The Philosophical Foundations of Religious Consciousness
by Swami Krishnananda

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Chapter 4: The Mystical and the Ritualistic Stage of Religion

We observed that the manner of religious instruction can be classified under a threefold modus operandi known as Prabhu Samhita, Suhrit Samhita and Kanta Samhita. The order of an authority is the principle behind Prabhu Samhita. The friendly advice from a friend and well-wisher closely related to oneself is the principle behind Suhrit Samhita. Generally speaking, there is a big gap between the authority issuing orders and the recipient of the order. A mandate coming from a king or an enactment of parliament may be an obligatory duty imposed upon all people, whether or not it is intelligible to everybody or even acceptable to many people, with no consideration whatsoever for the individual recipient’s reaction, and based entirely on the peremptory will of a central ruling principle. Instructions, when they are issued, keep the authority at a distance from the recipient of the order. There is obedience to the order due to the fear of consequences, not because it is palatable and voluntarily accepted.

There is a nearness and a greater closeness of relation among friends. A friend does not behave like an authority towards a person who is also a friend. There is a relationship of superiority and inferiority between authority, such as government, and the recipient of the order, but there is a sense of equality between friends. The distance between the source of the instruction and the recipient thereof is narrowed down in friendly concourse.

In the Suhrit Samhita, even the distance between man and God, in the field of appreciation of religious values, is brought down to a minimum. The God of the Vedas and the Upanishads seems to be very far away from us – as potentate ruling from the heavens like a judicial paramount authority, thinking and acting only from his point of view and not necessarily taking into consideration another’s point of view. The friendly attitude is a mutual give and take of ideas; and the distance between the authority and the recipient of the order from the authority, which was considerable in the field of instruction known as Prabhu Samhita, becomes narrowed down to practically an absence of it. There is a concourse between two parties. God comes to the earth as an incarnation, as a friend and a redeemer, a well-wisher, a compassionate physician of the soul.

The Vedas, the Upanishads, and the Smritis, in Indian religious parlance – and similar codes of scriptural authority and ethical mandate in other religions also – come under this category of a fatherhood of God who resides in heaven above; and He has not yet become a friend of man. The father is not a friend of the son -though he, of course, is a well-wisher of the son. You know the difference between the father and a friend. That is the difference between the originally conceived scriptural concept of God in heaven as the Father Supreme, and the dear and near God who is close to our heart and capable of approach and appreciation in love, affection, comradeship and close intimacy. These are the first two categories: Prabhu Samhita and Suhrit Samhita.

There is a third category known as Kanta Samhita. I compared it to the instruction that is received by the beloved from the lover – and vice versa, the instruction received from the beloved by the lover. Compare the relationship between the authority ruling from the throne of the country and the peasant in the field who has to obey that order. Compare the relationship between one friend and another friend. Compare the relationship between the lover and the beloved. All three categories imply some kind of relation, but they qualitatively differ from one another in the sense of the closeness between the two sides or the distance maintained by the two parties.

Usually, traditionally speaking, the term Kanta Samhita is used to describe the contents of the great Mahakavyas, the elegant literature of the great poets like Kalidasa, Bhavabhuti, Magha, Sriharsha, etc. Raghuvamsa, Kumarasambhava, Kiratarjuneeyam, Sisupala Vadha, Naishadeeyacharita – these are the polished elegant literary works known as the Mahakavyas, whose method and way of speaking is known mostly as the field of Kanta Samhita. But, in religious literature there is also a Kanta Samhita aspect.

The methods of spiritual practice, the ways of religious organisations, and the public proclamations of the religions of man in regard to God that are commonly known to the people in the world – these are only of the category of Prabhu Samhita and Suhrit Samhita.

In Western circles, the Kanta Samhita aspect of religious instruction is rarely seen, though it is seen very feebly in mystical circles even in such religions as Judaism, Christianity and Islam. This is the mystical inner circle which is totally different from the outer forms that religion takes in terms of the literal meaning attached to the word of the scripture or the word of the concerned prophet. There is an inner circle, an esoteric aspect of religion in Islam that goes by the name of Sufism; and there are mystical philosophers in Judaism, like Philo the Judea; and there are Christian mystics.

In India, the esoteric aspect of religion can be seen in the Agama Sastra, which is categorised into the Vaishnava, Saiva, and Sakta sections. These are names with which we are very familiar, but their contents are not easily accessible to the public. The Agama Sastra is Vaishnava, Saiva or Sakta, as I mentioned. The easy and more widely known Agama belongs to the Vaishnava, which is principally of the nature of the Pancharatra doctrine. This is worship of Bhagavan Narayana or Vishnu, not necessarily as one residing in Vaikuntha far off, above the world, but as descended through incarnations and conceived in terms of certain descents called vyuhas, or groups of divine associations, widely known as Vasudeva, Sankarshana, Pradyumna and Aniruddha,  the meanings of which are known only to the esoteric Vaishnava circles.

The Vasudeva aspect is the transcendental aspect, Samkarshana is the immanent aspect, Pradyumna is the operative aspect, and Aniruddha is the visible aspect. God can be worshipped as the universal all-pervading Being. God can also be worshipped as the creator supreme of this universe. God can be worshipped as the incarnation, avatara, of Vishnu. God can also be worshipped in idols or images which we keep in temples and houses as emblems of the presence of the Almighty.

These categorisations are purely a part of Vaishnava theology, bringing God’s relation to man closer than what is found in the Suhrit Samhita circle. This is because in the esotericism involved in this concept of God as related to man in the Agama method, the closeness is not like the closeness of friend and friend; it is closer still. I gave a little hint yesterday of it being possible for us to absorb God into our own selves as a verily desirable aesthetic object of enjoyment. The Agama converts religion into an aesthetic, beautiful, architectural, sculptural, musical beauty. For instance, it is the Agama’s role to decide how a temple is to be built, and the other Samhitas do not touch this aspect.

Beauty is to be introduced into the worship of God because beauty attracts more than anything else in the world. Law may attract us, morality may attract us, but aesthetics attracts us more. Music and dance, architecture and sculpture, painting and drawing, elegant literature and poetry arouse the soul more effectively than hearing stories of the exploits of the gods in the Epics and Puranas or by submission to the order and law of an authority. All worship through the Agama, which is called Tantra in the case of the Sakta type of worship, is involved in certain well-known processes – mantra, tantra and yantra. These are words with which we are also familiar, but their basic esotericism is not always clear. The theoretical and the philosophical aspect of Agama and Tantra are known to many students of philosophy, especially since some of the great texts in this line were translated into the English language by pioneers in this field such as Sir John Woodroff, but nobody will tell us how actually the practice takes place. How do we worship God through the Agama Sastra?

Even in the Vaishnava circles, which mostly keep God at a distance,  a subtle transcendence of God is emphasised together with the possible immanence of Him. There is a secret doctrine of Vaishnava worship which is called Sahaja Marga – a word which many of us might not have even heard, and the meaning of which is even less known. It is impossible to describe what this system of worship can mean to a spiritual seeker. As I mentioned, they are esoteric and secret, and they are not supposed to be declared openly in public – as the relationship between husband and wife cannot be declared in public. Everyone knows what that relationship is, but we cannot explain it because the moment we explain it, it becomes profane. The divinity, the unity and the closeness which is characteristic of a soul melting into soul gets diluted into a prosaic approach of a legalistic and moralistic way of thinking when the relation between the lover and the beloved becomes a textbook subject or a theme for a public lecture.

In a similar manner, the basic principles involved in the Agama and Tantra Sastra is never to be seen in any printed book. It is a closely guarded secret, as is the secret between the lover and the beloved. Nobody will say what it is, and nobody is expected to say what it is, because revealing that secret is something like revealing the inner content or core of an atom or a nuclear secret being released to the public through the newspapers. There is a danger in the practice of this aesthetic method of the contemplation of God in relation to the human individual – though it is considered by many a seeker as the best method possible. The Kanta Samhita method of religious worship is supposed to excel in its quality in comparison with the Prabhu Samhita aspects or the Suhrit Samhita aspects.

The excellence consists in the fact that the worshiper is practically inseparable from the object of worship. The mantras that are chanted, the yantras that are drawn, or the tantric rituals or the methods adopted in the form of worship are extremely personal due to it being necessary for the student in this field to transmute the visible world of material presentation into the very spiritual object of adoration. For the Agama and Tantra in their higher reaches, there is no such thing as bad, evil, ugly or sinful. These words are really abominable for a moralist or ethical student, because we do see evil in this world. There are bad things, there are ugly things, and there are many wicked things which are ethically condemnable; and the world abhors them from the bottom of its heart.

It is true that the abomination that is associated with the wickedness of the world and the evil that we think of as present everywhere is, of course, a visible phenomenon which has to be taken care of in a legalistic, ethical or socially ordained manner. But the esoteric circles go beyond this legalistic approach to the behaviour of the world which we call evil by going into the very reason behind it. Why does the world appear as evil?

Generally, people who condemn evil cannot answer this question. Why should a thing appear bad – though everyone knows what a bad thing is? Is it necessary for a thing to appear bad always? Are there eternally bad things? Is there such a thing called eternal damnation in the sense that a person involved in an evil which is supposed to be there permanently cannot be relieved from the trammels of its clutches?

The inner circle of the Agama and Tantra is concerned with the very reason behind the existence of such a thing that can be considered abominable in the world. That is converted into the causative factor thereof, in which case poison turns into nectar. The poisonous aspect or the evil aspect of things, the materiality in objects of the world, we may say, arises on account of a peculiar wrong presentation of things. Evil and wickedness, we may say, is an erroneous juxtaposition of values – a maladjustment of the parts of a whole – and they do not exist outside, independently, as an object that can be photographed by a camera. A camera cannot photograph evil. Evil is not visible anywhere, yet it is everywhere. We say: “The whole world is corrupt,” “The whole world is evil,” “Everything is utterly ugly and bad,” “Things are degenerating to hell”. This is what we generally say. A camera cannot photograph corruption; it cannot photograph evil, badness, ugliness, etc. It can only photograph what is there, physically speaking.

The values attached to the world through the sense organs – which the mind also takes as a finally valid way of thinking about the world – is, also, usually the method of popular religious practice. Most of the religions in the world are legalistic or moralistic. They are compulsive introductions of precise methods of behaviour – an order that is introduced into the religious way of approach without actually explaining why that order is necessary.

Coming to the point, the rectification of the common belief of the world being evil, or a Satanic production, is taken into consideration in a very, very serious manner by the Agama and Tantra Sastras. The distance that keeps the evil world away from us is narrowed down to an intimacy that makes it impossible for the evil to exist outside the perceiving consciousness. This includes the vagaries of material existence, the pricking pieces of earth which do not look beautiful to us and are considered as objects of renunciation. Do we not say that the world has to be renounced? Every religious doctrine tells us that for the sake of the attainment of God, the world has to be renounced, but it does not tell us what kind of world it is that we are going to renounce. Are we going to renounce the mountains, the trees, the rivers that are flowing, the oceans, the sun and the moon and the stars? What are we renouncing when we are told that the world is to be renounced for the sake of the realisation of God? And we know that the world consists of only these things that I have mentioned, and there is nothing else about it. Or are we renouncing people? Apart from trees and mountains, there are also people. Does renunciation of the world mean rejection of everybody in the world except oneself? Perhaps that is what is in our minds.

Are we able to justify this attitude of our being religious merely because we consider ourselves to be superior to other people – and the only thing that should not be renounced is our own self, and everybody else has to be renounced? We know very well that renunciation cannot be the renunciation of the earth – the ground on which we are sitting. It also cannot be the renunciation of trees and mountains. It has to be the renunciation of people, family relations, brothers, sisters, and so on. But why should we renounce them? What is wrong with other people? What is the mistake that parents, brothers, sisters, friends, etc. have committed that we consider them as abominable things that have to be rejected?

Now, do we consider that we ourselves also are human beings – that a part of humanity, which is supposed to be renounced in the practice of renunciation, is our own self? Are we able to renounce ourselves also? The renouncer does not renounce himself. Here is the peculiarity behind the popular concept of renunciation. I am mentioning here the esoteric aspect of renunciation that is told to us through the Agamas and Tantras. No one who has not renounced himself first can renounce the world, because the renouncer is inseparable from the world of renunciation; the people whom we are going to reject are not in any way different from what we are. After all, they are human beings like us and whatever evil that we impute to them may be in us, also--perhaps in a larger measure.

So, renunciation, like charity, begins at home. Renounce your own self first and then you will see that everything connected with you goes with it because when you yourself have gone, all things connected with you also go. Why are you worrying about the renunciation of the world, of people? You are not there, because you have renounced yourself; because of the fact that you have renounced yourself, other things that are apparently connected with you, or were connected with you, also go. When the dog goes, the tail also goes. It cannot be there, separate from the dog.

This is hard for the mind to absorb. What on earth do you mean by saying that you have renounced your own self? Spiritual renunciation, in order that it may become really a divine transmutation of values and not merely a public show or an adumbration of religiosity on the part of a person, has also to be a transmutation of one’s own materiality in the form of physical values – desires connected with the physical world related to this body – and the very existence of the spiritual seeker should enlarge its dimension from the material encrustations into a spiritual dimension. Then you will realise that if there are bad things, all things are equally bad because you can see the same badness in everything, if you want to see it. If you think that certain things are evil in this world, there is nothing in this world which is not evil; and if that is the case, what is good in the world, including yourself? You also are included in this category of everything being evil, because there is certainly some defect in every structure of material configuration in the world, including human beings.

So, the evil character that is attributed to objects that are supposed to be renounced is to be seen ubiquitously, seen everywhere, and yourself and the world vanish in one stroke. This cannot be achieved easily unless you know the relationship between the world and yourself. In usual public moralistic and legalistic ways of religious worship, the relationship basically obtaining between oneself and the world is not taken into consideration, because in all these ways the world is always considered as an outside something and God is there as the transcendental creator of the world. The relationship between the world and yourself is so close that you must be able to appreciate the fact of the very building bricks of your body being the same as the building bricks of the world outside. The five elements – earth, water, fire, air and ether – which are the constituents of the world of matter, the whole of nature outside, are the constituents of your body also. Your attitude towards the world, therefore, cannot be justified unless it is also an attitude that you adopt in regard to your own self.

So, whatever you think of the world is also what you think of yourself. This is generally not done because we have one philosophy for our own selves and another philosophy for the world of objects and people outside. This categorisation of duality between the observer of the world and the observed object is broken down completely and the rise of the soul from the lower to the higher values of life is not considered as a rise from evil to good, from untruth to truth, but as a rise from a lesser good to a larger or greater good. From a lesser truth you rise to the higher truth. The world is not evil; it is a lesser good in comparison with the highest reality and highest values, which are the final good. You may consider the lesser ones to be inconsiderate in their values and their interference may look, of course, like an evil.

When there is a serious parliamentary discussion going on, if a little child crawls in and starts screaming and runs to sit on the lap of its father who is a member of parliament, that occurrence may look like an evil – a totally unexpected thing taking place in the public performance of parliamentary affairs. You would not like a dog to bark there, or a cat to sit on somebody’s head. You do not necessarily consider these events as evil in themselves, but they become evil because of the wrong juxtaposition of one thing to the other. The things are where they should not be. Even a right thing may look wrong if it is a projected at a wrong place. The right thing has to be done in the right manner, in the right procedure, in the right place, because unless all the factors connected with rectitude are there, rightness may become wrongness, and truth may become untruth. There are occasions when untruth may become truth and that which is considered as totally unnecessary may become a very valuable thing.

Have you not heard in Aesop tales that a mouse saved a lion? Can you imagine that a mouse can save a lion? The lion laughed at this little urchin telling, “After all, great master, one day I will be of some service to you”. “Oh! You can serve me!” the lion grinned in contempt. Such is the way we condemn the world. Do not do that. The smallest mouse or the worst of things in this world can become a first rung in the ladder of the evolution of the soul to the higher realities, and the ugliest of things in the world may assume the most beautiful form if they are put in the proper place. The worst of things can even become the best of things under certain given conditions. You cannot find fault with anything.

I remember a little verse: “There is so much good in the worst of us and so much bad in the best of us that it ill behoves any of us to find fault with the rest of us”. This is because the contempt that you attribute as a quality to things that are abominable to you, ethically or legally, are finally not permissible attitudes in the spiritual realm. Iron becomes gold, and matter becomes consciousness in the Tantra Sastra method. As I mentioned, the details of the practice cannot be explained. This is only an introduction into the theoretical side of its transcendental character in comparison with the Prabhu Samhita and Suhrit Samhita. Nowhere will you be told how this practice is to be actually conducted. It is a secret between the Guru and the disciple; and, also, the Guru would not like to put a sword in the hand of an inexperienced student. He will give it only to a soldier. The Narayanastra was not to be given to inexperienced people; Dronacharya was reluctant to give it to anybody, but unfortunately he gave to Asvatthama, an inexperienced man, and it wreaked  havoc.

Thus, the method of Tantra is supposed to be the quickest and the most potent method of self-transmutation, provided its techniques are properly understood; otherwise, it will be like dynamite which will blow off your head, and even what you have will be lost.

The Agamas are also great textbooks of temple worship, the procedure of actual adoration of God through the well-known methods of charya, kriya, yoga and jnana. Briefly, they simply imply the entry of the soul into the inner modes of worship, from the outer circles. Charya is the outermost, kriya is inner, yoga is still more inside, and jnana is the finale where the worshipper becomes one with God. But the way in which the entry is sought from the outer circle to the inner circle is a purely esoteric one, and the tremendous incongruity that apparently seems to be there in the behaviour of these great worshippers can be observed in the lives of the great Nayanars and Alwars of southern India, whose religious outbursts and fantastic behaviour with people, and with God Himself, can best be described only as totally incongruent to the legal or moral world of behaviour.

The Vaishnava Agama method is easier to understand, though it also has an inner circle of Sahaja Marga, as I mentioned to you. The Saiva Agama is a little more esoteric than the Vaishnava. The Sakta Tantra is the most esoteric, where the consideration of the student is the immediate task of transmuting matter into divinity, object into subject, externality into internality, the devil itself into God. Can you imagine such a possibility? It has been undertaken, and it has to be undertaken because there cannot be a devil before God. As long as God sees a devil in front of Him, He would not be a complete god.

Therefore, we should not go on harping on the existence of Satan, evil, badness, and ugliness, etc. in the presence of the Almighty Lord because in His presence, evil cannot be there. If evil is not there in the presence of God, how does it become something real in our eyes? Where is Satan sitting? Where is the place for the demon to sit? Is he inside the kingdom of God, or is he outside it? Is he organically connected with the God’s universality, or is he outside the universality? These questions – which are esoteric and deeply secret in their nature – will completely transform the whole world of religious practice. The popular concepts of religion will get transmuted into the gold of an inner circle, which is so difficult to understand. Religion is much more than outer behaviour.

Hence, this is the secret that is between the lover and the beloved, as I mentioned earlier. This does not conform to the social mandates of courts of law or textbooks of ethics, which are public and social in their nature. Rather, they are interior – concerned with the soul of a person in relation to another soul – and this aspect is totally ignored in practical social life, public life, and legal life. Spirituality is much more than ordinary common religion. It is an inner attitude of consciousness, and is not merely a public performance even in the form of adorations, scriptural studies, japa sadhana, etc.

Here we have to distinguish between public religious modes of worship and inner spiritual states of transmutation, which is a matter to be decided between the Guru and disciple only. Nobody can be spiritual unless he is initiated into these techniques, and mere textbooks will not help in this matter.

I am not revealing what the secret of this practice is. I am just mentioning that there is such a thing as a transcendent inner circle of behaviour of the soul in relation to God where you become the lover and God becomes the beloved; or you become the lover and world becomes the beloved; or you become the lover and the whole humanity becomes the beloved. If such attitude can be developed in your soul, you have become a transmuted, illuminating spark of divinity walking in this world.