no, no, no. I know my mistake. I just went wrong there. I just went wrong there’. We’d play it again; the same thing; He’d lose again.
So, if we study what has been worked out by experiment, by the yogis of the past, by the classical yogis who wrote the text (or dictated the text rather) and then confirmed, in the subsequent centuries, by those experts who have practised these methods, then we start with an advantage. But it’s no use stopping there. I have seen chess players who simply studied the openings and they would play for twenty moves brilliantly, because they were playing the moves that they had studied, the moves that the masters of the last hundred years had worked out. Well, then it would come to an end of course. Then he would start to play with own head and it was terrible. So we must not merely study and get to know the outline of the texts but we must also come to understand them. And then we must put them into our practice, into our practice of life.
maitri = friendliness, pleasantness, lovingness
karuna = compassion, mercy mudita = gladness, goodwill
upekshanam = acceptance, equanimity, indifference, disregard, neutrality
sukha = happy, comfortable, joyous punya = virtuous, meritorious, benevolent
bhavanatah = by cultivating habits, by constant reflection, developing attitude, cultivating,
impressing on oneself
prasadanam = purified, clear, serene, pleasant, pacified, undisturbed, peaceful, calm.
© Trevor Leggett
Titles in this series are:
Part 3: Truths can be found
Part 4: Purify your own mind
Part 5: He sees, who sees the Lord