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Public talk given by Revered Master Shri Parthasarathi Rajagopalachari at the Vrads Sande Ashram, Denmark on 6th September 1992
I am happy to be here with all of you and to talk something about Sahaj Marg, the system of yoga that we practise. Often when I am travelling, especially by road in India, we stop to ask the way. I don’t know how many of you have been in India, but the roads are not marked; they have no numbers.
We have often to ask which is the way to such and such a place, and then the man says, “In my experience, this is the best way,” and he points to a particular way.
So, that gave me an insight into some sort of a truth: that we find the way through other people’s experiences. Of course, we cannot go through the experiences of everybody. There are millions of people, millions of ways. So, in some way, we have to come to an intuitive understanding of our needs and of the way that we have to follow.
When I first came to Europe, way back I think in 1968, I don’t remember exactly, I was amazed to find that the same river had different names in different countries. The Danube I know at least three different names. And of course, there were all the political problems of which is the right name. If you called it the same name, in one country they understood it, in another country they did not understand it. If you said Dunav instead of Danube, you had to explain yourself. So, how can the same thing be called by different names, causing confusion, causing often differences of opinion, dissension and strife? Then I started the practice of yoga. You will permit me to speak a little about my experiences on the path because that is what validates what I do for myself.
In this system of yoga, my Master has always said that it is your proof that is necessary in your practice. If you are practising and if you find what you seek, that is the best proof that the path is right. I started without any guidance from any guru or any teacher or any master. I started from books. I had a Christian education in school. Throughout my school, I had a Protestant education for about eight or nine years. Church attendance was compulsory, Bible reading was compulsory, and I had to pass an examination on the Gospel of St. Mark before I could appear for my Senior Cambridge Examination, as it was then called. That gave me a very good idea of religion.
In fact, if I am not telling any secrets out of class, as we say in English, in my family, especially my younger brother and I have been profoundly influenced by Christianity: his compassion, his mercy, his love. They were profound influences upon us. My brother was almost converted to Christianity, but then something happened. I started to study in Calcutta, and there I came across the teachings of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. I’m sure some of you here, or many of you here, will be familiar with his name. There I found an enormous body of teaching, almost the parallel of what is taught in the Christian teaching, except that the words used are in different languages, the understanding is different, and we made the mistake of thinking that the God is different.
I used to go to the Ramakrishna Mission in many countries when I had problems and meditate, even though I had not started meditating systematically under my Master.
When I was in Europe, I used to go and sit in churches when I had problems, and meditate. And, I have had what, I should say in my own humble way, were revelations about Christianity, about Christ himself. I have had visions of the Buddha. In fact, you know, I have been tempted to Christianity, to Buddhism, to the teachings of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda. I was pulled in many directions, but finally I found they were all the same direction and the apparent difference of direction was in my mind and my perception. They all spoke of the same thing.
When Gautama left his family after seeing certain things that he should not have seen - you know, he led a very sheltered life, he was a prince, he was married, he had a baby and he was forbidden to go out - but one day he went out and he saw a dead body being carried for cremation, he saw a sick man, he saw an old man and something else, and he came back profoundly disturbed.
He said, “What is this I have seen?”
They said, “Yes, all this exists. Man is born to become old. It is possible that he becomes sick. Eventually, everybody dies, so there is nothing to be disturbed about.”
He said, “No, no, this is not the life that I seek. I seek a life in which there is no birth and death, where there is no sickness, there is no old age.”
He left his house, he left the palace, he left his wife, he left his baby, meditated, and attained what is called the Buddhahood. It is wrong to say Gautama was the Buddha. Gautama attained Buddhahood. The Buddha is a principle. There have been many Buddhas before him according to the tradition. Gautama was one such.
Then I started to meditate under my Master, and I asked him, “To which religion do you belong?”, because he comes from a place in north India where people are Hindus but look a little like Moslems, as you can see in that picture.
He said, “I was born a Hindu, but now I have no religion.”
I was shocked. I said, this man is a holy man, a teacher, a master, and he says he has no religion.
I said, “Babuji, how can that be possible? You are teaching thousands of people the way of God, the way to God.”
He said, “It is not only religion which gives God. God gives religion, and we can follow any religion we like into which we are born. You were born a Hindu, somebody is born a Christian, somebody is born a Buddhist, but the God of all religions is the same.”
That was one of the first things that moved me to accept my Master, because I had known this myself.
We can study the history of human beings on Earth and how much human beings have fought each other, and realise the truth of that old saying that ‘Religion has killed more people than wars’. On what have we been fighting? For what have we been fighting? That my God is greater than your God? Yet we speak of God being one. There cannot be two gods. The infinite can only be one, and then even intelligent people, well-educated people, say, “My god is the only god; your god doesn’t exist.”
I started studying a bit of Buddhism. I was tempted to be a Buddhist because, again, I found the profound truth that God is within. He too meditated, he too found his final goal, his final emancipation, his mahaparinirvana, as they say in the Buddhist religion, under the Bodhi tree after forty days of meditation.
Jesus the Christ found his goal by meditation. If tradition is to be accepted, Mohammed the Prophet found his goal also by meditation.
Then my Babuji Maharaj, my Master, told me, “Remember, my son, that Buddha was not a Buddhist.”
What he taught became the Buddhist religion. What he taught was not a religion. What he taught was a way of life, how to live life, how to be human, how to practise the virtues of chastity, austerity, compassion, mercy - love, above all. If you see the teachings of these great prophets of the past, one thing you find, like a thread running through all their teachings, common to all of them: the need to love. ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself. Bhakti of the Hindus, what Krishna calls love for God, this runs, as we say in the Bhagavad-Gita, like the thread that holds the pearls together in a necklace. Often, people have wondered whether it is the pearls that are important or the thread that holds the pearls together in the necklace is important. Well, if the thread were not there, there would be no necklace — the pearls would be scattered all over the floor and we would be hunting for them.
So, when we go into this study without bias, without religious bigotry, without the narrow-mindedness of certain traditions that say, “I am the only god, you are my only disciple,” etc. we find that the teachings of all these great religions of the past, the prophets of the past, in essence are the same teaching.
So, my Master said, “When you have found this truth, that what they all taught is the same as what my Lalaji Maharaj, my Grand-master taught, why do you have to go hither and thither to seek it? Practise what they did.”
You see, if somebody eats ice cream and says it is good, we must eat that ice cream and say it is good, too. It is experience that gives the most profound heights of knowledge and the depths of intuition and wisdom. So, here in this system we meditate to seek that ultimate, infinite principle. You may call it by any name you like. To me, whether you call him Buddha or Christ or Krishna or anything, it doesn’t matter, because after all, it is a nameless principle. The names are given by us. God has never announced himself by any name.
He said, “I am here. Come to me.”
So, when I could find solace, consolation, comfort in a church, having been born a Hindu, I don’t see why I shouldn’t go to a church when I feel like it. When I have meditated in the meditation halls of the Buddhists and the Ramakrishna Mission and found solace, comfort, succour, help, love most of all, I don’t see what is different between the church and between the meditation halls of these people. When I meditate in our own meditation halls here and I find the same thing, the same truth, the same all-pervasive love, the goodness, the kindness, the compassion, the mercy, to me, now there is no distinction between one religion and another, between one god and another. To me, it is all one, known by different names in different lands, worshipped differently under different traditions. But if the heart is put into that worship, the way of worship does not matter.
We have a saying in Hindi, ‘Love! That is to say, be loving! It doesn’t matter how you show that love.’ To a child, we bring a toy; to a guru, we carry a gift of what, a fruit, a flower. To the beloved, we may take something that pleases her. It is all an expression of our love. So, in the oriental tradition of taking a gift, it is to find out how to express this love. It need not be expensive; it need not be wrapped up beautifully. It must be able to express my love for him to whom I am carrying something.
My Master once told me, “When your dog comes to you wagging its tail, it brings you a bone from the garden. To the dog, the bone is the most precious object. It loves bones.” Now if you say, “No, no, I’m a Brahmin, I’m a Hindu, I won’t touch a bone,” you cannot react with the dog.
Accept it, throw it and make the dog fetch it again, and the dog’s day is made, your day is made. So you see, all gifts must be gifts of love.
I was profoundly influenced by a story I read long ago, The Gift of the Magi. I don’t remember who wrote it. It was about a young couple in love, very poor, living in an attic, with an attic window through which they could see the stars. She had lovely, long, golden hair, and she used to see in the shops a pair of combs that she craved for. He had a lovely watch, and he used to see a fob, a golden chain that he wanted for his watch. Christmas was approaching and, between the two of them, they had two and halfpennies. They needed thousands of such two and a half pennies to buy the gifts that they each wanted to buy for the other.
On Christmas Eve, they both went that morning to work, came back in the evening, and both were shocked. The girl had cut off her hair and sold it, and she gave her beloved a present. He opened it and found the chain for his watch, the fob. He packed it up nicely and put it away.
She said, “Why don’t you put it on your watch?”
He said, “Darling, we will do it later.”
She said, “Why not now?”
He said, “Because, if you open your package, you’ll find out.”
In the package were the combs she had wanted for her golden hair. He had sold his watch to buy the combs for her, she had sold her hair to buy the chain for his watch. Then they fell into each other’s arms, wept together in joy, in love, at the sacrifice that each of them had made.
Love is to be shown by sacrifice. Where love exists, sacrifice must exist, because they are ultimately the same, two sides of the coin. It is no use to say, ‘I love,’ and to run away from what you love. Are you able to sacrifice for it? And when you love, it is not any more a sacrifice; it is something that you do very naturally, very spontaneously, like a mother does for her children.
So you see, these are all spiritual principles. My Master’s most important teaching to me was his first teaching: where religion ends, spirituality begins. His second most important teaching was, religions have served to divide humanity and human beings into different cults, different sects, different religions, warring with each other, hating each other, suspicious of each other. Spirituality unites, because here we worship not a god with a name, we don’t subscribe to any principles such as are embodied in a particular text, but we stand by morality, by ethical life, and by the need to love everyone as ourselves, by the need to love, meaning, therefore, to sacrifice. The ultimate sacrifice can be called upon, which Jesus the Christ made, to give his life for those whom he loved.
So spirituality, as my Master said, unites people. There is no more the bigotry of religions. There is no more the separatism of worship. There is no more the problem of which is the true religion, which is the true god - as if there can be a true god and an untrue god. Can there ever be an untrue god? There is one God, everybody knows. Then how can your god, my god, be different?
Should we not immediately shake hands and reconcile and say, “Yes, by Jove, we have been stupid for three, three and a half centuries, five centuries, ten centuries, we have been saying the truth without putting it into practise: your god and my god are the same; your religion and my religion are the same; your principles and my principles are the same. Except that you, as a European, eat with a fork and knife, I eat with my fingers, the food we eat is the same.”
So, spirituality seeks to bring people together in an enormous, transcendental synthesis of oneness of humanity, where human values have to be crystallized by practise of meditation on the heart. What are the human values? I have been talking about them so long - love, compassion, most of all. It is no use praising the founder of our respective religions for having been merciful, compassionate and loving. If I am to be a true Hindu, I must practise the principles of the founder of my religion - love, compassion, and mercy. Anybody who claims to be a true Christian must be able to similarly follow the same principles that Christ enumerated: love, compassion and mercy. If you are a Buddhist, are you practising the same principles? Again love, compassion, mercy. If not, we are betraying our respective religions. We have no right to take even the name of the founder of our religion upon our lips - I think that is the ultimate blasphemy, that without practise, without professing the right values in life, without loving all humanity like the founder of our religion loved, and without sacrificing as he sacrificed, we continue to take His name.
For me, the Bible has been a profound text. As I told you, for about eight years I was a practising Christian - not converted, but practising. It was compulsory. Six months after I came to my Master, one day in meditation I had the most profound and shaking revelation. It literally shook me to pieces, and it was the vision of Jesus Christ being crucified. I could see the mount in front of me, Christ carrying that enormous cross upon his shoulder, whipped by the Roman soldiers, jeered at by the Jews, the two or three accompanying crosses on which the thieves were being crucified, and Christ crucified and his final cry, ‘Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabacthani.’ It shook me.
I was so profoundly moved, I was in tears, and Babuji Maharaj asked me, “Why are you weeping today in meditation?”
I told him I had a revelation, “Today I saw Jesus Christ being crucified.”
He said, “So, you see that you are a Hindu, and you have Christ in your vision, his crucifixion, the most important aspect of his life, the final emancipation of his life. So, why do you have to be a Christian to have a Christian faith, to have a Christian revelation? Have you not seen the Buddha in your vision?”
I said, “Yes.”
“Have you not seen Krishna?”
Because, three days earlier on the day of Lord Krishna’s birthday, I had a vision of Lord Krishna sitting on a swing, his right arm raised in benediction and blue light flowing from the palm of his right hand into my heart.
So you see, the proof of the pudding is very much in the eating. I have experienced the truths, the very fundamental, life-shaking, emotion-shaking experiences of all these great faiths in my personal experience, meditating without any religion, without any named god, without any systematic, what should I say, worship, because here the worship is to the ultimate divine principle within. All religions have produced mystics. They are called mystics precisely because instead of seeking God outside, they sought God within themselves, in their heart. The mystics know no religion. They were born Christians, but they became mystics. They were born Muslims, but they became mystics called Sufis. They were born Hindus, but became mystics called rishis, and they attained what they attained finally, as mystics.
So, this is this important, shall I say, message of spirituality, that God is one. Don’t make the mistake of thinking your god and my god are different because then we are falling into the error of thinking, like you are a Dane and I am an Indian, you must have a Danish god and I must have a Hindu god. It is crazy! Or, because you are a Christian and I am a Hindu, you have a Christian god and I have a Hindu god. Our one God must unite all of us into one humanity.
We are born Danes, but we must become human beings. We are born Germans, we must become human beings. We are born as women; we must become human beings. Man, woman, Dane, French, Christian, Hindu, Timbuctuan, an African — it doesn’t matter where we are born.
We must become human beings in the realisation that, as the children of the one God, we are all brothers and sisters on Earth, bound to help each other. Duty-bound to help each other. Not to give charity and aid to suffering nations, but to help as you would help your own brother in Denmark if he were suffering. Raise him up when he falls, as Christ did who tried to raise up even the dead as Lazarus was raised.
Practise the preaching of your particular temple or religion or church, so that the God whom you have been worshipping may be pleased with you and finally one day say, “My son, you are my son in whom I am well pleased.”