If you want to reach the Lord and have a vision of him, the most important quality that you need to develop is detachment. Detachment endows you with the capacity to internalize your vision. Detachment allows you to introvert your mind and dwell on your inner beauty.
Once you recognize the defects and weaknesses in the objects of the world you soon lose your desire to possess them. The mind is very strong and fickle. It is also very obstinate. It is forever determined to get its way. Arjuna prayed to Krishna for help in controlling his mind. He lamented, "O Lord, the mind is very powerful and wayward." Krishna replied, "Arjuna, if you practice detachment you will certainly be able to control your mind."
The mind can be compared to a poplar tree. The poplar leaves are always shaking whether there is a wind or not. Similarly, the mind is always unsteady and wavering. In addition to its wavering quality the mind is also strong and stubborn. Take for example an elephant. It is very strong and it can be quite cruel, too. However with the help of a goad you can bring it under control. Likewise, the horse is rarely still. It is always moving its limbs, its ears, its head or its tail. Being unsteady, it will first go one way and then another. But with a bit, it can be controlled and made to go in the direction that the rider wants.
Another example is the monkey, which roams here and there, the very picture of unsteadiness and fickleness. But with training, it too can be brought under control. Therefore, just as with a goad you can control an elephant which may be very cruel and strong, just as with a bit you can control a horse which is nervous and unstable, just as with training even a monkey can be controlled, in the same way the mind, which is also strong and fickle, can be controlled by detachment and constant practice.
True detachment means realizing the temporary nature of objects and not allowing your mind to get attached to these transient things. It does not necessarily mean that you feel disgust or hatred for them. It means that you feel no mental attachment towards them. Totally giving up all the objects of the phenomenal world is not possible. However, you can give up your my-ness, your sense of possessiveness. Once you give that up, then you can go ahead and enjoy the various objects of the world. They will cause you no harm.
In the phenomenal world, every thing, every person and every object undergoes change. The world consists of six types of change: birth, growth, maturity, decline, degeneration and death. These are the changes to which all objects are subjected. To delude yourself into thinking that this transient impermanent world is permanent and become attached to the objects in it is very foolish indeed.
In the temple of Vishnu you will see statues and pictures of Garuda, the eagle. Similarly, in the temple of Shiva you will find statues and pictures of Nandi, the bull. And, in the temple of Rama, you will see a portrayal of Hanuman, the monkey. In all these depictions the concentration of each of these beings, Nandi, Garuda and Hanuman, is on the feet of the Lord; they see only the Lord, not the world. All of these demonstrate the right kind of attachment. Their attachment is to the Lord who is permanent. And their detachment is from the world which is transient. The significance of all these symbolic representations is that you should not care much for what is transient, but always concentrate and dwell on the permanent entity, which is the Lord himself.
Once you recognize the defects of objects, their transitoriness and impermanence, then you will gradually lose your desire to have them. There are a number of stories which show how emperors who had a lot of wealth at their disposal and possessed all the luxuries and properties one could dream of, did not derive much joy or peace of mind from them. In order to get peace of mind they would go to the forest and perform penance. From this they ultimately derived the satisfaction and inner solace for which they had been yearning.
Detachment involves more than just recognizing the defects and weaknesses in objects which results from their transitory nature. Detachment also involves the positive quality of getting the most out of the objects of the world. You should always strive to make the best use of an object and appreciate it for what it is. There is no point in just dwelling on the limitation and sorrow that objects of the world produce, but you should know to properly use objects to perform your duty in the world. Then you will acquire some satisfaction. In the larger sense, it is really giving up worldly sorrow and gaining the bliss of the supreme self that is true detachment. Giving up family, wife, children and properties and then going to the forest cannot be called detachment. Detachment is recognizing the weak aspects in the nature of the objects, as well as accepting their positive and strong points.
Whenever you get into difficulty, whether physical, mental, financial or any other type of problem, you may develop a sense of detachment towards the objects causing this state. This is quite natural. For example, suppose a person dies and his body is taken to the burning ground where it is cremated. When you look at such a situation you develop a particular type of detachment, philosophizing that the body has to come to an end some time or another. But this detachment is only a temporary phenomenon, a temporary feeling; it cannot be considered true detachment.
Another example is when a mother is delivering her first baby. Not being able to suffer the pain, she shouts that she would rather die. This also is not true detachment. As soon as the baby is born, suppose she has a girl, she immediately wants to get a boy the next time. A similar situation develops when someone does not get his wishes fulfilled. Here also he develops a certain type of detachment. All these attitudes are temporary. Permanent detachment is something quite different.
Permanent detachment is an intense detachment, as opposed to dull or weak detachment. For example, a person may have resolved to go on a pilgrimage to one of the holy places in India, but then there may be a strong tendency to postpone it to the next month. If it is a matter of doing something good such as going on a pilgrimage, one will tend to postpone it. On the other hand, if it is a matter of doing something bad, one prefers to do it right on the spot, without wasting any time. People usually will not make very great efforts to perform good deeds. This may be seen as a type of weak detachment which tends to postpone implementing good resolutions and performing good actions. But such behavior will not help you to reach your spiritual goal. It is intense detachment which is essential for progress on the spiritual path.
If you decide that a particular activity is good and sacred, you should not postpone it. You should immediately implement it and see to it that this good action is successfully carried out. This was the royal path laid down for all by the Buddha. Once Gautama Buddha realized that the body was impermanent, that none of the worldly things were going to last, he resolved to seek out and discover the unchanging truth. He gave up his family and his kingdom and went into the forest to realize the ultimate reality.
There was another great ruler who had an intense sense of sacrifice and detachment. His name was Harischandra. Although he was an emperor, through a series of unfortunate circumstances he lost everything he had in the world, his kingdom, his wife and family, and spent his days as caretaker of a cremation ground.
One day, when Harischandra first started performing his duties in the cremation ground, the corpse of a rich man was brought there by a large number of friends. They brought the body, set it on fire and immediately went back to their homes. Usually when a body is set on fire, a little weight is put on it. Otherwise, as soon as the heat comes, the body bends as if it was getting up, and then lies down again. Only Harischandra remained in the burning ground that day. No friends or relatives of the dead man stayed behind to keep a watch on the body. Harischandra went to get a little more fuel to put on the fire. Suddenly he saw the body lift itself up. He was surprised and went near it to have a closer look.
As Harischandra approached the pyre, he noticed that the body had by itself returned to a prone position. For an instant he thought that it was still alive as if sitting up to look for its relatives and friends, but then he realized that the whole episode was just a momentary illusion of a corpse appearing alive, caused by the heat of the fire. Harischandra thought to himself, "In the same way that I mistook this corpse to be alive, I thought this world to be real. But it is unreal, it gives only an illusion of reality."
Harischandra lamented that such a wealthy man whose corpse was brought there had no relatives or friends to stay with his body until the end. He thought, whatever may be the position and the riches of a person, not even his wife or children retain any attachment to him after his death. As a result of this experience, Harischandra developed an intense detachment towards the objects and forms of the world.
Every day, at every time, there will be changes occurring in all the objects of creation. These changes are not artificial, they are not imaginary, they are natural and inherent in the very nature of the objects. Once you recognize that the world is basically a stage for the continuous natural occurrence of changes, and that change is inherent in the very nature of the objects of the world, then you will become free from suffering. Anyone who realizes that there is a lethal toxin contained in the fangs of a poisonous snake will not casually go near it. If you see an approaching scorpion with its poisonous tail held up, ready to strike, would you not run away from it? Only a small, innocent child or a totally ignorant person would go near it, get stung and die.
You make every effort to avoid a poisonous creature because you know its harmful nature. In the same way, you would make every effort to avoid worldly attachments if you knew their harmful nature. The Lord taught in the Gita, that instead of undergoing all the sufferings that go with developing attachments and then getting disillusioned when the inevitable changes begin to happen, it would be far better from the very beginning to remain unattached towards the things and objects of the world. But now you go on planning many things and attaching yourself to many things in order to gain some short-term joys. You exhaust yourself thinking and planning, "I should do this, I should do that" or "I should do this instead of that" and get yourself involved in countless projects and activities. But you will have to bear the consequences of all these actions in the future.
The seeds you have sown by your actions will mature and you will reap the harvest of those seeds. If the seed belongs to one variety, you cannot expect to get back a different kind of result. Whatever acts you have indulged in, the appropriate fruits thereof will be given to you in the form of an invisible garland which is hung around your neck. When you are born from the womb of your mother, no garland can be seen. Neither a garland of pearls nor one of precious gemstones nor a necklace of gold will be visible around your neck. Nevertheless, there surely is a garland there. That garland is composed of the consequences of your past deeds which you have performed during your previous births. That garland given to you by the Creator will adorn your neck, although it will not be seen by the physical eyes.
The person who recognizes the truth, that for every action there will be a resulting consequence, will take up only good activities and will spend his life indulging only in actions that will earn him good results. This has been taught by the Gita as a spiritual exercise of particular importance to devotees. It leads eventually to developing indifference and detachment to the things of the world, and it results in the acquisition of true wisdom. Here is an example which illustrates this illusory nature of the world and the detachment you should have to it.
King Janaka had acquired extraordinary proficiency in the knowledge of God. He was called "the king devoid of body". In other words, he had been able to transcend body-consciousness. One particular night after dinner, he was discussing certain administrative problems with his ministers. He got back to his bedroom a little late. A meal had been set out for him but he did not touch it. He relaxed on a sofa while the queen massaged his feet. Soon the king fell asleep. The queen asked the various attendants present to leave the room and made sure that the king, who was extremely tired, would not be disturbed in his sleep. She covered him with a blanket and banked the light low, quietly remaining by his side.
Shortly afterwards, King Janaka quite suddenly opened his eyes, sat up, looked around incredulously at his surroundings, and in a most peculiar way began to ask, "Is this real or is that real? Is this the truth or is that the truth?"
The queen became a little frightened by his bewildered look and strange question. She tried to find out what exactly he was asking, but he would not explain or answer any of her queries. He just went on saying, "Is this the truth or is that the truth?" She called for the ministers, counselors and other important officials. They all assembled and began questioning the king. "Maharaja, what is your doubt? What exactly are you asking?" But the Maharaja would not respond to them. Finally the ministers brought the great Sage Vashishta to the court. Vashishta asked the king, "What are you asking? What is troubling you?" The king was replying to all the questions with the same query, "Is that the truth or is this the truth? Is this reality or is that reality?"
Sage Vashishta being omniscient closed his eyes and meditated for a while to find out the cause of the king's strange behavior. Vashishta realized that the king had suddenly awakened from a vivid dream in which he had forfeited his kingdom and found himself wandering lost, alone and despondent in a forest. He was feeling very hungry and also very tired and forsaken. As he wandered through that forest he kept shouting, "I am hungry, I am hungry." It happened that there were some robbers in that forest. Those robbers were just sitting down in a glade nearby to have their meal, eating from plates made of leaves. Taking pity on him, the robbers made themselves known and invited Janaka to join them, offering him a portion of their meal.
Just at that moment, a tiger came upon them and they all ran for their lives. The tiger helped himself to all the food. Again Janaka found himself staggering through the forest crying out, "O, I am so hungry. I am so very hungry." When he woke up he discovered he was in a palace, on a royal sofa by the side of the queen, with a silver tray filled with luxurious food and dainties sitting on the table nearby, and he began asking whether he was the starving, forsaken wretch begging food from robbers in a fearful forest or whether he was a king living in a sumptuous palace surrounded by all possible luxuries. "Is this true or is that true? Is this real or is that real?"
Maharishi Vashishta immediately recognized the king's confusion and said, "King Janaka, neither beggar nor emperor is real. You alone are real. You, yourself, are the truth. The you who was present as pure consciousness in the dream state playing the role of the beggar and who is present in the waking state playing the role of the king, this you who witnessed both these states, is your true reality. Life during the daytime is a day-dream, during the night it is a night-dream. They are both illusions. They are filled with defects and flaws because they constantly change from one thing to another; so they cannot be real. Only you who remain unchanged in all these states are real, free of all change and illusion."
This was also emphasized in the Gita, where Krishna pointed out the important truth that the world is constantly changing and that the atma alone is real and ever unchanging.
Detachment does not mean leaving behind everything to go to the forest and adopt the life of a renunciate. Penance does not refer to certain postures or bodily deprivations. Penance refers to the intense anguish you experience when you feel yourself separated from God. Whenever that anguish of separation is with you, wherever you may be, then you are engaged in penance. All worldly experiences are governed by combinations of the three attributes, inertia or chaos, action or reaction, and rhythm or calm. The anguish of penance with its intense aspiration for reaching God, takes you into a state of being which transcends these three worldly qualities. At that time, you will experience a deep inner serenity and unity of thought, word and deed.
Thought, word and deed are the causes of karma. They are called the instruments of action. It is the union of these three instruments of action which may be described as penance. When that union is complete there follows an ineffable joy, which is the very bliss of the atma. So true penance is the point at which the three instruments of action merge together into one and you experience the eternal delight of your immortal self.
Consider the following example. Every day you enjoy the benefits of electricity. In your room you may have an electric fan. There are three blades attached to the motor of the fan. If they were to rotate in three different directions you would not get much of a breeze. But when they rotate in unison, as if there were a single blade going around, then you can enjoy a very good flow of air from the fan. So, enjoyment of the cool breeze comes only when all the three blades are working together and rotate as one. In the very same way, when the three instruments of action, thought, word and deed, merge together and work as one, you can enjoy real bliss.
In this illustration your heart may be compared to the room containing the fan. The three instruments of action may be compared to the three blades of the fan. Your intellect may be thought of as the electric switch. Your spiritual power, the energy emanating from the supreme self, may be thought of as the electricity that energizes the fan. Your spiritual practice is the process of clarifying your intellect, and thereby turning on the switch. When the three instruments of action work together in harmony, just as the three blades of the fan go around together, then all your anguish becomes transformed into bliss. In this way, you can convert your life-force and your entire spiritual power into bliss.
Mankind has forgotten the ability to perform penance. When you let your vision roam in the temporary and transient world, your spiritual path spirals downward into inertia and stasis. When you concentrate your vision and your awareness on the permanent God, then you are practicing penance and your spiritual progress leaps ahead. If a door is locked and you want to open it, you must put the key inside the lock and turn it towards the right. Then it will open. But if you turn the key to the left, the lock remains closed. It is the same lock and the same key. The difference is in the way you turn the key. Your heart is that lock and your mind the key. If you turn your mind towards God, you get liberation. If you turn it towards the objective world, you remain in bondage. It is the same mind that is responsible for both liberation and bondage.
True renunciation is turning your mind towards God. It means constantly bringing your mind back from other thoughts to dwell on the permanent entity. Such mental detachment and sacrifice must be developed into a very intense feeling. You should not keep on postponing the practice to the next day, and then the day following that, and so on.
Suppose you expect to go to a marriage; you would keep certain clothes ready several days before the occasion. Or suppose you had a chance to go to the movies; then you will get ready very fast. Even for just going for a walk you make yourself ready in a trice. Well, if you cannot go to the cinema today you can easily postpone it to another day. If you do not go for a walk now you can always go another time. But the Lord's journey cannot be postponed or canceled. You must always be ready to accept whatever comes your way. Time waits for no one. Time does not follow man. Man has to follow time. Time flows on continuously and takes everything with it.
The Gita teaches you that you may enjoy the various objects of the world, but while enjoying them you should not get yourself attached to them, thinking that you possess them. This feeling of renunciation or detachment is one of the most essential aspects of the spiritual philosophy propounded in the Gita.
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