Although he belonged to my father’s generation, I was always intrigued by this hunk of an actor, Vinod Khanna, who had forsaken all that lesser mortals like us crave for – fame and fortune.
And yet, it was not his beauty I was drawn towards (not that one could ignore it), but it was his eyes – they were the eyes of a seeker, blank, silent yet restless; the eyes of one who had outgrown the trappings of the material world and in which was reflected, sheer disenchantment for it. What shone through was his need for answers for the ‘Ultimate Truth’ (sat), beyond the mundane and the ephemeral (asat).
So, like all seekers, he took refuge in a guru (master) who would show him the way and help him in his quest for that elusive ‘Higher Truth’. He hoped that the guru’s path would give him the answers he was searching for and calm his restless mind. The guru proposed that the actor renounce his world of movies and magic, of friends and family and accept to live in a ‘hermitage’ (an ashrama), the guru’s world of meditation and dance.
One world had replaced another; but ashrama or household, our mind is our world. And we carry that world wherever we go or whoever we turn to. There is just no escaping the restless mind!
What most of us resort to is to seek solutions to our problems outside of ourselves – in a parent, a guru, an astrologer, a wise man, a philosopher…But evidently, no meaning that comes from outside can really help us. A guru can facilitate the process, play a catalyst but ultimately we have to find our own answers, search for our own meaning in life.
In his book, ‘If you Meet Buddha on the Road, Kill Him!’, author Sheldon B Kopp writes that the Zen master admonishes us to give up the master without giving up the search. “Killing the Buddha on the road means destroying the hope that anything outside of ourselves can ever be our master.”
According to the Vedic way of life, the life of an individual was divided into four stages or ashramas. These are – the student stage (bramhacharya), the householder stage (grahastha), the retired stage (vanaprastha) and the ascetic stage (sanyaasa).
Each of these stages had their roles and responsibilities, obligations and duties which were material, physical, social, intellectual, emotional and spiritual in nature. Renouncing an ashrama without fulfilling its duties and obligations because of our inability to deal with the meaninglessness or cope with the stress of existence was seen as ‘escapism’.
The solution to dealing with problems of life lies in ‘Yoga’. Yoga is essentially a technique of mental discipline. It is used to still the mind so that one can focus on the nature of problem or crisis (material or spiritual) rather than being swept away by our emotions. Although renunciation was sequential in the order of life, ‘yoga’ allows for simultaneous achievement of spiritual goal and material aspirations. By integrating the two through yoga we reach a state of equanimity. When our mind, which is the seat of our emotions is under control, we are able to attend to our duties without being overwhelmed by samsara (the world), which is essentially our mind.
True renunciation is achieved when one is in full possession of self. By gaining control over one’s thoughts and emotions, one is able to transcend the world. Such a person is called a ‘Swami’. He lives in the world like the boatman whose boat is in the river, but he does not let the river into it!