Being the Cosmic Whole
by Swami Krishnananda

Discourse 3: Reversing the Process of Perception

It is necessary for everyone to know where one stands. Where are you positioned at this moment? A symbolic description of what has happened to us is majestically given in the famous Aitareya Upanishad. Why are we what we are? What is our joy, and what is our sorrow? When we try to understand things which are beyond human comprehension, we have to use symbolic language. No mathematics, no logic can explain to us what has happened to us really. We are something. But why are we something in the way we perceive our own selves? We must know what has happened to us, why it is that we are looking like we are.

The symbolic story that the Aitareya Upanishad gives us is that there was one only, there is one only, and there will be one only. Now, you have to remember that whatever I am telling you is symbolic, and not capable of understanding through logical methods. In these methods of analogy that are sometimes employed, I give an example. There is a star in the sky called Arundhati. In one of the traditional rituals of India, especially during weddings, it is required that the couple should look at the star called Arundhati. There are hundreds and hundreds of stars in the sky. How can they find Arundhati? For that, a symbolic method is applied. The couple is asked, “Come here. Do you see this tree in front of you?” “Yes.” “Do you see one branch shooting off in the right direction?” “Yes.” “Do you see one star just above the branch of the tree which is to the right?” “Yes.” “Do you see one star just above?” “Yes, we see.” “Now, to the right of that star, do you see another star?” “Yes.” “This is Arundhati.”

We cannot know what has happened to us because what happened was prior to our present state of condition. As the effect cannot know the cause, we cannot know what happened to us. Sometimes we feel we are competent, and sometimes we feel we are incompetent and miserable.

The Aitareya Upanishad story goes like this. There was one majestic, all-pervading, indivisible existence. There was no second thing beyond it or outside it. Something happened suddenly. Now, you cannot ask why something happened because that would be the attempt of an effect to find out the cause of its own self. You are not a cause; you are an effect in the process mentioned. Just as you do not climb over your own shoulders, you cannot turn back your mind to the source from where it has emanated.

What does the Upanishad say? It manifested itself into an infinite number of particulars, like stars jetting forth from a huge conflagration. There was a scattering activity going on, and everywhere there were stars. These stars are the origin of the individuality of every person and everything in this world.

The word ‘star’ is very suggestive. We had no physical body at that time. A star is fire, and it is not physical. It is a luminous force rising with great ferocity, moving in some direction. In what direction? The natural tendency of everything in these kinds of emanations is to run away from the centre. There is an exteriorised push of this central conflagration of consciousness running away from one’s own self. This is the only way we can describe what has happened to us.

When we started moving away from our own selves, we started beholding ourselves as not ourselves. The Atman became the anatman, as they say. That which you see with your eyes or sense with your organs is neither disconnected from you nor is it directly connected with you. If the parts are shut off from the configuration of consciousness – if they are totally independent, one star having no connection with others – then they will not know that the others exist. You cannot know that I am, and I cannot know that you are because of the assertion of the self-identity of each star by itself. But that is not the case. Everyone knows that there is something else outside. There is a perceptional activity going on in each centre of the star by which it cognises and beholds the existence of other stars. This process is called perception, beholding, cognising, becoming aware.

Now, I am aware that you are all sitting here. How do I become aware? You have not entered my mind or my eyes. You are sitting outside me entirely. There is a distance between you and myself. But in knowing that you are all sitting here, I expand my area of perception to the area you are occupying. I become larger than what I am in order to know that you are there in front of me. Truly there is no connection with the one who sees and what is seen, as they are two different things; but one sees, and one knows that one sees that other things exist. This is a mysterious process of knowing anything.

This un-understandable situation, the infinite expansion of the conflagration of consciousness spread itself externally with such force that every spark became topsy-turvy. We fell headlong, as one of the Upanishads says.

All doctrines of creation, perhaps all the religions, state that that which shot off from the original infinitude turned upside-down symbolically, we may say, with legs up and the head down. In such a position, the perception of anything would be topsy-turvy. Even ordinarily speaking, if it is possible for you to practice the headstand asana called sirsasana, you will see the objects outside in a strange way, not in the way you would see when you are sitting here.

In this mysterious, topsy-turvy fall of the so-called individuality of the spark of consciousness, every perception within is topsy-turvy. What is the meaning of topsy-turvy? The inside looks like the outside, and the outside looks like the inside. The creation theme also is symbolic. It doesn’t mean that God sat one day and started creating. Nobody has seen that act. It is recorded in the Yoga Vasishtha that when Sri Rama asked Vasishtha how this came about, Vasishtha said, “Don’t put questions like that. Ask me how you can get out of the tragedy, but don’t ask how you came to be in this condition. You should not ask why you are what you are. You can do something, but you should not know why you should do anything.”

The Aitareya Upanishad tells us that enigmatic particles of the fire of consciousness shot off and fell upside down. They saw their own source, which is the world, as an outside object, and themselves, the effect, as the subjective perceivers. The perceiver really is that which is prior. The posterior is the perceived. We have turned the whole thing upside down. The prior thing is considered as the posterior, and the posterior as the prior. We are looking at the world, but we cannot look at our own selves. This is the effect produced by the powerful exteriorisation of consciousness. When this exteriorised, topsy-turvy fall took place, says the Upanishad, everyone developed a terrible fear. This is the source of fear in the world. This is the metaphysical fear, we may say. The creation brought about a fear in everyone and everything which was created.

Why is there a fear? It is because there is a loss of one’s own Self. What is your Self? It is the invariable and vital connection with the source of the conflagration of consciousness. The moment you are separated from that, the vitality that sustained you is snapped off. Then there is a fear: How to protect myself? These little sparks, which are the so-called individuals, cry out, “Give us food! We are hungry!” Hunger is an indication of the inability to sustain oneself by one’s own power. You depend on something else. Life which is a kind of dependence on something else is not really a life. It is a kind of beggar’s life. Every day you have to beg. So there was a fear of losing oneself. The ‘oneself’, so-called, gets into a solidifying process through the stages which we call the layers of personality. They are called the koshas in Sanskrit. There is, first of all, the state of shock when there is no consciousness of everything. That is reflected in the state of deep sleep.

One cannot be in the state of unconsciousness continuously. Immediately the submerged consciousness which is covered over by the ignorance of its connection with the universal whole creates a world of its own. “It is better to rule in hell than serve in heaven,” is a very wonderful passage from a poet. “It is better to rule in hell than serve in heaven. I want to rule, even if it be in hell. Why should I serve anybody?” So the hell that we have created by being kicked out from the heaven of universality creates the heaven of itself even in the nether regions of consciousness. The ignorance of the connection of oneself with the Universal Being is what is called avidya – that is, absence of knowledge.

The potentiality of this so-called isolated being having a subtle connection with this All-in-all projects itself in a negative manner and opens up an artificial perceptional process, and sees things as separate. Everything is seen like this. This seeing of the world or anything whatsoever is done by a kind of diluted consciousness or, we may say, it is distracted consciousness, which passes through the state of the prior ignorance through a new mechanism if it is created through our intellect. Thus, intellectual knowledge is not real knowledge. It is the light of the sun passing through thick clouds, and that too, moving clouds. The scattered particulars of pieces of clouds when they are moving in different directions can also reflect the light of the sun above. Firstly, it is really not the sunlight at all; it is a reflection. Secondly, it is a distracted reflection. It is not steady awareness. This is also the motion of the clouds. In a similar way, the way in which we are seeing things is not only a part of the ignorance which separated us from the universal whole, but also disturbed consciousness.

Therefore, the intellect and what you call intellectual knowledge is a part of ignorance only. In the spiritual sense, a highly intellectual person should not be considered as spiritually well educated. It is a knowledge that is created by the false activity going on in the state of ignorance. As I mentioned to you, one is cast into hell, and there he opens the eyes given in the conditions of hell itself, and begins to look around as a master of all things. That is to say, all knowledge available to us is false knowledge unless it is motivated by the central operation of consciousness, which is all-in-all. Knowledge cannot be considered as genuine. This is why a highly learned, intellectualised professor of philosophy, or anyone of that kind, is internally unhappy.

The characteristic of true knowledge is happiness, power, and righteousness. If these three are missing in a person, that intellectual knowledge cannot be called real knowledge. A person may have so many degrees of various schools of thought, but when he goes home he feels miserable inside, quarrels, and wants to lash out. Learned people are not necessarily happy people. They are one thing in their heart and another thing outside in the classroom. This is the fate of intellectual knowledge.

But no one wishes to be defeated completely. This intellectual knowledge persists in affirming its own validity through means such as mental activity, sensory activity, and the like. We feel quite comfortable when we are rid of hunger by means of eating food. We amuse ourselves by musical performances. The sense organs provide us with great joy. It is a joy of the topsy-turvy perception. We are seeing through the eyes operating when the head is down and the legs are up. This cry of the separated souls for assistance was attended to immediately by producing external objects for their satisfaction.

The blessing that we receive from God in this topsy-turvy fit is not a real thing that we are obtaining. This would mean finally that whatever we think, whatever we do, is ultimately meaningless. There is no substance in it. The reason is that whatever we do in the best of our capacity takes us back to unhappiness of one kind or another. Nobody can comfortably say they are perfectly happy and have no problem of any kind. Such a person perhaps does not exist in this world because whatever affirmations we make through our mind and consciousness are impure activities of disturbed consciousness. No one can be happy in this world. No one can confidently say, “I am perfectly happy.” “But,” they will say. One ‘but’ will be there.

Now, what the Upanishad finally tells is that we have to reverse the track of our consciousness. The reversal of consciousness is what is called yoga, a gradual interiorisation of the perceptional process.

In certain places in the Kathopanishad, the method of this reversal of consciousness is explained. The sense organs are the outermost exteriorising force. Then there is the mind, the intellect, and the state of affairs in deep sleep. You must reverse your process of perception. This will lead you to great meditation. It will look very terrible to hear all these things. You have to transfer yourself to the level of the Creator Himself. Nothing can be known unless God is known. Everywhere knowledge is only tinsel shining like sunlight, but it is not worth anything. Tinsel also shines, but what is the use of shining? It is not sunlight, really speaking.

What is this reversal of the consciousness? Close your eyes for a few minutes. Imagine that you are seeing something in the form of the vast world around you. Place your consciousness in the location of the things that you are visualising. You are seeing a mountain in front of you. Transfer your consciousness to the mountain. Instead of feeling that you are perceiving the mountain, affirm that the mountain is seeing you. This process can be extended further and further until you reach the whole sky and time process – sun, moon and stars. Wherever you feel that something is worthwhile beholding, imagine strongly that you are sitting on it. Behold the object that is beheld as the thing that beholds you. Instead of seeing that there are walls here in a building, let the walls begin to see you. You have to push your consciousness to the status of the wall so that you will not see a wall there, you will see yourself only. Or, another way is to melt down your exteriorised perceptional capacity and touch the walls around, and the walls will start feeling what you are feeling. In modern times, this is called telepathic communication. Suppose a person is at a long distance, even in another country or on another continent, and you want to convey a message to that person, not by email and fax and so on, but by the mental process. You cannot communicate with another until you yourself become that another. Can you understand what this means? You take the shape of that thing which you are contemplating upon. Then there is no contemplation. Then there is no transference of oneself in the direction of another.

You have to communicate something to somebody. Close your eyes and sit, and imagine that you yourself are that person. Then that person will be you only. So what are you communicating? You are communicating a message from yourself to yourself only. That will work a miracle. The mind of that person to whom you want to convey a message will start activating immediately. In a minute it will change, provided your thought is very intense and strong. Shallow thoughts will not easily work. Whatever you want to contact, for any reason, assume the form of that particular thing in your own self.

So you yourself are all things. Expand the mind, expand the consciousness further and further, further and further. You have become as large as the whole sky, the entire space. That is the farthest reach of the objective perception in us. You cannot go beyond space. That is yourself only. It is a very strange thing to imagine that you yourself are that thing which you are seeking. There will be an initial shudder in your personality. The prana will jump because you are now introducing into the mind a type of affirmation to which it is not usually accustomed.

These unexpected types of experience in the reversal process are called obstacles. They are really not obstacles. They are only attempts of the mind of the meditator to adjust itself to the new outlook which you are trying to introduce. You are trying to introduce into the mind a technique of knowing whereby the known object has to enter into you, and you will behold the known object in yourself, so that you are not beholding the object, the object is beholding you. This is a type of samadhi, as mentioned in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Samadhi is the unity of the very substance of the seer and the seen so that there will be no seer of anything. The object itself sees itself in you. This is the reversal process of consciousness. It is worth attempting.

The object that you are seeking, even if it be God Himself, is inseparable from you because if it is separable, it will not become a part of your consciousness. The content of consciousness and the consciousness have to become one and the same. Generally the content of perception is different from the perceiving consciousness. It should not be different. The content has to melt down into the consciousness of the perceiving method. The seer and the seen have to melt down into one single being. This requires great power of will. An ordinary person cannot think like that. It is a kind of assertion which is totally contrary to the way we are adopting and perceiving things. In the state of an attempt to reverse the consciousness in this manner, you will look like a funny person to outsiders. You will not want to see anybody afterwards because that somebody who you want to see has become one with you.

You should not take it as a kind of joke. It is not a magic trick. It is not a psychological twist. It is the uncommon way one is adopting in consciousness to turn oneself in the direction of the perception of God Himself. How would God see things? He sees nothing. He sees Himself only. All these tentacles which seem to have proceeded from this centre which is God consciousness, these individualities, these particles, will all look like rays of the sun converging at one spot.

You have to practice this process and become a different person, a new person altogether who beholds things from the centre from which everything emanated and does not outwardly look at objects which apparently seem to be having no connection with you at all.

A daily practice of this kind of reversal of the exteriorised consciousness into an interiorised one in a universal gamut of perception will take you to God Almighty.