The Art Of Positive Thinking: How I Look At Another

Published: 27.12.2009
Updated: 30.07.2015

A main approached his guru and asked him, "Master! How can I be free of sorrow?" It was a big question. To live in a world of sorrow and yet be free of it.

The guru said, "Well, we shall talk about it. But first bring me the cloak of a man who is entirely happy."

The man entered a house and asked, "Brother, you are all happy here?"

Everything is all right as long as the question is not posed. The sea is calm as long as there is no storm. But let the winds blow and the storm arise, and it is all commotion. The stillness vanishes as if it were never there. Likewise, it is all right as long as the question is not posed; when it is posed, nothing seems to go right.

The householder said, "Happy? My neighbour is such a scoundrel, creating new problems for me everyday. How can I be happy? In fact, I'm terribly unhappy!"

The man entered another house, and asked, "Brother, I hope you are all happy here and have no problems?" The second householder said, "What a question! Sir, I've a termagant for a wife, who has made my life impossible. I cannot even imagine what being happy is!"

The man went to another house, and still another. He met housewives complaining of their husbands' rages; and husbands complaining of their wives' ruthlessness. He met fathers harassed by insolent sons. He went into thousands of houses and found no happiness anywhere.

He was fed up with his unprofitable rounds, and went back to the guru and said, "I am exhausted, Sir. You asked me to procure the cloak of a person who was entirely happy. What to speak of complete happiness, I found no one who was even tolerably satisfied!"

The guru said, "Why are they unhappy? What is their grief?"

He said, "Some are in conflict with their neighbour, others complain of a son's misdemeanour; everyone has a grievance against something or some person. Each one of them is unhappy on account of another."

The guru said, "The secret of being happy is not to look up to another, but to look at yourself. That's the way to abiding joy."

The man said, "Is that all? You could have told me this before. Why did you make me go round and round to other people's houses for nothing?"

The guru said, "Truth is not easily digestible. If I had told you before, you would have rejected it outright. But now that you have gone round and seen for yourself, you will understand that most people are unhappy because they look up to others for happiness."

That's the truth. He, who looks up to another, will never be happy. Every man is unhappy, and he is unhappy on account of another. In each case, the other is the cause of one's sorrow. Illness, cruelty, hatred  - all occur because of another.

The "swa" meaning 'the self, and the "par" meaning' the other', ‘the alien', 'the opposite', are intimately connected with our individuality and constitute its frontiers. Either we think of "ourselves" or we think of "another". The "par" has two meanings  –  'independence' and 'difference'; it has an independent existence, and it marks a separation from and an opposition to the 'self’.

We accept the independence and the difference. Thinking can be from various angles. It is always relative. In itself it makes no sense; its origin and development demand a base, something other than itself  - the object may be some individual or thing, matter, space, time, a situation. But without some object, which serves as its basis, thought cannot be. Without the fuel there can be no fire. Fuel is also required to ignite the fire of thought. That fuel is "par", 'the other’. No thinking is possible without 'the other'.

We think about ourselves. We have already discussed "How I look at myself!", one's approach to oneself. We must also discover "How I look at another!", one's approach to others. It is an important theme. When we live in society, we have to consider swa, "the self”, as well as par, "the other". Without the other, there would be no society. If there were only swa, the self, it would constitute pure spirituality, without any need for social conduct. The whole of our social behaviour is based upon "the other", differentiated from "the self. How do we approach this other-consciousness?

There are two kinds of thinking  - constructive and negative. Whether we think about ourselves or about another, our approach can be positive and constructive, or negative and destructive. It has been observed, however, that our approach to another is seldom constructive; for the most part it is destructive. Man is so constituted that he gives greater importance to the self and ignores the other. The most intelligent man, when questioned about the other, tends to depreciate the latter, espies many faults in him. Rarely do we meet a person who would see in another all the virtues and praise him for that. It is but seldom that he would shower such praise. The not-so-intelligent is incapable of recognising merit in another. Such a man looks upon himself as the wisest soul in the world and seeks gratification in displaying to advantage his own virtues. About others, he maintains very strange notions.

A man in power perceives many shortcomings in the general public. He would criticize everything and every person except himself. Of course, he does not directly claim that he alone is virtuous, but then he does not seem to see anything wrong with himself. This negative approach to another makes us find fault with another. Consequently, we are not able to appraise another rightly and give him his due importance.

Values are of great importance in social life; for society cannot do without them. However, to determine what is of real value is very difficult. We find ourselves incapable of right evaluation, because our approach is largely negative. Without first establishing nonviolence, no right appraisal is possible in any social set-up.

Indeed, the first condition of right appraisal is non-violence. The mind is steeped in violence. By violence is not meant merely the obvious 'killing and being killed' that goes on in society; rather it is intimately connected with the whole of our consciousness and colours our vision. The greater the identification of our consciousness with persons and things on the principle of pleasure and pain, the more vitiated our vision. But so deeply ingrained in the individual is this consciousness of like and dislike that apart from love and hatred, no third dimension seems possible. Like and dislike ever colour our vision. Our perception of people and things just as they are seems well-nigh impossible. It does not seem possible to see a man as he is. Someone may say, "I see that man as he is." Actually, there is no real perception. A thousand hurdles block our vision. There are so many impediments, such walls of prejudice, that the object is quite lost from sight. The feeling of enmity, friendship, love, pity, etc., stands like a wall between the perceiver and the perceived. It is rare that a man perceives another man just as he is. No man seems capable of pure perception.

Someone asked, "Who is your friend? Who is your foe?"

We are caught between the opposites. Either a man is our friend or our enemy. Either there is love or there is hatred. Either we like or we dislike. There is no other alternative. "Who is your friend? And who is your foe?" seems unanswerable. One must first know another before one can determine whether he is a friend or a fee.- If one does not know another at all, there is no basis for determination. And most people do not know. But there must be some who know. For those who know and are capable of seeing things as they are, there is no friend, nor enemy. He who knows transcends like and dislike; he who is caught in like and dislike does not know.

The guru made a very significant observation: "Nobody knows." One might say, "I know the members of my family, I know my neighbour, I know people in Delhi," but as a matter of fact, nobody knows anything. Each man is enclosed within the walls of prejudice and illusion, which he cannot penetrate. We do not know the man in front of us; we only have an image about him. It is always the images of our own creation that we deal with; reality is far off. We only perceive the shadow; the substance is ever out of our reach. There is no real contact between man and man; it is all a relationship between images whichever breeds conflict. Reality eludes us and we are caught in mere images, shadows without substance!

While crossing a road we saw the solid front wall of a house with a huge lock on its door. Quite impenetrable it seemed, nobody^ could enter that house. But as we went a little further, we saw the* house was a ruin, with its back and sidewalls all gone. Only the front wall stood with that huge lock on the door, which seemed impenetrable. No side walls, no back wall, nothing whatsoever. No basis for living. Only a huge (but utterly useless) lock on the front. Mans condition is not very different  - only a shadow of a house without any substance!

To find substance in a world of shadows is not easy. All friendship or enmity is imaginary. We really know neither our friends nor foes. The man we call our friend turns out to be a secret foe, and he whom we look upon as our bitterest foe reveals himself as a friend. We command no pure vision; our perception of friends and foes is faulty. In trust lies the greatest danger, and the greatest security is to be found where danger is. All this reversal of values is the outcome of par, the ‘other'. Our approach towards another is such that the very word, "the other" has become synonymous with danger. On the contrary, the word swa, the self, seems to offer us the greatest satisfaction. How did we come to have such a view? Obviously because of prejudice; because of lack of understanding. It is the attitude of like and dislike, which colours all our relationships.

The thinking of a meditator undergoes a transformation, becomes refined; his approach changes; he comes to realize the unique individuality of the other, which is a great breakthrough. Generally a man, preoccupied with himself, is incapable of recognising the independent existence of another.

The father says he loves his son. But he does not recognize the son's right to an independent existence. Any free move on the part of the son causes the father great perturbation. The husband would not admit his wife's free and separate existence. The master, likewise, would give the servant no freedom; he would curb each and every want of his. We have evolved all kinds of controls because we are not inclined to accept dispassionately another's independent existence. Of course we accept it in theory. But in practice it is not acceptable to us. The question of freedom always gives rise to a number of problems.

Without deep meditation, without analysing the manifold layers of our consciousness, without experiencing for ourselves the content thereof, the fact of another person's unique individuality, though acceptable in theory, cannot he directly apprehended by us.

Infinite and wonderfully subtle is the world of our consciousness, but rarely do we inhabit this subtle world. Our perception is wholly conditioned by matter, and so is our thinking.

The father is mightily pleased with a son who earns for him ten to twenty lakhs of rupees per year, irrespective of the means, fair or foul, employed by him. The other son may be more true and honest, even though he does not earn much money. He just makes both ends meet, and is able to save a little. The father says to him, "How much did you make last year? How much did you save?" To which he answers, "Just enough to make both ends meet; not much to save." And the father is displeased, "You are a good-for-nothing", he says, "You just don't know how to get along. How will you marry your children? Or shoulder other family responsibilities? Or maintain your prestige? Who will pay any heed to you?"

The son is roundly blamed and branded incompetent. The one who makes lots of money is declared as good and honourable; the other good-for-nothing. Our whole approach is materialistic, not spiritual. Honesty in itself is not much prized; truth and goodness command no premium. Compassion is discounted. Money, on the other hand, however earned, commands great prestige.

To aspire to a happy and conflict-free life, while our approach and thinking remain materialistic, is to be lost in futility. The secret of joyful living, the evolution of a constructive viewpoint and the development of our creative powers  - all stand forestalled by materialism.

It is a very complex problem. We never do justice to another. We cannot do justice even to ourselves! So how can we be just to another? One who is not just to himself cannot be just to anyone. One whose thinking is limited by worldly things, can never come to know the reality about himself, and so cannot do justice to his own innate capabilities. Only that man is capable of justice whose mind is firmly established in truth, non-violence and non-acquisitiveness. A thousand echoes go rumbling about us, proclaiming that people are not considerate to one another, that good conduct, kindness, is valued no more; that evil is thriving and goodness on the wane, that morality is declining and immorality waxing strong. The situation causing great anguish and concern to the serious-minded.

However, such anguish and its expression are ineffective in meeting the challenge.

As long as thinking is materialistic, non-violence cannot flower. Nor can truth or non-acquisitiveness be established. And without non-violence, without truth and without the spirit of non-possessiveness, our thinking about the other cannot be constructive.

For the growth of constructive thinking, it is essential that non-violence and non-possessiveness are fully established in life and society. For this it is necessary for us to recognize the individuality of the other, his independent existence. What advantage accrues to us through the other? How is one man benefited by another? In this context, a new science, fast developing these days, has significant insights to offer. The modern theory of environmental influences can play a big role in developing a positive approach by bringing home to man the most remarkable fact that even a slight displacement of a particle can cause a great upheaval in nature.

A campaign for the extermination of rats is on these days. However, a total extermination could give rise to a great many problems; the extinction of a living species is fraught with grave consequences.

The flies, the mosquitoes are not utterly without worth; they too contribute towards human welfare. The mosquitoes bite and yet they have their utility. This applies to all the insects that are apparently harmful. The rats, for example, devour huge quantities of grain; they cause a lot of damage, but they also have their utility. The extinction of rats would result in the extinction of cats, and of many other species responsible for the destruction of a number of pests. Everything in nature is interconnected; one particle with another; a million threads combine to make a counterpane; or a sack to carry a load. One thread by itself has little utility, but many threads unite to produce useful articles.

The whole of our world is a unity, a synthesis, not a breaking-up or disintegration. Living is possible only through cooperation. All the species, and the sub-species in nature, all that exists is the result of synthesis, of integration. Disintegration means decay. The whole order of the universe stands disturbed by division and discord.

The science of environment underlines the importance of union for survival, of the desirability of not interfering with the natural processes, of not disturbing nature's equilibrium, so as not to create disorder and confusion.

As a result of present-day atomic and nuclear experiments, the very atmosphere of the earth stands adversely affected. It is causing great concern all round. The solid atmosphere surrounding the earth affords us protection from the intense heat of the sun. The disintegration of this protective cover could mean the end of the human race, the end of the world, for man will not be able to endure direct contact with the sun.

It is therefore essential that we develop a constructive approach. For the evolution of constructive thinking, it is necessary to purify our consciousness. As it is, our consciousness is riddled with impurities; it is very much identified with things and ideas. It must rid itself of all identification, so as to be capable of fitting in with the 'other' and with society. The feeling of violence, of untruth, of possession, of dominating the other, characterising our consciousness, has to be got rid of. Our consciousness must be freed from these impurities, otherwise our approach will continue to be negative and destructive.

For the evolution of a constructive approach towards nature, it is essential for us to be fully considerate to all conscious beings, instead of being guided by materialistic considerations. Without full awareness, it would be difficult to transform our materialistic outlook.

It is possible for an individual to radiate sobriety, simplicity and tolerance, but only if he is firmly established in self-observation and awareness.

The whole problem of negative thinking is caused by our materialistic approach - too much attachment to material things. The moment we attain to the boundless depths of meditation and see things for what they are, we shall be able to adjudge the true value of material objects, and shall never aspire to dominate over another. We shall then come to realize the essential humanity of ‘the other' and our approach towards him will be constructive. Life in this ever changing world is full" of problems and these problems go on multiplying without any possibility of a solution. Even the so-called religious people are riddled with problems and the net of problems has become so wide as to embrace everything. The one and only cause thereof is the rigidity of our ways of thinking and feeling. Our whole outlook is stereotyped, and so is our conduct. We live in a kind of limbo, totally unmindful of what we do and how we live. There are two kinds of insensitivity - a befuddled vision and thoughtless conduct.

A meditator must clearly understand that the first priority is for chastening one's approach, to dissolve the state of oblivion, of unawareness, in which a man usually lives. This would require experimentation and experience. Here in the meditation camp, People are experimenting - they are directly experiencing the truth of things. Not merely accumulating knowledge, not merely theorising (for it is not a matter of knowledge or theory). Theory without practice is of little use. But practice combined with theory yields fruit, which is most valuable.

This present moment is very sacred for us, for it is in this moment that we have gained an insight into the combination of theory and practice. May we benefit from this discovery! Whatever hard work we have put in, whatever experience we have acquired, let us mature it further in the light of this knowledge. May our hearts be filled with an intense longing for liberation and may we advance undeterred on the path of freedom!

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. Consciousness
  2. Cooperation
  3. Delhi
  4. Environment
  5. Guru
  6. Meditation
  7. Non-violence
  8. Nonviolence
  9. Science
  10. Soul
  11. Space
  12. Tolerance
  13. Violence
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