|AHYMSIN NEWSLETTER, ISSUE - November 2019|
Wisdom Within Stories
by Swami Veda
[This is a transcript of recording #2474 from the series “Loving Meditations” (1984) by Pandit Usharbudh Arya (later Swami Veda Bharati).]
One who is world-weary often needs no other instruction. His world-weariness, called vairagya (dispassion, disinterest) itself pulls him to something ever more interesting. And his spaces become infinite. By abandoning the finite, he gains the infinite. By throwing away the limited, he becomes endowed with unlimited riches, as one fortunate enough who may exchange his glass bead for a diamond. Such a one is truly blessed. And no one has to instruct him in the relative value of the glass bead and the diamond.
As he goes to this “Secret Grove” – remember the “Secret Grove” we found?1 – again, and again, he discovers more interesting things about it: which blossom came, which tree bore fruit, which leaf died, where a bird sat, what shoots are cropping up, how the fragrances change with the seasons, how the earth smells after a drizzle in that grove. What silly people of the city do not understand is why he goes and runs to the wilderness and cannot be found. They think he is lost. He says he has found! And his mind turns again and again and again to the same inward grove, that fragrant garden. And whatever he looks at, whatever he observes, whatever he tastes, touches, smells, sees, hears reminds him of that which he has discovered within himself.
He is like a man who used to make arrows. From morning until night, he would make arrows. His mind was absorbed in making arrows. We have a saying in the ancient texts in the Upanishads: “Your mantra is the bow. Your Atman, your Spiritual Self, is the arrow. Set the arrow well on the bow and shoot. And as an arrow becomes one with its target, so let your Atman, the Spiritual Self, become one with the Supreme One who is the target of your shot. The arrow is the Self.”2
So this man used to make arrows. And he used to supply the whole army, and all the commanders, and even the king himself – whom he had never seen. He had heard of the king, but all he had seen was arrows. And one day the king came out in procession, going through the city. And the arrow-maker sat, making his arrows. And for a moment he glanced up, and he saw more arrows. And he kept looking at the arrows until the arrows passed. And the king’s policemen came to him and said, “The whole city rises, and the king passes, and you just sit there gaping?! Have you no respect for the king?!” And he said, “King? What king?” “You fool, the king who just passed in procession!” “Oh!” he said, “Was it the king who was bearing the arrows? I only saw the arrows that he was carrying in his quiver. I never saw any king. From morning till night, I make arrows. I have heard that these arrows have also been received well by the king. Something drew my attention, and I looked up, and I saw these arrows. And I was examining their quality and how they looked, and how the parts fit together. I had no idea there was a king passing by.”
The beautiful wife of a rich man of the city quarreled with him and walked out into the marketplace. A Buddhist monk, named Matisa – so say the Buddhist texts – sat meditating. He was going through one of those “applied” meditations that are so deeply and commonly taught in Buddhism. And his meditation was, at that moment, on the skeleton. Can you see your own skeleton – what you look like inside this plastic wrap? It’s one of the very profound Buddhist meditations. The beautiful woman passed. She was laughing. Her teeth were showing. The monk sat meditating on the skeleton. The rich man was looking for his wife with whom he had quarreled and had gone away. He went around the city looking for her and asked the monk, “Did you perchance see my beautiful wife?” The monk said, “Beautiful Wife?” “Yes,” said the husband. “She’s a very beautiful woman.” The monk said, “I saw someone’s teeth. I was meditating on a skeleton, and I did see a skeleton wrapped in skin. Of beauty I know nothing.” You might think this to be a little extreme but, you see, we all have our own notions of beauty.
Did I ever tell you the story of the two beautiful fishes? Anyone here knows that story, have heard it? No? Well, you know, we have these two rivers in India: the Ganga (Ganges) and the Yamuna – and they both flow from the Himalayan Mountains. And after flowing for some thousand miles, at a certain point they join together. It’s a very holy place. So a fish from the River Ganga (the Ganges) and a fish from the River Yamuna met at this confluence, as we often meet at confluences. How many confluences are there in our lives? And at those confluences we meet the fellow fish from other streams. So at that particularly holy confluence, a fish from the Ganges and a fish from the Yamuna met: “Where are you from?” “I’ve come down the Ganga River.” “Yeah, I have heard of you ugly fellows.” “What? Us ugly fellows? We have heard of you ugly fellows from the River Yamuna. Everybody knows who is ugly and who is beautiful.” “Us? We are the most beautiful fish anywhere in the world.” So there was a dispute as to whether the fish from the River Ganges or the fish from the River Yamuna were beautiful. Which one of those two was particularly more beautiful? So they said, “Let’s not fight here. Let’s get some arbitration.” So, that particular area of the river is well known for its turtles. So the two went to a turtle and said, “Sir, excuse us, please. We are sorry to disturb you. You are known for your wisdom” — because, you see, we have a saying in the Tradition that a turtle who withdraws all his limbs is like a wise man who withdraws all his senses. “We are very sorry to disturb your withdrawal, but would you please tell us which one of us two is the more beautiful?” And the turtle with his little neck looked this way on one, looked that way at the other, and looked at the two of them again the way that turtles look at things – and laughed. “What do you two have to do with beauty? If you want to see beauty, look at a turtle!”
So we all have our opinions about beauty and ugliness. And I don’t want to challenge your concept of beauty, but the monk Matisa, who was busy at that time meditating on a skeleton, saw a beautiful woman passing by laughing, and all he could see was the ultimate end of the body.
So your mind turns again and again and again to that truth that you cultivate. That is called bhavana. The word bhavana in Sanskrit has two meanings. One meaning is “to cultivate through contemplation,” to cultivate a certain thinking, to impress the same thing upon yourself, again and again and again, until it becomes your nature. And then you have a wholly altered worldview. The other meaning of the same word bhavana is “sentiment” – because all sentiment is something you have cultivated. If time permits, I’ll talk more about sentiments.
Quite often you may have cultivated a certain sentiment for a long time, but somewhere along the line your mind wanders. You become drawn to something other than what you were previously cultivating. You are sidetracked. You go through a diversion. You gather a different karma. You are born, you live in a new physical body, and sometimes for years nothing might happen. The world weighs heavy. The duties must be done. Exams must be passed. There is the serious business of growing up. There is marriage, children, a job – all of that. And if you do not do all of those things and do not take care of them, the karma weighs heavy, and you feel there is something, there is something, there is something yet to be done, yet to be done. And you sit down to meditate, and the mantra alternates with the words “yet to be done” – mantra, mantra mantra – “yet-to-be-done, yet-to-be-done, yet-to-be-done” – mantra, mantra, mantra – “yet-to-be-done, yet-to-be-done.” And so long as there are these “yet-to-be-dones,” in your meditation, this alternating of your mantra and your “yet-to-be-dones” will continue. And when you have all the yet-to-be-dones taken care of, then, like Krishna, you say,
3.22 – na me pārthāsti kartavyaṁ / triṣhu lokeṣhu kiṁchana
“O Arjuna, there is nothing in the whole universe that I have to do that is yet to be done, nothing that I have not yet attained that I have yet to attain. Yet I continue to perform actions. For beings everywhere follow my path and imitate me. Were I to cease to act, then all the worlds and all the beings will be removed from their rightful path.”
So when all the yet-to-be-dones are done, then the actual yet-to-be done begins. And that is compassionate uplifting of others. Then universal love begins.
So sometimes a person with intense spiritual commitment may be born and not be aware of that spiritual commitment for years and years and years of his life – never even think about it because he is too busy taking care of the past karma, the past debts that he has got to pay off. The woman he had promised to marry and did not marry – at a certain confluence they meet: “Excuse me. Have I ever seen you before?” “No.” “Did you live in Minneapolis?” “I’ve never been there.” “Hum? Very strange! You seem familiar.” Do you know that some people look like they looked in their past life? You would be surprised.
Among you sometimes I recognize some people who were my students. The subtle body shapes similar bodies. Do you know how the shape of the body comes? Oh, it comes from the genes; I forgot. I’m sorry. (Laughter). I’m trying to be scientific. I’m from the East, you know. (Laughter)
The thing is that the modern scientists explain the “how.” The spiritual scientists explain the “why.” And the “how” and the “why” have to combine to produce you, okay? The understanding of “why” does not cancel out the understanding of “how.” Nor should the understanding of “how” ridicule the understanding of “why.” Nor should the understanding of “why” make you so “holy” that you lose all understanding of “how.” You see?
So for years and years and years a person may proceed and carry on with the worldly activities. And at a certain juncture, when a certain heavy load of karma is already paid off – the large debts are already paid off – suddenly a “re-cognition” comes! Something somewhere reminds you. It may even be five minutes before the death of this body. It makes no difference. If five minutes before the death of this body, you have found your Self, then you have found! Life has been worthwhile.
There is the story of a man who was a carpenter. He was a carpenter who specialized in making the “bed legs.” That’s all he made all his life. So his name in Sanskrit is Khaṭvāṅga, which means “the leg of a cot.” Khaṭva = “cot.” So he was nicknamed “Cot-legs.” And all his life, Cot-legs the carpenter made cot legs. And the great sage came by and said, “Hey, Cot-legs!” “Yes, Sir?” “Put your tools away.” “I should put my tools away? Why should I put my tools away?” “Put your tools away. You’ve got only forty-eight minutes left.” “Forty-eight minutes? Forty-eight minutes to what?” “Forty-eight minutes to your death!” Cot-legs put his tools away and put his cot legs away. At that moment he put them away. He really “put them away!”
And when you put something away, put it away! We keep carrying the subtle body of everything with us. Do you follow? And that is our problem. So even at the happiest place, we cannot be happy. So when he put his cot legs and his hammer and his saw away, he really “put them away.” And when you have really “put them away,” what happens?
He said, “Death?” And he turned his mind inward. And for forty-eight minutes…because all his debts had already been paid through his whole life through his carpentry, through his work, through his service to the people. He had done it all intensely. It was already paid off. And when it was already paid off, then the saint appears on the scene, just forty-eight minutes before his death. And the word “death” reminds him of his reality. And he puts away the worldly tools, and he enters into himself. And in forty-eight minutes he achieved the highest realization, enlightenment, and died an enlightened man. "Cot-legs" the Carpenter. We read many such stories.
In the Sankhya system of philosophy, there is a famous name in all the Sankhya philosophy texts. Sankhya philosophy is the philosophy of discrimination – the discrimination between matter and spirit, between non-Self and Self. And in this particular tradition, among the highly realized, a name occurs: Piṅgalā the Prostitute4 – a very high name. They say, “May enlightenment come to like it did to Piṅgalā the Prostitute – in one evening!”
By the fact of some past karma, Piṅgalā lived the life of a prostitute. That was her life, that was her reality, her living, her survival. One day Piṅgalā put on all her makeup and her attractive clothes and stood outside her house, waiting for a possible customer to come by. Every time a man comes by, every time she sees a man coming down the road, she says in her mind, “This must be the rich man I’m waiting for.” The man passes by her and goes his way. She sees the next man coming. Her heart jumps with hope: “I hope he’s a rich man and he’s coming for me.” And he passes by. And her heart sinks. And the whole evening, she went inside the house, came out of the house, stood there – her heart jumping with expectation; her heart sinking with disappointment – jumping with expectation, sinking with disappointment until past midnight – her legs aching. And she went into her house, and she sat down, and she said, “What a life! – a series of expectations and disappointments, and expectations and disappointments. I’m weary! I’m world-weary! Even if I were to give up this particular type of life, would I then not have this continuous cycle of high expectations and really low disappointments, and expectations and disappointments? In no other kind of worldly life do I see myself delivered from these cycles of expectation and disappointment. What? Day after day? All the time? I have to keep living through this kind of an evening I have lived today no matter what I do? And immediately the realization came to her. That day, that moment she became world-weary – because that was the day that all of her karma was done! And one night, waiting for customers, and disappointed in that, Piṅgalā the Prostitute became enlightened.
There must be some hope for the likes us. You see, I go by this theory: “Others have been delivered, why won’t I be?” People say, “Others have been delivered, but one such as me has no hope.” Why not? In fact, when the right time comes, you’d better respond. There comes a moment in life when you have no alternative but to respond, for at that moment your life itself will be terminated. Because what you had to do with the physical body, so far as the worldly duties and the worldly desires are concerned, has already been done. And this body is of no use – except for spiritual pursuit.
There is a community in India called the Sikhs. The word sikh means a disciple. The founder of that particular line was a great guru named Nanak. One day Nanak, together with one or two of his disciples, realizing that right time had come, came to the house of a disciple – called upon him. The disciple’s name was Mulah. Mulah’s wife saw the guru coming, and she thought, “Here he comes. He’s going to take my husband away.” Now we have in India these cow-dung cakes, used for fuel. The cow-dung is shaped into cakes and dried. It’s a really very good fuel. It saves wood and is excellent. So where she used to keep the supply of these cow-dung cakes was the fuel storeroom. And she calls her husband and says, “Go hide in there.” So Mulah went and hid in there. So when Guru Nanak came to the door and asked for Mulah, she said, “Sorry, he isn’t home.” Guru Nanak knew what was going on and said, “Alright.” The guru left the village and sat outside the village under a tree, chatting with his other disciples, waiting for the bad news. And very soon the wife came, disheveled, crying her eyes out, because in that fuel storeroom where she had hidden her husband, he was bitten by a snake and had died. See? So when the call comes, it has to be responded to one way or another.
And as I was saying the day before yesterday, some people are lucky to have found fortune from misfortune. The story of a very holy family of the 13th century – the father, a very highly realized man, the mother, four children: Nirvṛttinath, Sopanath, Jñānadev and their sister Mukta. Going on a pilgrimage and through a forest, they saw a lion and ran helter-skelter – ran for their lives. And then they all united, except for the elder one, Nirvṛttinath. He could not be found. They thought, “Oh, he’s been lost in the forest, or eaten by a lion.” Chased by a lion, Nirvṛttinath runs into a cave, and his would-be guru Gahininath says, “Come in. I’ve been waiting for you.” Some are chased into the guru’s cave by a lion!
After some time Nirvṛtti came out, returned to the family, initiated his brothers and sister. His brother, writing his books, never mentions the name of his brother as a brother. Everywhere he refers to him as his guru. Nowhere does he say, “My brother taught me.” He speaks of his guru. And all of them, the brothers and the sister – enlightened! One of the brothers, Gandev, writes about the initiation of his sister. The commentator speaks of the death of the sister, but I don’t believe that. He is writing about the initiation, because the initiation is a death. He’s writing about the initiation of his sister by the elder brother, the guru: “The powder of pearls was thrown in the skies. There was a brilliant flash of lightning. The sky was clothed in beautiful purple. The brilliant blue point began to shine. A serpent’s young one” – Who is a serpent’s young one? “A serpent’s young one began to dance. In dazzling thunder, the lightning disappeared in itself.”
I wish I could read to you the writings of these great saints. Muktabai, the sister, tells us that she was leading merely a blindfolded life, but she was awakened to spiritual consciousness by the grace of Nirvṛtti, the brother, the guru. She compares the grace of Nirvṛtti to the bank of a river, across which, and by the help of which, she was able to swim to her goal. She tells us also that she saw an ant floating in the sky, and that this ant was able to devour the sun. “A great wonder it was,” she says, “that a barren woman gave birth to a child. The scorpion went to the underworld and the serpent fell at its feet. A fly was delivered and gave birth to a kite.” At these experiences, says Muktabai, she laughed. It’s a very highly symbolic language of internal experiences, somewhat similar to the “Showings” of Julian of Norwich. She asks us, “Who has been able to see the moonlight by the day, and the hot sunlight by night?” as she has. She tells us, “As the trees in the forest become fragrant by a sandalwood tree which is in the midst of them, similarly people begin to love God when there is a devotee in the midst of them.”
There are a lot of times when the sandalwood objects you buy are not sandalwood objects. They take ordinary wood and put it in between sandalwood. And the fragrance is imparted to the ordinary wood, which is then carved and sold as sandalwood. This example is always given to speak of the glories in grace and blessings that come through what we call satsanga, the love of the saintly, the company of the saintly – that in the company of the fragrant sandalwood, ordinary wood becomes as fragrant as sandalwood and fetches the price of sandalwood. So by ever sitting in the company of the pure and the saintly – who knows? – you too might pass for a saint. The beauty of it is that sometimes it is helpful – because sometimes you first begin to do saintly deeds because you have to keep up the image. (Laughter) Well and good – because after a while it becomes a habit. Habit becomes nature. Nature changes your personality. Your personality creates your destiny. Quite often a hypocrite ends up being a saint by this very process. No harm. Every donkey needs his carrot. (Laughter) We all need our carrots. We all need our hidden motivations. By whatever motivation you follow the path, follow it. Walk a little on it. Walk a little on it.
And it is not necessary – it is not even advisable – that you should abandon the yet-to-be-dones. The yet-to-be-dones must be done. And at the same time, in a hidden recess of your personality, your sadhana, your personal practice must go on. Sometimes it may take a long time. Sometimes just a little desire may linger.
One of the great siddhas… There is a list of 84 siddhas (adepts, accomplished ones) in the Tibetan tradition. One of them was Sarahapa. Sarahapa said to his wife, “Would you mind cooking today some radishes? Cooked radishes are really a very nice dish.” She said, “Fine,” and she went out to get the radishes. Now, waiting, waiting, Sarahapa went into samadhi. And it is said in the narrative that he went into samadhi and for twelve years he did not rise. And after twelve years, he opened his eyes, and his wife was around – twelve years older. He looked at her and said, “Where are my radishes?” “What?” his wife said, “In this season?” “What do you mean, ‘in this season’?” “Do you know what day and time and season it is?” He said, “What?” She said, “Since you asked for the radishes the last time, it’s been twelve years.” So twelve years passed, but the desire for radishes did not go. (Laughter). She said, “Twelve years you sit in samadhi, and you still ask me for radishes – and in the wrong season?”
So it is that a desire may linger. (Laughter) So if it’s only a desire for radishes, get the radishes cooked and eat them, and forget about it. Live in the world. Do your duties in the world, perform all your yet-to-be-dones, love senselessly, give selflessly.
Are you a little larger than this morning? This morning we said, “Try to become just a little larger.” Are you a little larger than this morning? That would be nice to hear.
And quite often not performing the worldly duties becomes the obstacle in the way of spiritual progress. Quite often, performing the worldly duties is no obstacle in the way of spiritual progress because in the inner recesses of your personality, there are very still places which always remain still, while on the exterior surface hectic activity continues. Without ceasing the hectic activity, learn to enter the still places.
Some people are successful only in this world. Some people are successful only in the other-worldly matters. How about being successful in both? That is the highest ambition. Some of the highest names in metaphysics are of the tradition called the Royal Sages in the Sanskrit texts, the kings who are sages, the kings who were highly enlightened – that the hermits sent their disciples to study in the palace, rather than the princes [of the palace] going to the [forest] ashram. There is such a tradition! There is a tradition of the gurus from the ashram sending their sons and disciples to study in the palace from the king to learn metaphysics. And these are the highest names, those teachers.
1) For “the Secret Grove,” see Swami Veda’s talk, entitled “Your Own Secret Grove by the River” (#2473) in this same series of talks: Loving Meditations (1984).
2) “Holding the bow of Upanishadic wisdom, the aspirant should fix the arrow of mind, sharpened with meditation, on its target. Draw the string with full absorption and shoot at the target. O my friend, remember immutable, eternal Truth alone is the target.” Chapter 2, Canto 2, Verse 3 in Wisdom of the Ancient Sages: Mundaka Upanishad by Swami Rama.
3) Swami Veda does not recite Bhagavad Gita 3.23 in Sanskrit; however, he does include the essence of this verse in his English translation. Elsewhere he has translated these three verses of the Bhagavad Gita as follows:
4) The story of Piṅgalā the Prostitute is found in the Srimad-Bhagavatam, Canto 11, Chapter 8, Verses 22-44.
Thank you to Michael Smith for sharing and to the transcriptionists who have worked on transcribing Swami Veda Bharati’s lectures.