The most cherished treasure in life is peace. You can go anywhere in the world, but you can be always happy only if you can keep your peace. On the other hand, you may have everything in the world, and I mean everything, but if you don’t have peace you have nothing. Because all of the everything that you have is not going to make you happy always without your peace. You can have momentary happiness, yes. I accept that, but it’s always mixed with unhappiness.

In a way, the purpose of the world is to educate us about this truth. Mother Nature is constantly teaching us this truth: Don’t run after me, I cannot make you always happy. Even if I make you a little happy there will be a little unhappiness along the way. If you really want permanent eternal happiness, get away from me. Mother Nature is trying to push you away. How? Sometimes she is very cruel. She hits you if you keep on running after her, if you keep holding onto her. A good mother will advise her children to not depend on her always, but to stand on their own two feet. That’s the reason why even people who have billions of dollars, big positions, and who have everything still suffer. That’s the indirect way of Mother Nature teaching them. She teaches that these material and worldly things won’t make you permanently happy.

You may ask, “Well then if they don’t make me happy, should I stay away from all that?” No. Let them be there, but don’t run after them. Stop running after outside things. Turn around and look inwardly. Go to the source of the happiness that is within you. Once you have found that, you have found everything. Then, the things you were running after will begin to run after you.

Isn’t she mischievous? As long as you run after things, they seem to be running ahead of you. That’s why I like this to give this funny example. If you stand with the sun behind your back, you will see your shadow. And it looks very pretty. Now, if you say, “Oh let me go and catch it.” And then you run to catch your shadow, what happens? The more you run, the faster it runs ahead of you. You can never catch your shadow. Then what should you do? Stop running. You have gone a long way from the source. When you turn around and walk, you are walking toward the sun. But there is a feeling that somebody seems to be following you. Gently look over the shoulder. Who is coming after you? The same guy after whom you were running. Right? You stop running after your shadow and then you turn around and walk toward the light. What do you see? Your shadow will be running after you.

You see, if you run and run and run, certainly there will be a time when you get sick and tired of all than running. Don’t we say that in our life sometimes? “Oh, I’m sick and tired of all this.” When I hear someone saying that I am supremely happy. Why? Because now he or she will stop running. Patanjali tells us that if you are intelligent enough, you will know that when you run after things, it will bring you suffering. That’s why we say to seek that Light first. Then everything will be running after you. I’m just twisting the biblical saying a little: “Seek the Kingdom of God first.” Let that be your first and foremost duty. What is that kingdom? Where is it? The kingdom is within you. And who is there in that kingdom? Babies! The kingdom lies among the children. If you have that kind of baby, innocent mind.

Sometimes when you become a teen you say, “Mommy, don’t baby me anymore.” As if you are all grown up. Get back to that babyhood again. Develop the attitude of a baby, the attitude of non-attachment. Then you are in the kingdom. That’s where all the peace, all the joy is. When you experience that, immediately all the things you have been running after all this time will come running after you. Name will come, fame will come, people will come, positions will come. Everything will be after you. That’s why in one of the Upanishads they talk about the greatness of sannyas (the life of renunciation). Who is a sannyasi? The one who totally renounced one’s selfishness. What is it that is renounced? The I, me, and mine.

The scriptures say that if you honestly feel you have renounced everything, and you are not running after anything, then the Goddess of wisdom (Saraswati) and the Goddess of wealth, (Lakshmi) will be at your beck and call, just waiting for your command. You don’t even have to read any books. If somebody asks you a question, just ask Saraswati. She will whisper the answer to you so you have the answer. It’s true. You don’t have to run after things. Don’t even run after books. All the knowledge will come to you. The entire wisdom will sit at your feet. Because your mind will be completely tranquil, balanced like a beautiful mirror. Then the cosmic intelligence reflects through the clear mind. You become a receiver of the entire cosmic transmission.

And then, because you are not attached to anything, things may attach themselves to you. So you just keep them around and use them for others. You keep them, but you don’t possess them. You have everything, and at the same time you don’t have anything. You appear to be bound by everything, but you are totally free. There is a point in the Bhagavad Gita where Krishna talks about Karma Yoga, which we are speaking of now—selfless service for freedom. Sometimes we might think that, Oh well, I’m not that interested in any result. It’s not for me that I am doing this so it doesn’t matter how I do it. Because I’m not doing it for my sake, my need, my money, I can do it in a haphazard way. The Gita admonishes that attitude. It says that a person who is not interested in the result of the action should do a much better job. It clearly says that just as a miserly businessman looks for every cent in his business, you will be 10 times more miserly in doing your business, but at the same time, not attached. If you go a little deeper to understand this you will see that when a miserly person thinks, I want to get all the profit for myself, he is already developing a little anxiety. I want to get it. When he functions with that anxiety, the action gets polluted by that anxiety. He not acting with a free, calm mind. It’s like an anxious doctor trying to operate on his own family member. Whereas when a detached person performs an operation, he or she will be more efficient because the mind will be composed, not agitated. But a selfish mind will always be agitated. It’s impossible to avoid that, however noble you look. So one has to consciously and continuously watch for the reaction of the mind. Don’t allow even a tinge of selfishness to come in.

What I mean by selfishness is egoism. The feeling of This is for me or This is mine alone. That means you must completely free yourself from egoism. It is your own ego that binds you. Nobody else binds you. Even if the whole world wants to come and bind you they cannot, if you don’t allow them to bind you. So, living a completely selfless life is the only way to enjoy freedom. And that comes naturally when you realize that you don’t have to do anything to make yourself happy. Then you have realized your own Self or your own natural state of joy and peace. Then, you are not doing anything for the peace and joy, but just for the fun of doing. The whole world and all your actions become a lila, a play. In that state you look like an ordinary individual, in every respect. But the truth behind that is that you are enlightened, a jivanmukta‚—a living liberated soul.

Liberation isn’t what happens after death. Who would want that kind of liberation? You can be liberated now. It is for this purpose that we first begin to gradually give up a little here a little there. And then we offer our service.  That’s why you come to an ashram or spiritual center—to offer yourself. In other places, they just give you a job. Here in the ashram, we don’t give you a job. We give you an opportunity to offer your services. An ashram prepares you to be in the world with equanimity. It’s like learning to surf in shallow water, and then you go out and face dangerous waves and you can surf on them. That’s what everybody should achieve one day or another. And remember, whether you are interested in it or not, you will be forced to realize that. If you consciously work at it, things will be easy. It’s almost like a naughty child getting a bath by the mother. She will put you in the tub, apply soap all over that might burn the eyes. So, then you will jump around trying to get out of the tub, but, she will hold you tight and continue to scrub you until you are clean. If you are quiet, less soap will go into your eyes. If you revolt, more soap will go in. But she is not going to leave you alone. Likewise, Mother Nature is doing a thorough cleaning job. Allow yourself to get cleaned. Don’t fight or wrestle with her or it will be too irritating. Get cleaned and if you are clean you are next to God, like in the expression, “Cleanliness is next to godliness.”

By Sri Swami Satchidananda