The difference between an ordinary person and a sage is that the sage is strong from within and does not allow anyone to affect his mind and emotions. The Buddha demonstrated this in the village of Rajgrahi after he left his throne, renounced his kingdom, and went to that small village to perform austerities. Begging helps one to reduce the ego, so he went there to beg for alms. He was a prince, but he wanted to be the world’s simplest man. 

At that time there were thousands of monks in Rajgrahi. They would stand outside someone’s door and chant, “Narayana, Han,” which means “Remember God’s name.” And when villagers heard that, they knew someone had come to the door for bhiksha (alms). But almost every third person was a monk, and it became impossible for the villagers to feed them all. One day the Buddha went begging with Ananda, his closest disciple, who used to accompany him. The Buddha always stood quietly outside, but when he arrived at one house, the mother became very angry.

“You are a healthy man, a strong man, a handsome man, standing at our door,” she shouted, “and I don’t have that much food to give. I have already given away food to many other monks. What shall I give you? I’m only a poor lady. Go away! Don’t you have any other place to go?!”

The Buddha smiled gently. Then she said, “Wait, I will give you bhiksha,” and she picked up the filth from her child, the stool, and offered it to the Buddha, saying, “This is what you deserve!”

The Buddha merely smiled and said simply, “Mother, you can keep that. I don’t need it.”

Ananda, however, was very angry and shouted, “Woman, you are insulting my lord and master; I’ll kill you!”

But the Buddha said to Ananda, “Stop! She wants to give me something, but if I don’t need it, I don’t take it. So why are you angry?”

This is the important question: When people try to give you their anger or negative feedback, why do you accept it? If someone says that you are bad, why do you accept that? You accept it because you do not have self-confidence; you do not accept yourself; you do not know deep inside that you are good. And because you do not really know yourself, you have formed the habit of depending on the judgments of others. But in your heart of hearts, you should never accept these negative suggestions. They can create a serious problem for you.

You can go to a therapist, and the therapist may explore your problem and tell you the reason for your unhappiness. But if you continue your bad habits, then you will create that misery for yourself again and again. You need to learn to be free from your own habit patterns. Your mind travels in particular grooves that you have created for yourself, and your mind refuses to come out of those grooves.

The real experts, the sages and teachers, say that to change you have to create new grooves in your mind. And when the mind starts traveling in new grooves, then your habit patterns will change because your thoughts will change, and then your personality will also change.

You can gain conscious control over yourself through effort. Human beings have the power to make that effort; they can change their personality and utilize the immense wealth, power, and brilliance buried within themselves. Once you learn to go to the inner chamber of your being, you can do that. If you first decide to change, and then learn how to determine within that you will not repeat something negative, you can change your personality.

But if you accept the idea that you cannot change, then you cannot do anything in life. You will be a total failure; then you cannot be creative and you cannot improve. If this is how you live, then what is the use of living? Such a life is boring and becomes a burden to you. But when you learn to work with yourself gently and gradually, you can change your whole being if you really want to, because you can change your masks. Even though the masks you wear have been chosen and made by you, you can change them and make your personality a pleasant one. So work with your samskaras, the impressions stored in the unconscious mind that make you happy or unhappy. If you make a sincere effort, you will learn that all your actions give you their fruits; there is no such thing as an action that does not give a fruit. 

Every action has its reaction. No one can overturn this law. When you make a sincere effort, you sometimes feel that you are not improving, but that is not possible. If you do not see progress, then it may be that you are not making an effort truthfully, with full determination, and with all your might. The moment you start to do that, you will find there is a dynamic change in your thinking and behavior.

You can gain freedom from the thinking process which distorts your life by understanding how to train yourself and then going in a different direction. But you must really want to do this. That inner method of self-change is not taught in the external world. You will have to discover it for yourself by understanding a method called “journeying within.” Through this method you come to understand yourself and the various levels of your life by studying each level, one after another. And in this way you will learn how to go inside.

First, you need to understand yourself, and understanding yourself means knowing that while the body is subject to change, death, and decay, the soul is not. The soul is immortal. You need to understand your internal states. You need to observe how your mind functions and to consider the reasons why others do not think the same way you think. 

An Experiment to Try

Do the following experiment for just a day or two: Use that great power that is your inherent power—the power called love. Learn to express yourself in such a way that you don’t hurt, injure, or harm others. Learn to give. Often you hurt others merely for the sake of your own selfish ego. Yoga science makes the true meaning of love clear when it describes the practice of ahimsa (not harming, hurting, or injuring others). If you learn to practice ahimsa, then you are practicing love in your daily life, and the practice of love does not mean being selfish. How many times a day do you have the desire to give the wealth and bounty you have to others—even to those who are related to you? The ability to give to outsiders develops later on. Ahimsa should be practiced first with those close to you, and when you have learned to enjoy giving, a time will come when you can give without any reservation.

All the great men and women who have lived on this earth have been selfless and desireless; they lived to serve and help others. They knew that the only way to freedom is to learn to give. This is the law of life. So you should continue to do the experiment with yourself, and every time you do, you will find that you are growing and growing. Eventually your growth will lead you to a state and a height in which you are free from all desires that are selfish. The desire to help others, to serve others, to serve the nation and humanity—these are great desires. When all your small desires are swallowed by the great desires, then your life will be like that of a saint, and you will find that you have become entirely different. 

Source: The Art of Joyful Living by Swami Rama

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