Volume VI - The Alchemy of Happiness
Every circumstance, favorable or unfavorable, in which a man finds himself, and every person, agreeable or disagreeable, in whose presence he is, causes him to react. Upon this reaction depends the man's happiness and his spiritual progress. If he has control over this reaction, it means that he is progressing; if he has no control over it, it shows that he is going backward. When you take two people, a wise and a foolish, the wise person reacts more intensely than the foolish one; also, a fine person naturally reacts more than a dense one, a just person more than an unjust one, and a spiritual person more than a materialist. And yet it is lack of mastery when one has no control over one's reactions. A person who is fine, spiritual, sensitive, wise, and just, but who has no control over his reactions, is incomplete. And this shows that even becoming fine and just and spiritual is not sufficient; for all these qualities, though they make one finer and more sensitive, yet they weaken one in the face of the disturbing influences of the crowd; and when this is the case one will not be perfect.
The balance of life lies in being as fine as a thread and as strong as a steel wire. If one does not show endurance and strength to withstand all the opposing and disturbing influences among which one always has to be in life, one certainly reveals a weakness and lack of development. In the first place this reaction causes the man a certain amount of vanity. He believes he is better than the one who disturbs him, though he cannot with certainty say that he is stronger. When he cannot put up with conditions around him he may think that he is a superior person, but in reality the conditions are stronger than he. If we are born on earth, if we are destined to walk on the earth, we cannot dream of paradise when we have to stand firm in all the circumstances that the earth presents us with. When a person progresses towards spirituality he must bear in mind that together with his spiritual progress he must strengthen himself against disturbing influences. If not he should know that however much he desires to make progress he will be pulled back against his will by conditions, by circumstances.
There are four different ways in which a person reacts: in deed, in speech, in thought, in feeling. A deed produces a definite result, speech produces effect, thought produces atmosphere, feeling produces conditions. Therefore no way in which a person reacts will be without effect. A reaction will be perceived quickly or slowly, but it must be perceived. Very often a reaction is not only agreeable to oneself, but to others also. A person who answers an insult by insulting the other stands on the same level; the one who does not answer stands above it, and in this way one can rise above things against which one reacts, if only one knows how to fly. It means flying above things instead of standing against them as a material person does. How can one call oneself spiritual if one cannot fly? That is the first condition of being spiritual.
The whole mechanism of this world is action and reaction, in the objective world as well as in the world of men. Only, in man there is the possibility of developing that spirit which is called the spirit of mastery, and that spirit is best developed by trying to gain control over one's reactions. Life offers us abundant occasions from morning till evening to practice this lesson. Every move, every turn we make, we are faced with something agreeable or disagreeable, harmonious or inharmonious, either a condition or a person. If we react automatically we are no better than a machine and no different from thousands and millions of people who do so. The only way to find in ourselves a trace of that divine heritage which is mastery, is by controlling our reactions against all influences. In theory it is simple and easy; in practice it is the most difficult thing there is to master. But when we think of its usefulness we shall find that there is nothing in the world that is more necessary and more important than this development. If there is any strength to be found in the world, that strength is within ourselves; and the fact that we are able to control our reactions is the proof of this. It preserves dignity, it maintains honor; it is this which sustains respect and it is this which keeps men wise; it is easy to think, but it is difficult to continue to be a thoughtful person.
Very often people have asked me if there is any practice, any study, anything which one can do in order to develop will power; and I have answered that yes, there are many practices and many ways, but the simplest and best practice which one can follow without being taught is to have one's reactions always in hand. Such words as 'I cannot endure', 'I cannot stand', 'I cannot sustain', 'I cannot have patience', all mean to me, 'I am weak'. By speaking thus we only admit in other words that we are weak. And can there be anyone in the world who is a worse enemy to us than our own weakness? If the whole world were our friend, that one enemy, our weakness, would be enough to ruin our life; but once this enemy is conquered we can stand against all those who come into conflict with us.
Now the question is how one should set to work in this development. One must also take into consideration one's physical condition. The nervous system must be in a proper condition. It is from nervousness that man goes from bad to worse, and even a good person with good intentions may prove to be otherwise; for he may have good intentions but he cannot carry them out because his nerves are weak. What he needs is the habit of silence, of concentration, of meditation. A person who continually goes on talking or doing things and does not meditate for a while, who does not take a rest, cannot control his nervous system and keep it in order. If there is anything that can control the nervous system it is right breathing; and when that right breathing is done, together with a concentration of thought, then the nervous system is greatly fortified. Besides there are many things which cause unhappiness, and these can often be avoided by keeping the nervous system in hand.
When we look at it from a higher point of view, this can be done by denying the impulses which sometimes arise suddenly and which clamor for an answer. What is called self-denial is really this: that one controls one's thoughts and wishes and desires and passions. But that does not mean retirement from life in the world; it only means taking oneself in hand.
It is never too soon to begin control, and it is never too late to improve it. If that kind of education is given from childhood, wonderful results can be brought about. In ancient times in India, though one sees very little of it now, the youths were trained in Asana, a certain way of sitting, of walking, of standing; and by that they first achieved control over their muscles and nerves. It would be of immense value if education today adopted both the study of controlling reactions and the practice of it in sports and gymnastics. If a youth of twelve to sixteen years could learn to breathe clearly and rhythmically and deeply enough, that alone would be something.
The control of the reaction will always give a certain amount of pain, but at the same time it is by suffering that one will gain the power to rise above it. But of course if it is not understood rightly one might endanger oneself. There is a danger in both cases; on one side there is a pit, on the other side there is water. There may be a person who by being afraid of getting hurt or oppressed by someone, is always keeping his thoughts and feelings suppressed; if he had expressed them he would have become a very bad man, but by not having been able to express them he has been ruined. Therefore one should develop one's discrimination in order to analyze the reaction, to understand it before it is expressed. One should always ask oneself, 'That which is in my hand now, shall I not throw it away? By throwing it away, shall I do something wrong? Where shall I throw it? Will it fall on my head? What will become of it?' A man should know what he has in his hand. If in order to avoid breaking another person's head he has broken his own head, he has done wrong too.
Then what should he do? He should first weigh and measure the impulses that come to him. Instead of throwing the impulse out automatically he should first weigh it, analyze it, measure it, and use it to the best advantage in life. A stone is not only used to break another person's head or to break one's own head, but is also used to build houses. Use everything where it will be most useful, where it will be of some advantage. All such things as passion and anger and irritation one looks upon as very bad, as evil; but if that evil were kept in hand it could be used for a good purpose, because it is a power, it is an energy. In other words evil, properly used, becomes a virtue; and virtue wrongly used becomes an evil. For instance, when a person is in a rage, or when he really feels like being angry, if he controls that thought and does not express it in words, that gives him great power. Otherwise the expression has a bad effect upon his nerves. His control of it has given him an extra strength which will remain with him. A person who has anger and control is to be preferred to the person who has got neither.
Does not self-control take away spontaneity? Self-control gives a greater spontaneity. It develops thought-power; it makes one think first about every impulse which otherwise would have manifested automatically. In other words: hold the word between the lips before it drops out.
Is impulse, before it is controlled, wrong in itself, or is it good? When one thinks about the origin of impulse one goes in quite a different direction of thought. Then one has to think in what direction it is facing; also of the direction of the mind, whether it is in illumination or in darkness. The mind is sometimes illuminated, sometimes in darkness. One should think about the condition of the mind at the time. There is another thing to be considered in this connection: a person may have good intentions and his mind may be focused on good ideas; and then another with evil intentions and wrong ideas says or does something which automatically turns the mind of the first person to evil against his own will. There is the word of the Bible, 'Resist not evil'. Sometimes evil will come like fire thrown by a person into the mind of another. A fire then starts in that mind which had been without it, and in reaction it too expresses that fire. To resist evil is to send fire in answer to fire; in other words to partake of the fire that comes from another. But by not partaking of it one casts the fire out and the fire falls on the person who threw it.