No one likes to be thought stupid, and all like to be thought intelligent. Even better is it to be thought wise. Of course, in all ages there have been the fools that preferred to be “cool” or “sharp” or “neat” or such idiotic expressions. The sad thing is that the vast majority want to be thought of as smart or wise, but only a small percentage care whether they really are smart or wise. The upanishad is meant for these latter people, so the sage continues: “But wise, self-controlled, and tranquil souls, who are contented in spirit, and who practice austerity and meditation in solitude and silence, are freed from all impurity, and attain by the path of liberation to the immortal, the truly existing, the changeless Self” (Mundaka Upanishad 1:2:11).
Let us look at the traits of the wise. They are disciplined, and so are self-controlled. As a result of their discipline they have become peaceful. Intent on spiritual development, giving priority to the spirit, they have become contented–for outside the spirit there is no peace or tranquility. This means that they are harmonious and balanced, as well. They continually engage in those disciplines which purify them, and by being so purified they are capable of becoming adept in meditation. As a result of these qualities they are firmly on the path to liberation, and shall without doubt attain to the Self which is the only truly existing thing, changeless and sure from eternity.
Now a look at some Sanskrit terms will be helpful to us.
The wise are said to be aranye–living in the forest. At the time of the Gita, many serious sadhakas lived on the outskirts of towns, preferring to live in the wooded areas where neighbors would not be visible, even if somewhat near. This ideal is found twice in the Gita: “Turn all your thought toward solitude, spurning the noise of the crowd, its fruitless commotion” (Bhagavad Gita 13:10). And: “When a man seeks solitude,…ever engaged in his meditation on Brahman,…that man is ready for oneness with Brahman” (Bhagavad Gita 18:52, 53). It is not a matter of surrounding vegetation, but the inward withdrawal from outer association that is being praised here. Even in a crowded city we can live in the forest of inner solitude. In the thirteenth chapter of Autobiography of a Yogi, the master yogi, Ram Gopal Muzumdar, asked Yogananda: “Are you able to have a little room where you can close the door and be alone?” When he said that he did have such a room, the saint told him: “That is your cave. That is your sacred mountain. That is where you will find the kingdom of God.” Though that is so, still the aspiring yogi should be extremely sparing of social contacts, and then only with those who benefit him spiritually.
The first words of this verse in Sanskrit describe the wise as tapahshraddhe–an interesting fusion of tapasya and shraddha–ascetic discipline and faith–shraddha in this instance meaning aspiration more than faith. Many people engage in spiritual practice for the wrong reasons, but the right one is a confidence in one’s ability to attain Self-realization. Tapah literally means to generate heat, so tapahshraddha can also mean heat-generating faith or aspiration, that which heats us up, builds the proverbial fire under us, gets us moving and keeps us moving. Tapasya is the energy generator of the wise directed by their assurance that the Goal exists and is within grasp. Tapahshraddha is the radiance (tejas) that fills the proficient yogi. In the Chandogya Upanishad, when a young man returns from a long period of tapasya, his teacher said to him: “My son, your face shines like one who knows Brahman” (Chandogya Upanishad4:14:2). This is the effect of tapahshraddha.
The wise are vidvamsah–learned. They not only practice, they study and learn and assimilate what they have learned. There is no place in spiritual life for pious ignorance. Sentimental dummies are not devotees, they are fools. And fools do not find God. It is very true that many people get what Yogananda called “intellectual indigestion” from reading loads of theories and trivia. But the wise carefully choose books of spiritual wisdom such as scriptures, lives of holy people, and the writings and teachings of those who possess genuine inner illumination. Such books can never do anything but good. It is especially necessary to read the teachings of realized yogis.
Naturally, they will have to use their own good sense as to whose words are worthwhile and whose are worthless or even poisonous. They will not have a library of thousands of books, I assure you. But they will have a goodly number of spiritual gems which they will perpetually read and ponder daily. Certainly they will not spend hours a day on reading, but they will allot an appropriate amount of time for it.
Fake teachers and cults hate what I have just written, insisting that “loyal” and “in tune” cultists will read nothing but what the cult authorizes, so the dupes will not “get confused.” This only reveals their proprietary and predatory nature and motivation. Their “protection” of their “sheep” is nothing less than the “protective custody” of the Nazi death camps. They fear that if their followers become informed as to the real nature of religion and interior life they will realize they are being lied to, and will sensibly go elsewhere and find real truth. And that is bad for business.
Now comes an interesting adjective: virajah–beyond (free from) rajas. This may seem odd, but some of you who have been yogis for some years will remember how at the beginning of your yoga days you were very rajasic in your approach. First of all, you wanted to tell everyone about it, and you went around accumulating spiritual stuff of all kinds and going to all kinds of spiritual events. You really began to star in your own spiritual movie, and you made quite an epic. Your motives were perfectly all right, even laudable, but they were rajasic, filled with activity and passion for getting on to the Goal. Again, the intentions were good, but the feverishness and externalization was not.
For a lot of people, when the rajas fizzles out so does their impetus toward God. Most abandon any form of spiritual life, while others settle down to a comfortable and ineffectual life in some yoga cult that makes them feel secure and one of the chosen. But what is needed is for the rajasic heat to mutate into the steady warmth and radiance of sattwa. Then the aspiration and involvement actually increases, but in a fully effectual way, an increasingly interior way. Spiritual life changes over from a compulsion to an intelligent choice. Spiritual restlessness becomes steadiness in spiritual practice and development. God is no longer the brass ring to strain at but an ever-present Reality whose perception keeps on increasing in a naturally supernatural way.
And the result of all this? The upanishad says: “prayanti suryadvarena,” which Shankara says means: “they move superbly [skillfully] along the path of the sun.” That is, they ascend steadily and skillfully to the solar world, the realm of the Self-existent Light that is Brahman.
Read the next article in the Upanishads for Awakening: Getting in Perspective