by Swami Krishnananda
My proposal is not to take up any particular scriptural text, inasmuch as people attending these classes may be here only a few days in this season, and having a fixed topic with relevance to the previous discourses would not help them much. Therefore, I thought it more proper to give an outline of the spiritual practices of sadhana, which is of greater consequence to mature minds with some knowledge of spiritual life.
Hence, this series which I am commencing will lay special emphasis on the practical aspects of the mind’s adjustments with spiritual values, because most of us are mature enough to realise the importance of practice. While it is quite true that everyone knows that practice is important, very few would be clear as to what this practice is. It is easy to have a general idea of something, but to have a more specific knowledge is difficult.
We have a general idea of God, of the world, of life, of Self-realisation or God-realisation, but when it comes to actual experience in day-to-day life, we realise that the mind stands apart from Reality. We have always a tremendous problem in life, a singular problem that faces every human being – the incapacity of the mind to adjust itself with the facts. Sadhana is nothing but this adjustment of the mind with Truth.
Many of us may have some knowledge of truth in its academic or philosophical sense, but this knowledge is only mental knowledge. All scientific or academic understanding is mental, psychological and rational. It is an understanding of something, a kind of information that we have gathered. But we know very well how far information is removed from the reality. We may have a lot of information about a bag of rice in a shop, but it is not going to appease our hunger. There is no practical connection between our knowledge and the object to which that knowledge is supposed to be related. The highest object of spiritual sadhana is God, as we all know very well, and only if this object is properly related to our mind and our consciousness will it become sadhana.
Sadhana is not merely the concentration of mind on God at the very outset. This is a very big ideal, but it manifests itself in smaller ideals in our day-to-day life. Before we understand God, we find ourselves in the necessity to understand ourselves. We appear to have a very appreciable knowledge of God and His creation but very poor knowledge of our own self, due to which it is that we suffer in life. Pleasures and sufferings are connected with ourselves, and not with God.
We seem to be connected with facts, and to the extent we succeed in these adjustments, we are successful in life. People are failures in life in spite of their professions, their salaries, and their institutional career, and the failure may be in any field of life. It may be in education, in business, in a monastery; it makes no difference. One may be a failure merely because the ideal has set itself apart from the real. We have always been adoring and worshipping the ideal, and it has ever remained as an object of adoration. It has never entered our hearts or come near our hearth and home. God has ever managed to keep Himself apart from us so that we may offer prayers to Him, and we must call Him every time as He is not always with us.
As I said, it is not merely the difficulty that we feel with God, Who is a distant Being; apparently, the difficulty is with small things in life, also. To understand this medley of human maladjustment and the incapacity of the mind to understand the objects that stand as its counterparts, it will be profitable to know something about the evolution of the mind itself. All things are related to the mind. We ourselves are an embodiment of the mind. The mind seems to be the thinking principle in us, and it does not get separated from our being. We identify with it, though in psychology we speak of the mind as an object of study.
It is really ourselves; we cannot tear the mind away from our body or our being. It sticks to us – and it is us – so when we study our mind, it may look as if we are studying ourselves. Therefore, it is futile to think that psychology is a kind of objective science. It is not a science in the ordinary sense of the term – unless, of course, we think that any systematised knowledge is science. It is an attempt at analysis of the processes through which one passes in life – not only independently as a psychological being, but also in relation to objects.
The crux of the whole matter is: In any field of life, to what extent can the mind take the object with it as an inseparable part of itself? We mostly think that the objects are away from us. The object of the mind is not connected with the mind physically, materially or in reality. Our friend is not a part of our mind. Our house is not a part of our being. Whatever be the intimate relation between ourselves and the objects that we hold dear, they are apart from us, so if the time comes, we can forsake them, and they can forsake us. Our relationships are artificial in this sense. Such is the precarious situation in which we live in the world.
The world is supposed to be untrustworthy in a philosophical and spiritual sense. Many saints and seers have proclaimed this. We cannot pin our faith on the world, because of the small difficulty that we do not seem to be a real part of it. We really do not belong to our family, and the family does not belong to us, though for all practical purposes we may feel that we are integrally related. A time comes, perhaps in everyone’s life, when one is torn away from family, society, business, from the position one holds, and so on. A time comes when one stands alone in a wilderness, as it were, with no relationships and the objects all cut away – a circumstance into which one can land at any moment.
The precariousness of life arises on account of this fundamental difficulty of the relation of the mind to its object; and whatever be the sadhana that we practice, whether it is kirtana or bhajana, japa or meditation, all these hinge upon this relation of the mind and its objects. When we chant kirtana, for example, it is not merely a word that we utter or a sound that we make; it has an object. It is not merely a mental operation that goes on when we are meditating; it has an object. We are not merely moving about here and there; our activities have an object. We will find that every blessed thing that we do in this world, psychologically or physically, has a counterpart as an object.
Now, this object has mostly remained like a kind of instrument – like a spade, a pickaxe or a knife – which we make use of and then cast away. Even people are used as instruments that can be cast away when they are not needed. It is unfortunate that these truths only become more and more clear as people grow older and realise the facts of life. They begin to know, slowly, after they have retired from their professions; they begin to realise in the maturity of their minds that the world is not as fond of them as they imagined, and the world is not going to help them as much as they thought it would. These are the types of realisations which would come to the minds of every person one day or the other. You realise when it is too late.
The sadhaka or the seeker is one who girds up his loins and prepares himself for the eventualities which he may have to face in life, even before they come. It is not enough to find swords and guns when the enemy is attacking. It must be our wisdom to keep everything ready even when at peace. No one tries to dig a well for water when the house is on fire. To try to do sadhana late in life, when everything is settled economically and physically, would be a folly because sadhana is not as easy as people imagine. It is not just commencing something at once. Even a business we cannot commence so easily. There are many factors involved in anything we do; and in spiritual practice particularly, the factors involved are many – not one, two or three, but many – the most important factor being our own self.
While in all the other activities of life we try to keep ourselves away as a reserve force and utilise others to effect our purpose, with sadhana we find that we have to use our own resources, not imitations or borrowed stuff, because we cannot utilise other things. The more we grow in the consciousness of spirituality, the more also do we realise the intimacy that subsists between ourselves and our objects – the intimacy in an inner sense, not an external or social sense. Our approaches to things ordinarily are such that they do not bear any relation to facts. The history of psychological development of the human mind reveals that our mind evolves stage by stage. We do not suddenly become celestials or gods. The Puranas tell us that we have passed through 84 lakhs of yonis or births. We have been every blessed thing in this world before becoming human beings. This is what our scriptures say. Scientists all say that we have passed through various stages of evolution from matter to life, from life to mind, and from mind to intellect. From the pure inorganic level we came to the biological, and from the biological we came to the psychological and the rational.
Now we are supposed to be in the rational stage of life, and we think that this is the pinnacle of existence. Rationality is adored as a god. Well, every level is a god from its own standpoint, but it becomes inadequate when compared with something higher. I do not think that an animal would be conscious of its limitations; it thinks it is all right. It is only man that thinks an animal is inferior because of a comparison of values. In its own field, everything looks all right and complete in itself; and so it is that we regard our life as complete, and rationality as full-blown experience. If rationality, intellect, learning, and human wisdom were to be all and nothing more were to be there, then we ought to have been perfect beings.
We know how much we are perfect; each person knows in his own heart. Everyone knows what a confusion life is, and some of us know the causes also; yet, we cannot set things right due to factors beyond our control, which are the strings of human aspiration. There are certain things which are not visible to our eyes, but yet seem to be controlling everything. Our external actions, psychological aspirations, even social relationships, all seem to be guided and manipulated by a set of strings within us which do not become objects of our physical eyes. The intellectuality and the rationality which the human being has reached now at the present stage of the 20th Century  gives a hint as to the existence of these immanent strings behind our rationality. Reason is a body of these sets of strings within, and as the soul operates behind a body, the strings operate behind every external phenomenon.
The mind evolves very mysteriously and this evolution cannot be known, just as we cannot see our growth day by day. We know that we have been growing from childhood – every day we have been growing a little, in every respect, but we cannot see this growth. Not only can we not see our growth, but we also cannot see the growth of another person if we are seeing that person every day.
Very mysterious, minute and subtle is this process of evolution. The mental process of evolution is, of course, subtler still. We have been growing psychologically, and not merely physically, organically and biologically. The earliest state of the mind is supposed to be that in which it gets lodged with matter, where there is no such thing as psychology at all. It is only inorganic matter. Mind getting buried in matter is the crudest state of mind. Fire is in the matchstick, but we cannot see the fire. It is totally absorbed in the matchstick, which must be rubbed in order that it may be ignited. The condition of mind wherein it is inseparable from matter is the crudest form of matter. It evolves gradually, where it tries to extricate itself from the clutches of matter, and it begins to assert its independence, slowly, though not fully. It does not succeed in its assumption of independence, but it refuses to be totally controlled by the laws of matter.
In the field of botany or biology, the laws of physics do not hold good totally. They hold good as far as the body goes, but even plant life, for example, manifests a tendency which cannot be explained physically. No one has been able to demonstrate what life is. It has been taken for granted, as if it has been known very well; but we cannot define it, and we cannot demonstrate its variegated characters. The life principle that is manifest in plants and trees is the first assertion of independence of mind over matter, while in inorganic material it was apparently not there at all; for all practical purposes, it was dead.
Independence cannot be called independence until it is absolute. Relative, tentative, conditional independence is nothing. We go on complaining, grumbling, murmuring and so on when given only tentative and conditional freedom. We want to assert freedom in its completeness. Freedom, as the very word connotes, is the capacity to act independently, without any external factor. But if matter is to come and assert itself in our life – if things that really do not belong to us come every day and interfere in our life – we cannot be called independent.
So the life of the biological or botanical plant is not all; there is evolution still. An animal, for example, can think more independently than a plant, and it can move about. Moving around is a special characteristic that we see in the animal kingdom, and they can also instinctively react better than plants and trees. They can see what is in front of them and can understand, to some extent, the circumstances in which they are living. We know very well how advanced is the animal mind compared to the mere protoplasmic or biological element in the plant kingdom. We are more concerned here with understanding what higher aspiration is and what the higher values in life are, which question arises only in the human kingdom.
We have already transcended the stages of matter and mind, experienced these processes, and now we stand not merely different from these levels, but higher. An adult has in himself or herself everything that a child has, and a graduate has everything in him that an elementary school student has, educationally; this is what is meant by transcendence. Growth implies transcendence. It is not just jumping from one thing to another. In jumping there is no transcendence; it is only escape, running away, but in growth and evolution the lower is implied in the higher, and when the higher is reached, the lower is subsumed.
So in the human level we seem to be at an advantage over all other aspects of creation – animal, plant and inorganic levels. We have a freedom of our own. Although man is small compared to the gigantic machinery of the cosmos, he has a power in him on account of the psychological transcendence that he has achieved. Powerful animals in the forest can be controlled by one man; though the animals may be many and man may be single, he may be in a position to control all the lions, for example, because of his psychological transcendence. He knows the workings of the mind better than the animal does.