There is an interesting Indian story that is relevant to the commencement of Vedantic studies pointing out its importance.
Once, there was a great scholar in Sanskrit. He happened to be born in a family of scholars. His father and grandfather were great scholars. He grew up among scholars. He happened to go on a pilgrimage alone. He had to cross a wide river on a boat and there was a boatman to take him across. Since he was the only passenger, he picked up a conversation with the boatman.
He asked him: "Do you know Sanskrit Grammar?"
"No. I do not."
"You do not know Sanskrit Grammar?"
"I do not. What is Grammar?" the boatman asked.
Because his father and grandfather had been boatmen, he had not thought it necessary to study in order to make a living. Nor did he know that there was a discipline of knowledge known as grammar. The scholar was both astounded and horrified. He had lived among scholars all his life and could not imagine anyone not knowing grammar. He said to the boatman, "You do not know grammar? You do not even know what grammar is? What kind of a life is that? What access do you have to all the compounds in Sanskrit? You must necessarily know grammar in order to enjoy the language. You are only living three-fourths of a life. One fourth is gone!" The boatman did not seem to mind.
The scholar continued, "Do you know at least s¡hitya, literature?"
The boatman once again answered, "I have not read any literature."
"Did you study phonetics? Did you study Kalidasa?"
Again the answer was 'No'.
The scholar then told him, "Another one fourth of your life is gone."
"Can you read and write?" he asked him.
"No, I cannot read nor write. I cannot even sign my name."
"You cannot read! You cannot write! What can you get out of life? You cannot take a book in hand and read and enjoy it. You can only enjoy what your simple senses can satisfy, nothing more. This means that yet another fourth of your life is gone."
The scholar concluded that the boatman was living only one-fourth of his life since he was alive and rowing the boat. So he told him that three-fourths of his life was gone.
The boatman became very sad now. Rowing the boat, he thought to himself, "My father told me to go to school. He advised me to be not like him. But I had always told him that if he could live his life by rowing a boat, why not me. I should have gone to school. Three fourths of my life is gone. I am living only one fourth of my life."
As the boat continued to proceed, the scholar noticed water seeping into the boat. Alarmed, he said:
"Yeh, down below, there is water under my feet."
The boatman saw water gushing in through a hole. All efforts to block the hole failed. The boat was now half-filled
with water and was sinking. It became clear to the boatman that he could not save the boat.
He looked at the scholar and asked him "Panditji, do you know swimming?"
"No,". the scholar replied. "I do not know swimming."
Then the boatman said to him, "Panditji, I am sorry. Your whole life is gone."
Without the knowledge that counts, that makes a difference between life and death, what is the use of knowing everything else? Ved¡nta is like tara¸a-vidy¡, knowledge of swimming, which helps one cross the ocean of saÆs¡ra.
Because that tarana-vidya, the swimming is a vidya that makes you cross. And Arsha VidyA is a vidya that helps you cross. Without that vidya every other vidya that you have is purely an ornament owned by a person who doesn't think that I am beautiful. A person who doesn't think that I am beautiful or acceptable.. let that person put make-up – any amount of make-up. But behind that makeup, the person is not accepting himself or herself. Similarly a vidya that helps you accept yourself as a person, and everything else is an embellishment. So this make-up should make the beauty of the person come out. It is not for covering the ugliness of the person. If a person thinks that "I am ugly" or that "I am no good", even though one can make up, cover up the whole thing, still inside I know that "I am ugly". And for that knowledge there is no cover up at all.
I know a lot of people who have grey hair and who can't stand the grey hair. Therefore they dye their hair to cover up the grey colour. Even though they may cover up the grey colour of their hair, they cannot cover up their knowledge of the grey colour by any amount of dye.
Self-non-acceptance is common to all human beings.
This knowledge of limitations of the body-mind-sense complex, is basis of one's self-non-acceptance – the basis of one's self-condemnation. It is common to all. Every human heart has this problem. In fact this problem is the fundamental human problem.
In the Upanishad there is a story. That Narada, who is a great man, comes to a great sage called sanatkumara and tells him;
"Sir please help me. shokasya paaram tarayatu. I am in great sorrow. Please help me, the one who is in sorrow, cross this ocean of samsara."
Then, the teacher, (Sanatkumara) asked him : "How much do you know?"
And Narada answered,
"I know the four Vedas. And I know the shadangas – that is shiksha, kalpam, vyaakaranam, jyotisham, ityadi. The shadanagas are the six limbs, the six disciplines of knowledge which are helpful understand the Veda. I know these shad-angas which are the six secondary disciplines of knowledge. All these I know."
(further) he said,
"I know physics, bhuta-vidya. I know preta-vidya. So I can contact spirits etc. I know kkshetra vidya. I know nakshatra vidya….
he goes on giving a big list of vidyas, disciplines of knowledge he had studied. And at the end of it he says.
'Hey Bhagavan, sah aham – I am the great Narada of this great knowledge. but still I am in sorrow. Please help me."
And Sanatkumara said,
"You know everything like that pandita without knowing swimming. you know everything. But you do not know one vidya, which makes the difference bwteen self-acceptance and self-non-acceptance".
The human heart is the self-conscious heart. If you are not conscious of yourself, you have no problem really. But the human heart is self-conscious – this faculty of the buddhi is given. Also the faculty to judge is given. So there is self-judgment… self-judgment based on comparison. And therefore there is self-complex.
A cow is not conscious of itself as a person, so a Indian cow does not feel that "I am an Indian cow", or "I am a poor cow", "I am a Muslim cow", or "I am a white or black cow". A cow does not think like that. Why? Because it is not conscious of itself as a person. It is conscious of the world. It is capable of perception, inference. And even though it has a self-identity as cow because of which it does not mistake a dog for a cow… still it does not have self-consciousness that leads to a self-judgment and a self-complex. … that I am not acceptable to myself, that I am small and insignificant. So this conclusion that I am small and insignificant is centered on "I".
The conclusion that I am small and insignificant makes me a wanting person.
How come the human being has this complex? If I am an entity, a self-conscious entity… no matter how much I hav accomplished, still what I don't have, or what I have not accomplished is INFINITELY LARGE . In comparison to that what I have is infinitesimally small. So I am insignificant.
Even this physical body is insignificant. Even if it lives a hundred years it is nothing. Just a flicker. In the flow of time, if you see a way-side rock, it has a millions of years of history to tell you. And so even if this body lives a hundred years it is insignificant. It is nothing. Just a flicker. This physical body is subject to time, subject to place. If it is here, it is not elsewhere. Therefore it is limited. And so a person is WANTING – wanting time-wise, wanting in space, strength-wise wanting, ability-wise wanting, skill-wise wanting, knowledge wise wanting, perceptions –wise wanting, power-wise wanting, money-wise wanting, influence-wise wanting. And so you find yourself a WANTING person.
This sense of being a wanting person was discovered even as a child. As a small baby even as you looked around, you were frightened by the vastness of the world. And you saw people… so many people. Mother was a big, giant woman. Father was another big giant person. I was a small person, a small child, standing up on these precarious legs. In fact I could not even stand at that time. later even though I could stand, I was very insecure on my legs. Naturally I require the security of my mother and father all the time. Even if the mother was not there … I would carry a piece of her sari. … Thus I start my life as a small, insignificant person.
And as I grow older, I go to school. I gather knowledge. More and more knowledge I gather. And the more knowledge I gather, the more I come to know what I don't know. If I did not know that I do not know, it would be okay. But I do come to know that I do not know … and so knowledge-wise also I understand that I am insignificant.
In terms of power also I am insignificant. In fact I am at the hands of the laws of nature and of people. all the time, the hundreds of laws of natural forces govern my life – I am at their mercy… I can only try to understand them and try to manipulate them… but I am not able to change them .. I realise that I don't really call all the shots. So I find myself a helpless person.
So as this helpless, powerless, wanting person … I am not acceptable to myself.
The basic spiritual urge to be free of this "I am wanting" sense
So this "I am wanting. I am sinsignificant" is a problem which is universal. Centered on that problem are all our other problems with world. And our whole life is dedicated to be free of this problem … through various pursuits. Our whole life is in terms of getting things which help us to accept ourselves totally.
Let us analyse the human pursuits for seeking self-acceptance. Another word for human pursuit or human goals is purushartha. They can be reduced to two main ends in the beginning. One is 'security' and the others is 'happiness or pleasure'. Security is called as arthah and pleasure is called as kamah.
Behind the pursuit of security is the conclusion that, "I am insecure". There is an unconscious conclusion at first … later it is verbalized as " I am not secure. I seek security. As it is I am not good. I am not secure. I should get some form of security."
In the society that we grow, this security is considered to be wealth. vittam. So wealth in terms of hard cash or real estate. Power is also a form of security…. because it gives you a sense of well-being. When you have power, you wield it over others and that also makes you feel secure. You feel you can get things done. So Name, influence … all these gives you a sense of security.
Then there is kaamah…. the various types of pleasure. Music does not give you a sense of security, it gives you pleasure. In that pleasure you are able to forget for some time, all your insecurities, you sense of isolation, your sense of being small. Similarly there are other types of pleasure. Eating is a pleasure. Meeting is a pleasure. So there are varieties of things that give you pleasure. yoga gives you pleasure … called yogananda. Vidya gives you pleasure called vidyananda. Vishya or objects give you pleasure called vishayananda…. all these come under kamah.
Thus as a self-conscious being, suffering from the feeling of insignificance and insecurity, you are given to artha and kamah pursuits … this is very common.
So that 'I seek security' comes from the feeling "I am insecure". In the conclusion "I am mortal, also there is the feeling of insecurity, because body is subject to death. The conclusion is about "I" alone. The conclusion is centered on "I" alone. The physical body does not say "I am mortal". This conclusion is centered on "I". The "I am insecure" is a conclusion centered on 'I" and it is this conclusion that is behind the pursuit for money.
Now, as an insecure person, when you seek security, then what you seek must at least be secure. You have concluded that INSECURE I + something = SECURITY. That means what you are seeking must be secure…. because it will become one with you and then you will be secure.
But look at the fact about money. It is something you handle. It is not you. Money is mine. mama dhanam. It is my money. So 'mine' is definitely different from "I". So the conclusion of insecurity continues. Certainly holding onto money gives me a sense of well-being. This sense of well-being I love. So what do you really love? Money or the sense of well-being. It is the sense of well-being that you get out of the money that you love.
Suppose money gives you a sense of fear then you will give up the money. Story of business man in Bombay.
So here loss of money became a gain. Why? because by itself money is not security. so let us look at 2 cases
- Money is secure – but I am separate from it – then I am not secure and money cannot remove the conclusion that "I am insecure". I have to hold onto that money because I am separate from it. And as soon as I stop holding onto it, the money is gone. Also when I am holding onto it, anybody else can also hold onto it … and so I have to hold onto it … and so I am insecure.
- Money is not secure – it can go away any time – and so also "I am insecure" will not go away.
The truth is money is limited. It is expendable and so it is time-bound.
ANYTHING WHICH IS TIME_BOUND IS INSECURE BY NATURE
Money is time-bound … so it is insecure. Name and fame is time-bound … that is also insecure. Ask actors and politicians. If your well-being is dependent on the approval and praise of others … then when you are criticized you are finished. Power is time-bound … it is the most insecure … even when you have power you have fear of others vying for your seat!!
So I am after artha to free myself from the feeling of insecurity … and the truth is artha cannot free me…. because artha is also time-bound and insecure. Do you want artha … or do you want to be free from the need for artha … from feeling of insecurity?
So my love is not for artha.. my love is for freedom from the need for security. I want to see myself as SECURE … so the love is for seeing myself as SECURE. In fact the need for artha is only for seeing myself as secure.
In fact what you are seeking in your life is not artha it is moksha. Moksha means what? Freedom.
The word moksha comes from 'muc' root in the sense of 'freedom' . So it means 'release from bondage'. So samsara is nothing but bondage – which is the dependence for my sense of well-being upon things.
Therefore moksha is the ultimate purushartha. Why?
Because even in seeking artha you are seeking moksha alone. Because you are seeking a sense of well-being alone. So moksha is the freedom from the sense of insecurity and smallness. That freedom is the ultimate end. Even when you are seeking artha, you are seeking moksha alone.
If you don't know this, that I am seeking moksha in artha … it means you are confused.
If I keep moksha as the ultimate end, then any pursuit becomes meaningful. If that moksha is not kept as the ultimate then artha become anartham or meaningless!! Any knowledge also become anartham. In fact life becomes meaningless. We saw how Narada having all the disciplines of knowledge was still sorrowful and insecure.
So now having analysed we conclude that what I am seeking is freedom from dependence for my well-being, for my security.What I am seeking is freedom from my dependence on situations for my sense of well-being.
MOKSHA has to be centered on "I"
Since the feeling of insecurity is centered on "I", the feeling of well-being and security must also be centered on "I". Moksha is therefore centered on "I". It's purely "I". The "I am small and insignificant" feeling – that feeling must be replaced by a certain truth – by knowledge. Truth means knowledge always. It has to be truth as the object is … knowledge as the object is.
So in fact Vedanta is saying that "the sense of security is to be centered on "I". It cannot be centered on the body, because body is insecure. Body is subject to old age, disease, death.
So moksha is not dependent on the body, much less it is on the mind. Mind itself does not feel that "I am insecure", mind is only an instrument. Like my eyes I use for seeing, my mind I use for thinking. So mind is only an instrument. Mind itself does not have the sense of insecurity. We use the mind to have any sense. and the sense is centered on "I".
This is the teaching. It is all centered on "I". The "I-sense, which is a human sense, a self-conscious "I". The conclusion "I am insecure" is centered on "I" and so the solution also must be centered on "I" alone.
So now we have discerned the human problem. Mostly the spiritual pursuits are wanting because they are without content, and without direction because the problem is not discerned.
The problem is not anywhere else, except in the "I-notion". So the correction should be where? Where there is the problem, there alone, there must be a solution.
So when I am the problem, I am the solution.
Om Tat Sat