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A Guided Life
A talk given by Shri Parthasarathi Rajagopalachari
Now what would you like me to do? Just talk to you or - because questions and answers, you know, unless you get involved in the practice, it has no meaning. There are useful questions; there are useless questions. And to ask a useful question, you must know what you must ask - and that's not very easy. Babuji Maharaj, my Guruji, said, "Answers are easy; questions are difficult." Because every fool has asked, "Is there God?" Only fools ask that question, and the world is full of fools. So everybody asks this question: "Is there God? Can I see God? Can you show?" I mean, these are stupid questions because if I say, "There is God," what is the proof?
The only thing we can talk sensibly about is pain, because everybody has pain, everybody understands pain. It is not something exclusively for the rich or for the healthy or for the intellectual. Pain is the common denominator of the human being, of humanity. So if I say "headache", all of you understand. If I say "stomach ache", everybody understands. But if you say pleasure - "What is pleasure?" - so many definitions. And if you say, "Pleasure leads to pain," first you will tend to laugh. Later on when you experience pleasure and it leads to pain, you will say, "Aha! That old fellow told me thirty years back." But by then you are too old to really make use of that wisdom that pleasure leads to pain.
So, you see, the questions to be asked - important questions, vital questions - not many of you are really at a stage of life where you can formulate such questions. Similarly, "How to meditate?" Unless you are going to meditate, that knowledge is no use. It is like my asking, "How to climb the Everest?" What use is that knowledge to me? Because I'm never going to climb the Everest. So there are wise questions, there are useful questions. A wise question may be wise, but yet not useful now in this stage of life. So we have to know what to ask, when to ask, and - very important - from whom to ask. Now suppose I am wandering in Kolkata, and I get hold of a tourist and I say, "How do I go to Rashbehari Avenue?" He will say, "I don't know." So I have to find the right person - right question, at the right time, to be asked to the right person. So asking questions is at best a tricky endeavour, as we say. So we should always prefer to listen, hoping that the fellow who is speaking to you knows something of what to say which can be useful to you. Do you agree with that?
Somebody has written here you see, 'Strike while the iron is hot.' Because if you are a loha [iron], you have to heat the iron, make it into shape, cool it. It is believed that youth is that time of life. That is why you go to school, you go to college when you are young. When you are old, this damn thing [pointing to the head] is - yaa toh gaayab hai [either it is gone], or it is too fixed in its opinions and its ideas, and it will not change. So youth is the time the human being can be moulded in several ways.
Now there are people, you know - like where there are rodents, there are vultures, there are hawks. Our youth are like that. They are too impressionable, too easily approachable, too easily exploitable. Our politicians are waiting to exploit the youth. Our businessmen are waiting to exploit the youth - exploit, not use - not to your advantage but to their advantage. That is why you have Youth Congress, youth movement in the Communists, youth movement in all political places. Because you have the fire and the energy, and because the politicians know you are not yet all that here [points to the head], they can manipulate you. So youth is a time of manipulation too. How to avoid manipulation? So the elders of your society must tell you, "Don't go here, don't do this, don't listen to that." But youth is also a time of rebellion. What you are told not to do, you would like to do. I mean it starts even when you are four years old. "Beta, choolha mein haath math rakho." [Son, don't touch the stove.] "Why not, Mummy?" "All right, rakho. Ek baar jal jayega to pata chalega kyon nahi." [All right, touch it. If you get burnt once, you will know why not.] That is the hard way of learning.
There is supposed to be an easy way of learning, which is to use other people's acquired knowledge and to start off from there making your own acquisitions. It is like getting capital from your father, and building your fortune on that, instead of pulling a rickshaw for twenty years in Ballygunge, and then starting a small business. But are you wise enough to accept the wisdom of others? That is a big question too.
"Nahi, nahi, boodha kya jaanta hai?" [No, no, what does the old man know?]
I mean this is nothing new to you all. It is certainly not new to me because I was once like you, and we have all gone through this process. Old people generally regret not having used their youth properly. It was a time of absolute possibilities, infinite possibilities. Now when you talk of possibility, there is a possibility of going up, there is a possibility of going down. Whenever one possibility exists, the other must exist - because where there is an up, there is a down. Where there is a left, there is a right. Where there is a front, there is a back. Isn't it? This is logic. And if you have one possibility, automatically the other comes into being. Have you chosen rightly? And you say, "If I had done that at that time, my future would have been different."
So generally, you know, when we waste our youth, the rest of our life is spent in regret. And by then it is too late to do anything positive, anything tangible, anything useful. That is why old age becomes - I don't mean old age (ninety), I mean starting even from forty - at least at forty there is still some steam power left in you, health left in you, to change. But then the ego takes over, because it is not easy to accept that you have not done right. How can you accept you did wrong and you were a fool? It is a most difficult thing to accept. "Nahi, nahi [No, no], what I did was right but -" So we cheat ourselves, we tell lies to ourselves, we try to justify ourselves to ourselves, and miss further opportunities.
So this is the problem with youth. We don't want to accept advice because it interferes with our so-called freedom. We only consult our own peer group as we say - people who are equally foolish or equally wise, whichever way you want to look at it. And we suffer as a group - youth moving like a herd of buffaloes let loose: energy wasted, future wasted, possibilities wasted. Until out of a million, 999,999 end up as miserable, frustrated adults. This you see all over the world; it is nothing new here or there. It is as true in the U.S. as it is here. U.S. is supposed to be a land flowing with milk and honey and dollars. When you go there, you see what it really is. Of course there is money, there is honey, there is wealth, but in the hands of the few. There also the youth are misguided - pleasure seeking, rebellious, anti-establishment, against discipline. Why? "Because it is our freedom."
Freedom is the biggest enemy of the human being unless you have the wisdom to use your freedom properly for your advantage. Freedom should not be entrusted even to a country unless it is mature. We can see what is happening in India, you see. Winston Churchill, I believe, told the British Government that if you give freedom to the Indians (they do not know how to rule themselves) you will destroy that nation. Now whether it is right or not, each one of you can decide for yourself. But to some measure it was true.
So what freedom should be given to a youthful population like you all? You want absolute freedom: to read when you must, to study when you like, to go out with whom you want. Otherwise there is problem at home, problem in society, problem in school, dropouts. So the best thing, according to people like my Guruji, is to give your freedom over to somebody who can utilize it for your sake, for your good. "Mummy, you decide what I should do." It is not that she is restricting your freedom. She is allowing you to use your freedom wisely. "Beta, aaj baithke paddho. Kal imtihaan hai." "Nahi hahi, ab paddnesey kya hoga?" ["Son, sit down to study today. Tomorrow is your examination." "No, no, what is the use of studying today?"] Mummy will say, "I have been telling you all year but you did not listen. Now today, at least now you study. Maybe something will stick here." [Points to the head]
Now, like money - when we don't know how to handle it, we give it to somebody else to handle it for us - our freedom we should be able to give to somebody else to be used in my favour, in our favour. It is called surrender. I surrender my freedom. I don't become a slave by surrendering my freedom. I become a wise man, because until I learn how to use that freedom, you use it for me. I get it back, and that is what in spirituality they say, "He was liberated" - like Swami Vivekananda, Swami Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. They followed a rigorous discipline for years, and then they were free of all problems. That is what we believe. That is what some of us have experienced, and it is as true in the material life as in the spiritual life. It is like running a steam locomotive. Until you put that steam under pressure, it will not run a locomotive. All the valves are open, pshhhh-pshhhh, steam is going everywhere; what will that engine do? So limitation of freedom only means compressing your power, to be used powerfully when it is necessary. It applies to freedom of choice; it applies to freedom of action, and it is also the guiding principle behind celibacy. Any power which is not used assumes more and more magnitude until, when it is used, it becomes a big power, multiplied many times.
So these are some of the things we should hear when it is the right time for us to hear - not hear it when we are sixty and say, "Theek hai, hum toh bohaut sun chuke hain." [It is okay, I have heard a lot of such talk.] So you people should learn how to use your freedom by giving it to somebody you trust in, somebody you can trust in - not just because you like him, but because in your heart, he is trustworthy. I may not like to listen to him, but I should listen to him - like I don't want to stop when the policeman puts up his hand. Every car owner is rebellious; but if I don't, I can run into an accident. So we must develop respect for authority, respect for guidance, respect for the wise, respect for the old, because they have passed through everything we have passed through. Why should we respect the older people? Because they have been young, they have committed all the mistakes that we are committing and are going to commit, because we are not yet adults. There is still a lot of scope for mistakes, for errors, for - shall we say - self-destructive ways of life. So it is wise to respect older people, wiser people, knowing that they will advise us based on their experience of their own life. So we are really bowing to their experience, not to their age. You understand?
So these are some of the things I would like to tell you, and I have already taken up twenty minutes, so I don't want to bore you. These are the things that are vital to life: how to run my life - when I can still utilise my powers of thought and of action - wisely, to run my future for me. How can I use the wisdom of older people to my advantage? How can I use authority to restrict my life and guide it in such a way that, like a toothpaste tube, when I press here, the toothpaste will come here and not from every hole on the side? This is called guided wisdom, guided vision, guided enterprise, a guided life, where through guidance, which is the pressure of society, pressure of acquiring knowledge, pressure of discipline, my gateway is restricted in such a way that everything flows through that - like a tap. When you open a tap, the water should only come from here, not leak from here, leak from there. Water is still flowing but it is of no use to me.
So guidance and discipline are necessary to use energy properly. Youth has energy - energy of vitality, energy of the physical, energy of the mental. All that education tries to do is to put an ethical and moral sense into you so that all these pressures are used by you willingly, wisely, so that your energies are used for your benefit. I hope you will all think over these things, apply them in your lives and prosper.