By Swami Venkatesananda
From the book "Multiple Reflections"
Why is it that in spite of all these great sages and their teachings
no change has taken place in our lives? We are still trapped on the
same merry-go-round. Probably because we have not undergone one
fundamental preliminary, and that is an inner awakening. We seem to
be externally awake all the time, but inwardly we are fast asleep. We
buy these big tomes of scriptures and use them as pillows, hoping
that the message will somehow jump out of the covers and into our
heads. It does not happen. And when we go to listen to these great
men, we are definitely psychologically asleep, and very often even
What is the first and foremost condition or qualification for being a
true follower, a true disciple, or for even taking up the study of a
scripture seriously? This definition is very beautifully put in that
lovely scripture called the Yoga Vasistha. The fundamental requisite
is that there should be a clear understanding and realisation that "I
am trapped and I would like to be free from this trap." If this is
not there then the scriptures and lectures have no effect on us
whatsoever. If you have the idea: "I am trapped, but I think I can
find the way out", then also there is no awakening. `I am trapped'
means I am trapped in every way, without redemption, without the
possibility of an escape.
Take, for instance, the problem of loneliness and boredom. What do we
do in order to overcome this boredom or loneliness? We try to escape
into something that only confirms that loneliness. We find ourselves
a friend (with whom we are unable to relate) and enter into a
relationship. So together there is a boredom, together there is a
loneliness. Or, we turn on the tape recorder or record player, but
that does not take our boredom away. We are masking that boredom,
that loneliness, and trying to escape from it. Thus we enter into a
deeper, more dangerous and deadly trap. If that is not clear then the
inner awakening is not there.
Is it possible to see that whatever we do we are in a trap? Anything
that the mind creates is a trap. When there is this inner awakening
then we will profit by scriptures and lecturesif we are not totally
stupid and not, at the same time, enlightened. These are the
qualifications. Totally stupid people have no problem at all, and the
enlightened ones have no problem either. You and I, in the middle,
are the ones harassed by problems.
Total stupidity takes various forms but one characteristic is the
ability to function as if intelligent. These people shy away from
asking the right questions and can answer all the wrong questions.
They are philosophers who can create a sense of intelligence without
being intelligent. What are the right questions? That is the most
important factor. "I am trapped wherever and which ever way I look.
From morning till night I strive for happiness and I find nothing but
unhappiness." The very fact that we continue to strive for happiness
shows that we are unhappy. Face it. Whatever we do in order to
augment our happiness only destroys it.
And yet intelligent people go on doing this. They want peace of mind
and struggle for it. This struggle breaks the mind into several
pieces. Then they catch hold of one little piece and think they are
peaceful! That is the whole joke. Is that intelligence? Why is it
that having understood this sequence of unfortunate events, we still
pursue the game?
If it is decided that it is not possible to attain peace of mind or
happiness here, give up. Is that possible? No. Something still stirs
inside: "I am trapped; it must be possible to get out of this; I
would like to get out of this." If this twin aspiration is there and
if you are not completely stupid or enlightened, then you can proceed
to understand the scriptures. And where the scripture is not
meaningful, you can also take the help of a teacher.
In the Katha Upanishad there is a beautiful declaration: uttishthata
jagratawake up! No one else can do this for you. You can be the
disciple of God Almighty Himself, but even He will not be able to
wake up on your behalf. If you feel hungry, you yourself must eat.
The guru is not going to do the eating for you. The guru may indicate
to you, but it is your problem. And if you feel it is your problem,
then you awaken, and then you are awake to the problem.
Unless you stop blaming others, including yourself, for the state you
are in, you are not awake. When you are walking through a tunnel, you
see the light in front of you and the light behind you. Even so, when
you are in darkness you think you see some light in the past or in
the future. It is an absurd pastime.
Therefore, a major qualification for the student of yoga is to
realise that no one is responsible for the state you are in. No one
can bring about a spiritual awakening in you. Someone can help,
anyone can help, but you have to do it. This spiritual awakening is
brought about by life itself, but even to be awakened by life, a
certain grace and a certain inner alertness is necessary.
Waking up is easy, but to remain awake is not so easy. Those of you
who have attempted to wake up early in the morning in order to
meditate will appreciate this. You set an alarm clock, it rings and
you wake up. But to remain awake after that is not so easy. The mind
loves to sleep. Why? Because the mind is born of ignorance and
therefore it loves sleep and it loves a thick psychological blanket.
Therefore, wake up! That is your problem, your responsibility, not
the teacher's. From there on, ever be vigilant. Whenever I use this
word `vigilant', I am reminded of Buddha's famous teaching. In some
texts it is said that during one of the Buddha's last sermons, he
told his disciples: "Live in this world as you would if you were
living in a room with a live cobra at the door." Can you imagine
that? If you were in a small single room which had only one door and
no windows, nothing to escape by, and you found a cobra sitting by
that door in the middle of the night, what would you do? Would you
sleep? Would you even nod? How vigilant you would be! Such must be
the vigilance of the seeker.
It is possible for us to develop this vigilance if we understand that
we are trapped and that whatever we do to get out of this trap leads
us into a greater trap. Because the mind arises in ignorance and
plays in ignorance, it can only create restlessness and disturb our
peace. It may at times generate a feeling of happinesswhich is a
mere state of confusion. (If you have ever had true happiness for
fifteen seconds, why did you give it up? Because it was not happiness
at all!) If everything that we did ended in failure, we would stop
doing anything. So the mind leads us from one unhappiness to another,
and makes us feel sometimes that we are enjoying ourselves. That is
the game the mind plays. When this understanding arises, what happens
If you are awake and alert, can you not discover the truth concerning
life? With what does one discover the truth? Thought and mind cannot
discover the truth because they are born of ignorance. What else do
we have? There the questioner comes to an end. We can sit and think,
but we have already understood that thinking leads us nowhere. We are
awake, we are vigilant, but we do not know what else to do. Where do
we go from there? Go to some enlightened person and be enlightened.
Awakening is our job, our privilege. Enlightenment is possible with
the help of the master. (Otherwise the danger is that we might regard
ourselves as enlightened because our mind suggests we are enlightened
another trap.) So the commandment of the Upanishads is: uttishthata,
jagrata"awake, remain alert. Go to the enlightened ones and attain