The Jiva is in a state of ignorance. The ignorance gives rise to error and illusion, but it does not alter the nature of the Self. It is like a cloud which covers the sun, and yet the sun shines in his full glory above the cloud. It is under the light of the sun that the cloud and its veiling effect is observed. The error is temporary and has no real existence, and yet it cannot be said to be non-existent. This is a mystery called Maya, and it is revealed only when the error is negated under illumination.
What is Maya? It is something which is comprehended only when it is negated, like a dream which veils the Self as the infinite consciousness-bliss, the only existence and truth. It is inferred from the erroneous experience such as “I am the body and the mind” or the belief that delight exists in the objects external to the Self, that pleasure and power can satisfy the soul. It is a feeling of the otherness of the world and other beings. We make friends, sacrifice our self-interest for the good of others or a cause. We look for love and peace. Under Maya we look for them in the world of the senses, in power and fanaticism.
This is the great illusion and error. It does not need very deep feeling to realize that this illusion is a source of grief and woe.
Man is striving to be happy and free. But he is disappointed. It is not in the time-spatial realm, neither in the world of relativity and causality. If this lesson is learnt once for all, man can be free and equanimous.
It is a pure mind which can know the spiritual truth, the nature of the Self. All duplicity, crookedness, hypocrisy and love of pleasure and power must give place to purity within and without. Any selfishness is a barrier to illumination. Strive to cut out selfishness and practise devotion — Upasana — with thy full heart. Half-hearted measures in the Yoga do not lead to peace. Love of pleasure, name and power is a cloud which cuts out the light of peace and the right determination. You must be as humble as a blade of grass. The practice of Upasana, the life of the Sangha and the study of philosophy are a sure help.
In the process of Upasana God is to be considered as determinate, personal and endowed with infinite power, light and grace, love and the desire to confer boons on his devotees. Still, in your deep consciousness, think that God is none other than your own Self and that he is to be sought in the soul.
Then follows meditation and contemplation on the Self as the Absolute. This is a higher stage of Upasana.
The purpose of the study of the Advaita of Shri Shankara is to tutor the mind in the right values of life. It is not to make a show of learning that we study. Humility is essential to the study of the Gita.
Early in the morning teach the mind the truth: the external objects have no real joy; delight is the property of the Self. Unless an external object uplifts the mind Godward and creates the spiritual longing, it is to be left alone. This is wise living. All infatuation and attachment are to be avoided. Hegel says that independence means to be your Self.
Let it be noted carefully that happiness is not a thing to be sought after, nor is spiritual happiness subject to achievement. In the Gita Shastra the extinction of all woe is attributed to the purity of the mind and the pursuit of truth. Hope of any personal happiness or the sure avoidance of suffering and woe is unspiritual and irrational. All that we have to do is to pursue Dharma and to follow the path of renunciation and contemplation. How can a real student of Sanskrit grammar love sleep or sense-enjoyment? When he has mastered grammar, he will have the subtle joys of the great literature, rhetoric and epic poetry. This delight follows in the course of nature when we have done our duty to God and man.
How silly is the expression of a modern Indian pseudo-Mahatma, who promises both Yogic tranquillity and sense-delights to his followers!
The region of sense-delight is purely instinctive, and man holds it in common with the lower animals. After a little exercise with the object of delight, it begins to wear off. It is often followed by a reaction. As it is not the real and natural source of delight, nature withdraws the tendency to cause pleasure and leaves man to follow the higher interests of life.
When a man tries to extract delight out of the sense-objects, he begins to be disappointed, and ultimately the delight, unless it is creative and produces inner tranquillity and elevation of the mind, turns into disgust.
A young man contracted the acquaintance of a young lady who was his classmate. He showed me with pride the long letters he received from her to which he responded with delight and extravagance.
There was nothing creative in their relationship, nothing soul-elevating. In a few months’ time the long letters were shortened into a few lines on a postcard.
In my boyhood everybody was reading the novels of George Reynolds, but they were soon forgotten. Such is the case with the novels of Marie Corelli. Their appeal is temporary and superficial; it does not motivate the moral sense.
Man is not only a bundle of instincts; his aesthetic sense is directly related to the higher beauty of the elevation of the heart to infinitude.
When asked why he did not talk of mathematics in which he had excelled so eminently in the university, Swami Rama Tirthaji replied:
“It has served its purpose by bringing my mind to God; it was a rung in the ladder which leads the mind to spiritual illumination.”
Unless we make our worldly friendships, our interest in art and literature, stepping-stones to inner tranquillity and eternal devotion to truth within, the objects will betray us.
Poetry is indefinable. A common definition of poetry is “emotion expressed rhythmically”. But mere rhythmic expression of emotion is not the type of poetry that appeals to us. The works of Friedrich Nietzsche are neither in rhythm, nor do they necessarily express an emotion, yet they are all poetry.
Many passages in the philosophy of Herbert Spencer can be called poetry. I think from this point of view Walt Whitman is not a poet because there is hardly any rhythm in his poetry. The language which creates a sense of beauty, which speaks of the flower-beds covered with the morning dew sparkling in the light of the dawn and which elevates the soul towards the eternity within can be called good poetry. Such poetry brings the soul to the proximity of truth within, and its impression is lasting.
My early education in poetry when I could hardly read Hindi was derived from the Ramayana of Tulsidas It has helped me during these seventy years and is not a wit less interesting today than it was in my childhood.
The human mind has an element of divinity in it, and if it is brought into prominence life becomes a pilgrimage; it acquires a meaning and a definite purpose.
The poetry which helps the mind in this idealism is really a great help to us morally and spiritually.
By love of poetry we acquire a love of nature, a love of truth, love of good behaviour and love of a saintly life. What is higher in life than this? It is for this purpose that I emphasize the importance of poetry reading.
Unless the wavering mind is curbed and focussed on truth and beauty, our life will run into waste. It is with this object that we love beauty in the form of rhythm, in the form of measured emotion, and in the form of truth reflected in high philosophy.
About forty-five years ago, in the drawing-room of Babu Harlal, a devoted adherent of Professor Tirath Ram Goswami, there was an inscription on a mirror which has haunted my memory ever since I saw it. It was a Persian verse which I still remember and which in translation is as follows:
“O my mind, do not be delighted in the joys and comforts of life; do not be melancholy over the griefs and sorrows of life. Remember that the mirror of the world which reflects the two phases of existence is never stationary. Sometimes it is this way and sometimes it is that way.”
Nobody can guarantee that the circumstances will continue the same even for a short while. Today Alexander is most popular as a friend with his soldiers; tomorrow in drunken fits he kills many of the innocent ones for no valid rhyme or reason.
We cannot have a conception of the fixity of the ideas or affection of anybody in the world very long. The wise know this fact and fix their attention on the eternity within, on the truth which knows no fluctuation, which is man’s own Self, and which is universal and infinite.
It is quite useless to complain of the ingratitude and unfaithfulness of a friend. The mirror of the world constantly changes its position. The wise fix their minds on truth and on beauty, not the beautiful, and take what comes like the showers from the highest over which only God has control and not man.
Much of the disturbance of life will be avoided, if the mind is set in equanimity, patience and endurance. This is the best practice of life.