GUIDANCE FOR A GRHASTHA (HOUSEHOLDER OR A FAMILY PERSON)
A passionate single person is ever thinking: “When can I live with a young spouse?” A dispassionate householder in whom VIVEKA (discrimination) has dawned is ever thinking: “When can I disentangle myself from the clutches of my family and retire into the forests for contemplation on Atman?” One must think over the difference.
The growing divorce rates, even in traditional societies, make it seem that a happy marriage is only a mirage. This indicates that we have lost sight of the significance of marriage within the context of spiritual development. The relationship between a man and woman can bring tremendous vitality, sparkle and inspiration, provided we understand such a relationship not as a goal achieved, but as continuous striving towards perfection.
More relationships would succeed if we did not demand from them the impossible. Marriage cannot, for instance, grant us security. Such inner certainty cannot be guaranteed by any external arrangement, nor conferred by someone else. Security is purely a personal achievement. It is harmony and conviction in one’s inner essence that results from Self-knowledge and bestows a poise that remains unaffected by life’s ups and downs.
Material security is the most ephemeral. Nor can we find total emotional security in relationships with others. No one can love us enough to fill up that emptiness within and possessive love only generates fear that accentuates this hollowness.
Not security but insecurity is the basic fact of life and we must recognize it. Instead of chasing after something that does not exist, we must come to terms with the uncertain nature of our existence. Spirituality teaches us not to identify with the external, not to try to anchor ourselves in the things we own, nor in other people. The inner loneliness can only be transmuted by the experience of the eternal and unshakable within ourselves and spirituality provides us with the practical means to foster that experience.
Marriage is universally associated with love, but most men and women fail to distinguish between love and attachment, with the result that many marriages are founded on illusion and flounder on disillusion.
In marriage you are neither the husband nor the wife; you are the love between the two. You are the clarity and kindness that makes everything orderly and happy. In life we must remember that nobody is born for another. Nobody is here to fulfill our ideals of how he/she should be. We are masters of our own love and we can give as much as we want—but we cannot demand love from the other person, because nobody is a slave. When the general attitude is of affectionate detachment, enormous goodwill, without expectation of return, constant giving without asking, peace and harmony prevails.
Love sees clearly—it may accept faults but it is not blind to them. On the other hand, attachment is a form of enchantment in which one is blind to the real nature of the other person. People are drawn together by a certain feeling of affinity, a greater or lesser correspondence of ideas and feelings, magnified by physical attraction. In the beginning we see only the positive side of each other, emphasizing all that is pleasant in the other’s personality. Instead of seeing one’s potential spouse as he/she really is, a person “in love” is more often seeing the projected ideal of one’s own desire and need. One’s need is such that one blinds oneself to the spouse’ faults and convinces oneself that the spouse has qualities that do not exist.
Later this image must crack under the tedium of domestic life and when one begins to see one’s spouse more realistically, one is disappointed. As we discover those aspects of the personality that are not compatible, we tend to exaggerate our spouse’ faults or even to feel that he / she has vices and defects that do not exist. When love becomes thin, faults appear thicker. Attachment, then, easily changes into resignation, alienation or even dislike or hatred.
In any case, there is no hope and no spiritual gain in succumbing to a permanent revulsion. We must remember that we can learn to love anybody. Everybody has some quality for which he / she can be respected and loved. Rather than focusing on the disagreeable aspects of someone’s personality we must learn to emphasize his / her virtue. In a garden we find beauty in many forms. Some flowers have a fascinating shape but no fragrance. Others have a simple appearance but intoxicating fragrance. Some blossom in the sun, some need the protection of shade. Yet we appreciate each one for what it is and do not ask for it to be different. Although we have spontaneous preferences, if we look closely enough at a flower we find some feature that charms.
Spirituality encourages us to extend this same acceptance and appreciation to our relationships and also gives us the practical means to make this a living reality. Obviously, learning to love someone for whom we have developed a dislike is not easy, for it requires a constant alertness and repudiation of petty and unreasonable in all of us. But we accept this as a spiritual necessity or continue to suffer frustration and loneliness all our lives. As our saadhanaa establishes a living link with the divine in ourselves, we open to real respect for individuality and a genuine joy in the unique miracle of each person in our lives.
The depression and dissatisfaction of so many married couples come about because they fail to recognize and accept marriage as a saadhanaa—a spiritual practice. The transformation of the outer personality and refinement of the inner nature is not an easy process and we should not expect marriage to be always easy. Everyone has problems. Two entities do not have any problem—one is a dead body and the other is yet unborn. But once we understand how to use the experiences of marriage and family life for this purpose, then our lives have a new goal and meaning, we find a new strength and joy. Since ancient times grhastha aashrama married/family/householder’s life) has been accepted as a necessary stage in human evolution, where raising a family and taking an active part in the society stimulated a desire for spiritual life.
According to Mother of Aurobindo Aashram, “To unite your physical existences and your material interests, to associate yourselves so as to face together the difficulties and successes, the defeats and victories of life—this is the very basis of marriage—but you know already that it does not suffice. To be one in inspiration and ascension, to advance with the same step on the spiritual path—such is a secret of a durable union.”
In India, a woman traditionally loves and reveres her husband as her guru and he loves and reveres her as devi, as a goddess. This does not mean that one or the other is spiritually superior; but that the act of loving is the means to transformation and that the purpose of marriage is to help one another to become greater than they could accomplish alone, individually.
First and foremost we have to recognize that difficult situations and the elements we dislike in other people can be our great teachers, for they point out our resistances, prejudices and emotional blockages. What we dislike in others is often some quality that exists unrecognized in ourselves, or which touches a sensitive area of weakness in us. It is our own resistance and attachment that makes certain situations uncomfortable or frustrating and when we confront such situations repeatedly, we should ask ourselves: “What can I learn from this?” If we are sincere and attentive to our inner voice, that situation will yield up its gift of insight and we will be free of one more limitation.
Remember the tragedy and comedy of life. Our own mind is not in our control; this is the tragedy. That mind, which is not in our control, with that uncontrolled mind we want to control other people’s mind, which is not even in their control—an impossible task!!! This is the comedy of life.
The mind is either normally unhealthy or abnormally unhealthy. There is no such thing as a healthy mind because mind itself is a disease. We need to transcend the mind itself which the realised masters have done. So those whose minds are abnormally unhealthy are called insane as well as those who have transcended the mind itself are also called insane by the majority whose minds are normally unhealthy, since the behaviors of neither of these two small groups will conform to the majority.
The latest evidence from biologists indicates that each of us is shackled from birth to a genetically determined future bound by the chains of the DNA double helix: we are imprisoned in our cells. Molecular geneticists tell us that the DNA molecule is programmed with information that determines our physical features, predisposition towards certain diseases, life span, sexual proclivities, perversions, addiction to alcohol and drugs etc. Thus at the physical level, at least, we are not free to be ourselves; we are forced to be ourselves.
In fact English scientist Francis Crick, winner of Nobel Prize in medicine for deciphering the DNA code said, “You, your joys, sorrows, memories, ambitions, your sense of identity, free will and love are no more than the behaviors of a vast assembly of nerve cells”. Hence it appears that the distinction between things we do through “choice” and “necessity” has no scientific validity. If that is so, each of us is programmed into behaving in a particular way; in which case, can an individual’s behaviour be held against him/her?
We are all unique specimens of human beings, in the sense that no two persons are exactly the same physically, mentally, intellectually even though we are spiritually one. Thank God that it is that way; otherwise this world would have been a very boring place to live in. We are all at different levels of physical, mental and intellectual evolution, knowingly or unknowingly walking the spiritual path. To expect others to behave exactly the way we want is being impractical and unrealistic. Such expectations would definitely end up in frustrations and disappointments. We should also be aware that others also may expect us to behave the way they want which may not be to our liking or practical for us. This will invariably lead to frustrations and disappointments in them as far as we are concerned. Have this awareness always that no two persons can ever be 100% compatible. Seeking a cent percent compatible companion in this world is an impossible utopian dream. It is like chasing a mirage, which actually doesn’t exist. The only way two persons can live together is through patience and understanding by mutual acceptance, adjustment, compromise, compassion, tolerance and sacrifice (PAACCTS) or at least one of the spouses dissolving his/her ego, which is again an extremely difficult task. It is said that the only ideal marital couple that is possible is when the husband is deaf and the wife is blind! Most relationships including marriage are relationships of convenience. It is said, “Ekam paramanadam, dvay sukhi-dukhi and teen gadbad” (“One in solitude is in infinite bliss, two together constantly fluctuate between happiness and misery and three together is nothing but trouble”).
Spouses come in each other’s lives as husbands and wives due karma bandhana (kaarmik bondage / kaarmik debts)—a debt from past several lives. These may be of the nature of financial, physical, emotional, intellectual or spiritual debts—at the financial level, clearing the debts from the past lives; give and take of sevaa (service) at the physical level; sharing of emotions at the mental level; sharing of knowledge at the intellectual level and being guided or being a guide at the spiritual level. We need to clear our kaarmik debts and make the kaarmik account zero without creating new kaarmik debts.
Meeting your soul mate is coming full circle:
The whole problem of man is how to meet with the woman, and the whole problem of the woman is how to meet the man. A Far Eastern myth says God created man and woman together not as two beings; they were joined in one body. But then there were conflicts. The woman wanted to go to the East and the man was not willing. Or, the man was ready to do something and the woman wanted to rest.
They complained and God separated their bodies. Since then, every man is searching for his woman, and every woman is searching for her man. Now it is such a big crowd that it is very difficult to find one’s woman, or man. The myth says that if one can find, everything fits; one again becomes non-dual. But it is very difficult to find.
But there is a way to find your woman or man, because the woman or man is not outside. There are only parallel similarities outside. When one falls in love with a woman, what happens? Somehow the outside woman fulfils one’s inner woman’s image, definitely not a 100 per cent, but enough to fall in love. When a woman falls in love with a man, what happens? Something inside her clicks and says, “Yes, this is the man, the right man”.
It is not a logical conclusion; it is not a syllogism—where two premises lead to one conclusion. It is not that one finds out all the pros and cons about the man and then one decides, or one compares the man with all the other men in the world, then one decides.
Something happens out of the blue. Suddenly one sees that this is the man whom she was waiting for she carries an image of man; he carries an image of woman inside. One is both, and one goes on looking outside. Nobody is going to fit 100 per cent, because the woman that one finds outside has her own image about him; he has his own image. It is very difficult to fit with each other. So marriages are always on the rocks, and people, by and by, learn how to carry on peacefully.
The whole Tantra method is: how to allow one’s inner man or woman to meet with the inner woman or man. And when this becomes a circle, when this inner copulation happens, a great orgasm, a great explosive orgasm begins which knows a beginning but knows no end. Then one lives an orgasmic life. Then one is no more finite, one becomes infinite. This is the union of Shiva and Shakti at the awakening of Kundalini. This is the union of Jivaatmaa (finite) with Paramaatmaa (Infinite) at the realization of the Absolute Truth through the path of Vedaanta.
We need to break the barrier of words. Now, someone is talking to us; he / she is using words. We can listen to his / her words—then we have not listened to him / her. We can listen in such a way that the words are no more a barrier, but become vehicles.
They no more create problems, but we listen exactly between the words, between two words, in the gaps. We listen to his or her silence; then words and their barriers are broken. Limits are overcome.
Language creates duality, language exists through duality. It cannot indicate the non-dual. If one says ‘day’, immediately one creates night. If one says ‘life’, immediately one creates death. If one says ‘good’, bad is created. If one say ‘no’, yes is existing.
Language can exist only through the opposite. That’s why we see life as always divided—God and devil. We need to drop language; we need to drop this linguistic pattern. Once language is no more on our mind and we look directly into reality, day is night.
The Baul-s sing: “My skin and bone are turned to gold / when the inner man and woman meet, / when Krishna and Kali become one. / My skin and bone are turned to gold, / I am the reservoir of love, / alive as the waves”.
A husband can learn many things from his wife’s way of being and doing, and a woman likewise can make a part of herself those of her husband’s strengths and virtues that she might be lacking—provided they both keep aside their ego. Remember—stronger the ego more miserable the person, weaker the ego happier the person and the egoless one ever revels in Infinite Bliss. With the inspiration and support of a loving relationship we are more willing and able to surrender ourselves to the forces of transformation. It is far easier to be open to someone close whom we respect and love than it is to surrender to an ideal that is distant and abstract.
According to Shrimad Bhaagavatam, 3. 14: “Marriage is a duty performed in a mutual cooperation for spiritual advancement.”
During grhasthaashrama we are involved in karma-s and these karma-s create more karma. They create samskaara-s to which we are bound because of aasakti or attachment and involvement. People who come into our lives, whether as parents, siblings, spouses, children, relatives, friends, teachers, etc., are due to karma bandhana (kaarmik bondage / kaarmik debt)—a debt from the past several lives. We carry accounts to clear with these people from our past lives. These may be of the nature of financial, physical, emotional, intellectual or spiritual debts—at the financial level, clearing the debts from the past lives; give and take of sevaa (service) at the physical level; sharing of emotions at the mental level; sharing of knowledge at the intellectual level and being guided or being a guide at the spiritual level. It is possible to associate with our family, our children, our responsibilities and obligations, either with total attachment or with detachment. However, we have only been taught to base our relationships on attachment. Nobody has ever shown us how to love with our own relatives, discharge our duties, solve our problems and interact with our family members, friends, wealth, money and property with detachment.
Remember, attachment is not love. It is a relationship or association from which we derive some kind of pleasure, joy, happiness or benefit. The moment we cease to derive these from any of our relationships, the attachment to that entity also evaporates. Similarly, detachment doesn’t mean that there is no love. In fact pure love can exist only in detachment. Pure love transcends the vices and virtues or the positives and negatives of an individual. It is not because of, but inspite of. Attachment, on the other hand, is because of and not inspite of. If there is cause for our ‘love’ for a person, then it is an attachment for something in that person and not love, because as soon as the cause for ‘love’ disappears, the so called love also vanishes. Pure, unconditional love is the acceptance of other person as he / she is. We often hear people say, “If you love me you will do this” or “If you love me you will not do that” as the case may be. Putting conditions on love is actually a deal, a trade off and not love. Pure love sets both the persons free—the one who loves and the one who is loved. Attachment binds while detachment liberates. The art of living a detached life is called karma sannyaasa.
Detachment is not something that can be developed just by thinking or through any other intellectual process. Unless one has some experience, which changes the quality of one’s mind, one cannot understand what detachment means. In order to understand aasakti (attachment), vairaagya (dispassion), sannyaasa (renunciation) or detachment, one needs more than just an intellectual process. One must have a different quality of mind. And for that purpose, the mind has to be trained and educated.
Intellectually we know that nothing belongs to us and that all is temporary. We may say it everyday, but because there is so much mamataa (mineness) and attachment, whatever happens to someone else affects us too.
We may read the whole of Yoga Vashishtha / Bhagavad Geetaa / Vedaanta etc. but if an accident takes place in our family, we are bound to feel it, because the scriptural readings have not brought about a fundamental transformation in the realm of awareness. It has only enlarged the scope of our intellect. At the most we may say, ‘Oh, life is temporary’, but still we will be struck with the disaster. Today, one may, because of one’s spouse’ attitude and behavior, get disappointed with a grhastha’s life and want to take to sannyaasa (renunciation). What about one’s children? Isn’t one attached to them? What if one’s spouse’ attitude and behaviour changes according to the way one want, will one still be interested in sannyaasa or may be tempted to continue with grhasthaashrama? There is no point in taking to sannyaasa by putting on ochre robe and sitting in a secluded place continuously thinking about one’s home and family. Vairaagya is an attitude of the mind. It has nothing to do with the external make-up. The vairaagya that one develops suddenly for a grhastha’s life is aavesh vairaagya or spur of the moment vairaagya. It usually doesn’t last since it is not through viveka (discrimination). That vairaagya needs to be tested. What is required is a transformation in the realm of awareness, anubhuti (experience), which can be brought about by the practices of yoga, mantra chanting, japa, meditation, scriptural studies, reflection, contemplation and similar techniques.
If one has adequate vairaagya, one can lead a grhastha’s life discharging one’s duties dispassionately and be a sannyaasi at heart. There are numerous examples of saints who were ideal grhastha as well as sannyaasin-s. According to Shiva Samhita, ch.5, v.256: “gehe sthitvaa putradaaraadipurnah / sangham tyaktvaa chaantare yogamaarge / siddheshchinham veekshya paschaad grhasthah / kreedetso vai mammatam saadhayitvaa” (“Living fully in the house with wife (spouse) and children, giving up all types of attachments and following the path of internal yoga in the midst of them, the householder eventually sees the signs of success in his / her practice. Therefore, by following and practicing yoga according to this Yoga Shaastra of mine, he / she lives a blissful happy life”).
Most people live the life of a householder (married person), not out of respect or because they think this life has some sort of dignity, but because they are under psychological, emotional or social compulsions. If these compulsions were not there, I don’t think we would even like to live this life. That means we do not understand the proper place of grhasthaashrama in our evolution. Is the life of a householder meant only for wasting the mind on sensual objects? Why was the order created in the Veda-s? What was its purpose? Was it progeny? Was it pleasure? Or was it Self-realization?
The experiences of grhasthaashrama are meant to inspire and encourage a grhastha towards spiritual life and eventual Self-realization. Grhasthaashrama is a stepping-stone. It is not an end in itself. From grhasthaashrama a grhastha should step into vaanaprasthaashrama (retired from worldly life for spiritual pursuits after fulfilling the responsibilities of a householder’s life) or karma sannyaasa. When should one step into vaanaprasthaashrama? At the age of 55, when one has one’s first heart attack? Or at the age of 75, when one is bed-ridden with none of one’s faculties functioning? No, the moment one realizes that grhasthaashrama is the means and not the end, that within the involvement of life one must develop a deeper and higher, more perpetual, enduring and abiding awareness and has developed vairaagya through viveka, immediately one should get out! The destination is self-perfection.
Ramana Maharshi was once asked how one could most effectively start to help the world and create a more harmonious and peaceful brotherhood of man. Ramana Maharishi told him that he must first of all change himself and that this approach is the most positive step that anyone can take to contribute towards increasing world harmony. Ramana Maharshi knew what people have failed to see throughout the ages and today, that the way to improve the condition of the world as a whole is to first of all improve the condition of oneself. This is not egoism, but common sense, for how can someone really hope to positively contribute to the improvement of the world situation if he is in a sad situation himself. It is almost like a person who emanates unhappiness and who is continuously scowling trying to preach to others what the joy of happiness is all about. There is no impact and no influence, for there is total hypocrisy in the act. One can only spread peaceful vibrations in the world if one individually radiates peacefulness.
Therefore, Ramana Maharshi says, “Correcting oneself is correcting the whole world. The sun is simply bright. It does not correct anyone. Because it shines, the whole world is full of light. Transforming yourself is a means of giving light to the whole world.” To solve other people’s problems one must first of all solve one’s own.
Even Mahatma Gandhi has said, “Be the change you want to see in others.”
We see the unstable world situation as a large mental problem, the sum total of the population of individual mental problems. The humanized world is unstable because most of the people in it are unstable. So by trying to solve our mental problems we are taking a positive step not only to bring happiness to ourselves but to the whole world. The more we harmonize ourselves, the more we will act as a beacon of harmony and peace to the world. We will be giving our most valuable contribution to our environment by sorting out our own problems. This preoccupation with our mind is neither anti-social nor escapism. It is the way to offer the most important offering we can to the world at large. There is a further factor: namely, that the more we solve our conflicts and know ourselves the more we will automatically want to help others. We will have no choice—it will arise spontaneously together with love of our fellow beings, no matter how grotesque they may often seem.
The moment a person fully realizes that what he / she has been pursuing in the worldly life is nothing more than a mirage he / she ‘lets go’ and the bitterness of his / her struggles and violence are succeeded by relaxation, peace, harmony and love.
The consequences of such a release are immense, not only for the physical, nervous and mental health of a person as an individual but also for humanity as a whole.
So what should a grhastha do? Once every six months, at least for a week, one should go alone to any aashram or retreat center, shave one’s head (only for men—optional), put on ochre robe, sleep on the floor, eat only once a day, practise complete brahmacharya / celibacy (in thought, word and deed) and live like a poorna sannyaasin—no smoking, no radio, no television, no newspaper, no politics, no business, no market, just one thing—one’s saadhanaa. The saadhanaa may be as per one’s sadguru’s instructions or one may practise yogaasana, likhita japa, japa (chanting of Lord’s name), ajapaa japa, meditation, scriptural studies, reflection and contemplation over scriptural statements etc. One may opt to work in the garden or kitchen or general cleaning of the aashram / retreat or engage in any other Naaraayana sevaa (Lord’s service).
Even if one lives the life of a sannyaasin for a fortnight a year, it will enrich one with very deep and abiding experiences and it will create a new type of mind, personality and man. Then, when one returns to grhasthaashrama, one sees things from a different perspective. There may be births and deaths, marriages, conflicts and quarrels, but one will be able to attend to them as a different person.
One does not have to wear ochre robe to office; it is not necessary. When one is a karma sannyaasin, one must play the role of a perfect grhastha with the inner attitude of a sannyaasin. Even while one is married, in grhasthaashrama one can be a karma sannyaasin.