Enriching one’s life

This was the title of the first part of a public talk delivered at the Subramania Bharati Auditorium on Sunday last by Swami Brahmavidyananda who hails from Tamil Nadu. He is here since last week and has already conducted a three-day course on Vedanta at the seat of the Gujarat Bhavan in Beau-Bassin, based on Chapter 10 of a fundamental text known as Panchadasi (panch = 5, das =10: 15 chapters in all) which explains what is our essential nature as human beings and how we relate to the world of things and beings in light of this knowledge.

I had asked Swamiji how I should introduce him, and his answer left me almost speechless: ‘just say that I am a disciple of Pujya Swami Dayananda.’ He was referring of course to the founder and Spiritual Head of the Arsha Vidya Gurukulam which is based in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, one of the greatest living exponents of Vedanta, and still going on at nearly 85 years of age, although his health demands much attention these days.

Well, I had no choice but to comply with Swamiji’s wish, save to add that he was trained as a mechanical engineer and worked for some years as one before he got the call, left everything, and became a disciple of Pujya Swamiji. Privately, he told me that it has been so long now that he’s forgotten practically all about mechanical engineering, as he has concentrated on his spiritual pursuit pursuit for so many years. And indeed, once one takes to this path, one’s focus changes forever away from the demands of the material world, except in so far as one has to meet the minimum of needs for one’s survival. Anyone who knows about the lifestyle of such Swamis would know that they really live on the bare minimum in every respect.

But this does not mean that they are cut off from the realities of the material world: far from it. In fact, their greater understanding which springs from their profound understanding of human nature and existence as a whole, places them in a unique position to guide the common man about how to face life with equanimity and realism. And thus ‘enriching one’s life’ – which is far from amassing material wealth as one may be tempted to imagine. What is wonderful about Swamiji’s approach is how he builds up from very simple ideas and leaves us at the end with some powerful though seemingly simple messages.

He began by citing the example of how a bird must possess certain skills to build its nest. Similarly the human being too needed to have basic skills and life skills. He said that every form of life is precious, that life is a great gift. We don’t create life: we only live it. So far the only place where life as we know it exists is our planet Earth, although there is a probability that life may exist on other planets as well according to scientists who are engaged in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. But we do not know yet.

We try to make our life purposeful; to live peacefully and to contribute our share to the common weal we have to develop some skills that go beyond mere survival needs. He explained how he was fascinated by a stone sculpture that he had once seen, which depicted a man hammering away at the stone so that he was carving himself out of it: the sculptor and the sculpture were one and the same. And so too the individual, he pointed out: we make our own life, it is in our hands to make what we decide of this gift that we have received. Some people make a mess of it; others use their power to choose, to decide and act to create their own history, their own destiny.

At this stage he again drew from nature to make a very interesting point: he compared how animals go about with their eyes looking below, at ground level, whereas because of their upright posture men tended to look upwards towards the heavens. Man could therefore dream and aspire towards the higher things in life, values and virtues that could enable him not only to imagine the divine, but through them to actually become the divine. This, he stated, was what was truly meant by enriching ourselves. It was not material riches that made us really rich, because all material goals are incidental to, the instruments of something else that we were after, the highest one being happiness.

He referred to what he called the two-fold equipment that we had: body and mind. The body, he added, was like a canvas on which we paint a picture, like on a wall: if there is no wall, we cannot paint a picture – if we do not have a body, the mind has no ‘canvas’ to work on to express its desires. Hence, he emphasized, for a start it was important to take good care of the body to keep it healthy. One had to be both mentally and physically active – but be careful about not being hyperactive which could be exhausting.

Alas, modern life made people run faster and faster to stay in the same place, so that there was a tendency for them to forget to appreciate and enjoy what they were doing. Hence he stressed on the importance of taking ‘time within to enjoy what you have and what you do.’ To begin with, he said, one must have healthy or sattvic food, that is food which is not contaminated with artificial additives and preservatives. Further, in the same vein of having a healthy body, one should live in harmony with nature’s cycles. One should have enough sleep and relaxation as well. This way, by keeping the body, head and heart in harmony happiness could be attained. And this ‘togetherness’ of head and heart was true yoga.

During his earlier three-day course, he had narrated how once one Swami who was lecturing to a western audience – who lived in an environment where night had become like the day with its lights and multifarious activities – was asked what tips he could give them so that they could find peace in their lives. By way of reply, he told them to religiously follow a simple advice and come back to him after three months: they were to go to bed every night at 10 pm and get up at 6 the next morning. When they met him at the end of three months, they no longer needed any tip…

This is only part of what all Swamiji spoke, but it is enough to give one a sense of the direction he was pointing at and a flavour of the rich contents. By following such pure minds and hearts there is so much that one can learn, but the more important thing of course is to put into practice what is taught.

* Published in print edition on 19 September 2014

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