Only when you can still your thoughts will you be able to overcome desires, and only after you have controlled your desires will you be able to conquer anger. Therefore, the first step in conquering desires and anger is to become free of the thought process.
Stilling the mind is an essential practice for both devotees and ordinary people, but, as has been taught in the Gita chapter on devotion, the calming of all thoughts is especially important for devotees. Thoughts are charged with energy and life. They can even be stronger than the strongest matter. You begin thinking right from the moment of birth. The material making up your thoughts is extremely subtle; it arises from the food you eat. Therefore, if you consume food that has been sanctified you will get only sacred thoughts.
When a person is filled with sacred thoughts all his actions will be sacred. His words will also be sacred. Such sacred thoughts are like a sword or a sharp knife. You can use sacred thoughts to search out dark thoughts, dark feelings and dark actions, and cut them to pieces. On the other hand, if you take in food that is not sanctified, dark feelings, dark actions and dark thoughts will flourish. Not only this, but because of unwholesome food you will weaken the body and lose the power of digestion, and suffer all sorts of bodily discomforts.
In the Gita the Lord has emphasized that for worldly prosperity as well as for developing the spiritual potential that is inherent in man, a strong and pure body is essential. For this it is important that only wholesome food be consumed and that it be sanctified by being offered to the Lord before it is eaten.
Thoughts and the thought process constitute the very form of the mind. If thoughts are turned towards the phenomenal world and the things related to it, then these thought processes become concerned with wealth and property, for these are the very basis of life in the phenomenal world. The word wealth usually refers to your worldly possessions and attachments, such as money, houses and land. Another form of wealth is your fame, your position and station in life. But the Gita does not consider either possessions or status as your real wealth. It declares that character is your wealth, good behavior is your wealth, and above all, knowledge of the supreme self is your true wealth.
Worldly name and fame, property and family are all ephemeral. They may disappear even while you are still alive. Calamity and misfortune may bring about the loss of name and fame, property and family. What is more, none of these will have any connection with you after your death. But good character, good behavior and all the noble qualities which they give rise to, will help you not only during your lifetime but also when this life is over. They will remain your steadfast companions forever. They will be by your side to help you gain the knowledge of your true self, and thereby reach the Lord and merge with him.
Your true fame does not depend on your physical beauty or your charm. It does not depend on your riches. It does not depend on your physical strength. It depends only on your good character. In the scriptures, you will find the story of Vishvamitra who, at that time, was a powerful and ruthless king obsessed with ego and pride in his physical prowess. One time, he decided to take revenge on the sage Vashishta. Of course, Vashishta based his strength only on divinity. He was a very great soul who was ever established in God-consciousness. He wore an invisible protective shield, the protection that comes from being immersed in the divine principle.
When attacked by the deadly arrows and missiles of Vishvamitra, the sage remained completely unruffled. The arrows that Vishvamitra launched towards Vashishta became utterly powerless, as if they were aimed at a mountain of stone. All the missiles Vishvamitra used broke into pieces the moment they touched Vashishta's body and fell harmlessly to the ground.
In fact, physical strength is really a kind of weakness. Only power which is based on divinity and has the strength of righteousness is true strength. When Vishvamitra realized this, he undertook severe penance so as to reach the same lofty spiritual state that Vashishta was always in. After engaging in prolonged austerities, Vishvamitra was finally able to acquire the knowledge of the divine and have Vashishta himself proclaim him a God-conscious sage.
The Kauravas, the evil cousins that Arjuna and the Pandavas had to encounter in the great war, together were one hundred brothers. The Kauravas had also based their strength on military might. In the end, all these brothers died in the war which they had fomented and not even a single son was left to perform the funeral rites for the parents, when the parents died. What a terrible fate that was. Instead of seeking divine help, the Kaurava brothers took refuge only in physical power, in money and in the strength of individuals. On the other hand, the Pandava brothers surrendered everything to Krishna, and sought only his grace.
When Arjuna fell at the feet of Krishna and surrendered to him, Krishna was very pleased and lifted him up, saying, "Get up, Arjuna. Real power lies in faith. In the end, justice will always triumph and selfishness will always perish; this is the one unchanging righteous truth that applies in every age." He assured Arjuna on the day of the battle that whoever takes refuge in the Lord will win the Grace of the Lord, and will be successful in whatever he undertakes. Whereas one who refuses the protection of the Lord will not be able to win his grace, and in the end, will surely fail and be destroyed.
If you aspire to earn the grace of the Lord, you have to control your worldly desires. All your activities in the phenomenal world have to do with the waking state. The results that arise from these activities are no more real than the results you get in dreams. The mansions and big bungalows you see in dreams vanish in a flash once you open your eyes and wake up. They are not real and were never real. The experiences of your dream state disappear in your waking state and the experiences of your waking state disappear in your dream state. And in your deep-sleep state they both vanish.
Krishna taught in the Gita that there are three worlds, the physical, the mental and the causal. The mental world is a subtle form of the physical world, and the causal world is an even subtler form of the mental world. Of these three inter-penetrating worlds of your waking, dream and deep sleep consciousness, the causal is the subtlest. It is all-pervasive. But beyond all these is the infinite Lord, the supreme principle of divinity. This divine principle is the subtlest of the subtle, the smallest of the small, but also the biggest of the big. Among the mighty ones, the divinity is the mightiest of all. There can be nothing greater. Seek him. Install him in your heart and be saved. Know that that mightiest of the mighty is your very self. This is the truth of divinity. This is your truth.
To reach the principle of Godhead, which is the goal supreme, you have to start your journey with the first stage of the path, wherein you consider yourself to be the servant or the messenger of God. This is the stage of dualism. Gradually you enter the stage of qualified non-dualism, the second major step on the spiritual path. Here you experience the divinity within yourself, in your own heart. At this stage you identify yourself very closely with the Lord. You will have the feeling, "God is within me. He is the one I truly am. I am he. I am he." Then, as you continue still further on the spiritual path, all duality will disappear completely and you will be left with only the I, the pure self, without any modifications or limitations.
This whole journey is a little like the healing process that takes place with a wound. Initially, a protective layer of hard skin forms over the wound. Eventually this covering falls off by itself as the wound heals. When both the feeling that you are the servant of the Lord and the feeling that you are one with the Lord, both of which cover the pure I, fall off, then you will be in the final stage of non-dualism. Then you are immersed in the one truth, I am I.
When you declare, "I am he, I am God," there is still some duality, because there are still two entities, I and God. So, this is still not complete non-dualism. At the very beginning, when you say, "O Lord, I am your servant," the Lord is separate and the servant is separate, and their status is clearly different. On the other hand, when you say, "I am God," although there is still a trace of duality, the distinction is not one of separate subject and object but more like seeing the reflection or image of yourself in a mirror.
Whenever people are different, when there are many separate entities, then there will also be many different images or reflections. But in the stage of qualified non-dualism, you see only your own image everywhere, because you are all there is. You are the one self being reflected as many images, just like the one sun is seen as separate images in a number of different water-filled pots. So, in the stage of qualified non-dualism, you are alone; there is none other. The only thing that still comes between you and the divinity is the mirror. You constantly perceive your own reflection, and so you see yourself as very near and very dear to the Lord - face to face with him.
But when you perceive only the one God who is all-pervasive, then where is the need for any image at all? Can there be a place where he is not? When the entire world is the mansion of the omnipresent Lord, then where should you look to find the door to enter his mansion? If there were a separate street and a separate house then there would have to be a door which opens onto the street; but in truth, there is no street at all. When the all-pervasive Lord is everywhere, how can there be any special place where you must seek him to find him? No, there is no special place where he resides.
Once you realize that he is everywhere at all times, then the true perception of the divinity is not that of an object whose reflection is seen in various places but the realization that there is only you, the one immortal self, abiding everywhere, present in everything in all its fullness. This all-pervasive perception of the divinity as the one without a second, is called non-dualism.
As part of their religious observances, people will sometimes say in their prayers, "O Lord, I am a sinner, my soul is full of sin, I have been performing so many sinful acts." But who is this person who is sinning? Can there ever be anyone who is separate from the Lord? Can such a one exist? These declarations about sinning and being a sinner are not good practices for devotees to engage in. Rather you should think, "In truth, I am God. I am not different from God. I am peace itself. I am love eternal. I am pure bliss without end." Keeping such lofty ideas and thoughts in your mind is the best way to reach the goal.
In the Gita, in the list of noble qualities that a devotee should possess, the Lord started with, "Be without hatred towards any living being." If you treat happiness and misery with an equal mind then the question of hatred does not arise at all. If you recognize that the same transcendental principle is embodied in all human beings as well as in all creatures, then there cannot be any room for hatred. If you realize that the one divinity resides equally in all, then how could you ever hate another? Where is the other? In this context, you might ask for whom the phrase, "Be without hatred towards any living being" is intended. Is it meant for those who have realized the one transcendental principle which exists equally in themselves and in everyone else? No, it is obviously not intended for them. This injunction is given for the sake of those who have not yet realized this great truth of the unity of all beings.
There is an extraordinary joy which you obtain when you immerse yourself in the attitude of being the servant of the Lord. You soon become filled with delight from having imbibed the Lord's sweetness, and you never want to leave that happy state. You come to the conclusion that if ever you were to move on from this feeling of being the servant to the state of "I am he", you would not be able to continue to enjoy the consummate sweetness of the Lord. Sugar does not know its own sweetness. You may be concerned that if you were to become one with the sugar you would no longer be able to enjoy its sweetness. Since you partake of the Lord's sweetness in the servant stage, you may prefer to remain in this stage so that you will always be able to taste the nectarine sweetness of the Lord, rather than being one with him.
For example, Hanuman, the great devotee of God, had the experience of extreme bliss arising from his unwavering attitude of "I am the servant of Lord Rama". But how long can such a feeling last? It can last only as long as you have the grace of the Lord and are near to him. If you were to ever become separated from him, then in all likelihood you would experience extreme anguish.
In the stage of qualified non-dualism, the question of suffering does not arise at all, because in that exalted state you are unceasingly with the Lord, and there is no possibility of experiencing any separation or suffering. In the servant stage there is the possibility of separation between the Lord and the servant, but in the second stage of qualified non-dualism there cannot be any discontinuity in the bliss since no possibility of separation can arise.
If you want to reach the ultimate truth of your being and be immersed in the bliss of your own divine principle, you need to develop complete control over your desires. The moment any thought arises, you should inquire into the nature of this thought. Ask yourself, "Is this thought desirable or is it harmful for my spiritual progress?" Devotees should be extremely careful right from the very beginning, to see to it that dark thoughts do not remain in their minds. For most people, it is impossible to remain without any thoughts at all. But, at least, when dark thoughts arise you can do something about it. Do not harbor them. Give them no shelter.
Immediately transform any dark thoughts into sacred ones. In the same way, see to it that you undertake only good actions, and take every opportunity to transform these actions into worship by consecrating them to the Lord. By transforming all thoughts into noble thoughts and all work into worship, you will naturally progress on the sacred path. By controlling your thoughts in this way, you will also be able to control any anger that might arise.
Quite a few people worry about anger, wondering what is the best way to control it when it comes on and tries to overwhelm them. The easiest way to control anger is this. The moment you become aware that anger is rising within you, just laugh very loudly. Or go to the bathroom and have a cool bath. You can also take a glass of cool water and relax in a cool place. The moment anger comes it is most helpful to leave the place where you are and go somewhere else. If with all these measures you still have not been able to control your anger, then stand in front of a mirror and examine your face. After seeing your appearance you will surely feel so much disgust that at once you will be able to control your anger.
One other thing you can do whenever anger comes is to inquire into the cause of this anger. Is it justified? Remember that if someone is going to be harmed in the process of your anger, you will be committing a sin, and that cannot possibly be good for you. To undertake all these methods will be quite difficult, but it is enough to remember not to let your tongue go into action immediately after you get angry and spill out a torrent of angry words. Take some time to think things over. In a number of ways anger weakens a person who is trying to undertake a spiritual practice. If you make some effort to control anger when it arises, these efforts will act to strengthen your body and purify your mind.
The Gita declared that a weak person can never gain self-realization. Therefore, in order to acquire the knowledge of your true self, it is most important that you gain full control over your attachments and hatreds, over your desires and anger. These pairs of opposites arise from the primary qualities of attraction and repulsion which are inherent in the human psyche as well as within all phenomenal things and beings. Attraction and repulsion are responsible for everything that makes up the world. They keep you bound to the world, and as long as you are preoccupied with the world, the light of truth will not shine for you. Therefore, this attraction and repulsion for things of the world must be banished from your heart. Then the knowledge of the true self can take root there.
When you have the sacred knowledge of the atma in your heart, you will be able to enjoy peace. That fragrance of peace will spread all around you and affect everyone you see and touch. On the other hand, if you are filled with dark feelings, dark thoughts and dark actions, these will pollute your heart and infect others with your poison. Whether good or bad, the thoughts that suffuse your heart and take shelter there, will spread to others around you, and these others will soon emanate the same feelings.
Sometimes there may be some difficulty in distinguishing good from bad. The real distinction is not in outer appearances and labels but in the inner purity and intentions. If you hold a rose in your right hand, which in the East is considered your sacred hand, the fragrance of the flower will not only reach you but also the people in the surrounding area. But even when you take the same rose and hold it in your left hand, which in the East is considered the unsacred hand, the rose will spread its sweet fragrance to all. You might make a difference between right and left, but for the fragrance there is no distinction whatsoever. It spreads to all who are near just as profusely from the unsacred hand as from the sacred one.
Likewise, whether you are a theist or an atheist, this relates only to your own feelings and beliefs. As far as God is concerned, if you have sacred thoughts and engage in good works and good words, then even if you are an atheist you will be dear to him. The Lord of the Gita declared, "Whoever he is, if he has control over his desires and anger, if he has subdued either his attraction or his abhorrence to people and things of the world, then he is very dear to me."
Indian philosophy has been classified according to those who believe in God and those who do not believe in God. But to the divinity, what counts are the qualities of men's character rather than their beliefs. Prahlada, who was the son of a demon king, was one of the greatest devotees of the Lord. He was put to great trouble by his father and his teachers who tried to impress on him their demonic traits. Although he was born a demon, Prahlada always displayed a noble and sterling character. And despite all the difficulties he was put to, Prahlada was able to continuously enjoy the bliss of his own immortal self, and know the presence of the Lord in his heart. Prahlada means the one who is continuously happy. So, if you go on thinking of the Lord continuously, these feelings of joy will shine forth with an effulgent splendor, and you will become one with God.
Right at the outset of your spiritual journey you have to make determined efforts to control your desires and anger, your attachments and hatred. This will permit the divine principle to shine forth from within you. Controlling desire and anger is a most important spiritual practice. It is the primary task of every devotee. If you succeed in controlling desire and anger, attachments and hatred, you will be able to justify your life and reach your goal. But if you allow them to remain within you, then whatever spiritual exercises you undertake will be wasted and your life too will become an utter waste.
* * *