One ounce of practice is worth twenty thousand tons of big talk

  • By Swami Atmapriyananda
  • July 2017
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Swami Vivekananda, just on the eve of his passing away in mahasamadhi, made the following prophetic utterance: ‘It may be that I shall find it good to get outside of my body – to cast it off as a disused garment; but I shall not cease to work! I shall inspire men everywhere, until the world shall know that it is one with God.’ (The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol.5, p.414). We believe that Swami Vivekananda is still amongst us in a subtle form. The subtle form is much more powerful that the gross form. Swami Vivekananda said, ‘I want to be a voice without a form.’ (CW, Vol.6, p.283). The formless voice of Swami Vivekananda is still reverberating in the air. All you need to do is to tune yourself and catch the vibration. Coming in touch the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda literature is equivalent, therefore, to feeling Swamiji's own divine touch in a subtle, imperceptible albeit powerful form. This would enable us to catch the vibration, will give us a special type of Internet connectivity, by which you will be able to tune in and download Swami Vivekananda’s infinite thoughts, which are floating in the Hiranyagarbha or the Cosmic Mind. Remember that Swami Vivekananda was not an individual. He appears to be an individual: he was born as an individual, as Narendranath Dutta in Calcutta, and he passed away as Swami Vivekananda in Belur Math. But that is not the Vivekananda we are talking about. We are talking about that Vivekananda who is a Power, that Vivekananda who is a Voice without a form, that Vivekananda who is Infinite and the Absolute, that Vivekananda who is merged always in the infinite Bliss. He was always merged in the supreme reality, and by the command of his own Master, Sri Ramakrishna, he delivered the message of his Master to all the people.

Swami Vivekananda prophesied: “The spiritual impact that has come to Belur [Math] will last for fifteen hundred years and this will be a great university – do not think I imagine it, I see it.” What he meant was that it would be a great place of learning, where both the para vidya and apara vidya will be cultivated. Two kinds of vidya are spoken of in the Mundaka Upanishad. There was a great householder whose name was Shaunaka. He approached a Rishi, Angiras, with great humility and asked him a very simple, direct question. The human mind is continuously asking for unification. He does not want knowledge to be fragmented. True knowledge, Jnana, is always akhanda (unfragmented, whole). Nowadays, we see it is being compartmentalized, being confined to various kinds of disciplines. But knowledge itself is one. What is that key, the master key, by which I shall be able to open the treasure house of knowledge, which is accessible to everybody? I want to know the password by which I shall be able to immediately connect to the Internet, and that connectivity will never go. Boys and girls are now dreaming of Internet connectivity and of its broadband widths of very high speed, and it should never end: 24 x 7 infinite broadband connectivity is that which every boy or girl is now aspiring for. This is the key which was sought by Shaunaka from Angiras: I want just one master key by which I shall be able to access knowledge of everything. This is what’s happening with the Google. Amazing! ‘What did you ask for?’ That is what people say, ‘Where will you find it? Google it.’ Google has become a verb now! You google it and find out, and Google is a great Hiranyagarbha, a great God, the Cosmic Mind, the storehouse of vast, almost infinite, knowledge! You have just a couple of passwords, some keywords, and you get one lakh twenty thousand entries in 0.0001 seconds – immediately you access knowledge from the Cosmic Reservoir of knowledge.

What is the secret? Your own mind is a great Google – an infinite storehouse of knowledge. So, Shaunaka is asking, ‘What is it by knowing which everything can be known?’ Angiras smiles at him and answers him in a very simple way. Two kinds of knowledge are necessary for enrichment of humanity. One is called the para vidya and the other is the apara vidya – the higher and lower forms of knowledge. Not that knowledge is divided into two compartments, but one leads to the other. All the Vedas and Upanishads, all the Vedangas are put in the category of apara vidya. Swami Vivekananda said in the Parliament of Religions: the Vedas are the only scriptures in the world which say that the study of the Vedas is secondary. Amazing, isn’t it? Which book will deny itself, will say that its study is after all not that important, that by studying the Vedas you are not going to achieve much? This is what the Vedas say, and the person who has realized the Truth sits on the head of the Vedas, say the Vedas. The Vedas as shabdarashi – as pieces of knowledge are only secondary. But as jnanarashi—embodiment of the Supreme Knowledge, they are extremely sacred. That which is primary, by which the supreme imperishable Brahman is known, is the para vidya. Then he goes on to explain what is Brahman, what is the nature of Brahman, how it is to be realized, and so on. The entire body of the Upanishads is devoted to the cultivation of para vidya.

Swami Vivekananda wanted the institutions he founded to work for man-making. What kind of men he wanted to make? A person well versed in both para vidya and apara vidya, so that he is able to access all knowledge. And this knowledge, transmuted into wisdom, is to issue freely and selflessly in loving service of others, for the love of mankind will transform humanity. That is why Swami Vivekananda said about Sri Ramakrishna, ‘From the very date that he was born, has sprung the Satya-yuga.’ (CW, Vol.6, p.335). On the horizon arose Sri Ramakrishna, who is a symbol of Divinity. Once again, do not look upon Sri Ramakrishna as a person who was born in Kamarpukur, did his sadhana in Dakshineshwar, and entered into Mahasamadhi at Kashipur. We are not referring to that Ramakrishna. We are referring to that Ramakrishna, who is Infinite and the Absolute, is the symbol of Divinity. Romain Rolland said in his famous biography of Ramakrishna: ‘The man whose image I here evoke was the consummation of two thousand years of the spiritual life of three hundred million people. Although he has been dead forty years, his soul animates modern India.’ He represents India – the eternal spiritual wisdom of India, embodied in both the para vidya and the apara vidya.

Swami Vivekananda, therefore, said that a person should be completely imbued with the idea of accessing the para and apara vidya on the one hand and service to humanity on the other. These are the fundamental ideas that he gave: tyaga and seva – renunciation and contemplation on one side and service to mankind on the other. What is necessary for this to happen? You should have the proper gadgets, the proper instruments, by which you will be able to access it. For example, for accessing all the knowledge the Internet gives you, you should have proper instruments, which you should then be able to tune to the Internet. You need the personal computer and such Internet connectivity that will not be lost easily, and you have also to prevent viruses. Now, what is the instrument you need for all knowledge? Swami Vivekananda repeatedly said that all knowledge is already within you. It does not come from books or anything outside—it is within the depths of your own being.

Ramakrishna is asking Master-mahashai, who styled himself as M., the author of the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, ‘Are you married?’ M. replied: ‘Yes sir, I am married.’ Sri Ramakrishna’s instant reaction was to cry out: ‘Oh Ramlal, look! He is married!’ M. reacted as if he has committed a great crime, hanging his head in shame. Then Sri Ramakrishna said with great affection, ‘What kind of a wife do you have? Is she of the variety of vidya or of avidya?’ That means: is she a virtuous, spiritual wife, who helps you in spiritual growth or a person who wants to drag you down in the world? M. replied, ‘Sir, she is good, but ignorant.’ He thought at that time that reading a lot of books is knowledge and not reading books is ignorance. Many people think that a man who has read a lot of books is a great man of knowledge. Mere book reading without assimilation or cultivation of wisdom simply means that so many people have vomited so many things and you have collected so much of that vomit. That’s all. It does not result in increase your true knowledge or wisdom. So Swamiji said: not one man of original thinking has been produced in the then four presidencies though the kind of negative education that we have been imparting to our boys and girls. That is so, because when we only collect, copy and repeat without understanding other people’s knowledge, original thinking is totally lost.

The knowledge by which you can see the one Reality which is manifest everywhere, that knowledge comes to you by realization of that one infinite Reality within you. Boys and girls come and ask us: How is it that Swamiji says I am able to remember anything? The moment you enter the examination hall, you forget what you have learnt, and the moment you come out, everything you seem to remember again! So, how is it that all knowledge is within you and you can manifest this knowledge? ‘All knowledge is within you’ does not mean that you have knowledge of everything in the universe. What it means is: you have the capacity to access any piece of knowledge any time through the power of concentration and purity and the power of tapasya and tyaga. Omniscience does not mean man has the knowledge of everything, but the knowledge is in a potential form in him, and he has the capacity to access it, to manifest it, with the power of concentration and purity. How does it happen? The ancient wisdom, called the Upanishads, can guide us in this regard. Swamiji repeatedly exhorted: ‘Go back to the Upanishads.’ Now, what do the Upanishads say?

A disciple goes to the Guru. In this case, his Guru is his own father. He asks, ‘Can you tell me about Brahman?’ The Guru gave a beautiful definition: ‘That from which everything arises, That in which everything is sustained, and That in which everything merges, that is Brahman.’ He is not explaining how to get the knowledge of Brahman. We mug up the answer, memorize it, and get good marks. The ancient wisdom was: the Guru helps you to think and find out the answer. This is the fundamental difference in technique. Swami Vivekananda repeatedly emphasized that. You are motivated, encouraged, and empowered to discover the truth from your own vision. Unless you discover it from your own intuition, inner vision, it will not be your own answer. This process is called jijnasa – thirst for knowledge. This is a very important word in the Upanishad. I want to know about it, I want to come to a conclusion, and for that I investigate. The whole process is through investigation and not through talking to you about the truth right at the beginning. So what is the disciple being told? ‘Tapasā brahma bijijnāsasva. Tapo brahmeti.’ (Taittiriya Upanishad, Brigu Valii, Chapter II). There are two important sentences. You will understand the Brahman through tapasya as a means, because tapasya itself is Brahman.

So the goal and the means are to become one. This is another very important point Swami Vivekananda repeatedly mentioned: make the means and the end the same. We lose the track in our life by overmuch dreaming about the goal rather than walking the path. Now there is much talk about management science. It says dreams are not enough. The important issue is how to make your dream practical. The buzz words these days are: ‘Walk the talk’!

Swami Vivekananda said, ‘The dry, abstract Advaita must become living – poetic – in everyday life; out of hopelessly intricate mythology must come concrete moral forms; and out of bewildering Yogi-ism must come the most scientific and practical psychology – and all this must be put in a form so that a child may grasp it. That is my life's work.’ (CW, Vol.5, p.104-105). These words of Swamiji are to be made practical in our everyday life. We have to hear them, think over them again and again, become saturated, mad with these ideas. Someone commented that Sri Ramakrishna had become mad by thinking too much about God. On hearing this Sri Ramakrishna said, ‘People are mad about so many things. Somebody is mad about women, somebody is mad about wealth, somebody is mad about name and fame. Why should I not be mad for God?’ Some kind of madness is required. Vivekananda’s words and thoughts are so powerful that they will penetrate into your conscience and make you a completely different kind of person. You will not know it. Unconsciously you will become a transformed person. You cannot remain the same person after listening to Vivekananda. The moment Swamiji touches you, you will be transformed.

You dream so much. There are so many books on our dreams for the year 2020, 2025, 2030, and even 2050. But, what are we going to do with our life now? This very moment what are you going to do? What’s the path you are going to take? This is what Swamiji said: Be extremely vigilant about the path you are going to take rather than only dream about the goal you are going to achieve. Your goal will be automatically achieved, if you sincerely and relentlessly walk the path. A batsman who has reached 95 runs can easily go to 100, if he concentrates on each ball, rather than keep looking at the scoreboard to look for his reaching 100! But, the moment you reach 90, your whole attention is on the score board and in dreaming about 100, and therefore you get out. Revered Swami Smarananandaji, who is one of the main inspirations behind the Mahamandal, used to tell us a very interesting incident. Once he was going to temple on a mountain. Suddenly there was a fog which completely enveloped the whole mountain path. Nothing could be seen. Visibility almost zero. But the next step could be clearly seen, just one next step and nothing else. Imagine a person is climbing stairs of about two thousands steps, and as he has gone just 500 or 600 steps, suddenly there is a fog which completely envelopes his vision and he just can’t see anything. Visibility is zero. Just one step can be seen. When they climbed that one next step, they could clearly see the next one, when they climbed that too, the next step and so on. By and by, finally they reached the top. He was very thrilled with his experience. It was the Christmas day, and he remembered the hymn by Cardinal Newman, ‘Lead, Kindly Light, amid th’encircling gloom… Keep Thou my feet, I do not ask to see the distant scene; one step enough for me.’ So, keep you focus clearly on the little next step and keep relentlessly, assiduously, tirelessly moving. Charaiveti, charaiveti¸’move on, move on’ as the Vedas say. And you will certainly reach the goal. Swamiji said that infinite purity, infinite patience and infinite perseverance are necessary for success in any endeavour and above all, Love. Do not overmuch imagine about the goal, but concentrate on the immediate next step. We are always worried about finishing something, rather than moving on with what is immediately in our hand. Management science tells you about Vision and Mission. But merely dreaming about it, without steadily moving along the path to success will not get you anywhere. Who will be able to say where you will be after some years, if just go on dreaming without acting? I always have a funny joke about the infamous incident of 11 September 2001, the 9/11 as it is called. The Twin Towers in America were destroyed by terrorists. What must have happened there on the 10th of September, can you imagine? So many organizations would have conducted so many seminars. Perhaps there was a very famous organization, which conducted a seminar on its vision for next five years. Perhaps they presented PowerPoint presentations on their vision of where we should see the company after five years! Well, in reality, where was the company after one day?! This is life, this is the uncertainly of human existence. Life is so fragile, so flimsy. Life is so uncertain and so unpredictable.

So, be intensely practical, at the same time combine your practicality with the highest idealism. What is the method for it? Swamiji said there are three important mantras: Purity, truthfulness, and unselfishness. Swamiji emphasized purity so much, particularly in the youth, that in his fiery lectures on national awakening etc., we sometimes lost sight of his emphasis on individual character. Try for six months to keep your body and minds immaculately, absolutely pure and holy, to maintain unbroken Brahmacharya, and see what power comes to you. It is not a joke, it is a pure challenge – a scientifically proven fact demonstrated by millions in India over thousands of years. The power which comes through purity and self-control is something tremendous. Self-reverence will come to you, only when you observe self-control. Why are there so much depression, inferiority complex, frustration, and gloom? Why do so much of depression, so much of defeatism come to a person? Because of lack of purity, lack of moral and ethical basis, because of perfect brahmacharya. That is why Swamiji said that your nerves should become pure, body and mind should be pure, your thoughts should always be pure and elevating.

How to achieve it? Swamiji has given us a very simple formula. Suppose you say: ‘I want to become pure, but I may feel I am impure. Impure thoughts come to me when I try to meditate or study Swamiji or at other times.’ When boys and girls tell me so, I ask them if they tried these things in the previous years and faced the same problems. They say they did. I ask them to describe what kind of thoughts used to come then. They cannot remember. So, I say: ‘What is the use of getting so anxious about what you cannot even remember after some time?’ That means things that are absolutely impermanent come and go in the first stages. Don’t give any importance of these thoughts. Fix your ideas on something which is positive, which is invigorating, elevating. Always be positive in your outlook, positive in your thinking. Abandon all negative thoughts like: I can’t do this or that. Swamiji says: Stop weeping. Wicked people never weep, they show strength however false, and make others weep because of them! Why should strong people, pure people, spiritual people weep? Spirituality should bring great strength: atmana vindate viryam, from the Atman, the Higher Self, comes great strength of character. Know that you are the Infinite Itself. Know that all power is within you. Do not brood over any impure thoughts rising in the mind, but think of yourself as infinitely strong. Swamiji said: Know that you are the infinite Self, eternally pure, eternally awakened, eternally free—nitya-suddha-buddha-mukta. You are pure, eternally pure and infinite. Identify yourself always with the eternal Spirit. ‘If the fisherman thinks that he is the Spirit, he will be a better fisherman; if the student thinks he is the Spirit, he will be a better student.’ (CW, Vol.3, p.245). Identify yourself with your real nature, and see how it awakes. Swamiji said, ‘Teach yourselves, teach everyone his real nature, call upon the sleeping soul and see how it awakes. Power will come, glory will come, goodness will come, purity will come, and everything that is excellent will come when this sleeping soul is roused to self-conscious activity.’ (CW, Vol.3, p.193).

Therefore, in order to get rid of your negative emotions, impure thoughts, the only way is to fill yourself with pure, high thoughts. Fill your mind with positive thoughts, elevating thoughts. Continuously think of them, contemplate them. Have you seen the advertisement: ‘Eat Cricket, Sleep Cricket, Dream Cricket’? Similarly, dream these great thoughts. Think of them constantly; saturate yourself with the elevating thoughts, till your whole life becomes completely overwhelmed and overpowered by these great ideas. Until you have gone to sleep, as long as you are alive with a little breath still left in your body, fill yourself with holy thoughts. Also engage in elevating discussions with your friends and companions, with other like-minded ones. Talk about elevating things. Talk, think and rejoice in discussions about Swamiji, about the Vedanta, about high, elevating ideas. The Bhagavad-Gita says (6.5): Uddaret atmanaatmanam, aatmanam avasaadayet, meaning ‘Raise yourself by yourself, never demean or degrade yourself.’ I don’t mean to say you will have to discuss religion or spirituality all the time. You may discuss science, literature, history, philosophy or any branch of knowledge that elevates you, purifies you and enriches your mind. Remember that knowledge is sacred, there is nothing more sacred than cultivation of knowledge: na hi jnanena sadrisam pavitramiha vidyate (Gita, 4.38).

The second point is: you must stick to truth without compromise. Even a little poison makes the whole food poisonous. Truth is the only most powerful thing in the universe. You may experiment, as Mahatma Gandhiji did, with practice of Truth for some time, say for a few months, and you will see how Truth protects you, fills you with new strength of character. Swamiji wrote in a letter, ‘I will compare truth to a corrosive substance of infinite power. It burns its way in wherever it falls – in soft substance at once, hard granite slowly, but it must.’ (CW, Vol.5, p.71). The moment people know that you are untruthful, you will have no credibility, you lose your image as a truthworthy person and you will certainly not have true friends. You tell me, what the greatest sorrow that could come to a person? It is when a person is not accepted by society, not trusted by society, not wanted by anybody because he cannot be truestedd. His life then becomes miserable; he is rejected as absolutely useless. There may be many provocations coming your way. Others may appear to succeed by resorting to falsehood, but ultimately it is Truth alone that trimphs. This is our national motto: satyameva jayate, ‘Truth alone triumphs.’ Never doubt this whatever be the provocation.

The third virtue is unselfishness. Swamiji repeatedly said, ‘Unselfishness is God.’ (CW, Vol.1, p.87). What is the main problem of our country? Why is it so poor and backward? You have thousands of crores of rupees at your disposal to spend. But how difficult it is to find one person who is truthful, pure, and selfless, who could be trusted with spending this money for the purpose for which it is meant! If you practise unselfishness despite all the temptations to be selfish, a great power will come to you. Thousands of people will follow you and look up to you for guidance and inspiration. You will no longer remain a person, but an institution, a great Source of Power—or purity, of truth, of unselfishness. Practise unselfishness for some time and test this for yourself. Swamiji said, ‘If a man works without any selfish motive in view, does he not gain anything? Yes, he gains the highest. Unselfishness is more paying, only people have not the patience to practise it.’ (CW, Vol.1, p.32) It may first seem to you that the unselfish people are fools because they seem to lose their worldly reward. They give up so much for others, while others seem to enjoy life at the cost of their fellow beings. There are many cunning people in this world, but all of them are so miserable, friendless, untrusted. For a change, let us be a little ‘foolish’ in the name of Swamiji and be prepared to forego our selfishness! We shall be able to do good, if only we have the conviction. Let us unleash a huge wave of purity, truthfulness, and unselfishness, so that it inundates and completely overwhelms the whole world. Let us make a new experiment in the name of Swami Vivekananda, who practised purity, truthfulness, and unselfishness. See how power and glory will come, all that is good and grand will come, when our sleeping soul, the Atman within, awakens from its slumber.

Swamiji said, ‘One ounce of practice is worth twenty thousand tons of big talk.’ (CW, Vol.3, p.212). If you practise just about a little, great will be your benefit, and with the grace of Swami Vivekananda, who represents the Infinite and the Absolute, power will come, glory will come, and your individual and collective life will become blessed. May your stay in this camp fill you with the virtues of purity, truthfulness and unselfishness. May you be saturated with holiness. Carry the elevating thoughts of Swami Vivekananda when you go back to your own workplaces and relentlessly try to put them into practice. However infinitesimally you may be able to succeed in actualizing these elevating, noble ideas and ideals, great will be your gain, blessed will be your life. Jayatu Swami Vivekananda, glory be to Swami Vivekananda.

Author is Vice Chancellor, Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda University, Belur Math

[Article is an edited version of a lecture delivered on 25 December 2014 at the 48th Annual All India Youth Training Camp of the Mahamandal held at Fulia, West Bengal]