Yearly Archives: 2014

31Dec/14

A Story of Initiation

Self Management – The Right Attitude to Work and Life
Nothing can be managed without first managing our own self. In modern management self-management means mainly management of the outer work-environment of the individual like for example time-management. In the Indian thought self-management means managing of our inner self. However, recent trends in management thought is veering towards this Indian concept of self-management. In an integral perspective both may be included in the ideal of self-management. But management of the inner self is or has to be the foundation for managing the outer environment. For, someone who cannot manage himself cannot manage others or the outer environment. Considering the crucial importance of this subject, we are opening a regular section, which provides practical guidance on self-management. By the word “practical” we mean not only methods and practices but also a clear understanding of the basic principles of self-management and taking the right inner attitudes to life, work and action.

We open this new section with a charming and profound story told by the Mother to children. Before telling the story, and also after it, Mother gives illuminating commentaries in the significance of the parable for the seeker of self-mastery.

This evening I am going to read to you a short story which seemed quite instructive to me. It is a tale of ancient times, of what used to happen before there were printing presses and books, of the days when only the Guru or the Initiate had the knowledge and gave it only to those he considered worthy of having it. And for him, usually, “to be worthy of having it” meant putting into practice what one had learnt. He gave you a truth and expected you to practise it. And when you had put it into practice, he consented to give you another.

Now things happen quite differently. Everybody and anybody can have a book, read it right through and he is quite free to practise it or not as he pleases. This is all very well, but it creates a certain confusion in many minds, and people who have read many books think that it is enough and that all sorts of miraculous things must happen to them because they have read books, and that they don’t need to take the trouble of practising. So they become impatient and say, “How is it that although I have read all this I am still just the same person, have the same difficulties, haven’t achieved any realisation?” I very often hear remarks of this kind.

They forget only one thing, that they have obtained the knowledge – intellectual, mental knowledge – before having deserved it, that is, before having put into practice what they have read, and that, naturally, there is discrepancy between their state of consciousness and the ideas, the knowledge they can speak about at length but which they haven’t practised.

So here’s my story:

Once upon a time there was a Mahatma who was a great ascetic and a great pandit. He was honoured by all, full of years and wisdom. His name was Junun. Many young boys, many young men used to come to him to receive initiation. They stayed in his hermitage, became pandits themselves, then returned home after a long and studious retreat.

One day a young man came to him. His name was Yusuf Hussein. The Mahatma agreed to let him stay with him without even asking who he was. Four years went by, thus, until one morning Junun sent for Yusuf and, for the first time, questioned him: “Why have you come here?” Without a second thought Yusuf answered: “To receive religious initiation.” Junun said nothing. He called a servant and asked him, “Have you prepared the box as I asked you?”

“Yes, Master, it is there, quite ready.”

“Bring it without further delay,” said Junun.

With great care the servant placed the box before the Mahatma. He took it and gave it to Yusuf: “I have a friend who lives there on the banks of the river Neela. Go and take this box to him from me. But take good care, brother, don’t make any mistake on the way. Keep this box carefully with you and give it to the man whom it is for. When you come back I shall give you initiation.” Once again the Mahatma repeated his advice and described the route Yusuf had to follow to reach the river Neela. Yusuf bowed down at his Guru’s feet, took the box and started on his way.

The retreat where the Mahatma’s friend lived was quite far away and in those days there were no cars or railways. So Yusuf walked. He walked the whole morning, then came the afternoon. The heat was intense and radiated everywhere. He felt tired. So he sat down in the shade of an old tree by the roadside to rest a little. The box was very small. It was not locked. Besides, Yusuf had not paid attention to it. His Guru had told him to carry a box, and he had started off without another word.

But now, during the afternoon rest, Yusuf began to think. His mind was free to wander with nothing to occupy it…. It would be very rare indeed if on such occasions some foolish idea did not cross the mind…. Thus his eyes fell on the box. He began to look at it. “A pretty little box!… Why, it does not seem to be locked…. And how light it is! Is it possible that there is anything inside? So light…. Perhaps it is empty?” Yusuf stretched out his hand as though to open it. Suddenly he thought better of it: “But no…. Full or empty, whatever is in this box is not my concern. My Guru asked me to deliver it to his friend, nothing more. And that’s all that concerns me. I should not care about anything else.”

For some time Yusuf sat quietly. But his mind would not remain quiet. The box was still there before his eyes. A pretty little box. “It seems quite empty,” he thought, “what harm would there be in opening an empty box?… If it had been locked I would understand, that would be bad…. A box which is not even locked, it can’t be very serious. I’ll just open it for a moment and then shut it again.”

Yusuf’s thought turned round and round that box. It was impossible to detach himself from it, impossible to control this idea that had crept into him. “Let me see, only a quick glance, just a glance.” Once again he stretched out his hand, drew it back once more, then again sat still. All in vain. Finally Yusuf made up his mind and gently, very gently, he opened the box. Hardly had he opened it than pfft! a little mouse jumped out… and disappeared. The poor mouse all stifled in its box did not waste a second in leaping to freedom!

Yusuf was bewildered. He opened his eyes wide and gazed and gazed. The box lay there empty. Then his heart started throbbing sadly: “So, the Mahatma had sent only a mouse, a tiny little mouse…. And I couldn’t even carry it safe and sound to the end. Indeed I have committed a serious fault. What shall I do now?”

Yusuf was full of regrets. But there was nothing more to do now. In vain he went round the tree, in vain he looked up and down the road. The little mouse had actually fled…. With a trembling hand Yusuf closed the lid and in dismay resumed his journey.

When he reached the river Neela and the house of his Master’s friend, Yusuf handed the Mahatma’s present to him and waited silently in a corner because of the fault he had committed. This man was a great saint. He opened the box and immediately understood what had happened. “Well, Yusuf,” he said, turning to the young aspirant, “so you have lost that mouse…. Mahatma Junun won’t give you initiation, I am afraid, for in order to be worthy of the supreme Knowledge one must have a perfect mastery over one’s mind. Your Master clearly had some doubts about your will-power, that is why he resorted to this little trick, to put you to the test. And if you are not able to accomplish so insignificant a thing as to keep a little mouse in a box, how do you expect to keep great thoughts in your head, the true Knowledge in your heart? Nothing is insignificant, Yusuf. Return to your Master. Learn steadiness of character, perseverance. Be worthy of trust so as to become one day the true disciple of that great Soul.”

Crestfallen, Yusuf returned to the Mahatma and confessed his fault. “Yusuf,” he said, “you have lost a wonderful opportunity. I gave you a worthless mouse to take care of and you couldn’t do even that! How then do you expect to keep the most precious of all treasures, the divine Truth? For that you must have self-control. Go and learn. Learn to be master of your mind, for without that nothing great can be accomplished.”

Yusuf went away ashamed, head down, and from then on he had only one thought: to become master of himself…. For years and years he made tireless efforts, he underwent a hard and difficult tapasya, and finally succeeded in becoming master of his nature. Then, full of confidence Yusuf went back to his Master. The Mahatma was overjoyed to see him again and find him ready. And this is how Yusuf received from Mahatma Junun the great initiation.

Many, many years went by, Yusuf grew in wisdom and mastery. He became one of the greatest and most exceptional saints of Islam.

(Mother speaks to the children.) So, this is to tell you that you must not be impatient, that you must understand that in order to really possess knowledge, whatever it may be, you must put it into practice, that is, master your nature so as to be able to express this knowledge in action

All of you who have come here have been told many things; you have been put into contact with a world of truth, you live within it, the air you breathe is full of it; and yet how few of you know that these truths are valuable only if they are put into practice, and that it is useless to talk of consciousness, knowledge, equality of soul, universality, infinity, eternity, supreme truth, the divine presence and… of all sorts of things like that, if you make no effort yourselves to live these things and feel them concretely within you. And don’t tell yourselves, “Oh, I have been here so many years! Oh, I would very much like to have the result of my efforts!” You must know that very persistent efforts, a very steadfast endurance are necessary to master the least weakness, the least pettiness, the least meanness in one’s nature. What is the use of talking about divine Love if one can’t love without egoism? What is the use of talking about immortality if one is stubbornly attached to the past and the present and if one doesn’t want to give anything in order to receive everything?

You are still very young, but you must learn right away that to reach the goal you must know how to pay the price, and that to understand the supreme truths you must put them into practice in your daily life.

The Mother, Sri Aurobindo Ashram

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31Dec/14

The Secret of Creative Work

In this talk delivered in London, a famous Indian Yogi brings out the inner foundations of creative action.

I have been asked to say something about the practical position of the Vedanta philosophy. As I have told you, theory is very good indeed, but how are we to carry it into practice? If it be absolutely impracticable, no theory is of any value whatever, except as intellectual gymnastics. The Vedanta, therefore, as a religion must be intensely practical. We must be able to carry it out in every part of our lives. And not only this, the fictitious differentiation between religion and the life of the world must vanish, for the Vedanta teaches oneness – one life throughout. The ideals of religion must cover the whole field of life, they must enter into all our thoughts, and more and more into practice. I will enter gradually on the practical side as we proceed. But this series of lectures is intended to be a basis, and so we must first apply ourselves to theories and understand how they are worked out, proceeding from forest caves to busy streets and cities; and one peculiar feature we find in Upanishad is that many of these thoughts have been the outcome, not of retirement into forests, but have emanated from persons whom we expect to lead the busiest lives – from ruling monarchs.

Shvetaketu was the son of Âruni, a sage, most probably a recluse. He was brought up in the forest, but he went to the city of the Panchâlas and appeared at the court of the king, Pravahana Jaivali. The king asked him, “Do you know how beings depart hence at death?” “No, Sir.” “Do you know how they return hither?“ “No, Sir.” “Do you know the way of the fathers and the way of the gods?” “No, Sir.” Then the king asked other questions. Shvetaketu could not answer them. So the king told him that he knew nothing. The boy went back to his father, and the father admitted that he himself could not answer these questions. It was not that he was unwilling to answer these questions. It was not that he was unwilling to teach the boy, but he did not know these things. So he went to the king and asked to be taught these secrets. The king said that these things had been hitherto known only among kings; the priests never knew them. He, however, proceeded to teach him what he desired to know. In various Upanishads we find that this Vedanta philosophy is not the outcome of meditation in the forests only, but that the very best parts of it were thought out and expressed by brains which were busiest in the everyday affairs of life. We cannot conceive any man busier than an absolute monarch, a man who is ruling over millions of people, and yet, some of these rulers were deep thinkers.

Everything goes to show that this philosophy must be very practical; and later on, when we come to the Bhagavad-Gita – most of you, perhaps, have read it, it is the best commentary we have on the Vedanta philosophy – curiously enough the scene is laid on the battlefield, where Krishna teaches this philosophy to Arjuna; and the doctrine which stands out luminously in every page of the Gita is intense activity, but in the midst of it, eternal calmness. This is the secret of work, to attain which is the goal of the Vedanta. Inactivity, as we understand it in the sense of passivity, certainly cannot be the goal. Were it so, then the walls around us would be the most intelligent; they are inactive. Clods of earth, stumps of trees, would be the greatest sages in the world; they are inactive. Nor does inactivity become activity when it is combined with passion. Real activity, which is the goal of Vedanta, is combined with eternal calmness, the calmness which cannot be ruffled, the balance of mind which is never disturbed, whatever happens. And we all know from our experience in life that that is the best attitude for work.

I have been asked many times how we can work if we do not have the passion which we generally feel for work. I also thought in that way years ago, but as I am growing older, getting more experience, I find it is not true. The less passion there is, the better we work. The calmer we are, the better for us, and the more the amount of work we can do. When we let loose our feelings, we waste so much energy, shatter our nerves, disturb our minds, and accomplish very little work. The energy which ought to have gone out as work is spent as mere feeling, which counts for nothing. It is only when the mind is very calm and collected that the whole of its energy is spent in doing good work. And if you read the lives of the great workers which the world has produced, you will find that they were wonderfully calm men. Nothing, as it were, could throw them off their balance. That is why the man who becomes angry never does a great amount of work, and the man whom nothing can make angry accomplishes so much. The man who gives way to anger, or hatred, or any other passion, cannot work; he only breaks himself to pieces, and does nothing practical. It is the calm, forgiving, equable, well-balanced mind that does the greatest amount of work.

Swami Vivekananda

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24Dec/14

Steering our Sustainable Evolution I Rethinking Nature

A deeper and higher vision of Nature based on Indian spiritual perspectives.

Ecological awareness is an inherent and inbuilt instinct in the ancient mind. It is a religious instinct based on reverence and worship of the sustaining source of their life. In some of the more mentally and spiritually advanced cultures like India and China, this ecological instinct developed further into an aspiration to understand and live in conscious attunement with the laws and rhythms of universal Nature. Modern ecology is only a partial recovery of this ancient wisdom at the physical level. Partial because, in the ancient Indian and Chinese thought, Nature is not only physical, but also psychological and spiritual. Man is a part of Nature not only physically but also psychologically and spiritually. Nature is not only our material Mother from whom we draw all the physical energies needed for our material and economic development but also our eternal divine Mother of the world who is the source of all energies in Man and Universe, in all levels of existence – physical, psychological and spiritual. Each part or level of our human organism physical, vital, mental and spiritual derives its energy from the corresponding levels or planes of the Cosmic Nature and is governed by its own unique set of laws. Thus, there is a greater and a more integral ecology beyond the ecology of the physical Nature which remains yet to be explored. The aim of this integral ecology is to arrive at a holistic understanding of the laws of human and universal Nature in all the dimensions material, psychological and spiritual and explore their mutual interactions, similarities, differences and correspondences and their practical implications for human well-being and progress.

This cannot be done entirely by the scientific and rational mind. We must have the spiritual intuition of the seer, sage and the mystic. If we don’t have it, we have to draw upon the spiritual wisdom of the past and present and based on it, use our rational, scientific and pragmatic mind to arrive at a flexible framework of thought and practice, action and application.

So neither a superstitious reverence and worship nor an arrogant and heartless exploitation can be the right attitude to Nature. The divine Teacher in the Indian scripture Bhagavat Gita gives the highest value to the “Knowing Lover”. So in our attitude to Nature we have to combine knowledge and devotion, which means a synthesis of an aesthetic, emotional and spiritual devotion to the divinity and beauty in Nature and an understanding attunement and obedience to the laws and purpose of Nature. So the attitude of modern ecology, which is that of understanding and attunement, is part of the spiritual attitude to Nature. But this understanding has to be widened and deepened to embrace all the dimensions of Nature and it has to be synthesized with the attitude of the deeper heart of the artist, lover and devotee. One of the main causes of the present environment crisis facing our modern civilization is the loss or lack of the sense of reverence and sacredness of Nature: As the Brazilian environmentalist Josi A. Lutzenberger states:

“Most important and certainly most difficult of all is the necessary rethinking of our cosmology. The anthropocentric world-view westerners inherited from our remote Judeo-Christian past has allowed our technocrats and bureaucrats and most simple people, too, to look at Planet Earth as if it were no more than a free storehouse of unlimited resource to be used, consumed and wasted for even our most absurd or stupid whims. We have no respect for creation. Nothing in nature is, nothing except us, humans, has sufficient inherent value…. Mountains can be razed, rivers turned around, forest flooded or annihilated, unique life forms or whole living systems eliminated without qualms or patented for personal or institutional power.”

But mere thinking, understanding or “love” without corresponding actions is ineffective for sustainable development. One of the positive features of the modern environmental movement is that it not only insists on awareness and understanding of the laws of Nature but also emphasis that this awareness has to be translated into appropriate decisions and actions which help in preserving the purity of the environment or in other words, I must do whatever I can within my capacity to preserve the environment.

For example if I say I am a lover of Nature and travel in a car which causes the highest pollution, then my “love” for nature is only an ignorant sentiment. If I am a true lover of Nature, I will buy a car only when it becomes a real need. Before buying I will make an extensive research and enquiry to know which of the available car models or brands are the most environment-friendly in terms of petrol consumption and emission, and I will buy this model or brand even if it costs a little more than other models. I will use the car only for long-distance journey and for shorter sojourns I will either walk or use a cycle. Similarly, as far as possible, I will not use products which cause maximum damage to the environment and I will not buy goods or services of companies which are insensitive to their ecological responsibility. As the environmental activist Alan Sasha Lithman points out:

“What good is it, after all, to attend conferences or workshops on global warming, the control of CO2 emissions on renewable energy systems, grasping the conceptual level of the problem, if we drive to those meetings in gas-guzzling dinosaurs?”

M.S. Srinivasan

The author is a Research Associate at Sri Aurobindo Society and on the editorial board of Fourth Dimension Inc. His major areas of interest are Management and Indian Culture.

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24Dec/14

Steering our Sustainable Evolution II Rethinking Development

The next to rethinking Nature which we have discussed in our earlier article, the other important task is to rethink the aims and values of development.

This rethinking is already happening in economics and in the environmental movement. One of the most forceful exponent of this new thinking in economics is the Swedish economists E. F. Schumacher. In his well-known and influential book “Small is Beautiful” Schumacher presents a powerful critique of the traditional paradigms of development based on endless material growth and consumption. He calls modern humanity to return to the eternal values of truth, beauty and goodness and to Buddhist economics which aims at “maximum well-being with minimum consumption” and a work-culture where there is less toil for acquiring more and more material wealth and as a result “more time and strength is left for artistic creativity.”

Commenting on the biblical passage “seek first the kingdom of God, all else will be added on to you”, Schumacher argues that the modern humanity, afflicted with maladies like “terrorism, genocide, breakdown, pollution, exhaustion”, is in such a condition that “unless you seek first the kingdom of God, these other things which you need will cease to be available to you”. In the concluding paragraph of his book, Schumacher delivers the following message to modern humanity:

“The type of realism which behaves as if the good, the true, beautiful were too vague and subjective to be adapted as the highest aims of social and individual life or the automatic spin-offs of the successful pursuit of wealth and power, has been aptly called ‘crack-pot realism’… People ask ‘What can I actually do’. The answer is as simple as it is disconcerting; we can each of us, work to put our own inner house in order. The guidance we need for this work cannot be found in science or technology – but it can be found in the traditional wisdom of mankind.”

In the field of Environment also some thinkers have come to a more or less same conclusion as Schumacher. One of them is Dr. Maurice Strong, a former chief of the UN Environmental Agency, who states:

“We desperately need a new body of ideas, a new synthesis. This must centre on the need for a new attitude towards growth…. It will require a major transition to a less physical kind of growth, relatively less demanding of energy and raw materials. It will be one, which is based on an increasing degree on the satisfaction of people’s intellectual, moral and spiritual needs and aspirations in such fields as culture, music, art, literature and other forms of individual self-development and fulfillment. These are the areas in which man can achieve his highest level of growth in human terms.”

Interestingly Sri Aurobindo, looking at human evolution from a deeper and broader spiritual perspective had come to a similar conclusion when he wrote in one of his early writings: “In the next great stage of human progress, it is not a material, but a spiritual, moral and psychic advance that has to be made” or in other words development of Consciousness. If this view is accepted, then the future of sustainable development lies not in economics, technology or even in ecology but in applied psychology and spirituality, which will lead to the moral psychological and spiritual development of humanity. This means priorities of sustainable development have to shift from material, economic and ecological sustainability to psychological and spiritual sustainability. This will not be difficult because there is a much greater affinity between ecology and spirituality than between ecology and economics. Ecology and inner development can be a mutually reinforcing combination.

Inner development in the psychological and spiritual domain can lead to a deeper and inner communion with Nature, which in turn can bring a deeper suprascientific insight into the physical as well as the supraphysical dimensions of Nature. Similarly, a disinterested pursuit of the study of ecology or the ecological paradigm in thought, feeling and action can lead to an inner contact with the universal intelligence or consciousness behind physical Nature, which can open the doors to spiritual consciousness. And the modern science of ecology has discovered two great spiritual principles at the physical level. First is the unity of Man and Nature, and second is the connectedness and the interdependence of human life.

If the outer life of humanity is organized according to these principles, with a clear understanding of the moral and practical implications of these principles, then it will create a favourable outer environment for the inner, moral and spiritual development of humanity. Let us now briefly summarize the positive consequences of this inner development for arriving at an enduring solution to the ecological and economic problems confronting our planet.

Benefits of the Evolutionary Paradigm

As the human consciousness grows inwardly and feels more and more the deeper and purer joy of inner fulfillment it will act against the desire for a gross external fulfillment through an increasing material consumption. When I am inwardly fulfilled I don’t buy whatever I can afford nor do I crave for what I don’t have. I buy only what I need and the rest of my earning I spend either for my inner growth or give it for the realization of a higher ideal which I believe will lead to a greater well-being of the community or humanity as a whole. Similarly as we grow in our mental, moral, aesthetic consciousness we will feel an enlightened and spontaneous sense of ecological and social responsibility based not only on the scientific understanding of the ecology of Nature but flowing from an emotional empathy and aesthetic feeling for Nature, life and people around us.

As we grow into the deeper and inner layers of our psychological and spiritual being it will activate in us intuitive faculties of consciousness beyond the scientific and rational mind. This will reveal to us the deeper and higher psychological and spiritual dimensions of Nature and their laws and process, which the scientific and rational mind cannot perceive. In fact, even in the domain of material nature, can the modern scientific mind say it knows fully the totality of physical Nature? For example does it know fully what are the ecological consequences of splitting an atom or slicing or altering a gene? No true scientific mind will be so arrogant to make such a statement. As we ascend into the deeper and higher levels and acquire new intuitive faculties we will get a more total and holistic insight into unity, harmony and interdependence of life and Nature and as a result, better understanding of the consequences of our decisions and action.

When the scientific, technological, professional and managerial mind of humanity acquires these higher intuitive faculties beyond the scientific and the rational mind, many of the problems related to environment, energy, economics or development, will find a quicker and better solution.

And finally when the human consciousness grows more and more into the unity-consciousness of the spirit, in which we can feel our oneness with all existence, it will lead to an unprecedented level of cooperation and harmony among humanity. And no problem, in whatever domain it may be, can stand against the harmonious and focused assault of the creative energy of the human spirit. The spiritual intuition will also reveal the deepest and highest spiritual truths of Man, Nature and God in their perfect unity and harmony. This will lead to a rediscovery of the ancient wisdom which saw and adored Nature as a living Goddess and the divine Mother of us all and an altogether new paradigm of spiritual ecology.

The Path to Sustainable Evolution

This brings us to the pragmatic question: how to achieve this higher evolution? The path involves three steps. First of all we have to evolve a synthesis of the spiritual wisdom of humanity with the modern secular values of liberal humanism, science, ecology and environmentalism. Second is to build an outer economic, social and political organization based on this synthesis. Third, and the most important, is a system of education, which can internalize the values of this synthesis in the consciousness of the people. This cannot be done entirely by the present system of mental education. We have to evolve a new system of education by which higher values like Unity of Man and Nature are not merely thought and felt as an idea or sentiment but become concrete experiential realities of consciousness, felt as concretely as we feel our body. There is a system of knowledge or science, which can provide the basis for such an experiential education. It is the ancient Indian science of Yoga.

M.S. Srinivasan

The author is a Research Associate at Sri Aurobindo Society and on the editorial board of Fourth Dimension Inc. His major areas of interest are Management and Indian Culture.

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