Seeker: I think there is a dilemma between following a spiritual path and living in the world with social ideals. How can we believe that we can change anything by simply serving and not wanting a reward?
My answer is that if you don’t know who you are, if you don’t know your true Self, whatever you do will be in blindness despite having good motivations. It will not yield whatever you may dream to accomplish. Therefore should we not do good to others? No, you still do good, whatever you can, but you cannot be ambitious about it because unless you know your Self you cannot truly help anyone.
You have seen how, with so many social reformers, great philanthropists, virtuous people and organizations, the world is still moving toward destruction rather than greater good. We do not understand where the real secret lies. The answer is not so much in creating formulas or systems but within mankind. We have to change in order to do good for the world. We have all the education and research to solve our problems and yet where are we heading? Two leaders can eat fine meals together but they cannot sit peacefully to settle matters.
It is okay to have good thoughts and motivations but if you think that will change the world and drive away misery, ignorance, disease and decay, you are wrong. Buddha’s greatest aspiration was to help suffering mankind but until he became Enlightened he could not do this. He knew that the root cause of suffering of any kind is ignorance. If mankind changes, systems will work better. Otherwise, systems by themselves are formulas; they are not connected with the facts as they are. You have seen in your life that you may talk about anything, whether sensible or not, but when it comes to the real episode, you do what you want, don’t you? Which formulas do you follow? It is the same thing on the national and global scale. This is why, in spite of academics, politics, commerce, ambitions and even good motivations, the world will not change unless we change.
Swami, how does man change?
There are many ways: self-inquiry, self-reflection, seeing your own mind. Work first on you. We always try to change others first. This is a fallacy. We have to see ourselves in order to change ourselves. Am I selfish or selfless? Am I untruthful at times or not? Do I hurt others through my selfish motives? Am I more peaceful, loving and free than I was ten years ago? Am I nearer to God or the Truth than I was five years back? Do I have a deeper understanding of myself or have I simply been accumulating more? Is my health better? Is my way of living in tune with my Spirit? This self-responsibility has to be taken rather than just planning and doing, mailing and phoning everyone.
Of course there is prayer, meditation, repeating the name of the Lord—those systems are also there. But the question is of seeing myself. Being responsible for what I am is the first step. Whatever I enjoy or suffer, whatever I have or have not, whatever happiness or unhappiness I have, whatever knowledge or ignorance I have, I’m responsible for that. If you can, solve that and begin to analyze yourself. Or, if you are too weak or helpless, then pray: “Lord, let me know what I am.” That is also fine. Once you assume responsibility for what you are and do not blame anything outside you, then comes the next stage: the problems that you solve in your own mind will be the problems you are able to solve outside. This will be in perfect proportion to what you can do for others.
The ancient proverb: “Physician, heal thyself,” is perfectly true. Therefore physicians today have no answers for many diseases in spite of millions spent on research. Only what I have solved in myself can I help in others. When anger comes in me, when selfishness or jealousies arise, when disturbing thoughts or episodes come up in my life, how do I deal with them? If I am able to deal with them in myself, I will be able to help others to the same degree. If I have achieved peace of mind, only then can I give peace. If my mind is disturbed I may give a thousand lectures about peace but they will not give peace to anyone. It is the same with love. Love is one of the most talked-about topics today but everyone is still hungry for love.
The question is: am I in tune with what I do? Is my life in tune and whole? This is the meaning of yoga, actually. When you realize this integration and unity throughout every aspect of your life you will be a yogi. Whichever pattern you live is really not important. We may say anything but when it comes to oneself, do we follow the same advice? Do we talk about love or do we love? Do I pray to the Lord when I need things or do I love him and therefore I go to God? If we love God and therefore go to him, our questions will cease. He will guide us in what to do. If you have infirmities, helplessness or weaknesses, pray to the Lord to help you overcome these things. But first try to solve whatever comes up in your mind, whether it is a question or a problem. If you are avoiding to face yourself or hiding or suppressing, you are prolonging the problem.
Changing one’s own self is the first step. It requires an honest, responsible look at ourselves. Prayer, yoga, meditation, study, and guidance of your Master all help but do not avoid seeing yourself. Do not try to think too much about others or what you can do for them. You will automatically do good to others if you solve your own problems. If your mind is disturbed, you cannot give peace to others. If you are only able to love a few people, you cannot possibly love all. This is the basic solution. Moses gave the Ten Commandments. Are we practicing those commandments or are we still not able to? It is not the system that is wrong or right, it is the human being. My motive, my being, what I am, is more important than what I do. A great man is known not by what he does but what he is. In other words, if I change myself I will be able to do greater things.
That is why spiritual practices are done—to change our own mind. But if we only impose spiritual practices on the mind without changing it intrinsically, that will be blasphemous and dogmatic. If, without changing our own mind, we just go on decorating it with a silken cloth of “holiness,” it will not yield anything.
What I am is more important than what I do. The solution is to change one’s own self and then the world will change. If you find your peace, you will find peace everywhere. Others coming in contact with you will also find peace. When we come to this reality, identity with my being, we will find solutions for the world.
Edited from the Satsang, Changing Ourselves and the World (A-50), given by Swami Amar Jyoti in New Zealand on March 3, 1987. For further information on the Satsangs of Swami Amar Jyoti click here.