By Harshada David Wagner
Tranquility, contentment, good company and inquiry are the four gateways to spiritual riches and liberation
The Yoga Vasishtha is an ancient 32,000-verse work describing the nature of the universe and the path to liberation. Attributed to the sage Valmiki, most of the text progresses as a dialog between Prince Rama and his uncompromising guru, Vasishtha.
The scripture deals largely with the nature of the mind. Vasishtha describes to Rama how his relationship with his mind is the cornerstone to sadhana and the key to living in a world of freedom.
At one point, Vasishtha gets straight to the point and extols four key elements to the path of freedom: tranquility, contentment, good company and inquiry.
He refers to them as the ‘gateways to liberation’ and says that any one of these gateways will take us to the goal. At first glance they are each deceptively simple; these are qualities present in any decent person. But like anything in the inner world, each gate has many facets and dimensions to explore. Each gateway is just that – a gateway not only to liberation, but to a vast and rich exploration of human life.
The Gate of Tranquility
Shanti – tranquility. To be truly tranquil in body and mind is a great state in itself. It may sound simple, but it requires tremendous vigilance to live in a way that cultivates real tranquility. The tranquility that Vasishtha is talking about is deeper than a serene appearance or constantly wearing a sweet smile. Tranquility in this context runs throughout our being – on the surface as well as deep in the depths of our being. This state of being requires utter commitment and vigilant, dedicated, loving practice to attain. Often we need to work on our bodies, our minds, and our lives to clear away sources of unnecessary turmoil. After the surface obstacles are removed, then we must delve within using the spiritual practices, to deeper and deeper levels of tranquility. When we have tapped the true tranquility Vasishtha speaks about, we stand in the ocean of bliss deep within.
Take a moment now to conjure in your mind’s eye an image of perfect tranquility – perhaps an image from nature. Hold it in your awareness and open yourself completely to the feeling it produces in your being. Close your eyes for a few moments and allow your breath to disperse that feeling throughout your body, mind and soul.
The Gate of Contentment
Santosha – contentment. Much of the Yoga Vasishtha deals with the topic of being free of desire. Desire, it says, is the root cause of our bondage. Rooting out desire, therefore, is an essential key to our unleashing. Sometimes we use the word contentment or santosha to refer to the feeling of satisfaction we feel after we have obtained what we wanted – after a delicious meal or at the end of an arduous task. The santosha Vasishtha calls a gateway to freedom is more subtle than this. Cultivating this kind of contentment is not as simple as satiating our desires. Satisfying a desire may cause it to subside temporarily, but in the long run it makes it stronger. Basic psychology tells us that when we reward a behavior it becomes reinforced and deeper held. Desires are much the same. The more we give in to our desires, the stronger the desires become.
Stepping through the gate of contentment does have to do with turning away from desires, but it is also a positive practice of relishing the feeling of total completeness brought on through an experience of the truth within. We don’t just turn away from desire – we turn towards completeness. It’s a practice of remembrance, of constantly staying in touch with what we have inside. Practices like meditation and other contemplative practices help us stay rooted in this place of inner abundance.
For just a moment, feel your breath and experience yourself letting go of any feelings of striving or clinging. Imagine letting go of everything and turn you attention within. Close your eyes and repeat: I am complete. Rest in the power of santosha.
The Gate of good Company
An old adage says: ‘We become the company we keep’. Spending time with the right kind of people is crucial for those of us walking the path of freedom. The people around us can either support us in reaching our goal, or they can drag us down. The Sanskrit word ‘satsanga’ means good company. It also means true company, true togetherness and the company of Truth. We enter the gate of satsanga when we engage in relationships or conversations or other forms of togetherness. True satsanga helps remind us who we really are and allows us to live from our highest nature. Real satsanga is not as simple as spending time with good people or going to spiritual gatherings. People with whom we share beliefs and ideas may help us on the way, but they can also help to keep us stuck. True satsanga is that which keeps challenging us and demanding that we rise to our own individual greatness. The best company consists of people who increase our ability to see the truth and increase our ability to serve. In true satsanga, we are always helping each other go higher and higher.
Take a moment and think of a person or group of people who most purely embody the state of liberation. Close your eyes and imagine being in their presence. You receive their energy and you give them yours; there is an energetic loop. Allow your awareness to expand in their exalted company and savor the power of satsanga.
The Gate of Inquiry
Inquiry or vichara is the crest-jewel of Vasishtha’s philosophy. The entire text begins with the young Prince Rama in a state of despondency. Guru Vasishtha is summoned by the king to counsel the boy. Rama has begun to glimpse the suffering of human life, but has not yet learned how to discern the truth. He doesn’t want to live another day without knowledge. At one point he declares to Vasishtha: ‘Enlighten me now or I shall starve myself to death!’ Everyone in the royal court is shocked and dismayed by the prince’s behavior – everyone that is except for Vasishtha. Vasishtha is pleased as he knows that such a state of not-knowing is the prerequisite for deep learning.
We enter the gate of inquiry when we deeply question our beliefs about ourselves, about the world and about our very thoughts.
In the Skanda Purana it is said: Those who know, know not. Those who know not, know.
Science tells us that nature abhors a vacuum. In sadhana, our not-knowing produces an emptiness within us that draws wisdom. Good questions are like fertile wombs ready to incubate knowledge. When we enter the gate of inquiry we are able to extract the sweetness from life – we are able to see through the obvious appearances of things and come into connection with their deeper essence.
Right now as you read this page ask yourself: Who is it that is reading this? By what power are my eyes able to perceive these words?
Don’t accept the first answer that arises; keep asking. As you begin to question yourself more deeply, close your eyes and relax into the inner space your questions have created.
Vasishtha tells Rama that any one of the gates, when fully entered, gives birth to the experience of highest freedom. Each one is a complete sadhana in itself and holds within it the treasures of the other three. As we move along our path to freedom, may we keep these four exquisite doors in mind and know in our hearts that they’re always open.
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