"The Realization of Action" - (chapter 5) Sadhana – The Realisation in Action A Book on Spirituality by Rabindranath Tagore
It is only those who have known that joy expresses itself through law who have learnt to transcend the law. Not that the bonds of law have ceased to exist for them - but that the bonds have become to them as the form of freedom incarnate. The freed soul delights in accepting bonds, and does not seek to evade any of them, for in each does it feel the manifestation of an infinite energy whose joy is in creation.
As a matter of fact, where there are no bonds, where there is the madness of license, the soul ceases to be free. There is its hurt; there is its separation from the infinite, its agony of sin. Whenever at the call of temptation the soul falls away from the bondage of law, then, like a child deprived of the support of its mother's arms, it cries out,
Mā mā himsīh
Smite me not! "Bind me," it prays, "oh, bind me in the bonds of thy law; bind me within and without; hold me tight; let me in the clasp of thy law be bound up together with thy joy; protect me by thy firm hold from the deadly laxity of sin."
As some, under the idea that law is the opposite of joy, mistake intoxication for joy, so there are many in our country who imagine action to be opposed to freedom. They think that activity being in the material plane is a restriction of the free spirit of the soul. But we must remember that as joy expresses itself in law, so the soul finds its freedom in action. It is because joy cannot find expression in itself alone that it desires the law which is outside. Likewise it is because the soul cannot find freedom within itself that it wants external action. The soul of man is ever freeing itself from its own folds by its activity; had it been otherwise it could not have done any voluntary work.
The more man acts and makes actual what was latent in him, the nearer does he bring the distant Yet-to-be. In that actualisation man is ever making himself more and yet more distinct, and seeing himself clearly under newer and newer aspects in the midst of his varied activities, in the state, in society. This vision makes for freedom.
Freedom is not in darkness, nor in vagueness. There is no bondage so fearful as that of obscurity. It is to escape from this obscurity that the seed struggles to sprout, the bud to blossom. It is to rid itself of this envelope of vagueness that the ideas in our mind are constantly seeking opportunities to take on outward form. In the same way our soul, in order to release itself from the mist of indistinctness and come out into the open, is continually creating for itself fresh fields of action, and is busy contriving new forms of activity, even such as are not needful for the purposes of its earthly life. And why? Because it wants freedom. It wants to see itself, to realise itself.
When man cuts down the pestilential jungle and makes unto himself a garden, the beauty that he thus sets free from within its enclosure of ugliness is the beauty of his own soul: without giving it this freedom outside, he cannot make it free within. When he implants law and order in the midst of the waywardness of society, the good which he sets free from the obstruction of the bad is the goodness of his own soul: without being thus made free outside it cannot find freedom within. Thus is man continually engaged in setting free in action his powers, his beauty, his goodness, his very soul. And the more he succeeds in so doing, the greater does he see himself to be, the broader becomes the field of his knowledge of self.
The Upanishad says:
Kurvannēvēha karmāni jijīvishet çatam samāh
In the midst of activity alone wilt thou desire to live a hundred years. It is the saying of those who had amply tasted of the joy of the soul. Those who have fully realised the soul have never talked in mournful accents of the sorrowfulness of life or of the bondage of action. They are not like the weakling flower whose stem-hold is so light that it drops away before attaining fruition. They hold on to life with all their might and say, "never will we let go till the fruit is ripe." They desire in their joy to express themselves strenuously in their life and in their work. Pain and sorrow dismay them not, they are not bowed down to the dust by the weight of their own heart. With the erect head of the victorious hero they march through life seeing themselves and showing themselves in increasing resplendence of soul through both joys and sorrows. The joy of their life keeps step with the joy of that energy which is playing at building and breaking throughout the universe.
The joy of the sunlight, the joy of the free air, mingling with the joy of their lives, makes one sweet harmony reign within and without. It is they who say, In the midst of activity alone wilt thou desire to live a hundred years.
This joy of life, this joy of work, in man is absolutely true. It is no use saying that it is a delusion of ours; that unless we cast it away we cannot enter upon the path of self- realisation. It will never do the least good to attempt the realisation of the infinite apart from the world of action.
It is not the truth that man is active on compulsion. If there is compulsion on one side, on the other there is pleasure; on the one hand action is spurred on by want, on the other it hies to its natural fulfilment. That is why, as man's civilisation advances, he increases his obligations and the work that he willingly creates for himself. One should have thought that nature had given him quite enough to do to keep him busy, in fact that it was working him to death with the lash of hunger and thirst, - but no. Man does not think that sufficient; he cannot rest content with only doing the work that nature prescribes for him in common with the birds and beasts. He needs must surpass all, even in activity. No creature has to work so hard as man; he has been impelled to contrive for himself a vast field of action in society; and in this field he is for every building up and pulling down, making and unmaking laws, piling up heaps of material, and incessantly thinking, seeking and suffering. In this field he has fought his mightiest battles, gained continual new life, made death glorious, and, far from evading troubles, has willingly and continually taken up the burden of fresh trouble. He has discovered the truth that he is not complete in the cage of his immediate surroundings, that he is greater than his present, and that while to stand still in one place may be comforting, the arrest of life destroys his true function and the real purpose of his existence.
This mahatī vinashtih - this great destruction he cannot bear, and accordingly he toils and suffers in order that he may gain in stature by transcending his present, in order to become that which he yet is not. In this travail is man's glory, and it is because he knows it, that he has not sought to circumscribe his field of action, but is constantly occupied in extending the bounds. Sometimes he wanders so far that his work tends to lose its meaning, and his rushings to and fro create fearful eddies round different centres - eddies of self-interest, of pride of power. Still, so long as the strength of the current is not lost, there is no fear; the obstructions and the dead accumulations of his activity are dissipated and carried away; the impetus corrects its own mistakes. Only when the soul sleeps in stagnation do its enemies gain overmastering strength, and these obstructions become too clogging to be fought through. Hence have we been warned by our teachers that to work we must live, to live we must work; that life and activity are inseparably connected.
It is very characteristic of life that it is not complete within itself; it must come out. Its truth is in the commerce of the inside and the outside. In order to live, the body must maintain its various relations with the outside light and air - not only to gain life-force, but also to manifest it. Consider how fully employed the body is with its own inside activities; its heart-beat must not stop for a second, its stomach, its brain, must be ceaselessly working. Yet this is not enough; the body is outwardly restless all the while. Its life leads it to an endless dance of work and play outside; it cannot be satisfied with the circulations of its internal economy, and only finds the fulfilment of joy in its outward excursions.
The same with the soul. It cannot live on its own internal feelings and imaginings. It is ever in need of external objects; not only to feed its inner consciousness but to apply itself in action, not only to receive but also to give.
The real truth is, we cannot live if we divide him who is truth itself into two parts. We must abide in him within as well as without. In whichever aspect we deny him we deceive ourselves and incur a loss.
Māham brahma nirākuryyām mā mā brahma nirākarōt
Brahma has not left me, let me not leave Brahma. If we say that we would realise him in introspection alone and leave him out of our external activity, that we would enjoy him by the love in our heart, but not worship him by outward ministrations; or if we say the opposite, and overweight ourselves on one side in the journey of our life's quest, we shall alike totter to our downfall.
In the great western continent we see that the soul of man is mainly concerned with extending itself outwards; the open field of the exercise of power is its field. Its partiality is entirely for the world of extension, and it would leave aside - nay, hardly believe in -- that field of inner consciousness which is the field of fulfilment. It has gone so far in this that the perfection of fulfilment seems to exist for it nowhere. Its science has always talked of the never-ending evolution of the world. Its metaphysic has now begun to talk of the evolution of God himself. They will not admit that he is; they would have it that he also is becoming.
They fail to realise that while the infinite is always greater than any assignable limit, it is also complete; that on the one hand Brahma is evolving, on the other he is perfection; that in the one aspect he is essence, in the other manifestation - both together at the same time, as is the song and the act of singing. This is like ignoring the consciousness of the singer and saying that only the singing is in progress, that there is no song. Doubtless we are directly aware only of the singing, and never at any one time of the song as a whole; but do we not all the time know that the complete song is in the soul of the singer?
It is because of this insistence on the doing and the becoming that we perceive in the west the intoxication of power. These men seem to have determined to despoil and grasp everything by force. They would always obstinately be doing and never be done - they would not allow to death its natural place in the scheme of things - they know not the beauty of completion.
In our country the danger comes from the opposite side. Our partiality is for the internal world. We would cast aside with contumely the field of power and of extension. We would realise Brahma in mediation only in his aspect of completeness, we have determined not to see him in the commerce of the universe in his aspect of evolution. That is why in our seekers we so often find the intoxication of the spirit and its consequent degradation. Their faith would acknowledge no bondage of law, their imagination soars unrestricted, their conduct disdains to offer any explanation to reason. Their intellect, in its vain attempts to see Brahma inseparable from his creation, works itself stone-dry, and their heart, seeking to confine him within its own outpourings, swoons in a drunken ecstasy of emotion. They have not even kept within reach any standard whereby they can measure the loss of strength and character which manhood sustains by thus ignoring the bonds of law and the claims of action in the external universe.
But true spirituality, as taught in our sacred lore, is calmly balanced in strength, in the correlation of the within and the without. The truth has its law, it has its joy. On one side of it is being chanted the Bhayādasyāgnistapati ("For fear of him the fire doth burn," etc), on the other the Ānandādhyeva khalvimāni bhūtāni jāyante ("From Joy are born all created things," etc.). Freedom is impossible of attainment without submission to law, for Brahma is in one aspect bound by his truth, in the other free in his joy.
As for ourselves, it is only when we wholly submit to the bonds of truth that we fully gain the joy of freedom. And how? As does the string that is bound to the harp. When the harp is truly strung, when there is not the slightest laxity in the strength of the bond, then only does music result; and the string transcending itself in its melody finds at every chord its true freedom. It is because it is bound by such hard and fast rules on the one side that it can find this range of freedom in music on the other. While the string was not true, it was indeed merely bound; but a loosening of its bondage would not have been the way to freedom, which it can only fully achieve by being bound tighter and tighter till it has attained the true pitch.
The bass and treble strings of our duty are only bonds so long as we cannot maintain them steadfastly attuned according to the law of truth; and we cannot call by the name of freedom the loosening of them into the nothingness of inaction. That is why I would say that the true striving in the quest of truth, of dharma, consists not in the neglect of action but in the effort to attune it closer and closer to the eternal harmony. The text of this striving should be,
Yadyat karma prakurvīta tadbrahmani samarpayet
Whatever works thou doest, consecrate them to Brahma. That is to say, the soul is to dedicate itself to Brahma through all its activities. This dedication is the song of the soul, in this is its freedom. Joy reigns when all work becomes the path to the union with Brahma; when the soul ceases to return constantly to its own desires; when in it our self- offering grows more and more intense. Then there is completion, then there is freedom, then, in this world, comes the kingdom of God.
Who is there that, sitting in his corner, would deride this grand self-expression of humanity in action, this incessant self-consecration? Who is there that thinks the union of God and man is to be found in some secluded enjoyment of his own imaginings, away from the sky-towering temple of the greatness of humanity, which the whole of mankind, in sunshine and storm, is toiling to erect through the ages? Who is there that thinks this secluded communion is the highest form of religion?
O thou distraught wanderer, thou Sannyasin, drunk in the wine of self-intoxication, dost thou not already hear the progress of the human soul along the highway traversing the wide fields of humanity - the thunder of its progress in the car of its achievements, which is destined to overpass the bounds that prevent its expansion into the universe? The very mountains are cleft asunder and give way before the march of its banners waving triumphantly in the heavens; as the mist before the rising sun, the tangled obscurities of material things vanish at its irresistible approach. Pain, disease, and disorder are at every step receding before its onset; the obstructions of ignorance are being thrust aside; the darkness of blindness is being pierced through; and behold, the promised land of wealth and health, of poetry and art, of knowledge and righteousness is gradually being revealed to view. Do you in your lethargy desire to say that this car of humanity, which is shaking the very earth with the triumph of its progress along the mighty vistas of history, has no charioteer leading it on to its fulfilment? Who is there who refuses to respond to his call to join in this triumphal progress? Who so foolish as to run away from the gladsome throng and seek him in the listlessness of inaction? Who so steeped in untruth as to dare to call all this untrue - this great world of men, this civilisation of expanding humanity, this eternal effort of man, through depths of sorrow, through heights of gladness, through innumerable impediments within and without, to win victory for his powers? He who can think of this immensity of achievement as an immense fraud, can he truly believe in God who is the truth? He who thinks to reach God by running away from the world, when and where does he expect to meet him? How far can he fly - can he fly and fly, till he flies into nothingness itself? No, the coward who would fly can nowhere find him. We must be brave enough to be able to say: We are reaching him here in this very spot, now at this very moment. We must be able to assure ourselves that as in our actions we are realising ourselves, so in ourselves we are realising him who is the self of self. We must earn the right to say so unhesitatingly by clearing away with our own effort all obstruction, all disorder, all discords from our path of activity; we must be able to say, "In my work is my joy, and in that joy does the joy of my joy abide."
Whom does the Upanishad call
The chief among the knowers of Brahma?
He is defined as
Ātmakrīrha ātmaratih kriyāvān
He whose joy is in Brahma, whose play is in Brahma, the active one. Joy without the play of joy is no joy at all - play without activity is no play. Activity is the play of joy. He whose joy is in Brahma, how can he live in inaction? For must he not by his activity provide that in which the joy of Brahma is to take form and manifest itself? That is why he who knows Brahma, who has his joy in Brahma, must also have all his activity in Brahma - his eating and drinking, his earning of livelihood and his beneficence. Just as the joy of the poet in his poem, of the artist in his art, of the brave man in the output of his courage, of the wise man in his discernment of truths, ever seeks expression in their several activities, so the joy of the knower of Brahma, in the whole of his everyday work, little and big, in truth, in beauty, in orderliness and in beneficence, seeks to give expression to the infinite.
Brahma himself gives expression to his joy in just the same way.
Bahudhā çakti yogāt varņānanekān nihitārtho dadhāti
By his many-sided activity, which radiates in all directions, does he fulfil the inherent want of his different creatures. That inherent want is he himself, and so he is in so many ways, in so many forms, giving himself. He works, for without working how could he give himself. His joy is ever dedicating itself in the dedication which is his creation.
In this very thing does our own true meaning lie, in this is our likeness to our father. We must also give up ourselves in many-sided variously aimed activity. In the Vedas he is called Ātmadā baladā - the giver of himself, the giver of strength. He is not content with giving us himself, but he gives us strength that we may likewise give ourselves. That is why the seer of the Upanishad prays to him who is thus fulfilling our wants,
Sa no buddhya çubhayā samyunaktu
May he grant us the beneficent mind, may he fulfil that uttermost want of ours by granting us the beneficent mind. That is to say, it is not enough he should alone work to remove our want, but he should give us the desire and the strength to work with him in his activity and in the exercise of the goodness. Then, indeed, will our union with him alone be accomplished. The beneficent mind is that which shows us the want (swārtha) of another self to be the inherent want (nihitārtha) of our own self; that which shows that our joy consists in the varied aiming of our many-sided powers in the work of humanity. When we work under the guidance of this beneficent mind, then our activity is regulated, but does not become mechanical; it is action not goaded on by want, but stimulated by the satisfaction of the soul. Such activity ceases to be a blind imitation of that of the multitude, a cowardly following of the dictates of fashion. Therein we begin to see that He is in the beginning and in the end of the universe (Vichaiti chāntē viçvamādau), and likewise see that of our own work is he the fount and the inspiration, and at the end thereof is he, and therefore that all our activity is pervaded by peace and good and joy.
The Upanishad says:
Svābhāvikījnāna bala kriyā cha
Knowledge, power, and action are of his nature. It is because this naturalness has not yet been born in us that we tend to divide joy from work. Our day of work is not our day of joy - for that we require a holiday; for, miserable that we are, we cannot find our holiday in our work. The river finds its holiday in its onward flow, the fire in its outburst of flame, the scent of the flower in its permeation of the atmosphere; but in our everyday work there is no such holiday for us. It is because we do not let ourselves go, because we do not give ourselves joyously and entirely up to it, that our work overpowers us.
O giver of thyself! at the vision of thee as joy let our souls flame up to thee as the fire, flow on to thee as the river, permeate thy being as the fragrance of the flower. Give us strength to love, to love fully, our life in its joys and sorrows, in its gains and losses, in its rise and fall. Let us have strength enough fully to see and hear thy universe, and to work with full vigour therein. Let us fully live the life thou hast given us, let us bravely take and bravely give. This is our prayer to thee. Let us once for all dislodge from our minds the feeble fancy that would make out thy joy to be a thing apart from action, thin, formless, and unsustained. Wherever the peasant tills the hard earth, there does thy joy gush out in the green of the corn, wherever man displaces the entangled forest, smooths the stony ground, and clears for himself a homestead, there does thy joy enfold it in orderliness and peace.
O worker of the universe! We would pray to thee to let the irresistible current of thy universal energy come like the impetuous south wind of spring, let it come rushing over the vast field of the life of man, let it bring the scent of many flowers, the murmurings of many woodlands, let it make sweet and vocal the lifelessness of our dried-up soul-life. Let our newly awakened powers cry out for unlimited fulfilment in leaf and flower and fruit.
Category:Father Seán ÓLaoire
In earl 1995, I was invited to give a series of seven lectures at the Presbyterian Church in Palo Alto. I titled the series, “Will the real Jesus please stand up?” During the preparation period for the series, while I was meditating one day, I had a very powerful vision of Jesus. Before the meditation began, I had been reading the famous passage in John’s Gospel where Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. Nobody comes to the father except through me.” So, now that I had him “in person”, I asked him, “Did you really say that?” He replied, “Yes, I did. Because the only way is love; the deepest truth is love; and the whole point of life is love. Anybody who wants to find the father needs to walk only in love.” And then, without any prompting from me, he went on to say, “And the Buddha is the way, the truth and the life. Nobody comes to the father except through the Buddha. Because the only way is compassion; the deepest truth is compassion; and the whole point of life is compassion. Anybody who wants to find the father needs to walk only in compassion.”
It was Last Supper time. Jesus, having lived for about 12,000 days, now had less than 24 hours left – no time to fiddle about with literalists, in spite of the Apostles’ best attempts to “ground” his flights of fantasy. There is a hint of impatience as he attempts to elevate the thinking of both Thomas and Philip in the following exchanges. Thomas: “Lord we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way!” This prompted the rejoinder I’ve spoken about above, “I am the way…” Then literalist Philip asks, “Lord, show us the father and that will be enough for us.” An exasperated Jesus replies, “Philip, have I been with you all this time and you still don’t know who I am? When you see me, you see the father.”
He’s at his deepest, most profound and most mystical at this stage. Why? Oh why, did his disciples, then and now, oafishly try to reduce these enlightened teachings to membership in the human clubs called, “churches”?
Throughout his private life, beginning at age twelve, when he debated the scholars while “lost” in the temple, and, especially, during his public ministry, Jesus was answering the four great questions – namely, “Who is God?”, “Who am I?”, “Who is my neighbor?” and “What is my mission?” The enlightened answers to the first three questions can actually be given in the same, single word – LOVE. And the answer to question #4 – what is my mission? – is, “to come awake!”
On the road to Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And then “Who do you say that I am?” The Gospels don’t record the third, even more important, question that I believe he also asked, “Who do you [my disciple] think that you are?” Jesus knew who he was, who the father was, who his neighbor was and what his mission was. And his mission was to awaken, first his disciples and then, through them, all humans to the same conclusions to which Jesus himself had come. Alas, we still have a long way to go; and the very leaders who should be opening themselves and their “flocks” to the true answers, have retreated into fundamentalist fear and demonized the mystics who took Jesus at his word.
Let me revisit the notion that the mission is “to come awake.” Real love is actually very difficult to attain unless one has first awakened. What passes for love, in a pre-awakened person, is either mawkish sentimentality or else just favoring one’s family and friends.
When Gautama Siddhartha – who was not a priest and had no business in the preaching trade – was challenged by the “real priests” (the Brahmin caste) to say what gave him the right to speak on spiritual matters, he simply said, “I am buddha” – literally, “I am awake.” It became his nickname just as Jesus was given the nickname, “Christ.” The Buddha’s right to preach came precisely from the fact that he was awake; he had pierced the fog of maya. This immediately resulted in unconditional compassion which is simply unconditional love-in-action.
Jesus himself would tell many parables about being awake e.g., “If the householder knew at what stage the thief would break in and steal, he wouldn’t go to sleep.”
Another word for “being awake” is the Hindu notion of “Self-realization.” The Christian equivalent is “Salvation.” But salvation is grossly misunderstood by church teachers who see it as an action of redemption [literally “buying back”] from the grip of Satan, occasioned by the mythical story of Adam and Eve disobeying Yahweh in the Garden of Eden. The solution? Get baptized, profess Jesus as your personal savior and bingo! you’re saved.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus did not come because an irascible divinity demanded innocent blood to satisfy his anger at being disobeyed. Jesus came as an avatar, accepting incarnation with all its limitations, temptations and vicissitudes, and yet never forgetting his divine nature. He was awake as he came in, awake as he lived in his human spacesuit, and awake as he committed his soul, on the cross, into the hugging embrace of his father. This is why he could say, “It is completed; mission accomplished; I never went to sleep; I never forgot who I am, and why I came.”
There is only one sin – and it has nothing to do with the ten commandments of Moses – it is to never attempt to awaken to one’s true, divine nature. If I opt to stay asleep, then I have two choices. If I am a “Religious” person, I will only believe in a transcendent, punitive deity and I will serve him in fear, so that I may dodge the fires of hell. If I am an atheist or an agnostic, then I don’t really care about this Superman-in-the-sky, and I will live my life by the world’s values. But if I awaken at any stage of incarnation, I will immediately recognize that only God exists. I will smile and offer Namasté (“the God in me recognizes and honors the God in you”) to everything that I encounter, from a wave breaking on the beach, to an acorn full of the promise of growing up to be an oak tree, to the wrinkled old lady, in the back seat of the church, fingering her rosary beads.
The truly liberating message of Jesus is that life is a dream which the ego is having, the ego is a dream that the soul is having, the soul is a dream which the Spirit is having, and Spirit is a dream which Source is having. Everything that exists is simply God-in-drag.
That was the message Jesus urgently tried to deliver on the last night of his life to his motley crew of fishermen, housewives and tax collectors. And some of them got it. Later, however, subsequent generations of church leaders would try to domesticate this outrageous heresy, rein Jesus in, and present us with a sensible theology of fear, obedience and the security of being “saved.”