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The Search for True Life—The Meaning of Life

Part 1 of 4: Grasping Who Your “Self” Really Is

Translation of an article by Sanatana,

People often talk about having “something worth living for” or “being myself.” Everyone, regardless of age or gender, desires to live their lives proactively and be free to live on their own terms. On the other hand, there are many who do not know what they intend to do with their lives. It is not that they are concerned with some philosophical issue, such as, “Who is this ‘I’?” or, “How should I live my life?”—rather, they simply do not know what they want to do to begin with. Because the purpose of life is not yet clear to them, their lives remain directionless, and this results in a lack of self-confidence. On the surface, time may float by pleasantly, but underneath it all there is an underlying sense that it is all in vain.

Why is it that we don’t know what we ourselves want to do? How can we grasp who our “self” really is? In this series, beginning with these questions, I would like to address the issue of, “What does for my ‘self’ truly mean?” and, “What does ‘for others’ mean?” and further, “What constitutes a life lived solely for Truth and Truth alone?” I would also like to delve into the question of who the “self” is, the meaning of morally “right” actions, and the realistic way of living called “the void” or “the Middle Path” as taught in the teachings of Buddha.


Why Can’t We Grasp Who Our “Self” Really Is?
Through introspection we may try to figure out what it is that we want, yet we fail to get a clear sense of it. Why is that so? One of the reasons is that we lack the power of concentration needed to clearly comprehend our inner self. The mind is not gathered because it is accustomed to thinking about one thing or another; so the thoughts in the mind are scattered. This scattering weakens one’s power to know the self.


Control of the Senses
Even if we try to heighten the power of concentration by practicing meditation in Yoga, we are not able to concentrate in meditation if our senses are dispersed externally during times when we are not meditating. The mind, which is accustomed to being directed externally through the senses, cannot easily be directed internally. This is especially true in the information-saturated society in which we currently live. We unguardedly immerse ourselves in a vast ocean of information that we will never be able to fully process. Through our eyes, our ears, and our mouths, large numbers of “strangers,” or non-self “others,” come and go through any available opening. “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil”—the sculpture of the monkeys holding their hands over their eyes, ears, and mouths at the Nikko Toshogu Shrine, must be a warning against that. Whatever we have seen, whatever we have heard, whatever we have thought, whatever we have spoken, these are merely what we have received from the outside, and that is what makes them strangers, what makes them “others.” There is no actual substance of “self” or “myself” in any of that. To cut off the dependency on this external “other” is what Buddha taught in his manner of speaking. That is the way to grasp who our “self” really is. It is not only what we see or hear, even our thoughts become that which is not of our self. They are merely ideas that we have received from somewhere else. In fact, this “self” of ours which carelessly accepts these strangers is the very self that we must recognize as the foremost stranger, which is why we must be careful. In addition, it is necessary to carefully keep watch over one’s own senses, as they are the gates that can carelessly allow strangers, or “others,” to come in. By remaining ever-vigilant about whether the mind is straying outward through the senses, and thereby losing sight of the self, the mind can be prevented from becoming scattered. As a turtle withdraws its legs into its shell, we must look deeply within ourselves by detaching our senses from their objects.

The mouth is the organ used not only to speak, but to eat. The mind wanders about, wanting to eat something tasty, and then becomes a slave to tasting. Shri Mahayogi teaches sense-withdrawal (pratyahara) thusly: “It is the process of reversing the mind, which, much in the same manner that “liquor drinks the drunk,” usually obeys the sense organs and is subordinate to external objects, in such a way that the mind subjugates the organs and controls them.”1 If we develop a passion for tasting, then we lose ourselves. It may appear as though we are taking in tasty foods, but we are actually becoming enslaved by them. Taking these objects in and being enslaved are just two sides of the same phenomenon. In order to avoid being enslaved, we must let go of the act of taking. As long as we have the “desire to take” we are being enslaved by that desire. When this desire is gone, only then are we no longer trapped; only then can we be free. Only then will we know what it is that we want to do in this life.

Footnote 1: From “Pratyahara” - The Universal Gospel of Yoga


Concordance of Body (Action), Mouth (Word) and Mind (Thought)
There is one other reason why one does not know what one wants to do [in life], that is, one reason why one lacks the power of concentration needed to grasp who our “self” really is, or to gather the mind. In this complex modern society, we create lies. What we are doing, saying and thinking are not in accordance with one another. Saying something other than what we think, not doing something even though we said we would, the discrepancy between saying and doing—these inconsistencies weaken the mind. Although it may appear that we are maneuvering ourselves by establishing several different selves within the self, in the meantime, our own will starts to lose its clarity. As we think about one idea, the opposite idea arises at the same time—“I feel I want to do it this way, at the same time, I also think this is probably not what I want to do…”—we cannot consolidate our own will. The mind is like a magnet. If all the lines of magnetic force are gathered toward one direction, it creates a powerful magnetic field between the north and south magnetic poles, but if not, it is just a piece of scrap metal. One of the causes of this inability to know what we want lies in the habitual disunity of the self. The oneness of action, word and thought, which is the precept of satya (truthfulness), has been regarded as being important to all people, whether it be in Buddhism, Hinduism or other religions. Its purpose is not to merely make a better society, nor is it simply a virtue in and of itself. It is a very effective means of strengthening the power of the mind, the power to grasp the self and find out what it is that we really want to do, and what the true Self is. If we want to keep our own selves clear and well-defined, even if there may be opportunities to make ourselves look good in the eyes of others [by behaving a certain way], we must not say what is not on our minds. On the other hand, we must do what we say we will. If we do not have the confidence to put this into action, or if we honestly do not agree with something [even though we have said it], then it is better not to say anything at all. Through the [observance of satya], the mind gains strength, and the gathered, unified state of mind, or the ability to take action and put it into practice, will be cultivated. In society, too, when we have relationships with others, in the end we earn trust only through the sincerity of our attitude, actions and words in the actual practice of our everyday lives, rather than through temporary, disingenuous words.


The Explosive Power of the Mind
By withdrawing and controlling the senses and by unifying our deeds, words and thoughts, the scattering of the mind is avoided, and the power of comprehending what we want to do is cultivated. The order of this approach is the opposite of the conventional psychological process. Normally, having some aim or purpose, and therefore becoming detached from anything but that aim, leads to the control and withdrawal of the senses and the gathering of the mind. So, by applying this mechanism in the reverse order, we intend to detach from our dependency on “others” by thoroughly remaining in [the state of] withdrawal of the senses and, in our sincerity, we try to [gain the power to] grasp what it is that we want to do [in life].

Although this is the mechanism, in reality it is difficult to continue to remain in the state in which the senses are withdrawn and maintain the concordance of deeds, words and thoughts without having an aim. In order to practice this persistently, the firm resolution to accomplish that is imperative. “What am I really doing?!” “What is it worth if I keep living in vain like this?” Such feelings of resentment and indignation toward one’s self, or an explosive reaction of the mind, is essential. Only by having these intense feelings can we shake off the “others [or non-self]” circling around us or adhering to us within. Shri Mahayogi said, “Even if it is just for three days, ask yourself without respite: What do I really want in this life? Who am I really? What does it mean to live? If it is simply to eat, sleep and die—that would be most dreadful.”2 He said, “Stake your very life on Awakening, every single day, every single moment.”3 “Every moment is a fork in the road of life. Therefore, it is not in the past or in the future, but in the Now that you must live.”4 “Now” is the accumulation of the entire past. All of the past is present in the memory that is within the mind in the “Now.” “Now” is the starting point for the entire future, the future is within today’s mind, or the expectations in the mind. Getting lost in the now by immersing yourself in regrets about the past or worries about the future does not change anything [for the better]. We will only be and constantly remain in the “lost-present.” But if we live in the very “Now,” seriously, with our utmost efforts, our pasts will be redeemed and our futures will be bright. The rule of karma indicates that we can change ourselves at anytime. The rule of karma, which explains that if there is a cause, the result inevitably comes, means that if we sow a good cause, then it will inevitably have a good result. And that is exactly what “every moment is a fork in road of life,” is all about. If we think negatively about someone, then we hurt ourselves first—since our mind is always filled with negative thoughts and feelings of disgust with ourselves. In contrast to that, if we are kind to others, then we feel content first—since we are the ones who get to be with such a wonderful person all the time. Now, this present moment of the self is the first priority—if that cannot change, if we cannot change this nearest and most important gate, then what is the point of only consuming information taken in through the senses? It will end up being all in vain when we see that the self did not change at all. Seriousness in the here and now creates a tenacious continuity of sense withdrawal and a unification of deed, word and thought. When the mind becomes unstable, then we must seriously rethink what it is that we want. We can transform ourselves in both proactive and subtractive aspects through the simultaneous practice of the repetition of this inquiry and the control [of the senses]. The subtractive aspect, the discipline of sense withdrawal and sincerity, and the proactive or positive aspect, to think seriously about what we want, will gradually deepen in tandem, as one aspect progresses, the other follows suit.

Footnote 2: From “How Serious Are You?” - The Universal Gospel of Yoga
Footnote 3: From “How Serious Are You?” - The Universal Gospel of Yoga
Footnote 4: From “Live in the Now” - The Universal Gospel of Yoga


The True Self
Shri Mahayogi teaches that, “You should not do what you want to do. Then you will be able to do what you want to do.” If we allow ourselves to follow our thoughts or emotions whichever way they want to take us, we lose ourselves. Only by restraining them will we be able to understand what it is we really want to do, and then we will be able to do what we want to do. Restraint is not the absence of freedom. It is the path to freedom. Who is free? It is certainly not the ego, who wants to continue pursuing its own desires. These are to be restrained. So, then who wants to be free? At this point, we can start to understand the self in a more definite, clearer way. We can begin to see the Self in a purer way, cutting off non-self, cutting off “the others” within the self. To discern it and struggle to abide by it is the work of self-inquiry, “Who am I?” What does it really mean [to say], “for the sake of your own self?” It means that we need to define ourselves. For the next issue, I would like to write about this. And I hope that you will do what is good for yourself and that an indestructible, indomitable confidence will arise within you. My true wish is for you to ultimately find the meaning and purpose of your life.

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