Sharing Food for Thought

by Joan Shack

Author’s Note: In July 1996, twenty-four spiritual seekers came together in a quiet setting amid the rolling hills of Maryland near the Monocacy River, for a four-day retreat with Pravrajika Vivekaprana. a sannyasini  from Sri Sarada Math in India. Each retreat participant had a small, private bedroom reminiscent of a monastic cell. Classes were held in the chapel, which was simple yet beautiful.

The notes below are extracted from talks given by Pravrajika Vivekaprana during this inspiring period of withdrawal. The interwoven theme is Karma Yoga, as presented to us in Chapter Three of The Bhagavad Gita.

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Renunciation means giving up inner restlessness. It is not a question of living here or there, in India or America. It is not a question of eating meat or not. In addition, renouncing action at the physical level does not make for renunciation. We can still be active inwardly. To renounce and be free means controlling our very tendency to act.


Action is initiated in the depth of the human system, at the subconscious level through desire. Action is not something done by the body—by the hands or the feet. Actually, the comparison is not between renunciation and action but between action and inaction.

“Climbing Mt. Everest”

Vedanta emphasizes conscious experience in order to work for evolution. Our purpose on earth is to evolve.

Krishna stands for the highest level in each of us, that which is lying deep and hidden in us. Each of us inherits all the tendencies that have gone before us. There is something ancient in each of us. The ultimate level is comparable to Mt. Everest. I can’t get to the top without personal effort. In this context action is important.

Suffering Is Our Teacher

There are three teachers on this earth; namely, knowledge, faith, and suffering. Mankind would like to reach a point where suffering is eliminated. We are promised paradise where there is no suffering. Hollywood films have happy endings. The purpose of life, however, is neither pain nor pleasure. Can’t we see that the whole world turns around suffering? Consider Krishna’s universal form in the Gita. It is gruesome. The search for Truth is the main purpose of life. 

Come stand and fight the battle. We can’t close our eyes to suffering. Open your eyes wide. Suffering is absolutely essential to human life—it is central to life. We need to understand this, in order to rise to a level beyond pain and pleasure.

Sacrifice: Joy In Participation

Religion teaches sacrifice. When I can see every act of mine as an act of sacrifice, then comes tremendous joy even through suffering. Joy and happiness can’t be found in a cup of coffee—consciousness bound in the material level can’t be happy.

Live on earth with gratitude that there is so much sacrifice going on. Each action of ours is an act of sacrifice. The whole universe is affected by any human action. We are not isolated. We are part of the whole. Our awareness must contain the whole and give it its due response. The universe gives me everything—I have to give back. Stand up and say, “All right, what you have to give, I’ll take it.” There is no alternative to the law of sacrifice.

Tapping the Energy Within Us

A person of knowledge is in complete control. He finds satisfaction within himself. For such a person there is nothing to be attained. He is totally aware. Energy falls into different levels, tamo guna, rajo guna, and sattva guna. If the mind is dull, I must do something about it. For example, if i am sleeping during meditation, I must get up and walk around. We don’t create energy, it must be tapped.  Action, emotion, and thought are directed and focussed by karma yoga, bhakti yoga, and jnana yoga, respectively. These are used to rouse energy. I am pure consciousness playing with energy.

Our energy is in a state of flux. It is not steady. How to control subconscious impulses? Japa and meditation turn the energy back to myself. The energy is thus purified. When this purification penetrates to the subconscious level, control is then possible. Now this unified energy, when thrown back onto the world through action, gives us a different vision. Such focused action does not bind me. Never work from the level of energy which is restless.

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