True Spiritual Living
by Swami Krishnananda

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Chapter 4: Withdrawing from Objects of Sense

Spiritual life is the intensive and systematic disentanglement of oneself from the clutches of unspiritual forces, all which arise from what we call the consciousness of externality. This is what is called Vritra, to whom I made reference yesterday from the Mahabharata. The consciousness of externality is the consciousness of space, time and objectivity. It is this that is harassing us every day—night and day, from birth to death. This is also called the trouble arising from sense perception, due to which we say the senses have to be controlled, and so on. The senses, their activity, the outward projection of the mind, the consciousness of space, time and objects—all these ultimately mean one and the same thing; and yoga, spiritual life, is only a consistent effort that we put forth to gain independence—freedom from these tangles in which we are caught.

We are caught not only in one way, but in every way—not from one side, but from all sides. We are in the midst of a very powerful net that has been spread before us: above us, below us, to the right and to the left, to the front and to the rear, and all around. Like a small fly that is caught in the spider’s web unable to free itself, similarly we are caught up in the network of external relations, which also include the relation with this body, because this body is also an external object. Externality does not mean ‘outside this body’, as we are likely to take it to mean. The body is not so important a substance or a centre as we imagine it to be. It is as important as anything else in this world, but to give it an exclusive importance, to regard this body as of primary importance, greater importance than we attach to other bodies, is called selfishness. That is worse than being caught up in the network of externality. We have gone deep, deeper and deepest—far below a possibility of easy extrication. We have sunk ourselves into the heart of matter and become one with it.

Something worse than that has also happened. We have not merely got ourselves absorbed in matter and become the body, due to which we call ‘I’ this body; but we have done something more serious than this. Serious it is, no doubt, to get identified with this body; a great blunder it is to imagine ourselves to be this body, but we have committed an even greater blunder. What is it? We have come out of this body in an artificial manner, not in a natural way. This coming out of our consciousness from this body in an unnatural way is called sense perception.

Sense perception is not natural knowledge. It is unnatural, distorted, erroneous, binding, misleading; that is called samsara. Like a light ray passing through a prism and getting split up into different aspects of its constituents, consciousness appears to have passed through the prism of this bodily individuality and got spilt up into the rays of sensory activity. The indivisibility of consciousness has been split up into the divisibility of sensory activity and perception.

The great scriptures tell us that there has been a gradual descent of the supreme state of consciousness. Speaking the language of Indian Vedanta, there has been a concretisation of the Absolute into the will of Ishvara, then to Hiranyagarbha and to Virat, the cosmic animating consciousness of the physical universe. But up to this level, it is only a metaphysical descent. We may even call it a spiritual descent—a drama of the Absolute, a free play of consciousness with full consciousness of its independence and freedom. It is a joy up to this level.

But there has been a further descent into bondage. The great drama of the Virat in this form of the vast multiplicity of creation, which it is playing in its own self-immanence and transcendence, in its own majesty and glory and beauty and grandeur—this wonderful drama has become a pitiable plight by a peculiar feature that crept into the consciousness. This is a mystery for all, and perhaps it will remain a mystery forever.

The split-up rays of the universal   Virat Consciousness asserted themselves as individuals, isolated from other individuals. It is like a ray of the sun isolating itself from other rays of the sun, each ray asserting itself independently, with apparently no connection with the other rays. This is the beginning of what we call earthly bondage, samsara, the fall of Satan from the Garden of Eden into the hell of torture. This is the symbol of all religions representing the fall of man from the angelic condition of his proximity to God.

There has been a descent into the individual consciousness of this personality. Individuality does not mean merely the individuality of consciousness. Consciousness, which was originally universal, became split up. We may think that even a split-up part of it should be consciousness only, because even a spark of fire is fire. Well, it is naturally so. It had to be like that. But, a peculiar state of affairs compelled consciousness to imagine itself to be matter. It has never become matter, because one thing cannot become another thing. ‘A’ is ‘A’. ‘A’ cannot become ‘B’. But the intensified affirmation of consciousness as an isolated individual brought about the effect in the form of what we call the body—a concretisation of consciousness.

This is very unnatural, untrue to the right state of affairs. There was a struggle of consciousness to regain its lost independence. When something toxic or foreign enters the body, there is a war of the entire body to throw that matter out of the system. There is a struggle of every cell of the body to throw out that toxic matter. If a little particle of sand enters the eye, the entire eyeball starts struggling to throw it out by exuding liquid, etc.

The lost independence of consciousness cannot always be in that condition. In the Aitareya Upanishad, we have a description of this fall in cryptic language. Symbolically, the Upanishad tells us that the soul began to cry. It did not cry with a mouth. There was no mouth. It was only an agony that it felt: “Oh! What has happened!” The isolation of the part from the whole is the greatest agony conceivable. It is like death; it is veritable death, and death caught hold of consciousness. That is the beginning of mortality, and that is the beginning of hunger and thirst, and the writhing of oneself in a sorrow indescribable in any language. All this description is symbolic, very difficult to explain. The effect cannot explain the cause, and we are trying to understand the nature of the cause from where we have fallen.

We can only say, in the language of the Upanishads, that this fall ended in a sort of makeshift between the condition into which the consciousness fell and the longing which it cherished in its own self. It is like the League of Nations. Internally we are at war with one another, but we sit at a single table and talk on world peace. The League of Nations failed. It never worked well, and it does not exist any more.

Likewise, consciousness had no other alternative than to reconcile itself with the fall, at the same time not forgetting that it is impossible for it to continue in that fallen condition. We are in a prison, and we cannot escape from it, but yet we cannot be happy in the prison. So the necessity to be inside the prison and the need to get out of the prison is a conflict in the mind. The prisoner is never happy inside; on one side he is compelled to be there, and on the other side he wants to get out. What a pity!

Consciousness asserted itself as this concretised individuality, and started making good use of the situation, making the best out of what had happened. “It is better to rule in hell than serve in heaven,” is a saying from Milton’s Paradise Lost. The devil speaks: “What to do? I cannot do anything else. It is okay; I will rule in hell rather than serve in heaven.” So we are trying to rule in hell, rather than serve in heaven. That is what we are doing. There has been a reconciliation with the fall: “All right. I have fallen, and I shall be happy in the fall itself.”

But, no. How long can we be happy in this untrue state of affairs? How long can we find happiness in crying and weeping and sobbing and beating our breast? Even beating one’s breast is a source of joy—otherwise, why do we beat our breast? Even striking our head on the ground in grief is a state of joy. But how long can we hit our head like that? There must be an end for it.

Now, we have tried to make the best of the situation: “I shall be happy in hell itself, because I cannot get out of it.” What is hell? The entry of consciousness into this body is the fall. But how can we be happy? Happiness—even a jot, even a modicum of happiness—cannot be had unless the universal is reflected, even in a very, very distorted manner. Even the least form of joy that we have in this world is a consequence of a reflection of the universal in that particular condition, though in a very muddled and distorted manner.

So, what does the individual do now, in this state of fall? “I shall create an artificial universality in order that I may get happiness, though it is artificial.” All our happiness in this world is artificial, not true. Therefore, even when we are happy, we are subtly sorrowing. We are smiling outside and grieving inside; this is our life. When I can laugh outside, I can also weep inside. This is man, this is woman, this is everybody. We are all laughing outside and weeping inside—everyone, without exception. But even when we weep inside, we want to laugh outside because mere weeping is not possible. It is very difficult to get on with mere weeping. So let there be a little laughing—outside, at least. This is our life in this world.

How can we laugh when we are actually weeping? We create this laughing by projecting ourselves sensorily into a condition of counterfeit universality, which is called love of objects and attachment to things. When we are attached to a particular object, we are a little happy. Otherwise, why do we get attached? Why do we love an object, unless it brings us joy? But how does it bring us joy? Why is it that love for an object brings us joy? Do you know the reason?

It is because we have artificially expanded our individuality into a little touch of universality. When we exceed the bodily limitation, even by an inch, we are touching the border of the universal. The universal is very large; we have not gone so far, but at least we have gone one millimetre outside the body. We have exceeded the limitation of our body by loving something outside the body; and that little gaze of the universal, a little peep of it, a little touch, a little hint, the slightest indication that we are prepared to go out of our body and exceed the limitation of our body, even if it be by love of something which is there outside—that gives us joy. That is why love of objects gives us happiness. Why does it give us happiness? Because of an apparent reflection of the universal. “Why is it called ‘the universal’?” you may ask me. “How is it the universal?”

I have already given the definition of the universal. The universal does not necessarily mean the Supreme or the Absolute Universal. Even a tendency towards it can be regarded as a universal, just as a student studying in the third standard is called a student undergoing education, and an Oxford post-graduate is also undergoing education. Whatever be the class in which we are reading, we are regarded as undergoing education. Likewise, we are moving towards the universal even if we have taken only half a step, or even less than that. Badrinath is 160 miles from here, but even if we take one step in that direction, it is a movement towards Badrinath. Badrinath is so far, but we have taken a step towards it. We have moved only two inches, but yet we are happy. “I am moving towards Badrinath. That is my destination.” Likewise, the consciousness feels joy. “I am moving towards the universal, though I have clung only to one object which I regard as dear and near and lovable.”

Now, while there is some meaning in this, there is also an absurdity in it. Because of the meaning in it, we are happy; because of the absurdity in it, we are bound by it. What is the meaning behind it which gives us the joy? The meaning is the movement of consciousness towards the universal, because it is the indication that consciousness is exceeding the limitation of the body. Therefore, we are happy. But what is the absurdity in it? What is wrong about it? We are not really moving towards the universal.

What is the difference between plus one and minus one? Both are one. Plus ten and minus ten—are they identical? Both are ten. I have plus one hundred rupees, or minus one hundred rupees; are both identical? Can we say both are equal, on a par, because both include the word ‘hundred’? The minus hundred is far away from plus hundred; we know it very well.

Likewise, this universality that we are trying to achieve by contact with objects is a movement in the minus direction, not in the plus direction. Therefore, we are entirely wrong, and we are going to be caught and punished for it one day or the other. The minus looks like a plus merely because the word ‘hundred’ is mentioned. When I say ‘minus one hundred’, at least I utter the word ‘hundred’. But we forget that there is a ‘minus’ also with it. Hundred—wonderful! But it is minus, do not forget!

Likewise, this universality that we wrongly try to achieve by sensory contact with objects is a blunder—and a very terrible blunder. But the soul has no other alternative: “I have fallen. Let me be happy. I will rule in hell. Here I am, ruling in hell.” We are happy somehow or the other, and this is the happiness that we have. This is the mistake that consciousness has made—a blunder worse than entering into the body—by moving out of the body into the objects of sense, establishing relationships with things, and complicating these relationships by scientific logic which is created by the senses themselves for their own satisfaction. Even the devil has a logic of its own.

Yoga is the process of awakening consciousness to its true aim, true purpose, and so this sort of universality will not do. This sort of happiness is no happiness. This so-called satisfaction, so-called freedom, this apparent independence that we seem to have in this world is no independence, no joy, no freedom, nothing! It is a terrible deception. Yoga is the very, very difficult art of bringing the consciousness back from this meandering through the objects of sense, bringing it back to the body once again—from where it has gone out through space and time into the objects.

Even if it is brought back to the body, it is not a complete achievement, because that is also a fall. Though we have not gained health, at least we are free from disease for the time being. The temperature has come to normal; it is not 105. It is coming to 98.4, but yet we are in bed. We cannot get up, we cannot go out. We are not healthy, not normal really, though clinically it appears that we are normal because the temperature has come to 98.4. This is what we are trying to do by abstraction of the senses from objects by the practice of yama and niyama, as the great sage Patanjali says. By the practice of yama especially, we bring the temperature to normal, 98.4; otherwise, it is 105. It is terrible! Now we have a 105 temperature—we are in fever, completely out of order—because we are thinking everything ‘outside’. All that we think is external. So we are in a state of fever, completely gone out of gear.

The practice of the yamas and niyamas brings the mind back to the source from where it has gone out, and after it is brought back to the source of individuality, the system of yoga tells us it has to be roused up to its original condition by asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, etc. So while yama and niyama are the processes by which we withdraw our externalised movements into the source from where these movements started, by the other practices of asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, etc., we rise up—vertically, as it were—to the Absolute, gradually. It is a very difficult process of yoga: from the bodily encasement, we rise up stage by stage. In the system of Patanjali, especially, all these stages are very beautifully described.

Even when we come to the state of perfect concentration of mind on the ideal of the universal which is to be attained, from where we have fallen, the attainment is not complete. Patanjali tells us that even after the dhyana state is attained, there are various stages—savitarka, nirvitarka, savichara, nirvichara, sananda, sasmita, and so on. Even in samadhi there are so many stages. All this is terrifying even to hear.

Thus, the system of yoga is a wonderful art of regaining spiritual health, returning to our Supreme Father, from where we have fallen by a mistake. We abstract ourselves from the externalised consciousness of space, time and objects and our attachment to objects, and come back to our own source, entering into the consciousness of the Virat. Then what will happen to us? God only knows; we need not bother about it. Such is the Great Whole before us. This is the destination of the journey of the soul on earth.