by Swami Krishnananda
The individual, the world, and God are the principle themes of all philosophical studies, and even of mystical experiences. We have inquired sufficiently into the nature of the human individual, its makeup and its constitutive differences. We have discussed, to some extent, the process of the perception of the world by the individual through the instrumentality of the senses and the mind.
Even as the individual is a complex of various layers of experience, and there are sheaths within sheathskoshas within koshasand the human being is not merely the physical body, so too the world is not exhaustively made up by only what we see with our eyes. Even as we are not as we appear outwardly in terms of the body, the world is not what it appears to the eyes. I mentioned previously that within the body there are the pranas, the senses, the mind, the intellect, and such complicated layers which constitute the individuality and personality of man. So too is the world.
There are planes of existence, called lokas in Sanskrit degrees of realitythe lowest one being the Earth, or the physical universe. We cannot see anything beyond the physical realm because we live in a physical body. The subject and the object are always on par with each other as far as their degrees of reality are concerned. Neither can we see what is within us, nor can we see what is within the world. When we enter deep into our own selves we also, in parallel, go deep into the counterpart of ourselves in the world and begin to behold the inner layers of the cosmos. Just as we have the prana, the senses, the mind and the intellect, etc., within us, there are the planes of being, internally laid within this physical cosmos. The physical universe is not merely what we see with our eyes. Comparable to every layer within the individual, there is a cosmic layer.
The science of yoga makes out that there are plexuses called chakras within the body, which is very well known in hatha yoga circles, tantric circles, and certain other mystical circles of religious practice. It is very difficult to understand what these chakras are. Most of us are confused as to what they could be. They are pressures, or rather pressure centres, in the whole of our being, not merely in some part of the bodypressure centres, upon which an impact is felt, exerted by the counterpart of each centre at the cosmic level.
The physical universe presses upon the physical body. This is what is usually called gravitation, in the language of science. The pressure of the world upon us is gravitation; and the world presses upon us at every level of our being. The different centres within the internal layers of our personality, which receive this pressure from their own counterparts in the outer realms of being, are known as the chakras. They are not wheels or lotuses as they are sometimes described in a humorous, aesthetic manner by teachers. They cannot be understood by intellectual analysis, just as, for instance, we cannot know what energy is by any amount of definition and description.
A chakra may at times be considered to be a whirl of energy, a circleas can sometimes be seen in a river. There are circular currents in rivers, sometimes even in the ocean, and if anyone is caught up in these whirling currents he is pulled in deep and cannot come out. There are one or two centres like that in the Ganga. People who swim there are cautious about these circular currents because anyone who goes near them is drawn in and does not come out. These currents of force, chakras, which take a shape or a form according to the desire potentialities of the individual, are actually the shapes which are assumed by the pressure from the whole universe in its different planes.
What are these planes? There are seven centresthe muladhara, svadhishthana, and so on. Corresponding to these chakras, or centres in the human body, which are all well known to many hatha yoga students, there are the cosmic planes outside. Actually, we should not say that they are outside, inasmuch as we have already decided that the world is not outside us. We are involved in the world, yet the world appears to be outside. As long as there is an insistence on the part of our personality to regard the world as an external object, we will go on thinking that every plane of existence, also, is external; so, even if we go to heaven and become angels there, that angelic world will be external to our angel self. Hence, one may be a denizen or an inhabitant of any plane of existence, but the individuality will persist. Even Adam and Eve had individualities, though they were in the Garden of Eden and very proximate to God, the Supreme Creator.
Thus, individuality is an inscrutable something which cannot be identified entirely with the physical body. Our individuality is not caused by the existence of the physical body, and it will persist and remain even after death. The existence of our individuality as a principle even after the shedding of the physical body is the cause of rebirth. Individuality is the self-sense, the power by which we affirm our existence as an isolated, independent being. This independence of ours is not a physical assertion, but a psychological affirmationa mix-up, an inscrutable, un-understandable, mysterious complexwhich is what individuality is.
What is a human being? A human being is not necessarily the physical body. No one will say that the human being is only the body. Is the human being the mind? Even that would be difficult to accept. We cannot say that the human being is only a mind and nothing else, because there is also a body, and maybe something more. Is the human being the spirit within? We cannot say that the human being is only the spirit. Not the spirit, not the mind, not the bodywhat else is man?
Man, the human individual, is a mixture of different aspects abstracted from different levels of being, so that what we call the human individual, or any individual for that matter, is a complex, like a chemical mixture, and is not an indivisible whole. This explains the artificiality of human nature, which is the reason why it is called transient and perpetually moving onwardrestless, and never satisfied with even a moments existence in one given condition. We always move onward and onward, like a river that flows. Life is a river; every individuality is, also, a river. It is a river because it cannot rest. It must always pass beyond itself into the next higher stage. Restlessness is the characteristic of the human individual, and of every atom in the universe.
This is the nature of every finite individual. Anything that is limited has the character of overstepping the limitations of that finitude in the direction of attaining limitlessness. Corresponding to the limited, finite centres within us, there are the unlimited counterparts in the planes of existence of the cosmos. Ordinarily, these planes are not visible to the eyesjust as radio and television waves are not visible to the naked eye, but they are visible with a mechanism which can catch them due to its subtle inner makeup. The vibrations of the higher realms of being cannot be felt by the gross body, and the celestial music cannot be heard by the fleshy eardrum; yet, these planes exist.
The Puranas and the Epics recount the nature of these inner layers of the cosmoswhat the world is made of, internally. We say there is such a thing called evolution. The rising up of the dimensions of personality from inanimate matter to the vegetable kingdom, then to the animal level, then to human nature, is supposed to be indicative of a rise in the levels of dimension in experience. Man, today, is sometimes prone to think that evolution has stopped with man. This is why we say that man is made in the image of God and everything is well with man. But, it is not true. Everything is not well with man. He is a very unhappy creature.
The unhappiness that characterises human nature is indicative of the fact that evolution has not yet stopped. There is a further movement onwards to the higher levels of being. We have been told again and again by such teachers as theosophists that man has to become superman. In the West there were thinkers like Nietzsche who, in their own way, started the doctrine of the superman, pointing out that man, as he is today, is not complete. That is why he is unhappy.
But Nietzsches superman is different from the concept of the superman of the East. It is not the self-affirming, egoistic superman of Nietzsche we are thinking of and speaking about here, but the spiritual efflorescence of the human individual to the larger expanse which is potential within him. The superman is a transcendent man, and not an egoistic man. He is not a power-hungry tyrant, but a spiritually evolved, divine personality who has overstepped the limitations of humanity. That is why we call him a superhuman beingati-manava, as he is called.
Upanishads like the Taittiriya Upanishad and the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad tell us that man aspires for higher states of knowledge, experience and happiness. When a person sheds his body, he is reborn in a realm of existence where his desires can be fulfilled. If the desires are very profane, turbid and tamasic, or even extremely rajasic, there is a possibility of getting reborn in this very world itself, or in a world which is similar to this world but more purified in nature. If the tamas and the rajas are to some extent subdued and a ray of sattva has raised its head, these persons are reborn in Gandharvaloka, which is supposed to be the realm immediately above the human level, which penetrates the physical realm but cannot be visible to the physical eyes.
The realm of the angels is, generally speaking, the very same thing which the Upanishad speaks of as Gandharvaloka, Pitriloka and Devalokathe realms of the demigods, the gods, the celestials, the angels, Indra, and the like, where there is no old age, no hunger, no thirst, and no fatigue, not even death, until the whole universe is absorbed into the Absolute. Such is the joyous and delightful experience of the angels in heaven. These realms, Gandharvaloka, Pitriloka and Devaloka, are sometimes referred to as Bhurloka, Bhuvarloka and Svarga-lokathe physical, the astral and the celestial realms. We can, to some extent, understand what these super-physical levelsastral and celestialcould be by a study of what the scriptures say about the experiences of the angels there. But, there are realms above the celestial level. The angels are not everything.
The Upanishads, the Puranas and the Epics tell us that there are seven planes of existence; it is not that the degrees of manifestation of reality end only with these threethe physical, astral and celestial. The other lokas, or planes of existence mentioned, are above Svargaloka, or the celestial realm. Maharloka, Janarloka, Taparloka, Satyalokawe cannot understand anything about them. We may become giddy by thinking too much about these wondrous states of being which seem to reign supreme above even the realm of the angels, where it is said there is no death, and nectar is their food. Anything which a human being can aspire for is to be found in the celestial realm.
The greatest happiness that a human being can imagine is to be found in the celestial realm; but, the highest happiness that man can think of is the poorest compared to those realms which are transcendent even to the celestial realm. Great adepts, yogis, mahapurushas, masters, incarnations, and sages are supposed to be living in these realms. The highest realm is called Brahmaloka, identified with the realm of the Creator Himself, where individualities penetrate each other.
In Plotinus great work called Leonards, the great mystic Alexandria describes this interpenetration of individualities in the state of that Universal vision. He does not call it Brahmaloka; his language is different, but the explanation is equivalent to what we hear of in the Mahabharata and the Puranas. Every individual enters into every other individual, as many mirrors facing each other may reflect each other so that everything is everywhere; this is Brahmaloka. One will find oneself everywhere, and everyone else will find himself everywhere, so that to know one thing is to know all things, and to know all things is to know any thing.
For us, descriptions of this kind make no sense. They are meaningless utterances, because we are not expected to understand them with our poor, physical brains. When we touch even the borderline of realms of this kind, we run into mad ecstasy. We heard of devotees dancing in a state of super-consciousness, which we mistake for unconsciousness, where they would not even be aware that they have a body or even whether they are wearing clothing or not. Such mystical masters existed even in the West, not merely in the East. These secrets are hidden within nature. Even a little contemplation on the possibilities of such experiences will shut our mouths forever. Such terrible, magnificent variety is hidden in the bosom of the universe.
These planes are within us, also. That is the reason why we can enter into their being, experience them and make them our own. As I mentioned just now, as we go deeper and deeper within ourselves, we also, simultaneously, plumb deeper and deeper into the depths of the cosmos. The movement or advance of the spirit further and further is a parallel movement objectively as well as subjectively and, therefore, there is no such thing as an individuals meditation or a private salvation of a person.