The teacher says, Shankara, points out that it’s a question of being free from the desire for these things, the hankering desire for these things; not necessarily from the things themselves but he must be able to walk away from them, when it’s necessary to do so.
In the Upanishadic passage we read, one of Yajnavalkya’s main teachings said that the knower of the Self, he knows about learning, he masters the texts, then he enters the childlike state. This is explained by Shankara as, the same as what the Gita gives as, what’s translated as ‘straightforwardness’. It means literally, straight and it’s contrasted with twisted. This virtue comes four times in the Gita, hardly in the Upanishads at all, but it comes four times in the Gita in very important places. In 13:7 there’s a list of the qualities: humility, modesty, harmlessness, patience, straightforwardness, service, purity, steadiness, self-control. In 16th chapter: fearlessness, purity, straightforwardness. In the 18th chapter: serenity, self-restraint, tapas, endurance, purity, forgiveness, straightforwardness; and in the 17th chapter it comes with: straightforwardness, brahmacharya, purity.
Now a former warden of Shanti Sadan said this means being sincere. One example that was given was that it’s very easy to twist a text in an obviously insincere way, but it’s nevertheless possible. You knock your foot and you get a little cut, so you go to the doctor. He doesn’t clean it, he just slaps a plaster on it. Then it becomes infected, it swells up. He just looks at it and says, “It’ll be alright” and he puts another plaster on it. But when the time comes it gets very bad and the doctor says, “Well, the leg will have to come off”. You say, “What! This was just a little cut. What have you been doing?” And the doctor says, “I don’t work for results”. Then you’ve only got one leg, so you decide to sell your little house in London and go and live next to your sister in the country so she will look after you. You’ve only got one leg and it’s difficult, so you give your solicitor power of attorney. But when the time comes to fix the actual contract he wants to get away to a television programme so he just signs, leaving them to fill in the figures, and they fill it in for £20. So instead of the £20000 that you hoped to get, you get £20 for your house and you say to the solicitor, “What were you doing?” and he says, “If it’s your karma to get a given price you’ll get it. Doesn’t matter what I do, if it’s your karma to get £20, you’ll get £20 and that’s what happened”. Similarly he said “Oh well, it’s been a disaster, but if that’s the way the Lord wants it, we accept it.”
Well, all these examples were given by a teacher as examples of insincerity. The texts are used, but actually they’re being used insincerely. In one of the Sufi classics, the example is given where Adam is created and Iblis, who is an angel, and all the other angels are told to bow to Adam, a man. Iblis refuses. He says, “You the Lord have given the ordinance: “You shall not bow down to any other than Me”. I dare not disobey that order.”
The Lord, Allah, says to him, “But I am telling you now, bow down to Adam” and Iblis says “I cannot go against your ordinance”. The Lord says, “Then you will be banished to hell”. Iblis says, “Shall I see You from hell?” and the Lord says, “Yes – in your torment you will still see Me. Iblis says, “Then I’m content”.
It sounds very noble, but actually as is pointed out, it’s simply his pride that he won’t bow down to Adam. All this business about obedience to the ordinances and this very high-souled explanation is simply to cover up his pride. The childlike state, Shankara says, is one which does not calculate. He gives two explanations of this in the Brahma-sutras and elsewhere and it’s one where there is no twisting and trying to adapt something to suit himself.
Then the final teaching of Yajnavalkya is, what the very ancient Upanishad quotes, these five steps on the way which are that he is withdrawn. People say, “Oh no, we don’t want to withdraw from the world. We must pay back to the world, because we ourselves receive our living from the world – we must pay back to the world. Not this withdrawal, not this running away from the world”. But actually if we look, and our teacher often pointed it out, if we look at history, we shall see that it is the people of meditation who, in fact, do benefit the world and do something for the world; whereas the others, busy though they are, are often destructive.
© Trevor Leggett
Talks in this series are:
Part 4: Karma is waiting for you
Part 5: Free from the desire for things