Atmananda was walking alone for a few months without companions. These situations of walking alone happened only a couple of times in his life of 49 years in the body known as Atmananda. The incident given below happened during his parivrajaka (wandering monkhood) time soon after he left his Gurukul (Master’s abode). Atmananda was sitting in meditation at a ghat (river bank) in Benaras (Varanasi) after taking a bath. It was early hours. Some people brought a dead body for cremation at the ghat. Some relatives were crying as the dead body was washed before the cremation. Some people looked relieved. Before 7 AM, about six dead bodies were treated and prepared for cremation at the ghat. Atmananda was in deep meditation and was not aware of anything around him. At around 8AM, he opened his eyes to see a group of men and women standing around him to have his blessings.
He was usually averse to any attention from anyone. Being perhaps in his early 20s at that time, he was not yet ready to wear the burden or responsibilities of “Guruhood”. He tried to get away from this looming crowd. But, they started falling at his feet and closed all escape routes. So, he sat down and started blessing them. They took extra care not to touch Atmananda because of the belief of being impure after the cremation. As per the Hindu system, relatives of the dead usually stay away from sacred spaces and people such as Gurus or God’s premises for about 14 days after the death of a relative. Soon after this prostration ritual, one elderly bald man requested Atmananda to clear the doubts of some of the people who assembled there. Atmananda who was practicing levels of silence with his Guru and while wandering as well, half-heartedly agreed. What follows is the communication that happened between Atmananda and the mourning group that had assembled there.
Q: Death is inevitable. We all know that all that is born will die. Then why are we suffering so much?
Atmananda – Ownerships and attachments of relationships and familiarity. We become used to the presence of bodies around us, start owning it and start developing emotions around those bodies. You are sad because of your attachment and ownership.
Rewards of life are fruits of your own attitude, expressions, and actions. Your mind is your own enemy and friend. Whatever you experience is your own creation born out of your own disposition. Every experience has its own invisible root spreading itself into the past.
Q: My uncle (whom we just cremated) suffered a lot before his death. In fact, we are all relieved that now he is free from suffering. What kind of action or karma causes that kind of suffering?
Atmananda – Actions of impure nature causes that kind of suffering. It could be from this life or other lives. When one goes against another person, displays hatred, anger, jealousy, so on and so forth, they accumulate heavy karma. If the collection is such karma, suffering is inevitable. Whatever we do against another, comes back to us, sooner or later – in this life or another. There is no escape or reduction possible in karma. What you do in life, good or bad, affects not just you, but leaves an inherited impact on all the people born in your lineage. Every person in every lineage must know this and be responsible.
Q: What is the solution?
Atmananda – Good deeds. Merits that we earn through good thoughts, words and actions. Lead a conscious and contented life. Do not greed over other people’s possessions that karma has distributed as per their karmic merits. Be aware that your own actions have brought your experiences of life. Nothing can be changed. Future can be changed if you lead a conscious life today.
He paused, thought for a while and continued.
“I advise you to avoid a situation, a place or a person that disturbs your mind or your mental stability. Avoid being influenced by other minds. If you cannot totally avoid, at least ignore all of these and do not take inside the effects of their presence. Instead, focus inside and chant the name of your chosen god or guru. Stay away from things that make your mind restless and give preference to inner peace and tranquillity of mind. When everything we do is in surrender to God or Guru, we come close to the supreme consciousness. Embrace external things that do not affect your inner tranquillity. Avoid the rest. Live a simple, benevolent life.”
Q: Will our actions affect our children and their children?
Atmananda – Yes. Whatever you earn, your children and their children will inherit. Lineage always carries the burden of individuals that it has given birth to. Lineage holds collective karma of family members. This is inherited in various degrees by all its off-springs. When family members do great acts of good deeds, the effects reach every person in the family just as a feast in the family reaches every stomach.
Q: What can be the worst situation for any lineage?
Atmananda – Passive, selfish and indifferent people as well as insensitive generations born in it. Just like the air in a room becomes stale when the windows and doors are closed for a long time, selfish and passive people of a generation stagnate the lineage. Selfishness and self-centeredness is bad karma. Giving and sharing from the heart brings fresh air into the room. We can call it grace. created out of positive action.
Q: What can we do from today?
Atmananda – Be responsible. Know that you are not just an individual. You are a lineage. Respect your position and the power to make the lineage a better place for those before you and those that are yet to come. Be good and do good. That is the secret. Share and grow. Life should be totally selfless and free. Give more than you take. Be kind always. Be generous. Respect saints and spiritual people. Respect farmers as they are working hard in the rain and sun so that you do not sleep hungry. Respect the lawmakers and law protectors. Because of them, you are safe and protected. Respect children, because they learn from you to respect their contemporaries. Maintain purity and maintain peace. Never compromise inner peace for anything external. It is not worth it.
Avoid all situations of praises and applause. Even if destiny brings you accolades and applause, understand that everything is temporary and be humble about it. Never fall prey to ego or get addicted to your possessions and relations. Consider everything you have as a gift from God and handle it with respect. Be always aware that whatever comes will leave too. Never cry over what is lost and disrespect what you have. Life is moment to moment. What this moment has given you is your present (gift). Next moment may take it away and replace that space with another reality. Keep flowing through these realities without attachments or expectations. We can own nothing here. Nothing belongs to us here. All experiences have eligibility behind it. We earned those experiences – good or bad. Be grateful when the world respects you or disrespects you. Both are just experiences as well as lessons. Learn to detach from everything using awareness as the thread. The key awareness is the basic nature of our own existence – impermanence. Your own conscience is your personal guide. Be a friend to your own conscience and never do anything that will affect it. Rest in your conscience which is your personal protection from all negative karma. Adulation is an addiction. It is indeed a trap. The result is spiritual stagnation. Mind rules instead of giving way for the consciousness to shine forth.
Q: What can we really call ours?
Atmananda – Memories of experiences, desires and merits/demerits of our expressions and actions. Merits and demerits of our past lives determine the flavour of this life and the lives beyond. If one has done spiritual practices with concentration and dedication through lifetimes, he will be born in the company, family or lineage of saints and holy men and will have the opportunity to continue their practice until dissolution based on the quality and quantity of their karmic baggage.
Q: What is the core of human existence?
Atmananda – Dharma, Artha, Kama, Moksha (Righteousness, Materials, Desires, and Liberation respectively) – which is together called as Purushartha.
Q: What is the wise way of handling these aspects of existence?
Atmananda – Let Moksha be the thread. Make Moksha the thread and make the other aspects the beads of the garland. When liberation is the thread, all other aspects will remain pure and righteous. When the key theme of life is liberation, life will be pure and truthful.
Q: Is that why these young men are sitting here near the burning human bodies?
Atmananda – Some are sitting here just to avoid the cold winter as they have no money and nowhere else to go. Some are sitting to conquer their fears of death. Some, who are much more advanced, are witnessing the state of the dead who used to walk the earth with pride and ego, over their possessions and achievements. And the ash they wear on their bodies is a reminder to themselves and others that we are essentially just ash. Ash is also the sign of total detachment from all possessions of life.
Fire is a sign of the truth that has no discrimination. Death is the inevitable truth. Minds fear truth. It fears death. Fear is ignorance. When mind constantly watches bodies burning to ashes, it overcomes its fears and establishes itself in inevitable truth. Fear is against liberation. Having no fear is a sign of the liberated state. Those who are sitting here with abundance are avoiding the fearful society ridden by emotions and they are not interested in material possessions including name and fame. Everything can become detrimental and delay the liberation process and induce more births and deaths. So, one must be steadfast in his determination for liberation. Nothing else matters.
Q: Karma follows man beyond his grave. How can we prevent karma?
Atmananda – Good and bad actions maintain duality of existence. Good actions are those that make us lighter, expand our hearts and earn us merits. Bad actions are those that come out of hatred, revenge, enmity, and anger which makes us heavier and binds us to the web of relationships by earning us demerits. Both good and bad actions keep us in the web of karma and keep bringing us back through many wombs. Dependency on the external world keeps us in the karmic web. Ownership of actions and manipulations of mind maintains us here, birth after birth. Turning inward and steadily getting out of all dependencies of earth, and establishing oneself into oneself is the only way to break the karmic web.
Reduced dependency on anything and anybody, as well as no expectations over anything, will help us maintain detachment. Awareness that this body is decaying every moment and we are all walking towards our inevitable end is essential. All that is born will die. Hence, the state of not being born must be explored and established into. This is essential for liberation. At some point in life, like you just did, this question will come to everybody’s mind – what is this drama for? The answer is, divinity is experiencing itself in multiple frequencies using duality as the medium. This is the awareness that is needed to stay afloat without drowning into the pool of karma.
Q: Do we have a choice?
Atmananda – Yes. Always. Staying detached as a witness from emotions and expectations is our choice. Always being aware that this whole life is a show and looking inward to our stable soul that is unaffected by anything inside and anything outside is our choice. Avoiding ego and identification to this incarnation is our choice. Detachment from our outside and inside world is our choice. Avoiding ownership of people and possessions is our choice which helps us stay liberated. To share, care and love ourselves and all things around us, is our choice.
Q: Can you be our guru?
Atmananda – No. Your guru is already within you. People like me are only guides.
A short while later, he added:
“I am a wanderer. I carry nothing with me. If you walk with me, I will not object, because the path belongs to everyone who choose to walk. But, walking is your own choice and responsibility, as well as staying or leaving is your prerogative. I will have nothing to do with it.”
Q: Guru and grace are synonymous. Is it not guru’s grace that helps liberation?
Atmananda – Remembrance is important. We forget the grace aspect of life when mind marries negativity and pessimism. That leads to disillusionment and depression. Therefore, we have stories of masters and avatars in literature. We call them “good history” or “good stories”. If we forget the good things a guru has given you and remember only the imaginary bad things which pessimistic minds churn out from illusions, usually based on concepts and prejudices, the negative aspect of it, like poison, spreads through our “bloodstream” (system) and will waste many lifetimes. Grace flows when surrender happens. When grace stops, negative feelings envelop mind. Like a person looking through yellow glass sees everything as yellow, man sees only negative things around him. Mind will convert everything positive into negative. Guru and grace leave such minds.
Atmananda got up. Everyone got up too. Bowing down to his audience with full reverence, he walked away without looking back.
P.S. Atmananda Chaitanya is an imaginary character. It has nothing to do with anyone living or dead.