Chapter 8: The Nature and Relevance of Calmness
The other day an Indian cricketer who created a new world record for taking the largest number of wickets in international test matches, when asked about the reasons for his success, significantly observed that one of the main reasons was his having always remained calm and collected on the playground, whatever be the provocations.
In our everyday life of the world too, we are aware that physicians, psychologists, therapists, management experts and others usually advise us to remain calm and collected, for it is the best safeguard against high blood pressure, tensions, headaches, etc., and also necessary for taking sound decisions, for competent planning and for efficient execution of difficult and complicated plans and projects.
On the spiritual path also, or if one may say for “players” on the spiritual field, stress has been laid on the need to cultivate the virtue of calm collectedness. And often the advice begins by referring to simple things related to everyday life. It is thus interesting to note that Annie Besant advised the aspirants for spiritual progress against overwork since it too often leads to loss of calmness in the nerves and the mind. She added that overwork, which is not uncommon among the young and enthusiastic, shows lack of wisdom for to overstrain ourselves today so that we shall be useless tomorrow is not being wise, as we spoil our power for future work in order to gratify today’s unbalanced enthusiasm. Of course, this did not apply, she said, to occasional emergencies that may arise in which prudence must be cast aside to ensure that an urgent piece of work is completed in time. But things should be so planned with foresight that such situations do not arise frequently. Now, what is overwork for one may not be overwork for another and each has to judge for oneself, not letting this judgement to become an excuse or pretext, often unconscious, for laziness, lassitude or lethargy. There is also a difference between overwork and hard work, and one on the spiritual path is expected to work hard, as the road winds “uphill all the way up to the very end”.
Moving on to our interior attitudes, our reactions to happenings, situations and things that come from outside, guidance given by the wise ones again begins by referring to simple every day occurrences and the need to remain watchful and calm. For instance, common things like the state of weather, high or low temperature on particular days and the humidity in the air, can affect one’s attitude of calm collectedness if one is not careful.
At a different level, one may not always agree with what one’s wife, husband or child does or says. So also with regard to those we have to work with in the office or elsewhere. Differences of opinion and approach to work situations are bound to arise, for no two human beings are identical.
There are sometimes “difficult” children and “difficult” colleagues. Even in a purely physical sense, does it help to lose one’s calm? A teacher once said that if somebody calls you a fool and you immediately fly into a temper, it only means that there is some truth in what he said. Thomas a Kempis therefore advised, “Let not thy peace be in the tongues of men’ for whether they interpret well or ill of thou, thou are not therefore another man”. Is it not therefore better to let criticism and praise blow over one’s head? Is it not better to remain open-minded, prepared to listen, to discuss and, in the long run, to extend to others the freedom to think, believe, say and do things the way they like, just as we want freedom for ourselves?
Turning now to a more basic reason which hinders our remaining calm and collected and disturbs that state, if we happen to be in it, is desire—desire for things outside which appear attractive. Desire, the teachers have stressed arises out of ignorance—ignorance of the true nature of ourselves, of the objects desired and their right relation to us. Rising above desires is a most difficult thing, but watching their movement and the changing, ephemeral and unreal nature of things desired helps. There is a poem by Robert Frost titled “Nothing Gold Can Stay”, in which he meaningfully observes:
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold,
Her early leaf’s a flower,
But only so an hour,
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day,
Nothing gold can stay.
As a sage once put it, the test of reality is eternal persistence or changeless continuity. There cannot be a beginning or end to that which is real; that reality and truth mean the same thing, for literally the work satya or truth means that which is ever.
Nonetheless, desire does have a place in human evolution or growth up to a stage, but not later. Unfortunately, the momentum gathered over long periods of lives continues—more or less. It would, therefore, be a pretense for most people to say that they have no desire, not even those who are traveling on the spiritual path. But what can happen, and should happen, even though gradually, is a deepening of one’s understanding, and, as a consequence, a diminishing attraction for things which are irrelevant or unnecessary for life. J. Krishnamurti once put the core element of spiritual endeavor in this context in his urging us to give our mind, our heart, our nerves, our eyes, our whole being to see what actually is and go beyond it;
it is then that “the other comes into being.” This is what is referred to by him as “consciousness without content” which, for that reason, is always calm and collected. Yoga Vasishtha explains: As the sky is not made wet by the showers from the clouds existing within it, so also the multiplicity of the world-processes does not affect the Absolute Consciousness.
Calm collectedness in its fullness represents a state in which all the sense, including the mind, are in total harmony with the dweller within, functioning in unison and in accord with the will and command of that dweller. The senses do not therefore run hither and thither chasing what looks alluring, each according to its own impulse, unmindful and often even at the cost of the other and the body as a whole. A perfect state of calm collectedness is indicated in the Bhagavadgita thus:
Mentally renouncing all actions, the sovereign dweller in the body resteth serenely in the nine-gated city, neither acting nor causing to act.
It needs to be added here that such a state of calm collectedness does not mean negation of life’s energy and action flowing therefrom. It only implies stopping the wastage of pure energy through leaks of cravings and waves of passion. That energy now gets gathered up for work of a finer, nobler type—which is compassionate action with no or little of the self in it. If there remains in such a state an element of desire, if desire it can be called, it is a desire to work in union with or according to the Divine Will. It is an “inner dynamism” which is calm, selfless and therefore full of power. It may express itself in loving action on the inner planes of thought and intuition. It may also take the shape of concrete action on the physical plane. But, just as water flows on naturally towards the lower levels of a field, so does the energy flow spontaneously to help all who live and suffer in darkness and ignorance.
Buddha and Christ are known for their boundless love and compassion for all. And yet they were embodiments of equanimity. Even the imperfect pictures and statues of them do not fail to reflect a deep calm and peach in their eyes. George Grimm in The Doctrine of the Buddha elucidates the nature of such love thus:
When we speak of love, even of the purest love, we connect with it inseparably the conception of something due to feelings and affections. In other words, we
always think of inclination towards some or all men, or towards beings in general…But everything that is inclination or feeling is nothing more than a stirring of thirst, perhaps of thirst in its most noble form, but nevertheless of thirst…Love is something free from every kind of inclination. But what remains if everything of the nature of inclination is separated from love? Kindness remains, pure kindness. Kindness is love purified by insight from the dross of passion.