DURING the war a smiling woman was approached for her fare by a London bus conductor who asked her why she was looking so happy. “Didn’t you hear the air-raid last night?” he asked. “Oh yes” was the reply, “I was bombed. I have lost everything, and now I have nothing to worry about.”
For a short time this woman tasted the joy of release from the burden of possessions and sensed a new freedom. This was due to a change in her environment, but freedom from all limitations can be attained without any alteration of outer circumstances.
Independence in the spiritual sense of the word is only experienced by the enlightened man. It is a state that has been described as the normal condition, and it can be attained by any serious seeker who is willing to undergo the training of Yoga. This inner freedom is known at the culmination of the yogic training, when man is no longer identified with his body and mind, and is based on his real nature—the Spirit, which is also called the Self, Reality or God. With this true independence comes unbroken peace, poise and bliss and the ability to impart them to others.
A modern Zen master has given us a vivid description of the daily life of an illumined man:—
“Wisdom-power is not something miraculous” he said, “but it means things being what they really are, that we see them as they really are and handle them as they really are.
“The spiritual power of Zen means to live in the ordinary way all day, but without any check or hindrance, bright as a mirror is bright, smoothly as a ball running across a tray, without any sticking or hanging back. As when the ice is melted there is no congealing or stiffness, so the man of realisation lives an ordinary life, but with infinite freedom, and released from all restrictions.
“In that state of realisation every movement of his hand, every step with his foot, spiritualises what he meets; he makes spiritual use of every event and thing. Before and after his footfall, the breath of holiness is born.”
This man has found the Divine Centre within himself, and lives in and from that instead of in the outer circumference of disturbances. The possibility of finding this centre within is dimly sensed by all; but for a long time we make experiments on the outer circumference of our lives. We try to gain strength and support from worldly objects and relationships; when one prop fails, another is found. This deep-seated sense of inadequacy and insecurity does not leave us until the spiritual teachers show us the way to true independence. From childhood man has been taught to look outwards for this precious possession.
To become successful and to do better than others is the ideal instilled into children; it haunts them from the eleven plus examination until they reach the post-graduate and business worlds. Such maxims as: “Get rich quickly” or “Get on even if it means stepping on other people’s shoulders” are believed. The sweet smell of success, which was described recently by a famous actor as “the smell of Brighton and oyster bars” is a heady perfume, but with it must always come anxiety for its maintenance. Interviews on television with famous people reveal their apprehension when discussing their next ventures. A Zen story tells how a famous swordsman was beaten by a less experienced one, to his great surprise. On asking his teacher for an explanation he was told that he had been fighting not only to beat the other man, but also to maintain his reputation, whereas his opponent had only one thought in his mind, and that was to win.
Most of us look for permanent happiness and security in personal relationships, and are blind to the inevitability of change, or else unable to face it. Maturity was recently defined by a doctor as the capacity to accept change. The parental attitude towards children is often carried over into adult life; when this happens the prolonged protection and over-anxiety have a crippling effect on the young. “Love them and let them go” a wise physician said. Psychologists have made us familiar with the mother-fixation, but son and daughter-fixations are just as prevalent. A dramatist has referred to this tie between the mother and her grown-up child as the silver cord. It is a cord which binds together and restricts both of them. Swami Rama Tirtha says:—
“Here is a law as certain and true as any mathematical law; it is as sure as any physical fact. Whenever a man or woman begins to love any form, anybody, anything material, he is allowed to enjoy that material object for some time, and just when that material object has got itself instilled into his heart, when it has permeated his whole being, just at that time the object will be removed. This is the Law. It cannot be avoided.
There is no force which can avert, no force or power which can prevent an occurrence like that. Attach yourself to any outside object; cling to any name or personality; depend upon any great man; trust him; rely or lean up on him; and that staff will be removed, you will fall down.”
When one prop fails, another is often substituted. In the absence of satisfaction from a human relationship, solace is found in an animal. A childless wife can cause illness in her dog by giving it an overdose of possessive affection. All pseudosupports may endure for a time, but they are bound to crumble. When this happens there is great suffering.
When the cruel incertitude of life is brought home to us through personal experience, the spiritual quest assumes vital importance.
In a Japanese household the Buddhist texts were read aloud every night by the father in an affected and pompous voice, without any feeling. This went on year after year. Suddenly his child was taken seriously ill, and as the boy lay dying he said “Please read the sutras to me.” Keeping back his tears, the father read the sutras for the first time.
As the seeker after inner freedom continues his investigation, he begins to see how dependent we are on the opinions of others, and how much our actions are influenced by them. The Zen master described the enlightened man as moving through life without check or hindrance, like a ball moving across a tray. Our procedure is not like this. While responding to the whims of others we pursue a zig-zag course through life, like that of a sailing boat tacking in narrow waters. We are constantly changing direction in response to the wind of the opinion of others.
Contact with a spiritual school and the training of Yoga reveals the possibility of achieving independence of all outer support and direction and of being able to give up the old chameleon-like behaviour. With profound interest and zest the training is now studied, and the attention arrested by the lives and teachings of the sages. These all point to the same goal, enlightenment and freedom from all limitations. A modern Yogi gives this advice in a poem:
The worldly friends can do nothing to aid you;
Do not entertain any hope of joy from them, either here or elsewhere:
The eternal realm is far more powerful than the temporal one,
Withdraw your wealth from here, and invest it there.
To invest one’s wealth of time and energy in the eternal realm means to follow a spiritual path whole-heartedly. No outer change is involved. The student of Yoga lives in the world, carries on his normal duties at home and at work, and nobody knows of his efforts to re-discover the Reality within. While studying he becomes acquainted with the spiritual laws which govern the universe. They contradict some of the unwritten laws followed by many, but they are found to be an unerring guide in practical affairs.
At an early stage in their training Dr. Shastri’s pupils were made familiar with the law of Dharma or universal harmony. The word dharma can also be translated as duty.
Dr. Shastri said: “The whole universe is under the law of righteousness called dharma or universal harmony. . . . Love is but one manifestation of this law, and beauty in any form, whether in music, rhythm or architecture is also a manifestation of the law of dharma which postulates one great force running in and through all men, creatures and objects. To recognise and apprehend this law is the first duty of every human being. The injunction of the great law-giver Manu was: “Dharma destroys those who destroy dharma, and righteousness will uphold and protect those who protect righteousness.”
This law emphasizes the unity of all life, and when followed no rivalry or hostility is possible. All human beings are looked upon as climbers on the path to enlightenment. The yogic student is a link in the chain; as he climbs one hand grasps the hand above, and the other one is stretched out to help the friend below.
The study of mind control, meditation, and the other methods leads to an increasing reliance on inner support and direction. This is accompanied by a loosening of the outer ties.
The more this Power is relied upon the more it will become manifest. For a long time the pupil does not entirely trust it. He is like someone who is learning to swim and can do so with the aid of water-wings. Afraid to give up their support he finds in time they become an impediment; he will not know his power until they are relinquished.
As the training progresses the inner direction becomes clearer. It is known to all as the still small voice, which at first can be drowned so easily by louder voices. If more and more attention is paid to it, the voice gains in clarity and strength.
Finally: “After training the pupil is joined to his Source and he moves through his life as a dancer moves through an intricate dance, responsive to the subtle rhythm of a music that he alonecan hear.”(Marjorie Waterhouse)
The inner state of the enlightened man who has attained true independence is known only to himself.
Swami Rama Tirtha from his own experience describes such a man.
“The hero is he who lives in the inward sphere of things, in the True Divine and Eternal which exists always, unseen to most, under the temporary, trivial, His being is in that, he declares that abroad by act and speech. His life is a piece of the everlasting heart of nature.”