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Continued From The Second Part
More about Character-Building
This means that character-building is the result of whatever we do and do not do (for not doing is also a kind of action). But is character inherited or is it subject to change? Can one change one's character? This is an important issue that bothers most human minds and hence understanding it is essential to the whole process of character-building.
According to Swamiji, the birth of a person does have a role to play. He said once,
'One child is born of a divine nature, another of a human, others of lower character.'3
While parentage and formative period of one's life cast an influence on one's character, every human being has an opportunity to change himself. He can make a choice, and can change himself. If it were not so, all spiritual counsels would be meaningless, all scriptures would turn ineffective and man will remain condemned forever. If past actions have played a role in making our present character, it naturally follows that our future character will be determined by what we do now. Swamiji explains:
"Look back on yourselves from the state of the amoeba to the human being; who made all that? Your own will. Can you deny then that it is almighty? That which has made you come up so high can make you go higher still. What you want is character, strengthening of the will"4
Herein lies, therefore, the secret of character-building: strengthening of the will. The will is strengthened through repeated practices. It is akin to muscle building exercises. A man with strong muscles is a man who has exercised his muscles repeatedly. Repetition 'brings out' the potential muscles. It is a process of inside-out—of 'manifesting the perfection that is already within'.
Moreover, there is no other way out to lasting peace and meaning in life except by building character. There are no substitutes.
Training the Mind-the Secret
Training the will means training or controlling the senses and the mind and not be controlled by them. Kathopanishad5 speaks of the human personality as a chariot thus:
Know the atman to be the master of the chariot; the body, the chariot; the buddhi [discriminating faculty], the charioteer; and the mind, the reins. The senses, they say, are the horses; the object, the roads. . . .A man who has discrimination for his charioteer, and holds the reins of the mind firmly, reaches the end of the road; and that is the supreme position of Vishnu [the all-pervading Consciousness].
The secret of character-building lies in training the mind. Let us recall the well-known passage about character-building:
Sow a thought, reap an action.
Sow an action, reap a habit.
Sow a habit, reap your character.
Sow character and reap your destiny.
The whole process, as is evident from this, begins with when we 'sow a thought'. The problem, and the solution to it, lies with our thoughts, or to be more precise, with our will power. It is the will which needs to be trained. To this, one should become the master of the chariot, instead of becoming a slave to the horses [senses] and the reins [mind or thoughts]. This is an inner training wherein the charioteer [buddhi] has to be strengthened and re-educated. It has to learn to control the senses and the mind, and not be controlled by them. Says Swamiji:
"He who has succeeded in attaching or detaching his mind to or from the centres at will has succeeded in Pratyahara, which means, 'gathering towards,' checking the outgoing powers of the mind, freeing it from the thraldom of the senses. When we can do this, we shall really possess character. . ."
About the author
Swami Atmashraddhananda is a monk of the Ramakrishna Order and editor of The Vedanta Kesari from the year 2004 .