Seeing From the Perspective of the Self
By Eknath Easwaran
By Eknath Easwaran
Still your mind in me, still yourself in me,
and without doubt you will be united with
me, Lord of Love, dwelling in your heart.
(Bhagavad Gita, 12:8)
“Still yourself in me.” The word used here is buddhi: the intellect, discrimination. Not only the mind, but the intellect too has to rest completely in the Lord. Otherwise there is still the possibility of turmoil. This doesn’t mean that the intellect should be put to sleep forever. But to function well, it needs to rest securely under the direction of the Self. Its job is to make discriminating judgments: “What are the implications of this particular action? What will follow if I do this or do not do that?” To do this, it needs an overriding goal against which to compare and evaluate. Without a goal, on its own, it is liable to stay in its own little closet splitting hairs while the mind makes all the decisions, mostly on the basis of “I like this” and “I don’t like that.” So “still your intellect in me” means to look at life not from the narrow perspective of the ego, but from the perspective of the Atman. In practical terms, don’t judge things only by your own interests; look at the needs of the whole.
People sometimes ask me, “How can we know what the perspective of the Atman is? Let alone identify with it, we don’t even know where to look.” It’s a fair question: after all, most of us seldom look at life from any perspective other than our own. Here there are a number of questions you can ask. For one, whenever you are about to do something – or are already in the middle of doing something – that you like very much or that is getting your mind all excited, ask yourself, “Whom will this really benefit?” You may get some rather partial testimony from the ego: it’s all for the other person’s benefit in the long run, simply a coincidence that it’s what you really want too, and so on. But that is the purpose of the intellect, to be a good judge – listen very carefully, ask penetrating and embarrassing questions, and finally render a sternly worded judgment: “This doesn’t benefit anybody, not even yourself.”
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t care about your own personal benefit. But don’t go exclusively after your personal benefit. Keep the needs of the whole in view; then your own needs are included automatically. When you can do this always, continuously, you won’t even have to think about personal needs; they are taken for granted in the overall picture.
Second, take a long view of everything. The ego is short-sighted. It can’t see past the end of its nose, because it is all caught up in what it can get for itself right now. But the Atman is detached, which means that it can look far down the chain of cause and effect to see the long-term result of every action – not only the result on the doer, but on others too.
Once we get past our early twenties, for example, I think most of us will have burned our fingers enough to draw the conclusion that if we see a flame, we can be reasonably certain that it will burn. Especially where pleasure is concerned, it can be very helpful to ask simply: “What does this promise and what has it actually delivered, to the best of my knowledge?” You can make a ledger and draw your own balance: “One German chocolate cake. Promise: gourmet ecstasy. Delivered: fifteen minutes of sweetness, stomachache, surrealistic dreams, and two pounds of extra weight.” It can help, even with a powerful desire like sex. But it’s not enough simply to analyze on the surface. You have to look deep within yourself and take a long view to see the total picture: what it promised and what it actually gave, not simply the next day but two years, ten years later.
Third, remember the injunction of the previous verse: Matparah, “Make me your only goal.” Everything can be referred to that. “Will this deepen my meditation, improve my concentration, make my mind more even, make me less self-centered?” If it will, I will do it; if it won’t, I will not. “Will this divide my attention, isolate me from others, make me more speeded up, activate an old memory or desire?” If it will, I won’t do it, no matter how pleasant or how innocent it may seem. Keep the words of the Katha Upanishad always in mind: “What is pleasant is one thing; what is wise is another. The first leads to sorrow, though pleasant at the time. The latter, though at first unpleasant, leads to lasting joy.”
Then, more subtly, don’t allow yourself to be caught in anything. The moment you get caught in a particular activity, detachment goes. Worse, you are that much more cut off from the whole. One small part of life becomes blown up out of proportion, and all the rest shrinks into the background without your even realizing it. It is not possible to see this clearly without an overriding goal, but when you have such a goal, you can measure all your priorities against it.
Look, for example, at the question of physical fitness. Currently everyone seems to be running – not just jogging, but running for several miles every day. Not long ago there was a cross-city competition announced in San Francisco, a distance of some seven and a half miles, and almost fourteen thousand people showed up to take part. Now, I am all for physical fitness; who isn’t? It is important for everyone, and it is especially important for those who are meditating seriously. But after all is said and done, running can be only a part of the spiritual life. If this is forgotten, there is the danger of filling your life with running – at the expense of meditation.
Let me make myself clear: I am all for running. But I would apply the same criterion to it as to every other human endeavor: “How much does this help me to realize the goal of life?” That is the measure of its value and the index of its priority.
“Still yourself in me.” Next to the entrance to a bridge in San Francisco there used to be a sign with a short message from an Indian mystic of this century, Meher Baba: “Do your best. Don’t worry. Be happy.” I suppose many of the businessmen crossing that bridge at rush hour thought Meher Baba was playing Pollyanna. He was not; he was being supremely practical. Worry is usually no more than self-will in one of its more subtle disguises: everything is either “Am I up to this?” or “Is so-and-so going to manage to do this the way I want?” When you really are doing your best – in your meditation, in the other spiritual disciplines, at work, at home – there is no attention left over for worrying. Then you are beginning to rest yourself in the Lord, the Atman, at the very core of your being.
All this can be effectively practiced in personal relationships, which is the central theme of this chapter. Wherever there is agitation in a relationship – vacillation, estrangement, doubt, reservation – the capacity to love is divided; love is not yet complete. “How much did you do for me today? How much did you put into the emotional till? Six cents? I’m going to count. If it is six cents, I’ll give you six cents back. But if it’s five, I’m not going to give you more than five.” This is what we are accustomed to call love, even in some of the great romantic affairs of literature and history. But the mystics say, “That’s not love; that’s a commercial contract.” It divides two people, and it divides consciousness. If you want to love, all these reservations have to go.
When your mind is still always – twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, not only in waking life, but even in your dreams – then, says Sri Krishna, “You will live in me continuously, absorbed in me, beyond any shadow of a doubt.” It is a state that is almost impossible to describe in words, but there are certain signs. For one, your awareness of the Lord will be unbroken. In a sense you will be meditating wherever you go, even if you are at your office or caught in the downtown shopping. Brother Lawrence’s words are perfect:
The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.
To put it another way, the well of your love will be always full and always flowing. It will be natural for you to love; it will be impossible for you not to love. You won’t have to stop to think about how to respond to others. You will respond naturally, spontaneously, however is most appropriate for that person’s long-term welfare. And in your personal relationships there will be no conflict, no doubts, no reservations, no irritation. You will not need to prompt or force your love, and you will need no reason for loving or trusting or forgiving. As St. Bernard says, love is its own reason: “Love seeks no cause beyond itself and no fruit; it is its own fruit, its own enjoyment. I love because I love; I love in order that I may love.”
This excerpt from The Bhagavad Gita for Daily Living, Volume 2, is featured in the Spring/Summer 2023 Blue Mountain Journal.