by Swami Krishnananda
The life of a saint is a miniature world history. In the lives of most of these great leaders of mankind there is a turning point which suddenly makes them put on a power and an outlook which, for all outward casual looks, may appear to prepare new personality altogether, as if the same person has been reborn. This is a new feature—a common, interesting, sometimes intriguing feature—in the development of the process of the lives of most of the greatest leaders of people. When I say leaders of people, I do not mean necessarily those who are called saints, but all astounding personalities—the vibhutis—those who strike a hallmark in the history of mankind in any field of operation. It may be a remarkable military leader; it may be a scientist who has shaken the world with discoveries and inventions; it may be a literary genius; it may be a religious or spiritual leader.
To appreciate this peculiar occurrence in supernormal personalities, we have to carefully study their lives. It was the case with St. Augustine, who wrote his confessions in which we have a record of the transformation that took place in him in such a way that he became just the opposite of what he was earlier. It is said that Christ was not visible for eighteen years. He went away somewhere, and his mission started after that apparent invisibility of his person—a period, as it were, of the preparation of a new personality of what was going to be considered as the great Christ. So was even the well-known scientist, Albert Einstein. He was a poor little nobody, as it were. He was rejected from every office as a poor mathematician and not even a mediocre scientist. So was the calibre of a mathematician like Srinivasa Ramanujan, which was not detectable to the naked eye. No one appreciated Shakespeare when he was alive; his plays were never read. He was an attendant in a theatre, and not regarded as master as he is today. Many great personalities of this kind were born into families that are not usually recognised in human society. They may be born in the houses of carpenters, shoemakers or farmers. We rarely hear of a master of this kind being born in the house of a business magnate, an industrialist or a millionaire. It has not happened, for reasons which anyone can imagine.
In a similar manner, we read of a sudden landmark in the great mission for which the great master Swami Sivananda was born. The little that we know of his early days is like the knowledge we can have of a seedling or sapling which, when it is seen with the eyes, cannot be easily recognised as to what it will grow into. Is it going to grow into a banyan or a mango tree, or some such thing? When any event is to take place, it is prepared in its seed form as a nebular condition of a future action, a precedent condition wherein it is not yet fully formed into the pattern in which it has to work later on. This preparatory, precedent condition, antecedent to the form in which it has to work, is the condition through which every event has to pass, even if it be a sickness of the body or a political revolution. A sudden windfall of fortune and a bursting into a new outlook, a discovery or an invention in the field of religion or science—all great things are outcomes of sudden intuitions. They are rarely preparations by experiment, observation and logical induction or deduction. It is a sudden burst, and we cannot compare it to any occurrence in the normal ways of the world. It is an awakening from a slumber of potentiality. We may, for argument’s sake, accept that the seed contains the whole tree in a latent form, but for all practical purposes the great event which the life of a leader is cannot be adequately imagined in the earlier days of unrecognised and unknown preparation. So was the case with the leader Mahatma Gandhi. There was a time when he was not known. I am just mentioning the names of a few well-known masters who appear to have a common procedure adopted for a common purpose, to be achieved through totally differing modus operandi.
A genius in medical science and a genius in literature are not actually doing two different things, though it may appear that literary activity has very little to do with medical research, or vice versa. The world works for a single purpose, though it may employ different personalities and instruments in different ways for the fulfilment of its intention. It does not mean that they are freaks suddenly erupting into the daylight of human recognition, coming from nowhere and doing what no one can understand. As I mentioned earlier, there is a single operation going on in the whole world; and this has to be borne in mind by every one of us in order to understand life in its proper perspective, though it may be very difficult for people to entertain such an outlook of carefulness and vigilant observation in the very process of thinking. We read in the newspapers that many things are happening in the world. But only one thing is happening in the world, really speaking—which is an inner adjustment of its components.
The personality of the world—the World Spirit, the Time Spirit—accommodates itself to the conditions necessary for the fulfilment of its purpose. The latter part of the twentieth century saw the sudden rising of luminaries in the firmament of science, political leadership, medicine, religion, philosophy and literature. If we cast a glance over world history for the last fifty or even a hundred years, we will see what intense activity took place in all the countries of the world. Developments galore highlighted human history in many a feature. The origin of rivers and the origin of rishis cannot easily be seen. Where the river starts, we do not know; and where the rishi or the sage or the saint started, also we cannot know. Rishi moolam and nadi moolam cannot be known, and they are not supposed to be known. The great line of reformers of a totally different nature started practically with the birth of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa in this century, and there was a continuous flow of the stream of this kind of work, with a many-sided touch to it. We will be able to understand the meaning of this kind of all-round activity in which the world engages itself only if we become careful students of the cultural history of the world in the latter part of the century.
The mission of all saints may look like a single performance of awakening the spirits of people to a consciousness of a higher life; that may be true. But different climes and times require that variegated touches be given to this single performance, and so a person born in Mecca or a person born in Palestine or a person born in India may not necessarily adopt the same formation of procedure—though the procedure adopted may contain within its purposive activity the same force—because the mode of the application of this force of the rectification of any kind of irreconcilability within the world as a whole should be so aligned that it fits into the particular preponderating physical conditions, political conditions and social conditions, and it may even have something to do with the ethnic characteristics of people. For instance, the saint has to speak in the particular language of the region in which he incarnates himself. Even language is a very important aspect to be considered in the activity of people—the language which they use as an instrument of their performance.
The saints and the sages are seen to be working in a very mysterious manner. For instance, we have cases where great masters led a single disciple forward who then became the torch-bearer of the Guru or the master. A single personality was prepared by this force that incarnated itself as a sage or a leader. And there are others who came for a general shake-up of the very structure of the world.
This kind of work is not concerned with personalities. An awakening of the entire slumbering humanity and not necessarily a work connected with groups of people or individuals may be said to characterise Gurudev Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj, the saint and sage we are considering now. If we are shaken up and made to see with our own eyes what things are there in front of us—if we have been helped to wake up from sleep and enabled to see with our own eyes—we will know what is good for us. When we see what is in front of us with our own eyes, it does not require much of an effort on our part to do what is proper. And so he came to rouse people from a kind of sleep. People were asleep—asleep to the Spirit that is within—and totally unconscious of their own souls, but intensely conscious of what is not the soul.
There can be a sleep of a different kind altogether. Sleep is not necessarily a state of unawareness of things. It can be that, but it can be worse than a total unawareness. An awareness of what is really there is one thing; an unawareness of what is really there is another thing. But that condition of an awareness of what is not there is the state into which mankind descends when it gets involved in the objects of the world. We may underline here that the world has no objects in itself. There are no objects in the world. There is the world, but there are no objects. You have to bring to your memory a little of what I said during the first two talks. There are no ‘things’ in this world. There is no such thing as something being ‘in the world’. There is the world, but there is no ‘in’ and ‘out’ for the world. Hence, to be conscious of an object would be to characterise the knower of that object as an individualised location which has managed to consider itself as the centre and the world as its satellite.
There was a time when people thought the Earth was the centre of the whole of creation and the entire solar system was moving round it. This has now been superseded by a later discovery. “I am the centre.” Every observer, every seer, every perceiver, every knower considers himself to be the centre around which the whole world operates as a conglomeration of objects. The status of the seen is inferior to the status occupied by the seer. This is partly a concern of psychology, whereby we can know how we place ourselves in a very comfortable position when we are the observers and not the observed. It is to be in a state of great discomfort to be observed. It is a great comfort to observe. We can appreciate this point of view. No one would like to be observed, seen, noticed, handled or made a thing of study. That would be to get converted into the status of an object, a thing, a satellite—something that is an associate without a status of its own. An observer, a seer—one who conducts an operation and investigates—is always in a superior position to that which is being investigated.
Are we observers of the world? Are we seeing the world, or is the world seeing us? We can never imagine that the world is seeing us. It looks as if we are seeing the world. But, there is another aspect to it. When we speak of the world as an object of our perception, we include all people except our own selves. All the people around are the world; they are part of the world. The observer himself is not the world because to convert or to place oneself in the position of an object would be to get deprived of the status of the observer. And gradually people began to get involved in this dependence on what they considered as the objects of the world—to which I made reference previously as the outlook of materialism, an outlook which disbelieves that it is at all possible to live in the world without being dependent on things outside.
Our life seems to be a medley of a variety of dependences hanging on various factors for our security—a bare permission to exist. If sustenance is not to come to us from outside, we would not be alive. Is this true? If this is true, all glory goes to crass materialism. All life is a product of the collocation of various forces, and all significance, all meaning and all value have to be attached only to the patterns and the formations of the constituents of matter. That this is not true—that the peculiar and uncomfortable status which the observer of things appropriates to himself and converts everything in the world into a lower status—has a great meaning. Why is it that a seer or an observer should have a higher status? Though this is something into which we cannot easily conduct investigations, it is something which we have to accept.
The reason behind this is the presence of a status in the observer and, at the same time, there being no such thing as an observed object. The automatic action that takes place within ourselves when we observe anything—an action which bifurcates the seer from the seen and keeps the seer on a higher pedestal and the seen on a lower—has a super-empirical connotation. It is not for nothing that we are made to feel in this manner. We are not made up of material forces. We are not hanging on the mercy that is bestowed upon us by natural forces. Each person has a status of his own or her own. Therefore, dependence is not our birthright. Freedom is our birthright. No one can be regarded as free who is so dependent on external factors. If our life is a dependence entirely on natural world forces, freedom is a chimera; no one can be free. It is impossible even to conceive it. But, we ask for nothing but freedom. It looks as if we are asking for something which cannot be there, and yet it is the only thing that we are asking for: freedom and freedom and freedom, and nothing but freedom. We want to have a free hand in everything. This is what we ask for.
Dogs lie down in the shade of a tree. They lie down and sleep the whole day. But if a rope is tied around the dog’s neck and it is tethered to the tree and left to sleep, it would not like to sleep like that, though nothing has been done except that a rope has been tied. The dog has been lying there the whole day; but as soon as it is tied to a rope, it becomes unhappy. It goes on whining throughout the day so that the rope may be removed, because its freedom is limited. “Sleeping is alright, but is a rope tied around my neck? Then I don’t want it!” So the dog whines and struggles and tries to break the rope. We do not want the pleasures of life; we want freedom. Pleasures minus freedom are only pains. It is status that everyone asks for, not riches. All riches and wealth minus status and recognition is like a husk. But why is it that we ask for freedom? What is wrong with us, or right with us?
Freedom is the birthright of everyone; and everyone is basically free. Nobody can be bound. There is no bondage, really speaking. Bondage does not exist. A kind of involvement of ourselves in situations which are inextricable and unintelligible produces a sense of bondage. We are not merely essentially free; we are also deathless. Both these statements are very hard to understand. We do not appear to be free at all. We have got harassments from every side—troubles and problems and sorrows, and nothing but these. Who is free in this world, though we are told that we are basically free? Everybody dies, and yet we are told that we are deathless. These two highly intriguing proclamations seem to astound us, and it is so because even when we are conscious that there is a world—for instance, now we are awake, but really we are sleeping in a different sense. As I stated, sleep is not necessarily a state of total unawareness. It can be something worse than that. Often to be unaware is not as bad as to be aware in a totally erroneous manner.
In the technical language of our philosophy, this is sometimes called the avarana and vikshepa: a clouding of consciousness and a projecting of consciousness. The clouding is the preventing factor which sees to it that we cannot know what is there. A thick veil is hung in front of our eyes. But a peculiar distorting lens also seems to be clutching to this, through which we are forced to see a completely distorted figure. That which is inside is thrown out and made to appear as an outside phenomenon, and that which is really outside looks as if it is within. According to the story of creation that we have in the Upanishads and elsewhere, we individual people are later products than the creation of the world. Individualities emerged afterwards; the whole world-stuff was created earlier. It may be due to this reason that Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj used to say that the policy of our life should be: “God is first, world is next, and we are last.” We are the last because we came last. The cause is the world; we are the effects. Now for us the world looks like an effect, and we are the causes. There is a topsy-turvy perception.
In the epic language of the Upanishads, we are told that at the time of creation celestials fell head-long, upside-down—with legs up and head down, as it were. In biblical language, this is how Lucifer fell and became Satan. Falling headlong is not to be able to see naturally. An unnatural perception is world perception. To put it cryptically, that which is everywhere is made to appear as something which is outside us. That which was produced later, an effect, is given the position of the cause, and the cause appears as an effect. Thus, the philosophy of the dependence of the senses on objects arises as a natural consequence of this erroneous perception. This kind of sleep is a fatal blow to mankind as a whole. It is a hypnotisation of the spirit, and in that condition nothing that is said can be received. A hypnotised person is not a normal person. Therefore, a person who believes in the value of this topsy-turvy perception cannot be instructed. Nothing can go into the head of that person because the mind of that person has decided to think in a completely erroneous manner, in a topsy-turvy fashion; and that fashion of perception determines even the capacity to receive, so even if the right thing is told, it will be received wrongly. Such was the condition of the world. Even today it is not far removed from this unfortunate condition of devaluing the spirit of life and valuing the unspirit, the anti-Christ.
Each one of us is the judge for himself or herself: In what manner do we appreciate things? There is a great joy when riches fall on our heads from the material sources of the world. To be dispossessed of material contents is regarded as poverty—while true poverty is the poverty of the spirit. Loss of self is true poverty; the gain of the world is not to be rich. But, how do we think even today? To gain the world is to be wealthy; and we forget that we cannot gain the world unless we have lost ourselves first. The gaining of the world is a simultaneous loss of the spirit of man. The ‘within’ has become clouded in the dark operations of exterior matter which we call the comforts of life. Hence, a worldly life is the death of the soul. And who is worldly? Let each one consider for himself.
This outlook which is what we call a worldly, earthly, material, crass attitude had to be remedied by a medication which had to come only from the spirit. It is the spirit that has to heal itself. No material force can be a remedy for this illness. Spiritual leaders alone can be the saviours of mankind, if we believe that mankind is nothing but a society of souls and spirits, and not an association of material bodies. The world of humanity is a family of spirits, kindred souls, and not the dancing of atoms. That cannot be called the world.
This was to be brought to the notice of these slumbering souls. Some were actually fast asleep in the unconscious spirit, and the others were sleeping in the consciousness of matter. Both are types of sleep. To be unconscious of the spirit is one kind of sleep; to be conscious of material existence is another kind of sleep. One is called avarana and the other is called vikshepa. They are the twin ailments of mankind; they are two prongs, as it were, of a single attack of wrong perception. A fork, sometimes called Morton’s Fork, is that which catches us from both sides.
There was a minister to King Henry VII of England who was called Morton. He was a tax extractor. He used to apply an administrative fork. If he saw a very well-dressed person, he would tell him, “It seems you are a well-dressed, wealthy, happy, rich man. Pay the tax.” If he saw a poor person, dressed in tattered clothes, he would tell him, “You are pretending. You are a wealthy person. Don’t pretend like this. Pay the tax.” Either way, they were caught. Whether they looked rich or poor, it did not matter; they were caught. This kind of double attack was called Morton’s Fork in the taxation policy that was adopted by Morton during the reign of King Henry VII.
So here is the Morton’s Fork of the two-pronged catch of avarana and vikshepa. We are caught if we are unconscious and we are caught even if we are conscious, because to be unconscious is bad and to be conscious of the wrong thing is still worse. So in what condition are we? Let each one know and try to place himself or herself in the proper position of self-investigation—for delivering which gospel to mankind, Sri Swami Sivanandaji and such saints came.