In the Light of Wisdom
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 6: God, World and Soul

In order to understand the meaning of adhidaiva, we had to go into an analysis of perception. We noticed that the perceptional process implies more than what seems to be on the surface. There is a need for a conscious connecting link between the seer and the seen, without which we can have no knowledge of the world outside. It is not the light rays, the retina of the eyes, the senses or the mind that are ultimately responsible for the phenomenon of perception. All these may be there, but if something else is not there, we will not know anything. A corpse has all the features of a human being, but one essential thing is not there, and therefore it is unable to perceive anything.

Likewise would be the attempt to know things with all the necessary apparatus provided, but with the element of consciousness missing. It is therefore consciousness which supplies the soul the perceptional capability. Therefore, the link between the seer and the seen should be naturally and obviously a relation of consciousness, without which we cannot account for our knowledge of things. Hence, consciousness seems to be underlying the whole process. The process of knowledge is indwelt by the principle of consciousness.

We must carefully note as to what it means when we say that consciousness indwells the process. A process is a series of certain motions connected with one another, a complex made up of parts. This is what we mean by a process. A process is a succession of certain events or stages, and none can be aware that there is a succession unless there is someone transcending the process of succession. If there are only bits of process, one bit will not know another bit of the process, and there will be no such thing as a process. We will only have unconnected bits dislodged from each other, and each bit will be aware only of itself and not of another bit. In that case, where would be the process through which there is linkage of all these bits? Consciousness of process implies a transcendence of the processional passage of events, links or stages. It is very important to remember that the awareness of a procession is not involved in the procession. The awareness of the movement of anything is not a part of the movement itself. Hence, ‘process of knowledge’ implies something which is different from the process.

There should be a being hidden behind the process of change, transformation, succession or becoming. This rule applies to every kind of transition taking place everywhere in the world—whatever be the kind of change or vicissitude. Knowledge of vicissitude implies the existence of something that is not involved in the vicissitude. Knowledge of vicissitude implies the existence of something that is not involved in the vicissitude. That we have knowledge of the world as a process of change implies that we have in us something which does not change with the objects that change. When we say that the world is transitory, we mean that there is something within us that is not transitory. The idea of being finite and limited shows that there is something in us which is not limited or finite. It is very clear and simple to understand. The perceptional process therefore implies the existence of a consciousness which is different from the process. It is this that makes us become aware that there is an object outside, though it may be far away in space. Our sense organs need not physically come in contact with objects. The consciousness element in us, together with another psychological event, allows us to know the object outside.

The Twofold Process of Perception

There is a twofold process involved in perception—the mental and the spiritual. The mind and consciousness, which should not be confused with each other, function simultaneously in the process of perception. The mind is very, very elastic, and it is a force whose pervasive capacity is incredible. More rapid is the work of the mind than that even of the most sensitive photographic plate. Quick and rapid as the photographic film is in receiving the impressions from outside, quicker and more rapid still is the mind in its functions. Instantaneous seems to be the work of the mind. Faster than light and faster than electricity can the mind travel. We say the fastest thing is light; but the mind is faster. With such a rapidity of motion does the mind move towards the object that we cannot know that it has moved. We cannot catch up with the speed of the mind, and so we do not know that there is motion at all. It is similar to a motion picture in which the individual pictures move so rapidly that the human eye sees the scene as being in motion. This rapid movement of the mind towards the object is for a purpose. The mind pervades the form of the object by a movement.

How the mind travels is a very interesting subject, and there has been a lot of controversy among psychologists and philosophers as to the constitution and function of the mind. Many think that the mind is within the body and cannot go outside. If it were in fact locked within the body, perception should be inexplicable. If everything is within us, and nothing is outside us, how are we to come in contact with things outside? This led people to the conclusion that the mind can function within the body and yet extend its operations outside the body. It can be attached to a particular body and yet connect itself with other bodies. Just as a lamp may be located in a particular spot but it can shed its light around a larger area, the mind does not actually give up its location in the body but it can stretch its arms outside to a certain extent.

What enables the mind to perceive an object is not merely the physical proximity of the object, but also the interest that the mind has in the object. When there is absolutely no interest in an object, perception may be difficult. We may be sitting in a railway car with many people, and yet although they are so near, we may not even be fully aware of them, because we are not interested in them. Physical proximity may be necessary, but it is not the only thing necessary. More important is mental interest, because attention follows interest. Where there is no interest, there is also no attention. This also explains memory; we cannot remember a thing in which we are not interested, however much we may scratch our heads. Interest, physical proximity, the phenomenon of physical light, and a healthy constitution of the sense organs—all these factors must come together in the process of the perception of an object.

The Vrittis

But there is a more essential element than even these, namely, consciousness. The two features of perception are—knowledge and knowledge of a form. In the perception of an object, we have knowledge, no doubt. It is not a general knowledge but a particular knowledge linked with the form of the object. A mountain in front of us, for example, is a specific type of knowledge that we have. It is called determinate perception, specifically related to a particular object or a group of objects. This limitation of perception to a particular object is the work of the mind, but the illumination behind it is the work of consciousness. So, there is a twofold feature of perception—the form and the consciousness of form.

Specification and the awareness of the specification is the twofold feature of a perception of any kind. This specification of an object is called a vritti. This is a very famous term occurring in yoga psychology. Mental vritti, manovritti is a term used in Patanjali’s yoga system. “The control of the vrittis of the mind is yoga,” says Patanjali. So, what is vritti? Vritti is nothing but the function of the mind by which it assumes a specific modification in relation to an object. This specific modification is a kind of mould into which the mind casts itself in respect of an object which is in front of it. When there is perception of a mountain, there is a vritti of a mountain, one may say. The mind has a vritti of a mountain, a vritti of a person and a vritti of this or that. A vritti is nothing but a mould into which the mind casts itself with reference to an object in which it has interest and which it cognises.

Vritti’ is a very important term to remember. It will occur many times in yoga psychology. There are so many vrittis of the mind, because there can be many cognitions by the mind of objects. It can go on cognising many things, because there are many forms in the world. Therefore there can be many vrittis, and these many vrittis get piled up in the lower layers of the mind. The mind has many layers; we shall study these sometime later. Just as honeybees have two stomachs, one for actual digestion and the other merely to store, the mind seems to have at least three ‘stomachs’. One is for receiving, one for storing and another for digesting, one may say. This is what the psychologists call the conscious, subconscious and unconscious levels. The mind rarely digests anything—it only stores.

The situation is comparable to a retail shop and a wholesale shop. The subconscious is the retail shop, and the unconscious is the wholesale shop. Many things are there deep in this unconscious, but a little of it is stored for daily purposes in the subconscious, and the things immediately needed are kept just in front. That is the conscious level. The shopkeeper also has many things inside, but one cannot see them. These are the stored-up vrittis of the mind. Our personality is made up of vrittis—nothing but vrittis. The whole of psychology is nothing but the study of the vrittis of the mind.

These vrittis are illumined by the consciousness inside. Life is given to the vrittis by consciousness, just as seeds germinate in the earth when there is rainfall, proper temperature, manure, etc. Vrittis activate themselves when consciousness enlivens them; otherwise they lie buried like dead seeds. In the act of perception, a vritti, or a form of the mind, functions in respect of an object and the consciousness underlying it. This consciousness in relation to the perception of an object may be said to be the adhidaiva of that object, while the object is the adhibhuta. This consciousness immanent in the vritti, which is necessary for the perception of the object, may be said to be the adhidaiva of that object. It is the presiding deity in oneself, without which one cannot know the object. The location of this consciousness in the perceiving subject is the adhyatma.

The adhyatma, adhibhuta and adhidaiva ultimately are not separated from one another—they are interrelated. Like the three angles of a triangle connected by three sides, one will find this structure of adhyatma, adhibhuta and adhidaiva is a mentally related construction. One is not independent from the other, and when one takes up any item for consideration, the other two will also come up automatically. When we walk, we walk with two legs, and if there is a three-wheeled vehicle, when it moves we will find that all the three wheels move simultaneously. It does not mean that only one wheel moves. This adhyatma, adhibhuta and adhidaiva complexity is a three-wheeled vehicle, as it were, which takes all the three wheels together when it moves.

When this psychological fact is extended to the universe as a whole it becomes God, world and soul. Adhyatma, adhibhuta and adhidaiva are nothing but the seeds of the development of thought in the concept of soul, world and God—individual, universe and Creator. These are the further reaches of this simple analysis of perception. There is a consciousness underlying both the seer and the seen, on account of which there is perception of an object. We have to be aware of ourselves, and we have to be aware of the object. The link between these two is consciousness, which should transcend the subject and the object. It has to be simultaneously present in the seer, the seen object and the seeing process as well; otherwise there would be no knowledge of objects at all. If we are bereft of consciousness, there is no perception. If there is no connection of consciousness with the object, there is no perception, and unless there is a movement of consciousness through a vritti towards an object, there is no perception.

We may also ask whether there really a movement of consciousness towards the object. Movement is another name for a process. Does consciousness also undergo a process or is it a part of the process? It cannot be, because a process can only be known by a processless being. If consciousness is a process, there should be another processless consciousness behind it. The process is not of consciousness—it is rather of the vritti. Vritti is a process, but not consciousness itself. The consciousness that is behind the seer, the seen and the process of seeing is ‘being’ rather than a process. It is existence as such. Adhidaiva, by which we may understand the presiding consciousness above the tripod of seer, seeing and seen, is not subject to change as the phenomenon of the object or the process of perception are. This presiding deity of the subject-object relationship is called adhidaiva.

The Deities

Why are there so many gods in religion? I just mentioned this previously without saying anything in detail, but something interesting is there underlying this: how the religious idea of many gods arose, and that there are some who are loath to the idea of many gods. We should not make hasty statements in regard to things transcending mental perception. We should not say yes or no in regard to these things immediately. We are not in a position to pass judgment on these super-physical matters. We are here to be very humble in such things. There can be many gods from one point of view, though there is only one God ultimately. Hence religious consciousness has a great value and meaning.

Who are these many gods? Let us go, step by step, with a careful analysis of the consciousness situation. Earlier I mentioned that there are stages or degrees of objective reality. This is covered by the Samkhya and corroborated even by our modern scientists. There are degrees of the manifestation of the objective reality, and there are also degrees of our personality. There are layers of our personality—one under the other like the peels of an onion. There is the first peel, then another peel, and a third, and so on. Many peels constitute an onion. Likewise, we have peel after peel constituting our vestures which are the layers of our personality. In Sanskrit they are called the koshas. Panchakoshas translates as the five koshas. Kosha means vesture—a kind of shirt, you may say.

Just as there are degrees of manifestation of objective reality, we noticed that there are also layers of the subjective personality of the adhyatma. The vital sheath is constituted of the pranic energy, the organs of action, the senses of perception or knowledge, the mind, the ego, the intellect and the other layers of the mind including the subconscious and the unconscious. The physical sheath is constituted of the elements—earth, fire, water, air and ether. These layers are animated by the Being-Consciousness simultaneously. Like the rays of the sun which simultaneously travel millions of miles through very many layers of space to reach the Earth, the sun of consciousness inside the deepest recesses of our being lights up all these layers of personality, including the lowliest vesture which is the physical body. We are at once aware that we are a total personality, with body, prana, senses, mind, intellect, ahamkara (ego) and many other things. We are in a position to know that we are a total complex of personality at one and the same time, on account of this sudden illumination of the entire personality by this consciousness within us.

There are layers after layers or degrees of reality—subjectively as well as objectively. Such as if one draws a large triangle on a canvas or a blackboard, there is a base to the triangle. Just above the base of the triangle, a few inches above it, suppose a straight line is drawn parallel to the base, touching both the sides of the triangle. A few inches above the second line, a third line is drawn, parallel to the second, and on and on line after line is drawn until one would reach to the apex of the triangle. One will find that each line is parallel to the base, and each line which rises above is nearer to the apex than the lines at the bottom. One will also notice the peculiar interesting feature of these parallel lines—the lines seem to be connected to the triangle on each side, and that the lines tend to rise higher and higher to eventually fill the apex itself. When one reaches the apex, one will find that no additional line can be drawn; it is a point where no motion of any kind is possible.

This is an example to understand the relationship between adhyatma and adhibhuta in relation to the adhidaiva, and how the many gods can be the one God ultimately. All these lines can finally absorb themselves in the one point which is the apex of the triangle. The many gods of religion, whether of the East or the West, are only the names that we give to the consciousness that is necessary for the existence of any degree of reality—objective or subjective. If we accept that there are degrees of reality, we have to accept there is a consciousness implying every degree of reality. That consciousness is adhidaiva, and that is the god of any particular degree.

Therefore, one may have a god for any stage of the manifestation of reality, whether externally or internally. We have gods outside in the heavens and gods inside within us. The heavens are nothing but the regions that we contemplate as identical with the positions of the different degrees of objective reality. These positions have to be somewhere, and that somewhere is heaven, the higher regions, one of the other worlds, and so on. Subjectively, too, the very same gods are superintending and presiding over these regions. In the Vedanta and yoga psychologies we are told that gods preside not only over the cosmos outside, but also over our own sense-organs, our minds, etc. Previously I said that we have many gods, and there is no place where a god is not present; and every god has some name which we have given in our own languages. The god may be named in Greek or Latin, or in Sanskrit or Tamil—it makes no difference. According to our own language or dialect we give some name to this god whom we adore, but the god does exist—he is not a myth. If degrees of reality exist, gods must exist.

Bhakti and Jnana are One

Religion has a value in practical life. We have to ascend from the gross vritti to the higher vritti by an assimilation of the vritti into a higher state of consciousness which is immanent in it. These are the stages of yoga which we will study. All the many stages of yoga and steps of yoga are nothing but the ways of the absorption of the lower vritti into the higher, by means of a consciousness immanent in the vritti or what one might call the god of the vritti. Religion and philosophy are not separate—there is no contradiction between the two. It is all dry philosophy that says that there is no God, no gods, no religion, no temple, etc. Everything is necessary. Why not churches? Why not temples? If we can have a kitchen and a lavatory, then why not a church or a temple?

There are all varieties of the egoism of man which assert things suddenly, without understanding. Humility is the prerequisite in the search for Truth. No egoistic man can know Truth. We should be very humble and assume the Socratic method of knowing nothing rather than asserting an egoistic point of view. Knowledge does not come where ego is present. We cannot really understand the mysteries of the universe so easily, and it is fatuous to assume too much wisdom in the very beginning. We have to go slowly, stage by stage, with open eyes and firm steps.

The adhidaiva is this presiding consciousness over a particular degree of reality, both objectively and subjectively. The adhidaiva is the connecting conscious link between the subject and the object in any level of manifestation of reality. It may be physical, it may be psychological, it may be vital, or it may be intellectual. There are said to be seven worlds—one above the other. Theosophists are very fond of talking about the many worlds above. They do exist, if degrees of reality do exist. The worlds exist, the gods exist, religions exist, and devotion to the gods therefore is one of the ways of realisation of Truth.

Bhakti and jnana are ultimately one, as it is usually said. Though many think that bhakti and jnana are different, they are not. They are only two ways of looking at the same thing. We may have love for the presiding deity of a degree of reality—which is devotion—but when we meet the last point of the triangle I described, the devotion merges in ultimate Being itself, and bhakti becomes jnana. Love and the lover become one. There is no contradiction between devotion to God, the religious observance of bhakti, and the philosophical contemplation of knowledge. They are one and the same, and all are co-related.

The degrees of reality are the explanations for the existence of the many divinities or gods of religion, and these divinities are connected with us. They are not far away in the heavens, millions of miles away. They are transcendent and immanent both. They are transcendent in the sense that they imply both the subject and the object. They are immanent in the sense that they are present in us also. The presiding deity is the connecting link between the subject and the object. This connecting link is transcendent because it is not limited to the subject, and it is immanent because it lives in the subject as well. God is both transcendent and immanent—not only a god but also the ultimate God are of the same nature. Here we have an interrelated cosmos before us, not merely an objective world. The cosmos is an interrelated system of subject, object and its presiding consciousness.

We are not in an isolated world and we are not unbefriended persons—we have friends everywhere. We cannot be in a place where we have no friends. Everywhere there are friends; the world is flooded with friends. This should give us confidence and joy. In one of the great scriptures, the Yoga Vasishtha, it is said, “Gods shall protect persons who abolish the ego.” Why should not the gods come to help? The gods are everywhere. There are divinities flooding the whole cosmos.

Light emanates from every quarter of creation. There is no spot in space where consciousness is not present, where God is not present. Such is this wonderful, beautiful and magnificent world in which we are. Now we have come to the conclusion that we are in an interrelated creation. It is not merely a far-off adhibhuta, or an isolated adhyatma, or a distant adhidaiva, but a mutually related, co-related system is this universe. A rise from one level to another would imply a threefold rise. Yoga is not subjective or objective—it is universal. Some people think yoga is a selfish practice, only performed by some individual in a room. No; yoga cannot be practised in a room—that is impossible. For the yogin, there is no room. If yoga means an ascent from the lower to the higher, there is no such thing as an isolated, independent or personalised yoga. Such a thing does not exist.

We should not think that yogins are selfish people. There are some uninitiated and uninformed people in the world who think that yoga is a selfish practice of private individuals who are not concerned with the world outside. Yogins have tremendous concern, more concern than others, and they are concerned with more things than even the wisest man in the world. The yogin is more altruistic than anyone in the world, because his concern is for the whole of creation and not merely one country. The so-called patriot may criticise the yogin, thinking that he is a selfish man. However, the patriot limits his love only to his own country, while the apparently unconcerned yogin is concerned with the larger structure of the cosmos; otherwise he would not be a yogin.

All Life is Yoga

Let us remember, there is no such thing as a private yoga of an individual—such a thing is a myth. All yoga is one. All life is yoga; the whole life is yoga. There is no such thing as your yoga and my yoga, Eastern yoga or Western yoga—it does not exist. Yoga is one, because any step that a practitioner takes is a universal step. It is not an individual step which is no real step at all, because one remains in the same position. When we take one step, we drag all the three together with us—the adhidaiva, adhibhuta and adhyatma. Either we have taken this threefold universal step, or we have taken no step at all. There is no such thing as an individual step of a private body. This is the answer to those uninformed wiseacres of the world who think yoga is a selfish practice of some persons in a corner of the world. It is not so.

The practice of yoga is a majestic mosaic of values which opens up our eyes to the structure of the whole cosmos and makes us concerned with everything in the world. This is the advantage, and also a disadvantage in the practice of yoga. Its advantage is that the whole world is backing us up in yoga. It is a kind of disadvantage at the same time, because we cannot ignore anything in this world in the practice of yoga. We cannot close our eyes to something and then be a yogin. We have to be completely awake to every kind of reality and every degree of manifestation of reality.

We cannot say ‘this is mine’ and ‘this is not mine’ in the true practice of yoga. We cannot say ‘this is necessary’ and ‘this is unnecessary’. We will find that there is nothing unnecessary. Everything will become necessary one day or another—even a mouse can save a lion as in the story of Aesop where a small mouse saved a captured lion. Even a mouse could save a lion, though in the beginning the lion laughed at the thought of a mouse being able to help him. Even the most insignificant things in the world may become important one day. We should not look down on any person or thing in the world as insignificant or as something unconnected with us. We may be lions, but a mouse may have to come to our aid one day. The whole world therefore is the concern of the yogin, and the whole world is the object of study of the yogin.

It is not simply one branch of learning with which he is concerned—unlike our modern students who are concerned only with more particular things in schools and universities. We might ask these students, “What are you studying?” “Oh, this and that,” they may answer. But in the field of yoga we are not just studying this or that—we are studying everything. The student of yoga is a student of everything, not merely one branch or a few branches of learning. We ought to study the whole of creation, and study it not merely as an object outside us, but as something vitally connected with us. We should not think of adhibhuta as distant, because it is as connected with us as the adhyatma.

In doing this practice, we will find that we are citizens of a wider world than the world that is before our eyes. We cannot belong to any nation or country, truly speaking. We cannot belong to any person or to any thing, and nothing can belong to us. The truth is that nothing belongs to us. How can anything belong to us in this mysterious structure of the cosmos? People who say “this is mine” and “this is not mine” naturally come to grief, because they go contrary to the truth of things. Whoever cries “mine and not mine” has to suffer, because this is a cry against Truth. Truth shall triumph, so we should not cling to this notion of “I and mine”. These notions are not going to help. They are only a vilification of reality and a cry against the very idea of creation itself.

We might have heard the word ‘vairagya’. Vairagya will automatically come to us through the practice of yoga—we have no need to struggle to practise vairagya. Why should dispassion not come when we have this awakening? How could we get attached to anything, when the world is made in the way that it is? We can understand how simple it is to be unattached to the world. Why do we imagine that it is so difficult to practise detachment? “Oh, I’m so involved in this.” How can we be involved? It is impossible to be involved in a structure of this kind.

Hence, detachment becomes a spontaneous way of living. We cannot but be detached in a world of this nature. In this way, yoga becomes a natural condition of our lives. It is not an effort that we have to exert. We have to be yogins, and we cannot be but that. This is a wondrous vista that gets revealed before us through an analysis of the nature of creation and the beautiful relation between the adhyatma, adhibhuta and adhidaiva, the degrees of reality and their interrelationship.

I mentioned that we have to rise from the lower to the higher, and that this is yoga. The vrittis of the mind are in different degrees of reality, and every vritti is connected with a particular object; and as there are degrees of these objects, there are also degrees of the vrittis. We have been told that there are seven stages of knowledge and seven stages of the practice of yoga also. These stages are nothing but the rise of the related consciousness from one condition of vritti to another condition. But what are these layers that we have to transcend, and how does consciousness manifest itself? In what form does it reveal itself—in a particular degree of reality, or in a form of the vritti?

This is what we could call the ‘evolution of consciousness’, and about which people like the philosopher Henri Bergson have written a lot. Bergson’s wonderful book Creative Evolution, for which he won the Nobel Prize, is worth reading. This creative evolution of Bergson, or for the matter of fact, any biological evolution, is nothing but the study of consciousness as it appears to evolve through the different degrees of reality. I mentioned that consciousness cannot really evolve, because it does not change and is not involved in a process. It appears to evolve as it gets extricated from the clutches of the different degrees of vrittis of the mind, just as light appears to get brighter as the mirror becomes more and more polished. A dusty mirror reflects less light; this does not mean that the light is less, because the light is actually the same. But as the mirror is polished more and more, the light appears to be brighter and brighter. One cannot say there is an evolution of light—the evolution is only in the mirror.

The ‘evolution of consciousness’ is therefore a misnomer. Consciousness cannot evolve, but it appears to evolve when it is studied in relation to that which does evolve. Yoga is a conscious attempt at bringing about this evolution from the base of the triangle to the apex of the triangle where multiplicity merges into unity. The study of these stages of consciousness is the psychology of yoga. This psychology is very interesting, and without a careful study of this psychology of the nature of consciousness that appears to evolve from the lower to the higher, we cannot know what yoga practice actually is. This requires the use of chit, which I shall take up another time.