'Text-days' are for delving into the words and theory of Advaita Vedanta
FIVE VERSES ON SPIRITUAL PRACTICE. Written by Sri Adi Shankaraachaarya. Please click on the relevant label and ensure to review the posts till date.
We are studying the fourth shloka.
Shloka Four. Paada Five.
Endure all pairs of opposites; heat and cold etc. Here we have reference to vairagya. By existing on the physical plain, all the challenges of 'this or that' come up. Feeling hot or cold is a very basic one. Also whether something is sweet or bitter tasting, whether we have joy or sorrow to handle… There will always be a reaction to what is presented to us externally. Having our focus firmly placed upon the Higher, we can begin to detach somewhat from all these instinctual reactions; we can decided if anything is worth our reaction or not. Okay, so it's cold. Go put on a sweater and get on with things. It's hot, wear the minimum without loss of grace and perhaps wipe down with damp cloth, then get on with things. Fine, the milk has gone off and you can't have that cuppa, drink water instead and move along with the day.
To detach ourselves from these menial matters gives space within to keep spiritual focus. The inconveniences will still be there, but they will no longer trouble us to the same extent - if at all. We learn to become an observer of events, even when in the middle of them. This is a very useful tool for the sadhak, as it protects us from the intense turmoil which can block our vision. Sure, we can still 'talk the talk' with others who remain trapped in the nonsense for we must understand that they have not the same vision, but we do not have to actually feel dragged down ourselves.
Avoid wasteful talks. As has just been said, for social conduct we may have to engage in 'small talks'. Sometimes, too, we do need to vent frustrations. An advanced seeker, though, will endeavour to minimise the less consequential conversations. This verse, remember, is for the highly focused and advanced practitioner of Vedantic principle; as novices this can seem harsh and distancing. It does not have to be. Almost certainly all of you reading this will have experienced times when you have become detached from a conversation going on around you, wondering at the mundanity and unnecessary nature of it, is it not? When we are growing spiritually this happens almost as a matter of course - indeed not even in 'spiritual terms'; it is a case of maturity also. To be able to converse always on topics of a higher nature, with better value to the wholeness of our being (and here that means spiritual), with like minds, is ever uplifting. Find the people with whom you can bring forth your true inner being, who will help you to stretch your intellect and soul on its quest for improvement. Know that the further along this road you travel, the less 'populated' it becomes… Quality versus quantity.
Don't panic! It is a natural progression of life and you can still partake in social activity; it is just that making the choice to become immersed, or to remain as an observer is now under your control. Hence the next step -
Be indifferent. This refers most directly to vairagya as a method of saadhana. In the English language, 'indifferent' looks cold and unequivocal. It does not fully convey the essence and nuance found within the Sanskrit 'vairaagya'. Particularly for those people who are deeply affected by things, to see someone who apparently is not can lead to them throwing accusations of coldness, heard-heartedness and such like. This is their mistake and they are only adding to their own sorrows! If only they too could develop a little of vairagya. With this practice, it is possible to see and feel the angst and sorrow, or indeed the immense joys, of others; it is possible to commiserate or congratulate; but at the same time remain poised and at ease within, not succumbing to the carousel of agonies and ecstasies. It is especially useful during those times and in those cases where it is not possible to do anything that will have any effect upon outcomes. An example is when there is a natural disaster or a horror incident - in these days of mass media when everyone with a 'smart phone' is not so smart and what they capture gets noticed and everything is done with a view to working on the emotions, we must learn to discriminate and moderate our reactions. If you can offer something to make a difference, what you can do, do… what you can't, offer up prayers that the Lord may carry out His will.
Save yourself from other peoples' kindness. This, at first glance, looks an odd thing. Again, remember the context. When we are advancing in spiritual saadhana, we are aiming to attach to the numinous, the Aatman, the universal spirit. This involves detaching from the mundane, the physical and material existence. This text was, as has been stated, written for highly advanced seekers and at this level and into the last shloka, the distinction between Real and Unreal is emphasised greatly.
Lessons can still apply to the novice though. As we develop our vairagya, and whilst having all compassion for those around us who remain lost in samsaara, our disentanglement must also include minimising any obligations which may be put upon us by others. Such folk may not necessarily realise that this is what they are doing. Some people use 'kindness and giving' as a passive weapon though! Very often folk who do this will refuse kindness and generosity offered to them in return, for they wish to retain the upper hand. The ways and means of social control are countless. Become aware of them and seek to release the chains of emotional entanglement, the 'setups' of expectation and petty demands. This does not mean that all giving should be rejected! Know that it is okay to accept without obligation. What is more, when giving yourself, be very sure that it is spontaneous and without expectation on your own part.