Keys to Successful Living
By Swami Rama
Everyone wants to be successful in life, but where are the keys to success? Do we have to go out and search for those keys, or do we have those potentials already within ourselves? When we begin to examine life, we can see that it is divided into two aspects -- life within and life without; internal life and external life -- and we can see that these aspects are of equal importance. Even if we have renounced the world, gone far away from civilization, and live in the wilderness doing nothing but meditation, we cannot ignore external life. We still have to see that we eat, do our ablutions, and perform our practices on time. So life in the external world is as important as life in the internal world. Even one who has renounced the world has to understand the word "relationship" properly, because life itself is actually relationship. The body is related to the breath, and the breath is related to the mind. The body, breath, senses, and mind all function together as a unit. So life virtually means relationship, and thus the art of living and being requires an understanding of one's relationship to the external world and the relationships within oneself.
All human beings have inner potentials, but many people are not aware of those potentials and do not know how to use them to have a successful life. Those who are not happy internally can never be happy externally; those who are not happy within themselves can never make others happy. Those who do not love themselves can never love others.
If we are not happy, how can we be successful in life? Success lies in our happiness. The keys to happiness lie within us, but our modern education does not teach us how to find them. It is helpful to have a few formulas to practice in daily life to make it more successful. I have not created these formulas; they are derived from observations based on experience. There are five points to remember: first, how to decide things on time; second, how to study personal habit patterns; third, how to conduct ourselves in the external world; fourth, what attitude to take; fifth, where to find happiness. To attain success in life, one should learn and apply these five points.
Deciding Things on Time
The first point to understand is the philosophy and science of decision -- how to make decisions on time. The most successful person is that person who knows how to decide on time. There are many extraordinarily brilliant people who understand things very quickly, but when the time comes to make a decision, when an opportunity comes, they withdraw and are not able to act. They do not know how to decide. They know they should learn to decide on time, but they don't do it. They always say, "Well, I knew it. I understood the key, but I did not act in time." Though they may think correctly, and accurately understand the situation properly, they suddenly lose confidence. This is a world of competition; someone else is always trying to attain the same thing we are. So if we do not decide on time, someone else will attain what we want. Time is valuable in the external world. A tender bamboo can be easily bent, but if we try to bend a mature bamboo, it will break. That which we have to do today, we should not postpone for tomorrow, but we should also not make decisions in haste.
We may have a setback if we make a wrong decision, but our mistakes will teach us. Many people avoid making decisions their whole lives, so their decisive faculty of mind, the faculty of discrimination, becomes rusty and dies. Such people become totally dependent on others. When we study the four functions of the mind -- buddhi, the faculty of decisiveness; ego, the principle of identity; chitta, the storehouse of impressions; and manas, the importer and exporter of sensations and experience -- then we become aware of the power of the will. Will power is that something within us that comes forward and says, "Do this. It will I be helpful for you." Training the internal functions helps us to understand the decisive faculty of the mind, without which we cannot be successful.
We should understand our capacities and potentials, and then we should express ourselves in the external world with full confidence, acting without any reservations. Thus there are three steps in performing an action: first, forming an opinion within ourselves; second, expressing our opinion to others; and third, executing our opinion in action.
Understanding Habit Patterns
The main thing that one should learn in life -- and it is not taught in the home or in the schools -- is self-analysis. We should learn to analyze ourselves. If we really want to understand ourselves, we can analyze our personality by understanding our habit patterns. This is not difficult. We should simply try to be consciously aware of every action we perform and realize that our actions are virtually our thoughts. Without thought there can be no action. Habit patterns and thoughts are revealed through behavior.
There is a branch of psychology called behaviorism that is based on this concept. But one should understand that external behavior alone cannot reveal everything about a person. Laughter, for example, cannot be analyzed behaviorally. If I were to laugh, you might also laugh with me simply because I was laughing but without understanding why I was laughing. Your laughter is out of sheer reaction. Then you might laugh a second time, this time at yourself because you did not understand why you were laughing and yet you laughed. You might also laugh a third time because you finally understand what I was laughing at and you now also find it funny. All three times your laughter might seem the same to others, but each time it had a different motivation. So internal states cannot be understood through behavior analysis alone. Only a small part of oneself and others can be understood through observing behavior. But knowing our habit patterns can help us to analyze and understand our personality.
What is personality? The word "personality" comes from the root persona, which means "mask." Our personality is a mask that we wear. We don't have to wear a mask when we are by ourselves; we wear a mask to express ourselves to others. Our personality is a character, and that character is composed of certain habits. Each of us has numerous habits; so when we want to understand our personality, we should understand our habit patterns. A habit pattern is a conscious thought or action that one repeats again and again. This creates a groove in the unconscious mind and forms an unconscious habit. Unconscious habits are stronger than conscious habits. All habit patterns are self-created. When we sit down and try to understand which of our habits control our life, we see that there are many deep-rooted habits within us. We should learn to study them. Once we become aware of harmful thoughts and emotions that have created deep grooves in the mind, we can begin to change them by creating new grooves. Then the mind will stop flowing to the old grooves and start flowing to the new ones. In this way we can change our habits.
You should also learn to execute your intentions. For instance, many people have very good intentions to do something nice for their neighbors, and they think about it all the time, but then those thoughts are never executed, they are never allowed to become actions. We have many thoughts that have never been executed, and that is why we are miserable. If we learn to select those thoughts that are helpful and then allow ourselves to execute them, that brings fulfillment, and life will be happy. We create misery for ourselves when we do not bring our good thoughts into action. One of the French writers has explained this concept beautifully: "All good thoughts that are not brought into action are either treachery or abortion." Good thoughts are those that help others and that help us also. Bad thoughts are those that obstruct our progress and create barriers for others.
Deep-seated habits can keep you from doing that which you know would be good for you to do. You become helpless because of the obsessions and addictions that are caused by your habits. You may continue in a habit that you know is not good -- that is neither healthy nor helpful and that should not be done -- because the habit has become so deep-rooted that you are powerless to change your behavior. Society does not help you change your bad habits, and there are very few places where you can get help. Many people who are in the penitentiary know that what they have done is a crime, but the force of habit led them to act improperly. Their faculty of discrimination within functions -- they understand what is right and what is not right -- but their deep-seated habits have motivated them to do something that is not good, that is not acceptable. Actually, no one should be considered either a good person or a bad person. In traditional English law, when someone was punished, he was told, "We are not punishing you for yourself. We are punishing you for your bad habits."
Controlling the Primitive Urges
Habit patterns are very strong motivations in life; we should not ignore them. We should not create a defense mechanism and say, "Well, so what if I have this habit?" We should learn to study our habit patterns and work with our habits to change them. There are very few basic habits, and they arise from four fountains: food, sex, sleep, and self-preservation. By understanding these four primitive fountains, we can understand our habit patterns, and then we can learn to change them and to transform the personality.
Food is the first basic urge. If a husband tells his wife, "Don't overeat," she may say, "I overeat because of you. You don't pay attention to me, so I have to overeat." Sometimes when the sexual appetite is not dealt with properly, people overeat. This is the universal law of compensation. If we maintain a nutritious diet, we will not have any problem from the primitive fountain called food. Food goes through the body and then affects the mind, but sex originates in the mind and then is expressed through the body. If our mind is balanced and we have attained emotional maturity, then we can deal competently with the sex urge. For it is the mind, not the body, that deals with sex. The poor body cannot handle the rush, the flood, of mind, and so almost no one is sexually happy. To have a balanced sex life, one should understand that a calm, tranquil mind is very helpful.
Sleep is another primitive fountain. We consider ourselves to be extremely knowledgeable and highly advanced, but we do not know anything about how to sleep. It is very important to understand the anatomy of sleep. If you wanted to go to sleep right now, you could not do it because you need many accommodations to create the proper atmosphere for sleep, but yogis know how to go to sleep voluntarily, remain conscious, and then wake up at the exact moment they had determined they would. People go to sleep just out of habit, but we should learn to train our will so we can go to sleep or wake up anytime we want to. And when we sleep, we should be conscious. This is possible. There are methods for going to deep sleep, recording what is going on around us, and then waking up and remembering it. Yogis know these methods and have demonstrated them scientifically. People do not need to sleep as much as they are in the habit of doing. We can go to the state of deep sleep for just two hours and awaken totally refreshed. This has been observed by scientists who have done research on the anatomy of sleep. If we know how to sleep, we can give complete rest to the body and to the conscious mind anytime.
The fourth fountain is self-preservation. Fear comes from the urge for self-preservation, and when fears are deepened, they create phobias. People are always trying to protect themselves; they are always afraid. It is good to protect ourselves from the physical world, but it is not good to protect ourselves from the mental world -- that is very dangerous. People should learn to face their inner fears and to understand why they are afraid. People always want to avoid unpleasant things, and so they never examine their fears. That is why they have innumerable fears within them. Most fears are unexamined, and they are imaginary; they are not valid. "My husband has not come home. Perhaps he has had an accident. Perhaps something awful has happened!" Why imagine only the negative; why not imagine the positive also? "My husband has not come home. Perhaps he has won the lottery today. Perhaps he has become a millionaire!" People are in the habit of creating imaginary fears, and when they don't come true, they forget them. They don't go back and analyze those fears. Even when people know that their fear is imaginary, that self-created fear still makes them miserable.
Even when people are in love, they are afraid of the beloved. "Perhaps she is angry. Perhaps I have done something wrong and made her unhappy." People are also always afraid of their enemies. People form a strong habit of being afraid of everything. But when they learn to examine their fears, they realize that all fears are imaginary. Imaginary means there is an image within. We receive an image from outside, from our relationship, and then we create an image within; we have millions of images within us. To be free from all fears, we must learn to face fearsome images and to examine them. Fears are extremely dangerous, but they are all self-created. Learning to live free from the fears that arise from the urge of self-preservation is very important.
Living in the External World
How can one live successfully in the external world? It is very difficult to live in the external world, to put up with the world, to deal with the whims of many people, to please everyone. So it is helpful to have a few principles to apply to the various situations and circumstances we find ourselves involved in. Then alone is it possible for us to be successful. We have numerous experiences every day -- some pleasant, some unpleasant. But there is one category of experience for which we long: the kind of experience that guides us, that motivates us to do something helpful for others and for ourselves. But such experiences are very rare.
We waste our time and energy. Even the time and energy I that we think we are spending in pleasure we do not enjoy, because we do not really know how to enjoy the things of the world. But we can learn how to do this; all the things of the world can be enjoyed. The renunciates say, "Your world does not have anything. It's not a good world. All things are fleeting, all things are changing. All things are momentary, and nothing makes you happy. Why are you in this world? Why do you not renounce?" But they are wrong. We can live in the world and learn to use the things of the world as means. As St. Bernard says, "Learn to use the things of the world, but love God alone." The things of the world should not be loved. Their nature should be understood, and they should become means, but they should not be loved. When we use them, we tend to get attached to them -- that is not healthy. We should love God alone, and we should learn that all the things of the world are to be used solely as means for attaining the center of love. The Lord of life is called love. We should learn to love our responsibilities and to discharge our duties lovingly, without any attachment.
Western students think that it is not possible to love someone without attachment. But perhaps the word attachment is not understood. Love is different from attachment. In love we give -- we do our duties lovingly -- and that is entirely different from attachment. Attachment is unauthorized. In attachment we become blindfolded and selfish. In attachment we expect all the time and we are never fulfilled, and thus we become miserable. There is not one single thing that we can say is really ours. We can have things -- and we should learn to look after them properly -- but we should not try to possess them. In attachment people are afraid. "This is mine. What will happen to me if it dies? What will happen to me if it is destroyed?" People remain constantly under the pressure of the fear of losing what they have or of not gaining what they want. The whole problem of fear arises from these two sources.
Most people are not aware that they are on a voyage. They are in the habit of collecting useless garbage, and it creates problems for them. People should learn to understand that needs and necessities are different from wants and desires. If we need something, we should have it, but we should not uselessly want to have unnecessary things. In studying the lives of great people, we find they share one trait that has made them successful: they do not take what they do not need. Once when Buddha was going as usual from door to door with his begging bowl to beg for alms, housewife shouted at him, "You idiot! You are so healthy, so strong, and so handsome. You were a prince! Why did you renounce your home and start troubling us? Every day you come with your begging bowl. It has become too much for us." She was very angry because the whole city was full of renunciates, and there were very few householders; it was a problem for the householders to feed all the monks. She became so angry that she picked up some filth and tried to give it to him. He smiled and said, "Mother, I don't need it." He started to go on his way, but one of his disciples got angry and told the woman, "I am going to kill you for behaving like this with my Lord!" Buddha turned back to him and said, "You are not my disciple. You have not learned anything from me. If somebody wants to give you something undesirable, don't take it. If somebody says you are bad, don't accept such a negative suggestion." We should learn to understand this point, and then we can go through the process of life unaffected.
But instead of remaining unaffected, people allow their cultural values to make them dependent on external suggestions. We are blasted by suggestions all the time, and the power of suggestion is immense. If ten people say that we look ill, then we begin to feel sick. If someone says "You ugly person," then your whole day is ruined. But if someone says "Oh, you look beautiful then you say "You have made my day." You are already beautiful, but if nobody appreciates you, you don't believe in your beauty. You should learn to appreciate and admire yourself; you should learn to understand and come in touch with that beauty which is within you all the time. You are already beautiful just as you are! You do not need others to tell you are beautiful. You should not become dependent on others' opinions; you should not try to know yourself through others.
There is a very dangerous characteristic in this culture: people make themselves dependent on each other. People live on suggestions; they are swayed by whatever anyone says. People are in the habit of always wanting and expecting attention from others, and this is very dangerous, because then life becomes totally dependent on others. This is the worst trait I have seen in Western culture. Wives nag their husbands and husbands criticize their wives because they expect too much from each other. When people become dependent on their relationships, when they expect too much from their relationships, then they are bound to suffer.
When a girl goes to school, the thought that constantly lives in her mind is that she will meet a good boy, get married, and be happy. But there is no Bible in the world that says marriage will make someone happy. Marriage does not make anyone happy; it is only a means for happiness in life, and if this is understood, then it is very good. But if one expects too much and thinks that marriage is the answer to all the vital questions of life, then that person will find only disappointment. People grow up with unreal expectations about marriage, and the philosophy of marriage is not taught. What is the purpose of marriage? What is the philosophy of remaining single? If a single person does not know how to use his time positively, and if he has no personal philosophy of life, then he becomes perverted. Those who are unmarried are not happy, and those who are married are also not happy. Marriage is like a fortress: those who are inside cannot come out, and those who are outside are rushing to get in. So I have not seen anyone who is happy. This does not mean that people should not get married; the institution of marriage is very necessary. If it crumbles, all of society will crumble. This is a great discipline for human society.
Developing the Proper Attitude
What should our attitude in the world be? It should be that relationships and all the things of the world are means. The world has never given anyone enlightenment, but at the same time it is impossible for one to get enlightened if one does not live in the world. What helplessness! The world does not give enlightenment, and yet we have to live in the world. Therefore let us understand that the world should be a means for enlightenment. There are two ways of using the world for this purpose: first, you can have the attitude that you will not allow the world to disturb you, so that you can thereby get enlightenment; and second, you can have the attitude that you can use the world to help you, so that you can thereby get enlightenment. Both attitudes should be applied. One should have the same attitudes toward relationships: "I will behave in such a way with my spouse and children that they don't disturb my inner peace; I will behave in such a way that they become helpful to me and that they also grow."
You should first have the attitude that no matter what happens, you will not be disturbed. Otherwise, when you get something, you become emotional and imbalanced, and when you don't get something, you become depressed and disorganized. This means that you do not have the proper attitude behind your thinking and behavior. Great leaders like Moses and Jesus had to face many serious problems, but they had the proper attitude. That attitude can be built only when you consider all relationships in the external world and all the objects of the world simply as means, not ends. Then it doesn't matter if today you expect something to become your means, and tomorrow you see that it will not. When your attitude toward the external world is that all the things of the world are means, and not disturbances, then you can find happiness.
Where Is Happiness?
If happiness were external, Americans would have it. Americans have many things, but they are not happy. Many people are very nice to others, but they are not nice to themselves. They have a mechanical way of behaving nicely with others, but they do not know how to be happy within themselves. They are creating a great conflict, a split personality, by pretending to express a happiness that is not there. Happiness is not in the external world; it is not attained through objects. People spend their whole lives wanting to have this and have that; they love objects, and they cannot love without objects. But the day you learn to love without an object, that will be the day of greatest happiness. When one learns to love God, that is love without an object. God is not an object; God is beyond all objects. So love without an object is love for God.
Happiness lies within you, and you should learn to use all things and apply all means to attain that happiness. This inner happiness is in a dormant form; you have to unfold yourself to experience it. Therefore you should learn to be still, so that the godly part in you can reveal itself to you. "Be still and know that I am God." What a great promise! This is the greatest aphorism. Many Christians and Jews think that there is no meditation in the Bible, but this one sentence reveals the entire philosophy of meditation.
Every human being should learn to be calm and quiet, and to see God in others. Then you can be detached from the nongodly part, and you will be loving the godly part. You are a shrine of God. I should love you because I should love God in you. It's good to love people because everyone is a temple of God. People do not worship the walls of a temple; their love is directed toward that which dwells inside it. So whomever you love, love God in that person.
I pray to the divinity within you.
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of Swami Rama of the Himalayas