The Mother Divine
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Winters in Rishikesh can be harsh. Temperature drops down to zero or minus three at times. Every year we go out on the streets, little late in the night, and invariably find a lot of homeless people with no shelter, sleeping on the pavements, fighting biting cold with nothing to cover themselves with. We give them warm blankets which prove for many to be their only possession.

Last year on our fourth and last day, we went to the other side of the river, taking all the blankets on a scooter. Wonderful breeze was blowing on the Ram jhulaa bridge. The lights on the hills looked very exotic in the darkness of the town below. We found those badly in need, a family of three sharing a single sheet – a six year old boy huddled between parents. They were delighted. Then there was a lady with nothing at all. She had been bitten by a dog twice, had taken an injection from the free medical service at Nirmal hospital. She was happy to have a blanket.

Little ahead, when we went down the steps to look, we found one young sannyasi sitting on the steps.

“Hari Aum Babaji,” I greeted him.

“Hari Aum!” he said.

“It’s very cold and you don’t seem to have a sweater. Would you like a blanket?” I asked him.
“No! Cold is good! I don’t want a blanket, but there is a person at the end of the street, he might need one,” he said.

His eyes were powerful and penetrating. While everyone around was asleep, this young sannyasi was busy reading Kena Upanishad.

“Sure! We’ll give him one, and maybe you could have one too.”

“No! Not me. There will always be a person who will need it more than me. Besides, I live by little work I do in the ashram, I don’t take alms. Thank you, I don’t want a blanket.”

We were astounded. One can only salute such spirit and swabhimana (self-respect) in a sannyasi like him.

A swabhimani person would rather starve in his house, without letting anyone have the slightest hint of their penury. To sacrifice swabhimana tantamounts to death for him. Such noble souls endure fatal hardships and sufferings with a smile on their face. They are unwilling to trade their swabhimana at any cost. Such swabhimanis (like Mahatma Gandhi) make empires shake with fear. It is a self-effacing thing where the self is sacrificed for a bigger identification.

Where does this swabhimana come from? How is it any different from abhimana (pride)? I was asked this question by one of our readers, Munmun Chatterjee. I tried answering it and realised that there is much depth to the subject. My study led me to thoughts of not so well known people like Osho Siddharth Aulia, Sushil Kumar Sharma, Dr Pradeep Kumar, Chandra Prabha Sood, Rakesh Birwa etc. I used their ideas to construct this note.

Swa-abhimana, as the word suggests, is respect that comes from Swa, one’s own self. It comes from
constant dwelling in swadharma, one’s own nature. Abhimana on the other hand comes from constantly living by a foreign ideal, something that is guided by the perception of others.

One may argue that swabhimana is a kind of abhimana, but the two are not only different, they seem to be diametrically opposite. One can find a concrete reason for one’s pride: it could be higher birth, beauty, wealth, knowledge, status, accomplishments etc. But what does one mean by self-respect?
What’s the cause of self-respect? Why would one respect oneself? What’s the stuff that self-respect is made of?

If I said ‘I respect myself’, what does that really mean? What is that ‘I’? When we probe into this question, we find that it’s not this or that quality, but the very existence, the fact that it’s your ‘self’ that becomes important. You become more important than anything that’s yours. A self-respecting person does not respect his or her possessions, whether material or non-material; he respects himself or herself, for whoever he or she is.

How can one respect oneself for oneself? Why is there a sense of dignity in just being oneself? Well, we may find the very wellspring of swabhimana in this answer.

Swabhimana arises from the consciousness of being united with the Supreme-self. Each one of us, in the depths of our being, knows that we are a part of the Divine and that creates a worth, a self-worth that is beyond the worldly comparisons. When we know this divinity, even faintly and instinctually, we are rooted and self-regarded.

Swabhimana entails conferring honour, dignity and prestige to oneself in accordance with one’s own nature and extend the same to others for who they are.

Actually, we can look at abhimana as a word that has an implied prefix. (Para) abhimana. This (para) abhimana is the opposite of (swa) abhimana. Material possessions such as wealth, strength, property, land etc, achievements of one’s offspring, knowledge and wealth awaken abhimaan. Mahatma Vidur has said, “Old age devours beauty, hopelessness devours patience, death devours prana, anger devours wealth (Shri), work devours shame and abhimana devours EVERYTHING.”

A person who is proud respects oneself, and even others, by an external yardstick. Unlike a self-respecting person, he judges using para dharma.

The abhimani one is prone to injustice and the swabhimani one is prone to oppose injustice. While the swabhimani is only interested in eliminating any domination done on him, the abhimani one is interested in dominating others. In other words, the swabhimani overthrows domination of others while the abhimani establishes his domination. Ravana was abhimani because he wanted to dominate, Kamsa was abhimani because he wanted to rule with terror but Ram ended the reign of Ravana and Krishna ended tyranny of Kansa, hence both Ram and Krishna were swabhimani.
The most important point to be noted here is that both Ram and Krishna never boasted of their conquest but they passed on their victory as a fruit of assistance of others, their abhimana gave way to swabhimana and in them arose a discriminating ability to distinguish between these two intertwined facets of the psyche. Abhimana, as Mahatma Vidur pointed out, devours everything because it is rooted in tamas. Here is a quick check to see if one is an abhimani or a swabhimani…

Swabhimani (Self-respecting) Abhimani (Proud)
Always self-confident Never trusts his own self
Always natural because his attitude is always fair and optimistic, he knows his weaknesses and strengths Shrewd and manipulative because he covers his shortcomings and never accepts his mistakes
Self -reliant, liberates others from dependences Dependent on others, tries to make people depend on him
Always educating others Learning from virtues of others
Happy for others Jealous of others
Always takes care of the feeling of others, so his relationships are strong and blissful Relationships full of pain, based on his importance and pride, he can break the relationship as soon as he succeeds
Self-effacing and modest Self-exhibitionist, tries to show off
Always critical of his abilities Over-confident of his ability
Tries to see one’s own shortcomings in failure Blames others for his failures
Considers his criticism as beneficial Cannot tolerate his criticism
Sincerely accepts one’s faults and apologises Never accepts one’s own mistakes and blames them on others
Speaks politely and courteously Haughty and overbearing in speech
Good listener, thinks he can learn a lot from others Bad listener, thinks he has nothing to learn from others
Secure, gives importance to others Insecure of giving importance to others
Mindful of not hurting anyone (because hurt can come back and that will destroy self-respect) Hurts others because he has no self-respect to protect
Mindful of treating everyone equally Regards others as inferior
Self-contained and undemanding Discontented and demanding
Doesn’t try to influence others Constantly tries to influence others
Achieves success with hard work Opportunistic
Ready to work with anyone and on any task Keen on only that work which gives them prominence
Always mindful and alert and will never cross the boundaries when he deals with others Transgresses boundaries that mark the distinctions of his space and that of others
Gives the credit of his success to others Wants to take full credit himself

How can we move from abhimana to swabhimana? How can we sublimate our ego into self-respect? After attaining everything material or immaterial if there is also a surge of humility and empathy, it inspires swabhimana. Every great scientist, great philosopher and great politician, was devoid of abhimana or pride, that’s why they were called great.

The ways of abhimana, ego, are very subtle, sometimes they come by way of renunciation, sometimes in the guise of humility, sometimes as devotion, sometimes as swabhimana, but there is one sure way to identify the infection of ego – wherever there is a sense of “I”, ego should be reckoned.

Swabhimana fortifies our faltering steps and confers steadiness. It does not let us down in difficult and helpless circumstances. Abhimana tosses us in the darkness of ignorance. It is often deceitful with false knowledge, sense of pride and vain power.

Abhimanis are always proud of their knowledge but they have no knowledge of their pride.
Swabhimana comes from sattva and is the journey of a smaller human being towards greatness. It is a deeper thing which takes one closer to God through Self-realisation, therefore it is an ideal not only for the individual but also for the family, society, nation and humanity. To be proud of being an Indian, to be proud of belonging to a land where the great Himalaya stands firm and divine Ganga flows, to be proud of the heritage of Bharat Varsha, to be proud of being virtuous, to be proud of being a disciple of a great saint – these are self-purifying forms of pride. Abhimana of these things transforms into swabhimana. This is so, because this form of pride or self-identity is not rooted in the limited self, it is drawn from the higher and nobler things which automatically inculcate humility and greatness.

To sum up, swabhimana is divine, evolutionary, positive, welfare-seeking, promoter of non-duality and oneness and headed for Truth-Consciousness-Bliss while abhimana is a lower mortal, destructive, negative, damaging, furtherer of duality and division and headed

Raj Supe (Kinkar Vishwashreyananda)