Undisturbed in Hardships
Life is like a camel ride. We never know when the next bump will come, like Bhagwan Rama did not know what was going to happen the next morning. Such occurrences are inevitable. We must always be ready to face new challenges. We must have the strength to withstand the new problems that arise everyday. Attaining stability of mind, that is, being sthitapragna, is the secret to that strength.
Arjuna was going through a hailstorm of mental unrest. Before his outer enemies could challenge him, his inner enemies had. This was an unexpected challenge, yet there was no choice but to cope with it; there was no choice but to persevere since he simply had to succeed. The Gita teaches one how to cope and continue, and gives the inner strength to help one succeed. Shri Krishna teaches how one can become strong by giving these precepts on becoming sthitapragna.
Undisturbed in Miseries, Untouched by Pleasures
Shri Krishna Bhagwãn says, ‘दुःखेष्वनुद्विग्नमनाः सुखेषु विगतस्पृहः। वीतरागभयक्रोघः स्थितघीर्मुनिरुत्व्यते॥’ – ‘Duhkheshvanudvignamanãhã sukheshu vigataspruhaha, veetarãgabhayakrodhaha sthitadheermuniruchyate’ – ‘One who does not become agitated when experiencing miseries, remains detached even on attaining pleasures, and is free of desires, fear and anger can be called steady minded or sthitapragna’ (Gitã 2.56).A stable mind is a sound basis for good health. A steady mind is directly related to the pleasures and pains we experience every day. Some describe life as a sum of pleasures and pains. Our sadhus have deduced that ‘Life is an ocean of pleasures and pains.’ Pleasure and pain are both very influential. They have a deep effect on our daily lives. Sometimes we are enthusiastic, and at other times downhearted; sometimes we feel excited, and at other times bored – these mood swings are caused by the oscillations of pleasure and pain. However, we can make such an unsteady life as calm as a peaceful lake if we rise above the feelings of pleasure and pain. This is the realm of those who have attained the state of sthitapragna. There are no oscillations due to pleasure and pain, and therefore no mood swings either. There is no agitation, just peace, utmost peace, the utmost peace of Paramãtmã.
Undisturbed in Miseries
No one likes miseries, but they cannot be stopped. Misery is felt due to many things: we may not get something we want; something we do get may not be to our expectations; something we have may be stolen or broken, or somebody may borrow it but not return it; we may struggle to get food; if we do get some, it may not taste good; or we may fall into financial difficulties. There is no end to the problems of running a household. We may have to spend our lives with someone we do not get along with. We may not get to stay with someone we like. We may not be respected in our family. No one loves us. No one cares for us; if they do, they do so unsympathetically. Those who keep in contact, do so for selfish reasons; they just act as if they care about us and love us; they praise us in our presence, but leave nothing unsaid in our absence. Some do not voice it, but hold a deep obstinate grudge. Quarrels, not speaking to one another or even physical harm occur regularly, and there seems to be no end it. Our trust may be breached.
Sometimes our bodies may no longer be able to perform. We may become subject to one illness after another and our health may not improve. Medicines become a part of our diet. Pills may not have the desired effect and there seems to be no end to expenses.
Sometimes we have no place in society. We are scorned due to poverty or lack of skill. We have to live under someone’s suppression. Being mentally exploited has become a part of our lives. Our superiors or partners do not understand our realities; they believe the opposite; they scold us from their position of power without a second thought. We try to explain the truth a thousand times, but the listener is stubborn in his beliefs. Yet, they immediately listen to others, even if they are completely lying. They always look upon us with a doubtful eye, never even considering to trust us; they trust the unrighteous more.
Even the extremely ordinary work of others may be appreciated and anything we have done, even if it be much better, done with good intentions, or even done as a true favour, never gets noticed. Our efforts are suppressed with sarcastic statements like, ‘As if you’ve done something great!’ There is always partiality involved.
No one listens to us. We may not be involved in making decisions that affect us. We may not be treated with respect. We may be insulted or humiliated in public and told, ‘You don’t know anything.’
This is just a short list of the miseries we may come across in life.
It is important to realize that the above are not just theoretical possibilities, but they reflect reality. These precepts from the Gita reveal how to keep the mind free of agony in the face of these painful realities.
To understand things more let us look at pain and misery from a different perspective. Pain is something physical and the agony in our minds caused by that pain is misery. For example, if one has an accident and suffers from a few bruises, a broken hand or leg or other injuries then one feels pain. However, that pain itself is not misery. Further, if one develops a fever, the body may ache, but that is not misery; it is physical pain. The misery that is experienced following injury or during a high fever is due to the mental reactions to the situation, such as, ‘What will happen to me?’, ‘I’ll die!’, and other such negative and fearful thoughts. Another example: a sudden loss of job or financial troubles in business will result in hardships, but that is not misery. The mental repercussion in such situations is misery.
Illness may not be prevented, but the misery of illness can be. Job or business problems may not be prevented, but the mental stress can be. Being sthitapragna gives this power. It is the technique that helps to conquer miseries and stress. Shri Krishna begins to reveal that technique with the words ‘duhkheshvanudvignamanãhã’. Here, the word ‘duhkheshu’ refers to situations that are often labelled as causing misery. In reality, however, whether a situation causes misery or happiness depends on how a person responds to it mentally.
The words of the Gita, ‘duhkheshvanudvignamanãhã’, reveal another reality. There is no method for removing misery-causing situations from life. Everyone encounters them, be they a normal person or even the Satpurush. They are an inevitable part of life. The situations may not be avoidable, but the mental response to those situations can be controlled. These words of the Gita clearly indicate that by calming one’s thoughts one can experience peace of mind in any situation.
The Satpurush has such knowledge. Having this true knowledge is the sthitapragna state. It is a true and firm understanding of the form of Paramatma.
A sthitapragna person has his mind focused on Paramatma. He has mastered the knowledge that Paramatma is the doer, the destroyer and the liberator. Therefore, even in bad times, his inner calmness is not affected. Even in such difficult situations, he does not blame Paramatma by saying, ‘I have done so much bhakti for you, yet you still give me these hardships?’ He believes each incident to be the grace of Paramatma, since, ‘Paramatma is never the enemy of his servant. Whatever he does is for our good.’
This is why, no matter what event has taken place, such a person can tranquilly take on the next task and not let the previous activity affect the current one.
This understanding is not a futile imaginary thought formulated to wish away life’s problems. Such a person experiences first hand that whatever has happened, is happening and will happen is according to Paramatma’s wish.
We can see this more clearly if we look at a real example.
In the past, Param Pujya Pramukh Swami Maharaj has had a heart attack and undergone cardiac bypass surgery. On 19 September 2007, he was undergoing some cardiac medical tests in Mumbai. He was taken into a cabin for the tests. After the tests were over, Dr K.N. Patel came to Swamishri and said, “Swamishri! As Dr Ashwin Mehta (one of India’s leading cardiologists) was leaving after completing your tests, he said to me, ‘Pramukh Swami is amazing! I saw his face before the tests and while he was in the cabin. There was not even the slightest hint of worry on his face. I have treated many great celebrities, be they religious leaders or prime ministers, everyone’s face changes at such times. I have even seen some of them become depressed. But Pramukh Swami’s expressions haven’t changed in the slightest.’ ”
Hearing this, Swamishri said, “We take Thakorji with us, he worries about us, whatever he wishes will happen, he is the all-doer.”
On the early morning of 25 January 1974, Pramukh Swami Maharaj was departing for his first overseas tour as the spiritual guru of BAPS. He was going from Mumbai (India) to Nairobi (Kenya, Africa). Swamishri, along with eleven other sadhus, was given a grand farewell by thousands. Air India’s ‘Gaurishankar’ jumbo jet took off and soon landed in Nairobi.
Hundreds of devotees were waiting at the airport to welcome Swamishri to the African continent with garlands of flowers. Suddenly, there was an unexpected announcement, “Pramukh Swami Maharaj and his party will not be able to disembark the aircraft. They will have to return to India.” The words of the announcement struck hard. This was heartrending for the devotees of Africa. Many questions began to arise: Why did something like this happen all of a sudden? What about our reputation? Who is behind this foolishness? Everyone began to chatter amongst themselves. Everyone became agitated. Everyone wondered how Swamishri must be feeling. He, too, had heard the announcement. But his only reponse was, “As is Paramatma’s wish.”
He had the same contentment on his face, there was no change in his feelings and he was just as calm. This was a living example of the state of being sthitapragna described in the Gita. The officials and observers were more intrigued by Swamishri’s understanding of the all-doership of Paramatma than his lack of concern for the humiliation of being turned back.
Even more awe-striking was that Swamishri immediately began to worry about Thakorji’s thal (meal). His clear and composed actions revealed that for him it was as if nothing humiliating had happened. On returning to Mumbai, he gave everyone so much joy that it was as if they had forgotten completely about the incident. He himself then elaborated upon Vachanamrut Gadhada I 74, “The extent of one’s understanding can be measured only in times of some hardship, but not otherwise…. We are the servants of God; so we should be pleased with whatever pleases him…. Moreover, if God seats us on an elephant, we should remain happy by sitting on an elephant; and if he seats us on a donkey, then we should remain happy by sitting on a donkey;… But in no way should we harbour any joy or grief in our minds, because everything happens by the will of God. So, just as a dry leaf is blown in the air according to the direction of the wind, we should also remain dependent on him and joyfully worship God, not allowing any frustration to enter our minds.” The secret to being sthitapragna are held in these words. When Swamishri was explaining these words, it was clearly evident to everyone that he was speaking on the basis of his practical application of them in his life.
Due to the difficult situation (i.e., the impending war before him), Arjuna’s mind was disturbed. That is why he had asked, ‘Sthitapragnasya kã bhãshã’ – ‘O Krishna, what are the characterstics of the steady minded.’ Answering with the words ‘duhukheshu anudvignamanãhã’ Shri Krishna directed him towards becoming sthitapragna.
We too can imbibe this secret in our lives if we remember such divine incidents from the life of the Satpurush. By doing so, we will no longer become agonized in hard times, we will never lose our patience, and we will gradually become more engrossed in Paramatma and fully acknowledge his all-doership.