I have, in the course of my talks, dealt with a large number of religious rites. It may seem that the rituals, the puja to Paramesvara and the service done to fellow men are meant for "others". But in truth they are meant for ourselves. By helping others, by serving them, by worshiping the Lord, we are rewarded with a sense of fullness. Others may really benefit from our help or may not. But when we serve them we experience inward peace and happiness- about this there is no doubt. What is called "paropakar"(helping others) is indeed upakara done to oneself(helping oneself).
In serving others we may have to undergo hardships, make sacrifices and exert ourselves physically. But the happiness and sense of fullness we obtain is far greater compared to the trouble taken by us. The Lord does not have to gain anything form the puja we perform. In worshipping him, in reading the sacred texts, in going on pilgrimages we find inward joy. Why do we perform puja and why do we help others? It is all our own satisfaction.
Our affection for our wife, children and others is in fact affection for ourselves. According to the Upanisadic teaching of Yajnavalkaya, it is for our own inner contentment that we love others. We perform puja to the Lord purportedly because of our devotion for him and we do social service presumably because of our love of mankind. But in truth the reason is we like ourselves and find happiness in such acts. For the sake of such happiness we do not mind encountering difficulties or making sacrifices.
If we spend money on ourselves or go seeking sensual pleasure, we do not obtain the same inner satisfaction. Work done for our own sake leads to disquiet and sorrow. We see our face in the mirror and note that there is no tilaka on our forehead. What happens if we apply a tilaka of dark unguent to the mirror[to the image]? It will be blackened. To apply a tilaka to the image means applying it to the one who is in front of the mirror. Doing things for ourselves[serving ourselves]is indeed like applying a dark spot to our mind- it is blackening ourselves. We take the image of the Paramatman reflected in the Maya mirror that is the mind to be ourselves. To bedeck the image in reality means adorning the Paramatman. This is the reason why serving humanity gives us a sense of fulfilment because humanity is a manifestation of the Paramatmam. Worshipping the Supreme Being the same. Only then will the black spot that we apply to ourselves will become an ornament. We decorate Amba to decorate ourselves. If we adorn ourselves we only enlarge our ego and feed our arrogance. When Amba is bedecked everybody will be happy about it. When we wear a well-laundered dupatta and preen ourselves, do others feel happy about it? They will speak scornfully of us: "See, how well-ironed he looks."
All of you give me heaps of garlands. You do so because you think I am great and want to express your devotion for me. You also feel that instead of wearing them yourselves the garlands would be an ornament for me. If I decorate myself with them thinking myself to be a great man, it would means that I am satisfying my ego. But you bring me garlands with devotion and would it be right for me to spurn them? So just as you want to see me decorated I want to see Amba adorned and so I offer the garlands to her.
To go in search of money, fame and sensual pleasure, thinking them to be good, is to blacken our minds. What is it that is good for us? That which is good for the world -- and it is but a form of Paramatmam. This truth is known to our inner being; we realise it deep in our mind. That is why we find greater fulfilment in doing good to others, unmindful of all the difficulties, than in finding comforts for ourselves.
The world is a manifestation of the Paramatman and so must we be too. We must remove the mirror called the mind and experience the truth within us that we are none other than the Paramatman. This is what called meditation. All the work we do ought to lead finally to worklessness, to the mediation of the Atman. The goal of all the sacraments I speak about is this.
Our actions make us happy in many ways. But in none of these actions do we find the peace that we enjoy during sleep. How we suffer if we lose even a single night's sleep? There is so much happiness in sleep. Do we not realise from this that the supreme "comfort"or happiness is worklessness. Dhyana or meditation is the state of being absorbed in the Paramatman, a state of non-doing.
In sleep we are not conscious that we are happy. It is only when we are awake that we realise that we are happy when we were asleep. The ultimate goal of meditation is samadhi in which we are fully conscious of the great bliss experienced by us. If we teach ourselves to remain in a state of non-doing within (inside ourselves) we will experience tranquillity even though we keep working outwardly. The inner peace will never be disturbed.
The quietude of Daksinamurti is the bliss of knowingness. It is not the same as the stilling of mind during sleep. In sleep there is no voluntary control of the mind; the mind becomes still because of exhaustion. Such stillness we are not capable of sustaining on our own. What becomes still during sleep, without being subject to our control, returns on our awakening again without being subject to our control.
Death too is a kind of sleep. In it, too, the mind is stilled. But with rebirth when the individual self becomes incarnate the mind starts to be active again. If we learn to control the mind voluntarily it will be able to remain in that state. Though Daksinamurti remains still without doing anything he is full of awareness. It is because he is inwardly a non-doer that he is able to do so much in an outward sense. The Daksinamurthi who remains still is the one who dances the dance of bliss, who destroys the demon Tripura and who keeps roaming as a mendicant. After granting boons to his devotees he goes from place to place. He is still inwardly but is in a frenzy outwardly. If we manage to still ourselves inwardly we will be able to do so much outwardly.
We are the opposite of Daksinamurti. We don the disguise of non-detachment in order to make others believe that we are at peace with ourselves, but inside we remain all the time agitated.
Outward calm is the first step towards inward stillness -- and this stillness is to be brought about in degrees and will not be gained at once. That is why the wise tell us:"Reduce all your sensual activities. Do not join the crowd. Try to disengage yourself from all work including that of doing good to the world. Keep away from money and dwell in the forest." But do we listen to that advice? We shall do so only when our mind is cleansed.
That is why so many rituals are prescribed to purify the mind, the consciousness. It means that, instead of asking us not to do this and that, we are asked to do(perform)this and that rite. It is natural for us to be involved in some work or other. So, without any regard for our personal likes and dislikes, we perform the rites laid down in the sastras. Even here our personal likes and dislikes will intrude but, unlike in the matter of meditation, we succeed to some extent at least in curbing them during the conduct of the rites. In due course, with the grace of the Lord, we will be able to perform good works without minding the discomfort and ignoring our personal likes and dislikes. Desire and hatred will be reduced and the mind will become pure. With the mind cleansed we will be able to perform one-pointed meditation. This is the time when we will be mature enough to forsake all works and become a forest recluse and practice meditation. If we are able to meditate with utter one-pointedness then everything will acquire the character of the Paramatman. There will be no need to leave everything and remain holding the nose with the hand. The forest, the village, solitude and crowd -- they are all the Paramatman. Both work and meditation are the Paramatman. Our inner peace will not be shaken by anything. Like Daksinamurti we can remain still and tranquil and yet be all bustle outwardly.
In the Gita, the Lord exhorts Arjuna to practise svadharma-in the case of Arjun it means waging war. The lord also propounds the yoga of meditation in which there is no"doing". He refers to the example of Janaka who was all the time working for the welfare of the people but at the same time remained in the ultimate meditation called Brahma-nistha. He himself, says the Lord, is like Janaka. There is apparently a contradiction in all this. But in reality no. The one arises from the other. In the beginning when it is not easy to control the mind and meditate on the Atman, performs rituals. Then gaining mental purity through them, that is the rituals fore sake karma and practise meditation and yoga, nothing will affect us. In this all is still inwardly and yet outwardly there will be much activity.
Briefly put, this is the concept of Bhagavatpada: ultimately everything(the phenomenal world) will be seen to be Maya. The One Object, the One and Only Reality, is the Brahman. We must be one with It, non-dualistically, without our having to do anything in the same way as the Brahman. I who bear the name of Sri Sankara, keep speaking about many rites, about puja, japa, service to fellow men, etc. It is because inour present predicament we have to make a start with rites. In this way, step-by-step, we will proceed to the liberation that is non-dualistic. It is this method of final release that is taught us by Sri Krsna Paramatman and by our Bhagavatpada. At first karma, works, then upasana or devotion and, finally, the enlightenment called jnana.
If we advance in this way, by degrees, with faith and devotion, we will obtain the wisdom and mellowness for Atmic meditation and inner control. Afterwards, we may keep doing any kind of work outwardly for the good of mankind.
What is the best means of Practising Atmic meditation? We must be imbued with the tranquillity that is Parasakti incarnate and remember every day Daksinamurti in his quiescence. Let alone the idea of forsaking all work and becoming plunged in meditation. Let us leave aside, for the time being, karma, which, itself is transformed into the high state of meditation. These are conditions to which we must arise at a later stage in our inward journey. But right now-at the beginning-let us train ourselves in the midst of our work to remain at peace and learn to meditate a little.
To start with, let karma, devotion and meditation be practised together. These are not supposed to one another but are complementary. In the end all will drop off one by one and the samadhi of dhyana alone will remain. When we start our inward journey we must keep this goal of samadhi before us. So every day, having aside all other work, we must practise meditation for some time. But all the same we must not dismiss rituals as meaningless or as a part of superstition. We must keep performing them. It is only when our impurities are washed away thus that we will realise the self-luminous Reality in us.
For a general background, please see here