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I’ve never heard that before…   7/29/2011 2:54:05 AM

I was in Coimbatore on June 18th 2011 to join in the three-day celebration of Swami Dayananda Saraswati’s living through 1000 full moons. The day before the big event I, together with my teacher, Swamini Atmaprakasananda, two young married friends and their uncle left the hubbub of town and headed towards the early morning cloud-covered hills of Anaikatti – the young man wanted Swami Dayanandaji’s advice on how to live with the news that at the tender age of 33, at the height of success in his career, the oncologist’s prognosis was that there was nothing more that could be done to stop the spread of terminal cancer.


By the time we arrived, the gurukulam was buzzing with visitors that had also come from all corner of the globe for the celebration: more saffron robes than usual were dotted among the bahmacharin whites, the sound of morning prayers from the Dakshinamurti temple drifted through the trees as we hurried towards Swamiji’s dwelling to be on time for our appointment. The outer hall was already filling with visitors hoping for an opportunity to see the great man: to offer gifts, to tell their sad stories, to get his blessing or just pay obeisance. We were immediately ushered into the room where Swamiji met visitors.


Introductions made, first cursory questions about the couple asked, there followed a lull in the conversation. In Swami Dayananda’s presence a lull in the conversation doesn’t convert into an embarrassed silence. We lapped up the silence till Swamini Atmaprakasananda broke it with words of praise for the courage of the girl and of admiration for the way she had looked after her husband throughout his illness. With bowed head the girl listened. And then her tears welled up and dropped to the mat that had surely been wetted by untold numbers of similar tears. That’s when the daya (compassion) of the name Dayananada flooded the room, clearing minds, calming hearts. And the teaching began.


“Everybody dies before they have exhausted the prárabdha that has been allocated for their lifespan,” were Swamiji’s opening words. This was a view of prárabdha I’d never encountered before (a view subsequently confirmed by Swamini who said that in all her time with Swamiji she had never heard him speak this way about prárabdha, and she doubted whether anyone else would have heard what we heard).


He explained that prárabdha is allocated in such quantity as can be exhausted by leading a good, dharmic life, one that is in conformity with universal common sense values, and by one who is large-hearted, mature, etc. But everything we do, from the food we eat to the company we keep and the desires we follow all conspire to cut short the life. These are all will-based choices, the choices available to a human being endowed with free will. There is nothing to beat oneself up about these choices: we helplessly make them.


Right from childhood, the patterns have been established by the choices of parents who, themselves, were acting helplessly and not necessarily in the child’s best interest. The whole ritual section of the Vedas, including the section on worship, has been given as a model for righteous action. Following a karma yoga lifestyle (for those of us who work in the world) is the only way to not shorten the lifespan before its allotted time, before prárabdha has been exhausted.


“Is there anything that Swamiji can recommend me to follow in my situation?” the young man asked.


‘Doing what’s needed to find a suitable treatment, and prayer are the two things,” was the answer.


Swamiji explained that prayer cannot extend the lifestyle beyond what is allocated, but could have the effect of clawing back some of the time that would have been cut short by every adharmic action of the life thus far.


The effect of understanding prayer in this way makes a lot more sense to a mind that was not inclined towards prayer. Prayer does not get one things that are unlawful: we can’t sit idly, for example, and pray to be granted a huge bank balance or the skill of a great musician. Prayer cannot extend the lifespan, but it can only recover some of the time wasted. To that extent it would have been like the doctor’s recommended chemotherapy in the case of the young man: it wouldn’t kill the cancer, but would stop it spreading too far and too fast. Prayer, however, does not have any unpleasant side-effects.





As a side note, during this same talk Swamiji let out another secret that was also news to me. It was why the Indian cricket team always beat foreign team that came to play in India.

When explaining to the young man that he should be careful about what he ate and drank, Swamiji advised him to drink bottled water only because quite a lot of germs were spread though polluted water. He then went on to explain that foreign visitors were quite good about drinking bottled water but then thought it safer to eat salads instead of curries.

“Big mistake,” said Swamiji. “You never now what sort of water was used to wash the salads. So these fellows come along and eat salads and then facing the first bowler are so distracted by the thought of their stomachs that the simplest ball takes the wicket!”


I bet not many cricket followers knew the connection between salad eating and losing!


Incidentally, this joke telling is one of Swami Dayananda’s great teaching tools. The cricket and salad story had everyone in the room doubled up with laughter – cancer was forgotten, tears had stopped. That’s when – when all defences were down – he slipped in the teaching on prárabdha and prayer. With nothing in the way, the chances of the words being heard were that much greater.


May Swami Dayananda see many many more full moons. 


It appears that people drawn to Vedanta and Advaita tend to fall into two broad camps: those that wish to be told how to live their lives and those that trust that knowledge itself will do the trick. The former group is by far and away the largest and that’s why so many charismatic vedanta gurus, satsang teachers, religious leaders, philosophy schools, yoga classes and the like can proliferate.


People are happy to be told either to continue as they are because there is nothing to do, or all is perfect whatever they do, or they need to walk round mountains, or stare into crystals, or run around doing dynamic meditation, or having Tantric sex, or dressing like Victorian ladies and gentlemen, or dressing like monks, or going to confession, or doing all sorts of things that they are told would improve them. In marked contrast there are those who believe that simply studying the scriptures with a teacher is all that’s needed.


What’s the correct view? I thought it best to examine the acme of teacher-student relationship – that between Bhagavan Sri Krishna and the Prince Arjuna – to see what happened there. Did the teacher impart detailed instructions on lifestyle? What were the do’s and don’ts (if any) that were enjoined? What was the relationship (if any) between lifestyle and knowledge?


To do this I scanned through the Gita text to see how many of Bhaganan Sri Krishna’s words were expressed in the injunctive case: “Do this!” instead of “The wise do this”. Of the 700 verses only around 50 contained direct injunctions. And even these fell into just 5 clusters:
> fight/don’t grieve;
> don’t let the fruit of action drive your behaviours/transcend likes and dislikes; 
> do your duty; 
> be devoted to the Lord; 
> be alert / resort to knowledge.

Close in spirit to a direct injunction is advice, characterised by words like ‘you should/should not’… or ‘you need to know’.


Apart from these 5 direct instructions, the rest of the Gita simply states the facts about how things are in reality, how the enlightened ones behave, how they act, how they worship, what they know. The five enjoined behaviours prepare the mind to hear these descriptions. A mind that is full of fear and unwillingness to fight, for example, cannot know the truth. A mind that is driven by likes and dislikes cannot know the truth. Nor could a mind that does not follow duty, or worship the Lord, or listen and learn.


Here is what I found. Please feel free to add any direct – not implied – instructions that I may have missed.




2.3             Yield not to impotence, O Pártha, its does not become you. Cast off this petty weakness of heart! Stand up, O scorcher of foes!

2.14            … pleasure and pain, have a beginning and an end; they are impermanent; endure them bravely...

2.18            … Therefore fight, O Bhárata.

2.37            Slain, you will obtain heaven; victorious you will enjoy the earth; therefore, stand up, O son of Kunti, determined to fight.

2.38            Having made alike pleasure and pain, gain and loss, victory and defeat, engage in battle!

2.45            ... be free from the sorrows of the pairs of opposites...

3.30            ... with the mind ever centred in the Self... fight!

4.42            ... Stand up O descendant of Bhárata!

7.7              Therefore, at all times, remember me and fight...

11.33           Therefore stand up and achieve fame, conquer the enemies...

1I.34            Do not hesitate! Kill! Fight! You shall conquer the enemy.

11.49           Have no fear or confusion on seeing this terrible form of Mine. Be again freed from fear and cheered at heart...

16.5              ... Grieve not, O Pártha, you are born with divine qualities.

16.66            ... Grieve not.



II.25            This Self is said to be Unmanifest, Unthinkable and Unchangeable. Therefore, knowing this as such, you should not grieve.

II.26            But even if you think of Him as being constantly born and constantly dying, O mighty armed, you should not grieve.

II.27            Indeed, certain is death for the born, and certain is birth for the dead. Therefore, over the inevitable, you should not grieve.

II.30            This, the embodied Self, is eternally indestructable in the body of all, O Descendent of Bharata. Therefore, you should not grieve                         for anyone.






2.45            … transcend these three Gunas... be indifferent to the pairs of opposites... be free from all thoughts of acquisition and    preservation...

2.48            Perform action, O Dhananjaya, abandoning attachment...

3.9              Perform action for that purpose (sacrifice), O son of Kunti, free from attachment.

3.19            Therefore always perform actions that should be done, without attachment...

3.30            ... be free from desire and possession, free from fever...

3.41            ... kill this sinful thing (desire), the destroyer of knowledge and wisdom.

3.43            ... slay the enemy in the form of desire, difficult though it is to conquer.

12.11           … taking refuge in Me, self-controlled, renounce the fruits of all actions.






3.8              Perform your bounden duty...

3.19            Therefore always perform actions that should be done...

3.20            ...For the mere maintenance of the world you should act.

3.41            Therefore, O best of Bháratas, controlling first the senses...

11.33           ... be you a mere instrument...

12.9             ... by abhyása yoga seek to reach me...

16.24           ... knowing the prescribed scriptural injunctions, perform actions here in the world

18.57           Mentally renouncing all actions in Me...

18.63           ... now act as you choose.

18.66            Abandoning all duties...

18.67            This shall not be spoken of by you to one who is without austerity...






3.30            Renouncing all actions in Me, with the mind ever centred in the Self...

8.7              Therefore, at all times, remember me...with mind and intellect fixed on Me;...

9.27            Whatever you do… do it as an offering to me.

9.34            Fix your mind on Me, be devoted to Me, sacrifice to Me, bow down to Me...

12.8            Fix your mind on Me alone, place your intellect in Me...

12.10          ... be you intent on performing actions for My sake ...

18.57           ...having Me as the Highest Goal... ever fix your mind on Me.

18.62           Fly unto Him for refuge with all your being, O Bhárata…

18..65           Fix your mind on Me, be devoted to Me, sacrifice to Me, bow down to Me…

18.66            ... take refuge in Me alone. I will liberate you






I.25             O Pártha, behold these assembled Kurus.

2.45            ... be ever fixed in Sattwa...

2.49            ... Seek refuge in wisdom...

2.50            ... devote yourself to Yoga. Yoga is discretion in action.

4.34            Learn (about sacrifice) through long prostration, question and service...

4.42            Therefore, with the sword of knowledge, slay the doubt in the heart born of ignorance. Resort to Yoga!

8.27            ...no yogin is deluded; therefore, at all times be steadfast in Yoga,

11.6-8          (Arjuna is asked several times to..) Behold!

18.13            Learn from Me...

18.57            ...resorting to the Yoga of discrimination  

18.63            ... Having fully reflected upon (the wisdom that has been declared)


ADVICE (what we ‘need to know’)

2.17          ... that by which the Universe is pervaded is indestructible

4.12          ... that all sacrifices are born of action

4.33/34  ... that wisdom sacrifice is better than sacrifice of material possessions

6.2            ... that Yoga is what is called renunciation, that renunciation of thought leads to it.

7.5            ... that “My inferior nature” is different from “My superior nature” by which the universe is sustained

7.6            ... that all beings are born of the higher and lower nature of the Lord.

7.10          ... that the Lord is the eternal seed of all beings...

7.12          ... that all beings (sattvic, rajasic, tamasic) proceed from Me

9.6            ... that all beings rest in Me like the wind in Akasha

9.31          ... that ‘My devotee is never destroyed’

9.24          ... that the Lord is Brihaspati, chief among priests

13.20        ... that prákriti and purusha are beginingless and that modifications are prákriti born

13.27        ... that the union of field and field-knower results in the birth of everything

14.7/8       ... (about the natures of rajas and tamas)

15.12         ... that the light in the sun and moon is the Lord’s

17.12         ... that sacrifice with intention for fruit is rajasic

18.20/21    (about sattvic and rajasic knowledge)



Bhagavan Sri Krishna is treating Arjuna like a grown up and takes it as read that any mature seeker will not need to be told what to do in detail, but would be happy to have some broad principles laid out and act appropriately.