Most people on this Earth are following a path of self-interest and selfishness. No doubt, it is the most popular path, and it has its own pandits and masters, who teach how to perfect the path of the external ego, how to perfect worldliness, how to perfect the trinity of I, me and mine, how to perfect self-indulgence.
Enamored with the senses, unaware of and thus not interested in dharma or his inner Divinity, a man surrounds himself with the pleasures and distractions of the world: women, wine, fine apparel, rare fruits and flowers and the intellectual diversions found in books and games.
One of these I call the ânava mârga, or the path of egoism. True, it is not a traditional path, but it is a path well worn, well known in all human traditions. In fact, you could say there are three such untraditional paths, three worldly mârgas: ânava, karma and mâyâ. The last two bonds, karma and mâyâ, are the first to begin to diminish their hold on the soul as one proceeds on the path to enlightenment.
The karma mârga is when the soul is totally enmeshed in the actions and reactions of the past and making new karmas so swiftly that little personal identity, or egoism, is experienced, like a small boat bouncing on a vast ocean of ignorance, the ignorance of the mâyâ mârga. And when these fetters begin to loosen, the ânava, the personal ego identity, thoughts of “me,” “my” and “mine,” should also begin to go, but often don’t. When karma and mâyâ begin to go, ânava often becomes stronger and stronger and stronger.
Here the realization comes that “Yes! I am a person on this Earth with the rights of all. I am no longer bound and harassed by experience. I can adjust experience, create new experience for myself and for others. I can be the controller. I am I.” The I becomes the realization and sometimes the end of the path of the karma and mâyâ mârga. The I, that all-important personal identity, so strong, becomes the realization of the small and limited “self,” which appears to be a big and real “self” to those who have found this path, which is not the spiritual path, but the path of grayness; while the karma and mâyâ mârgas are the paths of darkness. Ånava, the personal ego, finding oneself, with a small “s,” the personal identity, gaining intellectual freedom are all modern clichés.
To offset the negative with the positive better explains the positive. To understand the pure essence of ignorance, where it comes from, its values, beliefs and motivations, better defines the heights of wisdom out of which comes dharma and aspirations for mukti. We cannot advance on the path without a starting place. No race was ever won but that everyone began at the same place.
The businessman on the ânava mârga is generous by all appearances, gives enough to gain praise, adulation and to make friends. In proportion to his wealth, he gives a pittance. There is always some attachment to the gift, some favor to be eventually reaped. The gift is a purchase in disguise.
Television is a window into the ânava mârga. We see extremely successful professional people who maybe have started on the ânava mârga and have bypassed it to the artful acting portrayal of people on the ânava mârga.
Before the ânava mârga, there is only confusion, unqualified thoughts, desires that are only motivative or directional, not crystallized into any kind of a concept that can be manifested toward a fulfillment. The confusion arises out of the drive for self preservation. All animal instincts are alive in such a human being. He does not hold to promises, does not seek to strive, is a proverbial burden on society. Society is made up of ânava mârgîs and those who live in the other mârgas. Deception, theft, murder, anger, jealousy and fear are often the occupation and the emotions of those living without a personal identity, a well-defined ego.
A personal identity and well-defined ego is the ânava, and the pursuit of the development of that is the mârga. Each purusha, human soul, must go through the ânava mârga, a natural and required path whose bloom is the fulfillment of the senses, of the intellect and all the complexities of doing. It is prior to our entrance upon the ânava mârga and while we are happily on the ânava mârga that we create the karmas to be understood and overcome later when we walk the charyâ and kriyâ mârgas. You have to understand before you can overcome. This is the time that we “do ourselves in” and later understand the all-pervasiveness of Siva, the laws of karma, dharma, sansâra. Yes, of course, this is the time the mischief is done.
The ânava mârgî looks at God from a distance. He does not want to get too close and does not want to drift too far away, lives between lower consciousness and higher consciousness, between the manipûra, svâdhish†hana and mûlâdhâra and the lower three, atala, vitala and sutala, which represent fear, anger and jealousy. He is guided by reason. That is why he can come into the other mârgas. Therefore, God is at a distance. He sees himself pluralistically, separate from God, coexistent with God. The higher chakras are dreaming benignly, waiting for the consciousness to explore them.
Only when someone begins to love God is he on the path of spiritual unfoldment. Only then is he a seeker. Only then does his budding love begin to focus on religious icons. Only then is he able to nurture his love into becoming a bhaktar and at the same time a religious person, a giving person. This is the charyâ path. We come onto the charyâ mârga from the ânava mârga. We come to Lord Ganesha’s feet from the ânava mârga. He is now the guide. The personal ego has lost its hold.
The ânava mârga, and the glue that holds it together, is ignorance of the basic tenets of Hinduism. There is no way one can be on this mârga if he truly accepts the existence of God pervading all form, sustaining all form and rearranging all form. There is no way this mârga could be pursued by one understanding karma, seeing his manifest acts replayed back to him through the lives of others, his secret diabolical thoughts attacking him through the lips of others. The ânava mârga does not include this knowledge. The dharma of a perfect universe and an orderly life, the consciousness of “the world is my family, all animals are my pets” is an abhorrent idea to someone on the ânava mârga, especially if he is casted by birth in this life. The ânava mârgî abhors the idea of reincarnation. To pay the bill of one’s indiscretions in another life is not what ânava is all about. There is a forgetfulness here. When you renounce your childhood, you forget that you ever were a child. You forget the moods, the emotions, the joys and the fears and all that was important at that time.
The yoga mârga must come naturally out of intense bhakti and internalized worship. The intensity of bhakti is developed on the kriyâ mârga. The final remains of the ego are pulverized on the charyâ mârga, where Sivathondu, selfless service, is performed unrelentingly with no thought of reward, but a hope that the pu∫ya, merit, will be beneficial in the long run. The ânava mârga is easy to leave through total surrender to God, Gods and guru, along with seva, service to religious institutions. Surrender, prapatti, is the key.
It is not without a great ordeal and effort, soul-searching and decision-making that one mârga bends into the other or bows before the other before it releases the consciousness to go on. One mârga must really bend before the other before one can be released. Before entering another mârga, it is a matter of giving up, which is painful, most especially for the ânava mârga people, for whom suffering is no stranger.
Ånava people are always pursuing something, the fulfillment comes on the ânava mârga, and there is fulfillment, but in a never-stopping pursuit of fulfillment. As soon as we stop the pursuit of fulfillment, we become unhappy, empty, feel unfulfilled and, I might even say, at times depressed. The ânava mârga is the I-ness, me-ness, mine-ness; me, my, I. “I want, I give, I get, I collect.” I, me and mine are the key words here. The true ânava mârgî is the owner, the getter, the consumer, not always the producer, vulnerable to the emotions of fear, who uses jealousy as an asset to obtain.
There are two mârgas before the ânava mârga begins, within the realm of deep ignorance. Here reside the masses who live in confusion, the professional consumers who know the generosity of society, who will never in this lifetime manifest a desire, a goal, a thought for the future worthy enough to be accepted on the ânava mârga. They are the slaves of the ânava mârgîs, those whom, as slaves, they manipulate without conscience.
Ånava is one’s personal ego, his identity and place in the world and position on the planet. If his motives are proper and the position is earned on account of good deeds, it is not ânava. But if, when praised, he takes credit for himself, it is ânava. Ånava is the tricky substance of the mind. It is behind every door, it’s peeking in every window. It is the first thing to come at birth and the last thing to go at death. To break the chain of ânava, the yoking to the Infinite beyond comprehension in any state of mind must be complete and final. And yet, while a physical body is still maintained, the ânava elf is still lurking in the shadows, saying “praise is better than blame, name must come into fame, and shame is to be avoided at all cost.” This is the ânava routine. It keeps people held down on the planet in the instinctive-intellectual mind of remorse and forgiveness and suffering the adjustments to circumstance that occur beyond their power of understanding.
If we were to admit that there are really seven mârgas, we would find that charyâ, kriyâ, yoga and jñâna are progressive states of fullness, and the ânava mârga, by comparison, is a static state of emptiness. This feeling of emptiness is a motivative, driving force of desire toward the attainment of the feeling of fullness. The feeling of fullness is the awakening of the higher chakras, of course. And the constant feeling of completeness is, of course, the permanent awakening of the sahasrâra chakra.
The path of the ânava teaches us what to do and what not to do. It creates the karmas to be lived through and faced in many lives to come. And when dharma is finally accepted and understood and the religious patterns of life are encompassed in one’s own personal daily experience, then and only then do we see the end of this path in view. So, the ânava mârga is definitely not a never-ending maze or a no-man’s land. Though a state of ignorance, it is still a state of experiential learning.
People try to fill their emptiness with things. They work so hard for their money, thinking, “Oh, when I can buy this object for my home I will feel fulfilled.” They buy it with their hard-earned money. A day or two later, after ownership has taken effect, the initial fulfillment of ownership wanes, and unfulfillment, which has always been there, takes over. There is no fulfillment in the instinctive-intellectual mind.
Bound to the Path
These days egos get gratified by going to heads of corporations, meeting important people and bowing before heads of state. It is on the charyâ mârga that we learn that rich and poor, the powerful and lowly are all purushas, pure souls, jîvas encompassed in a physical body. And on this mârga we learn to bow before God and the Gods. We learn that their home, their officiating place, is the temple, the home shrine and under sacred trees. Being in their presence makes the charyâ mârgî feel small. The first glimmer of the feeling of smallness is the first footstep on the charyâ mârga.
Those who are not successful in life yet, and experience the repercussion of karmas of past lives denying them things, experiences, security and wealth, are the ruthless ânava mârgîs. For those who have fulfilled their dharmas, and desire has waned for more—they don’t need more money, they don’t need more food, they don’t need more houses, they don’t need more respect—the ânava wanes of its own accord, like an old leaf on a tree turns color and falls to the ground. They enter the charyâ mârga and kriyâ mârga with matured respect and humility.
The one who has little desires the most. He takes issues with the smallest things. The instinctive desire to save face is ever prevalent in his mind, for his face is all he’s got. Even the jîvanmukta doesn’t like unjust criticisms, but he is bound by his wisdom to nondefensiveness, just, unjust, true or false. “Let them say what they have to say, and if it affects me, it is helping me on the way to my final mukti.” He would bless them for that. The ânava mârgî is not like people on the other mârgas, who have mixed feelings about these issues. The ânava mârgî is a prefect in retaliation. That comes as one of the powers or boons of living on this mârga, along with deception and the ability to lie one’s way out of a situation. And to save face, place and position, no matter how lowly they might seem, is the goal of life for the ânava mârgî.
Exiting the Anava Marga
There is a little of the ânava always with us right up to the moment of mukti. You don’t get off the ânava mârga. Individual ego slowly diminishes as the soul unfolds from mârga to mârga. Nandi the bull represents the ego, personal identity, and in a large traditional Hindu temple, we see many images of Nandi, getting progressively smaller as we approach the innermost sanctum. This indicates the soul’s progression toward God or the diminishing ego.
Self-preservation is a very important part of the personal ego. But then, later, as progressive steps are taken, spiritual identity fulfills the emptiness, as water fills up a container. Only at the moment that mukti occurs does the container vanish. Until then the ânava is like smoldering coals in a burnt-out fire. New wood can be thrown upon them. They can be fanned up. Detractors to a spiritual movement will often try to reawaken the ânava of its leader and kill out the rival movement by creating his downfall.
It is no accident that the Hindu sages can understand the ânava within man. Yes, of course, they passed through it themselves and are just tapping their own memory patterns, seeing the actions of others and knowing the outcome.
Without sâdhana, penance tends to be spontaneous, erratic; whereas consistent sâdhana is the regulation of penance. Now the soul begins dropping off the bonds of karma, mâyâ and ânava as it unfolds into bhakti, love. All this is not without being a painful process. Therefore, the protective mechanism of fear, which in itself is an avoidance process, is right there to help – in the chakra just below the mûlâdhâra. The presence or absence of spiritual surrender and willingness to serve shows whether a person is on the ânava mârga or on the charyâ mârga. Devotees on the charyâ mârga are striving to unfold spiritually and reach the kriyâ mârga. People on the ânava mârga are not striving at all. They are their own self-appointed teachers and proceed at their own pace. When we are on the charyâ mârga, we have a lot of help from family, friends and our entire religious community. When we are on the kriyâ mârga, the entire Hindu community, the elders and others all get behind us to help us along our way. Then when we are finally on the yoga mârga, we have all the saptha rishis helping us. The sat gurus are helping, too, and all three million swâmîs and sâdhus in the world are helping us along the path at this stage. When we have entered the jñâna mârga, we are bringing forth new knowledge, giving forth blessings and meeting the karmas that unwind until mukti.
Excerpts from “Merging with Siva” by Sivaya Subramuniyaswami