by Swami Krishnananda
Message given on New Year's Eve, the 31st of December, 1973.
Want of proper attention to the aim of human life often limits our understanding of the world and the people around us. We are generally masters of mixing up issues and not giving the proper form of attention which is due to any person, any action or any relationship in our life. We often seem to be very enthusiastic, and this enthusiasm, when it fires up our nature, may outwardly appear to lead us to a kind of success in what we regard as our aim of life. But, enthusiasm is not always coupled with a proper appreciation of our position in life and an understanding of the true nature of things. Do we not suffer and feel unhappy sometime or the other every day of our life, in spite of our knowledge and learning and in spite of our age and experience in the world? Does the world not sometimes seem to give us a shock in a form we never expected? And, does it not appear that our learning and experience is not of much value to us when we are placed in a tight corner and when circumstances around us seem to be unfavourable to our chosen or pre-meditated notion of our good?
Man is man. Human nature cannot leave man, in spite of the fact that he is a genius in a particular line of education. Our knowledge does not come to our aid at all times because we do not have within us that amount of knowledge which will be able to face, interpret and implement every circumstance in our life into a means of transformation of that particular event for the sake of a higher achievement. Even elderly people weep when something unexpected happens. They start shedding tears like children when something very grieving, shocking and unfavourable to their emotions takes place. We seem to have friends around us. We put too much trust into personal relations among human beings, and when this trust gives way into an unforeseen encounter, we do not know where we actually stand. This inadequacy of understanding seriously affects not only our temporal life in human society but even our spiritual aspiration and our sadhana, the practice of our spiritual life.
After all, we cannot completely shed human nature merely because we have taken to an aspiration towards God and God-realisation. Our concept of sadhana is human. The equipments that we employ in our sadhana are also temporal and coloured with human sentiments. There is an instinct in the human being which makes him feel that he belongs to a fraternity of a particular species called humanity. We always talk about human beings. We have nothing else to think about. Even when we speak of universal love and brotherhood, we are likely to pinpoint human relations rather than anything outside the purview of this setup of things. Even a spiritual seeker, a sadhaka of a fairly advanced type, cannot free himself or herself totally from human sentiments and weaknesses.
We should not be under the impression that we are so advanced in sadhana as to be impervious to the action of sentiment and reaction. There is no person in the world, practically speaking, who can stand the onslaught of psychological rift and social encounter. We seem to be well off on account of the prevalence of certain conditions which are agreeable to our sentiments and personal satisfaction, but we are not really as all right as we imagine ourselves to be. We can become something quite different from what we appear to be, when conditions change. Our friendship is skin deep; it can break like a bubble at any moment of time. Even the friendship of brothers can break because it is based on very shaky foundations. For the matter of that, the relationship of human beings and the relationship of anything with any other thing is subject to separation and transformation without any previous notice.
When we dissociate ourselves from the ordinary relationships of family, society, etc., and take to a whole-souled, whole-timed and whole-hearted practice of sadhana, it should also be our endeavour, simultaneously, to see that we are rid of these tender bonds with earthly things that secretly lie embedded in our own hearts. Our affections are in our own hearts, in our own minds, feelings and emotions. That we have come several miles away from our home and family relations does not free us from subjection to these emotions of like and dislike, the seeds of which are buried in our hearst. Our difficulties and problems are inside us. We carry the seeds and roots of all our difficulties with us wherever we go, and they can sprout under suitable circumstances. We are wholly human – and even subhuman, many a time – in the manifestation of our sentiments and instincts, notwithstanding the fact that we are also spiritual seekers and aspirants on the path of God-realisation. Many years of hard toil, expectation and effort have passed, and yet it is difficult to believe that we have actually changed the quality of our thinking. Our thoughts may be different from the thoughts that occurred to us earlier, but the quality of thinking is the same as it was many years back, even before we seriously took to the path that is spiritual.
The danger of not being able to distinguish between what is actually expected of us in spiritual practice and the sentiments that are deeply buried within us, is hideous indeed. The love for comfort is ingrained in the mind of every person. And when comforts are provided in the degree that is necessary for the upkeep of our present state of emotion, it may appear that we are near to God and that we are rising from success to success, not knowing the fact that we can be shaken up from our very roots if the laws of the environment around us start to change. The study of human history, political as well as psychological, has not given us greater wisdom or greater knowledge than the usual reactionary knowledge that we have in respect of senses and their objects.
The advancement that one makes spiritually in the practice of spiritual sadhana can be tested by the emotions that pass over one’s mind every day. The attitudes that we project every day in respect of others and those feelings which we want to hide from others, the kind of thought that we entertain in ourselves and the kind of thought that we would not like to manifest before others, and also the several moments of joy and sorrow through which we pass through every day, will tell us the substance of our character. Man is a social animal, as is usually said. And this sociable instinct in human nature pursues the human mind wherever it goes, so that we feel insecure when we are alone. We have questions which the mind poses before us which we are unable to answer easily. We feel that we are lost, as it were, when we are not placed in such social circumstances as would promise us the needed physical protection and psychological satisfaction.
Spirituality is far superior to the social sentiment of man. It has nothing to do with one’s father and mother, brother and sister, friends, enemies, etc. These are sentimental notions with which we are born and brought up, and which we are unable to give up even if we are old people. We seem to take spirituality very lightly as if we can go scot free by merely uttering a few words of praise about it and making others believe that a spiritual regeneration is going again on in human society.
Spiritual life is not confined merely to the human circle. It is a power that has to take into consideration in its operations factors which are other than human also. Our life is not determined merely by human relations. We do not live merely because there are other people around us. As a matter of fact, the most important factors that control our existence and action are other than human. Sunlight and the sun's heat, for example, are not human factors. We know how dependent we are to the light of the Sun, but do we pay any heed to its existence and action? The air that we breathe is not human. The water that we drink is not human. And the physical relationships which sustain even the planetary system and which governs our life is not human. Superhuman factors control our life, and these factors cannot be ignored when we contemplate the spiritual import of the conduct of our sadhana.
The practice of true spiritual sadhana is a terror to the human ego. It comes like a fierce lion or tiger, threatening it. Sadhana is not a comfortable process to the human ego which is involved in personal and physical relationships with people. Even spiritual seeking cannot be wholly free from a subtle longing for recognition, appreciation and a promise of security for its existence. It is on account of this weakness which subtly operates from within us, that we many a time feel uncomfortable in our lives. We have occasions to react sharply in respect of other people, due to this weakness that is present in us. Our dependence on external factors is too much, and that is the reason why we feel insecure and unhappy. There is no strength within us. The strength is external. This borrowed facility seems to be maintaining us, and it can be withdrawn when the relationships of people change on account of a change of circumstances. That we are sitting together here in a common hall, that we have a community of our own to which we seem to belong, that we have people who can be regarded as our friends, supporters and well-wishers, all this is a transitory bubble that has arisen before us on account of certain effects our previous deeds which we have performed in our previous lives. When the momentum of those deeds is exhausted, these relationships will also change. We will not be in the midst of the very same people with whom we are sitting and chatting today. The whole scene will be shifted, as in a drama. When a particular scene is enacted and is over the curtain will immediately fall, and we will be surprised as to what has happened. The curtain has fallen, and all the people have vanished into the background. Well, the curtain may be raised and it can fall again at any moment.
The present relationships of every kind, positive or negative, pleasurable or otherwise, are entirely the consequences of certain deeds that we did in our previous lives. The result of a particular karma is not permanent. It is only temporary. As every action has a beginning and an end, the product of that action also has a beginning and an end. The world is temporal, and it has a beginning and an end in the sense that it is a manifestation of the cumulative effect of the actions performed by all the contents of that particular realm.
There is what is called individual prarabdha and group prarabdha, individual karma and group karma. We are all human beings living in a common realm of experience on account of a similarity of actions, broadly speaking, which we did in our previous incarnations, on account of which we are here on a common platform. But, really speaking, we are not inwardly related in the manner in which we appear to be outwardly on the surface. That is why there can be separation of friends and war between father and son. We may wonder how this could be possible. Is it not unthinkable? It is really thinkable, and this is the only thing that we can expect in life. While our higher nature tells us that we are united among ourselves in a particular state of consciousness, we are completely different from one another in another state of consciousness. The unity among people is possible only on the basis of a common and similar structural pattern of our personalities. This unity is impossible merely on the physical or social levels.
That is why political peace, for example, is not wholly trustworthy. We do not have permanent peace. Though it may appear that the international setup is peaceful and amicable, and to our advantage, this cannot be wholly relied upon because it is brought about artificially. It is like the coming together of many logs of wood floating on the surface of water. They can be separated when the current changes or a strong wind blows over them. The scriptures tell us that our connections are similar to the connection of one log of wood to another log floating on the surface of a river. On account of the pressure of the water and the intensity and direction of the wind, two logs of wood come together. Likewise, by the force of a particular set of karma we have come together here in this world, on this Earth plane, in this country, in this town, in Rishikesh, in this hall. But the wind can blow in another direction at any moment. It can blow just now, and we will all be thrown helter-skelter, most unexpectedly. This is what we call a catastrophe; and such catastrophes can be physical, astronomical, political, social or personal.