A shaky life is the result of a shaky mind. A shaky mind is the result of impulses. There are two types of impulses, one due to affection and the other due to spite. Impulses of affection lead to pleasure, whereas impulses of spite lead to misery. Nevertheless, when a person is taken over by either type of impulse, he loses his mental stability, since both types of impulse cause an internal disturbance. Thus, in times of extreme misery or extreme pleasure, a person begins to think the unthinkable, presume the unpresumable, becomes engrossed in futile destructive beliefs, begins to make the wrong decisions and starts to behave inappropriately. As a result, life is devoid of complete satisfaction and supreme bliss, and becomes the prey of instability.
In the sthitpragna (steady-minded) state such impulses are absent and the mind is stable. Thus, for true spiritual, mental and intellectual progress there is no alternative but to understand and develop the sthitpragna state.
NO DESIRE FOR PLEASURES
‘सुखेषु विगतस्पृहः!’– ‘Sukheshu vigataspruhaha!’ – ‘No desire for pleasures!’ This is a surprising thought, but, if understood, it leads to the experience of true happiness.
Spruhã means desires. Here, the word sukh refers to mundane pleasures and comforts. In reality, the root of miseries lies in the desire for pleasures. It is not poverty that causes misery, but the longing to become rich is what torments a person. When we become obsessed by desires such as ‘I should be entitled to those pleasures’ or ‘I should receive such comforts’, our degree of misery increases.
Therefore, although we have already been taught not to be disturbed by miseries with the words ‘duhkheshu anudvignamanãhã’, we are now also being instructed to make sure that pleasures do not disturb us too. The Gita wants to take us one step further. It reminds us that it is hard to remain stable amid miseries, but even harder to do so amid pleasures. It is easy to understand that miseries are an obstruction, but hard to understand that pleasures are not only an obstruction, but are, in fact, even more obstructive than miseries. However, if one understands this truth, one will instantly see the change in one’s life and experience more happiness.
Let us understand this with an example. Take a student near the time of his exams. When he is busy studying and someone he does not get along with comes to him, he gets disturbed. Moreover, if the disliked person purposefully annoys him, wastes his time talking about worthless matters, makes a racket or disturbs him in any other way, he becomes miserable. This is a true but miserable situation. Now, if a close friend of that same student comes a short while later, he would immediately put his books aside and himself initiate a conversation, “How are you? It’s been a long time....” Even if his friend reminds him of his exam saying that he would come back at a more convenient time, the student would wave it off saying, “Don’t worry about my exams, I’ll manage; you must stick around for a while.” And he would then talk at length with his friend. This is also a true situation, a pleasurable true situation. The student’s preparations are hindered in both situations, the loss is the same, but the only difference is that he does not realize it in the pleasurable situation.
Mundane pleasure and pain are the two faces of maya. One harasses us whilst making us cry, the other cheats us whilst making us laugh. In both circumstances, our spiritual inclinations are disturbed and we forget Paramatma. We fail to understand this. However, in such situations the Satpurush is at bliss due to his steady-mindedness (sthitpragnata). He is engulfed in the bliss of the form of Paramatma.
Bhagwan Swaminarayan has explained this with the example of heat and frost. He says, “I also observed that the nature of the mind is like the heat of summer and the frost of winter. Just as a person can die from heat or frost, similarly, when the mind travels towards the vishays via the indriyas, if those vishays are full of miseries, the mind becomes ‘hot’ like the heat of summer; and if those vishays are pleasurable, then the mind becomes ‘cold’ like the frost of winter. Specifically, when the mind, having indulged in those vishays which are full of misery and having become ‘hot’ like the scorching winds of summer heat, enters a person’s heart, it makes the person extremely miserable and forces him to fall from the path of liberation. Such a person should be known to have died from the effects of heat. When the mind, having indulged in the pleasures of those vishays that are full of happiness and having become ‘cold’ like frost, enters a person’s heart, it makes that person complacent, thus causing him to fall from the path of liberation. He should be known to have died due to frost. However, one whose mind remains unmoved – that is, it does not become ‘hot’ upon experiencing repulsive vishays and does not become ‘cold’ upon experiencing pleasurable vishays – should be known as a Param-Bhagwat Sant” (Vachanamrut, Gadhada II 23).
Thus, both pleasure and pain destroy internal stability. The only difference is that one is like bitter poison, the other sweet; but both are in fact poison.
For us, occasions of happiness include: an increase in wealth, continually getting comforts, attaining honour and fame, being praised by everyone, achieving success in something, being involved in a big project, being asked for advice, having one’s advice accepted, being favoured, being trusted by people and superiors, receiving the chance to do something appealing, mastering music, dance, oration or art, or having such mastery appreciated, getting something we had wished for, and that too something of high value, getting more than was wished for, getting more than needed. For us, getting any of the above without any effort, not having them taken away once obtained, and having them returned if taken are all occasions of happiness. Moreover, if we get to be with someone we like, if we are effortlessly rid of a disliked person, if someone harms our enemy, if our opponent’s flaws are being discussed, if our own virtues get noted and publicized, if someone often remembers us, if someone helps us, if someone cares for us, or if someone loves us, etc. – this is a list of things we consider as happy occasions, and we can add to it at length.
The Gita emphasizes that we should not long for such pleasures. There is no objection to attaining such pleasures, but an objection to a longing for them. If we indulge in any enjoyable worldly pleasure, we will undoubtedly develop a desire for it. Therefore, we have to be more alert on happy occasions. On such occasions our actions are transformed and even our experiences change. Everything seems nice, we do not get fed up of work, we feel like helping others even more, we feel more benevolent, our mind overflows with noble constructive thoughts, we meet others peacefully, we do not think ill of even our enemies, we do our daily puja properly – in fact, we feel as though we have realized the secret of life. We experience many such feelings, but when we introspect, we realize that we are living with gross misunderstanding and evaluating life with the wrong measuring stick. The driving force behind all of the above experiences is the thought that ‘I have received some worldly pleasure’; such experiences arise from the enjoyment we get from the overindulgence of our desires and ego, which is not going to last forever. For example, the day we receive honours and fame or comforts we like, we are more enthusiastic and more tolerant; but in fact the reason behind that joy and enthusiasm is not that we are really enthusiastic or tolerant, but these are buds that have sprouted due to our egos being nourished. For this reason, when we cease to receive honour and fame or comforts, we will cease to experience any of the above; in fact, we will begin to experience the opposite. We will feel that the world has gone down the drain, that no one is bothered anymore, that no one is worth helping and that our daily puja is useless.
Therefore, so that we do not lose our inner stability on pleasurable occasions, the Gita inspires us to attain the sthitapragna state (steady-mindedness), wherein there is no grief in times of misery and no delight in times of pleasure.
Someone may question that such a state is synonymous to being like an inert rock. Such a state leads to counterproductive results, since life becomes dull and joyless and we would become machines instead of humans. Machines do not feel pleasure or pain and are thus indifferent to both. Are we to become like machines? Are we to become insensitive and emotionless? Clarifying this, the Gita teaches that the sthitapragna state is not a state of insensitivity.
The sthitpragna state is full of supreme joy that is independent of the material world. It is a state overflowing with mental bliss. A machine cannot experience such joy and bliss. Those who have attained the sthitpragna state are ever ready to do good for all jivas. Also, they are overflowing with feelings of supreme contentment and accomplishment resulting from the sakshatkar (realization) of Paramatma. There are no such feelings in a machine – neither does it have desires to do good for others nor does it have feelings of contentment or accomplishment. It is inanimate and insensitive. Feelings can never be attributed to inanimate objects. Thus, in the Gita, the sthitpragna state is described to enable one with an experience of divine joy. Hence, the teaching that we have to rise beyond happiness and misery is in reference to our worldly and material desires.
So, superficially, in the sthitpragna state one may appear to be insensitive, but there is a vast difference between the two.
The Gita teaches us how to cope with occasions of happiness. Those who have attained the sthitapragna state are effortlessly able to deal with such pleasures. They experience so much of Paramatma’s bliss that there is no question of them longing for mundane pleasures.
This can be understood by the following true incident. In 1985, due to the insistence of the devotees of England, His Holiness Pramukh Swami Maharaj was to be weighed against gold in London. In the tradition of the Sampradaya, this was a big honour. At first, Swamishri refused saying, “A sadhu should not be honoured in this way.” However, after great insistence from the devotees he agreed to being weighed against sugar crystals, which would then be weighed against gold. On the day, a grand assembly had been arranged and the festival was celebrated in the presence of thousands of devotees. Many dignitaries were present and Swamishri’s glory was being sung in the assembly; everyone was elated. It was a unique occasion for a sadhu from India to be honoured in this manner in a foreign land. When the weighing ceremony began, everyone was overjoyed and hailed ‘Pramukh Swami Maharajni jai’ at the top of their voices with great applause. The divine, emotionally charged atmosphere would have touched anyone.
Nevertheless, during these moments of great honour, Pramukh Swami Maharaj’s response reminds us of the sthitapragna state mentioned in the Gita. He was humbly looking downwards with Shri Harikrishna Maharaj in his lap and his hands folded. He did not have even the slightest trace of ego in having attained such a great honour. When it was Pramukh Swami’s turn to address the assembly, his words amazed everyone. He said, “First I bow to Parabrahman sarvavatari Purushottam Bhagwan Swaminarayan, who has given me this body. Then to my gurus, Shastriji Maharaj and Yogiji Maharaj, who have blessed and accepted me. It is due to their grace and blessings that I am standing in front of you today; therefore, I bow to them continuously. If it was not for their grace, I would not be standing here today (he then became emotional). It is my great fortune that they have blessed me and given me the chance to serve. They gave me the strength to do this seva. Furthermore, without the blessings of the sadhus and scholars of India, and without your assistance, none of this would have been possible.... It is incorrect to believe that I have done this on my own. Paramatma is the all-doer; not even a dry leaf moves without his wish. It is by his power that creation, sustenance and destruction take place. Without his strength, even a twig cannot be broken....”
During the whole address, he did not say a single word expressing joy from the honour of the suvarna tula. All those who were present experienced that Swamishri does not have even the slightest desire for such honours. This was a living example of the sthitapragna state mentioned in the Gita. Swamishri, who faces hard times without grief, does not get carried away in times of pleasure either. Everyone saw at first hand that his inner feelings and understanding do not get obscured, and he maintains extreme stability. This sthitapragna state is the reason why he is at great peace.
We can also experience that great peace if we imbibe this sthitapragna state in our lives, by not lamenting in hard times or getting carried away in times of pleasure.
Thus, the words of the Gita ‘duhkheshu anudvignamanãhã sukheshu vigataspruhaha’ raise us to the lofty terrains of spirituality and make life blissful.