Going the Distance in Spiritual Life – Part 7
Failure to awaken spiritually
Refuge in spouse, wealth, offspring
Obsession with work/activity
These points can be found and/or inferred in verses 4 – 7 of the Vivekachudamani.
In the last post we covered the fourth of the Five Causes for Lack of Spiritual Success as stated or implied in Shankara's Vivekachudamani. We will continue now with the fifth point.
Obsession with Work & Activity
In Shankara's era, karma, action, referred primarily to the performance of rituals. As mentioned in the last post, these rituals were associated with going to heaven as well as rites falling under the category of the pancha-maha-yajnas, the five great sacrifices to the rishis, the deities, ancestors, humans, and other beings. When Shankara tells us that action/karma cannot give liberation it is generally in this context. Such rites, sincerely engaged in, do purify the mind, making it qualified for higher Knowledge leading to Atmajnana, Self-Knowledge.
The old rituals, and I would say, not just India's but all religious rituals, are intended to purify body and mind. They are not and never have been "empty" for the sincere practitioner. Those who claim religious ceremonies are empty have not delved into their significance or engaged in them with an authentic guide. Careful, regular practice leads to balance of mind. If the practitioner achieves this yet does not move on to detachment from the world and yearning for freedom, then, as Shankara observed and warned against, this sattvic balance only binds one to pleasure, earthly or heavenly, in endless rounds.
Now, what of our own era, and western culture in particular? When we hear "work," most people assume it means what we do for a living, or to maintain our homes, or our social service. But let us understand the meaning of work, karma, in the widest sense. It is any action performed by body or mind. Hence, it includes all the above, what we do in our leisure time, and anything else we do or think in space and time. Thought is a kind of action arising from our subconscious or conscious mind. Thought precedes bodily action. From a yogic perspective, we are to gain control of body and mind, and this is accomplished by gaining control of the prana, both physical and especially psychic prana – the force that impels thought. If this is not accomplished, then we are dragged along by the gunas, emotions, and passions – positive, negative, and mixed – many whose source is not recognized as they are hidden below our conscious awareness in samskaras from previous lifetimes. All these uncontrolled thought-actions and body-actions are based in desire and lead to karmic bondages.
Obsession with action is a samskara, a habit, founded in rajas. Sri Ramakrishna relates the anecdote of a man with lots of leisure time saying he can't sit still so he is building a fence. He spoke as well of old men sitting around and playing cards when death is so near. "Isn't it time to call on God, to realize the Self?" He would remark. Our modern world is based upon distraction. How many people can allow a minute to pass without listening to something, without looking at something, without moving hands or feet? And to compound distraction, people are pursuing listening-looking-moving, even tasting, simultaneously. Still there is no satisfaction for them. Then, observe how many people feel bored, unhappy, depressed, or fall asleep as soon as they have nothing to do, or attempt to concentrate on one thing, or just sit still without engaging the senses?
All our energy, our prana, that could be used for noble purposes, and especially for Self-realization, is squandered through the ten senses of cognition and action. It is all outward. Liberation, Self-Knowledge cannot be gained by the outward going mind and senses. In the Katha Upanisad, Nachiketas, the boy who made the Lord of Death teach him the highest Truth, rejected Death's offers of wealth, heavenly delights, and long life in the body with the adamant conclusion that sense pleasures wear out the vigor of the senses. A young student waking up to this fact wrote recently with the following poignant observation, "Our minds are naturally going to be interested in something here in the world as it is the collective Mind that created it – and this power of constant "points of interest" (which seem to be more interesting than the scriptures/meditation) is one form of maya's powers making this "something" seem more important than the realizing the Truth."
Verses 8 – 10 in the Vivekachudamani outline Shankara's prescription for combating the five obstacles that we have been recognizing and considering. We will begin to take these up in the next post. To close, SRV students learn and regularly chant the seven peace chants of the Upanisads, one of which states:
Peace Invocation (from the Kenopanisad)