Chapter 1: The Emergence of a Supernormal Power
The world is frequently visited by stars coming from Heaven, shedding their light throughout the atmosphere of the Earth and giving everyone a living fillip, as may be required under the conditions prevailing at that hour. This coming of the divine power under prescribed conditions and circumstances is called an incarnation, or the sudden rising into action of a luminary, sometimes known as a great sage or saint. The word ‘incarnation’ suggests the coming into form—or, more popularly, the embodiment in flesh and blood—of that which is essentially formless and capable of assuming any form. A potential which has the ability to work in any fashion whatsoever can also work in only a given fashion and under a given condition. The principle of medicine is a general policy of setting right the functions of the physical organism, but it manifests itself as a specific prescription under a given condition. This is an analogy before us of how a formless methodology and a principle can take form for the purpose of activating the exact energies and powers that are required to set in alignment those components of world conditions which have been placed out of gear, as it were, for some period, for certain reasons.
In a broad sense we may say that the powers of the world maintain themselves in a state of balance, just as the physical and psychological conditions of our body try to maintain a balance so that mostly we are healthy people; rarely are we ill. Normally we maintain a balance, and that is the usual way of our conducting ourselves physically and mentally. We are not basically sick people; basically, we are healthy. Illness is due to certain abnormal conditions arising in the system for certain specific reasons. In a similar manner, this world maintains an equilibrium in itself. It does not fall sick always. People in the world—living beings in general—are positively happy. They are not always weeping. Weeping is not the natural condition of things. But an occasional situation which may not be regarded as natural may insinuate itself into normal conditions, impelled by certain pressures into whose fundamentals we cannot enter so easily in a few minutes of discussion. It is like asking, “Why do we fall sick at all?” This question is also the question, “Why should there be any trouble in the world?”
The reasons behind the troubles and sorrows of life are also the reasons why we sometimes have physical illness. We do not have an easy answer to this question of why we fall ill, though we may have a tentative answer such as, “I went out in the rain and caught a cold”, “I walked in the sun and got a headache”, “I travelled at night and now my body aches all over” and “I ate something wrong yesterday and my stomach is disturbed.” These answers may be from a ready-made repertory, in order to explain the condition, but these are not the whole explanation. Though these causes just mentioned may be regarded as the immediate propulsions for our illness, there are certain susceptibilities in our personality without which toxic matter, even if it enters our body, could not disturb us so badly. Biological science and medicine tell us that disease-producing factors are everywhere. They do not manifest themselves only at times or only for our sake. They are suspended in the air even now, at all times of the day and night, but we do not feel their presence because of the capacity of our system to resist them. Our mental and physical strength is so great that most of the time these adverse disease-producing conditions are not felt by us. They are acutely felt when there is a susceptibility of the organism, for important reasons which each one has to understand for himself or herself. Umpteen are the reasons.
The conditions of life are equivalent to the conditions of our physical body. Whatever obtains to us, obtains to everyone else and to creation as a whole; and so, if we want to understand the world and want to find a solution to the difficulties of life, we may have to turn inward into our own selves and see what our personal problem is. How have we got into this rut of difficulty? What are the causes? What are the factors? In these enterprises of ours, we may make a mistake. Rarely do we judge dispassionately, because our personality always comes to the forefront and assumes an abnormal importance for itself. We will find that we are the most important person anywhere, in any condition. If we go to a hotel or a marketplace or a bus stand or a railway station, we are the most important person there; all others are secondary. It is very difficult to understand how each one thinks he is the most important person and others are secondary. Any kind of neglect of the requirements of a particular individual is an affront to that person on the part of others who remain there as just ‘others’, and not as people like one’s own self.
This is the tragedy of the psychological operation in human beings. Due to a non-alignment in our own internal psychic apparatus, we are also not in a state of universal alignment—because the world of human beings is nothing but a constitution of people like me, like you, like everybody else; and many such drops make the ocean. Many a non-alignment, individually considered, is a mass non-alignment politically, socially or economically. We make the world; there is no world independent of us. Many people like us together are the world; and whatever the world is, is exactly what we are. Therefore, any kind of evaluation of circumstances in life may have to start from an evaluation of one’s own self because many ‘one’s own self’ make the so-called ‘others’ in the world. This is to probe a little into the deeper background of the general issues manifesting themselves outwardly in our daily life.
We are not here to go into the cosmical conditions that may be operating behind the problems of life. The theme of our present discussion is something different, and is more practical. It is our adjustment to the conditions of the world and to the conditions of our own selves in relation to divine powers that come into action whenever there is a necessity felt for such a descent—when the world finds itself in a state tending towards illness, which manifests itself as what we call the problems of life, the difficulties of people.
History is supposed to be a study of the movement of human enterprises, thoughts and actions, and those who believe and feel convinced that human history is just what people do of their own accord or what people are compelled to do by other people may not be good students of history because there are historical forces which are independent of and different from people, the embodiments of human action. A historical force is not to be confused with historical personalities. This force, which is the Time Spirit, we may say, is the dispensing authority behind the activities of people and the prompting of the minds of people—which, incidentally, become the immediate causes of historical occurrences, whatever their nature be. We seated here are considered to be especially blessed in the sense of having been endowed with a fair amount of impersonal judgement of things. This is what we mean by a person being a spiritual seeker: one who has the power to judge impersonally and dispassionately in a required or at least adequate measure. We may console ourselves that we who are here in this hall at present have achieved at least a passing mark in this exam of being endowed with a power to judge things by not unnecessarily protruding ourselves into the atmosphere of judgements and, also, for considering other issues which are equally contributory to the coming into action of any event or experience in life.
The Bhagavadgita says that God incarnates Himself in the world. Whenever there is a necessity to introduce structure into life in the world, an administrative authority which is beyond human capacity—a supernormal power—is supposed to manifest itself. There are certain problems which we ourselves can independently set right. But human problems are not always entirely human, and there are certain aspects of human difficulty which may not be under the jurisdiction of human endeavour and capacity. When such a difficulty arises which is the difficulty of humanity in general and not of me or you in particular—not a local difficulty of a family or a community or even a country, but a general issue which torments the minds of all people—no one can come forward as a redeemer or a remedying element under such conditions. A problem which is everybody’s problem cannot be solved by any person in the world, because every person is involved in the same problem. Such difficulties arise occasionally in the march of human history; and it is at such times that a supernormal power finds it necessary to emerge.
Such an emergence of a supernormal power is called avatara, incarnation, the coming into formation—embodied in flesh and blood—of an invisible pervading strength. These incarnations have taken place many a time in history, right from the time of creation itself. We read in the scriptures that God incarnated Himself; and mighty leaders were born into this world. There were leaders in different fields of human endeavour who shook the whole Earth. There were mighty political geniuses, statesmen whom we remember with admiration even today. There were wondrous artists, painters and musicians whom we cannot afford to forget even today. In every language of the world there were masters whose poetry and writings are a blessing upon the world of intellectuality even today. Many great geniuses have come into this world through the process of human history, and they came for a certain purpose. The purpose was to fill up a particular lacuna in the all-round growth of the human personality—which includes political security, aesthetic satisfaction, intellectual enjoyment, and so on.
But the greatest need of the human being, apart from political protection, aesthetic satisfaction, intellectual necessity, etc., is spiritual protection—spiritual security. We may be growing healthily by being blessed with political, aesthetic, intellectual and economic security, but spiritually we may be ruined. We may be rich from the point of view of money, but be bankrupt in the spirit. Then, what will happen to us? We will be adorned corpses, decorated physical frames minus life, and we can imagine the value of that physical frame—a royal personality dressed in silk, gold and silver, minus life. The world can sometimes enter into such a condition. The world can become a decorated corpse, mightily adorned with wealth and having every conceivable physical comfort, but the soul has left.
This happened many times in human history; and if we bring the name of God into this issue, we may say that God does not act always. The secondary forces of divine operation manage the issues themselves. But occasionally, when everything seems to go out of order, God Himself may act directly. This is like the centre of administration not always concerning itself with minor issues which can be handled by lesser powers. But a crisis of the whole world, which we may call a state of emergency, may call for the central authority to open its eyes and unleash all its energies. Occasionally we have certain difficulties of this type. Those who are good students of history know the manner in which people have lived in this world, right from the dawn of human history. It is necessary to read history because, as I tried to point out, history is not a story of people’s doings, of the coming and going of kings and the battles that they wage. Nothing of the kind is human history.
Actually, the study of history is the study of the forces operating behind the events we normally call the recorded history of mankind. This requires a scientific attitude of the student—a philosophic grounding, I may say—and it is not just the story of England or India or America or any country, as is taught in our educational institutions. That is not history. What happens is one thing, but why it happens in that manner is more important than the knowledge of what happened. Why did that catastrophe take place? This is the subject of many great students of history. Many of us do not even know the existence of such great writers of human history. We should be abreast with the conditions that are necessary to make us appreciably educated. I do not say that we can be entirely educated; perhaps that is beyond us. But to an appreciable extent, at least, we must be enlightened in respect of what is at the back of the operation of things. And one of these things is the study of the powers behind human history.
There was a time, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, when physical science strode like a peacock and strutted with pride as the be-all and end-all of all things, and mathematics became the explanation of life. It was a ‘eureka’ of humanity which began to feel very, very wrongly that it had found the solution for the difficulties of life. This was the complacency into which physical science landed itself, and it was a great joy of discovery, especially when it was coupled with the Industrial Revolution that took place sometime in the middle of the nineenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century. What do physical science and mathematics tell us? What is the import behind the Industrial Revolution?
The import is that the world of matter, when it is fully controlled, is the solution for the problems of man. We have fast-moving vehicles and machines which can rapidly produce commodities which would take years for us to produce manually. And when the powers of electricity were discovered, people thought they were veritably in heaven. Even today, at this moment, we know the suzerainty of electrical power in the world. We cannot move an inch without the aid of an electric force. For everything, whatever be that operation of ours, there is the need for summoning what is called electric energy. A day may come when we may not even be able to swallow our food without some mechanism, and that may be the apotheosis and the goal of our achievements. Today we are far more advanced in the operation of physical matter than we were in the middle of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, which was the time when Newton ruled the world of science. He was the God of science. Even today Newton is a god in some way because of his study and research in the field of physical manipulation and the operation of matter.
‘Matter’ is a crucial word, and that became the deity which man began to worship. Everything that we have to control and anything that is necessary for our comfort as an appurtenance coming from outside is matter, a material value. All our joy is there, outside. It is in a machine; it is in an office; it is in some action which is to be performed in some place; it is somewhere outside us. The idea that all the values of human life are somewhere outside the human being is the thinking of materialists. Anything that is worthwhile in life is outside us. It is not inside us, because what is inside us is the mind, and the mind has to summon support from forces outside.
The dependence of the human individual on forces which are outside the human individual is called the philosophy of materialism. This was highlighted almost to the breaking point at the beginning of the twentieth century, when it was considered very great to be educated along these lines and an educated person was a master of the knowledge of handling material powers. The curriculum of studies in schools and colleges was designed in such a manner that it adapted itself very ably to this outlook of life which was framed in the light of material science; and we in India are well aware of this fact. When we compare the present system of education with the details of Macaulay’s system of education, written many years ago—a policy of training people—we will see how the very fundamentals of learning on the basis of a commercial interpretation of life, which is the child of material philosophy, were developed. A commercial outlook is begot by materialistic science. Hence, everyone who is wholly a commercial person is also a materialist.
Education which was framed under the aegis of this kind of philosophy became the guideline for the normal behaviour of people in all fields of life. Man sold himself to the devil, as it were. Goethe, the great German poet, wrote the epic of Faust, which is the story of a person who sold himself to the devil. By reading that epic we can know the conditions under which man may be compelled to do these things. There is a time in the life of a man when he would not mind bargaining with the devil and saying, “Here I am; purchase me” in return for comfort and the dizzy feeling of satisfaction that comes from an atmosphere which is totally outside. It is Heaven selling itself to Hell, saying, “Hell, my dear, come and possess me.
I am not telling a story of something that happened merely in the past; it is something that is happening even today. Today we are no longer under the lordship of Newton, the scientist. Macaulay is dead, and the classical materialists of science are not as prominent as they were earlier. Though there are saints and sages, and spiritual institutions, the generality of the outlook of people has not changed. If we honestly view things from the bottom of our heart—view and interpret things dispassionately—we will see that the basic outlook of people in general has not changed. Though we may not call ourselves materialists and none of us may think that commercial life is the whole of life, though we are religious people who pray, study the scriptures and meditate every day, it is necessary to understand what it is to be a materialist in order to know whether we are free from its clutches.
A lack of confidence in powers that are not entirely outside and a wholesale confidence in powers that are entirely placed outwardly in life is a tendency to materialism. For instance, the love of money can make a person giddy; and a person can even collapse into coma and death if money in the form of gold and silver is lost. Anything associated with this kind of outlook is nothing but an apotheosis or deification of materialism. Each one has to be a judge for one’s own self because each person is ultimately a client before the Supreme Judge, the Almighty Creator. There is no proxy, no advocate here when we are placed face to face in the court of the Universal Judiciary. There is no use saying that everything shall be fine. There is a heart inside our heart, and that which is within the heart will be our lawyer who will argue dispassionately, properly, without any kind of twisting of the facts.
In this light, we will find that even though eighty years have passed, not much change has taken place in the general evaluation of things in life. We are in the eighty-fifth year of the twentieth century. But in human history, eighty-five years is very little, though some action has already been taken by the Time Spirit. I mentioned that sometime during the beginning of the twentieth century, or a few years earlier, it appeared that the world was headed towards the breaking point. The powers of health in our body give us a long rope, and they act only when we go to the breaking point. Many of us are not aware that we are tending towards illness, because illness is felt only when it is manifest outside as a headache or a stomach ache, etc. An inward tendency to a non-alignment of the psyche cannot be known unless it rises to the conscious level of our mind. Similarly, we may not know what is going on in the world. We should not merely say that so many years have passed. These years are only the beginning of the first step, as it were, of the working of the Time Spirit.
As I said, the materialist forces went to the breaking point. Anything carried to the extreme tends to tilt the balance to the other side, and suddenly there is catastrophe. A world war took place, and we can imagine what kind of catastrophe it was—the abolition, the annihilation of life, and the placing of people in utter insecurity. This is what one may feel when the temperature of the body rises to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Precarious—one does not know whether one will live or die. That kind of fever of action of the moving spirit of the world is what is called a cataclysm, a cyclone, a war, a battle, destruction and sorrow—which comes in a pronounced manner and in a most unexpected fashion, and which will almost break the heart of a person. We can imagine how it feels to be so ill that we do not know what will become of us. But, these are the rectifying forces of nature emerging forth at that time.
Great personalities—we may call them incarnations, avataras-purushas, the healing spirits of mankind—incarnated themselves in different parts of the world. When we speak of incarnations, generally we think of Jesus Christ, Lord Krishna, Rama, Buddha, Guru Nanak; these are the people who come to mind when we think of incarnations. But a divine interference need not necessarily be in the form of these well-known personalities. It can be any event which sets right the whole situation, and it can be any person who sees to it that things are all right. It may even be the head of a village. Why go so far to people who are well known in history? The head of a village or a community may be a rectifying medium for the trouble there, and it is a divine interference.
Anything that contributes to the maintenance of a balance in society or in the personality of an individual is the coming into action of God Himself, because God is another name for the power of balance. Anything that sets a thing in a state of equilibrium is the work of God, though it may be so very insignificantly manifest as not to be noticed by even the person who is benefited. For instance, a person who did not feel well yesterday could be all right today for reasons which he does not know. He rested, and feels better. What has happened? Something has worked which was not known even to him. What is meant by resting and becoming better? It is a manner of speaking, another way of accepting that a healing power has worked. What we call rest is nothing but the working of that healing power introducing itself, even without announcing itself to us and even without our knowledge of its having done any work at all. In this sense, whenever there is peace of mind, whenever we are healthy, whenever we feel comfortable and satisfied, we may be sure that God has worked.
Such pronounced actions of God make themselves felt in human history. This was the theme with which I began. These pronounced manifestations in human history, from our point of view at least, are the descent of great personalities. It is my intention, during these days, to bestow a little thought to the role played by these masters who were felt in various parts of the world as if they were touching our skin. Only if we know history very well can we know who these persons were. They include even great generals of the army, and not only those whom we regard as holy people. Field marshals who won astounding victories are also to be taken into consideration in the assessment of the manner in which God works.
God’s action is both pleasant and unpleasant. As I mentioned, to have a high fever is not a pleasant phenomenon even though it is necessary, and that which is necessary need not necessarily be psychologically satisfying. Our psyche is attached to the bodily conditions of prejudice and a narrow-minded attitude to things in general, so that which is good for us is not always pleasant for us. The good and the necessary sometimes look like unpleasant occurrences because of our inability to think impartially—being totally wedded, as we are, to a partial and individual outlook of things.
Thus came personalities of a lofty stature, from spiritual leaders like Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Swami Vivekananda and Swami Rama Tirtha, social resuscitating powers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy and great political geniuses turned into great masters of the spirit, such as Sri Aurobindo Ghosh; and there are others such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, and others with whom we are all very familiar. These personalities come and go. They come in order to do something; they do it, and go. And, they go in the manner that is necessary for them to go—not as we prescribe. They may go in any way, and how they have to bear this exit is left to the discretion of the great Director of this drama of the cosmos. The wages are paid according to the performance, but everybody is paid.
In this great saga of the coming of masters, geniuses, there is one among us whom we have seen: the great master Gurudev Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj, whose life some of us have witnessed physically, and many of you have heard and read about. His coming effected a transforming dramatic touch to the lives of people, and the entire procedure and methodology of spiritual action can be regarded as the story of the ascent of man to God. It is a story which Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj lived in his own personality, and a story through which we have to pass, each one of us individually—a story which is also the theme of every one of the works that he wrote, which, in miniature, may be said to be the story of the world in its aspiration for God.
These are the issues that shall receive our attention.