Question: Because I had a difficult childhood, my therapist tells me I have to nurture myself to become whole and balanced. You teach that renunciation is the key to peace. Is there a conflict between self-nurturing and renunciation? Is there a way to reconcile these two?
Swami Satchidananda: First, nurture yourself. Nurturing yourself to become whole and balanced has to do with the condition of your mind. Your mind should be well-developed and it should learn to balance itself. That’s what Yoga is all about. What are you balancing? You have to balance the pleasure and the pain, profit and loss, praise and blame. The entire nature is filled with these dualities. You have to learn to balance them. If somebody always praises you, then you may be happy. Suppose somebody says something nasty about you, then you must accept that also. If not, you are not balanced. The mind has to be trained in this way. That’s what nurturing the mind means, and that is Yoga.
Once the mind is balanced, you don’t even have to renounce anything. Everything is already renounced. What is renunciation? It is when the mind does not get affected by things. When we like some things and we dislike other things, we are always in trouble. That’s because when you like something and get it, only then are you happy. But when you don’t like something you are annoyed by that, so your happiness is gone. So stay away from the likes and dislikes. Is it possible to live like that? It’s difficult, yes, but it’s not impossible, and training the mind in this way is worth it.
When is life joyful? When you don’t get affected by anything. You don’t allow the pleasure and pain to affect you and that is what you call renunciation. You renounce your connection with the dualities, your being affected by the dualities. Is that possible? It is possible to live like that if you use the dualities. You can use them, but don’t let them use you.
One time, in India, I was traveling on a train with a friend. At breakfast time, the train stopped so travelers could get off and purchase food at the station. After my friend went out, another man who just boarded saw the empty seat. He asked to sit and I told him that the seat belonged to my friend who would soon come back. Then, assuming that I was just trying to have more room for myself, he said, “I’ll just sit and when he returns I’ll get up.” “Okay.”
When the friend returned, the man refused to budge. I reminded him of the agreement and he replied, “Well, you’ll have to make me move!” I puffed myself up and put on a very scary face and said, “Oh, so you want me to show you what I’ll do?” This frightened the man and off he went. After my friend sat in his seat I spoke with him as if nothing had just happened. I asked, “What did you get for breakfast?” He said, “You are a swami and you’re not supposed to ever be angry. How could you get so angry a few minutes ago? You got angry one minute and now you are all calm. Who are you?” I said, “Don’t worry. Sometimes it’s necessary to keep anger in my pocket. I keep it there and use it in situations like this.”
You can use anger when necessary, but never let it use you. Anger is not bad as long as you know how to use it. If you know how to use things, everything is good, but if you don’t know how, then even the good things will turn out to be bad. So, we need to have a completely balanced mind. And that is what it means to have a nurtured mind. Once the mind is nurtured, it is balanced, and there is nothing left to renounce. So nurture yourself first. Find the balance.