7. Relentless Perseverance
To persevere is to make self-effort continually. We persevere because the first effort did not make the mark, not because our effort is in any way an incremental step-by-step process. Unless each effort is a whole-hearted effort, we will not see what changes need to be made. If there is a lacking in the effort itself, what is the point of looking at other variables?
Blockages in fruition
Earlier, we have discussed that there should be no expectation of results of any kind. Here, in fruition, we are not talking about things external or internal to us but of 'being' itself. Discovery of false notions, ideas and conditioning however should result in disentanglement from them if we are at all serious. If we have clearly seen the danger of conditioning and clearly see the rise of it in life and practice—there must be transformation by non-identification with them. Disuse must make them weaker and use of the inner undivided intelligence, must increase natural goodness, give rise to serenity and inner balance. We don't have to bring this about, this is a natural result of sincerity and if this does not happen, there must be some blockage in fruition.
Going Beyond Blockages
The Yoga Vasistha tells us that whenever there seems to be a blockage in fruition, to impartially examine two things: deluded action and inadequate effort in the present in contrast to one's existing karma. Let us take a closer look at both of these.
1. Deluded Action
Deluded action is action that is based on flawed understanding which includes memory, ideas, hopes, expectations and other notions which we allow play in our daily life as well as practice. In contrast, enlightened actions are wholehearted responses to actual situations—free of all conditioning and personal interests.
Deluded action may appear to protect one's interests better, but what is always hidden is that it is always at the cost diminishing our sense of being or our real nature. To take care of 'my interests' better, I have to stand outside others, conditions and things and must become smaller, more apart and eventually isolated from my own larger existence.
Total action on the other hand, being a wholehearted response to actual situations, universalizes one's being as one does not stand apart from anyone or anything. You cannot have one set of rules for the 'day-to-day life' and another for the so-called 'spiritual life'—this just does not work. The mind that is needed for meditation must be cultivated in every step of our day-to-day normal living.
We have already covered this earlier in 'Sharpening the Edge'—unless we live a life of yoga or a life that is free of all dichotomy, the fragmented mind will be asked to do the impossible—to meditate. We must discover a way of living in which every action is a total action and free of reaction. Results and consequences are quite different from the reaction I am talking about. When I say or do something hurtful for example, an act that had a feeling to hurt as a motive—however subtle or camouflaged it may be in socially astute appearances—many reactions are instantly triggered—some reactions precede the tangible face of action itself and the hidden cost of these are not usually seen.
Errors in understanding or delusion leads to errors in action or deluded action and it is these that concern the yogi most as errors in understanding get stronger and will continue to generate errors in action all through one's life. We can easily fix something that went wrong but when the springs of action themselves are defective, we will soon find it almost impossible to keep-up damage control with actions they throw-up. Each time we strengthen these springs of action, we also give a tranquilizer to the inner intelligence. We have covered this in detail earlier.
Rather than talk further on flawed understanding, let us look closer at the reactions that are instantly generated before, during and after—when the inner intelligence is not empowered. It is better to approach this topic rationally instead of under social, theological or apocalyptic views. This will make raising one's understanding as immediately beneficial to oneself rather than under fear or hope of some sort—these conditions can never generate any real or lasting change. Instead of using words like 'ignorance' or 'I just did not know it would hurt you'—I prefer using 'foolishness' as it keeps the springs of action up close and personal—we can and should do something about it this moment.
When we are not vigilant, thought colors the situation and existing conditioning shapes action. This is self-centered action and causes hurt to oneself and others—let us take this example to examine some reactions that are triggered…
1. Increased conditioning: I strengthen and increase division in the mind and increase the effort I will have to make to remove fragmentation which is necessary for self-discovery later. For 'me' to think ill of someone or hurt someone, aside from the hurt caused—the sense of 'me' or ego strengthens each time as all thoughts and feelings are anchored to that sense of 'me' or ego. The 'me' has to stand outside you, the other, conditions and things to take care of my interests better and in standing outside—I diminish in 'being'. Simply put, I stand apart and become smaller.
If we do not separate thought from action in life first, it will be impossible to keep from identifying with thought in meditation where everything is in the same inner space. Our spiritual efforts must bring us to meditation and the mind for meditation must be cultivated in life.
The error of identifying with thought is perhaps the most important reason we must live vigilantly. We hurt and hurt others because of this carelessness. Each time we act on thought, and this includes all forms of conditioning however useful they appear, we become oblivious to what is actually in front of us from moment to moment or reality. We live in a bubble of thought though outwardly, we come go and do things on the world outside. When conditioning increases, it responds to life and I continue to hurt and hurt others and prolonged meditation becomes impossible.
2. Loss of goodness, balance and peace: The inner justification to hurt someone or even think of hurting someone, creates the propensity to hurt others as well. Goodness is present or manifest to the degree of the absence of the ability to hurt. When we act on the impulse to hurt, we lose our inner balance as impulses eclipse wisdom and surge on their own momentum. Inner balance is when thought does not impinge on consciousness by trying to be you or assume the sense of being. We are not talking about things like social courtesies and polite mannerisms but about the very core of understanding. If natural goodness abounds in the heart or this core of understanding; thought, feelings, words and actions that emanate from there will naturally be kind and loving. Whereas, social politeness may be a facade without any feeling or spirit.
This natural goodness and balance give stability in meditation and are the fuel to take the mind beyond its capacity to be observed for longer periods of time. Initially, the longer you sit, the more you will encounter oscillation in the mind. This is why the earlier limbs of yoga: yama, niyama, asana, pranayama and pratyahara become essential as you discover how to bring about harmony within and without by a way of living that is universal and not self-centered.
3. Likes, dislikes, attachments and aversion: These are the contaminants in understanding and the seeds, fuel and remnants of deluded action. When I allow these unjustified opposites to dwell within, even after the actions they insist on, I am stuck with stronger negative feelings once I've acted on initial ones. These opposites are the breeding ground of aversion and hatred which will give rise to more hurtful actions.
One can enjoy all that comes naturally without coming under the sway of likes and dislikes. By 'what comes naturally', I do not mean one should diminish their zeal to exert in life but to see that effort and result are two things. This instantly frees me to exert wholeheartedly in any endeavor as no energy is wasted or held back to watch for results. Can we not act or do what needs to be done on its own merit—just because it needs to be done? If it needs to be done—do it, leave it and then, do what else needs to be done wholeheartedly. If we are awake and alert, what needs to be done will be very visible and apparent. Justifications and their inner mechanism of selfishness will weaken by disuse as insight or living wisdom has taken its place by preference. There is no struggle, suppression or any of that involved.
Likes and dislikes are of equal danger to the sincere seeker as both impel one to act instead of the situation and inherent wisdom. This increases the energy flow in the mind and a mind with much energy is incapable of meditation.
4. Karmic fruition: Every action is bound by the law of karma. Karma or fruition is the law of being, no one punishes—we summon to ourselves by every action and thought is real action—the conditions necessary to learn and go beyond its causes.
You may believe in the law of karma or not but one can at least see that if I have the right to act selfishly, putting my interests first—others can claim the same and this does not make for good conditions to live in. It may seem that putting our interests first is necessary because everyone else is doing it but let's examine it impartially.
Why should my actions be influenced by what others are doing or feeling? If something seems right and needs to be done—do it wholeheartedly like there is no tomorrow and let it go. When we entertain 'others are doing it…', we stop seeing the situation and see these notions or thought and this is foolishness as we have lost step with reality and are ruminating in thought’s dark corridors instead of the bright sunshine of reality—what actually is.
Others may make a quick buck or get ahead by putting personal interests first but at what cost? The price tag is always reduction of being—for outer expansion there is inner contraction. For 'my interests…', I must stand apart and outside others, conditions and things as we've discussed earlier.
Universalizing your existence is to get and to stay in step with all things, everywhere, all the time—to breathe, act and live as part of life and discover your inseparability with this entire grand creation we find ourselves amidst.
5. Fear of retaliation: In hurting someone, I have opened the field for retaliation in the present or future and this will necessitate being ever alert or fearful of inbound retaliation.
The immediate reactions when we even open the door to conditioning, are of great concern to the yogi. Increasing conditioning or the play of thought in perception and action, its resulting hold on consciousness—make meditation and self-inquiry almost impossible. The others, including loss of goodness, inner balance, peace, increase of the opposites of likes and dislikes follow naturally as thought is given a free reign. These first few are the immediate reactions that are most damaging to the yogi or sincere spiritual seeker and are triggered instantly by thought or mental action—even before there is physical action—and these then trigger more deluded action. The play of karma and fear of retaliation are also damaging—they appear over time. Deluded action are actions that set-up these reactions.
Two habits that increase conditioning, cause imbalance, loss of goodness and increase likes and dislikes are: fault finding and the blame game. These two wipe out all the effort you can make and take you to negative numbers—they must be abandoned.
Hurt resulting without intention
You may feel that sometimes, even the best of intentions causes hurt and sets the stage for retaliation but examine this. If you acted in wisdom and the action was absolutely free of any form of delusion and self-centeredness—you are free of causing hurt. Someone may still get hurt and retaliate but that is because they feel your action caused them hurt whereas, it was their own reaction and they will be responsible for their actions and its reactions. There may always be someone who does not like something I say, do or just the way I live but I am not responsible for their feelings—their hurt is not the result of my actions but their own feelings are responsible for their experience.
Krishna tells us in the Bhagavad Gita: yoga karmasu kaushalam—yoga is expertness in action. This skill is not acting in such a way to get away with things or come out on top somehow but to act without triggering reactions by design. For this, one has to be extremely vigilant—the mind has to be observed without remission.
A story from the Yoga Vasistha
In the Yoga Vasistha there is a story that brings out this subtle point very nicely. Before I go further, let me mention that the Yoga Vasistha is a mighty scripture with a revolutionary way of seeing things and brings out lofty truths with the help of illustrations which may seem fantastic but the illustrations are used to point to something beyond them and if we get stuck in these stories and illustrations—we will never see what they point to. There was a person who lived a good long life and at some point, the messengers of Yama, the lord of death tried to bring an end to his full-lived life naturally. Being unsuccessful, they returned to Yama and conveyed their failure. Yama asked them to look for action in the person's life that would necessitate fruition as fruition would mean another life which would be grounds for ending the present life which had reached its limitations. They considered every action of this person but found nothing and reported back the same. Yama too examined each action and to his amazement, every action of this person was a universal action which is completely free of individuality in any form. Yama then explained that this person, though appearing to be an individual, was just a perceivable form taken by consciousness as every and all actions were completely free of the triggers of fruition, and consciousness was functioning directly through what appeared to be a person.
This story points to something very important. Can we too find a way to live that does not throw up reactions? However small be the start, can we live in such a way so we see things as they are, free of the ego's play (it may still throw its tantrums but we don't have to get mixed-up with it) and, can we do what needs to be done and not what 'I want to do'? If we can, our life will be free of delusion in one big way—the interference of thought. We will at least be dealing with 'what actually is', instead of 'how thought or conditioning sees it'. There is another big step which is a metaphysical correction of going beyond individuality and universalizing one's existence. Let's save this one for another time.
We are still talking about deluded action and we have to include in its gamut all forms of delusion or notions that do not correspond with absolute reality. This is a very tall order and that is why we practice and every action is practice only—whether we consider the action belonging to our day-to-day life or what we call our 'spiritual life'.
One perseveres to avoid deluded action or action that triggers reactions by being eternally vigilant and making choices that are free of reaction in their place. This single double-sided process is called vairagya and abhyasa in the language of yoga.
Aside from better choices or choices that do not involve reaction, abhyasa also includes perseverance in practice. The Yoga Vasistha prescription we started with says: whenever there seems to be a blockage in fruition, to impartially examine two things: deluded action and inadequate effort in the present in contrast to one's existing karma. We have dealt with some of the reactions that indicate there was deluded action and have covered total action in detail earlier. Now, let us look at the second part of Vasistha's prescription of improving and increasing the effort in the present.