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The Means To Life Enhancement

We can discuss the means of life enhancement in general under physical, mental, social and spiritual enhancement. The means of physical enhancement of life are balanced diet, exercise (including pranayama and asanas), and rest and sleep.

Mental enhancement of life must have two aims: i) healthy individual reaction to external or internal stress situations, and ii) harmonious working of the various faculties of the individual: emotions and sentiments, desires and drives, and the intellect—in short, between thinking, feeling, and willing. Such an ideal mental enhancement can be achieved by what I call the four D’s: discrimination, detachment, devotion, and discipline.

Discrimination includes reasoning, observation, critical assessment of an event or object, and analytical study. Practice of philosophical discrimination between the real and the unreal, and careful and critical analysis of our own real nature and that of the world around can lead to insight into the true nature of our own Self (Atman) and, like Ramana Maharshi, we can get fully establish in the Self. We will then be svastha, which is the real meaning of the term healthy. Even short of this highest state, we can make good use of our discriminating faculty and get at the depth of the events of life.

Next comes detachment. One of the major causes of mental instability and suffering is attachment to persons, places, things, and specific types of activity. When our expectations are frustrated, we get upset and lose our mental poise. This is one of the major causes of stress and is going to increase in the future. We must practise detachment and learn to be more objective in our approach, not only towards the events of the external world, but also towards the events occurring in our mental world.

Devotion integrates, strengthens, and sublimates emotions. We have hundreds of emotions which drive us in different directions. Devotion to God, to one’s guru, to the scriptures, or even to an ideal is a great stabilizing force. Faith and dedication are two of its many aspects. One of the causes of failing mental health among people is the gradual decline and weakening of faith. The postmodern world dominated by science and technology is a world of weak faith and consequent emotional instability. If one does not like to have faith and devotion for a deity, one may have them for an idea, a principle. As a matter of fact, psychologically speaking, faith in God or in a prophet ultimately boils down to faith in some worthwhile ideal.

Finally, there must be discipline in all its aspects. The body must be disciplined, the senses must be controlled and must obey the commands of the mind, and the mind too must be disciplined. Just as a chariot with disciplined and controlled horses, with the reins held tight in the hands of an expert driver reaches the goal safely without meeting with accidents, so also a disciplined body with controlled senses, mind and intellect conduces to the overall well-being of an individual. The eightfold path of yoga with meditation as the central theme is essentially a scheme of all-round life enhancement.

Excerpts from article titled ‘Life Enhancement’ by Swami Brahmeshananda in Prabuddha Bharata Magazine April 2006 issue.