The razors edge according to the Ishavasya Upanishad

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The Ishavasya Upanishad consists of only eighteen verses, yet contains sublime and practical teachings. It clearly points out the importance - in fact the necessity - of performing one's duties. It emphasizes that one must live in the external as well as the internal world.

One without the other leads to delusion and away from the path to higher knowledge. Many people who have spiritual aspiration are faced with a dilemma: whether to live in the world of action, or to only practise meditational techniques. The Ishavasya Upanishad gives a clear answer. It says that one must do both simultaneously. One must be both extroverted and introverted. One must supplement and express one's inner experience with outer actions. This is stated in no uncertain terms as follows: "Those who follow the path of action alone will surely enter the blinding darkness of ignorance. Furthermore, those who retreat from the world in order to seek knowledge through constant practice of meditative techniques, similarly remain in the quagmire of ignorance." (verse 9). This is like the razor's edge: there must be a balance between excessive worldly interest and activity, and over-introspection.

One must try to integrate the paths of extroversion and introversion. If you consider great yogis, saints and sages through history, you will realize that they all expressed themselves in the outside world. Even though they experienced and probably lived permanently in the infinity of enlightenment, they still continued to express themselves in the outer world. This applies to Buddha, Christ and many other people.

It applies to Mahatma Gandhi, Swami Vivekananda and so on. They taught their disciples, they travelled giving sermons and tried to help people who sought their guidance. Each of these illumined people continued to act and express themselves in the outside world according to the natural dictates of his mind-body (dharma). Some became hermits; others worked ceaselessly for the general welfare of fellow humans, such as Swami Sivananda and Mahatma Gandhi. None of them became a human vegetable. This does not only apply to those who live in and know the highest states of illumination - it also applies to you. You too must strike a balance between external action and introspection.

The Ishavasya Upanishad further emphasizes this important point by saying: "That which is known through doing only external actions, is different to that which is known through introversion. Thus it has been said by the wise." (verse 10)

Total concern with the outside world leads to intellectual knowledge. Only understanding of the internal sphere of existence will bring about deeper understanding of the material world around.

On the other hand, rejection of the worldly life and complete concern for meditational practices and the mind is also a block. How is this? The reason is simple: without resolving and harmonizing one's outer life, one can never really know deeper states of knowledge. Higher states of awareness only occur when there is perfect balance both in the inner and outer worlds. Those people who tend to reject their activities in the world still tend to have many unresolved problems. Rejection of the world does not remove the problems, they merely lie dormant in the mind. These act as obstacles to success in meditational practices. Failure to clear up the outer conflicts and concerns automatically prevents one gaining the highest benefits from introspection. Therefore, there must be a dual process of external activities combined with periods of trying to explore the mind. This applies mainly to the early stages of spiritual life, for eventually there ceases to be any difference between the inner and outer world.

This is what Ramana Maharshi meant when he said: "Setting apart time for meditational practices is only for beginners. A man who is advanced (in the spiritual path) will begin to enjoy deeper beatitude whether he is at work or not. While his hands are in society, he keeps his head cool in solitude."

This applies to a person who lives in higher states of awareness. Most people must combine their daily work, in the form of karma yoga, with daily sessions of meditational practices. There must be acceptance, integration and understanding of both the inner and outer environments. For this reason, it is essential that each person with spiritual aspiration should practise introverting techniques such as raja yoga, kriya yoga, pranayama, etc., combined with and supplemented by methods of harmonizing one's interaction with the external surroundings, such as karma yoga. It is only in this way that one can start to effectively harmonize with both the inner and the outer world. It is only in this way that one can really start to tread the path and know the complete oneness of everything that exists, both internal and external. It is for this reason that karma yoga is so important, and why Swami Sivananda urged everyone to work and play in both the outer and inner world. This is the reason why everyone does some form of work in our ashram.

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