Taking the Opposite Stance in Battle

By Shrii Shrii Anandamurti

The subject of today’s discourse is “Taking the Opposite Stance in Battle.” This strategy, which wise persons recommend, is equally applicable to all spheres of life – physical, psychic and spiritual. One should always remember this golden principle because life means struggle – without struggle there can be no life. Those who think that they will advance with firm and rapid steps avoiding struggle or even the least scratch on their bodies, are surely mistaken. In fact, even in the smallest affair one will have to move ahead through struggle. When people start walking on the surface of the earth, the ground tries to arrest their movement. As long as they are capable of struggling against the opposition of inertia, they will be able to move; but the moment they lose this capacity, they immediately fall down. Hence the very essence of life is struggle. Life without struggle means death. Since we have to live through struggle, we must understand this important principle of taking the opposite stance in struggle.

When someone shoots a bullet at you from the north, you will certainly not shoot back from north to south. On the contrary, you will shoot from the opposite direction, from south to north. Similarly if one thrusts one’s sword at you from north to south, you will certainly thrust back from south to north: this is the accepted principle of battle. When you must struggle against impenetrable darkness, you will certainly carry a torchlight in your pocket. So you must always remember this golden truth, which is as applicable to the psychic and spiritual spheres as to the physical sphere. It is also equally applicable in individual, social, economic and political life as well. Neglecting it is suicidal.

Regarding the psychic sphere it is said, “Overcome anger by patience, overcome dishonesty by honesty, overcome greed by generosity, overcome falsehood by truth.”
(Akkodhena jine kodhaḿ asádhuḿ sádhuná jine, jine kadariiyaḿ dánena sattyena aliikavádinam.)

Overcome anger by patience: Suppose someone has come to you in anger and challenges you to a fight. In that case your strategy should be that you must not be angry at all, for those who are angry have already lost control over their rational judgement. They lose control over their hands and feet and other limbs, and their whole bodies tremble with rage. No one can work rationally in such a state. If at that time you remain free from anger and keep your brain cool, you can easily vanquish that angry person in battle with your calm judgement. But if you, too, become as angry as your opponent, this will be foolishness on your part. Hence you must never become angry at an angry person; this is the strategy of battle. It is not only the policy of a decent person, it is also an effective strategy of war.

Overcome dishonesty by honesty: The strategy of struggle against dishonest people is to be more honest. When all the people around them come to know about their dishonesty, they will support you, and victory will be yours.

Overcome greed by generosity: If you want to struggle against a miser, start by doing charity to others, and that miser will surely be defeated. If someone does not offer you even a betel leaf, offer him a full meal, and he will be put to shame.

Overcome falsehood by truth: When you are struggling against a liar you must be strictly truthful and you will be easily victorious. Hence the policy of taking the opposite stance in battle is the most effective strategy; the mind must be guided in the opposite direction. This idea is reflected in the following aphorism:


When someone is happy, ordinary people feel jealous. They do not try to let their minds flow in the same direction as that happy person; rather they feel psychic pain thinking of that person’s happiness. The correct strategy should be to arouse the feeling of friendliness (maetrii) in the mind towards that happy person. Instead of feeling jealous one should think, “So-and-so is my friend – how wonderful! She is so happy!” If the mind thinks thus, then all jealousy will be removed.

Suppose someone is very sad; seeing his miserable fate people will say, “Well done! He deserved it!” But this is not the proper approach. The proper approach should be to show compassion, thinking “What a pity he is in great trouble. Had I also been in such a difficult position, how badly I would feel.” In this way the feeling of compassion (karuńa) should be aroused in one’s mind.

Again, suppose someone is doing some good work but others cannot tolerate him; they try to pull him down. This should not be done; rather you should encourage such people by saying, “Keep up the good work! I fully support you.” This is encouragement (muditá).

Upekśa: Suppose certain people are wicked; one should not hate them, rather one should overlook their faults. Thus this principle of taking the opposite stance should be applied equally in all spheres of life.

Now let us apply this principle in our spiritual life. You know that the wise spiritual aspirants and devotees have recognized three main paths to attain the Supreme Goal in life: knowledge, action, and devotion. Of these three, the path of devotion is the highest. Shankarácarya, the greatest philosopher that India ever produced, admitted, “Of all the paths leading to salvation, the path of devotion is the greatest” (Mokśa kárańa samagryáḿ bhaktireva gariiyasii). There is a particular reason behind this. The cultivation of too much knowledge creates two major defects: lethargy and vanity. You will notice that people of knowledge are averse to physical labour. They sit idle and prattle on and on, dabbling in philosophical speculation for hours, and it this way they become dependent on others for their sustenance. Thus in the past scholars earned the opprobrium, “Scholars (pundits), women and creepers cannot stand on their own” (“Pańd́itá vańitáh latáh”). What a pity! These days women have learned to be independent and thus they have removed that stigma; but pundits and creepers have not.

The philosophers always prefer to remain idle. I had an acquaintance who was a great scholar and an advocate with several masters degrees. But he could not earn enough to support his family; our relations used to support him. That gentleman was so fond of studying books that he even read in the bathroom! So I said that scholars are generally lethargic. Not only that, they even do not posses enough common sense so that the theories on which they soar in the sky, can stand up to reality – they have no link at all with reality.

The system of education prevailing today was formulated or evolved long ago, mainly with a view to suit the needs of the capitalist class. For the last three to four thousand years, the same type of education is being imparted. The main purpose behind this sort of educational system is to create persons with slavish mentality: this sort of education is fundamentally defective.

A new educational system must evolve to produce spiritual revolutionaries (sadvipras): we have to thoroughly revamp the entire educational system. But it must be remembered that unless and until a new system is developed, we cannot demolish the old one, in spite of our aversion to it. Until you catch hold of a new branch, you cannot let go of the previous one. But it is certain that this type of education which serves the capitalists’ interests is not at all suitable. This sort of education creates obstacles in the evolution of humanity.

Hence the first defect of so-called knowledge is lethargy. Most people of knowledge (jin´ániis) are indolent, basically adverse to physical labour; they are veritable burdens on society. You know that human beings evolved on this earth about a million years ago, whereas human civilization emerged about 10,000 years ago. During these 10,000 years the caravans of the so-called pundits did not advance human progress at all. In fact, it is the people of action and the devotees who have contributed to human development. That is why I say that the pundits are a burden on society.

The second defect of knowledge is vanity. These pundits know very little, but they always make a pompous display of their knowledge. They pretend to be great scholars: they generally speak little, smile little and laugh little, thus maintaining an enforced gravity. If someone puts a complicated question before them, they will behave as if that is their day of silence, so they can avoid such hazardous questions. You know, vanity is the cause of downfall: none can check the downfall of such vain persons. Hence so called knowledge is a dangerous thing.

The path of action is somewhat better, because whatever might be the defect of the path action, it is free from lethargy. One becomes a person of action when one overcomes one’s lethargy. But people of action are also not free from vanity: “I did this, I did that – I built this road when I was a minister I constructed this bridge when I was in the Public Works Department” – this is how people become mad for their little “I”. Thus we see that although action is free from lethargy, it is not altogether free from vanity.

Pure devotion, parábhakti, is free from both. If the Lord comes to you and says, “What do you want?”, what will you reply? You will certainly ask for what you think you need. But as you do not know what you really need, you should say, “Oh Lord, you know best what my need is. So you should give me what You feel is necessary for me.” You must leave everything unto Him. Why should you risk asking for anything? But even then if He insists, saying, “No, you tell me what you want”, then you should reply, “Give me parábhakti, give me shuddhábhhakti (absolutely pure devotion).” Those who ask for parábhakti or shuddhábhakti will certainly acquire the things they need also. Thus due to their devotion, the devotees are always intelligent. You should be an intelligent devotee like this.

There is an ancient shloka:
Churning all the four Vedas and other scriptures, the cream is consumed by the yogis. What remains is eaten by the jin´ániis (philosophers).
(Mathitvá catvárovedán sarvashástrani caevahi, sárantu yogibhih piitam takraḿ pivanti pańd́itáh.)

There are voluminous scriptures weighing tonnes. Sometimes when people just see the size and number of these books they faint – what to speak of reading them! Now these voluminous scriptures are as vast as the ocean. When milk is churned you get the curd and whey; similarly when the ocean of scriptures is churned, you get two things: the quintessence and the remains. The devotees are clever: they rush to eat all the curd, and what remains, the whey, is left to the philosophers.

Now the philosophers start their research on the whey – on the weight, the density, the food value, what the great physicians Caraka and Shushruta said about the qualities of whey, its effect on the human liver, spleen, and brain, on what day and at what time of day it should be ingested, etc., and in the process they spend fifteen or twenty days on analysis. After all this they discover that the whey is fit to be eaten. But when they go to eat it, they find that it has already become spoiled! This is the lot of the philosophers. But the devotees are intelligent: they quickly consume the quintessential part without wasting their time, Human life is short – the devotees do not want to waste their limited time in fruitless debates. Hence it has been rightly said,

The name of the Lord is very sweet; the person who worships Him is truly clever.
(Krśńanám Harinám baŕai madhur, yei jan Krśńa bhaje se baŕa catur.)

However, even if the philosophers know little, still they will try to make a display of their knowledge, for they want name, fame and self-aggrandizement which they do not deserve. And the karmis, the people of action, have the defect of vanity. But the devotees are free from both. If they are told to ask for anything, they will ask only for parábhakti and nothing else. One who asks for parábhakti gets everything.

I deliberately used the word parábhakti because there is another type of devotion called aparábhakti. When people beseech the Lord to fulfil all their selfish desires, this is called aparábhakti. “Oh Lord, I am your devotee, help me to pass my examination… Oh Lord, my daughter has attained marriageable age – help me to find a worthy suitor… Let the bridegroom be ideal, let me not spend much on the wedding…” This type of showy devotion that simply asks for mundane objects, is no devotion at all, because it demands everything except Supreme Consciousness. Such devotees never say, “Oh Lord, be mine… I want You and only You.” They always say, “I want this, I want that.” In fact this is no devotion at all. When one asks only for Supreme Consciousness, this is the true devotion, parábhakti.

So the position of devotion is above action and knowledge. Action comes next and knowledge comes last. Take for example the case of the series of seminars we held last year (in 1969). A great deal of knowledge was disseminated through these seminars, and as a result of this spread of knowledge, then, some vanity developed. Usually vanity grows when a person feels to have learned much. The following year was the year of utilization or karma (action). If there is action there cannot be lethargy, and automatically devotion will come. So if there is knowledge followed by action, that knowledge will be free from its defects of lethargy and vanity. In practical life knowledge is important, but at the same time one must guard against the natural defects that may originate from knowledge. This is why Caetanya Mahaprabhu said,

“One should be as humble as the grass and as tolerant as the trees, one should give respect to those whom no one respects, and always do kiirtan to the Lord.”
(Trńádapi suniicena taroriva sahiśńnuná, amáninaḿ mánadeyaḿ kiirtaniiya sadá harih.)

Vanity harms the mind in three ways: inflated ego (abhimána), self-aggrandizement (gaorava), and prestige (pratiśt́ha). The word abhimána is not used in a derogatory sense in Bengal. When someone is hurt mentally, we call it abhimána. But the Saḿskrta word abhimána is not used in the same sense: mána means “honour”, and abhimána means “honour in a pervasive sense”. When a person expects greater honour from another person but does not receive it, then his or her reaction is called abhimána – inflated ego.

Suppose someone goes to a place and the people there do not give proper respect to him: such a person will feel slighted and he will have a severe psychic reaction. This is called abhimána. I told you the story of one of our spiritual teachers (acárya) who was a senior officer in the Agricultural Department in Bihar. Once when his higher officer came, the Acárya became rather nervous; he did everything for his officer but he forgot to do Namaskar to him. The officer said, “What sort of gentleman are you! I am your higher authority and you did not do Namaskar to me?” Obviously the officer’s pride was wounded and on some false pretext he issued a charge-sheet against the Acárya. But do you know what was the outcome? Before our Acárya could even reply to the charge-sheet, the officer was dismissed from his job because the anti-corruption squad caught him red-handed accepting a large amount of money as a bribe! This is an example of inflated ego: usually the consequences of inflated ego are always bad.

The second is self-aggrandizement or boasting – projecting oneself as a great personality. Suppose in one’s garden there is a big rose; obviously the owner of the garden will boast to other people about the size of the rose. Perhaps the flower was as big as a fig, but the owner will describe it as huge.

The third is self-glorification or hankering after prestige. Human beings are made of flesh and bones. If their heart or lungs stop functioning, then they will have no other option but to climb onto the funeral pyre. When this is the situation of human beings, where is the scope for self-glorification? Thus the spiritual aspirants say,

“Inflated ego is like drinking wine; self-aggrandizement leads one into the deepest hell, and self-glorification is like the excrement of a pig. Give up all these three and only sing the glories of the Lord.”
(Abhimánam surápánaḿ gaoravaḿ raoravaḿ dhruvaḿ, pratiśt́há shúkariiviśt́há trayaḿ tyáktvá Hariḿ bhajet.)

What is inflated ego? It is as bad as drinking wine. Now you may say, “Is drinking wine so bad that we should condemn it?” Smoking cigarettes and chewing betel are not so much condemned in society as wine is. The reason is that the most precious treasure of human beings is their intelligence, their wisdom, their discriminating judgment, and their conscience. But after drinking alcohol, all these faculties are temporarily paralysed. So the food and drink that spoils the greatest treasure: the human mind – the thinking power – is undoubtedly condemnable. Thus it is universally agreed that drinking is bad. And this inflated ego or false sense of vanity is as condemnable as drinking wine.

Gaoravaḿ raoravaḿ dhruvam: Self-aggrandizement means to project oneself to be greater than one actually is. In fact, is there anything of which human beings can be legitimately proud? You know, within this small human cranium there is a small brain composed of some nerve cells. Is this really something great of which human beings can feel proud? And what is the result of this self-glorification? Raorava means the seventh hell. You know that according to the comparative crudity or subtlety of existence there are seven stages: bhurloka (physical world), bhuvarloka (world of becoming), svarloka, maharloka, janarloka, taparloka and satyaloka. Had these been still cruder forms in that case they would be tala, atala, talátala, pátála, atipátála, and rasátala. So the seventh hell is rasátala, the very crudest of all stages of existence. Obviously in that state human beings are no longer human beings: their minds, their intellects are reduced to extreme crudity, a stage of no return. Similarly when people start becoming degraded, a stage comes when they can no longer elevate themselves; rasátala is such a state.

Pratiśt́há shúkariiviśt́ha: human beings come onto this earth only for a short while: after this stipulated period, they will depart. All entities in this world merely come and go, nothing is fixed – everything is moving, and thus this universe is called jagat (root verb gam + kvip = jagat). Jagat means that which has the characteristic of ceaselessly moving on. Another synonym for the word “world” is saḿsára (saḿ – s r+ ghan), “that which constantly changes its place.” When nothing ever ceases to move, then can you remain permanently in this world? Even the effort to establish oneself permanently in this world is unnatural, because this self-glorification is as abominable as the stool of a sow. Hence one should give up all these three – inflated ego, self-aggrandizement, and desire for prestige – and worship the Lord.

Trayaḿ tyaktvá Hariḿ bhajet – here Hari means Supreme Consciousness (Parama Puruśa). You know Hari is a favourite name of Supreme Consciousness: harati pápán ityarthe Hari – “one who steals the sins of His devotees is Hari.” Is it not absurd to call Hari a thief? Hence the fact is that only the devotees can come in close contact with Supreme Consciousness and not a philosopher (jin´áni), because the devotees’ main goal of life is to serve Supreme Consciousness. Now to serve Supreme Consciousness, the devotees cannot remain away from Him. A philosopher or a person of action always maintains some distance from Him – they do not come closest to Him. They cherish a certain degree of awe in their minds for Supreme Consciousness: “My Lord is the Supreme! How Great He is! How then can I go near Him? Let me rather remain a bit away from Him.”

In this connection let me recount an old story from the Mahabharata. You know that when Draupadii was disrobed by Duhshasana, she was praying to Naráyańa (God), “Oh Naráyańa, save me, save me!” But although Draupadii was in great trouble, still she was clutching her dress at her waist with one hand, and with the other hand upraised she was beseeching the Lord to save her. But the Lord did not at once come to her rescue. Then Laxmii said to Naráyańa, “Your devotee is entereating you so piteously – why do you refuse to help her?” The Lord answered, “No, her self-surrender is not yet complete.” You remember, when Draupadii found that there was no way to save her prestige, she threw both her hands up in the air in utter helplessness, without even trying to hold her clothes, calling pitifully, “Oh Lord, now you must save me!” And only then did the Lord immediately come to her rescue, for whereas previously she had personally tried to save herself from such a fate, now her self-surrender was complete. Similarly, all devotees must try to attain such total self-surrender as Draupadii did.

When someone comes in the shelter of Supreme Consciousness, then He elevates them from all psychic distortions. You should know that there are certain social groups who, at their place of worship, confess to the Lord, “I am a sinner… I am a sinner…” This is a defective approach, an unpsychological approach. Parama Puruśa knows more than you whether you are a sinner or not, so what is the necessity of telling Him? What news can you report to a person who already knows all the intimate details of your life? Is it not ludicrous to retell the stories of your grandfather’s house to your mother, for certainly she knows them better than you!

Then what should be the proper approach to Supreme Consciousness?

“You are pure, you are enlightened, you are completely unblemished; you are free from the snares of this illusory world. Give up this dream of worldly life, thus spoke Madálasá to her son.”
(“Shuddho’si buddho’si niranjano’si, saḿsáramáyá parivarjito’si
Saḿsárasvapnaiḿ tyaja moha nidrám, Madálasollapamuváca puttram.)

You should think within that you are ever pure and enlightened – you are a child of Supreme Consciousness. You should think that you are like a newborn baby who remains untouched or unaffected by the dirt and dross of sin. Why should you approach Supreme Consciousness as a sinner?

The relationship between the Lord and human beings is one of close family ties. Does a small child in the family ever go to its parents saying, “I am a sinner, I am wicked, please forgive me, my parents”? Certainly a child will never say this. Even a truly wicked person comes to his mother and says, “Dear Mummy, I am very hungry, please give me food.” He will never speak of his sins.

However, when Supreme Consciousness knows that the sense of sin harms human beings and creates obstacles in the path of their spiritual progress, He steals the sins of His devotees. Is it stealing? If one takes an object of another person without proper permission, this is called stealing. And what is robbery? When someone takes away someone’s property forcibly but with prior intimation, this is termed as robbery. Here what Hari is doing is not robbery but stealing, because if He says to His devotees, “Oh my children, give me all your accumulated sins,” certainly no one would agree to do so; rather they would say, “How can we give our sins to you? We can provide you with delectable food, we can take care of you, we can give you all sorts of gifts – but how can we give you our sins?” Thus when Supreme Consciousness sees that the devotees are unwilling to part with their sins, He forcibly steals them away.

So towards the Entity who is so close to you, is it proper for you to entertain such false feelings of inflated ego, self-aggrandizement and self-glorification (prestige)? Caetanya Mahaprabhu, to help human beings, overcome this sense of vanity and lethargy, advised them to a psychological approach: be as humble as the grass – trńadapi suniicena. When people feel that others are not giving them proper regard, and as a result they feel psychically wounded, they should accept this golden principle to counteract this false sense of self-aggrandizement: one should consider oneself to be even humbler than the grass.

But remember that this refers to individual and not collective behaviour. In collective life, pride should not be allowed to raise its head, it should not be condoned. In collective life one has no right to forgive anyone; in individual life you can extend maximum forgiveness – rather, the more forgiveness, the better. Forgiveness is something personal; it is not a collective matter. Suppose you are an inhabitant of India. If someone harms the collective life of India, you must not forgive them. Likewise, as you belong to the entire human race, you must not forgive anyone who harms humanity. But in individual life, however much one might harm you, you may forgive that person to the greatest extent possible. Thus it is said that one should be as humble as the grass. But remember that grass, although humble, is not insignificant: the universal life is manifested in grass. Without grass it would have been impossible for human beings to survive.

You should further remember that in practical life, no spiritual aspirant would like to be a banyan tree or a palm tree. A banyan tree as it grows, extends its branches in all directions. Many people enjoy the wide shade of such a huge tree, but its greatest defect is that it does not give any opportunity to other plants to grow under its shade. Likewise, one should not aspire to become like a palm tree which raises its head higher and higher but does not provide shade to anyone. So you should not emulate the examples of either the banyan tree or the palm tree – you should rather be as humble as the grass. It remains underfoot, but how luxuriantly it grows from there! Mother Earth remains under the feet of all beings, but does this do insult to her in any respect? Sometimes a child stands on the lap of its mother; does this harm or insult the mother? Not at all. On the contrary, the mother is elevated thereby. Hence it is said, “one must be humbler than the grass, and more tolerant than the trees” (trńádapi suniicena taroriva sahiśńuná).

Likewise when one’s sense of aggrandizement is wounded one becomes intolerant. Suppose someone claims that huge roses have grown in his garden but in reality the flowers are not that big. If someone argues, “No, no, the roses are not all that large – you are telling us lies! The roses in your garden are actually quite small!” The owner of the garden will fly into a rage. Thus when someone’s inflated ego is pinched, he or she becomes extremely angry.

Thus human beings will have to practise tolerance. But this spirit of tolerance must be developed only in individual life; in collective life it must not be expressed. If a country illegally grabs even one inch of your land you must take one mile of the aggressor’s land; no spirit of tolerance in this regard is permissible. If you show your tolerance then they will take one inch today and one mile tomorrow. However, you can practise toleration as much as possible in individual life, and that will be considered a sign of greatness.

Amániinaḿ mánadeyaḿ: You expect that people should respect and honour you, but you never think that you should also respect and honour others. Saḿgráme vaepariityaḿ: this principle has already been explained. You long for name and fame, and you are burning with impatience because you are not receiving the honour you expect. So you must use the reverse strategy: give respect to those whom no one gives respect, and your mind will become balanced and at peace. When beggars are stranded by the wayside, do you ever care to salute them? Why not? Are they not dignified human beings, are they not also expressions of the same One Supreme Consciousness? But when well-dressed, high-placed ministers and leaders stand before you, you lie prostrate before them – why this discrimination? All are manifestations of one and the same God: yet one person you greet warmly and another you utterly neglect – why this differential treatment? It means that there is a hidden sense of flattery in your mind and you are surreptitiously trying to gain honour from the elite. Rather you must give respect to those who do not receive respect from anyone; in this way your minds will become balanced and you will progress.

As ideal human beings you should not wait to give namaskar after another has greeted you: you should rather take the first opportunity to greet others. When someone greets you, it is merely common courtesy for you to salute back; you do not become an ideal human being thereby. Rather one who seizes the first opportunity to salute others is the ideal. So you should always make an effort to do namaskar to others first: you should not care whether the person whom you greet will greet you in return or not. (When people come to me during personal contact, I greet them first whether they salute me or not.) By giving honour to others you will not be belittled, you will rather enhance your prestige.

Namanti phalinah vrkśah: when trees are laden with fruits they do not raise their heads high, rather they bend down low: this is the sign of greatness.

Kiirtaniiyah sadáharih: one should always sing the glory of the Lord. It is the frailty of human beings that when a few of them group together, they indulge in criticizing or mudslinging others. This leads to psychic degradation. In fact people should perform such actions which will lead to psychic elevation, actions which give the mind no scope for degeneration. The easiest way to do this is to sing the glories of the Supreme Entity whose very thought automatically elevates the mind. Chanting the name of Supreme Consciousness aloud is called kiirtana; For, the vibration created in the atmosphere by kiirtana will influence others also. But if one’s mental ideation is conveyed only to Supreme Consciousness without affecting other human beings, this is called bhajana. So bhajana is purely personal; it has no collective aspect. Kiirtana is more beneficial than bhajana, and hence it is said kiirtaniiyah sadá harih: whenever you find time, do kiirtana loudly and you will never become degenerated because by chanting the Lord’s holy name the mind remains elevated. Mudslinging and criticizing is thereby stopped forever, and hence kiirtana averts the degradation of the human mind. You should always remember that in every sphere of life – social, political, economic, psychic, and spiritual – you should always follow the principle of “taking the opposite stance”: there is no exception to this rule. Victory will surely be yours.

Copyright Ananda Marga Publications 2012

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