The Struggle for Perfection
by Swami Krishnananda

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Chapter 1: The Structure of Existence

The path of Yoga is a journey towards the attainment of perfection. Students eager to tread this inner way of life are often found to be over-enthusiastic and incapable of judging the pros and cons of the steps they have to take in the proper direction. An uprise of emotional fervour suddenly takes it for granted that the realisation of God is the goal of life and that the one thing that they have to be after is to be wholly engaged in continuous meditation on God, or taking His Name, reciting His glories, etc., throughout the day. While this is precisely the ideal way of living the spiritual life and this is exactly what one is supposed to endeavour to achieve in one's day-to-day life, it will be realised, on a correct assessment of values, that the notion is misty and miscalculated, and it is not so easy as it might appear on the surface. As is the case with military operations; so with the practice of Yoga. A famous saying of the Mahabharata, that the Sannyasin engaged in Yoga and the warrior fighting in the field are the two heroes fit for the attainment of salvation, should confirm that the practice of Yoga is as many-sided and complicated a procedure as are the operations of the army in the war-field. Just as a soldier enters the field with an idea to win victory and not merely with an intention to die there, the Yogi takes to his practice with a will to succeed in the achievement and not with a diffident mood of the possibility of retrogression or failure.

The General of an army, who is acquainted with the facts of warfare, does not at once make a frontal attack on the enemy, though this is his intention in the end. The preparations for this final confrontation are many. The General has to know the extent of the military equipment and the moral courage of his own men. He has also to make enough provisions for emergency that may arise when the battle actually breaks out. He has to assess the strength of the enemy in a similar manner. He has to know the nature of allies on his side as well as on the enemy's side. Above all, he has to be fully up to date with the tactics that the enemy might employ as well as those that he intends to unleash, apart from being awake to the physical, strategic and armamental powers. The way of Yoga is hazardous and full of dangers. It would be sheer folly on the part of an amateur in Yoga to imagine that he would catch God by dint of mere will to meditate, with which he might be fired for the time being. For, the fire can cool down when the opposition forces rain down arrows of temptation as well as threat of many kinds. It is better to take more time to guard oneself with precautionary measures than go headlong into the thick of the array, unprepared.

The goal which one wishes to realise is not far removed from oneself. This marvel of being is everywhere and in everything, and hence the difficulty in coming to a direct experience of it. That which is everywhere seems to be almost like that which is nowhere. Errors in the operation of consciousness are mostly the gravest errors of mankind. One's own mistakes are seen in the faces of others. One detests and criticises in others the weaknesses and evils which are enshrined in one's own self. This is the psychological malady from which no one can easily escape. A thief always suspects others and cannot trust them fully, because of his simmering conscience which keeps him restless at all times. The student of Yoga is not in a better plight, for human foibles cannot leave him. The mistakes of the politicians, the warriors, the rulers, the heads of states and the institutions are also the mistakes of individuals, whether they be scholars, teachers, traders or even seekers of Truth. The universal law working everywhere, uniformly, does not spare anyone from the enforcement of its principles. The mistake of consciousness is taken for the mistake of the world. Here is the seed of world-problems.

If God is one, the Absolute is the only reality, the seeker of such an experience should naturally be included within its being. Then, where does the question of seeking arise? The very idea of seeking or endeavouring to achieve is the outcome of a split in consciousness itself. The necessity to find a medicine appears to have arisen on account of the disease being already there. Else, there would be no need for the remedy. This division of consciousness within itself is not detectable, for consciousness is already involved in it. If it were not so involved, anyone would have easily known where the problem lies. The whole of humanity seems to be no better today than it was centuries before, because its errors cannot be detected: the errors are, unfortunately for it, in its consciousness itself. It looks, for a moment, that there is no solution for this surprising situation. But the solution, too, comes as another surprise, perhaps a greater one than the problem itself. The wondrous solution to this universal problem of man is the great philosophy of life. No one can be a successful student of Yoga, who is not properly instructed in this philosophy.

As consciousness is spread out everywhere, it being universal, the problem also presents itself from every corner of the world, every walk of life, and every field of activity. However, in tackling this problem, a systematic procedure has to be adopted, with great caution and logical consistency. The usual method is to start from the external towards the internal, and then rise from the internal, gradually, to the universal. The reason for this procedure is that consciousness which is essentially universal seems to have got localised into individual centres of internality of concepts and then slowly moved outward into percepts of objective situations in a world of physical entities. The process of return to the original condition of reality has to be a systematic reversal, stage by stage, of the process of the descent of consciousness into its lowest forms. On a dispassionate analysis, psychologically and scientifically, we would realise that we have no troubles from persons or things but from certain states of consciousness involved in relationships with persons and things. Hence, an analysis of the world-situation and of world-problems would ultimately be an analysis of the universal involvement of consciousness in long series of objectivity.

The lowest form of this involvement may be said to be what is known as the political consciousness, by which we mean a network of mechanised relationships contrived to bring about a harmony among individuals. In every stage of development, the effort is to rise from a state of opposition to that of harmony. Thus, we have, in its crudest form, the human endeavour to rise from political opposition to political harmony. Even wars which are embarked upon have at their background the intention to bring about political harmony and stability. But this is only an extreme step which is taken when the more normal methods fail – methods such as promises of mutual understanding and cooperation based on humanitarian grounds. The political consciousness does not rise above the humanitarian level, for its standpoint is of the visible immediacy of the needs of human beings as individuals, or groups of individuals. But the visible is not always the real. The real man is behind what is seen with the eyes. Hence, political relationships of the nations promising a possibility of international harmony do not always end in the satisfaction of human minds, which remain still in a state of insecurity and anxiety, because political harmony can be broken up any moment, as pieces of glass glued together can never be said to form a real whole. The split forms of political consciousness have not been really united: they have only been temporarily welded together with the strength of the cement used to make them stick together. The unnaturalness of this unity is obvious.

Consciousness struggles to rise again from this state of affairs and we see people tired of political life taking to social work or social service as a way of being nearer to the truth of human nature than political activity. This stride of consciousness is now observed to be tending towards an inwardisation by one stage. But, here, too, dissatisfaction does not end. As political heads, though they may be in the height of their power, can have a sudden fall overnight, making them get disillusioned of all politically manoeuvred efforts, social workers, also, do not remain happy people. They realise one day, at their cost, that the society can never be satisfied, and it is like a dog's tail which cannot be straightened always. The defects seen in the field of politics are visible here, once again, as old wine in a new bottle. People cannot be made happy by any amount of service rendered to them, and one who has dedicated himself to social service stands dazed at the futility of his efforts, in the end. The reason is that peoples' happiness does not so much depend on what they get from outside as what they realise personally in their own minds and feelings. The impact of external events and objects upon the mind has much to do with the state of the mind at the given moment. Hearts which are aggrieved with psychological rifts cannot be happy even if heaven itself is to descend upon the earth. On the other hand, pleasures of people, within their own concerned circles, totally ignore even a state of chaos outside, if only it is not to interfere with these satisfactions with which they identify their whole life. The good that is done is not always remembered, while a small error committed is never forgotten. Man, being what he is, has proved himself more untrustworthy at times than those who follow the law of the jungle. It is only in one's maturity of age that one comes face to face with the startling discovery of the irrefutable position that no one can ultimately be satisfied, or even made friends with, for an indefinite period.

When this wisdom dawns, man betakes himself to the purely subjective arts and sciences as the only things worth striving after in life. People confine themselves to their academic circles or laboratories for the sheer satisfaction of knowledge for knowledge's sake. Study and research in the several branches of learning engage all their attention. We have, thus, had prodigies of knowledge, both in the arts and sciences, as well as masters in the technique of public oration. These, indeed, become highly revered personalities, and the infinitude that extends beyond what they know seems to be a source of their personal happiness. Study and teaching are innocuous pleasures. Yet, with all this, these geniuses of learning see a limitless expanse of the unknown yawning before them, and rarely does one die with a feeling of conviction that one has known what is really worth the while, as the secret of life.

On the path of the spirit which the seeker of Truth treads, the maladies which characterise these strata of human life are not really absent. One may enter the field of spiritual life, wanting to make an honest enquiry into the nature of reality, but the human side that expresses itself through public relationships and private hopes as in politics, sociology and the academies, seeps into the interior of one's efforts, even without one's knowing what is happening. It is this general pervasive character of human nature that makes even those who thought they heard the call of God succumb to the involvements and attractions of public life and assume roles of leadership in political and social circles, or immerse themselves in ponderous tomes, and make scholarship a career in their lives. These are lurking foes on the path of the sincere seeker, which appear in the front due to his not having been vigilant enough to detect the entanglement of consciousness in the artificial satisfactions of the phenomenal world. It is only with the hard effort of thinking and experience through the passage of living that one stumbles upon the central pivot of all problems, viz., the psychological structure of man.

It is these seasoned souls who get tired of the mere outward pursuit of perfection that turn to seek it in inward austerity known as Tapas or restraint of the total personality from its external ramifications through the society and the ego-principle. In this effort at self-restraint, the powers within get revealed. But the powers which initially come out into the surface are the urges of the lower individual nature, such as the passion for sex, the greed for wealth, the craving for name, fame and authority, and a hidden susceptibility to the sensory lure of the fine arts. While the treasure may be hidden deep inside the earth, what one sees coming out on digging the surface is stone that hurts and dust that blinds the eye. Consciousness gets identified again with this situation and there is the fear of a fall, once more, into undesirable circles. When the mind is pressurised by efforts at restraint of self, it releases energies which tend towards the object of sense. Often, it is seen that the chances of retrogression into the older moods and instincts are greater in those who try to control the mind than those who give a long rope to it. A satisfied enemy is less likely to offer an attack than the dissatisfied one. The love for God can easily flow along channels of name, fame, power and material gain. The majority of even sincere souls goes this way, on account of indiscretion and overestimation of one's capacity to understand oneself in a dispassionate manner. The effort either ends in physical mortification continuing till one's bodily death, mistaken for a genuine practice of Yoga, or in a side-tracking of one's interests along the lines of sensory and egoistic gratification. One can see the world abounding in many such instances of those who 'know not, and know not they know not'.

But there are more fortunate ones who 'know not, and know they know not'. These are people who have a hope of being saved through instruction and by example. These rigorous souls on the path of Yoga rise up to the occasion and quickly realise where exactly the trouble lies. They come to grasp the secret that these instincts which press themselves forward through the senses and the ego cannot easily be overcome by mere pressure exerted on them, even as a disease cannot be cured by the use of suppressive drugs. The instincts are only the outer symptom of an inner error of consciousness, which has all along been there without being diagnosed as the root-disease. Fasts and vigils, fierce penances of the body and starving of the senses and the mind are not remedies for the upsurge of instincts of the lower nature. These practices merely suppress them and make them more violent in their efforts to come out with a vengeance. True Yoga begins when this essential of human psychology is known and turned towards a higher self-analysis and contemplation of a purely spiritual character.

The pressure that objects exert on the consciousness which observes them is weighty enough to cause an organic involvement of the latter in the set-up of the former. There is a mutual determination of form and character between consciousness and its objects. This is almost like two contending parties influencing each other in such a way that neither of them can think or work independent of the other. In some such sense as this we call the world a relative phenomenon. Due to this factor of consciousness and object operating as the warp and woof of every kind of experience, the individual remains for ever a fluctuating centre of perplexity and indecision in regard to the ultimate truth of life. Until the consciousness-aspect and the object-aspect in experience are separated from each other and judged correctly, from their own standpoints, there would not be freedom or independence, deathlessness or eternal life. The purpose of Yoga is to achieve this difficult analysis and experience and come to a definite conclusion, valid for all times. The revolutionary character of the instinctive urges in human nature is due to the influence of objects on consciousness and the interest which consciousness has in objects, a situation which has arisen on account of the mutually dependent character of these two factors in experience. Here is, indeed, a hard nut to crack, and Yoga becomes really difficult when one comes to this stage of the effort.

A life of spiritual freedom and happiness is now realised to be beyond the scope of the ordinary man. The training which one is called upon to undergo to traverse this stage of understanding needs such dispassion of self-observation that the education with which the modern man is acquainted will be found to be of not much value when he begins to attack the problem of the crux of human experience. Our ideas of other people and of the world outside would require a radical transformation before we embark upon this supreme endeavour to probe the mystery of life. Here, our learning will be of no help to us, for much of our learning has concern with persons and things, but this task that is now on our hand has nothing whatsoever to do with persons and things. The standpoint of the universal judge of all phenomena cannot easily be contained within the mind of the human individual. Here, at this stage, the seeker usually falls back upon his routine practices of observances and austerities, taking them for Yoga, not knowing that he is yet too unprepared for the secret which eludes his grasp every time he tries to grapple with it. 'Not by logic and argumentation is this wisdom to be attained', says the Kathopanishad. Human understanding is inapplicable in the realm of the universal.

But, when the piercing intelligence succeeds in battling with this borderland of the universal hidden in individual experience, certain other difficulties begin to show their heads. The mutual interaction of consciousness and matter produces such vehement reactions as the feelings of heat and cold, hunger and thirst, sleep and the fear of death. These natural pressures, which often assume atrocious forms of intensity, prevent further effort for progress onward. Even heroes of saintliness cannot wholly combat these demands from the bodily nature. The questions, 'to do or not to do', 'to be or not to be', are raised by these physico-vital urges in the individual, and dreads of an unknown nature surround the seeking Yogi, some of which we are given to understand from the records of experience of such masters as Gautama, the Buddha, of Jesus, the Christ. These are the stages through which every one has to pass, and there appears to be no exception to this rule. Here, again, comes up another problem. One's growth towards perfection remains always undiscovered and unpalpable. The growth is from within, as with a fruit, and it is not easily seen. Even a minute before we actually wake up from sleep, we cannot know that we are anywhere near wakefulness. The awakening, when it comes, is always sudden, and it takes us by surprise. It rarely comes with previous notice. The psycho-physical urges which stand on the way of the attainment are impetuous enough to threaten the greatest among the seekers on the path. It becomes a question of life and death. One will not know whether it is life or death that is ahead. It is a fierce battle between the known and the unknown, on the border between the finite and the infinite.

This experience gets further accentuated by additional factors which weigh heavily on one's experience in the form of the principles of space, time and gravitation, which have a say in everything, in all creation. Space, time and cause are the final judges of all experience. Nothing can be thought except in terms of these determining principles. Even our concept of perfection or of the Absolute is not free from their interference. In fact, the organic involvement of consciousness and its objects is due to the operation of space-time in experience. The push of consciousness towards objects and the push of objects towards consciousness in a kind of mutual agreement between them is on account of the fact that space and time, working together, act equally upon consciousness on one side and on objects on the other. Though, logically, space and time are objects of consciousness and cannot be said to be inherent in it in a sense of organic inseparableness, there is a sort of inseparable unity of the two as between a crystal and the colour that is reflected in its whole body. The entire situation seems to be a huge muddle and mess of an organic tie of relationship between consciousness and the principle of externality, which is the space-time-cause continuum. This stage of realisation is, however, different from the usual experience of man that space and time are outside as objects of observation, which is a far earlier condition, now stepped over in an environment of the universal recognised as the single content in the various vehicles of individuality spread out through the cosmos.

The understanding working through the media of space and time is the mathematical intellect and the logical reason. Mathematics and logic seem to be exact sciences incapable of reversal of rule in any period of time, due to a permanent fixation of the space-time laws in one's consciousness. The physical sciences which work on the basis of the law of causality are again offshoots of the laws of the space-time continuum. Our consciousness cannot go beyond phenomena. The concepts of the beyond, such as of an Absolute God, a unified world and an immortal soul, are also tarnished by their involvement in the network of space-time-cause relations. The science of physics has attempted to dive into the secrets of Nature and grasp the mystery of the space-time world. But this effort has not led science to lasting success. From matter in the form of the five gross elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether, scientific enquiry moved along the discovery of electromagnetic fields behind the molecular and atomic structures of matter, and landed itself in the doctrines of quantum particles and wave mechanics, ending finally in the theory of relativity of the universe. This is wonderful knowledge, indeed, which science has acquired at the present day, useful for constructive as well as destructive purposes, taking man's breath away, beyond the limitations of crass materialistic thinking, to the realms of a cosmic relativity of all phenomena. But, nevertheless, this relativistic discovery, though it appeared to plant human knowledge in a state of absoluteness, never really did so, for the wisdom of physical science is not outside the ultimate reaches of the space-time, cause continuum. At this stage, modern physics and profound metaphysics coalesce and come to almost common conclusions in regard to the mystery of creation. And, yet, there is a beyond.

It is difficult for the logical understanding to explain what is really behind this acme which has, up to now, been reached. It looks that man is not given to know it or have an access into it. One does not know what is on the other side of this screen that hangs heavily before one's consciousness at this level of experience. Great philosophers, saints and sages have warned us not to be too inquisitive about it. The Buddha declined to say anything on the question. The Bhagavadgita sings of its epic grandeur, and the Upanishads revel in ecstasies over its majesty and glory. Mystics have cried out that it is a ravishing experience which bursts one's soul with everlasting joy. But, apart from these awe-inspiring intimations, making one's hair stand on end, humanity knows next to nothing about it. In moments of unselfish contemplation, dispassionate spirits do get a glimpse of what this marvel is. The Upanishads and the Bhagavadgita, particularly, give us some suggestions and techniques of adjusting our thoughts and feelings in such a way that we can set ourselves en rapport with Universal Existence, which is the Truth of all truths, and the goal towards which all beings tend in their wholeness and togetherness, in every stage of their evolution.

It is this knowledge which becomes our guide in the directing of conduct in daily life. It is the ethics of determining and judging the particular in terms of the universal, in the different stages of its manifestation. The higher we go, the greater is the expanse of the universal, and the lesser the cramping influence of the gross particulars or individualities in the world of sense-experience. From the above analysis it will be observed that the base and structure of political administration through the circles of family, community, nationality and the international system of law is a proof of there being a need for higher and higher integrations of environment into a unity of selfhood which is falsely attempted through legal disciplines and outward rules of behaviour in the medium of the space-time manifold. Politics cannot achieve what it simply points to as a signpost in the space-time mechanism which acts as a screen through which we faintly locate what is behind. The march of history shows that life is restless and tends to a more synthesised purpose of rest by means of more integrated organisations of life. The study of history without an insight into the why of its processes through the ages would be like dissecting a corpse to know the working of the human organism, or, worse still, an effort to catch the moon visible in the ripples of a river. Sociology, civics, economics and aesthetics are indications of the impossibility to rest merely in one's individuality, personality, body, senses and the legalistic intellect. These limitations are pointed out by the need for organisation, sympathetic behaviour, dependence on material goods, harmony of perception in art and wholeness of sublime thinking in literature, all which are like ambassadors who represent, but are themselves not, the power for which they stand. The urges for food, accumulation of wealth, sexual gratification, exercising power over others and proclaiming one's name by popularisation are pressures felt within to immortalise one's being, to universalise it, to be supreme above all externality of being and to behold oneself in the objects and unite oneself with them in spatio-temporal self-perpetuation, all which again are futile attempts to implant the infinite in the reflected medium of the finite realm of entities isolated by the laws of space, time and cause. The longing for knowledge is an expression of the basic infinitude of consciousness and an indication of its restlessness until this realisation is reached in being, and not mere learning. The freshness and energy gained from sleep indicates that here one enters, though unconsciously, a wholeness of reality, characterised by absence of space, time and externality. Sleep is, thus, an indicator through structural similarity of an experience which totally differs from it in kind. The fear of death proves the immortality of one's essential nature. One cannot cease to exist in one's core; hence, there is dread of the very idea of cessation of being. As the notion of the finite proves the possibility of the infinite, the notion of change a changeless substratum, and the notion of difference the fact of oneness, the abhorrence of the phenomenon of dying is demonstration enough of the potential eternity of the soul. Perception through the senses and cognition through the mind of objects apparently located in space and time show by the fact of the 'compresence' of awareneness in perception and cognition that the objects are in tune with the subject in their essence. The stages of the development of modern physics show that the universe, inclusive of the body of the subject observing, is a uniform energy-continuum, a space-time continuum of relativity of 'prehension' and 'apprehension' in differing orders of interpenetrating systems and experience, that there is an all-round 'ingression' of mutually determining situations of cosmic significance, which are mistaken for persons and things, and that the knower of all these phenomena has to be a single consciousness, universal in its nature, which knows itself alone, and knows no other, there being nothing outside it. The outcome of all efforts at the acquisition of knowledge by way of the educational process in the fields of art, science, technology and the like is an attempt of consciousness to reach out to a qualitative expansion in larger dimensions characterised by more and more inwardness and totality of comprehension. The ethical principle or the moral rule demonstrates the need to recognise a 'kingdom of ends', and urges that things and persons are to be regarded as a sort of selfhood rather than objects, a possibility of achievement when the barrier of the space-time distinction of subjects and objects is lifted. This cannot be done through the codes of ethics and morality, for the rule is only a hint at the existence of a more expanded selfhood as the true being of everything, and is not itself a solution to the problem. The formal religion of the populace is an indication of the necessity to look for, adore and love the whole, rather than a part of the universe. This tendency is manifest in the desire of the mind to give itself up completely in concentration of a thing, an object, a fetish, a portrait, a symbol, a diagram, an image, or a concept conjured up within itself in greater and greater degrees of comprehensiveness. The entire being of man asks for the entirety of existence in all forms of religious enthusiasm, prayer, worship and meditation. But this type of formality in religion does not mean contact with reality, which plays hide and seek through the forms.

The duty of man is what he is obliged to perform in recompense for the services he receives from the world. He depends on other human beings for his food, clothing, shelter and education. He depends on the five elements for water, heat, light, air, and his very existence. He depends on the presiding subtler forces behind Nature for the integration of his personality and society, forces which regulate even the orbital motion of the planets and the stellar systems.

The lesser the help we take from outside, the lesser is also our obligation and responsibility in the form of duty, and the greater is our freedom, which is attained gradually by stages of overstepping the lower and the grosser in terms of the higher and the subtler, so that when we need nothing at all from outside, we attain supreme liberation.

First, there is a gradual independence gained over our needs from other people. Then comes the independence over the forces of Nature, the limitations of one's individuality. When this is achieved, absolute independence is attained, which is called God-realisation, Reality-Experience, etc., wherein one has nothing to gain or lose, nothing to know or learn, nothing to wish or desire for, and nothing to do as a matter of duty or obligation.

From the political state of consciousness to the Absolute, it is a rise from one totality of being to another, from one wholeness to another with greater fullness. This totality or wholeness is the essential characteristic of selfhood, so that it is a rise from self to self, in higher and higher connotations, and there is nowhere, at any stage of evolution, a love evinced for anything other than some stage of selfhood. A pure object is a sheer externality, which can never become the goal of anyone's liking. This rise, however, is from more mechanised types of self to more organised forms of it, until both these categories are transcended in the Absolute Self. The mechanised and organic types are subject to disintegration and annihilation when their components get separated through change in the evolutionary process. The Absolute, alone, is. Everything else is a movement towards it.

At every stage of the advancement of this 'totality' or 'wholeness' of being towards the Absolute, contact with elements which pull the consciousness towards externality as the respective object-forms of any given stage is to be diligently avoided – the forms of consciousness-entanglement detailed in the above analysis. Students on the path of Yoga have therefore to be extremely vigilant in assessing the correct state of consciousness in which they are at any moment in their life and dexterously endeavour to overstep the limits of consciousness by a healthy growth into the next higher stage of reality, through meditation along the lines indicated in these paragraphs.