by Swami Krishnananda
Karma and upasana act as steps leading to jnana. The immediate reality experienced by the human being is the physical body connected with the physical world. The function of the body is to act objectively in relation to external existence. It is never possible to keep one’s individuality inactive, because activity is a necessity that urges the individuality to transcend itself in some other state that is superior to the preceding one. Action can be destroyed through action alone, even as iron is cut by iron. Individuality can be transcended through individuality.
Upasana is a mental act, while karma may also be a physical act. Mind also is a constituent of individuality. The mind can be transcended through mind itself. The laws of the body and the mind are overcome through karma and upasana. Karma should be done as a necessity of individual life and not as a process of self-satisfaction. This is the distinction between selflessness and selfishness. Upasana is the method of subduing the distractive character of the mind through concentration on the one objective reality, viz., God. God is the unified wholeness of objectivity, though in upasana it is not possible to consider God as the secondless Absolute. The body becomes steady and calm; the mind becomes unshaken and the aspirant becomes fit for the higher state of Self-knowledge by purification attained thus through karma and upasana.
All actions done for the sake of the satisfaction of oneself become mothers of rebirth, because every desire has to be fulfilled today or tomorrow. The vastness of desires makes it impossible for the individual to fulfil all of them in this life itself. The nature of the future birth is determined by the desires that are left unfulfilled in this birth. Pleasures and pains experienced in this life are the results of the positive and the negative reactions of desires and actions. Knowledge is possible, therefore, only for one who ceases from desiring objects, whether physical or psychological, real or ideal.
Even the memory of desires and experiences has to be erased out. Nothing that is objective can be perpetual, because something becomes an object only when it has a relationship with a subject. All relationships constitute bondage. The mere fact that objects exist in the world does not constitute bondage. It is the relationship that is developed between one object and another that constitutes bondage. Desire for the knowledge of Brahman is not a desire, because such a desire is like the movement of a straw towards fire. Desire shall be burnt by the knowledge of Brahman. Movement towards the Self within is not the development of a desire, but the process of the cessation of desire. The senses and the mind get withdrawn and dissolved in the unity of the Self. Immortality is the condition of the experience of the Self as free from the connections that it appears to have with the not-Self.
The Mundaka Upanishad has said that the seeker after knowledge should first investigate the worthlessness of regions which are the effect of actions performed in this world. He should get disgusted with the world through understanding and not merely through tradition. Reason should strengthen faith, logic should supplement intuition. This shall bring about perfect vairagya born of viveka. Vairagya is not possible without a previous conviction, and conviction is not possible without analytical knowledge. This power of analysis comes to a person, first through past meritorious deeds, next through Satsanga, and later through svadhyaya and vichara.
Karma and jnana - karma is a modification of the present state into another state, directed by a necessity. Every action is based on a voluntary or involuntary desire, expressed or potential. One does not move without a purpose, and every purpose is a limitation, which shows that the actor is not complete in himself. But knowledge is not an action. Knowledge is being. If knowledge is an action it should be a means to some other end, but we do not find any end to be reached beyond knowledge. Knowledge is something like attaining to oneself, which, if it is called a process, would contradict experience. One cannot reach oneself or attain oneself or move towards oneself except by knowing oneself. A person who is asleep or dreaming may be said to be away from himself, but if he wishes to attain himself or go to himself in that imagined state of aberration, he can do it only by waking up from that dream or sleep and not by walking or moving. His body may be carried from place to place, but he will not attain to himself except by waking. Similar is the case with brahma-jnana. One cannot reach Brahman through an act, because all acts are a proceeding away from the Self. Knowledge is subsisting and not proceeding. Knowledge is not a means to an end, but the end itself. After knowing we have to do nothing, but after doing we have to know something. This is the difference between action and knowledge. Knowledge is, therefore, possible only after the dissolution of all actions, through hearing, reflection and meditation preceded by discriminative dispassion. This is the reason why the Upanishad has declared that the Self neither decreases nor increases through action, because action is a motion, and the Self is motionless.
Even if there is no intimate relationship between Self-knowledge and action, it is possible for the active individual to transcend his active individuality because of the fact that the Self pervades the individual as his very existence. The relationship between the individual and the Supreme is one of identity and not separation, but the imagined separation allows the possibility of sadhana towards perfection. Though sadhana is an action in the realm of adhyasa (superimposition), it is possible to get rid of individual consciousness through sadhana, because the process of attainment also is connected with the adhyasa. The conclusion is, therefore, that the attempt for Self-knowledge should be preceded by the longing for the same as the result of renunciation given rise to discrimination. The Self is of the nature of Attainment. Therefore, it cannot be attained through any amount of external exertion or striving, and no striving is there without an objective motive. The Self is attained through putting an end to all motives and necessities governing the laws of the phenomenal universe. That which is one’s own Nature cannot be dealt with in any way. It cannot be purified, obtained, changed or defined. The Self is objectless, immaterial, formless and immutable. All our deeds bear fruits in a world of space and time. That which is not done (uncreated) cannot be attained through what is done (created). Anything that is obtained through perishable instruments is itself perishable. Everything of the world is perishable, and, therefore, nothing of this world can be an instrument in the attainment of the Self. Objective actions give rise to objective fruits. Mental actions give rise to mental results. The effect is of the same nature as the cause. The Self is neither a cause nor an effect. Therefore, all relationships and processes pertaining to causes and effects are external to the nature of the Self. The means adopted should befit the nature of the end. The end is immortality and the means to it, therefore, cannot be a mortal one. Knowledge is attained by the Self, not by doing something, but by not doing anything. This comes to cessation of all desires, whether subjective or objective, manifested or unmanifested. Knowledge is the same as existence or being, while thoughts and actions are becomings or changes.
Brahman is vastu-tantra (dependent on the object of knowledge). The knowledge of Brahman is not dependent on the mind of man. One cannot conceive of Brahman as one likes. It is minds that differ and not the Self. Conceptions and experiences belong to the mind. The Self is the general ground of all beings, and its knowledge therefore is the same to all. Different people cannot have different kinds of the knowledge of Brahman. The knowledge of Brahman is dependent on Itself. But thoughts and actions are dependent on the individual. One can change one’s thoughts and actions as one likes - they are purusha-tantra (dependent on the individual subject). This is the reason why conceptions and actions which are the characteristics of the mind and the senses have no access to the knowledge of Brahman. Brahma-jnana is possible after effacing oneself, after becoming non-existent, from the worldly point of view. It is the union of subject and object that is meant by Self-experience. The Self is dependent on its own greatness. Its glory is unsullied by external changes. Moksha is eternity. Eternity is perpetual changelessness. The Kena Upanishad establishes the truth of the unchanging, witnessing character of the Self.
The Self is the controller and the director of the mind, prana and senses. It acts without a body and without a mind. Its action is not a movement, but the law of existence. Its very existence actuates the phenomena of the five external sheaths. These sheaths have borrowed existence and borrowed consciousness. Whatever appears to be good in them belongs to the Self, and whatever imperfection there is, that belongs to the five sheaths. The Self is the cause of external activity even as the sun or the lamp is the cause of worldly work. It is unaffected by actions. It does not do anything, but everything is done because of it.
All actions are controlled by the law of Absoluteness. This accounts for the systematic working of Nature. Existence is an equilibrium, a balance of forces, a dynamic statis. The life of man is, therefore, regulated by the law of unity. All movements are towards the Self, all thoughts are directed towards the Self, all desires are the desire for the Self, all happiness is the reflection of Self-Bliss. All beings crave for unity. There is no happiness in individuality. But this love for unity is many times distorted in the form of love for the unification of physical objects. This is the cause of metempsychosis. The evil of this world is the effect of the desire for the unity of physical objects, which is an impossibility. The Spirit is unity and not the objects. Knowingly the mind indulges in evil, because it is unaware of anything beyond the causes of evil. Goodness and truth are metapsychical. Therefore, the mind cannot know real truth and goodness. True goodness dawns when the mind dies. The Self reveals itself when the individual ceases to exist.
The Self is the hearing consciousness of the ear, and similarly, the consciousness of the other different sense-functions. The organs of hearing, seeing, etc. are not capable of functioning without Self awareness. The nature of the Self can be defined by what it is not and not by what it is. The Self, as it is in itself, is indefinable, because it is devoid of the characteristics that a definition requires. It is not a substance with attributes, nor is it an individual directing the senses, etc. It is nothing to the senses and the mind, though it is everything to itself. Through the acts of deliberation, volition and determination, it is possible for us to infer the nature of the Self. The born, the originated and the compounded substances cannot be explained and accounted for except on the basis of an unborn, an unoriginated and an uncompounded being. The world of experience is the indicator of the existence of an eternal being. The acceptance of our finitude posits the existence of the Infinite. That we are imperfect means that there is a perfect being. But it is not possible for us to presume that we are perfect now itself, because our experience revolts against that conclusion. When the absence of anything brings about troubles and calamities, the value of its existence is realised. When, without something, nothing can be explained, we have to admit the reality of that something. No experience is explicable except on the substratum of a permanent Self. The feeling of “I” within us refuses to be rejected and asserts itself even before we begin to think. Consciousness is presupposed by thinking. Anything that is a composite of parts must be dependent on a non-composite wholeness of being. Differences can be explained only by non-difference. Corporeality has got a value only on the hypothesis of an incorporeal being. We give value to our bodily existence because we confound the indivisible Self with the divisible body. The senses disagree among one another, but this disagreement is reconciled and set into harmony by the unifying Self within.
In the state of waking, consciousness pervades the body, even as fire makes an iron ball red hot, when it is heated. It becomes difficult to distinguish between the fire and iron in that condition. Similarly the body appears to be the Self because of this pervasion of consciousness over the senses and the body. But consciousness is different from the senses and the body, even as fire is different from the iron ball. Self-revelation is the nature of the Self. Because of it the senses reveal to us objects. They die without it. As the sun illumines the world, the Self illumines the mind and the body. Thus it is proved that the body is not the Self and that the mind also is not the Self.
Similarly, the prana is not the Self. The prana is the expression of the mind. It is the connecting link between the mind and the body. The flow of prana is regulated by the function of the mind, and the body in turn is controlled by the movements of the prana. The condition of the body depends upon how the prana works, and the condition of the prana depends upon how the mind works, and what desires it has.
There is life in prana because of the life of the Self. The prana has no life (consciousness) in the deep sleep state when it is disconnected from the Self. There is loss of consciousness of breathing and the other functions of the prana. In conclusion, therefore, it is to be known that nothing of the five external sheaths has anything of reality.