Self-Realization and Service to Humanity

Átmamokśárthaḿ jagaddhitáya ca [ “For self-realization and the welfare of the universe”] is said to be the ideal of a sádhaka’s life. A person should do work and while doing work should remember that whatever one is doing is meant for self-realization.

If a person is doing sádhaná just for self-realization, no matter that the world is going to hell, will we not call such a person utterly selfish? If one is not doing service to humanity and has no concern for them and is engaged only in sádhaná for self-realization, then he or she deserves to be called self-seeking despite his or her spiritual longing. So it has been said, Átmamokśárthaḿ jagaddhitáya ca. This is the purpose of life. You take much service from the world, by way of subsistence and maintenance, which you must return, or else you accrue a debt. If you are burdened with a big loan at the time of death, what will happen? You will have to be reborn in order to repay your debt with interest.

You take service from the world, therefore you can ill afford not to give something to the world; and you will receive interest in case you give more than you take. It is, of course, your prerogative to accept or not to accept the interest. But you have no such prerogative regarding the repayment of the debt. You will have to repay it. Remember, you have come to this world to render service to it – to render service to the world, and to practise the sádhaná of self-realization. [But] those who do only the sádhaná of self-realization, and refrain from social service, cannot make any headway in their sádhaná. The two are invariably dependent upon each other.

What does it mean to be human? According to one old school of thought, a human being is a rational animal. But in our philosophy, human beings are not regarded as animals. Why call them rational animals? Mere possession of life does not mean one is an animal.

One with life [of a lower order] is called jánvar [animal] in Persian. There are many suffixes in Persian such as dár, var, gar, and so on. For example, those bargaining (saodá) are called saodágar; those possessing life (ján)(1) are called jándár [living being]; one who invades (hamlá) is called hamlábar [an invader]; a demonstrator of magic (jádu) is called jádugar [magician]. So the existence of life makes one a jándár, but one does not become a jánvar [animal] simply due to being jándár [living]. Precisely for this reason I do not support the contention that humans are rational animals.

We say that human life is an ideological flow. Life should have an ideal, and when the movement is towards that ideal, we call it human. Where there is no ideal, nor any movement towards an ideal, we cannot call a life human in spite of any human appearance it may have. So appearance is not the criterion for recognizing humans. In fact we find some persons having more bestiality than the beasts themselves. Beasts do not wage world war. They do not inflict injury on the innocent. So where there is no ideology one becomes worse than a beast. Hence human life is an ideological flow.

It was said in olden times,

Andhaḿ tamah pravishanti ye’ vidyámupásate;
Tato bhúya iva te tamo ya u vidyáyáḿ ratáh.(2)

–Iśa Upaniśad

We also say, “Subjective approach through objective adjustment.” Movement is towards Parama Puruśa, but at the same time maintaining objective adjustment. You have to move giving proper treatment to the objects of the external world. There must be subjective approach, but at the same time objective adjustment; that is, adjustment with the objective world is essential though one’s movement is towards supreme subjectivity.

When Prakrti is in a balanced state, She is called simply Prakrti. When this balance is lost, She is called Máyá. In Máyá, when tamoguńa [the static principle] is predominant, it is called Avidyámáyá, and when sattvaguńa [the sentient principle] is predominant, it is called Vidyámáyá.

What is this Avidyámáyá, this movement towards the crude? What is this crude world? Soul-ward movement is the subjective world. What happens to those who are only concerned with the crude world, who are merely involved in the pursuits of name, fame, money, house, prestige, and so on? Andhaḿ tamah pravishanti – “They are led into darkness.”

And the state of those with sole concern for Vidyámáyá is still worse. They live in the world – take food, clothes and service from the world – and, like hypocrites, declare that there is no world. They say, “All this is unreal. Give it up.” They preach to give up this unreal world, but they themselves eat the food, drink the water and wear the clothes of this unreal world – yet still say that the world is unreal. What state are they in? You know that the owl rules the night. It is powerful only during the night. When the sun rises it cannot see anymore – so it gives no recognition to the sun, it denies the existence of the sun. Likewise, through sheer hypocrisy, some call the world unreal, though they are very much dependent on it to remain alive.

One is a hypocrite who escapes into vidyá alone and says, “I shall do only sádhaná.” If there is no world, from where does one derive the means of sustenance? Suppose a man has renounced the world and has gone to live in a Himalayan cave. There too he will have to eat. He is sitting and constantly thinking that there are fruits on a particular tree. “I saw some the previous evening.” He proceeds to the tree and finds the fruits still there. He thinks, “I must pluck them, otherwise they may be plucked by another sádhu [spiritual aspirant].” See, he is practising hypocrisy. Or else he is thinking, “I have renounced my home and hearth, but maybe my cousins have let their buffaloes into my field and they are grazing the crops.” Thinking all these things, what does he become? He becomes a hypocrite. That is why it is said that paying attention only to vidyá leads to greater darkness.

What then should one do? There must be an adjustment between the two. Sannyásins(3) practise átmamokśárthaḿ jagaddhitáya ca. These sannyásins are not the ones living for their bellies alone. They are serving the society. Those serving this world do not strive for vidyá alone; they also serve the world. This should, in fact, be done not only by sannyásins, but by family people as well.

What is the difference between the two?

The life of a householder is a little troublesome. Why is it? A householder has two families – small as well as big. What is the small family? It includes one’s parents, sisters, brothers, spouse, and other relatives such as aunts, uncles and so on. The Indian family is a [relatively] big one. In the Indian tradition, even the sisters of one’s father and mother are included in the family. This is one’s small family.

And the big family is the whole universe and its suffering humanity.

What does a householder have to do? He or she has to maintain a balance between the two families. One invariably has to look after and expend for the small family, and, simultaneously, work for the big family. If one devotes all one’s time and energy to the small family, totally ignoring the big family, one becomes a fallen and degenerated householder. Likewise, if one pays attention only to the big family and neglects the small family consisting of one’s parents, brothers, sisters, etc., then again one falls.

Just see how difficult it is to keep adjustment between the two. A wife will be annoyed if a husband donates much money [to social service]. Therefore he donates twenty-five rupees with the wife’s knowledge and another twenty rupees without her knowledge, and thus establishes adjustment. Sannyásins need not establish adjustment.

You know our workers(4) have to collect [donations of] paddy, wheat, and so on for the children of our [children’s] homes. The workers say that if they visit the farmyard, the farmer donates a bigger quantity, but if they are delayed and have to collect from the farmer’s house, the farmer’s wife donates a little less. Thus the householder has to maintain adjustment between the two. But the sannyásin has only one family – the big family – so there is no question of adjustment there.

Those who go by vidyá alone, that is, who endeavour only for self-realization, and deny the objective world (although in reality they cannot deny it since they have to eat, wear clothes and bathe) have been called hypocrites in the scriptures.

And those who go by avidyá alone, guided by materialistic theories, like the materialists of the present age, what state are they in? Andhaḿ tamah pravishanti ye’ vidyámupásate – “They gradually move from light into darkness.”

What is materialistic philosophy? It is the product of an undeveloped brain. And what are its consequences? Those who follow it gradually move towards darkness.

A person becomes like his or her iśt́a [goal] and talks only about that. For example, Shabda Brahma [Brahma expressed as sound; oṋḿkára]. The first singer and dancer of India and of the world was Sadáshiva. He talked about Shabda Brahma. He named it náda. His existence was indeed sonic. Likewise, one who thinks about matter will one day become matter. This is the natural law. The businessman who always thinks, “money, money,” will never again be born as a human. He will not be born as a dog, goat, or sheep, either. After death he will become money, and will remain confined in the box of a businessman. That was indeed his goal. So materialistic philosophy converts one into matter. After death, materialists will become shirts or wine according to the objects of their thinking.

The greatest wealth of a human being is his or her intellect. One should not drink. Why? Because drinking destroys the intellect. In the natural state, one thinks many thoughts in his or her unconscious mind. Knowledge is stored in the unconscious mind. One thinks in the unconscious mind and controls one’s actions through the conscious mind.

Suppose there is a beggar in Nagpur city. He imagines that he is the emperor of Delhi. But since his conscious mind says, “No, you are not the emperor of Delhi, you are the beggar of Nagpur,” he does not say it openly. But if he drinks wine, his conscious mind stops functioning. Due to lack of control over his conscious mind, walking along the road he will say aloud, “I am the emperor of Delhi.”

Intellect controls every action of a person, but drinking destroys it. That is why wine is a bad thing.

Materialism is equally bad. It too destroys the intellect and converts it into bricks and stones. Therefore materialistic philosophy is more dangerous for the society even than a dacoit. You have to fight against materialistic philosophy tooth and nail, for it is the greatest enemy of humanity.

[In one sense,] materialists are led into greater darkness [than the escapist sádhus]. Light obeys a rule: when scattered, it divides into seven colours – violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange and red. Accordingly, there are seven lokas [levels of the Cosmic Mind]. The unmanifest universe above the seven lokas does not have kala [seed]. Brahma at this stage is called niskala [without seed]. And this, our world, is sakala [with seed]. This [world] is Sakala Brahma and that [state] Niskala Brahma. Now what exists beyond the seven worlds? Only white effulgence and no colour. White is not a colour. The combination of all colours is white.

Similarly there are [mythologically] seven worlds [netherworlds, hells] below bhúrloka: tala, atala, vitala, talátala, pátála, atipátála and rasátala. Rasátala is the lowest of all. The colour of all these seven worlds is black. Black is no colour. Want of colour is black, so there we find blackness. (But there are degrees even in blackness; all blackness is not the same. For instance, even the [blackest-skinned] people belonging to the Austric race are not as black as Negroes. Nor are they as black as Dravidians. [And mythologically, the upper hells are lighter shades of black than the upper hells.])

Well, there is something! Those who have transcended the seven worlds [whether above or below] find no colour differentiation there. So they do not believe in casteism. All humans are one for them! The divisions of Vipra, Kśatriya, Shúdra and Vaeshya do not hold water for them. All are one and the same for them. So it has been said:

Varńáshramábhimánena shrutidásye bhavennarah;
Varńáshramvihiinashca vartate shruti múrdhańi.(5)

One then sits atop the scriptures.

There are seven shades of darkness corresponding to the seven worlds below. What are these shades? Tamah [is the first and] means simply “black”, the second is tamasá, third mahátamasá, fourth andhatamasá, fifth tamishrá, sixth mahátamishrá, and seventh andhatamishrá. What is this last, this andhatamishrá? It is the darkness in which it is not possible even to see one’s own hands. When one becomes materialistic – extremely materialistic – one’s intellect and conscience are all lost. One cannot see even the hands by which he or she accepts a bribe or holds a cup of wine. One thinks, “Whatever I do is right.” That is why it is said, Andhaḿ tamah pravishanti [“One who follows the path of avidyá falls into darkness”]. He or she will go down to rasátala. Rasátala is a stage far below even dogs and goats. Dogs and goats never go below bhuvarloka. They are far superior to those in rasátala. For their physical bodies are in bhúrloka and their crude mental bodies are in bhuvarloka. Animals do not fall. Humans fall down as well as rise up.

A river flows from high to low. The Gangottari flows towards the Ganges, and the Ganges towards the Gangasagar [mouth of the Ganges]. But the Gangasagar never travels back to the Ganges, nor the Ganges to the Gangottari; because rivers always flow downward. But the flow of the Ganges of the human mind is bi-directional. This mental Ganges can flow from the Gangottari to the Ganges and vice versa. What, therefore, what should you contemplate? You should think, “I will go from the Gangasagar to the Gangottari.”

Materialists, despite human form, do not practise sádhaná. Nothing is stationary in this world. Everything is moving. If one does not move upward, does not endeavour for the upliftment of his or her self, then one is bound to move downward, because movement is essential – if it is not upward, it has to be downward. So everyone should make an effort. One should not think to remain stagnant where he or she is. You cannot, in fact, remain where you are. If your movement is not upward, you are destined to fall. Therefore, wise men and women will make efforts to move upward.

You must begin an upward march right now, no matter how great wrongs you have committed in the past. Proceed onward from this very moment. Forget the past. Think to become Parama Puruśa. Tomorrow may never come in your life, it is futile to think of tomorrow. You should contemplate now what you have to become [by] the following day.



(1) Another example, that was unclear in the original magazine publication of this discourse, omitted here. –Eds.

(2) “One who follows the path of Avidyá falls into darkness, but one who devotes oneself to the path of Vidyá only falls into deeper darkness.” Avidyá is the aspect of the Cosmic Operative Principle which guides movements from the subtle to the crude, and Vidyá is the aspect of the Operative Principle which guides movements from the crude to the subtle. –Eds.

(3) Literally, “one who has surrendered one’s everything to the Cosmic will” or “one who ensconces oneself in Sat, the unchangeable entity”; a renunciant. –Eds.

(4) Missionary sannyásins and sannyásiniis of Ananda Marga. –Eds.

(5) “One who accepts the divisions of society according to varńa and áshrama is a veritable slave of the Vedas. But one who is above varńa and áshrama is the lord of the Vedas.” There are four varńas (castes) – Vipra, Kśatriya, Vaeshya and Shúdra – and four áshramas – Brahmacarya, or student life; gárhasthya, family life; váńaprasthya, retirement in solitude; and sannyása or yati, the life of renunciation. –Eds.

28 November 1978 morning, Nagpur
Published in:
Ánanda Vacanámrtam Part 25 [unpublished in English]
Ánanda Vacanámrtam Part 30