The Importance of Finding Time to Sit Alone
by Swami Krishnananda

(Spoken on June 20, 1973)

Living by oneself is something we usually looked upon with a sense of fright because while it is easy to understand the linguistic meaning, it is not so easy to understand its implication. If we build a small room and live there alone, without anyone else living in that particular room, we may be said to be living by oneself. But the sense in which we say ‘living by oneself’ is a little different than living alone in a room.

When we are distressed or feeling unsociable for various reasons, we feel like being alone. We do not like a crowd of people sitting around us. When we are in a state of danger, threatened by forces which we cannot understand and with no hope of support from available sources, we feel a sense of aloneness which is other than the grammatical meaning of being alone. When we are in the wilderness, when we are deprived of all our possessions, when kith and kin are not near, when things seem to be at sixes and sevens, we feel a sense of aloneness. When all that we regard as dear and near is taken away, a condition into which anyone can enter at any moment of time, one finds oneself in a state of aloneness.

We cannot explain what sweetness is although we can describe sugar, sugarcane, honey, etc. We cannot explain adequately or give a definition of what sweetness means unless we actually eat something that is sweet. Similarly, we cannot satisfactorily explain what this aloneness is, why it is that occasionally we have an urge from within to live without any contact. This urge for freedom from contact can be roused by religious instincts from within or by factors which can be wholly social.

Just imagine what social factors would cause one to be driven to a state of aloneness. One has lost father, mother, sister, brother, one has lost one’s job, and added to it, one is in a state of sinking health without sympathy from any corner of the world. What do you feel at that moment time? You do not know whether you are alive or dead, and yet you exist.

As I already mentioned, those who have not been in this condition cannot understand what this state is, just as hunger cannot be known by a person who is not hungry. Only a poor, starving person knows what hunger is. A millionaire who has four meals a day cannot know what hunger is. Likewise, this peculiar individuality that is in every one of us, which speaks in a language of its own at different moments of time, gives us an inkling of what our ultimate destiny could be.

In order that we may have an idea as to what this all means, to give an outline of the significance of what I would like to say at this moment of time, we may have to go into a slight analytical consideration of the circumstances under which we are living today. People in the world are anything but wise, though they all pass for men of wisdom, geniuses, and masters in science and whatnot. But there is a set of circumstances we call nature under whose law we seem to be living, and who does not seem to care for what we regard as knowledge, learning and scientific acumen. Nature can pound even the most learned of people, and nature has already done this. It has thrown to the winds many geniuses who have been born, great men who trod this earth, rulers, scientific geniuses, philosophers, social and philanthropic workers. Men of acumen with great standing in society and worshipped by the world have been cast to the winds by the law of nature, and we are not going to be exceptions.

Why does nature behave like this, as if she does not care for men at all? She does not care for me, she does not care for you, she does not care for anyone who has been born on this earth. All have gone to a land of the unknown. Nature’s attitude is something very mysterious, and nature cares a hoot for what we call learning, knowledge, acquisition. If we are not to abide by the law of nature – which is, in some sense at least, a face of that which really seems to be, that which really is and that which ought to be – and if our attitude to nature is one of carelessness with a ‘don’t care’ attitude, an assumption of arrogance, and an importance which does not really belong to us, then nature shall take up her cudgel.

Nature is both a judge and a teacher at the same time. As a teacher, as an instructor, she gives us opportunities to learn by experience. Every day we pass through various kinds of experience, and every experience through which we are passing is an opportunity for learning. The perceptions and cognitions, the experiences, pleasures and pains of life are various lessons that are imparted to us by the law of nature; we are supposed to gain wisdom by this experience, but we learn nothing of that kind. We take these opportunities as either chances given for the indulgence of our senses or as an opposition that is inflicted upon us by nature, and then it is that we complain that Providence is against us, God is cruel, and such other complaints that we have been making for centuries.

These complaints of mankind against nature and the Creator are pointless because nature has no partiality of any kind. She did not care for Mahatma Gandhi, she did not care for Julius Caesar, she did not care for Alexander or Napoleon or even the grandfather of these people. None of these people could evade nature’s law. She draws the curtain for anybody. It may be an emperor or a beggar; it makes no difference. When the curtain is drawn, there is an exit order. It may be you, it may be I, it may be anybody else.

The question that I posed was, “Why does nature behave like this, as if she has no pity upon us?” Recently there was an air crash. Why does the law operate in this manner? We think it is something cruel, something opposed to the good, something which cannot be regarded as righteous or just, but the law of nature is the ultimate principle of justice. All principles of justice according to our codes of law, our manmade laws, are only symbols, copies of this eternal justice of nature. We may be cruel, but nature and God cannot be cruel.

The erratic activities and events apparently occurring in our life and in the world outside us which look antisocial, anti-good, and anti-prosperity are all instances of our inability to cope with the way in which the law of nature works – or in other words, to put it more precisely, the way in which God’s law operates.

The principle of law is obedience, abidance, en rapport, and action according to its mandates. The principle of justice, which may be equated with the principle of law operating in nature, is implicit obedience which nature demands from the individuals inhabiting the earth plane. The impartiality with which this law works is the reason why we are sometimes driven to intense pain which we cannot explain, and sometimes we are placed on high pedestals and thrones which we regard as boons from nature and from God. The reason for calamities, catastrophes, cataclysms, births and deaths, sorrows and agonies, poverties and the various vicissitudes of life is the impartiality of the law of nature.

When there is an agonising upsetting of the whole physical system due to a complicated illness that has befallen us, we do not say that the law of the body does not work properly. As a matter of fact, it is precisely because of the fact that the bodily system operates according to a principal and a law that this catastrophe has taken place, so we cannot say that divine law or natural law should always mean pleasure and satisfaction in the sense of sensory indulgence. If a person is hanged by the law of the court, we cannot say that law does not operate: “Oh, the man is hanged. That means there is no justice.”

We have to change our attitude to things a little bit. There is, really speaking, nothing that needs to be changed in this world, and we need not attempt to change anything anywhere in this world. Everything is in perfect order, but what needs to be changed is one’s attitude towards things. We cannot change the world because the world has not been created by us, so who are we to change it? It was there even before we were born. Who created the world in this order, in this way, in this methodological planetary system, etc.? It is a law, and in our ancient scriptures this law has been called rita and satya. In the Vedas we hear of these terms.

Satya is the eternal law which is the underlying principle behind the operating law of the cosmos, known as rita. If we want to be protected by the law of nature, by the law of God, we have to abide by the law. If we want to be a good citizen, we have to abide by the law of the country; then we are a good citizen because we know the law, and the administrative system will guard us, protect us and take care of us. We have what we call the governmental system, which is intended to protect the nation. It takes care of the nation, providing its needs to see that the nation does not go through sufferings of any kind. But if we boycott our nation, if we say, “I don’t care for your law,” then we will not receive this protection. We will be ostracised, excommunicated, banished or imprisoned. We will not receive this protection that the law is supposed to mete out to us on obedience of the law. Human law, as I mentioned, is a reflection of natural law, and if human law will not take care of us if we disobey it, well, much less will natural law take care of us if we disobey it.

Every moment of our life, unfortunately, we disobey the law of nature, which is indirectly a disobedience of the law of God, and hence it is that our prayers to God are not easily answered. The answer will come when the approach is proper. We cannot sit inside a cave and then cry out to the sun, “Oh sun, give me light.” We come out of the cave and then the sun will abundantly cover us with life-giving energetic rays. Our prayers are mostly based on ignorance. Our ideas of God are also distorted. Our religious consciousness is not reoriented in the proper fashion. We have many religious men and yogis in the world but they do not seem to have made even themselves happy, let alone made others happy. The reason is the approach has been from the wrong direction. We know very well that even a right thing has to be done in a right manner in order to expect a proper result out of it. Everything has to be done in a proper manner, at the proper place, the proper time, and for a proper intended purpose. All these are implications of obedience to law.

We have to obey the law not only in letter but also in spirit. We may obey law in letter only, but then the spirit will not protect us. Law is ultimately a spirit, not a letter, and when we try to make use of this principle of law for our own personal satisfaction, we seem to read our own meaning into law. This is what is called distortion of the meaning of law, as some advocates plea in court. The meaning is distorted. What is intended is one thing, but what we make out of it is a different thing altogether.

We, in our personal view, misinterpret and misunderstand the principle of justice and law operating in the cosmos, and then do a puja or worship in the temple for our personal prosperity. In spirit what we do is entirely wrong, but in letter we worship in the temple. That will not give any benefit. In many places these days, unfortunately, religious activities have been only ritualistic, bereft of spirit and substance, bereft of soul. When we remove the soul, the body has no life.

Religion is not a skeleton bereft of living activity. It is not merely a shape or a form. It is not only a show. Religion is not an activity, but a state of consciousness. Or more precisely, religion is not what you do with your hands and feet or speak with your tongue; religion is what you are when you are absolutely alone in your own internal chamber. When you are unseen, unobserved and unattended to, what are you thinking in your mind? That is your religion. What you do in the temple and the church is the religion of the masses, a social activity which you have contrived for mutual good. Well, that is wonderful, but religion is far from it.

Religion is connected with you, and not connected with what you do. What you speak, what you do, what you demonstrate, what you propagate, what you advertise has nothing to do with what your religion is. It is entirely your own substance that manifests itself outside in the form of religious activity. In religion, you manifest yourself. It is not an activity that you are entering into. You manifest yourself; you reveal your personality in religion when you come outside, as it were, in the spatiotemporal realm. When you move about – not with your hands and feet, not with your body – then the real you comes out into the spatiotemporal realm, and that is religion.

Now, I should take your mind a little bit to what this ‘you’ is. I said that the religious activity in the proper sense of the term is a movement of the real you. When you manifest yourself without any kind of agent or artificial concatenation of relationships, you are supposed to be living a life of religion and be practising religion. But you have a very misconceived and distorted notion of what this I or you is. On many occasions I had the opportunity of mentioning what this I and you really means. To sum up, the I and the you are ultimately one and the same thing. When the I gets externalised, it becomes the you. It cannot be said properly as to whether the world is filled with you’s or I’s. It all depends upon the point of view from which we view things. What do you think? Do you think that the world is filled with only I’s or you’s? Well, both these things can be possible. Everyone is an I. Nobody regards oneself as a you. Every person in the world is an I for himself or herself; no one can be called a you. Though there may not be a linguistic assertion of the I in every form of individuality because it is present in this form only in human beings, the principle of individuality is also present even in nonhuman, subhuman entities. There is an element of self-affirmation present even in plants, and you can see it in animals abundantly.

This principle of I is not the grammatical I which you write with a capital; it is a principle of self-affirmation which is expressed in language and uttered as I, etc. Now, when a particular I regards another I as something outside it, it becomes a you; that is all. But that is also an I only. There is no you there. Do you understand the point? So the whole universe may be said to be filled with I’s only, or you may say everything is you. If you regard everything as external and nobody is there to regard it as external, then the whole world is filled with you. But that is an impossibility because there cannot be externality unless there is a cognition of it. This cognising principle is called the I.

Here we sometimes make the mistake of projecting this I to external forms of it, and this projection is what goes often by the name of attachment, affection, likes, desires, etc. When the principle of self-affirmation called the I is dissatisfied with its own bodily location, for reasons I need not explain here for want of time, when there is a dissatisfaction ingrained in our own personality, when the I in us is totally disgusted and gets fed up with its own locked-up individuality within this bodily encasement, it projects itself outwardly for making good what it lacks, and this projection is called desire.

Why does it project itself in this manner? What is wrong with it? Why should there be such a thing as desire at all? Why should there be such a thing as affection, likes, etc.? Why should we want another thing other than our self? What is the secret behind this? The secret is the secret of life itself. If we know this secret, we know the secret of everything.

The reason behind this is simple, and yet very profound and very deep. The I which is locked up within this body is dissatisfied for the reason that it cannot really be so locked up. The so-called I within us is not a dot, it is not a particle, it is not a simple geometrical point, it is not a candle flame. It is not anything spatially visible or cognisable. Our ancient masters have proclaimed that this essential I is all-comprehensive. It is not within the body merely, but also outside the body.

The usual traditional analogy given to explain this universality of what is apparently located within the body is the space contained within a jar. You know space contained within a jar is not really contained within a jar. Imagine for a moment that the space within the jar has a consciousness of its own and it is wriggling and writhing within the four walls of the vessel: “Oh, what is happening to me? I am so small.” It is not really small. It is the infinite space, but unfortunately, if it is endowed or cursed with a consciousness of its being tied down to the four walls of the vessel alone, what would it feel? Misery untold would be its fate because it is asserting something contrary to what it really is. That is why it is unhappy.

We are in this similar predicament. It is only an analogy to explain what has happened to us. The I is not really within the body. The I or the you, or whatever we call it, is not within the body really. Space struggles to come out, to assert its all-comprehensive universality. How does it try to come out? It does not do it wisely, but in a very foolish way. What is the foolishness? The foolishness is that it tries to physically come in contact with individual entities outside in the world for the sake of making good what it has apparently lost. This is called attachment, the sensation that arises on account of contact with objects, which Bhagavan Sri Krishna has dubbed as something most undesirable.

The infinite cannot be contacted, which is the defect in this way of approach. The infinite is impossible of any kind of physical contact because it is not in space. That is why we cannot be happy by contacting anything in this world. We may have millions of dollars, we may live in a palatial mansion, we may have all the wealth and riches that the earth can bestow upon us, but we cannot be happy because this is an artificial contact that we have tried to establish with what is contrary to our essential nature. Therefore, we cannot be made happy by anything in this world. That which is contrary to truth and reality is asatya, and what is asatya cannot make us happy.

Reality and happiness are the same. If we want to be happy, we must be in tune with reality. We cannot grab some goblin or something phantasmagoric and be happy. In our ignorance of the real nature of things, in the nescience with which we are throttled, in the utter lack of knowledge, the want of wisdom which is characterising our personality, we unwisely try to come in contact with the wealth of the world hoping that thereby we will be wealthy.

No man is really wealthy in this world. He only imagines he is wealthy. What do you mean by wealth? You mean possession. What do you mean by possession? You cannot define this so-called possession of things. Nobody can understand what it actually means. “I possess lot of wealth,” people say. Can you tell me what this possession means? Are you having it in your hand actually? It is not in your hand. It is only a notion. The idea of possession is what makes you happy or unhappy. You are only entertaining an idea in your mind and making yourself happy or unhappy. Wonderful! Look at this state. Even the mere notion in your mind can make you a king or a beggar. Physically speaking, what is the difference between a king and a beggar? You cannot see a king; you see only a human being there, a man with a nose and two eyes and two ears. Where is the kingness there? It is nothing. You cannot see a governor or any such thing. It is a human being. The ideas of possession, wealth, etc., are notions in the minds of people, and these notions are nothing but a psychological network. We are caught up in this network.

There is no such thing as real wealth in this world. Wealth is only a notion because physically we are nobody. If we scientifically examine the personalities of a rich man and a poor man, we will find no difference. The millionaire and the beggar are biologically the same, but notionally they are different. Really we cannot possess anything; it is only our notion of possession, because the world does not belong to anybody.

In the Bhagavata there is the Bhumi Gita wherein Mother Earth said, “Everyone has started saying that I belong to them, but all have left me and gone. I am alone here. Nobody wants me.” This humorous passage gives us an idea that the earth cannot be possessed. There is no such thing as real possession. Possession itself is an unreality. This has to be underlined. The idea of possession itself is based on ignorance, and ignorance is contrary to reality. So possession is an unreal notion, and one cannot be happy with this notion in the mind.

The infinite that is within us, the universal I that seeks for self-expression, can find its original pristine wealth of sat-chit-ananda only when it comes to a realisation, and not a contact, of this truth. Truth cannot be contacted: ye hi saṁsparśajā bhogā duḥkhayonaya eva te (Gita 5.22). We cannot contact anything because contact is a peculiar contrivance of the senses in relation to objects that are in space and in time.

The senses are very mischievous. They try to dupe us into the belief that we are possessing the infinite by coming in contact with the objects, but objects are, as they are placed in space and time, opposed to the infinity of the I. That is why when we are sometimes driven to this condition of isolation – it may be due to a national catastrophe or a fire or a cataclysm or for various reasons – this inner I seems to manifest itself and assert itself. When we are deeply distressed, we want to run away to a forest. We do not want to talk to anyone for one day at least because we are in such grief. Something has happened to us; we cannot explain it. We suddenly go away and sit there until our burden is released. When we are in deep distress, we feel the aloneness of our personality.

The Manusmriti gives a wonderful passage which says that everything comes into being alone. You do not come with somebody else as your friend when you are born into this world. You come absolutely alone. You do not bring anything when you come, not even a strip of cloth. You cannot bring even a broken needle. You come absolutely alone in the literal sense, and in a similar manner you go also. You cannot call your friends, “I am going; you also come with me.” No friend will come with you. They will say, “Oh, I am sorry. You go yourself.” So you go alone.

What you have done in this world, you have to bear. The actions you perform in this world secretly, hiddenly, covertly as if they are not seen by people will be publicly demonstrated one day or the other. The secret deeds that people perform under the notion that nobody sees them will be broadcast into the cosmos one day, and then you have to pay through the nose the cost of what you have done. Not even your father and mother will come to help you there, let alone others. Even the nearest and dearest father and mother will not come to help you. Your dharma will follow you wherever you go, like a calf that finds its mother in the herd of cows. Just as a calf somehow finds its mother even in the midst of thousands of cows, likewise, your karma will follow wherever you go. So be cautious. Don’t do wrong. Don’t tell a lie. Don’t be incontinent. Don’t hurt others’ feelings. Don’t appropriate others’ property.

These days, people do unrighteous deeds as if they are common deeds of the world, but they have to be paid for. They are opposed to the laws of nature, opposed to the laws of God, and it is these erroneous deeds, erroneous thoughts, feelings and actions of ours that makes us enter into the cycle of transmigration, births and deaths.

So, coming into contact with objects of the world is not the solution to our problems. Radios and transistors cannot make us happy. Relations cannot make us happy. Money cannot make us happy. Traveling cannot make us happy. Nothing of the kind. All these will lead to sorrow one day or the other. We must be cautious about this. We have to read the history of the world and learn what has happened to all mighty men who trod this earth.

God above sees us with His infinite eyes: sarvataḥ-pāṇipādaṁ tat sarvato’kṣiśiromukham, sarvataḥśrutimal loke sarvam āvṛtya tiṣṭhati (Gita 13.13). Ignoring the presence of this Mighty Being, can you do anything covertly which is unlawful, contrary to the divine law of universality? This should not be done. The I within us, which is the universal which is attuned to the universality of God, seeks expression in the universal in a wrong manner, and that is why there is desire, attachment, etc., which can be curbed only by sense control.

‘Meditation’ is the word that we use for this act of withdrawal of the senses, the conservation of the energy of the mind and the sitting of it in its own source, which is the real I, which is the universal within us. We carry the universal wherever we go. You will be wonderstruck. You are the universal yourself. You are not a small personality. When you walk, the whole universe walks, as it were. You can touch any point in the universe by merely touching your own personality. You can operate the cosmos through your own switchboard, which is in your heart.

Such a wondrous personality we have, and this wonder of wonders, which is the I within us, God sitting within us, seeks expression in the infinitude of its nature, and it has to be expressed. All this is, and not as it is made to appear in the form of the objects of the world. It is pure satta, pure existence, undivided, so when you are affecting the I within, when your essential nature is made to manifest itself, it must come out as the universal manifesting itself. It must come out as acts of goodness. Acts of goodness – charity, philanthropy, kindness, mercy, etc. – are the universal manifesting itself from within us. Thus, the contrary is the personality manifesting itself. In our acts, in our daily functions, in our daily duties and activities, the personality should not manifest itself because then it becomes sensuous activity. When the universal within us manifests itself in action, then it is called karma yoga. That is why Bhagavan Sri Krishna emphasises that karma should be based on understanding. Karma yoga is based on buddhi yoga, samkhya as he calls it, the knowledge of the spirit.

So to conclude, what I would advise is that everyone should find a little time every day to sit alone and think about the seriousness of the life that we are living in this world. The life that we live is not a joke: “Oh, somehow I can live in any way I like.” Nothing of the kind. There cannot be anything more serious than life, there cannot be anything more mysterious than life, and there is nothing more un-understandable in its structure than life itself. We cannot define what life is. We can define anything with a dictionary, but we cannot explain what life is because it is that which explains. The explainer himself cannot be explained.

For this purpose, to gain this knowledge, to enter into the divine path of the essence, the substance within us, which is really the universal asserting itself in daily life, we have to control and restrain the activities of the senses and not listen to their voice. We have to think through the spirit and not think through the senses. God also thinks perhaps, but He thinks through spirit. His being and thinking and action are identical, whereas in our case our being and thinking and action are different. They are not identical. When action, thought and being become identical, we attain Godhood. God is nothing but the identity of being, consciousness, action, power and bliss. This we attain by the grace of Masters, the grace of the Guru, by study of scriptures, by daily unselfish work, service and activity, by service of elders, by good deeds, by kind speech, by sweet words, by actions which do not bring pleasure to our personality but rather bring pleasure to others because in the assertion of the reality of others we are somehow or other asserting the largeness of our being.

So through the practice, through the persistence, through the conduct of what Bhagavan Sri Krishna calls karma yoga, through the universalisation of our actions, through the concentration of our minds, through the spiritualisation of our ideas and meditation on God we can attain the universal in this very life, and the purpose of life is the attainment of universality.