True Spiritual Living
by Swami Krishnananda

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Chapter 3: Being Utterly Spiritual in Our Aspirations

A little that is done correctly is far better than much that is done incorrectly. We are often used to thinking in terms of magnitude—of quantity, rather than quality—even in our spiritual practice. We are satisfied with feeling: “I am doing japa for three hours every day.” We are concerned only with the three hours, and not with the quality of the japa. If we say, “I have been living in seclusion for fifteen years,” we are thinking more of the fifteen years than of what we have been doing during those fifteen years. “The whole world knows me as an important yogi.” It is a great satisfaction, no doubt. But this is not a spiritual feeling because spirituality is a state of quality, not quantity.

But we live in a world of quantity. Whatever we see in this world is a quantity before us. Our body itself is a quantity, our personality is a quantity, society is a quantity, money is a quantity, and self-respect in regard to this body and personality is a quantity. We do not know what quality is. The quality of spiritual practice enhances and increases in intensity as we gradually free ourselves from the entanglements of consciousness.

Yesterday we were considering the two aspects of a tension that we may be having in our subconscious personalities: the relationship that we have with the external world, and the feelings that we have in our own inner being. Truly speaking, we neither have a clear idea about our relationship with people and things outside, nor do we have any clear idea about the reason why certain feelings arise in our own minds. Everything seems to happen beyond our control. Nothing is in our control—not even our own minds, thoughts and feelings.

To be generous towards other people, to be charitable, is a virtue; and to have a desire and passion within is not a virtue. This is what we have been told since our birth. But why is it a virtue to be kind to people, to be charitable, to be philanthropic, and to be considerate? Why is it an evil to have desires and passion inside? We cling to these notions as a dogma mostly, as a hereditary wealth that we have garnered and kept safe to be worshipped for all time, without being clear in our own minds. We live in a world of tradition, routine, and hearsay. Sometimes this tradition goes so deep into our personal life that it becomes a kind of  logic by itself, and the logic is so strong that it will not bear criticism of any kind or modification of any sort.

We are pulled from two directions—the world of human society and the world of nature from outside, and the urges from within us which sometimes look all right and sometimes do not look all right. This is called tension. The laws of human society are often not in consonance with the desires of the human being. Now, who is right: our desires or the laws of society? If our desires are wrong and the laws of society are right, as reasonable persons we must be able to calm down our desires—unless, of course, we are totally unreasonable persons. But if we think that society is wrong and we are right, then there should be a justification for this feeling of ours.

But we cannot justify either the laws of the human world outside or our feelings within. Sometimes we hang on that side, and at other times we hang on this side. We are always in a condition of dubious ambivalence, and most of our time is spent in clearing doubts rather than doing something positive. Sometimes a large part of our life is spent in clearing misconceptions and prejudiced feelings, doubts and difficulties, problems and tensions, etc. It is something like spending all our time in dusting the room, sweeping it, painting it; but when are we going to live in it? All our time has been spent only in building, cleaning, painting; now we have got a few years more left, and those years are not enough for us to enjoy the consequences of all our work.

Many of us are self-made spiritual seekers. Self-made Gurus are also there, and this is one of the drawbacks from the point of view of an honest spiritual effort. The great spiritual tradition of the ancient masters cannot be simply brushed aside as meaningless. In India we have a great system, called the gurukula vasa system, where students lived for several years with a Guru under his personal guidance. That system is held in esteem even now, though it is not working as it was in earlier days.

Spiritual problems are not like the problems of the world. They are very unique in their nature. They are wound up with our very existence and, therefore, they are very serious matters. The problems of the world are not so much wound up with ourselves. They are extraneous to us and, therefore, we can to some extent obviate these external difficulties in life. We have financial difficulties, legal problems, social tensions, troubles from enemies, and so on. But these are minor matters compared to spiritual problems, because spiritual problems are the stresses felt in one’s own consciousness. As I mentioned yesterday, the problems of consciousness cannot be solved, because the one who is to solve the problems is himself involved in the problems.

There is a story in the Mahabharata. Indra, the king of the gods, attacked Vritra, the chief of the demons. This demon was very strong. He could assume any shape, any form, and enter into any realm of existence. When Indra hurled his fatal weapon against this demon Vritra, he entered the earth and was invisible. Then Indra hurled the weapon inside the earth, so that the earth itself would break, and with that the demon would also go. But then the demon entered the higher realm, the principle of water, which is subtler than the earth. The weapon of Indra entered even the water principle. Then the demon entered the fire principle. There also the weapon pursued him. Then he entered the air principle, and the weapon of Indra pursued him there. Then Vritra entered the ether principle, and there also the weapon would not leave him. Wherever he went in all the elemental realms, this weapon pursued him. Where was the place for the demon to stay? He was caught from all sides, so what did the demon do? He entered the mind of Indra. How can we hurl a weapon against our own mind? When Vritra entered the mind of Indra, Indra got confused, confounded, and lost consciousness. He was not at all aware as to what to do.

This is what has happened to us. Vritra has entered our minds. The spiritual seeker is Indra, and he is hurling his weapon of austerity, sadhana, tapasya, japa, meditation, etc., against the devil of the forces which are contrary to spiritual realisation. But these forces are Vritra himself, and as our personality is wound up with the vast physical nature, the forces of nature can take refuge in our own intellect and mind. When Indra’s mind was confused, what was his fate? Nobody could rescue him. He could not think; the mind stopped thinking. The matter was over.

Then his Guru came to his help. Brihaspati, the preceptor of the gods, understood what had happened to the king of the gods: “Oh! He is in a great predicament. He is lying unconscious, as it were, possessed by the evil force.” Brihaspati chanted the Rathantara Saman mantra from the Veda, which lit up the mind of Indra like a brilliant sun and drove out the evil force. Indra regained consciousness and said, “Oh! I have been possessed by the very enemy whom I was attacking with my weapon.” Self-consciousness came to Indra by the power of the mantra chanted by the Guru, Brihaspati.

Then what was to be done? This weapon could not be used against the evil force in that condition. Because the force had entered the subjective personality of Indra, objective weapons would not work here. When objective instruments cannot work, what other instruments can we use? All instruments are objective. There is no such thing as a subjective instrument because when it becomes subjective, it ceases to be an instrument.

This is the difficulty of the practice of yoga. We can do japa, we can go to temples, we can go to Rameswaram, we can take a bath in the ocean. These are all objective instruments that we are using to drive the devil out. But what instrument will we use when he has sat in our own mind? This is the crucial point in the practice of yoga. That is the occasion when the grace of God has to work, the Guru’s power has to work, and the force of the good deeds that we did in our previous lives has to work.

A time comes in the life of a spiritual aspirant when everything becomes hopelessly difficult. If yoga practice had been so simple and easy, by this time, after so many millions of years of God’s creation of this world, the majority of people would have attained God, and there would be nobody in this world. It is such a difficult thing, almost impossible, that towards the end of the Eleventh Chapter of the Bhagavadgita, Bhagavan Sri Krishna in his Visvarupa says, “Nothing on earth can enable you to see Me in this form. Not even if you stand on your head for your whole life can you see Me like this.” Na vedayajñādhyayanair na dānair na ca kriyābhir na tapobhir ugraiḥ, evaṁrūpaḥ śakya ahaṁ nṛloke draṣṭuṁ tvadanyena kurupravīra (Gita 11.48): “Not all the charities that you do, not all the good deeds that you perform, not all the austerities, not all the studies, not anything that you are in a position to do can enable you to see Me in this form.”

The point is that since God, the Absolute, is a universal subject, objective instruments cannot be applied in realising that Reality, though objective instruments can be used as a preparatory means, as an accessory, as a contributory factor. We can use the religious symbols and practices such as ritual, pilgrimage, study of scripture, personal austerity, chanting of the divine name, and so on, for cleansing the personality and preparing ourselves for the reception of the divine grace, but the last stroke that we have to deal is the most difficult performance on our part. It is what is called ‘putting on the switch’. That is the most difficult thing, and there it is that we come a cropper because it is something like climbing on our own shoulders. We cannot climb on our own shoulders, but that is the feat that we have to perform towards the end of the practice of yoga.

Gaudapada, a great master, says this yoga is called asparsa yoga: the yoga of non-contact. We do not come in contact with anything. Yoga is generally defined as contact with Reality, coming in union with something, and so on. But this master says it is not a union with something. It is not a contact of something with something else because there are no two things, so what will come in union with what, or with what will we come in contact?

These are all tentatively applicable and meaningful definitions, but ultimately they are to be transcended. When we enter the borderland of the universal, the question of contact ceases. And one day or the other we have to come to this borderland—if not today, then tomorrow. At that time, we will have no help from anybody. Not the whole world can help us, and even the aid of an external Guru becomes inadequate at that point. But before reaching that stage, we have to prepare ourselves properly so that we may not have a setback. It is said by John Bunyan in his Pilgrim’s Progress that even at the entrance to heaven there may be a small passage leading to hell. We are just at the portals of heaven, but there is a pit into which we can fall, and we can go to hell from there itself. The boat may sink even if it is just near the other bank of the river. We have crossed the major part of the river, but just when we are about to touch the other shore, we will be inside the water. This is possible. Similarly, great masters and yogis can also sink unless proper precaution is taken.

The precaution needed is that we have to be utterly spiritual in our aspirations. We should not be partially spiritual. We should not have a half-hearted devotion to God. But it is impossible to have a whole-hearted devotion to God as long as man is man. We have our own weaknesses and prejudices, as I mentioned yesterday. We cannot help thinking in terms of other people, other things, the world, and values, etc. They are part of our own blood, veins and bones. How can we get out of these prejudices? Even the best philosophical mind cannot escape this difficulty of having to assert the personality one day or the other, and reaping the consequences thereof.

To continue the trend of the ideas I placed before you yesterday, we have a dual pull by which we have been caught, and we are always placed in the midst of a tension. We are between the horns of a dilemma. On the one side, there is the pull of social values, social etiquette, social ethics and social laws; without relating ourselves with these, life itself would become impossible in our physical personalities. On the other side, there is the pull of our desires and passions which we have repressed with great force. Unless a reconciliation is brought about by us, with effort, between these two forces, we would not be in a healthy state of mind. Before we sit for meditation, we have to be mentally healthy because even if we are consciously meditating in the meditation hall, we may not be meditating subconsciously.

The elephant takes a nice bath in the Ganga, and then it throws mud on its body. This is called an elephant’s bath: take a nice bath, and afterwards throw mud on one’s body. So after all our conscious meditations, the subconscious impulses will throw dust and mud on us. We will be highly distressed in spite of all our conscious meditations because the subconscious impulses have not been brought out. The secret desires are still lying like coiled-up snakes, ready to hiss and bite.

We look all right to ourselves, and also look all right in the eyes of people, on account of an adjustment that we are shrewdly making on both sides, according to the need of the circumstances. We know from which side the pressure is more. When we take a bath in the ocean and the waves are dashing on us, we sink down into the waves. Similarly, we try to sink down into the pressure and allow the pressure to pass over our heads, and then come up to the surface once again to do whatever we have been doing earlier. Sometimes the pressure from our desires is very intense, and sometimes the pressure from the outside world and society is intense; and merely because we are making an adjustment by dexterously turning ourselves either side, it does not mean that we have conquered these impulses. A shrewd adjustment does not mean sublimation. It is not mastery over these impulses.

We should not be slaves of either a social pressure from outside or an urge of passion from within. These two forces coming from outside as well as from within are one single force, as I tried to say yesterday. They are not two different things. Because the universe is inside us as well as outside us, the macrocosm and the microcosm both meet in our personalities; and if yoga is the practice of balance, equanimity, it follows that the striking of a balance between the outer needs and the inner pressures also is called for.

We go into our rooms or hide ourselves in caves due to fear from society. Why do we fear society so much? Sometimes when the inner forces, urges, passions, desires, are very violent—when they become uncontrollable—we may plunge into the midst of society, not with an intention of conquering these urges, but to forget them. There are people who, when they get very angry, go for a long walk. Well, it is one of the ways of forgetting the trouble that is in our head. But that is not a solution, because we have not found out why we have got angry. Or somebody has insulted us in public, and we cannot bear it. We get fed up, take a ticket to Haridwar and say, “I’ll come after three days.” What is the use? The anger is boiling from inside. We have only forgotten the devil that is before us, the tiger that is yawning to eat us up.

We cannot face the questions and problems of life reasonably and adequately. This is a truth that we have to accept. It is partly because we have not sufficient understanding in our own selves, maybe due to the egoism of our personalities, the rajasic and tamasic prarabdha karmas that are obstructing us; and we are not humble enough to sit before a Guru. Who is our Guru? Nobody.

If you have no Guru, at least have some friends of an equal character. It does not mean that one is the Guru of the other; they are friends who have an equal aspiration, and they can discuss matters between themselves and be of mutual help in their spiritual practices, as students do in schools and colleges. They do not always go to the professor or teacher. They sit together and converse, discuss, and solve problems. One may be able to help the other. When you cannot find a single Guru or a master who can guide you, you have such collaboration of forces among yourselves as brother seekers with a common aspiration.

Beware of your own self more than of anybody else. If you have any enemy in this world, it is your own self. You can be misled by your own self. Ātmaiva hyātmano bandhur ātmaiva ripur ātmanaḥ (Gita 6.5), says the Bhagavadgita: Your own self is your friend, and your own self is also your enemy. I will let you know what that ‘self’ is another time: how you can be your own friend, and also how you can be your own enemy. Be humble and simple, and receptive to the teaching. Do not be under the impression that you know everything. You may learn a little truth from even a small child. The babbling of a child may contain an element of truth, and the declaration or proclamation of a genius may contain an element of error. Both things are possible.

So to conclude today, let us try not to have a double personality in ourselves—opposing the external world of human society on one side, and confronting the inner passion from the other side. Let us have a single personality, an open personality, which is a friend of both sides and not something caught up between the two forces, in such a way that we may be the meeting point of these two forces in a friendly manner. We are the friends of the world and of human society outside, and also friends of the aspirations from within. This is a point which leads us into the major question of the relationship between spiritual life and earthly life—a very difficult question, the one question of all religions and all mystical approaches, on which we have to bestow a little thought later on.