(Spoken on August 18, 1985)
The ‘self’ is a peculiar word which can mean anything and everything. Its meaning is very hard to grasp. It simply means a centralised cohesive pinpoint which awakens itself into a self-affirming position as a total entity divesting itself from dissociation with everyone else; this adamant affirmation of a pointed spark of consciousness is a sort of self. Now, this area that the consciousness covers in this act of its affirmation is what goes to define the dimension of the jurisdiction of that self. As I mentioned, a mere dictionary meaning of the self would not suffice for our understanding of the spiritual meaning that is implied here.
We can expand the area of the activity of the self by connecting it with larger dimensions artificially, as we do generally in the world. The ruler of a country identifies himself with the whole area which he regards as his kingdom. This is a sort of self, but it is not the true self. What we are referring to here is an unthinkable action and position of consciousness, unthinkable because the mind is posterior to the position occupied by this consciousness, and it is prior. The self is prior to the mind. It is the existence of even the operations of the mind, and therefore, the mind finds it logically difficult to define it.
This self that we are speaking of in spiritual parlance is not the self of the emperor or the self of a landholder who may identify himself with his large estate and may feel that he is as wide as his estate is. That is a false self which gives a satisfaction no doubt, but that satisfaction is as false as the self which is so affirmed. The rich man’s self, the property owner’s self or the emperor’s self, the power-wielder’s self, is an artificially concocted self. It is an imaginary projection of the egocentric affirmation of his bodily individuality into an imagined area called the kingdom, the estate, etc. We know very well that the owner of the land has not really expanded himself to the area of the land. He is only imagining it as a dream. The emperor has not really become physically as large as his kingdom.
There is a great difference between the sense of possession giving rise to the idea of selfhood in this manner, and the true Self which we call the paramartha-satya, the metaphysical self, as philosophers generally call it, or the empirical self, the vyavaharika satta. The higher Self which the Bhagavadgita speaks of as something which can act as our friend or at other times act as our enemy is not this artificial self. It is the true Self whose laws are inexorably operating everywhere.
In our prayers and meditations we are not trying to manifest our larger self in the sense of a king’s self or a money-holder’s self, but the true ontological Self. The meaning of this statement is that the Self that we are to seek, the God which we are to aspire for –God and Self ultimately mean one and the same thing – consists in a state of consciousness which, in its area of operation or in its conception of dimension, does not have to project itself outside in space and in time, but its awareness is the same as its being.
The king’s awareness of the possession of the kingdom is not identical with the kingdom itself. They are two different things. The king’s consciousness has not identified itself with the kingdom, and it can never do that, for reasons well known to us. Here the question of such identification does not arise. The God we are praying to, the Self we are trying to achieve and realise or attain, the higher dimension of our own being so-called, the object of our prayer and meditation, is descending heavily on our own heads every day, like sky falling on us, as it were, but we are not able to feel the impact of its action except as the nemesis that follows in the wake of our actions in the form of reaction.
The reactions that are set up by our actions are visible spatio-temporal empirical forms of the way in which the higher Self works. This is the justice of the cosmos. Any law, whether it is scientific, biological, chemical, psychological or rational, is ultimately a consequence that naturally follows from the existence of this Self. The existence of the Self is the same as the action of the Self. The action of the self is different from the existence of the self in our case, as bodily individuals. We always ask how we can reconcile jnana and karma, knowledge and action, etc. This question will not arise to the true Self because its activity is God’s action, where ‘action’ is only a name for the pravaha or the flood or the movement of the very being itself.
In our prayers and meditation, therefore, what do we do – or rather, what are we expected to do? We are to operate our true being in our own selves, ransack it in such a manner, lift it up in such a way that it breaks through the boundaries of this physical tabernacle and places itself in a position of being wider than what we call the bodily being. This is not an easy job because we can never understand what true being is, and understand only our bodily being. Anything that is outside our body cannot be a being. It is a contactual object. It is a thing that is to be dealt with in some way or the other by the operation of our mind and senses.
Thus, the search for the higher reality in our prayers and meditations is a peculiar spiritual action that is taking place within us – the soul acting, not through the mind and the senses merely. When we pray to God, we don’t utter mere words through our lips but charge these words, these chants and these recitations with an energy that surges forth from what we really are. Our action becomes not the operation of the hands and the feet or the limbs of the body but a movement of what we ourselves are.
If our action is nothing but the movement of what we are, there cannot be any contradiction between what we are and what we do, and in that case there is no contradiction between jnana and karma. This long quarrel of metaphysicians ceases in one minute. But it is a terrible job for anyone to understand and reconcile if our being is to be understood in the sense of our bodily individuality, and action is to be understood in the sense of what we think with our minds and do with our limbs.
The higher Self, therefore, has many stages of representation, at least as we hear it described to us in our scriptures. Therefore, we have stages of ascending yoga. It is said that there are stages of knowledge, as we have it described in the Yoga Vasishtha, for instance. There are stages of the practice of samadhi, as given in the Patanjali Sutras. There are also stages of feeling, bhava, or communion with the Almighty in the methods of divine devotion, bhakti. The rasas which one tastes through the soul in the contact with God are also of various degrees, as we hear it said in the Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana and other scriptures.
The fact that there seems to be a set of degrees of ascent and descent explains why we take so much time in achieving our ends, finally. There are also occasions when these degrees can be pierced through in a moment, as in the cases of great Masters. A question has been raised whether God created the world serrating, stage by stage, step by step, one after the other, or by the fiat of His will – of whether there was a yogapra-srishti, “Let there be light,” and there was light. Is it like that? Or is it an evolutionary coming of effects from causes? The shastrakaras, the ancients, tell us that both these opinions may be considered as correct. From one angle of vision, or one point of view, it looks as if we suddenly enter into the dream world and the whole panorama is before us. But it is also true that all the laws which systematically operate in the waking world also operate there in a precise mathematical manner.
Likewise is the realisation of God. It may be sometimes a frightening description before us to be told that there are most difficult steps to ascend, and we have to pierce through the five elements – earth, water, fire, air, ether – and then the five tanmatras – shabda, sparsha, rupa, rasa, gandha. Then we have got the ahamkara and mahat and prakriti and so on, mentioned in the Upanishads and the other scriptures. These are difficult things for the human mind to swallow. These may be facts, and perhaps one has to ascend through all these stages; else, there would not be any point in teachers of yoga taking so much pain in describing the experiences one has to pass through under these pressures of the stages.
But there is also a sudden possession of God. This is also not something impossible. An instantaneous engulfing of the soul, an unpremeditated invasion of the soul by the Absolute, is also a possibility. We read that saints were grasped, gripped at once by the power of God, instantaneously breaking through the long chain of the process of time in samadhi. This is how we regard God’s action as a miracle. He is a miracle worker, not a mathematician or an architect who measures length and breadth slowly and then calculates this way and that way. He may calculate also; He is not unaware of this process, but He can break through any law and transcend operations of every type, dissolve the parliament and abolish every system, and take the reins in His own hands, which instances we hear of in the lives of master saints. This is a great solace to us poorlings who are frightened about the stages and the steps that we have to climb without any lift or any kind of support.
The soul’s anguish for God will be the answer to the question as to what we are to expect in our spiritual adventure. There is the well-known path of krama-mukti, the gradual progressive salvation described in detail in the Upanishads. When the great soul, the yogin, departs from this world, that liberated spirit rises into the realm of flame: agnir jotir ahaḥ śuklaḥ ṣaṇmāsā uttarāyaṇam (Gita 8.24). Very briefly the Bhagavadgita mentions this, which is in a greater, elongated way described in the Chhandogya and the Brihadaranyaka Upanishads, where we are told that we pass through sun and lightning, amanava purusha, Brahmaloka, and whatnot. This is gradual ascent following the protocol of the evolutionary process and running through the proper channel, as it is called.
But there is also what is called sadyo-mukti. This is the action of God at once. He has no protocol, and there is no action through the proper channel. He breaks through all this intricate winding processes and grasps the spirit of the devotee with His own hands. Stories like the incident of Gajendra’s moksha are illustrations on this point. Why should Narayana himself come? Has he not got anybody else? He could have sent some assistant, some Garuda, to go and help this poor elephant. He has got so many, but he ran himself.
It appears Akbar was told this story by Birbal, that Narayana ran, unaware of anything else. “What kind of God you have got? Foolish God,” said Akbar. “Why should he run for a little thing? He is almighty; he has got such strength. He could have told some of his attendants go and help, and they are equally capable. It was not such a serious matter.”
“Well, I will answer this question.” Birbal took time to answer the question how this is possible.
It appears that Birbal was the caretaker of the very, very beloved child, the son of Akbar. He was always taking care of him, taking him for a walk, and so on. One day Birbal asked a sculptor to prepare a beautiful image identical in features with this boy, and he placed this image on the edge of a deep well and left it there. Akbar knew very well that the boy was always under the protection of Birbal and was caring for him. One day, Birbal took Akbar for a walk near this well when it was dusk and things could not be seen properly. “Oh, my boy is here near the well,” Akbar said. “How is he near the well?”
“It’s all right, it’s all right,” Birbal said.
Birbal had already arranged with someone that at the time when Akbar was to be there, this image was to be pushed into the well, and it was pushed. Birbil said, “O God, the child is in the well!” Akbar ran immediately. “Wait, wait, wait, wait!” Birbal said, “Wait here. You have got so many attendants. Send your attendants.”
“Oh, don’t talk, foolish idiot! My child is in the water. I will go and take him myself.”
“Your Highness, your child is safe. Don’t be afraid. Here is the child,” he said. “It is only an image, but I have answered your question.”
Narayana is not an idiotic god. The love of God for the soul that seeks Him is not explicable by human language, and it is not to be interpreted even by a scripture. The Srimad Bhagavata tells us that scriptures, the Vedas themselves, become dumb and incapable of putting into form and shape the might and majesty and glory of the internal relation that God maintains with His devotee: aham bhakta paradhinaha (S.B. 9.4.36). This is a statement which God can make and man cannot understand: I am dependent on my devotee. Aham bhakta paradhinaha, says Narayana. Why should He be dependent on the bhakta? This is capable of being understood as a metaphorical statement of the perpetual care that God takes of the soul that is in union with Him. But it is necessary for us to understand what it is to be in union with Him.
We have instances in the world of our being in union with objects of our love. We have dear things in this world. Large wealth is a dear object. Power, authority, position is a dear object, and there are things here in this world which can enrapture us and make our hair stand on end. We are in communion with these objects of love; but we are really not in communion with any of them. We are not in communion with any of the dear objects of this world. Not the dearest object can be said to be anything with which one is in communion. There is an illusory feeling psychologically projected in the mind that one is in possession of a dear object.
In this world nobody can possess anything. Possession is ruled out merely by the operation of the law of the universe. In this world nobody belongs to anybody, and no one can be regarded as subservient to another. No one is a master, no one is a servant in this world because everyone is subservient to a central authority called the Almighty. So we cannot know even by the farthest stretch of our imagination what it is to be in communion with anything. Whoever has wholeheartedly loved anything in this world may think they know what it is to be in communion, but even this is a false communion. In this world nobody can be in union with anything. We cannot be in union with anything, even with the dearest thing in the world, because the law of nature prevents such a communion. But there is an illusory feeling of satisfaction of having possessed a dear object, as one may have a large purse in one’s hand and have the impression that one is possessing it and is in union with it. We think, “Inasmuch as it is my property, I may be said to be in communion with it,” yet it is a false assumption. Though it is gripped by our fist, it cannot be regarded as something which has been set in union with ourselves. It is outside us. Every object that we seem to possess as our dear and near one is independently existing, and cannot be subservient to us. It is not an instrument. How can one man possess another man? How can one thing possess another thing? In this world which is a kingdom of ends, as they say, no one is a means, and therefore, even a purse cannot serve us and it cannot act as an instrument. It has its own status; it is independently existing. Every atom is independently existing.
Hence, in this world no man can have an idea of what divine communion is. In the rarest occasions where the soul bursts forth by the grace of God, we may say, we do not know how it happens, but we can feel that sense of communion. In this mortal world, divine communion is very rare because mortality, which is the characteristic of the world, has its own illusory seams which prevent our vision from penetrating through it into the divine reality that is at its back.
Spiritual life is the life of the spirit. ‘Spiritual’ may be said to be an adjectival form of the noun which is ‘spirit’, and this has to be understood very clearly by every one of us. It is the activity of the spirit, the operation of the soul, and that has to be in communion in our prayers and our meditations. Merely bowing our head and making gesticulations may not entirely suffice because these are outward symbols of an inward act of communion which has to be there perpetually.
It is difficult for us to understand how spiritual illumination takes place. Great acharyas who commented on scriptures such as the Brahma Sutras have felt tongue-tied when questions of this kind arose. How does knowledge arise in the jiva? We cannot say it is due to the effort of the jiva because effort is not possible unless there is knowledge already. And how does knowledge arise at all? No one knows. It is a miraculous action. Āścaryavat paśyati kaścid enam āścaryavad vadati tathai ’va cā ’nyaḥ, āścaryavac cai ’nam anyaḥ śṛṇoti śrutvā ’py enaṁ veda na cai ’va kaścit (Gita 2.29): Wonder is the name of God. The Upanishads as well as the Bhagavadgita characterise this miracle as ascarya.
Humble submission before God is what we call prayer. It is usually called self-surrender. We have heard this word many times, but we cannot easily grasp what it means. It is the offering of ourselves that is self-surrender. It is my offering of myself to that which is above me. The lower self is offered to the higher self in the sense the self has to be understood – not in the self of the emperor or the ruler of the kingdom, a prime minister’s self or any rich man’s self. It is the self which coheres its knowledge of consciousness with its own being.
We have a little, paltry illustration of this union of consciousness with being in our own personal lives. The consciousness that I am is identical with my being. My existence and my consciousness of my existence are not separable into two entities. When I say that I exist, I imply that I am conscious that I exist. The consciousness of my existence and my existence are identical things, and they are not to be considered as correlative or one as the substantive and the other as the adjective, etc. They are two terms meaning one and the same thing. This sort of union has to be established between the lower self and the higher self. That is the great expectation in our spiritual life, and is the ardent longing of every spiritual hero.
However difficult all this may appear, we have been assured again and again it is not so difficult as it is made to appear because it is not difficult to tell a truth, but it is difficult to tell a lie. You have to be terribly cautious in uttering one falsehood, but in uttering the truth which is so plain like daylight, no preparation is needed. We are told truth triumphs and nothing else can triumph – satyameva jayate. How can anything else succeed in this world if not this great truth? If our aspiration for truth is not to succeed and is not to be fulfilled, what else is to be fulfilled? Is untruth to be fulfilled? Is a lie to be satisfied? Here we have the assurance: satyam eva jayate nānṛtam (Mundaka Up. 3.1.6). The satisfaction that is promised to us by the falsehood of this empirical world will not succeed, but truth will succeed.
Sometimes it is also made to appear that lies succeed immediately and truth succeeds perhaps after a long, long, remote time. Even this should not frighten us. It may be so, or it may not be so. It is not a general rule that truth will always take a long time to succeed. It can immediately succeed also. As the ways of God are always mysterious, we should not judge the ways by any kind of mathematics: It should be like this, it is like this, and it has been like this; therefore, it is always like this. There is no law that can work before God. Hence, all these judicious arguments of ours, whether they are mathematical or logical, have to be set aside when it is possible for the omnipotence to take action at once in the case of this soul that is weeping day in and day out and has no succour except this lifesaving boat which is the ark of our existence, God Almighty. These are the objects of our prayer and our meditation, and in these aspirations of ours all the paths of yoga commingle, whether it is karma yoga, bhakti yoga, raja yoga or jnana yoga.
In these noble and pious adventures of ours spiritually and religiously, we should not forget the debts that we owe to our great Masters, our Gurus, who have with great compassion bequeathed the grace upon us and whose heritage we enjoy in many ways, not only in the form of the reception of knowledge but even in more physical forms like physical protection and all the facilities that are provided to us, especially as we see before our own eyes in the case of Masters like Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj. What he has bequeathed to us is not merely knowledge and wisdom and assurance spiritually and religiously, but even every other form of visible security, which needs no comment, all which are before our eyes. To them we are to be grateful, and no virtue can equal gratitude. These are the debts that we owe to these Masters.
Sometimes we may owe some debt even to our own physical parents. In some cases even this cannot be ruled out, though it may not be the case always. For whatever succour and security we have enjoyed in any measure whatsoever we have to be grateful, because the expression of sincere gratitude from the depth of our feelings is itself the repayment of our debts, which need not necessarily be demonstrated in a physical form always. Your sincere prayers are themselves a means of paying these debts where it is not possible for you to pay these debts in any other way for reasons which only you know.
How many things, how many forces, how many powers, how many people are guarding us and protecting us, we do not know – how many angels of heaven are taking care of us, how the world is protecting us, how the five elements are our guardians, and how even smaller persons in this world, visible people, are sources of security to us. Our goodness may also be the object of our daily prayers so that we may not depart from this world with any debt that is yet to be paid. Where we can pay the debt visibly, let it be paid visibly. Where for some reason it is not possible to pay it visibly, it is impossible under the circumstances to visibly manifest the debt of gratitude, humbly place it before God Almighty: “My Lord, this is my debt. You pay it for me.” And it shall be paid with double interest.
These are to be our humble submissions. The more mature we become, the greyer our hair grows, the smaller we look in this world, and the greater seems to be the necessity for the succour that we have to invoke from God the Almighty.