The Art Of Positive Thinking: How I Look At Myself (1)

Published: 22.12.2009
Updated: 30.07.2015

A man is limited by his physical organism, which in itself constitutes a natural limit. No one is free of his body, or from the limitation thereof. The limitation marks a separation. However close one person may be to another, however intimately related, the natural separation caused by the body cannot be done away with. Imagine two men sitting together. They are close to each other, and yet might experience different sensations, one drowned in anxiety, the other exalted by joy. They may be blood brothers, father and son, bosom friends, deeply intimate and very well known to each other, and yet their feelings are different, one happy, the other unhappy. Why so? It has been said that one's knowledge or experience is one's own. The guru's experience is of little avail to the pupil; or that of the father or the elder brother to the son or the younger brother. If experience were transferable like money from one person to another, then it would suffice for one member of the family to study; all others need not go to school or college at all. If one member of the family can earn enough money, the life of the family goes on undisturbed even if nobody else makes any money. Not so with knowledge or experience.

One's experience is exclusively one's own. Similarly, the sensation experienced by one person cannot be transmitted to another. Each person's sensation is personal and incommunicable. The same event happening to five different persons would call forth different sensations and different responses from each. One man is so much affected by a particular event that he cannot even eat or drink and life becomes for him a great ordeal, while the same event leaves the other indifferent. "Life is like that!" he says and there is an end to it.

A man came to me and said, "Everything affects me terribly. Any little happening haunts me for days together; I cannot get free of it. What am I to do?" I said, "Why don't you adopt this maxim? Whenever anything happens, say to yourself, 'Life is like that.' Such a happening is just in the nature of things. There is nothing novel about it. Rather it would be surprising if such a thing did not happen!"

You are deceived by a friend and wonder at it. Actually you have not observed the truth of life; you have not really understood the true nature of your friend. That a man should deceive his friend, is an everyday occurrence; there is nothing very astounding about it. When one comes to accept the ways pf the world, there is no more perplexity.

Each man's sensations are different. So also are his experiences and physical processes. Birth, childhood, youth, old age, death - all these relate to the body and are distinctive in case of each individual. Each particular organism has its own childhood, youth, old age, birth and death which are unique to that organism. All these are conditioned by that particular organism.

Our life has two aspects - individual and social. That which is personal is individual. But we live in a world where everything is related to everything else, where contagion spreads from one organism to another. Thoughts are also transmissible. A particular thought arises in an individual. Sometimes the same thought arises in the minds of thousands of people simultaneously. Thought, like some diseases, is contagious. And since we are organisms open to contagion, no individual can live alone, in perfect isolation. Our individuality thus comes to have two aspects - personal, that is, particular to an individual, and social that relates to society as a whole. If both these aspects are taken into consideration, then our thinking is wholesome and our approach to ourselves and the decisions flowing there from are right. If our thinking is entirely personal, isolated, it cannot be said to be right. Nor can it be right if it is wholly social, completely ignoring the personal factor.

There are thus two patterns of living - the social and the individualistic. The social pattern discounts the individual. The individual is like a mere cog in a machine and has no intrinsic worth of his own. Those subscribing to this communistic way of thinking give all the importance to society, even to the point of total extinction of individuality. What matters is the state; the individual is not at all important; he is expendable, can be hanged or shot dead at will. He is merely a part of the machine. As long as a part has utility, it is maintained. The moment it ceases to have utility, it is dispensed with and replaced by another. It was customary at one time in Japan to convey the old, superannuated parents to a forest to die. A superannuated doting fool had no utility whatsoever. Only that which had utility had the right to exist. For many ages this tradition was prevalent in Japan. Old worthless parents were conveved by their own children to the forest to rot and die. Man is capable of strange things, caught in a stream of utter selfishness. Even a social approach to a problem then becomes woefully partial and inadequate.

The other extreme is the totally individualistic approach, in which a person thinks only of himself. The individual alone is of value to the exclusion of everything else.

The totally individualistic approach or a totally communistic approach are both pervasive in society today. Both of them are, however, partial, giving rise to endless problems.

We are discussing the possibility of a different approach altogether in which the individualistic and the communistic points-of-view are harmoniously synthesized, giving rise to a holistic view which takes everything into consideration and excludes nothing whatever.

Three things are vital for man: freedom, self-reliance and self-effort or exertion. Indeed, these are the three great principles of any man's life. Freedom is a great boon; without it man is nothing more than a machine. There can be no greater prostitution than that a man should sell his freedom for bread, comfort or gain. A tradition of slavery has subsisted in our society. There is a difference between a servant and a slave. A servant works for salary, he may leave at will; or the master may dismiss him. However, the terrible thing about slavery was that a slave was sold for good, just like cattle, a cow or a buffalo. All his life, he remained a slave, without any will of his own. The master might ill-treat him, beat him unto death, do what he will, the slave could never leave. The slavish mentality is permanently ingrained in a slave. To sell oneself for bread or comfort betokens a slavish mentality. That is why a real man would not willingly sell himself or become a slave. He wants to maintain his independent existence. The dearest and the most cherished thing in the world is freedom.

Manu the great law giver very aptly says, "Independence is joy; dependence is sorrow." In the very moment of becoming dependent upon another you purchase sorrow. To be a slave and to be unhappy are not two different things; rather to be a slave is to be unhappy. Likewise, freedom and happiness go together.

Freedom is our greatest joy. No food can be as delicious as independence. Eating is a joy, but only in freedom; eating in slavery can be no joy.

The king once asked the members of his court, "What is the sweetest thing on earth?" One courtier said, "Milk-pudding". "Chocolate", said another. "Curd", "honey", "raisin", "sugar", each person named his favourite delicacy. Still another said, "It is different with different people and depends upon individual taste." Each man gave his opinion, but Birbal kept silent. The king accosted him, "Birbal, what do you say? Which according to you is the sweetest thing on earth?" Birbal said, “The human tongue." The King said, "What rot you talk! How can the tongue be sweet or sour? And how do you make it the sweetest delicacy? Prove it!" Birbal said, “I’ll, but on some suitable occasion." And there the matter ended for the time being.

After a few days, Birbal, with the king’s permission, invited the queen to dinner at his residence. On that occasion innumerable delicacies were prepared. The queen was enthralled at the variety arid the exquisiteness of the dishes and showered encomiums on Birbal for a most delectable feast to which she had been treated.

Presented with an exquisite dish, a civilized human being is prone to eat less but praise the cook most extravagantly. He does it while eating and also later. Four things are discussed torn often - food, sex, nationalism and politics. A great deal of one's life is spent in pointless discussion. If we analyse the lives of people who are continually complaining of lack of time for work, we shall discover that a great deal of their lives is frittered away in discussions about food, sex, nationalism and politics, leaving them no time at all for serious work. A man is advised to do some meditation and he immediately objects, "But where is the time? I'm too busy. There is so much to do!" They have no time for any tiling worthwhile. Avery large number of people are continually talking politics. "Our minister, or our Prime Minister," they say, "is no good. Our policies are all wrong. Look at what is happening to the country!" They seem to be so anxious about the fate of the country, as if the entire responsibility for national security devolves upon them. We fritter away our time in useless pursuits and then complain of lack of time.

To return to our story, the queen highly commended the glorious dinner hosted in her honour by Birbal. She was all praise for the exquisite preparations. "What a wonderful treat!" the queen kept saying. She was immensely gratified by the reception accorded to her. After some time, she rose to go. Just then Birbal whispered to a servant, "Sweep and wash the whole courtyard thoroughly. A Turkish slut has sat here and partaken of her meal; the spot is profaned by her touch. Wash it clean of all profanity!" The queen overheard the direction and was beside herself with rage and humiliation. The exquisite provisions she had earlier praised so highly as being most sweet, all turned into vinegar. When on her return to the palace, the king asked her, "How did it go?" she impatiently burst out, "Why in God s name did you send me there?"

"Why, what happened?"

"Oh, everything turned into poison!"

"What, were the dishes not properly cooked?"

"O, no, that's not what I meant."

"What do you mean then?"

"Your Majesty! After a most excellent repast, Birbal said something terribly nasty. I still keep wondering how he had the temerity to say it! The meanest rascal would not say it of his enemy." And then she recounted what she had overheard.

The king was also nettled beyond measure, his brows clouded. He immediately summoned his court and when Birbal arrived, he did not once glance in his direction and showed no awareness of his presence. Birbal immediately understood what had transpired. Those clouded eyebrows plainly told their tale. But he quietly took his place. After some time the king's curiosity overtook his temper and he addressed himself to Birbal thus:

"You're guilty of a great crime!"

"I'm not guilty of any crime, Your Majesty!" said Birbal. "What did you say when the queen was leaving?" "Nothing, whatever."

"But did you not say to the servant, "Wash this spot clean of all profanity - it's unhallowed by the touch of a Turkish slut!"

"That, I did say. I remember now."

"But why did you? And how dare you!"

"Well, I had to provide you with a proof."

"What proof? What are you talking about?"

"Your Majesty has quite forgotten. Don't you remember saying, 'How can the tongue be sweet or sour?' and you wanted me to prove it: Now see how my tongue set at naught all my great preparations and hospitality. What prodigious amount of effort and money I put in to provide that 'excellent' dinner to the queen - an equivalent of my whole year's salary! I've gone bankrupt, and yet all my effort was of little avail. You only remember what my tongue uttered; everything else is quite ignored. Well, you know now how delectably sweet or how terribly bitter the human tongue can be!" The king sat motionless and still.

The tongue is sweet; it can also be bitter. This truth applies to the whole of our life. Freedom is most sweet. A dry crust of bread tastes sweet in freedom; whereas in a state of slavery, the most exquisitely prepared viands taste flat, even poisonous.

But most of us have no direct experience of sweetness. Only yesterday I said to a young camper, "Do not take your chapatis with cooked vegetables, if you want to know the real flavour of wheat-bread." Those who cat their bread with spiced preparations can never know the real taste of wheat. All that they know or can know |s the taste of salt or sugar; they do not and cannot know the true taste of wheat-bread or the vegetables. What do we really know of the taste of ribbed gourd or of cucumber, for instance? Their sovereign taste is quite supplanted by that of salt and chillies in profusion.

Freedom has its own unique flavour, but the freedom that we now is overlaid in profusion with spices of slavery, so much so that we never experience true freedom. Only the man who has tasted wheat-bread in itself, unmixed with the spiced victuals, knows how sweet it is. Similarly only the man who has experienced freedom, in all its purity, knows its true flavour.

Maharana Pratap wandered in deserts and mountains and repeatedly withstood all kinds of temptations. He suffered intolerable hardships. Sometimes no bread was available for the prince, his son; the poor child was denied bare means of subsistence. But Rana Pratap knew the taste of freedom, before which all other tastes paled into insignificance - neither rulership, nor magnificence, nor kingdom, nor power, nor any other temptation meant anything to him as compared to freedom.

Individual freedom is a priceless treasure. To deny the individuality of a person is to deny freedom itself. Look at our system of government and our modern city organisation, where the individuality and the freedom of a citizen are gradually being laid waste. The individual is fast becoming a mere cog in a gigantic machine. What slavery, what dependence! You want to install a window in your room, but you are not free to do so. You have to obtain sanction from the municipal corporation. That you must not cause any inconvenience to your neighbour is intelligible but even when there is absolutely no harm in it, and even if your neighbour has no objection to it; you are not free to execute your plan! One is hedged in by so many laws as to leave no room for freedom anywhere.

The second great blessing of individual life is self-reliance. But where is self-reliance to be found today? There is so much relying on others that men are gradually becoming more and more dependent. You must have heard or amar bel, the evergreen creeper. It has a beautiful name, but is a very dangerous creeper. The plant it settles upon is as good as finished. The creeper cannot stand on its own; must find something or the other to lean upon. And it begins to eat into the plant that supports it. Sometimes this creeper spreads up to an area of one kilometre. Whatever it leans upon, it devours. Amar bel aptly exemplifies the pernicious effects of dependence. Man too is no less dependent on others, and is consequently no less dangerous than amar bel. He too resorts to ruthless exploitation and destruction of others in order to maintain his own prosperity and luxurious living.

A monied man keeps servants upon whom depends all his glory and grandeur. Without his attendants, he would be no different from any other man. The so-called 'greatness' of the master is manifest as long as there are 10-20 hands to work for him. He then thinks he is really somebody. If the 'great' man is obliged to work with his own hands like any labourer, all his 'glory' and greatness' would instantly disappear. There would be no occasion then for false pride to subsist. Why does a man want to be a millionaire? In order to secure for himself all kinds of comfort. In the process he becomes so terribly dependent, that without his servants he can do nothing. And yet, though he recognizes the utility of the servant, he turns a deaf ear to his basic needs. When the servant falls ill, he blames it on his fate. When the servant is in health the master takes out of him as much work as he can, but if an exigency befalls the servant, the master is of little avail to him. Is this dependence on the servant less dangerous than that of amar bel?

On entering his room an officer found a telegram on his table. He glanced at it hurriedly. It read, "Mother dead. Come at once." His mother was very old. He felt extremely sad and started making preparations to go. Just then a worker entered the office and said, "Sir, my mother has died. You must kindly grant me leave to go. Earlier, I left the telegram on your table." It was then that the officer glanced at the address, which he had overlooked in the first instance. So the telegram did not relate to him. He felt immensely relieved. But then he became conscious of the expectant worker who stood before him, awaiting the acceptance of his leave application. The officer pulled a long face and said, "Old people are always dying. Today your mother is dead, tomorrow someone else may die. You cannot just abandon work like that!"

How is that? Here is a man who works for you, and who is instrumental in making available all kinds of facilities for you. But when he is in trouble, you simply ignore him. You become quite insensitive and blind to his most importunate need. It is this subjective, highly self-centred mentality that has given birth Jto the idea of a socialistic society. The advent of socialism has not occurred without cause. There is a definite inspiration behind it. There is a cause to every effect. The subjective individualistic approach had crossed all bounds, the self was so predominant as to preclude any awareness of another's difficulty or need. This situation inevitably led to a reaction, it ignited a spark and produced a conflagration.

Dependence and subjective individualism are intimately related. Today man has become so dependent that he is not at all interested in self-reliance. It seems that as long as someone is there to work, some people would not be inclined even for a little exertion. Left to themselves, they would not even put a morsel in their own mouth. Perhaps they secretly wish for the invention of a machine, which not only would cook food but also convey it to their mouth. Later they would want a machine to digest it for them. This comfort-seeking mentality obliges a man to look up to others for every little thing. It has had a calamitous effect in that man has almost forgotten to exert himself.

The human body is naturally meant for exertion. Indeed the capacity for exertion is the third great blessing of life. The man who has no faith in his own valour achieves little in spite of all kinds of facilities available to him. However, many people ignore this truth. The so-called 'big' man thinks it beneath his dignity to make any effort. To do work with one's own hands is looked down upon as something despicable. We must come to realize the truth that exertion is absolutely necessary for the upkeep of the body.

I used to lament how a labourer was obliged to work so hard! Also what extraordinary toil the ascetics had to endure! They had to go begging for alms, to fetch water, to carry heavy loads in scorching heat. How great an effort it all involved! But gradually I came to realise the truth that exertion is necessary for physical health and that any part of the body, deprived of healthful exercise is liable to turn morbid and sick and utterly useless. The great secret of health is work. Each part of the body requires exercise. For perfect health, the hands, the feet, and every other part must be fully exercised. There can be no proper blood circulation in a part, which is not so exercised. Without proper blood-circulation, any part is likely to grow morbid. It requires no germs, or contagion to make it sick. The root cause of multiplying diseases today is lack of exercise. People come to attend meditation camps where they do yoga-asanas. Why? Doing asanas involves no great spiritual endeavour. Though the effort may partake of spirituality, yet doing asanas is not purely a spiritual exercise. The first objective here is body-perfection: to train the body, to keep it in good form. For without a healthy body there can be no meditation, nor any spiritual development, no breath- or body-perception, nor any perception of the psychic centers, nor any perception of colours. All these perceptions become impossible for a sick organism. The body must be in perfect health. Doing yoga-āsanas is conducive to physical well-being.

It is useful to distinguish clearly between self-reliance and self-exertion. The latter is a physical process. To exercise different parts of the body and employ them in work, to utilize the power latent in them is self-effort or valour. Self-reliance is trust in one's own strength, in one's capacity to exert. Self-reliance comes first; it leads to valour. Without self-reliance, the question of effort or valour does not arise. He, who cannot stand on his feet, has to take the help of a stick, or walk on crutches. To have faith in one's own power is the first requisite - that is self-reliance. And to utilize this power, to employ it in work, constitutes valour.

The first attraction of a meditation camp is the prospect of spiritual development; the second the maintenance of physical health. As it is, the desire for physical health comes to be the prime attraction, though it should be the other way round. Spirituality should be the first consideration, which in itself ensures physical well being. But with most people the intangible is not easily reached, whereas the tangible is readily grasped.

It is often said that a particular person attended a meditation camp, practised meditation and was cured of his disease. Another says the same thing and still another. And the news spreads far and wide. One suffering from a disease is naturally attracted. I just happened to talk to a camper and I said, "You come from far-away Maharashtra. What for?" He said, "I have not been keeping good health. I got myself thoroughly examined. Doctors are unable to diagnose what is wrong. So I've come here. Since I came here, I have felt better."

To want to be in good health is most natural. One cannot expect much from a sick organism. If the knife is not sharp, how will the housewife pare the vegetables? One needs an instrument, some sort of appliance for doing work. Our body is our instrument. It is the edge of the knife, which shaves everything clean. How is it that one generally keeps good health during the camp period? The campers stop taking pills. For an hour daily they are required to practice asanas and pranayam. Any obstruction in blood-circulation in any part of the body gets automatically removed; the blood begins to flow freely in the veins. You must have seen the policeman directing traffic on the crossroads. A minute's delay in free passage sometimes causes hundreds of vehicles come to an abrupt halt, causing a traffic jam. For years together our body has put up with a great many obstructions, innumerable blood-particles awaiting free passage.

The body cannot keep in good health unless it is properly exercised everyday. Unless the blood-vessels are thoroughly unblocked, good health is not possible. Physical activity is a must. In the absence of other toil, one might as well take recourse to yoga-asanas. Through the practice of yoga-asanas the body gets its needful exercise. Physical activity is thus an essential health requirement.

Freedom, self-reliance and exertion are the three blessings of life, which make up a man's unique individuality.

A man's life has two aspects - individual and social. We have briefly considered the individual aspect. But each individual is an inalienable part of society, and we must also consider his relationship with society.

Title: The Art Of Positive Thinking
B. Jain Publishers (P) Ltd.
Reprint Edition:
R.K. Seth

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Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Asanas
  2. Body
  3. Maharashtra
  4. Manu
  5. Meditation
  6. Pranayam
  7. Pride
  8. Psychic Centers
  9. Truth Of Life
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