by Swami Krishnananda
In the journey of spiritual practice, there are many halting places on the way. It is not a direct flight without any stop in-between. At the very inception of this endeavour known as spiritual sadhana, there is an upheaval of the powers of aspiration, an innocent longing for God and a confidence that one would reach God—perhaps the same kind of confidence that a child has in catching the moon. The innocence and the credulity do not permit the acceptance of the difficulties involved in this pursuit. There is simplicity, sincerity and honesty coupled with ignorance, and this is practically the circumstance of every spiritual seeker. There is a humble innocence, very praiseworthy, but it is also attended with ignorance of the problems on the path and the difficulties of attaining God. The innocence of childhood is simplicity incarnate. Everyone loves a simple, innocent child, and everyone is happy about a simple, innocent seeker of truth. The Pandavas—we are studying certain implications of the Mahabharata—were innocent children playing with their own cousins, the Kauravas, and they would never have dreamt, even with the farthest stretch of their imaginations, of the forthcoming catastrophes in the life to come.
There is a peculiar circumstance in which the seeker finds himself at the outset, and there is a tentative picture presented before the mind of a seeker of great success. The intense austerity that we practise—the japa, the studies, the prayers, the worships—attract attention from everyone, and we become an object of adoration. Yudhishthira was crowned with the rajasuya sacrifice; it was a great glory indeed. The world begins to know us as a great austere seeker and a man of God; but the vision of people is different from the vision of God. It is inscrutable, and no one can say what the way of God is. The most compassionate conceivable and the hardest nut to crack—all combined in one, as it were, appears to be the attitude of God. Great difficulty, hardship and judicial strictness coupled with parental affection is the characteristic that is generally attributed to God. Law and love combined together; justice and affection both seem to be blended in Him. We cannot understand how these go together, but they do go, and perhaps they have to be together in a mysterious manner which the human mind cannot grasp. The justice of God is not contrary to the response that is evinced from Him by the affection that the seeker develops in respect of God. The love that is divine is compatible with law that is justice.
But the human concept of law and the human concept of love both require emendation. There is a cosmical interpretation and a standpoint taken on the basis of an interdependence of things, when things are looked at from the point of view of God. But human minds are not made in that manner. The interdependence or the interconnectedness of things in a universal manner is a theoretical concept which surpasses the imagination of the individual, and in practice it escapes notice wholly. We take an individualistic view of things, a finite attitude towards objects, bifurcating the relationship of one with the other, and therefore unexpected consequences follow from our attitude to things. Our satisfaction need not necessarily to be taken as a sign of success, because our satisfaction is that which satisfies our individuality. The satisfaction of an individual is not really a genuine and a permanent satisfaction. It flies away like the wind, and it moves as the individual moves.
In the process of evolution there is a transfiguration of the structure of individuality. The individuality transforms itself in the process of evolution, and simultaneously with this transformation, the notions, the ideas of right and wrong, good and bad, pleasure and pain also change. What is pleasant today need not be pleasant even to me, myself tomorrow, on account of the change of my attitude to things due to a shift of emphasis in the process of evolution. This is commonplace and does not require much commentary. Hence we should not be under the erroneous notion that a jubilant feeling within us is a sign of spiritual vision, since our jubilation is somehow or other connected with the nature of our own personality. The likes and dislikes of the mind of an individual are reactions set up by the structure of the mind of that individual. The structure of the mind is responsible for the particular type of satisfaction that it feels, and the particular type of dissatisfaction also, which follows automatically from this structure. So what I like need not be your liking, it follows, because of the simple fact that minds are not made in the same manner. Hence, a particular sense of elation within oneself can be a great credit to the capacity to achieve in one’s own individual mind that which one seeks as something pleasant. But we are told again and again that the pleasant need not necessarily be the good, and the good need not necessarily be the pleasant, although the good can also be the pleasant. Hence the mass of votes poured upon Yudhishthira in the form of the rajasuya sacrifice, culminating in his coronation through the rajasuya, struck at the same time a note of retrogression by ways and means which were unthinkable; and this elation, and the rising to the throne after the rajasuya, ended in the banishment of the very same empire and emperor to the grief-stricken life of the wilderness of the jungles in the Aranyapurva.
The life of a saint is a mystic Mahabharata itself. Every sage or saint has passed through all the stages of the Mahabharata conflict. No one lived as a great saint without passing through untold hardships, and no one ever left this world with the feeling that it is all milk and honey flowing. The truth of the world becomes evident to the eyes that are about to close to this world; the untutored mind takes it for what it is not. Hence the glory of the royal coronation and success ended in untold grief, because of a negative aspect that was hidden in the joy of the coronation. There was something lacking. It was a glory that was bestowed upon Yudhishthira by the power of people, like the ascent of a person to the throne of a ministry by the raising of hands of the vast public. But the hands can drop down tomorrow; they need not always be standing erect. There is always an unpredictable uncertainty about mob psychology, and therefore a dependent success cannot be called a success. If I have become great due to your goodness, that would not be real greatness, because your goodness can be withdrawn. If the greatness is at the mercy of another’s opinion or power, it falls.
People cannot help us, because people are like us. Everyone is made of the same character, a chip off the same block, as they say, and so the help that we receive from people of our own type will be as fallible and unreliable as the passing clouds in the sky. The realities of life started to stare glaringly at the faces of the Pandavas, and they began to realise that there is a gap between the hopes of the mind and the joys that it had experienced earlier. It is not always the playful innocent joy of a child that will pursue us throughout our life. The pains of life are hidden like knives under the armpits of thieves, and they are unleashed at the opportune moment. Every dog has his day, as they say; everything has its own time.
Individual strength is no strength; our efforts cannot be regarded as ultimately adequate to the task. We have observed that the world is too vast for us. It is mighty enough—it is all-mighty, we may say. Who can touch the stars, the sun and the moon with the fingers of one’s hand? The strength is inexorable; the law is very precise and unrelenting upon people, like the law of gravitation which has no pity for any person. Such being the world, such being the universe, such being the law of things, our endeavours, our efforts on the path of the spirit have to become reoriented according to the needs of the case. There is suffering on account of not knowing what to do. We are helpless—we have been thrown out of the chair and no one is going to look at our face. This is not a circumstance which can escape the experience of any individual. One day or the other we will be in the pit, and everyone has fallen into the pit and then got out. This was the case with mighty heroes of the past, what to say of the credulous masses who are walking the stereotyped path of the blind leading the blind.
But suffering is also a kind of catharsis that is administered to the soul to purge its sins. It is not a curse that has descended upon us. Suffering is not a curse. It is a cleansing process, like a fever that comes to clean the system and throw out the toxic matter from the body. We suffer due to certain automatic reactions that are set up by certain actions. Actions are performed by people without the knowledge of the nature of the consequences that these actions would produce, because the consequences are conditioned by factors beyond one’s thought. We have some idea as to what we are capable of doing, but we cannot have a complete idea of what we fall on, because the effects are determined by various factors other than merely the idea about it in the mind of the doer of the action.
So, unforeseen consequences retaliate upon the individual; they are called sorrows. They are called sorrows because they are not in conformity with the likes or the desires of the individual at that given moment of time. If we are thrown into the Ganga and feel chilled inside, that would be a sorrow indeed; but if a fish is thrown into the Ganga, that would not be a sorrow for it. So it is the condition of the individual that determines a particular experience to be either pleasant or otherwise. Ultimately there is no such a thing as absolute pleasure or absolute pain—they do not exist. They are always relative to the nature of the individual experiencing them. However, such consequences, when they rebound upon the individual, become sources of pain on account of one’s not being prepared for them. Such are the sorrows of the spiritual seeker also, because of his immature efforts in the direction of God-realisation, not knowing his true relationship to God, because there is a powerful world between us and God. This should not be forgotten. There is something between the seeker and that which we seek, and if we completely ignore the presence of that which is between, it would be a mistake. The God which we seek cannot be directly seen except through the spectacles of the world.
In the Ramayana, Tulsidas gives a beautiful description of Rama, Sita and Lakshmana walking, with Sita in the middle, and gives the image by saying that Sita was there as maya between brahma and jiva. Likewise, there is this world before us, which we are likely to unintelligently ignore in our enthusiastic aspiration for God. The world is the face of God; it is the fingers of the hands of God Himself moving, and the so-called appearance of the world is rooted in the reality of the Absolute. There is a very unfortunate aftermath of this interesting analysis, namely, we ourselves are a part of this appearance, and to put on the unwarranted status of the reality in ourselves, while we are looked at as appearance, would be to disregard the law that operates in the realm in which we are placed. Appearance is, after all, an appearance of reality—it is not an appearance of nothing. If it had been nothing, the appearance itself would not be there. Inasmuch as the appearance is of reality, it borrows the sense of reality. The snake is in the rope, yes, but we must know that the rope is not absent. Though the way in which the rope is seen may be an erroneous perception, the fact of the rope being there cannot be ignored—that is the reason why the snake is seen at all. If the rope is not there, even the snake would not be there. It is the reality of the Absolute, the presence of God that is responsible for the appearance of the world.