Swami Abhedananda.

Vedânta philosophy; three lectures on spiritual unfoldment online

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Author of "India and her People ", "Self-Knowledge ", "How io be a
Yogi^', "Dmne Heritage of Man ", etc.



West Cornwall, Conn,

Copyright, 1901,



3 133


L Self-control

II. Concentration and Meditation
III God-consciousness


Self is the lord of Self, who else could be the lord ? "
" One's own Self conquered is better than all other people ; not
even a god could change into defeat the victory of a man who
has vanquished himself and always lives under restraint."


Every religion can be divided into two
parts, one of which may be called the non-
essential and the other the essential. Doc-
trines, dogmas, rituals, ceremonies, and myth-
ology of all the organized religious creeds
come under the head of the non-essential. It
is not meant by this that they are useless; on
the contrary, the very fact of their existence
proves that they are helpful and necessary at
certain stages of progress. What I mean is,
that it cannot be said that they are absolutely
necessary for making one live a purely spiritual
life. A man or a woman may be highly spirit-
ual without performing any of the rituals and
ceremonies ordained, either by the scriptures


of the world, or by any religious hierarchy.
A man or a woman may be truly religious
without believing in any creed, doctrine,
dogma, or mythology. Those who think that
these non-essentials are indispensable for at-
taining to the ultimate goal of religion, have
not yet grasped the fundamental principles
that underlie all religions; they mistake the
non-essential for the essential; they cannot
discriminate the one from the other; they lack
the insight of spiritual illumination. Those
who understand the essentials of religion and
strictly follow them in their every-day life do
not disturb themselves about the non-essentials;
these simple and sincere souls alone reach the
goal of religion by the shortest way possible.

The essentials of religion are principally two :
Self-knowledge and Self-control. Self-knowl-
edge means knowledge of the higher Self, the
divine nature of man; and self-control is the
restraint of the lower self or selfish nature.
True knowledge of the divine Self comes when
the lower self is subdued. In ancient times,


Greek philosophers understood these two as
the essentials of religion, therefore over the
temple entrance at Delphi the phrase ''Know
Thyself" was so conspicuously engraven.
Heraclitus, the ancient Greek philosopher, in-
terpreted this motto by saying: *'It behooves
all men to know themselves and to exercise

In India, the ancient Seers of Truth under-
stood the essential part of rehgion so well that
they tried their best to keep it separate from
the non-essential part of the popular religion
of the masses. The result of such attempts
was the discovery of the system of Yoga. The
system of Yoga deals entirely with the essen-
tials of religion; it does not teach any dogma,
creed, ritual, ceremony, or mythology. Its
main object is to teach mankind the different
methods of attaining the knowledge of the true
Self, and the practice of self-control. A true
Yogi is one who has perfect control over him-
self, and who has acquired self-knowledge.

The science of Yoga explains what self-con-


trol is, how it can be acquired, and what is the
nature of self-knowledge. A Yogi therefore
reaches the ultimate goal of religion and spir-
itual perfection without wasting his energy in
the practice of non-essentials.

The non-essentials of religion are like a
huge heap of husks, under which Hes hidden
the kernel of the essential truth; wherever
there is too much of non-essentials, there pre-
vail religious corruption, superstition, and
false theology, the main object of which is to
convince the ignorant masses that the heap of
non-essential dogmas, doctrines, ceremonies,
and rituals must be observed by all who wish
to be rehgious. But the science of Yoga, being
free from dogmas, ceremonies, and rituals,
suffers neither from corruption nor from super-
stition, nor does it need any theology. It is
pure and simple. It welcomes to its fold all
sincere and earnest souls who are searching for
higher truth and spiritual life, and seeks to
make them spiritual by giving the essentials
of rehgion as their highest ideal. It teaches


them the method by which self-control and
knowledge of the Supreme Self can be acquired.

Self-control means the control of the lower
self, or the animal nature of man, by developing
the higher powers that are latent in the indi-
vidual soul. Having ascended the grades of
evolution from the lower animals, man lives at
first on the animal plane; then as he rises
higher and higher, the latent powers of the soul
gradually begin to manifest and overcome his
animal tendencies.

Self-control is not manifested in the charac-
ter of any man who ignorantly obeys the dic-
tates of the senses, and blindly serves the in-
ternal masters of passion, anger, greed, self-
delusion, pride, and egotism. Those who can
control themselves, or check the mad rush of
the mind toward sense objects, and who cease
to obey those animal impulses which are stand-
ing Uke fierce enemies in the path of spiritual
progress, enjoy undisturbed peace as long as
they live, thus reaching the highest goal of

freedom; but those who are constantly guided


by sudden waves of passion, anger, pride, jeal-
ousy, and hatred, are always disturbed in their
minds; they are restless and unhappy. How
can persons who are slaves of their senses ex-
pect happiness? Happiness comes in the
state of perfect freedom, and not in slavery;
that freedom again can be acquired only
through the practice of self-control; therefore
those who desire to enjoy unbounded happi-
ness and peace of mind on this earth should
struggle for freedom by learning to practice

The attainment of self-control is easy for
those who have learned to study their own
minds, and who, after discovering their weak-
nesses, try to reform their own characters.
Like the lower animals, the natural tendency
of human beings is to seek pleasure and to
avoid pain. As long as man lives in the dark-
ness of ignorance, and cannot trace the causes
which make him happy or unhappy; as long
as he does not understand whether happiness

and pleasure come from external objects or


from within, so long he fails to be master of
himself. Right discrimination of the condi-
tions which make one happy or unhappy is the
surest guide in the path which leads to the at-
tainment of self-control.

Now let us examine the present conditions of
our minds. They are naturally attracted by
the objects which are pleasing to the senses, or
which help in fulfilling the purposes and desires
that are extremely strong in us. The majority
Ox mankind are attached to those objects which
give pleasure, both sensuous and mental. They
are never attached to anything or anybody
where they do not find pleasure. In the same
manner it can be shown that the natural ten-
dency of the mind is also to get away from
pain. The eyes are pleased to look at the beau-
tiful color which attracts them, the ears are
pleased to hear sweet words, melodious notes,
and good music. We like to smell sweet fra-
grance, and to taste the things pleasing to the
palate. Yet that which is pleasing to the

senses of one man may give pain to another.


A Chinaman enjoys Chinese music, but it is
painful to our ears. Similarly, the music which
is delightful to our ears gives no pleasure to a
Chinaman. Western music seems like howl-
ing and screaming to many Oriental ears which
are not trained to it. Many people enjoy
curious flavors and high seasoning, and others
are disgusted by them. Some people enjoy
the burning sensation in the tongue and throat
produced by red pepper, while others feel pain
from it and shun it. The same color, same
sound or taste which is pleasing to one, may
be a source of intense discomfort to another.
This shows that pleasure and pain are not the
inherent properties of the objects of senses,
but that they depend upon the conditions of
the mind and body which come in direct con-
tact with those objects.

Mind has tremendous power over the body;
if a certain idea gets possession of the mind it
affects the body and produces corresponding
changes in the whole system. The same mind

which found pleasure in a certain thin 9^ at one


time, dislikes the very sight of that thing if new
ideas happen to get a hold upon it. For ex-
ample, animal flesh gives pleasure to a meat
eater as long as he thinks it is the right kind of
food, but when the nobler principles of vegeta-
rian diet dawn upon his mind and convert him
into a vegetarian, the very odor of meat will be
offensive, and may make him feel ill; his
stomach will refuse to digest animal flesh, and
it may even become a cause of pain and suffer-
ing to him. Therefore, it can be said that
there is nothing in the universe from which all
individuals can derive absolute pleasure or
absolute pain, or that can even please the same
individual at all times. Those who seek pleas-
ure from the objects of senses cannot stick to
one particular enjoyment all the time. If
they try to enjoy the same thing day after day,
they will soon tire of it; satiety is the inevitable
result, and with that comes loss of interest.

Suppose a lady who is passionately fond of
the opera should constantly hear the same

opera day and night, without hearing or doing


anything else, she would surely tire of it in a
few days. Constant change of the objects of
pleasure is absolutely necessary for those
people who seek pleasure from the external
world. It is for this reason that many people
who are too poor to afford much variety in
their pleasures delude themselves by thinking
that wealth would give them all they desire,
and envy those who possess large fortunes,
foolishly believing that the rich must be always
happy. In this way they often fail to enjoy the
pleasures within their reach, thus making their
life a burden. They fail to understand that
wealth has its own trials, that are often only
little more bearable than the ills of poverty.
The truth is that true happiness can only be-
long to him who can control his mind. The
practice of self-control would be a great bless-
ing to all these unhappy people; it would
make their lives happier and better worth liv-
Before we can control the natural tendency

of the mind to seek pleasure in external ob-


Jects, we must know that the feeling of pleasure
depends upon the feeling of pain. If we do
not have any feeling of pain whatever, we
cannot enjoy a pleasant feeling. Pleasure is
pleasure only when it stands in relation to the
feeling of pain. Whenever we compare one
sensation or feeling with another, we find one
more pleasing than the other; the less pleasing
one is ordinarily called painful. The tendency
of our mind is to seek objects that are more
pleasing than those which we already possess,
or happen to enjoy, and the moment we find
a thing which we think would produce a more
agreeable sensation than the things we now
have, we crave to possess it. Having satisfied
the craving, if after comparison we discover
that the latter is not better than the former,
we remain as unsatisfied as before, and may
even wish to go back to the former condition.
Thus we can understand that although pleas-
ure and pain may arise in different individuals
from their contact with the same objects of

senses, the natural tendency of mind is to


seek pleasure and avoid pain. We are at-
tached to those objects from relation with
which we derive pleasure, but the moment
these cease to yield us gratification, we become
indifferent to the very things we so eagerly
desired; sometimes we grow to hate them
and wish to get away from them.

Our minds are constantly seeking new
objects of pleasure through the gates of the
senses, and attach themselves to every fresh
object that promises to give us a pleasant
feeling or sensation. While this attachment
lasts, the mind becomes a slave to it. If
anything happens to come in the way and
prevent the mind from enjoying a particular
pleasure, the mind tries to overcome the
obstacle. The stronger the opposing power,
the greater is the mental struggle to subdue it.
If the desire be very strong and we cannot
succeed in gratifying it by ordinary means,
we often get enraged and adopt more violent
measures, thus losing all possibility of a peace-
ful state of mind.



That simple desire for enjoyment takes the
form of a ruling passion, agitates the whole
mind, and manifests in the form of anger and
unrest. In that agitated state of the mind we
lose the sense of right and wrong, memory
grows dull, understanding gets confused, we
lose foresight and act like brutes. Passion is
the stronger form of desire; the same strong
desire, when acting under opposition, takes
the form of anger. Desire is the first stage,
passion is the second stage, and the third
stage is anger.

Passion and anger, again, lead to hatred,
jealousy, and many other wicked feelings
which are expressed outwardly in the form of
vicious acts. He who can control his mind
from being disturbed by passion and anger
has obtained self-control. The control of
passions and anger comes when the mind does
not seek pleasure from external objects, but
learns by experience that pleasure which can
be derived through the senses is very tran-
sient; it lasts for a few seconds only, and its


/rue source is not in the object itself, but de-
pends mostly upon the mental and physical
conditions of the enjoyer.

We have seen that passion and anger are the
second and third stages of desire; these desires,
according to the Yogis, remain in the subcon-
scious plane of our minds. Here a question
arises: What is the cause of these desires?
A Yogi, trying to trace the cause of desires,
says that they are the outcome of the dor-
mant impressions in our minds, or the awak-
ened state of these impressions. He further
says that when we enjoy any external object
through our senses, our minds are impressed
with certain changes which are produced
while we are in direct contact with the thing.
When we eat an apple, the impression of its
taste is left in the mind. When v/e hear a
musical note, an impression of the note, pleas-
ant or unpleasant, remains in the mind. Simi-
larly all the impressions which the external
objects leave in the mind will remain there in

a seed form, or dormant state, by the law of


persistence of force. None of them will be
lost; whatever things we have enjoyed or suf-
fered in our hves are stored up in that seed
form, or in the form of dormant impressions.
These dormant impressions are the causes of
our desires.

Some of the Western psychologists have
supported this theory of the Yogis. Professor
Beneke says in his "Elementary Psychology":
"What has once been produced in the soul
continues still to exist, even when it has ceased
to be excited. That which was conscious
merely becomes unconscious, or lives in the
internal substance of the soul." Sir William
Hamilton admits the existence of the latent
impressions when he says: "The whole we
are conscious of, is constructed out of what
we are not conscious of." He explains the
psychic activity of the subconscious plane
by comparing the chain of impressions or
thoughts with a row of biUiard balls, of which,
if struck at one end, only the last one moves,

the vibration being merely transmitted through


the rest. But a Yogi says that these dormant
impressions are the seeds or real cause of

Let us suppose that the mind substance is
like a sea, that the surface is the conscious
plane, and that the dormant impressions lie
deep below the surface. Here we should
remember that anything that remains in a
dormant state is bound to manifest when the
conditions become favorable. Forced by their
inward nature, when the dormant impressions
begin to manifest, they may be said to slowly
rise up from the bottom of the sea of mind in
the form of minute bubbles. We may call this
bubble the subtle state of desire, or the awak-
ened impression. Then it gradually rises to
the surface and appears larger and larger in
size. Let us call this bubble state of the
awakened impression, desire; then the bubble
of desire, after playing on the surface of the
mental sea for some time, bursts there and
takes the form of a wave, and agitates the

whole sea of mind, transforming it into one


mass of impulse. The mind becomes restless,
peace is disturbed, power of discrimination
becomes dull, we do not know whether good
or bad results will follow should we yield to
the impelling impulse; we are forcibly driven
headlong toward the object of desire, what
ever it be, mental (like ambition, pride, etc.),
or merely sensuous. In fact, our controlling
power having been overcome by that wave of
desire, we can no longer call it desire. It
temporarily takes the form of a ruling passion,
or strong impulse. That tremendous im-
pulse controls our nerves, muscles, and the
whole body; we struggle to gratify this long-
ing, only to find, when we have attained the
thing and gratified the longing, that the satis-
faction is but brief. The tempest that wrecked
our self-control gradually subsides, and the
particular desire that provoked it returns
again to its dormant state; then a temporary
peace of mind is regained and we remain
happy for a time.

In the meanwhile another dormant impres-


sion gets ready to appear in the form of a
bubble. Slowly it rises up from the subcon-
scious to the conscious plane, and the same
process is repeated. This ever-recurring series
of desires and their temporary gratification
forms the daily life of all such persons as have
not learned to control their minds. When
this fleeting peace of mind, or so-called hap-
piness, has been secured, the desire subsides
into a dormant state for a longer or shorter
period. This process is continuously going
on in each mind at every moment. Suppose
a person is invited to a dinner party, where he
partakes of something very delicious which
he never tasted before and which he likes
immensely. Do you think that the impression
of that taste will be lost as soon as the dinner
is over? Certainly not; it will remain in the
mind and engender a desire for the same thing
again; the memory will recall that impression
and it will become the cause of a fresh desire.
In this manner it can be shown that every new

impression is the cause or seed of a new desire.


When a man begins to drink intoxicating
liquors he feels a peculiar sensation; it drives
away his dullness, exhilarates him, excites his
nervous system, and makes him happy for
the time being. After the effect of the stimu-
lant is over, the impression of the agreeable
feeling it produced is left in his mind; for some
time it remains latent, then it rises up in the
form of a desire, or bubble, to the surface of
his mental sea. Rising to the surface it
bursts and produces a wave, or impulse, which
intensifies the desire and leads him to drink
again. The fresh exhilaration creates another
impression, which stamps itself upon the for-
mer, and the process goes on with increasing
frequency. With every fresh yielding to de-
sire, the old impression is deepened, until
the series of stored-up impressions becomes
so strong that it forms a part of his nature
and becomes what we call habit. Similar
processes have produced all varieties of habits,
good and bad, which we find in different peo-
ple in different countries. A kindred process


produces what we call instinct in the lower

The stored-up impressions of one life are
not lost by the death of the body, but will
remain latent for some time and will become
the causes of future desires in another life.
Each one of us is bom with the stored-up
impressions of his past birth, which will re-
appear in the form of various tendencies,
desires, and habits. This is the explanation
of the wideVariation^ we see in members of
the same family, for which heredity alone, or
even heredity plus environment, fails to ac-
count. As the number of impressions in-
creases, desires also increase, as has been
said; if we allow the desires to rise up and
play in our minds, they will take the forms of
passion and anger, disturb mental peace,
create new impressions, and be in turn the
causes of fresh desires. Thus, there is no
hope of controlUng the mind by mere gratifi-
cation of desires. There is no hope of sati-
ating the craving for enjoyment by getting


the objects of pleasures; this is simply putting
fuel on fire, or oil on flames. The more we
enjoy, the more will desires increase. Foolish
people, who have never analyzed their minds,
indulge their desires and seek pleasure from
outside objects. No one has succeeded in
attaining self-control by being a slave to de-
sires, nor has any one become free from de-
sires by gratifying them. Therefore, a Yogi
says: "As fire is not quenched by butter, so
the fire of desire will never be put out by the
objects of pleasure. The more butter is
poured on a fire, the more it will flare up;
similarly, the more the objects of desire are
indulged, the more the desires will increase.
If a person were to possess all the objects upon
this earth, still his greed would not stop, he
would seek something more." Do you sup-
pose that a man who works hard to become a
millionaire will ever be satisfied with his pos-
sessions and cease to acquire more? He will
go on seeking to add to them as long as he will

live. A poor man desires to be rich, a rich


man desires to be a millionaire, and a million-
aire wants to be a multi-millionaire, and so
on; where is there any rest? Where is there
happiness? When will his thirst for pos-
sessions or enjoyment cease? Will he ever
acquire control over his mind? Perhaps not
in this life.

Thirst for enjoyment is the real disease in
us; its various symptoms are passions, am-
bition, pride, hatred, jealousy, anger, etc.
Tremendous mental strength and will-power
are required to control the restless mind from
taking the forms of waves of passion and
anger. The perfect restlessness of the mind
of an ordinary person who is the slave to his
desires and passions has been vividly described
by a Yogi; the poet could not find a better
illustration than to compare it with a monkey,
who is restless by nature; then thinking this
was not quite enough, he added drunken
monkey, stung by a scorpion. When any
one is stung by a scorpion, he jumps about

from place to place for nearly two days, so


you can imagine the restlessness of that poor
monkey; still the poet found something lack-
ing in the simile, so he completed it by saying :
**At last the monkey was possessed by a
demon." Is there any expression by which
we can describe the wretched state of that
poor monkey? Such is the ordinary state of
our mind. Naturally it is restless, but it be-
comes more so when it drinks the wine of
ambition, still more when it is stung by the
scorpion of jealousy; but the climax is reached
when the demon of pride enters the mind and
takes possession of it. In such a case, how
difficult it is to bring the mind under control I
To conquer mind is more difficult than to con-
quer the whole world. He is the greatest
hero and the real conqueror of the world who
has conquered his own mind. "He that
ruleth his spirit is greater than he who taketh
a city." A Yogi says: "If one man conquers
in battle a thousand times a thousand men, and
if another conquer himself, he is the greatest

of conquerors." Therefore we should pay


special attention to the study of the mind; we
should learn to analyze its nature and con-
stantly watch over its various modifications,

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Online LibrarySwami AbhedanandaVedânta philosophy; three lectures on spiritual unfoldment → online text (page 1 of 5)