Building a Sattvic Character: Sringeri Jagadguru’s Advice
Maharishi Gautama has spoken of eight Atma Gunas (personal qualities) that everyone should cultivate. They help a man enjoy peace and happiness and give rise to virtue. So their benefits are not confined to the present life. If people cultivate these qualities, the world will become a happier place.
1 Compassion Towards All Beings
The first such quality is "Compassion towards all beings." On account of His compassion and desire to uplift mankind God has taken many incarnations. God himself has thus shown us the way. When we have the capacity to help others, it is proper that we should also do so. The desire to relieve others of their sufferings is compassion. It occurs naturally in some persons while in some others it arises on account of the company of great ones who are very compassionate. While listing the traits in devotees that render them dear to God, in Bhagavat Gita, Krishna first mentions friendliness and compassion and absence of hatred.
In the Yoga Sutras also, compassion towards one who is suffering is enjoined to get peace of mind. Aversion, pride and the like agitate the mind. Suppose one cultivates the feeling, "I never want to be unhappy. The same is the case with others. Their suffering is on the same footing as mine. So, let none have misery." Then aversion and pride will subside and the mind will become calm. Development of compassion acts as a remedy for anger, too, and it is well-known that anger severely perturbs the mind.
The second quality is "forbearance". Normally, when one hears unpleasant news or encounters an unfavourable situation created by another, one feels angry and seeks vengeance. If one is strong enough, one directly retaliates. If not, one seeks to avenge oneself on the sly. Such behaviour does not make one noble. Though one could take action against another, he must forgive the wrong-doer without harbouring malice. Ramayana says, "Rama does not, by virtue of his self-control, recall even a single piece of wrong acts committed against him by another. On the other hand, he is happy even with a single favour done to him."
An angry person loses his mental peace. Suppose somebody is slighted by another. If he becomes angry, who is the loser? Anger is an ungrateful creature. It burns the person who gives room to it. Instead of getting angry, the slighted person could analyse whether any actual short-coming of his had been pointed out. If so, he could correct his fault and be grateful to the person who pointed it out. On the other hand, the criticism may have no basis. If so, this man could think, "It is said that making others happy is a form of worship of God. So, if this man derives joy by condemning me, then I am lucky. After all, without taking any effort, I am able to worship God by giving him some happiness. This man has done me a great favour."
3 Not Cavilling
The third quality is, "Not cavilling." Generally people who are not dexterous or successful find faults with others who are competent, prosperous or famous. The censure is basically to hide one’s shortcomings. This is a bad practice, for we should appreciate good qualities in others and not assume or search for faults. In the Gita, Krishna declares his willingness to expound the Truth to Arjuna, who does not cavil. Sankara has said in his Prabodha Sudhakara, that a person who hears about the condemnation of another incurs sin. What needs be said about the sin incurred by a man who actually engages in nit-picking?
Suppose a man cultivates an attitude of friendliness towards happy people. Then he derives happiness from their success. For instance, a father is happy over the success of his son. Similarly, why will not a man feel happy if he regards another in a friendly light? It is said, “The petty minded think, ‘This one is my own. that one is not’. For the broad-minded, the whole world is one family."
How can the prosperity of another agitate the mind of a person who looks upon everyone as a member of his dear family? In fact, such an attitude leads to peace of mind by eliminating jealousy that disrupts mental tranquillity.
The fourth quality is "Purity". If we were to encounter a person who wears filthy clothes and who has not bathed for many days, his obnoxious smell repels us. On the other hand, the stinking one is hardly aware of anything abnormal. Likewise, some are in the habit of spitting in public places. Such practices are not only repulsive, but unhygienic, too. Hence, one must bathe daily and observe hygiene. Cleanliness is an important ingredient of purity.
5 Freedom from Laziness
The fifth essential quality is, "Freedom from laziness." Many persons give excuses for not being in a position to carry out their tasks. No employer would be pleased with an indolent worker. A student who postpones studying fares badly in his examinations. When a person sincerely engages himself in the prompt performance of his duties, his mind gets far less opportunity to engage itself in idle or harmful thoughts. Thus, it is in everyone’s interest to eschew laziness and cultivate zeal.
The sixth noble quality is, "Auspiciousness". When we meet some, we note that their words as also facial expressions are not pleasing. Such should not be the case. We should speak and conduct ourselves in a manner which is pleasant. For instance, when we meet an elderly or important person, we should politely offer a seat.
Manu has said, "Speak the truth. Utter that which is pleasant. Do not verbalise a distressing truth. Do not say anything that is gratifying but false. This is the eternal Dharma." The Lord taught Arjuna, "Speech that is true, causes no pain, is agreeable and beneficial, and the practice of studying the scriptures constitute austerity of speech."
7 Absence of Niggardliness
The seventh ordained quality is, "Absence of niggardliness." The tendency to hoard and not part with anything in charity is the result of greed. Krishna has spoken of desire, anger and greed as the triple gates of hell. Hoarding will never benefit us and when we die, we cannot take our wealth with us. Neelakanta Deekshitar humorously advised, "If you are keen that even after death you should not part with your wealth and that you should carry it with you in a bundle on your head, then give it to the deserving."
The scriptures prescribe donation to the deserving as an antidote for greed. So, charity, apart from making others happy, is conducive to the spiritual well-being of the donor. A person who loses some money feels unhappy. But he feels happy, not sad, when he voluntarily gives the same amount to a poor student who is not in a position to pay examination fees. Charity can thus make not only the receiver, but also the donor happy.
A person was advised by a holy man to gift a vegetable a day and that he would attain great merit by doing so. The poor man strictly followed the advice. After death, he was reborn in a royal family and grew up to become a king. He was able to recall what he had done in his past birth. So, he continued to gift one vegetable a day. Surprisingly, after death, he was reborn as a beggar. The man was unable to comprehend the reason and so sought the advice of the holy man who had earlier blessed him. From the sage, he learnt that prior to becoming a king he had been very poor and so a gift of a vegetable a day was sufficient to give him a lot of virtue. On the other hand, as a king he was endowed with affluence. So, thereafter, the gift of just a vegetable a day was quite insufficient to earn him merit of any consequence. The person realised that the extent of charity needed to earn a certain degree of merit depends upon one’s financial status.
8 Absence of Attachment
The last of the eight qualities is, "Absence of attachment". Most of our problems are due to our worldly desires. It is said in the Panchadasi, "He who is attached gets tied down in the world. The unattached one experiences joy. Therefore, attachment should always be discarded by one who desires to be happy." It is perfectly possible to work efficiently and to fulfil all duties without attachment. In fact, attachment impairs efficient functioning. Commonly, surgeons do not perform surgeries on their close relatives. If there was no risk of attachment clouding or impairing performance such would not have been the case.
[This article appeared in a recent issue of Tattvaloka and reprinted with their permission. Tattvaloka, or the Splendour of Truth, is an international monthly publication on behalf of the Dakshnamnaya Sri Sharada Peetham, Sringeri, that highlights our ancient heritage and its contemporary relevance.
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