Be Careful What You Think
Q&A with Swami Swaroopananda

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Can one's negative wishes toward another really cause actual harm to that person, even a fleeting thought?

Answer: Yes, absolutely. Swami Sivananda said that every karma, or action, starts with a thought and that every action must give a result according to the law of cause and effect. Therefore, Swami Sivananda spoke about the power of thinking — not just the power of talking, not just the power of action, but the power of thinking.

He said that every thought has four effects. First, a negative thought harms the person who thinks it, which also has been demonstrated to a large degree within Western science. Then it harms the person toward whom the thought is directed. So if I hate someone, I actually harm him by the thought. Then, Swami Sivananda said, it pollutes the psychic atmosphere. For example, if you come to a place where people meditate and pray, you will feel one thing, and if you come to a place where people fight, even if no one is in that place, you will feel something else. Imagine that five minutes ago, everyone was fighting here in this temple and then they all left. Then you come here and try to meditate. I assure you that you will see some disturbances in your meditation because the psychic atmosphere is polluted. Lastly, Swami Sivananda said that the effect of the thought returns to the person who originated the thought. It comes back to us, but it doesn't come back to us with a ratio of one to one.

The law of karma explains that effects multiply. It's like sowing a seed. From that seed will come a plant, and that plant is going to produce many seeds, not just one seed. And from these many seeds, many other plants will grow. So from this one seed, many many many plants will grow, which will affect many many many people, animals and other beings in many ways. In the same manner, one thought does not produce one effect. One thought produces many effects, and these effects will come back, in the form of a result, to the person who thought that particular thought. This is what the yogis say about it. When you think negatively about a person, you definitely hurt yourself, you hurt the person, you pollute the psychic atmosphere, and you also are going to hurt yourself in the future because of the result of this thought.

How does Darwinism fit in with Vedanta?

Answer: Darwin was a sincere person, and a very religious person, by the way. He went to the Galapagos Islands, and he uncovered certain things that created a conflict within him between the religion that was taught to him and what he discovered.

He discovered an evolution within nature. So, of course, if you believe that we are this body, that what we are is this physical body, you're going to have a problem with Darwinists, because you will say, "Darwin said that we're coming from the monkeys." But what's wrong with the monkeys, anyway? Nothing is wrong with them. Nothing is wrong with the cats. Nothing is wrong with the dogs. Nothing is wrong with the flowers. The yogis explain that the whole creation is an evolving organism. In fact, the keynote of creation — not just of the human kingdom, of all kingdoms within creation — is evolution. The great Sri Aurobindo said that the human being is not the end of evolution, but just a step within evolution. There is a further evolution beyond the human being. The human being will have to transform like the caterpillar. Then one day we will ask ourselves, how can it be possible that we came from human beings?

Actually, Darwin helped humanity to progress and to imbibe the idea that there is an organic evolution within nature. His contribution is great. The problem people experience has nothing to do with Darwin; it has to do with human nature which is to get attached to teachings and ideas without allowing them to evolve. Someday a person will take human understanding of evolution one step further, but it won't mean that Darwin was wrong. It will mean that like anything else, evolution goes on, including the evolution of human wisdom and understanding as a whole. If you think about human understanding in the 18th century and human understanding in the 21st century, it's very different. It changed very quickly, and we had to give up old ideas. For wisdom to come, we truly need non-attachment and renunciation. A new idea cannot come if we are not ready to give up an old idea. On the other hand, we should not abandon old ideas; they are like stepping stones to new ideas. When Einstein came, he did not abolish the teachings of Newton. No, it was a natural evolution within science. When quantum mechanics came, it did not abolish the teachings of Einstein; it was a natural evolution.

Evolution is not only within the animal kingdom. There is also an evolution of wisdom and knowledge. There is an evolution of consciousness. There is evolution of planets. There is evolution of galaxies. Again, the very keynote of creation is evolution. Yogis look with fervor to Darwin, but they say Darwin did not have the last word any more than the people before him or the people after him. If Darwin was right, at this very moment, everything evolves. And if everything evolves, we should be ready to renounce old ideas and to embrace new ones. This is the key — to renounce old paradigms and to embrace new paradigms, to renounce old methods and to embrace new methods. We should be ready for it, although it's not easy. Actually, it's extremely difficult.

Swami Swaroopananda is the Acharya (spiritual director) of Sivananda Yoga Centers and Ashrams on the West Coast of the United States, in the Middle East and in the Bahamas, and is one of the foremost disciples of Swami Vishnudevananda. This article is from one of his spontaneous question and answer sessions, which he frequently offers at Sivananda centers and ashrams all over the world.

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