The Art Of Positive Thinking: Freedom From Reaction (2)

Published: 29.12.2009
Updated: 30.07.2015

'Action and reaction’ are natural phenomena. A thorn prick and the hand immediately reaches the affected spot to pull it out! The pricking of the thorn is action; extracting it immediately, reaction. A thorn pricks; the message is instantly transmitted to the central nervous system through messenger-nerves. A direction is given, the muscles get activated, and the hand reaches out to extract the thorn. That is the theory of action and reaction. To every action there is a reaction. It is inevitable. Nevertheless, we must avoid those reactions, which do not further our well-being, which are positively harmful, and which stand in the way of our fulfilment, perverting our habits. Merely saying that reaction is natural would not do. Many people think that it is natural for a man to be angry if somebody abuses him. If he does not get angry, he is dubbed as 'timid' and 'weak'. One is not supposed to pocket an insult quietly; a man who does so is not considered manly. However, every response cannot be said to be natural; we must exercise discrimination. All those responses, which are natural for the continuation of life, require no thought on our part; we don't have to make any effort to change them. But there are reactions, which are not natural, which proceed from some belief, some conclusion, almost unconsciously. These we must avoid. But how? That is a complex problem. Because one has formed certain habits, because the constitution of one's brain is such that given a particular situation, a particular reaction automatically comes off, despite one's will to the contrary.

A good deal of work is necessary for ushering in light; darkness requires no exertion! Light comes and goes but darkness is eternal! One strives to cultivate forgiveness, but in the moment of action, forgiveness is lost sight of, and anger arises automatically. How to be free from these reactions? We need some support - a sound maxim. For we want no excuses - we want the work done.

A story from the history of Terapanth. Acharya Rishirai greeted Jaicharya to proceed from Bidasar to Bikaner. It was formidable weather, terrifying heat, the sizzling sands of the desert those frightful dunes; there were no roads! A 70-mile journey in the hottest month of the year and no water anywhere! To traverse those scalding dunes, all the way to Bikaner! Such was the command of Rishirai from Mewar to Jaicharya: "Proceed from Bidasar to Bikaner!" It presented serious difficulties to the monks. Also to the camp followers. Anything could happen. It posed the greatest danger to life itself. And a very critical situation arose soon after the foot march began. We have on record Jaicharya's word for it. On the very first day a fierce dust-storm threatened to bury them alive! The alarmed travellers gathered round Jaicharya and respectfully said. "Sir, it's a question of discipline. The Acharya's word must not be slighted, but perhaps a way could be found so that we are not guilty of disobedience, but at the same time we avoid this seemingly fatal journey." Jaicharya said, "Let rustics and slaves find excuses for evasion! I am going to carry out the Acharya's command!"

All evasion is vain. The intelligent man boldly confronts the issue. He ever keeps his aim in view and steadfastly works for its fulfilment. But we do need a sound doctrine with which it is possible to avoid reaction and to turn the tide thereof.

A sound basis for action evolves through practice. There can be two kinds of support - theoretical and practical. Both have their utility.

The ancient Preceptors have laid down specific maxims for the ascetic's daily conduct. They say, "In such and such situation, seek refuge in such and such maxim."

A particular situation arises. For instance take food. The right kind of food is not available. How to appease one's hunger? The relevant dictum reads: "It is my dharma (moral duty) to endure hunger in a particular situation. It is my dharma not to eat anything uneatable. If the right kind of food is not available, it is my dharma to go fasting."

Somebody utters hard words, indulges in downright abuse. Anger is the common reaction in such a case. One gets agitated. But a sound maxim might save one from falling. In this context a very important doctrine was laid down: "Whatever another says, in whatever way, however uncomplimentary and hard, go into it; find out the truth or falsehood thereof. Am I really guilty of this? Is there any truth in what is being said?” If there is, anger is out of question. Rather one should say to oneself: “This man is speaking the truth. I have been negligent. I have unwittingly committed a mistake. I must simply accept this fact. I'll tell my accuser that he is right and I'm guilty.” If what is said is not true but the result of illusion, sheer imagination, one should say to oneself: “What is being said does not apply to me! Why should I be agitated for nothing?” This is sound doctrine. "If it is a fact, I must simply accept it. There is no room for anger. If untrue, it does not apply to me. Either way I need not be agitated." If carried into practice, this doctrine would help one avoid many a pitfall; one would not get easily excited or enraged. On the other hand, it would help a man maintain his equilibrium under all circumstances.

In a different context, a man condemns somebody. The person condemned is displeased. If there is praise, the man is pleased. Both pleasure and displeasure are reactions. And the mind is so conditioned as to react to pleasure and pain automatically. A little praise sets the face aglow; the slightest censure makes it crestfallen. Is it possible to avoid such extremes? Here is a beautiful maxim that can prove helpful:

No one becomes a thief if called so by another; no one becomes a saint if called so by another. One's conscience tells one whether one is a thief or a saint.

This is a good maxim and if only one can assimilate it thoroughly, one can be free from reaction.

Given self-confidence, confidence in one's own capacity and valour, another's opinion can do one no harm. People generally do not want a man to rise. Particularly the older people, one's own parents, stand in the way of the younger generation. They go on harping on the goodness of their own times, everlastingly decrying the succeeding generation, calling it feeble and worthless.

The conflict between the young and the old has been there from time immemorial. The older generation and ancient accomplishments command easy recognition; the younger persons and contemporary achievements have to struggle for recognition. Man is not generous enough to grant recognition to another easily. The new generation is impatient to win recognition and the older one is full of pride, has its own standards, and is reluctant to accord recognition to the younger generation on the basis of newer values. This conflict is to be found in all fields - literature, ayurved or religion. "Just because a thing is old, does not make it good" - the renowned poet Kalidas sounds here the characteristic note born of two generations of conflict. The old scholars had treated his poetry and plays with slight respect, and the poet was obliged to observe that mere antiquity was no guarantee of excellence in literature; that contemporary poetry could not be said to be inferior just because it was new. A thoughtful critic would declare a poem to be good or bad only after a thorough examination, whereas a foolish one would thoughtlessly continue to sing praises of antiquity, discarding the new.

Acharya Vagbhatt wrote a book entitled Ashtanghriday, which the leading ayurvedic practitioners did not recognize. Even Vagbhatt was slighted by the older generation whose attitude made him pen the following lines: "For the mitigation of wind take oil, for gall use ghee, and for cough honey is most wholesome. It does not matter who says this; the speaker is not at all important. The important thing is the nature of the materials. What is required is a balanced approach without malice."

The approach of the poet Kalidas and of Vagbhatt towards this controversy between the old and the new is very significant. But Acharya Siddhasen's contribution thereto is even more spectacular, and almost rare in ancient Indian literature. According to him, nothing can be termed as 'new' or 'old'. The division between the two is unnatural, for what we look upon as antiquity was once novel and whatever we consider to be novel today will become antiquity in course of time. Those who are living right now, after their death, will rank among the old for the new generation. The concept of antiquity is not a static one. So, the word of antiquity should not be given credence to without examination.

In every tradition, whether that of ayurved or classical literature, or philosophy or religion, the older generation has looked down upon the newer one as weak. If we act on the basis of what other people say, we shall be afflicted with an inferiority complex, and our power of doing things adversely affected. We shall have to make our own decisions and act independently. We shall have to determine for ourselves what we ought or ought not to do. "Don't follow another!" is sound doctrine. If somebody calls you 'great', beware of being hoodwinked into a complacent sense of self-exaltation. On the other hand, if somebody condemns you, you need not feel small or inferior. Some people would extol a non-descript person so that he loses himself in an illusion from which he never comes out. There can be no poison greater than flattery. Conversely a sense of inferiority born of adverse criticism can make even a genuinely great man falter; his power declines under severe condemnation. All because of a man's tendency to be influenced by another. The truth about oneself can only be discovered by oneself. Only you can know what under your particular circumstances is feasible or not. You can only depend upon yourself and nobody else.

At times a situation arises when one is greatly provoked. Confronted with an angry man, one is liable to lose one's balance. At such times, one should say to oneself, "This man is ignorant. And it is because of ignorance that he is angry. He is getting worked up over something, which can be resolved in a peaceful way. Now, I need not follow him. If he is ignorant, must I follow suit? If he flares up, must I too lose my balance? He is simply being silly, must I too behave foolishly? I am not going to act silly or in a childish manner or ignorantly!" That is a good resolve.

A sound doctrine awakens wisdom. Wisdom tells us that a problem cannot be resolved through excitement; that it can only be resolved through a balanced approach. It is not a matter of mere intellect. Intellect is essentially limited. If we are guided by intellect alone, we shall be inevitably caught in a vicious cycle of tit for tat', meet anger with anger, abuse with abuse, resulting in endless mutual recrimination. The intellect will tell us it is but right to pay back in the same coin; that if you do not return violence with still greater violence, life would become impossible for you; your very survival will he jeopardized. One man cheats, another abstains from cheating; one man indulges in abuse, the other keeps tranquil; one man, impelled by the fury of anger, becomes all dominant, the other is pushed, to the wall. This is no good. "The other must counter another with greater violence. Tit for tat!" This is what intelligence dictates. But wisdom functions on a different level where intelligence can never reach. Wisdom is insight, inner perception; its yardstick is different. Its standards too. The criteria resorted to by the intellect are no longer valid. We must build on a different foundation, different values.

Wisdom is introspective. It looks within, not outside. It is the awakening of our darshan kendra (the centre of intuition). As this centre is gradually awakened, as it becomes activated, wisdom is kindled inside; ideas, conclusions and beliefs undergo a sea change. The whole world stands transformed.

Two brothers got to the point of separating. All the hereditary possessions were equally divided between them. Two rings remained to be distributed - one of diamond and the other of silver. Who would get the diamond ring? Both contended for it. At last, the elder brother said to himself: 'This quarrel is unseemly. Let my younger brother have it if he wants it so badly!" So the younger brother got the diamond ring. But the silver ring proved to be much more valuable; it was the ring of wisdom. It had these words engraved upon it: "This too would pass!"

The younger brother who kept the diamond ring gave himself up to a life of idle luxury. He spent money lavishly in vain exhibition, till nothing was left and he was steeped in poverty and degradation from which he could never come out.

It so happened that the elder brother too lost all he had. In this time of hardship he happened to look at the silver ring he had on his finger. "This, too, would pass!" Today's problem in the very nature of things, could not, would not last forever! The wise saying gave him fortitude. His morale and self-confidence remained unimpaired. The days of adversity passed away in due course, and once again he regained wealth and power. All problems stood resolved.

Both the brothers faced adversity. One survived it because his morale was high; the other went down because he had no inner resources, no means to keep up his spirits.

A man rises, falls and rises again. Rise and fall is a natural process. The sun rises and sets everyday. Day is followed by night, night by day, and the cycle of life goes on. The important thing is never to let one's morale go down in adversity, for the man who loses his spirits when things go wrong, can never rise. But the mail who maintains his equanimity under all circumstances never has any problem. And wisdom is the key to equanimity; courage and moral supported by wisdom can never weaken a person. The man, who has on his finger the ring of wisdom, survives the worst calamity whereas one with only a diamond ring is lost. Morale is thus much more valuable than diamond. With mental poise one can acquire much wealth, but no mere wealth can give us equanimity. The rich man is not necessarily equanimous.

An army commander sat in a pensive mood. His face was lined with anxiety. His wife said, "What's the matter? Why are you so sad?" He said, "I have received very bad news. My army is losing." The wife said, "I too have received bad news–far worse than yours!" The commander was puzzled. What could be worse than his army's defeat? The wife said, "Yes - my husband has lost his courage; he has turned a coward. It is a thousand times worse than any defeat."

Immediately the commander got up. One word stung him into action. Setting aside his despair, he ran to the battlefield and fought with such exemplary valour as to lead his army to victory.

The greatest misfortune is the weakening of the morale, the destruction of self-confidence. With the loss of self-confidence, all kinds of evils crop up. But with self-confidence, with fortitude, evil days pass away quickly.

Wisdom helps one maintain one's morale. The practice of meditation is not merely a matter of sitting crosslegged with one's eyes closed; it is not aimed at merely seeking comfort; rather its purpose is to develop one's faculties to the full. It is a technique of expanding one's capability. If the practice of meditation does not lead to increased self-confidence, something is wrong with such meditation. It is not meditation at all, rather some illusion or self-deception. The food, which does not enhance one's power of resistance, is no proper nourishment. The tonic which fails to impart a sense of well-being to its user cannot be said to be genuine; rather something spurious under that label. The greatest benefit that flows from meditation is the increase of power. Indeed three things happen simultaneously–the heightening of consciousness, the upsurge of joy and enhanced strength. Without these, meditation is no meditation, but something else - perhaps illusion and unconsciousness masking as meditation.

We have been exploring the nature of non-violence; also of freedom from reaction. Shall a weak man be able to achieve this freedom? The feebler a person, the more readily does he react. Such a person cannot achieve freedom from reaction.

The habit of reaction has been continuing for generations together, since the beginning of time. It has entered pure bloodstream, become second nature. It is not easy to change it; rather an uphill task. You are not actually responsible for the way you react; it is a bequest from your parents - a hereditary influence.

The mother of a very smart child complained that her son was very naughty and that he flared up easily. I asked her if she herself was given to anger. She said she did have her angry fits. I said, "Then, how do you expect your child to be free from anger? In fact he has got it from you. It is a hereditary influence. The child gets it either from his mother or father." Even the physician inquires if a particular disease is hereditary. Genealogy is important. Before granting initiation, we here too are interested in knowing what kind of family tradition our novices bring with them - what virtues and what defects! The match-makers also want to know the family background of the prospective bride and bridegroom. The reactionary mentality is not a sovereign trait of your own; it is a bequest from your parents. To change this hereditary influence, this inveterate habit, is not easy. One needs a very powerful inspiration to accomplish it. No tall building can be erected without a strong foundation. To be free from reaction also requires a strong base.

We have discussed certain inspirations in this context - theoretical helps in the form of doctrines, verbal aids such as maxims. Experimental aids we need not dwell upon at length, since you are already practising these. An occasion for anger arises, and you immediately take to deep breathing. You need not strain your mind too much. Just start observing your breath, and the situation is bound to change. The other person is boiling with rage but you concentrate all your attention on the nostrils and start observing the incoming and outgoing breath - while you are so engaged, the other man's anger is entirely wasted Qn you. It would have been fruitful if it had succeeded in exciting an answering anger in you. One man flares up, but if his opponent does not react, the man feels somewhat depleted. Many people want to make a person mad, but if that person does not oblige and keeps tranquil, their ire boomerangs and fills them with irritation. The practice of deep breathing and meditation on the psychic centres are powerful aids. In the face of anger, concentrate your attention on Darshan Kendra (the Centre of Intuition) or on Vishudhi Kendra (the Centre of Purity), and no reaction would develop. As soon as anger arises, control your breath. Hold it for a minute or so, and all anger would evaporate. By means of these theoretical and experimental aids, we can avoid blind reaction and maintain our equilibrium.

We have presented a non-violent view of right thinking in the context of meditation. This analysis of psychological non-violence is bound to prove immensely useful to us. Generally our conception of violence and non-violence is extremely limited; to kill a living being is violence, not to kill is non-violence. In the face of such simplistic treatment, no further discussion is possible.

But if we consider the matter from various aspects, we shall discover that without non-violence, no two persons can live together. If each man is after running the other down, there can be no society, no family. Non-violence ensures that one man will not be devoured by another, that people will cooperate with one another. From the time when society came into being till the present day, nonviolence has mattered much more than violence, that is why nonviolence has developed so much. All this is intelligible on the psychological level. A person practising meditation must go into it deeply, otherwise he would not be able to achieve a correct appreciation thereof. Meditation develops our sense of affection and friendship for all; it helps us achieve total freedom from reaction.

The moment you decide to practise Preksha Meditation, you also accept five directive principles of conduct:

  1. living in the present;
  2. freedom from reaction;
  3. amity towards all;
  4. austerity in eating; and
  5. observing silence or moderation in speech.

The practice of these principles is in effect the practice of nonviolence. Without practising non-violence, no man can be temperate in speech or abstemious in food, or exercise any measure of self-control. He, who does not practise non-violence, is incapable of practising goodwill towards others. Nor without the practice of non-violence can there be any freedom from reaction. A man divorced from non-violence cannot properly live in the present. Such a person is everlastingly caught in like and dislike, in pleasure and pain. The whole practice of meditation is in essence the practice of non-violence. Hence it is absolutely necessary to understand non-violence in the context of meditation, to analyse it psychologically, and to constantly examine one's conduct and behaviour in relation thereto.

Let us also fully appreciate the fact that the practice of Preksha Meditation strengthens our faith in non-violence and adds a new dimension to our life.

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

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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Acharya
  2. Anger
  3. Ayurvedic
  4. Bidasar
  5. Bikaner
  6. Brain
  7. Centre of Intuition
  8. Centre of Purity
  9. Consciousness
  10. Darshan
  11. Darshan Kendra
  12. Dharma
  13. Discipline
  14. Equanimity
  15. Fasting
  16. Ghee
  17. Kendra
  18. Meditation
  19. Mewar
  20. Non-violence
  21. Nonviolence
  22. Preksha
  23. Preksha Meditation
  24. Pride
  25. Psychic Centres
  26. Terapanth
  27. Violence
  28. Vishudhi Kendra
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