The Art Of Positive Thinking: Freedom From Reaction (1)

Published: 28.12.2009
Updated: 30.07.2015

It is my birthday today. I mention it only because you know it already. I begin the new year with a fresh resolve: "Development and still greater development of non-violence in my life!"

People want to know about my progress in life. They say, "How is it that you have been able to write so many books? How did you achieve such mastery over yourself?" I should like to tell them of a great maxim, which has effortlessly permeated and transformed my life. That great maxim is: "Freedom from reaction".

There are two forms of violence - reaction and revenge. Killing, too, is violence, but no man is engrossed by a desire to kill all the time. Nor does he actually commit a murder everyday. If he kills some one every day, he would himself go mad in course of time. Only rarely does the spirit to kill overpower a man. It is only a hardened criminal who commits a murder. The other two forms of violence are more common, i.e., reaction and revenge. Even among these two, reaction is more frequent.

During the course of a single day, we react a hundred times; and a hundred times we indulge in violence. Many times it so happens that one's very breath, the ingoing as well as the outgoing, is thoroughly steeped in violence. Occasions for reaction are never wanting in life. Since childhood I have made it a rule not to react, so as to be able to do something in life. One, who is caught in reaction, loses his creative powers; such a one can only indulge in destructive activity. He can accomplish no great work, for one can use one's energy this way or that, for construction or destruction. How you utilize your energy is for you to determine. You can use it for constructive purposes or lay it waste in acts of destruction. Each man must determine for himself if he is going to utilize his energy constructively or destructively.

I made a strong determination and I am happy to report that most of the time I have been free from reaction. I don't remember entertaining any malice towards others. The moment I found that some one intended to cause me harm, I told myself he was wasting his energy that his powers declined. I see a man vomiting. It is not necessary for me to vomit also. In actual everyday living, it does happen that one man's vomit causes nausea to another and makes him vomit too. But if one's morale is high, one does not succumb to the morbid inclination.

The problem of violence is a formidable one. There are many occasions for committing violence in life. But not to indulge in violence or reaction, despite provocation, to maintain still one's equilibrium and lead a life of vigorous action in perfect non-violence, is a great achievement.

To lead an active life is to utilize to the full one's independent nature; it is to experience for oneself the joy of free uninhibited action. Whatever one does then, one does it with full awareness and responsibility, and not because of any compulsion. The reactionary is ever the victim of another's will.

Here is a tale, primarily meant for children, but truly significant. A father and his son went riding a horse. People saw them and said, "Look at that heartless pair riding a poor sickly horse!" The father immediately reacted to this observation by getting down and walking beside his son on the horse. A little later, someone remarked, "Look at that hefty shameless young fellow riding the horse and his poor old father footing it along!" At this sarcastic remark, the boy got down and made his father ride the horse. A little way farther, an onlooker remarked, "It's really strange, the old man himself riding in comfort and making the poor boy plod on foot." On hearing this, the father also climbed down, and both walked beside the animal. A little later, another group met them and one of the party said, "See those fools going on foot beside the horse while they could easily ride the animal!"

The man caught in reaction finds himself in a quandary. He knows not what to do; all the ways are closed to him. His mind is restless and he cannot determine on any single thing.

There was a young man newly turned monk. He lay resting beside a village pool, with a brick under his head for a pillow. The women of the village came to the pool to fetch water. As they were passing by, one of them said, "Look at him! He has become a monk, yet he must have a pillow, even though it be of brick!" The young monk heard it and said to himself, "I haven't done well in using the brick as a pillow." And he pushed the brick away from under his head and lay without any head-support. The party of village maidens, on their way back home, noticed him again and the same girl who had spoken before, now remarked in passing, "What a feeble-minded creature is this monk! We said he should not have a pillow, and he has pushed aside his brick!" The monk heard it and put the brick under his head once again. On her next trip to the village pool, the same maiden saw the monk lying with the brick under his head and remarked, "What kind of a monk are you! We criticized pillow keeping, and you shove aside your brick; we criticized the latter act, and you put the brick back under your head. If you so readily submit to our criticism, you will not be able to do any thing. Have you not taken to the monastic way of life? Why then, let the world say what it will, you must keep your own counsel, or you'll never be a true monk!"

To live in this world, blindly reacting to what others say is an impossible undertaking. The great blessing of non-violence is to live in accordance with what is right, irrespective of worldly criticism: As long as the mind is caught in reaction, a man cannot be said to be truly non-violent. Most men's understanding of non-violence is rather gross. The accidental crushing down of an ant under the feet is pronounced to be an act of violence; not so the most reactionary deed!

What is the cause behind the prevailing indiscipline? Blind reaction. We do not even listen to another, not to speak of accepting what he says. Indeed each man is inclined to have his own way without any consideration for another. To learn from another is no longer considered to be good form. Amongst the new generation, intolerance, the tendency never to accept what another says and to flout discipline - all of which constitute violence - are increasing day by day. There are two reasons for this– those privileged to speak know not what to say or how to say it; and those obliged to hear do not know how to listen.

Discipline is essential for right living. Social life without discipline is a mere skeleton from which the spirit has evaporated. Each man's body, each living organism, is a skeleton but it moves. What makes it move? The breath of life! It is the power of breath that makes the body move, without this power, it remains a useless apparatus without any movement or life of its own.

Discipline is the life-breath of our being, but without nonviolence, there can be no discipline. In fact the greater the violence, the greater is the indiscipline and conversely, the more mature the spirit of non-violence, the more perfect the discipline. Non-violence manifests itself in action-oriented life, in total freedom from reactionary mentality and consequently from all reaction.

There is the fable of the monkey and the sparrow (weaver-bird) from Panchtantra. The sparrow sat in its nest in a tree and the monkey sat on a branch nearby. The rainy season was in full swing and it was raining hard. The monkey was shivering. The sparrow saw him shiver and said, "O monkey, you resemble man very closely. You have hands and feet like him. You can do anything. Why don't you build a shelter for yourself?" At this the monkey was filled with great anger. He leapt furiously and tore up the sparrow's nest into shreds and throwing down the bits, exclaimed, "What cheek in you to tell me what I should or should not do! How dare you preach to me! I have hands and feet all right, but I shan't stand your sermonising. If I can't build a house for myself, I can at least bring another's down."

The tale illustrates a life of reaction. The sparrow meant well and spoke out of charity, but the monkey's pride (and man s too) knows no bounds; he resents any kind of interference, however well meaning. He looks upon himself as the wisest and the best - a superior being. Who could advisee him then, when all advice is looked upon as an affront? Most cruel and vicious is the serpent of the ego that is firmly established in a man’s heart; withal, it is very poisonous and perverse, ready to deal a mortal blow to anything or person that dare confront it.

With pride in our heart, the development of non-violence is just not possible. Will reaction ever lead us to freedom? This discussion is pertinent not only to a mendicant's life, but also to society. Even for living in society, it is desirable to curb one's pride. For the monk, of course, it is absolutely necessary. But the worldly man must also exercise restraint.

Queen Victoria knocked at the door of Prince Albert's apartment. "Who is there?" demanded the Prince from inside. "Empress Victoria", said the Queen, but the door continued shut. She knocked again, and once again the same query greeted her ears: "Who's there?" "Your dear wife, Victoria" said the Queen this time and the door was instantly flung open. For the Empress there was no admission, but for the sweetheart there could be no bar. Hauteur is productive of tension and engenders still greater arrogance in another, whereas humility begets humility. The one great reason for reaction is pride, and when both the parties are filled with self-importance, the situation becomes impossible.

Pointing out another's error also invites a reactionary response. To tell another that he is in the wrong is a dangerous thing. Ninety-nine persons out of one hundred would passionately resent such a charge. To indicate another's lapse is to turn him into a foe. This applies not only to worldly people, but also to the spiritual practitioners. Why should I then try to reform another and buy his enmity in the bargain? Because the man whose mistake is brought to the fore seldom accepts it with grace. Instead of responding to it positively and saying "Thank you very much for pointing out my error! You have done me good. I'll be more careful in future;' the man very often starts quarrelling with his reformer, saying "What the hell do you think of yourself? A slip of a boy and finding fault with me? What do you know of life? I've lived longer and know better. What cheek to discover any faults in me! I'll teach you a lesson!" A terrible reaction is born which soon changes into a desire for revenge, and is ever destructive.

One man casually tells his friend, "You're in the wrong" and immediately there develops a knot in the friend's mind, and moved by an impulse to refute, he hurls the same charge at his accuser fifty times a day, iterating, "It's you who are in the wrong". The poor remonstrator knows not what to do. He says to himself, "What a spectre have I raised! I only pointed out his mistake in all goodwill and affection, with a view to saving him from unpleasant consequences, but this man has taken it amiss. Reacting to a supposed insult, he is now dominated by a feeling of revenge and is for ever finding fault with me." Without non-violence, there can be no freedom from reaction.

I look upon Acharya Bhikshu's life as a model of non-violence. In the past two centuries, there have been only two apostles of nonviolence–Acharya Bhikshu and Mahatma Gandhi. There is a good deal common to them both.

A devotee came to Acharya Bhikshu and said, 'That man over there is picking faults in you. He says you have this defect and that - indeed a thousand imperfections!" Acharya Bhikshu blandly replied, "What's wrong with that? I became a monk simply to get rid of my imperfections. I'm practising austerity to be free of my defects. That man is my great benefactor, since he is cooperating with me in the task of removing my faults. I am grateful to him."

Here is a life of pure action. Acharya Bhikshu had not a trace of reaction in him. An average person, when told of someone picking faults in him, would react with a vengeance.

A politician standing for election was told that a particular person was calling him names. He immediately reacted by saying, "All right! Let me win this election. As soon as I become a minister, I'll set him right, teach him a lesson for calling me names."

Most people think it manly to pay back in the same coin. Tit for tat! Someone hurls abuse at you. If you endure it in silence, you are no man! You must hit back. Very few people are able to maintain their equilibrium in the face of an insult. Very few return good for evil.

Here's another leaf out of Acharya Bhikshu's life. He was preparing to sojourn in Pali for the rainy season. He obtained permission from the owner to stay in an old shop. Later some people came to know of it. There are all kinds of people in the world. At that time there were a great many opponents of Acharya Bhikshu. These adversaries went to the owner of the shop and instigated him against the Acharya. The shop-owner was thus misled into turning the Acharya out. "You can't stay here," said the shop-owner. Acharya Bhikshu smiled and said, "All right!" and walked out of the shop. He found shelter elsewhere. The rains set in. Very heavy rains! It so chanced that under the impact of the heavy downpours and the cyclones accompanying it, the shop where he had earlier stayed collapsed. When he came to know of it, the Acharya said, "Look! Those people who turned me out did me a good turn. If I had stayed in the shop, I would not be alive today. They are my saviours! God bless them!"

A man caught in reaction would think otherwise. He would feel insulted at having been turned out and he would want to avenge his insult. Or at least he would speak ill of his tormentors. Reaction is productive of violence, tension, disequilibrium and obstruction in the smooth flow of blood, and sometimes this blockage is so extreme as to cause haemorrhage. Brain haemorrhage is the result of extreme tension and behind every tension lays the spirit of violence, reaction and revenge.

The doctrine of non-violence is not merely a religious doctrine. It is the principle of good, harmonious living. Most people are a great deal preoccupied with diseases. Newer and newer medicines are being evolved but the diseases go on multiplying. One must thoroughly explore this phenomenon of disease-multiplication. Diseases multiply not only due to germs, but also because of psychological violence.

It has been found that people participating in meditation camps get rid of their addiction to medicines. Even chronic diseases get cured. What makes these diseases disappear? Most diseases are psychosomatic in character. They originate from the mind, from the violence latent there. Meditation helps dissolve all psychological tension and brings about freedom from reaction. In that climate, diseases cannot survive. The very basis of their existence is destroyed. One of the principles of logic lays down, "Every effect has a cause; without the cause there is no effect." But we do not search for the underlying cause. We get preoccupied with extraneous matters, and the fundamental cause is lost sight of. If we realize for ourselves the truth as to how diseases multiply because, of psychological pressure, we shall not then resort to drugs, nor become valetudinarians. In fact, many people come to attend meditation camps because they are fed up with doctors and drugs. The prescription is usually for the eradication of germs; the medical practitioner can do no more than prescribe antibiotics. That's the limit of his cure. But how will antibiotics help? The germs of the disease will of course be killed. But at the same time these drugs damage the vital force of the organism. Antibiotics are meant to destroy. These do not possess the intelligence to kill only the disease-germs, and not the life-saving elements in the body. The function of antibiotics is to destroy–they would destroy the germs all right, but they also destroy the life-saving elements.

It cannot be that a man who takes to antibiotics is free from worry. He has also to take vitamin pills in order to make up for the loss caused by the antibiotics. The physician would always prescribe Becosules along with the antibiotics. Now, how long is one going to take B. Complex? The doctor prescribes a drug to destroy the disease-germs and the patient takes it regularly, whereas the cause of the disease may lie elsewhere. How could a cure be effected in such a case? The disease may not be due to the germs alone. A great many diseases are caused by psychological pressure. With the removal of that pressure, the disease is automatically cured.

Meditation has been found to cure a number of diseases - diabetes, ulcer, high blood-pressure, etc. How does it happen? No medicine administered and yet the disease is cured! Practise meditation and the eczema disappears. Why? Simply because many of these diseases are primarily psychological; they are rooted in mental tension. We have never seriously inquired into the matter. Subtle implications of violence evade us - we are totally preoccupied with its gross manifestations. It is said that the Jains recognise non-violence to be the first principle of religion. It does not appear so to me. If they really regarded it as the most important thing in their life, they would not be afflicted with so many diseases. The fact is that the Jains are no less sick than other people. It shows that they have accepted non-violence only in theory and they do not practise it. Preksha Meditation constitutes in itself the practical aspect of religion. We are so involved in futile discussions, that this practical aspect itself stands sadly neglected.

Let us evolve a new approach. Let us not be too much concerned with mere theory; instead let us fully establish ourselves in the doctrine of non-violence through practice. What is required is constant evaluation of our efforts. It is only through practice that non-violence flowers in our life.

An hour's practice of non-violence through Preksha Meditation is far more valuable than a thousand theoretical discussions thereof. One, who meditates for an hour, has a direct experience of non-violence. Only then does he become capable of fine discrimination. Freed from the tyranny of like and dislike, the mind becomes innocent and pure. This dissolution of like and dislike, no argument, however prolonged, could effect; on the contrary, argument only serves to strengthen the habit of love-hate relationship.

I remember an incident during Acharya Sri's visit to Haryana. A resident of Bhiwani approached Acharya Sri and said, "Sir, I wish to hold a religious debate with you." "What for?" asked Acharya Sri. He answered, "I just want to have it!" "But why? What is your objective?" insisted Acharya Sri. At last he blurted out, "I wish to vanquish you in argument." Acharya Sri laughed and said, "Aren't you making a mountain of a mole hill? What good will it do? If you are so keen to outwit me, I hereby accept defeat. Go and broadcast it all over the town. Tell them you have overthrown Acharya Tulsi; I shan't contradict it!"

The man stood still, without a word. On Acharya Sri's next visit to Bhiwani, he was among the foremost of his devotees. He was also at the head of the Reception Committee to welcome him and later it was he who conducted the public meeting.

When we ourselves are free from reaction, when there is no violence within us, it becomes difficult for others to indulge in violence. Even if they were previously so inclined, something holds them from proceeding as per plan.

On the other hand, if my mind is full of violence, even though I might discuss the doctrine of non-violence a hundred times so as to understand it fully, it would come to nothing. The whole attempt is doomed to failure from the very beginning.

There is only one way of establishing oneself firmly in the doctrine of non-violence–Preksha Meditation. This is practical living. If religion becomes impractical and conventional, if it is divorced from direct experience, it would be a lifeless thing. We do not believe in a dead, stereotyped religion. What we are after is a living. religion–a religion which would resolve our present-day problems. We have nothing to do with that religion which is solely preoccupied with life after death,

"Practise religion–you will not go to hell." "Practise religion– you will go to heaven, find salvation." When? In the hereafter? Your present life stands untransformed and you are talking of paradise and salvation! The individual, who cannot find salvation in the present, will never find it after death. If there is salvation for man, it is here and now. One, who does not properly value the present, would lose himself in the illusion of heaven and salvation, both heaven and salvation ever existing beyond his reach. He would never be able to establish any contact with them, like the parallel straight lines, which go along side by side but never meet.

Religion aims at reforming the present, bringing about a transformation in everyday living. A very strange tiling has come to pass. In the so-called religious families, men and women practise religion, visit religious places, pray and worship, but also they quarrel among themselves. Whatever evils are found in the irreligious, are also very much present in the so-called 'religious"; they are in no way different. They seem to practise meditation, work for salvation, but at the same time, they are very much involved in petty jealousies and wrangles. If heaven and salvation were so easy to attain, no one need transform himself!

It is a vast subject. We might devote a whole camp-period to the consideration of non-violence, which is a great power. Non-violence is a peerless light, at present beclouded; a radiant flame almost deadened with ashes; its brilliance quite vanished.

The man who has had a direct experience of non-violence, is filled with unlimited energy. In him is awakened the capacity to die, which constitutes in itself the greatest power a man can know. The ultimate power wielded by the rulers of the world is the power to kill; they can do no more. And the man who has awakened in himself the capacity to die can face all the world powers with equanimity; he becomes insuperable. Nothing can frighten or suppress him; he becomes invincible.

The development of such power is possible only through nonviolence. India once witnessed this power, appreciated it fully. But during the Middle Ages, a change occurred.

The historians perhaps indulged in gross misrepresentation and a feeling grew up that non-violence had weakened the nation. That such a feeling should grow is most surprising, for where there is non-violence, there can be no fear. And vice-versa. Fear and nonviolence cannot exist together. Such a powerful weapon is nonviolence that gives a thousand men ready to die, a hundred-thousand-strong army cannot destroy them. The army indulges in killing when the enemy confronting it is actuated by the same motive. If the persons in front display an altogether different mien, if their countenances show no violence within, no aggressive design whatsoever, the biggest army is rendered inactive; its posture of violence, too, undergoes a transformation. But we have made nonviolence appear to be utterly worthless. The frightful prospect facing us today is that of psychological violence.

In the context of Preksha Meditation, I should like to dwell at length on psychological violence alone, because the observance of non-violence forms the practical aspect of Preksha Meditation, which aims at doing away with violent impulses and ruthlessness, and to awaken compassion. Our hard-heartedness has created innumerable problems. All the corruption, evils and lack of authenticity originate from insensitivity. If a man were really humane, there would be no ground for evils to flourish.

Shrimad Rai Chandra was like a teacher to Gandhiji. He was a great spiritual practitioner. He dealt in jewellery. After a merchant had entered into some bargain with him, the prices shot up and the merchant stood to lose around Rs. 50,000/-. In those days, about 70 years ago, it was a tremendous sum. The merchant was quite flustered. Shrimad Rai Chandra came to know of it and called at him. He found the merchant greatly upset. Shrimad said, "What's the matter?" The merchant said, "Sir, have no fear on my account: I'll pay what I owe you even to the penny." Shrimad said, "Don't you worry about paying. Let me know your actual position. How arc you getting along?" But the merchant was preoccupied with his debt to Rai Chandra. He said, "Sir, I'm fully sensible of my obligations. Ill pay as early as I can. You don't kindly insist on an immediate payment." Shrimad replied, I have not said a word about payment. It is you who are reiterating it tiresomely. Are you reading from a prepared statement?" But the merchant was grossly preoccupied with the matter and he said again, "I've got the promissory note ready with me. Here it is. I'll pay as early as I can." Shrimad took the promissory note and said, "What do you take me for? A harpy, a blood-sucker?" and while saying so, he tore up the promissory note. The merchant stood still with wonder.

Compassion from the heart, from the deepest layers of the mind - that is the first characteristic of a truly religious man. If there is no compassion, if hard-heartedness continues, a person cannot be said to be religious - indeed, to call a ruthless person religious would be a mockery of truth.

The practice of Preksha Meditation is an effort to awaken compassion. It is an endeavour to make the heart pure and innocent. The aim is to transform our consciousness so that we can establish an intimate relationship with one and all.

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. Acharya
  2. Acharya Bhikshu
  3. Acharya Tulsi
  4. Anger
  5. Bhikshu
  6. Bhiwani
  7. Body
  8. Brain
  9. Consciousness
  10. Discipline
  11. Equanimity
  12. Fear
  13. Gandhiji
  14. Haryana
  15. Mahatma
  16. Mahatma Gandhi
  17. Meditation
  18. Non-violence
  19. Nonviolence
  20. Pali
  21. Preksha
  22. Preksha Meditation
  23. Pride
  24. Tulsi
  25. Violence
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