True Spiritual Living
by Swami Krishnananda


Chapter 2: The Difficulty in Following the Spiritual Path

It is very important to remember what I told you yesterday because it concerns the basic principles of spiritual life, what we call the theorem of the entire structure of our life’s aspirations, from which follow many consequences. These consequences are the activities of life, the hopes of mankind, the troubles of people, and the tensions of every individual. All blessed things follow automatically from the nature of life.

The point I tried to bring out is that all action is a tendency towards the expansion of being. There is no such thing as activity, really speaking; it is only an effort of being to expand itself. So, the false distinction made between being and doing has to be overcome. There is no such thing as a distinction between being and doing. There is no doing; it is only being moving within itself for its own sake, for its own expansion and intensity. Our activities in life are the attempts we make to come in contact with external realities for the purpose of the expansion of our finite being. This is the essence of what I mentioned yesterday.

So far, everything looks fine. It looks philosophical. But there are dangerous aspects of this movement of consciousness in its relationship with other persons and things. Our relationship with people and things outside is like a double-edged sword; it can cut both ways. It is like fire; it can cook our food or burn our house. It is like water—without which we cannot live, but which can destroy us if we drown in it. So is the relationship with persons and things. It is a wonderful thing to philosophically conceive, but dangerous when it is misconceived and misapplied.

Yesterday I gave you only the philosophical side—the metaphysical, or rather the spiritual aspect of our relationship with persons and things outside. You learned that activities are also relationships, and all relationships are movements of being in its universal expanse for Self-realisation, or realisation of its Self.

Today we may dwell upon the other aspect of this feature of human life called relationship—namely, the erroneous movements of relationship, not merely the grand philosophical aspects of it. When a human relationship becomes philosophical, it becomes karma yoga. When it becomes unphilosophical, it becomes passion, desire, a source of bondage. The same movement—as I mentioned, the same fire, the same water, the same sword, the same knife—can work both ways. When our relationship with things outside is philosophically motivated and intelligently directed with a conscious purpose present in the mind always, never missed at any moment of time, it becomes yoga. All activity is yoga. All relationship is good relationship. Everything is fine and grand and beautiful in this majestic creation of God.

But, in this majestic creation of God also is Satan. There is Mara. This is a peculiar thing that we cannot understand: how error crept into the grand structure of God’s creation. What is evil? Though there is ultimately no such thing as evil, a person caught up in a peculiar movement of consciousness cannot realise that there is an erroneous movement of consciousness. We cannot detect mistakes when we get identified with the mistakes. A judge cannot examine a case if he is himself involved in the case. He must be a witness of the case; only then can he pass the correct judgment. If we ourselves are involved in the mistake, we cannot detect the mistake. We cannot know what mistakes we are committing because we have identified our consciousness with the mistake itself.  We have become the embodiment of blunder; we are embodiments of mistake. How can we know that we are committing mistakes? Who is to know this when we ourselves are that?

Therefore, a Guru is necessary.  We cannot know our mistakes. When we do a wrong, who will tell us that we are doing a wrong? We cannot know it, because we have identified ourselves with it. Sometimes the Guru’s grace, sometimes God’s blessings come and enlighten us, illumine us. Our meritorious deeds done in the previous lives come and awaken us. When everything goes wrong, the intellect can detect that something is wrong; but if the intellect itself goes wrong, then who will detect the mistake? That is our pitiable condition. So, again I emphasise the need for a Guru. When we are on the wrong path, who will find out that we are on the wrong path? A Guru is necessary.

When consciousness establishes relationship with other persons and things, which is normally called social relationship, it can go on the right path or it can go on the wrong path. When it goes on the right path, it is called humanitarianism, humanism, charitableness, philanthropy, karma yoga, and so many beautiful things that everybody holds in high esteem. But when it goes on the wrong path, it is called egoism, passion, anger and greed. Our relationship with other persons and things can be exploited for our individual pleasure, satisfaction, and not necessarily for the good of other people. We can also serve people only for our own satisfaction, though outwardly it may look that we are philanthropic. Even good deeds can be misapplied for bad purposes. The devil can come in the garb of a great saint. All these are not impossible.

The spiritual path is called the razor’s edge for this very reason. In the Upanishads, the term kshurasya dhara, or the razor’s edge, is used, which means two things. The spiritual path is a razor’s edge in two ways. It is sharp and cutting—as dangerous as the edge of a razor. If we go a little wrong, it will cut our nose. It is like handling thousands of volts of live wire. If we are working with high-voltage tension wires and are good engineers, we shall be careful; but if we are a little blunderous, we know the consequences. The spiritual path is like a high-voltage wire. It can spotlight our whole life with a blaze of illumination or it can burn us to ashes. It can do both things.

One of the admirers of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa once came to him and said, “You touched Vivekananda; why don’t you touch me also? You gave him cosmic consciousness by touch. What mistake have I committed? Why should I not also be touched?” Sri Ramakrishna said nothing. He kept quiet. But this man went on insisting and asking this question again and again: “Why don’t you touch me? Why don’t you touch me?”

One day Sri Ramakrishna said, “You fellow, you want me to touch you? Come here, I will touch you. You will become ashes just now!”

“Oh no!” he said, and ran away from there. “Don’t touch me! Don’t touch me! Don’t touch me!”

The idea is that there is no use merely being touched by a high-tension wire unless we are good conductors of that force. If we are good conductors, we will pass that force through us. We will receive it properly. Otherwise, it will be like passing thousands of volts through a small filament of an electric bulb that can bear only 220 volts. It will simply fuse in a second and burst. Nothing will be left of it. Our scriptures tell us that nobody should try to practise yoga unless proper preparation has already been made by way of discipline. In the raja yoga of Patanjali, the terms yama and niyama are used. In Vedantic terminology, sadhana chatushtaya and such other terms are used, the details of which are given in yoga texts and philosophical treatises.

When our relationship with things gets twisted, it returns to us like a boomerang instead of expanding itself into universality. This wrong twisting of consciousness, making it turn back upon us, is karma; it is not karma yoga. When it has a tendency to expand into universality, it becomes karma yoga. When it turns back upon us to bind us, it becomes karma, action.

Why should certain relationships turn back upon us, and why should certain others expand into universality? The reason is simple. The motive behind our relationship is the important factor. Why do we have any relationship with people and things? What is the intention behind it? Why do we speak to people? Why do we want to see anybody? Why do we want to do any work in this world? We should put these questions to ourselves. Let answers come from the deepest conscience of our being. “Why do I do so many things from morning to evening? What is the purpose? Why do I serve people? Why do I talk to people? Why do I do anything at all?” It is difficult to get answers to these questions.

We ourselves will not be able to answer these questions easily, because we may have wrong answers given by a bad friend who is sitting inside. We have a good friend, and also a bad friend. Both are inside us. Sometimes the wrong friend speaks and tells us, “My dear friend, what you are doing is very nice. Go ahead.” He wants us to fall into a pit. But at other times the good friend speaks, “No! This is not all right. Your motive is not pure. The intention is not pious, and what you are deeply thinking in your subconscious is different from what appears on your conscious level.”

Occasionally, the bad friend catches hold of the throat of the good friend and says, “Keep quiet! Don’t speak.  When I speak, you don’t speak.”  The good friend says, “All right. Do whatever you like.” Then we hear only the voice of the bad friend, and we start shouting the glory of our own individual personality, and start announcing our importance and asserting the rectitude of everything that we do, and find fault with everybody else in the world. “If anything is wrong, it is somebody else’s mistake. It is not mine. I have not made any mistake. All mistakes are made by somebody else. That person is wrong. That man is harassing me. He is selfish, and I am unselfish. I am good, and that person is bad.” This is our activity, directed by the advice given by the bad friend. But when the good friend gets the upper hand, he speaks. “No! If there is any mistake, it is your mistake because you have not been able to adjust your mind and consciousness properly with the setup of things.”

The setup of things is nothing but a particular stage of the evolution of the world; and we are a part of the world. Therefore, at any given level or stage of evolution, we are obliged to follow the law or rule of that particular stage of evolution. Yesterday, I mentioned this point to someone that when we go to Rome, we should be Romans. It is an old saying, which means to say that we cannot apply the law of one realm to another realm to which we do not really belong and in which we are not placed. When we are in the physical level, the physical laws apply to us. When we are in the social level, the social laws apply to us. When we are in the psychological level, the psychological laws apply to us. When we are in the spiritual level, the spiritual laws apply. But we cannot apply the law of one realm to another realm while we are not placed harmoniously in that realm; otherwise, there will be misplacement of values, and chaos will take place.

In the basic principles of Indian culture especially, this necessity to adjust oneself with a particular level of life is insisted upon. We use the famous complex terms known as dharma, artha, kama, moksha. Material values, economic values, vital values, ethical values and spiritual values are all important. We cannot say, “I am a lover of God and I care a hoot for this world of matter.” Such talk and such feelings are misplaced. There are misplaced religionists and enthusiastic seekers who do not understand themselves properly and say, “I care only for God, and not for man and the world.” There are other people who say, “I don’t care for God. I care only for man and the world.” Both these are on the wrong path because the God that we are seeking is not a God outside the world, and the world which we are seeing and the people in whose midst we are staying are not outside God. Neither are people and the world outside God, nor is God outside people and the world. It is easy to make this simple mistake of bifurcating the visible from the invisible and vice versa.

Desires, passions, anger, greed, etc., are erroneous movements of the mind. The reason behind them is having a misplaced emphasis on certain aspects of life, while ignoring other aspects that are equally important. We do not know where we stand. We have a wrong assessment of our own knowledge, power, capacity, etc.

If, in a war, the general of the army has no proper understanding of the power of his own men and no comparative knowledge of the power of his enemy, there is a great doubt whether he will win victory in the war. It is no use simply going ahead into the battlefield thinking, “I shall win victory in the war.” Merely because we are rushing into the battlefield, it does not mean that we will win victory. We must take into consideration many aspects of the battle into which we are entering: firstly, our own powers, our own associates, our equipment, etc., and the corresponding powers of the opposite side. We are facing the whole world in our spiritual attempts. Whose power is greater, the world’s power or our power? If we have even the slightest feeling that the world is more powerful than us, and we cannot face it, then our duty would be to rise to the level of the world and then face it, rather than to go headlong and then get defeated by the world.

Many seekers of  Truth fail. All sadhakas are basically good, but they are not always very wise. A good person need not be a wise person, and may make mistakes in spite of his goodness. Though the intention is pious and the heart is good and pure, the intelligence is lacking, and so he receives a kick from the world. The result is a frustration of feeling, a reversion to the original mode of living, a sense of hopelessness of all pursuits, and coming to a conclusion that perhaps nothing is worthwhile and no good is going to come out from this attempt. There is nothing wrong with the attempt, but we have wrongly manifested that attempt. Viveka, or understanding, is supposed to be the first prerequisite of spiritual pursuits.

Again I come to the point of a Guru. Who can have understanding in this world? Who can have such wisdom? We are all muddle-headed people, confused and confounded. We get irritated, upset, and are disturbed by sights, sounds and events taking place around us. If something happens in a distant country, we can be disturbed here though we are not concerned with it, because of a peculiar psychological feeling that arises in us—again, by misplaced values. Understanding of a pure nature, with all the pros and cons duly considered, and the consequences also duly weighed, is very essential: “If I do this thing or take this particular step, what will be the consequence?”

There are some people who think, “I will go to the forest and meditate from tomorrow onwards. I don’t want to see anybody’s face. I will search for God in the jungle.” Very good idea! Nobody can say it is wrong. But what are the consequences? If tomorrow we go and sit in the jungle, will God come tomorrow? Will God come immediately? Well, God may come or God may not come. If He comes, it will be for a reason; and if He does not come, it will also be for a reason. That reason should be clear before us.

Whole-hearted devotion to God is unthinkable. Nobody’s heart can be wholly turned to God, though we may sometimes think that it is so. Again we are making the mistake of not taking into consideration our subconscious mind. Consciously, we may be thinking of God wholly, perhaps. Just now, who is thinking of anything but God? But yet, it is not true that our entire personality is steeped in God even now, notwithstanding the fact that we are hearing about God and thinking about Him consciously, because our personality is not merely the conscious level. Psychologists tell us that our conscious personality is the smallest part of our personality. The larger parts are buried deep. So, unless and until the larger part, the subconscious or unconscious, is brought to the conscious level and made a part of our conscious activity, it cannot be said that our whole personality is involved in any activity. None of our activities are connected with the whole of our being. Always only a partial aspect of our being works in any one of our activities. The whole of us never goes into action. Very rarely do we act wholly. But unless the whole thing comes out, the Whole Thing will not come to us. God is the Whole, and we are asking for the Whole, and so the whole of us must go there. It is the whole asking for the Whole, and not only a fragment of our being.

When we mistake a fragment for the whole, passions arise in our minds. In the Eighteenth Chapter of the Bhagavadgita, Bhagavan Sri Krishna says that the lowest kind of knowledge is that which regards a finite as the Infinite; it mistakes one thing for everything.  That is called attachment. When we think that one thing is everything, it is called attachment; when that is intensified it becomes passion, when obstructed it becomes anger, and when defeated it becomes frustration. All things follow from this basic mistake of regarding one thing as everything.

For a miser, money is everything. But money is only one thing. Then how does he regard one thing as everything? Very strange! Fame or power is also one thing, but there are people who regard it as everything. That is a mistake. There are many other objects in the world which can attract our attention wholly, as if they are all things, but they are not all things. So kama, krodha, lobha—intense desire or passion, anger, greed, etc.—follow from the basic mistake of regarding one thing as everything. This is mentioned precisely in a very short form in the Eighteenth Chapter of the Bhagavadgita. Sri Krishna says that this is the grossest, lowest and worst form of knowledge where one regards one thing as everything and clings to it. This is called attachment.

A higher form of knowledge is where we do not regard one thing as everything, but we regard other things as equally important as this thing; and one thing is also related to every other thing. Everything is equally good. One thing is connected with other things. We become a more expanded social personality.

But the highest kind of knowledge is that which does not even relate one thing with another thing, but regards existence as an Indivisible Being. Here, there is no question of relating one thing with another thing because such things do not exist.

Thus, the lowest knowledge is finitude of consciousness, clinging to only one thing as if it is all things. The higher knowledge is a relativity of things, where we bring all things into consideration in our thoughts, actions and feelings, but yet multiplicity consciousness persists; we regard one thing as different from another thing. The highest knowledge is the indivisibility of consciousness, where it has no need to move at all for any purpose; everything that it needs is here and now.

Thus, what I told you today is a sort of commentary on what I said yesterday, which again would emphasise the difficulty in following the spiritual path. Rare indeed is the person who can contain this idea in the mind, maintain it for a long time, make it a part of his or her personality, and live according to this idea. Very difficult! That person is a wonder indeed!

The Upanishads as well as the Bhagavadgita tell us that all this is a miracle. That we can hear such things is a miracle; that we can appreciate such things is a miracle; that we will be able to stick to this principle is a miracle; that we will be able to practise it is a greater miracle: āścaryavat paśyati kaścid enam āścaryavad vadati tathaiva cānyaḥ, āścaryavac cainam anyaḥ śṛṇoti śrutvāpyenaṁ veda na caiva kaścit (Gita 2.29). But Bhagavan Sri Krishna has given a last warning. With all this hearing, finally, we will find it is difficult—very, very difficult. It will not enter the head: “I understood, but it is not going deep.”

Why is it not going deep? It is because proper effort is not made. We have to brood upon it every day. Our understanding has to sink into feeling. Our difficulty is that feelings are going one way, and our understanding is going another way. We understand everything, but we cannot feel it. Our feelings are moving in another direction altogether. Meditation is the act of fusing the understanding with feeling, of getting the understanding absorbed into the feeling. The union of the understanding with feeling is called intuition.