The Art of Life|Jan 14, 2009 10:00 AM| by:

The Technique of Enjoyment

There is some meaning in describing the Upanishads as rahasya, mystery. The Upanishads are profound, and only the seeker who is prepared to study them very seriously and intently can derive benefit from them. They are rahasya in this sense. Anybody and everybody cannot get the meaning out of them. The deep philosophy of the Upanishads is not revealed to the casual questioner; it is only revealed to the earnest inquirer who, with a ceaselessly questioning mind, is capable of penetrating the inmost depths of his being.

With our minds thus prepared, the Isa Upanishad, in its first verse, takes us at once to these secret depths of Truth:

Isaavaasyamidam sarvam yatkincha jagatyaam jagat;
Tena tyaktena bhunjithah, ma grudhah kasyasvid dhanam –

‘Whatever there is changeful in this ephemeral world, all that must be enveloped by the Lord. By this renunciation, support yourself. Do not covet the wealth of anyone’.

This is a very profound utterance, unequivocal, and yet extremely simple. The whole universe, it tells us, is filled with the spirit of God. And our experience of the manifold, of the sense world, must be seen in the light of this abiding truth. A bubble rises on a sheet of water, plays for an instant on the surface, and disappears. Whence did it come, what was it, and where did it go? From water it came; having come, it is water still; and unto water it returns at the end. The real nature of that momentary existence, the bubble, is water. Similarly, Brahman is the real nature of this world. Realise that; do not lose sight of that, caught up in the trivial waves of passing sense experience, says the verse. Change is here, death is here, in every phase of life; there is no steady base here on which we can safely erect the structure of our life; but look deeper, says the Upanishad, and you will see, the deathless in the midst of death and changeless in the midst of the many. This is the one great message of the Upanishads, the message of the immortal and imperishable Self behind the mortal and the perishable. Says the Katha Upanishad (V. 13):

‘He is the eternal in the midst of the non-eternals, the principle of intelligence in all that are intelligent. He is One, yet fulfils the desires of the many. Those wise men who perceive Him as existing within their own self, to them belongs eternal peace, and to none else.’ If, then, we can see ‘the eternal in the midst of the non-eternal; if we can envelop everything with the Lord, we shall understand the real nature of the universe. After that, the next step is, as this first verse of the Isa Upanishad tells us, renunciation of whatever is not real. In the language of Vedanta, there must be both a negation and an affirmation, if we are to enjoy this world. Tena tyaktena bhunjithah, ‘by this renunciation, support yourself’, says the verse. What supports us is not what we renounce but what we possess and enjoy; and this verse tells us to enjoy the world through possessing God. This world is worth enjoying, and we should enjoy it with zest. Zest in life is expounded throughout the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads. The great teachers who discovered these truths were not kill-joys, they were sweet and lovable men. Sri Ramakrishna was full of joy and Sri Krishna was full of joy. Jesus, too, was really a man of joy although later dogma made him a man of sorrows.

Before we can enjoy this world, however, we have to learn the technique of enjoyment. This technique is described in detail in the Bhagavad Gita, but here, in this first verse of the Isa Upanishad, the technique is summed up in that one word ‘renunciation’. When Swami Vivekananda was in America, he met Professor Ingersoll, a man who was the terror of the theologians of the time; he was an agnostic and a great scholar and orator. In his Inspired Talks, Swami Vivekananda describes a conversation he had with Ingersoll (Complete Works, Vol. VII, Fifth Edition, p.77).

Ingersoll once said to me: “I believe in making the most out of this world, in squeezing the orange dry, because this world is all we are sure of.” I replied: “I know a better way to squeeze the orange of this world than you do, and I get more out of it. I know I cannot die, so I am not in a hurry; I know no fear, so I enjoy the squeezing. I have no duty, no bondage of wife and children and property. I can love all men and women. Everyone is God to me. Think of the joy of loving man as God! Squeeze your orange this way and get ten thousandfold more out of it. Get every single drop.”

This, then is the technique of enjoying life which this Upanishad proposed, leaving it to the Bhagavad Gita to develop all its practical implications. Says the Bhagavad Gita (II.49):

Durena hyavaram karma buddhiyogaaddhananjaya;
Buddhau saranam anviccha krupanah phalahetavah –

‘Work (done with selfish desire) is far inferior, O Arjuna, to that done with a detached reason. Take refuge in this detached reason. Small-minded are they who are motivated by selfish results.’

Renunciation is an eternal maxim in ethics as well as in spirituality. There is no true enjoyment except what is purified by renunciation. In our daily lives, in inter-personal relationships, we observe that we achieve the greatest joy not when we affirm ourselves, but when we deny ourselves. And in this teaching of the Upanishads, we have the explanation of this great truth. Through renunciation and detachment, we become identified with the immortal and divine Brahman which is the self of all. We see, with our eyes and mind purified, this universe as the Brahman and renounce what our small separatist ego had conjured up. Thus, this renunciation is not a mere negation: it is a negation leading to a larger affirmation. The dialectics of the higher life, like the dialectics of evolution itself, proceeds through a series of negations and affirmations. It is the affirmative elements in this dialectic movement that constitute the positive content of joy in ethical and spiritual life.

Finally, this first verse of the Isa Upanishad says: ma grudhah kasyasvid dhanam – ‘Do not covet the wealth of another.’ That is a very plain statement but it involves a number of ethical and spiritual values. Whatever you have gained by your honest labour, all moral and spiritual teachers, say, that alone belongs to you; enjoy life with that, and do not covet what belongs to others. Sankaracharya, in one of his beautiful hymns, addressing man, says:

‘O fool, give up this excessive desire for wealth; yoke your mind to the good and the true, and cultivate detachment. Whatever wealth you obtain by your own honest labour, with that learn to delight your mind and heart.’

Our hearts will ask: Is wealth evil? Are we to become mendicants? No, replied Sankaracharya, and adds: But yoke your mind to righteousness and cultivate dispassion. Take the mind away from what does not belong to you, what you have not earned yourself. Enjoy life with zest, with the fruits of your own honest labour, avoid covetousness, for it will lead to exploitation, which will destroy the moral life of both the exploiter and the exploited. Exploitation in any and every form must be avoided if you want to develop your spiritual nature, your ethical nature, which is the true aim of life. Remembering that it is by the dialectics of negation and affirmation that true joy in life is achieved, we approach wealth in a spirit of dedication, by negating the ego and its evaluations and affirming the universal value of Brahman. It is only when we become free from all spirit of selfish exploitation that we can truly enjoy life. The world is nothing but the blissful Brahman; and we are here to enjoy it. It is only when our eyes are purified by renunciation that the world will appear to us in its true form, as consisting of waves and waves of the bliss of Brahman. This is the true joy of life; it is growth, it is development, it is realization for man. It is fulfilment, purnata, the goal of evolution itself.

Swami Ranganathananda

(Courtesy: The Heritage Oct,’88)