by Sundar J.M. Brown
Circa 17th century, Shreela Vishvanatha Chakravarti Thakura, a prolific author, poet, scholar and saint, composed a treatise titled “Madhurya Kadambini”. The title may be literally translated as “A Cloud Bank of Nectar”. Composed in Sanskrit, the, “language of the gods”, the work is a systematic evaluation of the stages of spiritual development, from neophyte to advanced.
The real “nectar” of the work is Thakura’s identification of the various obstacles that one encounters in life’s progressive journey towards pure truth. His focus on overcoming these obstacles indicates that it is indeed not the problems themselves that are ultimately important (as problems will exist no matter what our condition in this world), but the manner in which one deals with problems. The reaction to difficulty (as opposed to the difficulty itself) is what enables or disenables potential growth in any individual’s character.
Thakura describes one stage called utsahamayi. The Sanskrit word “utsaha” is most commonly translated as “festival”, but it also means “enthusiasm” or “fervor”. The word “mayi” is a form of the word “maya” which translates literally as “illusion” or “that which is believed to be, but actually is not.”
The word “enthusiasm” indicates a “passionate interest in, or eagerness to do, something; something that arouses a consuming interest.” It’s etymology stems from the Greek word “ethousiasmos” which means “one who has a god within” or “believes he is inspired by the gods.”
The word “illusion”, of course, indicates a misinterpretation of fact on behalf of the illusioned person. It’s etymology is traced to a Latin root “illudere” meaning “something not to be taken seriously.”
How then do the words enthusiasm and illusion relate to a particular stage of one’s life? The combination of “utsaha” and “maya” gives us “utsahamayi” a word meaning “Proudly false enthusiasm”. The idea being enunciated here is this:
By definition, a new endeavor indicates a lack of experience in the person making the endeavor. If experience existed, the endeavor would not be new as time spent performing an activity is what lends experience to the performer of the activity. The maintenance of any endeavor necessitates a requisite amount of interest in the practitioner. Further, it may be assumed that the endeavor is, in some way or another, enjoyable to the practitioner. If one has no interest in athletic training, one will not train to be an athlete. Subsequently, if one does not enjoy athletic training, one is also not likely to train with even a remote amount of zeal, if at all. Interest leads to attempts to fulfill the desire for enjoyment one hopes to gain from the performance of the respective activity. In other words, one has to have a certain amount of enthusiasm for a particular activity in order to maintain one’s involvement in the activity.
A neophyte practitioner takes the happiness, enjoyment and enthusiasm he derives as a result of his interest in, and practice of, his chosen endeavor, as the be-all-and-end-all of that endeavor. His enthusiasm is fueled by his continued experience with success in his chosen path. The existence of enthusiasm itself is not the difficulty. The difficulty is the displacement of this enthusiasm onto the personal platform. Under the false conception (“maya”) that he is the sole person responsible for any success in his endeavor he becomes illusioned by his own enthusiasm.
Due to false pride (“utsahamayi”- excessive pride in oneself and lacking pride in the system of knowledge one is being trained in), or due to what has been appropriately termed “overzealous motivation”, the practitioner cannot refuse sharing his newfound greatness with others. It is not long before he truly does believe, on the most subtle of levels that he is, in fact, divinely inspired (“ethousiasmos”) in some way. The difficulty here would not be that one is divinely inspired, but that one takes inordinate pride in having been chosen as “the Golden Child” as opposed to accepting that position of responsibility with maturity and gratitude.
Internal feelings of superiority to one’s elders, teachers, or more advanced peers soon manifest as the activity of regularly instructing others. One becomes argumentative with one’s elders, not entirely disbelieving them but maintaining in the back of one’s psyche that “there might be a better way, and if there is, I will be the one to find it out.”
Essentially, the maintenance of this psychological disposition damages the faith of the practitioner. Faith in a system of knowledge is the sole foundation for the development of further knowledge. Without faith one’s foundation is weak. Without a strong foundation one has nothing to stand on. One in “utsahamayi” not only believes that he has the strongest of all foundations, but also (mistakenly) believes that he has built that foundation himself. All the while his foundation is crumbling under him and everyone but him can see it. At a certain point this becomes almost comical to the outside observer for the neophyte practitioner has become “illudere” someone “not to be taken seriously.”
When the inevitable fall occurs the practitioner is plunged into depression and self-pity (known in the vernacular as a “slump”). The practitioner may develop a sense of low self-esteem. But low self-esteem is simply the other side of the coin of false pride. Whether one is falsely proud or one is enveloped in feelings of low self-esteem, in either condition, the focus remains the same- one is intensely preoccupied with oneself.
Interestingly enough, because the practitioner has not been purified of his selfish tendencies (still reeling from shock and in denial of the fact that he’s not as advanced as he imagined he was) he may try to compensate for his low self-esteem by again thrusting himself into the role of teacher. This unfortunate attempt only suffers him into the role of unqualified teacher. Nothing is more powerful than knowledge. And nothing is more dangerous than a fool armed with his own knowledge. This attempt only serves to further damage the practitioner’s own abilities. Prolonged existence in this state becomes dangerous for, as personal failure increases, so does the concept of “misery loves company”. This may become so pronounced as to come to the point that the practitioner’s continued negative association breaks the faith of others- particularly other’s going through a similar experience.
Shreela Vishvanatha Chakravarti Thakura’s recommendation is that one experiencing these stages should first recognize them and admit them. One should then be encouraged by his elders and teachers to take shelter of those more advanced than him. Ultimately of course, one has to make that determination for oneself. Growth cannot be forced, only facilitated. One has to replace his desire for self-aggrandizement with trust in authority.
Thakura recognizes that there does exist a class of unintelligent persons who simply have to be beat down by life before coming to the realization that it is necessary to become introspective. Thakura also recognizes the large improbability factor in this equation. He goes so far as to say that it may take many lives before one comes to this realization. An intelligent person, though he may be illusioned, will eventually see this need within himself, and will then naturally approach his elders, teachers, guides et al. for help. Others may not know what to do at all, so it is the express duty of a teacher to encourage the student to come to this level. By the association of more advanced personalities the student’s faith in their chosen practice will become strong, having been positively affected by the powerful faith of the teacher.
This is something demonstrated time and time again in the training arena. Any practitioner of a martial discipline has struggled ourselves, or, has observed a training partner struggling to escape a dangerous position. Although a gentle and more realized form of training is encouraged, the stuck individual seems caught in a struggle between life and death using all strength, in a state of panic, inappropriately relying on their own ideas and weak foundation as a source of enlightenment.
Observing the student’s misfortune, the teacher, naturally compassionate, interrupts the scenario and offers a bit of instruction, encouraging the student to relax, to breathe, to make the proper adjustments in his body’s orientation so as to reestablish a secure position from which to fight. It’s a science. The training is the laboratory. The instruments of experiment are the practitioners themselves and the knowledge of the discipline’s techniques.
The student follows the directive, escapes the position, and in turn gains faith. But it was the teacher’s faith in the system of knowledge (in this example, the techniques of Jiu-jitsu) that enabled the teacher to impart the knowledge to the student in the first place.
Now, see what has occurred. As a result of developing the student’s faith, the instructor’s faith also becomes reinforced. This cycle moves and grows naturally, every bit as alive as the persons who are attempting to apply it.
The beneficial result of humble acceptance of our actual position is the fruit of the austerity of such endeavor- Everyone Grows Together. That “interdependent individual development” is the essential aspect of successful relationships and that alone is the life-position for which we should all continuously strive.