Chapter 18: Timeless Wisdom for
As a youth, you are the architect of your own destiny. What you are
today is in part the result of what you have been thinking and doing in the
past. What you think and do today will determine your tomorrow. The following
guidelines from ancient wisdom will inspire you to live a purposeful life.
Purpose of Human Life
The purpose of human life is to unfold one's inner potential. You are neither
a body-mind apparatus nor a limited individual. You are in reality ătman
living in a physical body. The body and mind are simply the media to manifest
your inner potential in this lifetime. Your limitations are the limitations of
the body and not of the ătman. The mind, being the reflection of the ătman,
possesses tremendous power, which must be developed and manifested. Mahatma
Gandhi is an example of what a person with even a weak physical body but a
strong mind can achieve in one lifetime.
Always remember that a life without goals is akin to a journey without
destination. The four ends (i.e. general goals) of human life are to develop
virtue (dharma), acquire wealth (artha), fulfill desires (kama)
and attain spiritual perfection (moksha). Therefore, acquiring diploma(s),
becoming married, having children and supporting them through college, growing
old, and dying are not really the goals; these are merely a few toll-booths on
the highway of human life. You must establish specific goals to unfold your own
The head, heart and hands are the three important tools needed to accomplish
one's goals. These tools must be perfected during youthful years and properly
coordinated later in adult life to achieve success. To sharpen the head, you
must acquire education in arts and sciences and learn necessary technical skills
to help you make a decent living in this world. As part of the overall
education, you must learn the spiritual principles of life, read scriptures and
study the lives of sages, saints, and great men and women of the world. To
kindle the lamp of your heart, you need to develop qualities such as love,
non-violence, kindness, and compassion. To strengthen hands, you must maintain a
healthy body. Proper diet and regular exercises such as simple Hatha Yoga
and Pranayama exercises can be used to permanently maintain the physical
body in a healthy state. 30
Build Your Character
"What the world today needs is character," says Vivekănanda. A man
without character is like a wild bull let loose in a cornfield. Every fool may
become a hero at one time or another, but the people of good character are
heroes all the time. Establishing good character means acquiring established
wisdom (pratishthita prajna). Nothing great can be achieved in life
without a good character.
The character of an individual is the aggregate of his mental tendencies. If
good tendencies prevail, the character becomes good and if evil tendencies
prevail, the character becomes evil. When an individual performs good work and
continuously thinks virtuous thoughts, there is an irresistible force in him to
be good and to do good. One's good character is said to be established when one
is under complete control of his good tendencies.
We live by our habits and habit is the "second nature" of man.
One's character is essentially a pattern of repeated habits. Therefore, develop
good habits. Be aware of your habits at all times and counteract bad habits with
better ones. Value time and be punctual. Never think, "It does not matter
if I arrive on time when everyone else comes half-an-hour late." It does
matter, since you are the one who can set an example for everyone else. As they
say, "two wrongs don't make a right."
Time management is a critical factor for success in today's world. Since you
cannot do everything that crosses your mind, prioritize your work. Develop the
habit of using things-to-do lists to help you perform the daily chores around
the house and at the work-place or wherever you may be.
Develop an Integrated Personality
To be successful in life, you must develop a well-balanced personality. Yoga,
devotion, knowledge and action are the four components of an integrated
personality. These are akin to the four wheels of an automobile. If one wheel
loses air, the automobile cannot be driven too far with only three wheels in
operation. A man with great intellect but no feelings cannot do much good to the
world. Likewise, a man of great devotion but no action is not useful either. An
ideal man would be the one who has the intellect of Shankara, the heart of
Buddha, and the body of Arjuna.
Apply the Power of Positive Thinking
God has given us not only the mind and ability to think, but also the choice
to create from our thoughts. Thought is the power of the mind that manifests in
the things we create. For example, a beautiful statue is not the work of a
hammer and chisel, but of the sculptor's thought. The hammer and chisel are the
tools that merely remove the excess material so that the sculptor's ideas can be
Sages tell us that the mind is so powerful that if we think of a particular
disease all the time, that disease will appear in the body. Similarly if we
think of success all the time, then success will be achieved. Remember that
constructive thoughts create our goals and destructive thoughts destroy them.
Whatever you harbor in the inner-most chamber of your heart will shape itself
sooner or later in the outward life. Since the state of doing comes from
thinking, fill the mind with the highest ideals and divine thoughts.
To inspire the mind with divine thoughts anytime and anywhere, imagine
yourself soaring high in the sky like a bird and sing the following song
mentally or loudly (as birds sing, without caring who listens or what the
No birth, no death, no caste, Have I;
limitations have I none.
I am He, I am He, blessed spirit I am He. Freedom I don't care, bondage I
I am free, ever free, I am He, I am He.
I am He, I am He, blessed spirit I am He.
According to sages, regular divine affirmations eliminate physical and mental
restlessness, worries and anger, and provide inner strength to face the
challenges of life. The following affirmations have been recommended by
Paramahansa Yogănanda for daily use. Deep and persistent repetition of these
affirmations will help you to express the power of positive thinking to overcome
physical, mental and spiritual obstacles.
"God's perfect health permeates the dark nooks of my bodily sickness.
In all my cells His healing light is shining. They are entirely well, for His
perfection is in them." 24
"I possess the creative power of Spirit. The infinite intelligence
will guide me and solve every problem." 24
Have Faith in Yourself
One of the most important prerequisites for success is to have faith in
oneself. If you don't have faith in your own self, you are essentially denying
expression to the soul-power that is hidden within you. "Not believing in
the glory of our own soul is what Vedanta calls atheism....The old religion said
that he was an atheist who did not believe in God. The new religion says that he
is an atheist who does not believe in himself," declares Swămî Vivekănanda.
Whatever you think is what you are. If you think you are weak and helpless,
that is exactly what you are. If you think yourself to be strong, strong you
are. No good can possibly come out of a person who thinks himself to be
helpless, incompetent or incapable.
The history of the world is the history of a few men and women who had faith
in themselves. We cannot blame the sun for not giving us light if we choose to
shut the doors and windows in a room and live in darkness. Faith in yourself and
faith (shraddhă) in God is the secret of success, happiness, and
greatness in this world.
Be Moderate in Thoughts and Actions
If you want to live a harmonious life, you must learn to be moderate in
whatever you do. Extremism of any kind is dangerous to the body, mind and soul.
The Bhagavad Gîtă declares (BG 6.16-17):
"[success in] Yoga is not for one who eats too much or eats too little,
nor for one who sleeps too much or sleeps too little. To one who is moderate in
eating, in recreation, in his efforts in work, and sleep and wakefulness, yoga
is the destroyer of miseries."
Eat Foods that Revitalize the Mind
In Hindu view, the mind is a material entity and attains intelligence by its
proximity with ătman. Being material, the mind consists of a substance which is
the essence of the food consumed. According to the Chăndogya Upanishad 6.5.1,
the food, when eaten, becomes divided into three parts.12 The
grossest portion of the food consumed is eliminated as waste matter by the
organism. The middle portion is transformed into bodily structure, and the
subtlest portion serves to build up the mind. "We are what we eat," is
the common adage. "Our food and eating habits determine in no small measure
our environs and general outlook on life," says Dr. Rajendra Prasad, first
president of India. "A man who wants to control his passions does so easily
if he controls his palate," says Mahatma Gandhi.
According to the Bhagavad Gîtă 17.7-10, foods are of three kinds, săttvic,
răjasic, and tămasic. Săttvic foods are sweet, soft and nouri-shing. They
promote life, vitality, strength, health, joy, cheerfulness, and render the mind
calm and thoughtful. The săttvic foods include whole grains, fresh fruits and
vegetables, milk, and milk products. Răjasic foods are bitter, sour, saltish,
hot, pungent, and very spicy. They produce pain, grief, disease and make the
mind restless, unsteady and uncontrollable. The răjasic foods include fish and
chicken, spices, tea, coffee, soft drinks, beer and wine. The tămasic foods are
those which are stale, putrid, impure, require lot of energy to digest, and are
made of the lifeless matter. They fill the mind with anger, inertia and
dullness. The tămasic foods include red meat (such as beef and veal), deep
fried foods, and hard liquor.
Honor Parents, Teachers and Elders
According to Hindu scriptures, God loves, nourishes and cares for you through
your parents. He provides knowledge to you through your teachers. He sends
blessings to you through elders. In Hindu culture, the elders will always bless
you when you approach them. Sometimes they even put their hands on your head as
a gesture of blessing (refer to Chapter 10 for a discussion of the Hindu
reverence for elders). Worshipping God without first revering one's parents,
teachers and elders is impossible, the sages explain. The Taittiriya Upanishad
1.11 thus declares:
|"Matri devo bhava."
||"Let your mother be God."
|"Pitri devo bhava."
||"Let your father be God."
|"Ăchărya devo bhava."
||"Let your teacher be God."
Be Respectful of Others
You cannot succeed in life if you don't have good relationships with others
around you. Respect is the basis for all human relationships. One of the reasons
that the world is in turmoil today is that the sense of respect for one another,
for authority, for parents, teachers and others is missing among individuals,
families and nations. Everyone seems to do what he (or she) thinks will best
serve his interest without giving much thought to how his conduct may affect
You must be respectful of others, since respect brings out the best in our
relationships with others. Being casual and informal is alright, but you must
never step down to the level of overfamiliarity. Familiarity breeds contempt and
becoming too familiar is the death of respect.
In English there is only one word "you" to address a person. In
many other languages there are two words, one for addressing with respect and
the other for addressing with familiarity. In Hindi, we use the word "ăp,"
to express respect and "tum" to express familiarity. Thus being
disrespectful to a person is impossible when you address him as "ăp."
This point may not be appreciated by people who speak only English. Flexibility
in language does help to reinforce the awareness of respect and thoughtfulness
Tradition says that in a person's accomplishments and growth, only parents
and teachers are more delighted than the person himself. Regarding respect for
guru (teacher), Kabir, a mystic poet of India, once remarked, "When God and
guru are both standing at the same place, to whom should I pay my respect first?
To the guru, who introduced me to God."
Sexual Freedom is an Illusion
In modern societies uncontrolled sex is called sexual freedom and is
considered a splendid trait of the modern civilization. Sages tell us that sex
is a sacred activity and must be practiced only in marriage. For this reason,
Hindu scriptures hold marriage as a sacrament, and marriage is performed as a
religious function in Hindu culture. Hindu culture demands strict celibacy (Brahmachărya)
before marriage and strict loyalty to the spouse in marriage. Sex outside one's
marriage is degrading physically, psychologically, morally and spiritually, and
is the source of many social ills, such as teenage pregnancy, abused and
neglected children, children with single parents, and children with no parents.
Drugs Destroy the Body and Mind
Drugs do not solve any of our problems or eliminate our worries. They simply
alter our consciousness so that we experience temporary relief from the worries
or stresses associated with the problems of daily life. At the same time, drugs
destroy our bodies and minds and prevent us from leading a normal life. Using
drugs to escape from the problems of daily life is akin to choosing to die for a
couple of days so that worries cannot touch us as long as we remain dead.
No drug can give long lasting physical and mental relaxation that one can
derive from japa (repetition of a mantra or any Divine name),
meditation, yoga exercises, satsangh (association with pure and holy
persons) and prayers. Do not destroy the mind with drugs-"The human mind is
a terrible thing to waste."
Learn to Pray
Prayer is a very powerful tool available to man to purify the mind and gain
spiritual strength. Prayer is the foundation of success. Science has not yet
recognized the power of prayer. The current attitude of science towards prayer
is somewhat the same as Galileo had towards Johannes Kepler's views on gravity.
"Galileo condemned Kepler's views as the 'ravings of a madman' when the
latter proposed that invisible forces from the moon, acting across gigantic
distances, were causing the earth's tides." 27
In the most carefully controlled scientific study ever performed on the
effects of prayer on healing, cardiologist Randolph Byrd, formerly a University
of California professor, showed that prayer is a powerful force in healing and
that sometimes it can make the difference between life and death for the sick
The sages tell us that for a prayer to be effective, faith in the Divine,
concentration of the mind, and positive thinking are necessary prerequisites
before, during and after the prayer. If one prays for success and at the same
time holds thoughts of failure within, the prayer will not be answered. Sages
tell us that the mind is the transmitter of prayers. Thus, a prayer transmitted
by a restless mind is akin to broadcasting over a broken transmitter. To receive
God's answer to our prayers, sages provide the following instructions for
- Meditate before praying to calm restless thoughts. Keep the body still
throughout meditation. "Be still and know you are God."
- According to yogic literature, the nerve center between the eye-brows (ajna
chakra) is the transmitter of prayer and the heart is the receiver of
God's answer to the prayer. If a prayer is properly transmitted, God's
answer appears in the form of subtle feeling(s) arising in the heart
following the prayer.
- To pray, focus attention at the center between the eyebrows and say the
prayer mentally with the deepest devotion of your heart. Repeat the prayer
until it becomes one with your consciousness.
- Always pray to God as His child, who demands the rightful share of all
God's bounties. Never pray to God as a beggar.
- Only genuine prayers are fulfilled. "If you pray five hours daily
that you might become a Henry Ford, that prayer will not be granted,"
explains Paramahansa Yogănanda. 23
Meditation provides the ability to silence the mind and experience the inner
self. Meditation restores natural power to the mind just as charging restores
power to a worn out battery. Meditation destroys worries, fear, and stress that
people experience in the "cut-throat" competitive environment of
modern societies. When the mind becomes quiet, the body becomes quiet too and
knows how to repair itself. The following simple technique may be used to
- Sit in a cross-legged pose on the floor or on a chair with feet flat on
the ground. Keep the spine straight and fully relax the body and mind. Your
overall feeling should be as if you are sitting on the beach of a calm
ocean, on a starry cool night of the summer. Close the eyes and gently focus
attention at the center
between the eyebrows (ajna chakra).
- Breathe normally (don't force breathing in any way) and say mentally Ră
(ă as in father) while inhaling and Mă (ă as in father) while
exhaling. Practice this meditation technique 20 to 30 minutes twice daily,
in the mornings and evenings, before meals.
- At the end of the meditation, with the eyes closed and attention focused
at the center between the eyebrows, say the following prayer, as recommended
by Paramahansa Yogănanda:
"I will reason, I will create, I will do everything I set my mind to do,
but Oh Lord, guide my creative abilities to do the right thing that I should