LIVE HAPPILY THE GITA WAY
PART 1: GANG OF THIRTEEN
Every one of us is essentially after happiness. Why do we seek happiness? It is because we are unhappy, most of the time. Now and then we have tastes of what we assume is happiness. We see others who we think are happy. But what is it that prevents us from being happy? It is unhappiness, that seems to be possessing us.
There are several causes for unhappiness. First let us look at it from a global point of view, in the sense, that it applies to the society, the world, in general. Later we shall come to the individual point of view. From the global point of view we can recognise there are different kinds of obstacles to our happiness. In fact these obstacles can even be called evils of the world. Why am I calling them evils? You will agree with me when I describe them.
I am going to classify these evils into five categories: economic; social; sociological, political, and cultural. Each category contains five specifically named evils or obstacles to happiness.
The five economic evils are :
Poverty, Luxury, Beggary, Slavery, Exploitation.
There is no necessity to explain the evil nature of any of these, except perhaps ‘Luxury’. Luxury is an evil, because of its great potential to make us unhappy. Even if you do not accept it now, please go along with me for a while into the project. As we go deeper into the project, the negative side of luxury will present itself.
Next there are the five social obstacles to happiness:
Robbery, Smoking, Suicide, Divorce, and Illiteracy.
Next there is an equal number of sociological evils, which are actually diseases in society:
Drinking, Gambling, Murder, Rape and Drug Addiction.
We shall now come to more subtle ones. These may be termed to be the cancers in the society. Each of them can also be known as a political evil. These are:
Corruption, Nepotism, Turncoatism, Loose Values, and Hypocrisy.
The last category of five is the most subtle of all. These are cancers that can be traced back to the culture and tradition of the human species. They are:
Dogmatism-cum-Bigotry, Religious prejudice,
Race/Caste Prejudice, Superstition and Male Domination.
These five are most subtle in the sense that the person who is diseased with this cancer would not accept the fact of his affliction!
Well. Thus there are 25 evils of society in this world. (Anything else that can be imagined can be seen to fall under the generic heading of one of these). The total effect of all these is general unhappiness. How to eradicate these evils, is the major problem of mankind. Science and Technology are doing a lot to fight these evils, but a proper analysis of the source of these evils will tell us that no amount of scientific advances and technological breakthroughs by themselves will solve the problem until the roots of all these evils are eradicated from the individual mind. It is the individual who is important. If the roots of evil are eradicated from individual minds, the general problem of the society and the world would then become amenable to correction. Secondly, when these evils of the world impact on us the intensity of the impact depends upon how close we are to the occurrence. And the root of the unhappiness is again the mind which receives it. A mad man, for instance, would not be affected by any such impact.
So now let us turn our attention to the individual and look at the problem of unhappiness from his end. First every individual, in spite of himself, goes through six stages of transformation, called vikAra in Sanskrit. We exist, We are born, We grow, We mature, We decay and We disappear. None of us can deny ourselves any of these six. These are also applicable to the plant kingdom and the animal kingdom. If our unhappiness arises from any of these, we cannot help it. So this unhappiness appears to be incurable.
There are six other things, called Urmis (Waves), which make us unhappy. They come in three pairs.
Old Age and Death; Hunger and Thirst; Infatuation and Suffering.
Again, against the first two we are helpless. Against the second two we have to fight a daily battle. Against the last two we have to be continuously at war, because they affect us both mentally and physically.
The unhappiness that arises by virtue of any of the things so far discussed is all to be considered as external to us, since either we have no control over some of them like old age, death, or we know exactly something else outside of us which is the cause of it. Always there is something to which we can shift the blame – either the society, or the tradition, or nature. Even if it is a suffering because of a physical disease, we always find something on which we can throw the blame – pollution, infection etc.
It is the mind that reacts to all these obstacles to happiness. As we have already noted, the mad man has no reaction to any of these obstacles. It is clear therefore that man’sunhappiness arises from within himself. It happens in the mind of the individual. It is the mind that turns out to be the villain.. This is the bottomline of the problem of unhappiness. When man is born he brings along with his birth certain tendencies of the mind, certain attitudes, called vAsanAs, which become a second nature with him. And that is what makes each one react to unhappiness in one’s own indiv idual way.
sharIraM yad-avApnoti yaccApy-utkrAmat-IshvaraH /
gRhItvaitAni samyAti vAyur-gandhAn-iv-AshayAt // (XV-8)
Meaning, When the Lord takes up this body or when he goes forth, he goes taking them (the mind and the senses) as the wind takes the perfume from a vase.
In addition over the years of his growth in this life, his mind gets tuned to certain ways and characteristics of behaviour by training and custom and they also become part of his nature. The reactions born out of such nature to the obstacles that present themeselves, determine the level of happiness or unhappiness. These characteristics of man’s behaviour have been analysed by our scriptures and they have identified a set of sixteen basic channels (vRttis) of the mind. Of these there are thirteen channels in which the mind of man usually runs amuck. These form actually a gang of thirteen, because all of them are negative from the point of view of man’s attempts to become a better man. The first six of these thirteen are:
Attachment; Hate; Desire and Lust; Anger; Greed; Delusion.
(In Sanskrit: rAga, dveshha, kAma, krodha, lobha, moha)
This is one set of six. All these may be traced to even the animal kingdom which anyway is lower in the ladder of evolution.
There is another set of six, for all of which we have to blame man himself, because he has developed them to perfection by his own genius! They are:
Arrogance; Jealousy; IrshyA, Malice, Show or Vanity, and Pride.
(In Sanskrit: mAtsarya, IrshhA, asUyA, dambha, garva)
What is ‘IrshhyA’? It is a Sanskrit word for the bad feeling that “all miseries are happening only to me; why does it not happen to the other man; Why Me?”. I do not know of any single English word for this. Jealousy (mAtsarya) is the feeling which would not brook the rise of another person. Malice (asUyA) is the feeling which takes pleasure in playing down the good qualities of another person. ‘IrshyA’, ‘mAtsarya’
These twelve channels of the mind are the ones which take us downward spiritually. In fact it would be a worthwhile exercise to analyse in our own mind every action and thought of ours and try to pigeonhole it into one of these twelve channels. If the thought was not a noble one, it would certainly fall into one of these. Even when it is apparently a noble one, if we are true to ourselves we may discover one or more of these at the bottom of our mind.
And the thirteenth is the most important; it is the captain of the other twelve. It is the EGO of man. He is the captain of the Gang of Thirteen. These are the thirteen tendencies or vAsanAs which man has brought along, mostly from his previous lives, though some of which he has accumulated due to his upbringing and the way he grew up in this life.
It is the gang of thirteen which contribute to man’s internal unhappiness. Our thesis in the whole of this series of lectures is going to be: Man’s external unhappiness is not his basic unhappiness. It is his internal unhappiness that is fundamental. If the latter is taken care of, the former will bloom into insignificance. To fight man’s unhappiness therefore, the main struggle for each person is to fight the source of all this unhappiness, namely, this gang of thirteen. And for this God has given Man what is called Free Will. This is the fourteenth channel of the mind. But it is a neutral channel; neither good nor bad.
Naturally the question arises: Does man bring only bad vAsanAs from his previous lives? Does he not bring any good vAsanAs? Yes he does. These are just two in number: ShraddhA (Faith) and Bhakti (Devotion and Dedication). These two, together with the earlier fourteen, constitute sixteen channels in which the mind flows.
Man’s mind has four functions: one is to recall memories of stored facts or impressions; another is to receive impressions or messages from outside or inside; another is to discriminate; and finally the fourth is the EGO which is therefore a part of the mind, but the most important part since, whenever any thought happens in the mind, it is the EGO which claims authorship or proprietorship for the thought. The discriminating part of the mind sifts between good and bad and, between right and wrong, between pleasant and unpleasant and takes decisions. When it takes decisions it is the Willpower of the mind which engineers that decision. It is this Willpower which can channelise the flow of the mind into any of the other fifteen channels – good or bad. It is therefore this Willpower which has the responsibility of disciplining the flow of the mind. The scriptures say: Have the will power to channelise your mind into ShraddhA and Bhakti; then you will be happy. All your unhappiness is due to the fact that this channelisation is not taking place continuously and consistently.
These two noble channels of thought, namely, SraddhA and bhakti, can go a long way to prevent the mind in straying into the channels of the gang of thirteen. In fact that is the only way to ward off the mind from flowing the wrong way. But then why is Man very often erring into wrong ways? Why is he not able to apply his mind to noble company and noble acts? What is it that prevents him? This is where we have to accept the introduction of the villain of the piece, Prakriti. Each individual has a store of vAsanAs (tendencies) which have been accumulated over several lives. This store of vAsanAs is the prakriti of the individual. It differs from person to person since the accumulated store of vAsanAs is derived from past thoughts and actions of the individual, in this life as well as in previous lives. It is the play of this prakriti that makes the journey of life beyond our control. In every one of our activities, there is always an expectation, a result-oriented ambition. This clouds the issue and slowly the members of the gang of thirteen, like, desire, attachment, selfishness, pride, anger, etc. take over. And this makes the channelisation of the mind into shraddhA and bhakti the more difficult.
Ultimately therefore it is the way mind reacts to external inputs (obstacles) that matters for happiness. These reactions of course depends on the mental make-up; the latter is the result of the vAsanAs imb edded in the mind. Thus it is the reactions of the mind that determine one’s happiness. Following the Gita, our whole thesis is going to be: Distance your mind from yourself. Say with Shankara
“nAham deho nendreiyANy-antarango nAhamkAraH prANa-vargo na buddhiH /
dArApatya-kshhetra-vittAdi dUraH sAkshhI nityaH pratyagAtmA shivohaM” //
I am far from any marital, filial, proprietory, or possessive relationships; I am neither the body, nor the mind nor the intellect. I am the Witness; I am the Indweller; I am Shiva.”
PrakRti has a larger connotation in the sense of Cosmic PrakRti, which is dealt with in the seventh chapter of the Gita. It is also called mAyA there, in the same chapter. We will come to that later. But, now, what I am referring to as ‘our prakRti’ is the manifestation of that mAyA individualised to each one of us. Adi Sankaracharya in his commentary on the third chapter of the Gita (Shloka 33) makes this clear. He says that ‘our prakRti’ is nothing but ‘Impressions of virtue, vice, knowledge, desires and so on, acquired in the past lives and which become manifest at the commencement of the present life’.
“prakRtir-nAma pUrva-kRta dharma-adharmAdi samskArah vartamAna-janmAdau abhivyaktih, sA prakRtih”.
In other words, whatever we have done, we have thought or we have intended to do – in our past lives – all these have implanted their footprints in our past minds in our past lives. A fraction of these come to fruition in this life. That is our PrakRti for this life. It is the store of vAsanas or tendencies with which we are born. In short, it is the indelible imprint of our irrevocable past. These vAsanAs could be bad or good; but our own experience says that mostly the negative vAsanAs have a greater pull on us than the positive ones.The aggregate of these vAsanAs is what Krishna calls our ‘svabhAva’ in the Gita. When Arjuna argues for laying down arms and going to the forest to do a sannyasi-like tapas, Krishna points out that it is not easy to bypass one’s svabhava. Even if he decides to throw away his arms now and go to the forest to do tapas as a sannyasi, his svabhava, his prakRti, will overpower him and prod him on to do what he does not want to do now. Cf. “svabhAvajena kaunteya ... kartum necchasi yan mohAt ...”.
GO TO 25.2