Cultivating mental poise

In the pursuit of knowledge, both temporal and spiritual, four primary requirements are expected of the learner.

They are, in order, reliance upon the matter contained in the relevant texts, reasoning of the learner based on his knowledge and ability to sift between the necessary and unnecessary, between the right and wrong, thirdly, faith in the words of the teacher or preceptor and lastly, a conviction based on inner self experience.

These are the grounds for a man to progress on the path of development, worldly or spiritually. These qualities of the student, the fruits of such effort are all dealt with in Adi Shankaracharya’s treatise Vivekachudamani.

Shankars says that when an aspirant follows the aforementioned steps, it makes him a balanced person, what is called in today’s parlance as ‘enhanced spiritual quotient,’ one who is more receptive to the various challenges of the world through a control and restraint over the senses.

When he is able to achieve this, he becomes aware of what the prescribed and prohibited actions are. In spiritual pursuit, the texts like the Vedas are the ultimate authority to detail what these two types of actions are whereas the civil code or law is  their equivalent in the material world.

According to the Bhagavad Gita, actions can pertain to the body, mind or speech. Bodily actions may be circumambulating the Gods or holy men, oral actions may be utterances of the holy syllables or like things while mental actions may be reflecting on the holy texts etc.

Doing prohibited things, going to evil and unholy places, speaking ill of others, uttering falsehoods and indulging in slander etc., constitute the banned actions. Indulging in such sinful acts results in lowly future births.

Shankara goes on to say that a man who understands this difference and acts accordingly is not affected significantly by the vicissitudes of life, which are like the waves of the ocean, constantly rising and collapsing.


Shankara gives some apt examples here. The waters of a mirage do not wet the desert sand.

The desert is the substratum while the water is only a superimposition. Similarly all the attractions and vices of the world are all superimpositions on the true substratum, the Atman.

Shankara continues and asks “Does not the sky remain separate from the clouds, does it not remain unaffected by the rain that pou- rs down, does not the sun remain different from the earth that it illumines, does not the mountain remain immovable in the face of man’s activities?

” In the same manner, by cultivating the discipline of refraining from prohibited activities, man attains inner strength and equanimity.

A further step in this path is developing a consciousness of “I am not the doer, but I am only a conduit for the divine workings.”

As heat and cold do not touch a man’s shadow, so with his attitude, says Shankara.

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