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The Integrated Life According to the Brahma Sutra

Sri Swami Krishnandaji

One aphorism in the Brahma Sutras is very intriguing, which no commentator has explained properly. This sutra is based on the following concluding passage in the Chandogya Upanishad: "One who has studied the Vedas from the teacher according to rule, in the time left over from doing service to the teacher, he, who after having come back, settles down in a home, continues the study in more detail, who concentrates all his senses in the Self, who practises non-hatred to all creatures, he who behaves thus throughout his life, reaches the world of the Creator," "Kritsnabhavat-tu grihinopasamharah" (III.4.48) is the sutra used to explain the life of a householder.

The meaning of the sutra is that the life of a householder is integral. Unfortunately, all the commentators on the Brahma Sutras are sannyasins (renunciate). No sannyasin will accept that a householder is leading an integral life. They will say sannyasa is higher. They write only two lines according to the Upanishads-the householder's life is considered integral, and pass on. In ancient days it was believed that a person would live for a hundred years, and that there are four gradational achievements for the development of the person.

In the beginning it is conservation of energy, which is called brahmacharya. The study of holy scriptures, service to the guru and maintaining self-control are the duties at this stage. Ancient brahmacharins were great and powerful persons; if they uttered a word, it would immediately materialise. Brahmacharins are feared, one cannot irritate or play jokes with them. They are a magazine of energy.

After that one enters married life and fulfils the duties of a householder. The duties of a householder are interesting to note. It is not attachment to family; that would be far away from the truth. In Indian culture, attachment is never allowed. Duty is emphasised as the very purpose of life. The fulfillment of the means of personal and social relationship is the duty of a householder. In the stage of brahmacharya, he is concerned only with himself. However, it is not possible to be living only by oneself, because there is society also. There are impulses of self-restraint and also impulses of social relation. There are impulses of acquiring wealth, there are impulses of seeing beauty, and there are impulses of being charitable to people. This is why the sutra says the householder's life is integral. He is a highly respected person, not because he has a family, but because he is engaged in doing his duty. The integral life is a life of non-attachment on one side and freedom from hatred on the other side. It is difficult to find such a person nowadays.

When the social relationships are well fed and taken care of and the needs of living a family life have also matured systematically, the householder retires. Retirement means the freedom from the necessity to have any social relations. Up to this level, people were individuals. Brahmacharis are individuals of one kind, the householder is an individual of another kind. But now, there is a concept of the super-individual, who dedicates himself to unite his mind with universal relations. This stage has nothing to do with any kind of dress or gesture. One must be careful and impartial in thinking, be highly dispassionate and true to one's conscience. There is a grandeur in universal relations. All that the brahmachari did in his individual capacity, all that the householder did in his social capacity are transcended in the super-mental operation in terms of universal relations. That is vanaprastha, a stage staggering to thought.

Then comes sannyasa. A sannyasin does not just mean a person who is wearing ochre cloth, which is again a social restriction, a social distinction. A person whose mind is centred in the Universal Absolute, that person is more than a super-individual, he is a cosmic individual, known as jivanmukta. Sannyasins are respected as God Himself, not because they have a shaven head and have put on the cloth, but because their minds are centred in the Absolute Being.

Here is the commentary for this intriguing sutra, difficult to understand. Even an understanding of the Brahma Sutras will purify the mind. We are not what we are thinking ourselves to be. We belong to another kingdom of eternal values.

Truly understood, the ideal householder's life is almost a miracle. He conserves energy like the brahmachari in a more widened way. The self-restraint of the brahmachari is personal and individual. The householder's self-restraint is more difficult because he has to maintain self-restraint personally and in family relations and the wider human society by restrained behaviour of non-attachment coupled simultaneously with duty towards everyone in every field. He feeds the brahmacharis and sannyasins and guests with love, even sacrificing his own meal when necessary. He takes care of animals around, does not hurt even ants in the house by leading them out peacefully. He worships God like the sannyasin, reads the holy lore like the brahmachari and is detached from emotional contacts like the vanaprasthi. His life is a continuous sacrifice. Rightly, the Brahma Sutra mentions him especially as the one whose life is perfectly integrated.

The scheme detailed above is a scientific system which frees a person from psychopathic reactions and turbulence of emotion that may result from overdoing things, erroneously asking for double promotion in one's spiritual search, ending in anger, disgust, vengeance, vindictiveness and hatred towards everything. The mentioned scheme avoids these pitfalls and healthily enables one to rise to the level of a veritable God walking on earth. The attempt to overstep the householder's duties and seek the universal aspirations of a sannyasin directly from the brahmacharya stage is, indeed, a highly ambitious and laudable enterprise. But here is also a danger. The universal will reject the entry into itself of any element alien to its nature. It is difficult to believe that the individual sense of the brahmachari can suddenly bloom into the universal longings of the sannyasin. People mostly suffer shipwreck here and turn into arrogant specimens due to conjuring up a false imagination of high achievements, while there are actually none. Great things require a great price in the form of determined meditations.

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