From ‘Know Thyself’ to ‘Be Yourself’

By Dr R. Neerunjun Gopee

The rainy weekend kept many of us indoors, and I took the opportunity of putting some order in a bookshelf. This is always very relaxing, and also exciting because besides being a trip into nostalgia, one also makes some interesting ‘discoveries’ along the way as one stumbles upon books that one has read before and half-forgotten; it’s like finding long lost friends. That is how I came across Swami Suddhananda’s ‘Be Yourself’.

Swamiji who is from South India has visited Mauritius several times, and he has a knack of explaining in very simple language what appear at first sight to be complicated fundamental concepts, using catchy examples to make serious points about how to live one’s life correctly.

When we come to think of it, this must surely begin by understanding ourselves first, so that we may get to know who or what we are, which should help us to decide what we want, and then be guided about fulfilling the want(s).

Suppose you buy a house and move into a new neighbourhood. Next day you go and meet one of the neighbours and make friends. He is kind enough to show you around his house, and offers to extend any help you might need to settle down. When you return home, you start criticizing his house, finding all kinds of faults in the construction, the finish and furnishings and so on. And you start mulling about corrective measures he should take. But you are blind to the defects in your own house!

This is exactly how we start our lives. We don’t even know ourselves, let alone take the trouble to find out, but we get to know bits and pieces about the external world. On the basis of this incomplete knowledge, we then try to fix the world! And when we don’t succeed, we get upset and mess up our own lives.

At the very beginning of ‘Be Yourself’, which I took delight in reading again, Swamiji makes use of an analogy between the body and a car. ‘When your father presents you with a car,’ he writes, ‘it is definitely not given to you to crash and die. He wants you to drive around and enjoy the ride. Similarly, this physical body, which is a lovely vehicle, is given to us to drive around in this universe and definitely not crash and clash.’

He goes on to say that the ‘car must be in good condition and you should also be an ace driver for you to have a nice journey. In the same way, the body and mind must be in excellent condition. Only then does living become a fantastic celebration, which is what it is meant to be.’

Pursuing the analogy, Swamiji continues, ‘when you see a vehicle swinging from side to the other, will you ever think that the vehicle is drunk? It is the driver who is drunk. In the same way if the physical body is trembling with hatred, jealousy, anger or passion, the body has not gone crazy.’ And then comes the essential point: ‘It is the mind which drives the body crazy. Instead of fixing the mind we are busy fixing the body. Instead of fixing the driver, we are fixing the car and the road.’

‘Know thyself!’ – is supposed to have said the oracle of Delphi in Greece. Thousands of years earlier Indian sages had already explored that territory, and had codified for the benefit of posterity, for mankind, not only the knowledge they had acquired, but also how each one of us could discover it for ourselves at our own pace and then apply it so that we could lead fulfilled lives.

Indeed, that is the theme of ‘Be Yourself’, and I could almost hear Swamiji speak – and laugh! One tends to think of a Swami as austere if not actually severe, with no time for light talk and laughter. Totally wrong as far as Swamiji is concerned: he doesn’t preach but he teaches, until you have understood the subject matter as clearly as he does. As you sit through the hour with him, it’s all enjoyment and no tension whatsoever. Because our nature is Happiness. In the words of Swamiji,

‘We have graduated from the best colleges and universities. But nobody ever told us that we are the Bliss, the Happiness. When you go to religion also, it gives you more conditioning like “you are a sinner”, “you are a mortal”, “you should always worship God”, “you should not eat this or that”, etc. The more “dos” and “don’ts” the religion prescribes, the more guilt you have, the more you succumb to the religious injunctions. The religious man puts guilt into you so that you can be counselled by him. If you are a happy person, free from conflicts, then you will not need him. He will never tell you that you are happy, because if you are happy and free from conflicts, he has no role to play.’

Swamiji goes on to explain that all you have to do is to feed the body and it will automatically grow and attain maturity according to its genetic programming. However, this is not so with the mind which, as the body’s driver, must be trained to drive it in the right direction and well. And that training comes in the form of exposure to different kinds of knowledge, for ‘whatever you are exposed to, that is how you become.’ Thus, ‘a sixty-year-old may have a six-year old’s thinking. A sixteen-year-old may have a tremendously matured thinking.’

As we grow in age, there is no ‘automatic’ growth in mental maturity corresponding to the physical maturity of the body. The mind becomes conditioned – and therefore constrained – by exposure, and this spans a whole range: formal learning at school and college, religious conditioning, different ideologies in the social sphere and so on. All of these impart an amount of knowledge which is necessarily limited, which never adds up to a whole and can never be sufficient to put the mind on the right path. It is only knowledge of oneself – one’s Self – that can do that, because it teaches that the Self is of the nature of Happiness. And if you ARE Happiness, that means you are not bound, you are liberated from all limitations, and you can celebrate life freely, accepting what comes your way if you have made all the effort and given yourself the time required to achieve your given goals.

Once the mind is regularly exposed to good thoughts it matures to become in excellent condition, and if the body is in a similar state, what remains is to launch oneself on to the adventure of the celebration of living.

Imagine how different the world would be if that were its agenda. Barring healthy competition that can spur excellence through creative imagination, it would be a world free of the needless conflicts and wars that are currently plaguing it. It’s a dream we can realise.


* Published in print edition on 31 August 2021

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