Everything About Spiritual Life
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 7: Reversing the Process of Creation

We have been, for the last three or four sessions, considering details of the withdrawal of sensations in the practice of self-restraint, which is the crux of spiritual life. Spiritual life is a life of self-restraint, and so we had to take sufficient time to go into its details.

In two instances the withdrawal of sensations takes place automatically, and on one occasion it takes place with effort and deliberate attempt. When a person is about to die, a withdrawal of sensation happens spontaneously, automatically, without any effort. At the time of passing, the first thing that happens is that speech stops. The person who is about to die cannot speak, but he will think; the mind will be operating. Other sensations such as hearing will slowly diminish in their intensity, and then will also cease. The sensations will get withdrawn into the thinking faculty, which is the mind. The dying person cannot speak, cannot hear, but can think for a while. People ask, “Do you recognise me? Do you know who I am?  Speak!” but he cannot speak. His mind will be in a delirious condition because of the impending shock that is to be injected into the personality at the time of death.

Then the mind also stops thinking. There is no sensation of any kind, and no thought, but the prana will be there. There will be breathing; people will bring a little piece of cotton and keep it near the nostrils to see whether the person is alive or not. The last thing to leave is the prana that connects and maintains the subtle body, and which is the vital energy in the system. Then the prana gives a shocking experience. Like a horse shaking itself so abruptly and vehemently that the person riding it might fall off, such a shocking, we may say catastrophic, withdrawal of the prana takes place from the physical body. At that time, the Upanishad is our guide here. It says that a little spark, a flame, jets itself forth from the heart, which is the concentrated capsule of the jiva. The individuality, the self-consciousness, the jiva, the person as such, gets concentrated in a little jot of a flame-like spark which wrenches itself from the body, and it gravitates to some condition of living which is called rebirth.

In swoon – a condition where one is not aware of anything – a similar process of withdrawal of sensation takes place. A shock is given to the whole person when one is in a state of swoon. He falls down, having no strength to stand. The withdrawal of sensation at the time of swoon is similar to that which takes place at the time of death, except for one thing – that flame, that little dot of spark of consciousness will not extricate itself from the bodily connection because if that happens, then death will take place. So, there is a difference between swoon and death. This distinction is described in some interesting detail in the Brahma Sutras.

Thus, in swoon and death, sensations get withdrawn, but this is not self-restraint. In deep sleep there is also a gradual withdrawal of sensations in a process similar to swoon and death. The condition of deep sleep has some characteristics of dying, and some characteristics of swoon, yet it is quite different from both of these in the sense that the spark, the light, the flame retains its location in the physical personality. Therefore, one can wake up from swoon and sleep, but not from death.

We are not concerned with how we die, how we fall into swoon, or how we go to sleep; how we ascend to God-consciousness is our subject. Here, a deliberate effort is necessary, and a spontaneous withdrawal of sensations will not take place as in other conditions described. A famous passage in the Upanishad here is a guideline for us – how we can gradually ascend from the world of sensations to the world of mentation and reason, and then to the world of pure spirit.

Indriyebhyaḥ parā hy arthā, arthebhyaś ca param manaḥ, manasaś ca parā buddhir buddher ātmā mahān paraḥ; mahataḥ param avyaktam, avyaktāt puruṣaḥ paraḥ, puruṣān na paraṁ kiñcit: sā kāṣṭhā, sā parā gatiḥ (Katha Up. 1.3.10-11). The whole of yoga practice is here in a twin verse from the Kathopanishad. Great effort is necessary in the practice of sadhana. You cannot automatically, spontaneously, fall on the lap of God as you fall in sleep, swoon, and death. What is the kind of effort that is required? The sensations are so impetuous that they compel us to be conscious of an object outside them, about which we have studied enough already. In order that the sensations may operate in respect of the objects outside, the objects have to exist first. So, the object is considered as prior to the operation of the sensations. Unless the object is already there, the sensations will not operate in terms of objectivity or the perception, cognition of an external object.

Here, we are reminded of a doctrine of a famous British thinker John Locke, who distinguished between primary qualities and secondary qualities. The secondary qualities spoken of are nothing but sensations. The cognition of colour, sound, taste, touch, etc., is not supposed to be present in objects as such. The object itself is neither sweet nor bitter, beautiful nor ugly, with colour nor without colour – nothing of the kind. The reaction of sensory operation upon an existent object is what is called an experience of a secondary quality. Thus, those who hold on to this theory of a distinction between primary qualities and secondary qualities believe in the existence of objects as such, independent of their sensations. This doctrine is also sometimes called the doctrine of representationalism. The objects represent themselves in the sense organs and are not directly perceived.

That is to say, from your sensations, you cannot know the objects as they are because the sensations, with their own structural peculiarity, condition the mode of perception. As molten lead cast into a crucible will take the shape of that crucible, objects – whatever they are – appear to take the shape of the particular sensations; therefore, we say, “The object is like this,” by looking at it with the eyes, by hearing it with the ears, and so on. The existence of an object independent of sensations is taken for granted. Primary qualities such as dimension are not created by the sensations. There must be a substance, an objectivity, before sensation takes place. Here we have a touch of the doctrine of realism, as it is called in Western parlance. The objects are prior to sensations.

I will digress a little bit from our main subject to give some background. Later on it was difficult to conceive the presence of a primary quality that is conceived or accepted to be existing independent of sensations. It was George Berkeley, who followed John Locke, who asserted that if we cannot say that sensations are things as such, and if we believe that primary qualities are there independent of sensations, then even primary qualities are also sensations only. They also cannot be proved to exist. How do we know that primary qualities, like dimension, exist? It is also a kind of cognition through the apparatus or faculty of our perception, which conditions not only our manner of knowing objects, but the nature of the object itself. So, objects do not exist. This is the conclusion George Berkeley came to, in opposition to John Locke who said that sensations do not give us the correct picture of objects, but objects do exist.

Here, we have got a peculiar situation created by the doctrines of realism and idealism of whether objects condition perceptions, or perceptions condition objects. We do not go into the further developments of this doctrine, which was taken up vigorously by people such as Immanuel Kant.

Thus, when the Upanishads say the objects are prior to the sensations, it accepts a sort of realism of the world of objects, and there is a gradual ascent of consciousness from the secondary qualities to the primary qualities. In another place, the Upanishad says that the objects are the roads along which the chariot of the human personality will move, driven by the charioteer of the intellect, with the chariot passenger being the soul or the individual jiva. In meditation, which is actually the process of self-control for the purpose of liberation, what is done is that we do not judge objects in terms of our sensations.

Here again, we are in harmony with the description of Patanjali Maharishi where he says artha, the object as such, is to be disentangled from the conceptions and ideas of the object. All great men think alike; whether it is Immanuel Kant, George Berkeley, John Locke or the Upanishads, all of them tell the same thing in different languages. Finally, the great truth is identically portrayed by these masters, whether Plato or somebody else.

The Upanishad says here that it is necessary for us to be in tune with the objects – not as the senses represent, but as the objects are in themselves. The artha, the object as such, should be disentangled, separated from its encrustations of name and concept. You are sitting in front of me. You are independent persons. You are not necessarily as I think you are. I have an idea about you, but you may be totally independent of this idea. You have a name, a designation, but you are something independent of that designation. You are John or Robert, Rama or Krishna, but these names do not actually mean that you are that. You can have some other name also. You may be named something else. So, the names are appended to your personality so strongly that you will wake up from sleep only if you are called by that particular name. If John is in deep sleep and I call him, “Robert, get up,” he will not wake up. If I say, “John, get up,” he will get up. Even in the state of deep sleep, the identification of your personality with the name is so intense that you will not wake up if you are called by another name.

But this is not the nature of the person, or of any object. The Yoga Sastra of Patanjali or the Upanishad tell us that the first step to take in the direction of yoga practice is to learn to think the object as the object thinks itself. It would be a great achievement on my part if I can judge you as you are judging yourself. I should not foist on your personality my ideas or even the name that is given to you by your parents. When names go, and ideas connected with the person also are separated, still you are impersonally existing, and every object is existing by itself. This is a great achievement in yoga. Though it is regarded as the first step, it is practically a tremendous step that you are taking. You have to turn the tables round, as they say. You think not the object, but you think with the object. You have to exercise your imagination as to how this can be done. Instead of looking at the tree, you stand with the tree, parallel to it, and feel as the tree would feel itself, think as it would think, be as it would be. Do this in the case of every other thing also in the world. You are not looking at a thing, you are parallel to the thing; you are friendly with the thing, one hundred percent in harmony with the thing. You think not the object, but you think as the object itself thinks. If this is successful, it is a great achievement.

What will happen at that time? The world will join together as a power that is spread out everywhere, and enter you. What will happen to you at that time, when the whole world joins together and enters you? You become a world individual, as it were, not one individual coming from somewhere. You are not coming from anywhere, my dear friend; you are everywhere. This identity of yourself with the things themselves, as they are in themselves, is a great yoga. It is so because it is quite opposite to the way in which you are thinking the things in the world. Think not the things, but think with the things. Be parallel to the objects, and stand with them. You will find the tree and the leaves will smile at you. They will not be afraid of you that you will cut them down. “My friend is coming, my alter ego is coming – not merely my friend, but another aspect of myself.”

When Vyasa Bhagavan, the father of Suka Maharishi, saw his uninitiated divine son walking away unconcerned with everything, he called, “Suka, my son, where are you?” And the Bhagavata Purana says when the father called the son, the reply came, “I am here.” From where did the reply come? From every leaf in the entire forest – all the trees, all the leaves started vibrating, saying, “I am here, my dear father.” What does it mean? This Suka, this young man, the little boy – looking at whom, children used to pelt stones, imagining that he is some crazy person – was one with the trees, one with the skies, one with the sun, moon, and stars, one with the very leaves which started vibrating. Taravo 'bhinedus taṁ sarva-bhūta-hṛdayaṁ munim ānato 'smi (Srimad Bhagavata 1.2.2): “I prostrate myself before that heart of all beings, Suka Maharishi,” is a sloka from the Bhagavata Purana.

Yoga takes you higher and higher by stages, until you reach a complete communion with the ascending layers of the creative process. In the philosophies of Sankhya, Yoga, and Vedanta, the cosmological process, or the way of the descent of things from the Supreme Being, also determines or explains the way of the ascent: as you came, so you go back. You have come from Delhi to Rishikesh, and now you want to go back from Rishikesh to Delhi. When you start moving from Delhi to Rishikesh, the first thing that you see is Meerut, then you reach Muzaffarnagar, then afterwards you reach Roorkee, then you reach Haridwar, then you reach Rishikesh. Now, you want to go back to Delhi. When you go back, what you will see? First, you will see Haridwar, then you will go to Roorkee, then you will go to Muzaffarnagar, then you will go to Meerut, then you will go to Delhi. The reverse process takes place in the ascending effort of the yoga student, in comparison with the descending process of cosmological creation.

I shall divert a little bit upon this process of the coming down of the categories of creation, both from the point of view of the Sankhya and the Vedanta. What does the Sankhya say? There is an infinite universal purusha consciousness all pervading. There is a prakriti or the potentiality for the manifestation of all the things of the world. In light of the Sankhya philosophy, this prakriti or the potentiality of creation is made up of three strands, as they call it, the properties sattva, rajas and tamas. The equilibrated condition of the prakriti is called sattva; the rajasic or distracting, dividing activity of prakriti is called rajas; and the inert, non-active, inactive condition is called tamas. When the purusha consciousness reflects itself in this equilibrated aspect of prakriti, it becomes a cosmic conscious potential creative force called Mahat. Sometimes this Mahat is identified with Brahma, the creator, about which we hear much in the Puranas and the epics. This Mahat is a cosmic generality of awareness of everything. In the case of purusha, we cannot say that it is aware of everything, because there is no question of space, time, or anything. So, purusha is just what it is. So, we cannot say purusha is cosmically conscious, etc. That designation is applicable only to Mahat, where the potentialities of space-time emerge, and there is a cosmic consciousness, potential omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. This cosmicality of Mahat becomes conscious of itself: “I am the all-pervading being.” This particular stage is called Ahamkara when the cosmic consciousness makes a cosmic affirmation of this otherwise-universal omnipresence and asserts itself as aham asmi – I am, I am what I am, I am that I am. Don’t mistake this Ahamkara with egoism of a human being. Egoism, as we understand in common parlance, is pride, assertiveness of a bodily individuality. This has to be distinguished completely from the word Ahamkara. Actually, the Sankhya could have used another word, instead of confusing this Ahamkara with that ahamkara. Anyway, this has been called Ahamkara – cosmic awareness of one’s being oneself only, and there is nothing external to oneself.

Here, we have a similarity with the Vedanta doctrine of the Absolute Parabrahman. There also the word prakriti is used. Sometimes, the word maya is used. I don’t want to confuse you with all these words. They are practically the same thing, and the Vedanta also accepts the term prakriti, as we have it in the Mahabharata. The Manusmriti and the Bhagavadgita also accept the presence of a prakriti, though from another standpoint altogether. This prakriti has three strands, as I mentioned, three properties – sattva, rajas and tamas. When this cosmic enlightened condition, pure reflective capacity, receives the cosmic consciousness of the Mahat in its assertive, self-conscious form, it becomes Ahamkara. Thus, we have purusha, prakriti, Mahat, Ahamkara, the categories of descent.

Here, a threefold splitting of operation takes place. The adhyatma, adhibhuta, and adhidaiva stages are supposed to be the threefold ramifications of this central universal Self-consciousness of ‘I am’. What are these three categorisations or split forms? On the one hand, there is the individual observer of the world; on the other hand, there is the observed physical world; in the middle, there is the connecting link – the purusha, Supreme Brahman consciousness itself linking the subject with the object – to which subject I made a reference earlier, so I won’t repeat it again. The objects cannot be known to exist unless the senses are connected to the object through a third medium, which is invisible to the sense organs. That medium is called adhidaiva, a superintending divinity. So, three ramifications take place after the Ahamkara manifests itself – the individual perceiver, the world of objectivity or perception, and the invisible connecting link which is the devata, adhidaiva.

Then what happens? The rajasic aspect of prakriti has created this threefold ramification, and the sattva aspect gives the tinge of consciousness in the individual that cognises. We are aware that we are cognising or perceiving things; this awareness consciousness is a reflection of purusha, Brahma consciousness itself. The differentiation that we feel between ourselves and the object is due to the rajas. The tamas aspect has its own say; space, time, and causation is the first vibratory process in the tamas aspect of prakriti. That condenses itself into a grosser form of vibrations called potentials for the manifestations of the five elements earth, water, fire, air, ether. These potentials are called tanmatras; the pure potentialities of that which is to be manifested afterwards is called tat matra – the essence of the physical world. These are known as the potentiality for hearing, for seeing, for touching, for tasting, for smelling; in Sanskrit they are called sabda, sparsa, rupa, rasa, gandha. They are not processes of the senses such as hearing; they are the potentialities which make it possible for us to see, or hear, or touch, etc. These potentialities get condensed in a particular form, called panchakarana. They become actual physical elements of earth, water, fire, air, ether; this is the world before us.

I have described the whole process of creation. Now, you have to go back through the process: from Rishikesh to Haridwar, Haridwar to Roorkee, Roorkee to Muzaffarnagar, Muzaffarnagar to Meerut, Meerut to Delhi. Indriyebhyaḥ parā hy arth paraḥ. Of course, the senses are a reality for us, but the first step in yoga is knowing the objects which stand by themselves as pure primary qualities – with whom we have to think and with whom we have to be in harmony.

This is a very difficult subject. I am trying to purify your mind, and make you semi-divine at least, if not entirely divine. You will feel surprised that you are living in a different world altogether than what you are seeing with your eyes. This kind of thing you will not hear anywhere; nobody will talk to you on these subjects. Even if you read a book, it will not enter the head. It requires a personal contact of a guide.

A guide who is a living person is much better than a printed book, for two reasons. Firstly, you can ask questions and clarify your doubts from the person. Secondly, there is a vibration emanating from the person who speaks. That vibration is not as much present in the printed book. So, it is very good that you are hearing all these things. Slowly, the world will take you into yourself, as a mother embraces the child. Your mother is this whole cosmos. Whatever I have told you just now is your mother, your father, your parent. You are the child, and it will embrace you and take you into itself; and then you will think like the mother, the father. You will not think like a naughty child running here and there; that is what you are doing now. Mātā dhātā pitāmahaḥ (Gita 9.17). In the Bhagavadgita Sri Krishna Bhagavan says, “I am the father, I am the mother, I am the grandfather, I am the protector, I am the refuge, I am everything for you. Come on, I shall take care of you.”

This happens when you stand with the things of the world. Never look at them as if they are to be exploited by your perception. These ideas of enjoying them, taking them, repelling them must go. So, I have told you only something – the first step in yoga – but it is such a tremendous step that it will revolutionise your whole life. You will digest your food better, you will speak nicely, you will become a friend of all people, and the whole world will protect you. Be happy. God bless you.