The Process of Spiritual Practice
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 2: Choosing the Spiritual Ideal

All effort is obviously in a direction of the pursuit of an ideal, and so it is in the case of spiritual efforts. What is the ideal that one is after when engaging in spiritual sadhana? What we consider as an ideal before us is something which fulfils all our requirements, all our needs, and fills us with a complete satisfaction; only then can it be regarded as an ideal.

It is well known to every one of us that our efforts are towards a satisfaction which has to be complete if it would be practicable – or, if not complete, it should at least approximate as much as possible to that completeness which is the object of our quest. It is certain that none of us are pursuing a little bit of something in a haphazard manner. We do not just pick up little grains here and there, as particles of our joy; and even when it appears that we gather only particles, our intention behind this effort is to make it a large quantum of immensity, to the extent of completeness. It should become a granary of satisfaction. Every ideal that we have in our mind is that which is supposed to promise the satisfaction that we are asking for.

It is also well known to every one of us that things in the world do not easily satisfy us because the objects, the things or commodities of the world, have their own limitations, as everything excludes something other than itself. The world is made in such a way that its parts or constituents cannot exclude each other with impunity. The world is a complete whole by itself. Even this very Earth on which we are seated is a completeness. The Earth, this world, is not a fragment or a patchwork of little things mechanically dovetailed and made to appear as if it is complete. The Earth is an organic completeness, and so is the world.

Therefore, when we choose an ideal, especially as seekers of Truth, searchers for God, we should be sure in our own minds that the ideal we have chosen is satisfying. The satisfaction expected can be available only in that which is complete in itself. A fraction cannot bestow upon us a total satisfaction. If we want something in this world, that something should not be a fraction of the world, because there are other things which are excluded by this fraction and they will impinge upon the very survival and existence of this little fraction to which we are clinging, and make it miserable in its very being. A fraction cannot promise a complete satisfaction.

Are there things in this world which are not parts, and can promise a wholeness of satisfaction? Here, in consideration of matters like this, when we delve into a subject of this kind, we have to be very concentrated in our minds. These things are not easy to understand in a casual manner. Are there complete things in this world? Is there anything in this world which is regarded as complete in itself, so that when we have it, we do not want anything else? We have seen in our experience, and by the study of human history, that there was nobody in this world who could catch something and say it is everything.

We have also noticed in our own practical, personal life – during the period of our tenure from birth up to this time – that while we have been pursuing ideals and ideas of different types, we were not fully satisfied with any of them. Suffice it to say that nothing in this world seems to be satisfying fully – though, to our blind eyes, it appears that things can at least satisfy us partially. But whether they can satisfy us even partially is again a matter of doubt. There also, we may be under an illusion.

Let us take for granted that partial satisfactions are possible in terms of possessing partially available finite things in this world. But spiritual pursuit is not a pursuit of partial fragments or finite entities. In a verse of the Bhagavadgita we are told: yat tu kṛtsnavad ekasmin kārye saktam ahetukam, atattvārthavad alpaṁ ca tat tāmasam udāhṛtam (Gita 18.22). The worst kind of knowledge is that which is tamasic in its nature; we cling to one thing under the impression that it is everything, like a mother clings to her child or a businessman clings to his money as if it is heaven itself. There are heavens of different kinds in this world which we hug under the impression that this particular thing is all things. One thing is everything for us, though such a feeling is a self-contradiction.

To go a little further in the analysis of the categories of knowledge under the scheme of the Eighteenth Chapter of the Bhagavadgita which I have mentioned just now, the Lord says that the knowledge or idea by which we cling to one thing only, under the impression that it is everything, is the worst. Better than that is when we run after something with the knowledge that it is not all things, but it appears to be satisfying and has the impression of being everything on account of its interconnectedness with all things.

If we approach a Member of Parliament, we have a dual feeling regarding that person. As an individual he is only a fraction, one among the hundreds of constituents of the body of that Parliament and, from that point of view, we are approaching only a fraction when we speak to him; but at the same time, we have an undercurrent of feeling that he is related to the whole body of Parliament, so there is a totality behind him operating as a force that can act through the individuality of that single person, notwithstanding the fact that he is an individual, isolated from other Members.

This is the weakness as well as the strength of social organisations, including political organisations. The weakness is that each member is different from every other member. I cannot be you, and you cannot be me – I am what I am, and you are what you are – yet we can form a body called a social organisation. It may be a society, a trust, a business partnership, or it may be a state organisation, a parliament, a kingdom. It may be anything. Here, individually, each part looks like a fragment, no doubt, but it has the backing of a force which is called the organisational idea. This is a better kind of knowledge. This is rajasic, says the Lord. For instance, if we approach a District Collector, we are approaching one person, and in that light it is a finite thing because he also is a human being like us; yet, there is a universality behind him, a largeness behind the appearance of his personality as a Collector, which is the governmental organisation. He represents not merely himself, but a total force called the government. We can touch the whole body of government through the medium of his personality. This knowledge, while it concentrates itself on one thing for a practical purpose, bears in mind at the same time that it is a part of a total world; therefore, it is a better kind of knowledge.

But the best kind of knowledge, the highest, is sattvic, where we do not cling to any one thing as an isolated, segregated part of a larger quantity of particulars, nor do we have to strain our mind to concentrate on the undercurrent of a force of interconnectedness being there behind an individual while we approach the individual. We can be directly in union with the indivisible wholeness, akhanda tattva. Undivided Reality can be the concern of our whole being.

Now I am slowly moving forward from what I told you yesterday. The wholeness of our being was a subject on which we bestowed some thought earlier. I just mentioned that according to Bhagavan Sri Krishna’s analysis of the categories of knowledge, the highest is God-vision, sattvic knowledge, which will present before us an indivisible, undivided completeness – not a completeness of the organisational type where the wholeness is only an appearance of the coming together of many parts, but a real indivisibility. What we consider as God is such an indivisibility. God is not made of little parts, God is not a social organisation, and God is not the head of a family or society. He is Existence, pure and simple.

This being the object finally in all spiritual endeavours, you have to properly define your ideal before you choose it for the purpose of worship and meditation. Religion takes the form of the worship of an ideal. In every religion, there is a prayer, a worship, a dedication, a search and a seeking – a deep bond. The speciality of religious aspiration, as distinguished from longings of other types in the world, is that the religious seeker is conscious right from the very beginning that the ideal pursued is to bring a complete satisfaction to the soul that seeks. The businessman does not think of his soul; he thinks of an aperture or a medium of perception which is narrow in its connotation and capacity. Our workaday world is concerned only with the survival of the physical personality, the family makeup, and every other relationship of a social nature. Who thinks of the soul? Has anyone the time to think that there is a soul within? When do we know that we are the soul? We are a Mr. or Mrs., we are this person or that person. All our definitions of ourselves are relative. If we ask ourselves who we are, or somebody asks us who we are, we will define ourselves as something connected to something else. We are the connection to our job, profession, business, wealth, property, family. There are umpteen things in terms of which we can say we are such and such a person. Are we nothing by ourselves, apart from what we appear to be in relation to everybody else? Before God, do not speak like this: “I am the son of so-and-so.” Are you anything else, other than being the son of so-and-so?

Neither the definition of God nor the definition of our own self can be relatively construed. God is also something other than the Creator of this universe, srishti karta, because God existed even before creation took place, so calling God the Creator is not a complete definition of God. What was He before He created? Even calling Him all-pervading, all-knowing, all-powerful is a relatively construed definition. Space, time and causation are brought before our mind’s eye when we define God in this manner. If there is no space, akasha tattva, the definition that He is all pervading will be inadequate. If there are not many things which are the created objects of God Himself, the definition that God is all-knowing will also be inadequate. If there is nothing over which He has to exercise authority or power because creation has not yet taken place, the definition that He is all-powerful will also not be adequate.

So, what else is He? Only our soul can say what He is. As we cannot say what the soul is, so also we cannot know what God is. As we define our soul in terms of the body, we are defining God in terms of creation. Neither creation nor the body can be regarded as the proper media of expression in terms of a definition of oneself, or God Himself. There is a wholeness of our personality which is seeking after a wholeness which is called God. We have to remember always that we want everything in a wholesome manner. The mind has to work in a wholesome fashion; if it cannot, then it is lacking in a complete picture of sanity or logicality. When the body is whole, we call it health, when the mind is whole, we call it sanity and logicality, and when the soul is whole, we call it perfection of being. Wherever this wholeness is absent, disease creeps in. We are irked by the feeling of something not being all right. If the mind is not operating in a wholesome fashion, it will not permit the body to work in wholesome manner. We will not have even a good appetite to eat our daily meal, due to a fragmentary operation of the mind.

Most of our difficulties, even physiologically, are psychologically constituted. We are mentally not happy people. How could the body be happy? How could it eat its meal when the ruler of this body, which is the mind, is distressed for a reason which it cannot understand? Little bits of operation in the mind seem to be our daily occupation. From early morning onwards till evening, small bits of mental activity take place, and we know what the little bits of thoughts are that occur to our mind. We have a business of life, which is made of various pursuits. We put them together into the basket of our outlook of life, and they remain there in that basket in a disorderly heap, one over the other. They are there, but they are not vitally connected, one with the other. If the vitality, the wholeness, the organicity of mental makeup is absent, we cannot be happy in this world even for one minute. There is an agitation inside, a disturbance; something is rumbling inside and telling us that something is not okay with us, which is another way of saying that something is not all right with our mind itself. Put a question to yourself: Is something not all right with me? What is not all right is the incapacity to think in a wholesome fashion.

The ideal before us, as spiritual seekers, is that in which we can visualise a wholeness. Even the Guru is a whole before you. Most of us cannot imagine who a Guru is. That he is one person seated in front of you is perhaps your notion of a Guru, but the person seated in front of you is not the Guru. The person who envelopes you from all sides and rises above you is the Guru. The physical body of the Guru cannot so envelope you. But the Guru is not the physical personality which you see with your eyes. It is a force. I have mentioned the example of a District Collector. Physically he is seated in front of you, but really he envelopes you as a power pervading the whole district over which he has control – in which case he pervades you also, though you look like a person seated in front of him. Not only does he pervade you, he transcends you. He is above every individual in the jurisdiction of his operation. This is a practical example before you to understand how the so-called appearance of a person seated in front of you may also be something more than that person, larger than the dimension of the physical body of that individual –transcending, not merely enveloping.

Guru, God, or the ideal that we choose has two characteristics. Firstly, it is immanent as an enveloping principle; it is also transcendent as something above what we are. This principle of the concept of our chosen ideal – Guru or God, or whatever it is – being something which is an enveloping, pervading power and a transcendent element at the same time will easily escape our notice. Therefore, in one important sense, we may say a Guru cannot die. As God cannot die, our ideal also cannot die, because what we pursue as an ideal of our spiritual aspiration is not a physical object. The Guru also is not a physical, physiological, anatomical personality. God also is not something that can vanish someday. If God is an ultimate consciousness, which is undividedly existing everywhere, Guru is also an undivided consciousness. Do not say, “My Guru is gone; now I am in search of another Guru.” Then you can search for another God also, when one God is gone. And when you die, you can become another person altogether. Neither do you become another person after the death of the physical body, nor does the Guru cease to be after he vanishes physically, nor is it true that God can become something else at different times. There is an undivided continuity of process – which this world is, which this creation is, which you yourself are, which your Guru is, which God is, which your ideal is. In your daily worship, even of the ritualistic type that we have taken as an instance before us, we have a system of bringing about an atmosphere of wholeness in the act of worship.

During these days of our consideration of the implications of spiritual sadhana, we will go gradually, stage by stage, from the first to the second, and from the second to the third, as the final meaning of spiritual sadhana. The initial effort of a spiritual seeker, a religious aspirant, may take the form of ritualistic worship in a temple or church, or before an altar at home, where you place an ideal of an idol – a portrait, a diagram or some symbol which you worship. But how do you worship? Here again you have to bring into focus the element of a wholeness, which is necessary in the worship so it may become vitally charged. Prana pratishta, as it is usually called, is done. You infuse prana into that ideal – the idol, or whatever you have kept in front of you as an object of your worship. Even this little ritualistic idol before you is not a piece of metal, it is not a framed picture or a diagram; it is vitality.

How does it become vital? What is the meaning of prana pratishta? The interjection of vitality, or prana, or soul into the body of that idol is prana pratistha. If you enter into it, it becomes vitalised. If you stand outside it, it becomes an ordinary wooden piece or a stone. It will be a shaligrama without any meaning.

How would you enter into it? If you cannot enter into that ideal that you are worshipping as a little picture or an object of devotion, and it is something like a commodity or a property that you have in your pocket, it is not your god. It can be a god. Even a little lingam that you keep in front of you can become your god and protect you if it has assumed life, and it assumes life only when it becomes one with you. It becomes one with you in a twofold manner – by immanence, as well as transcendence, to mention once again the principle of the largeness in quantity as well as quality of the ideal before us. It is a Guru before you. It can speak to you. When you read the lives of saints, you are face to face with the great, wonderful facts of devotees, bhaktas, being able to speak to the idol – which, to the crass material perception, looks like a stone image. Vithoba of Pandharpur spoke to Purandara Dasa, to Tukaram, to Jnanadev, to Eknath. How did he speak to them? To the material vision, the idol is the substance out of which it is made, but for a spiritual vision it is one thing with which everything else is also connected. It is a focusing point of a universal organisation called God-consciousness. That is why the whole universe affects it due to your capacity to worship it in that manner.

In temple worship you may have seen that the priests, if they are well-versed in the art of worship, do some gestures called anganyasa and karanyasa. I am not going into the details of what it means. The point is, they do something in the act of deep concentration of their mind. It is very important. The mind has to be concentrated, and it is not merely a gesture performed outwardly. With these gestures, the priests place the parts of the body of the ideal, idol, or deity in the corresponding parts of their own body. Its head is my head, its eyes are my eyes, its hands are my hands, its feet are my feet. All the limbs of the deity are my limbs, and the total of the limbs of the idol before me has entered into me. When this entry takes place, you are in a state called avesha. You become possessed at that time. If this being possessed is true and actually takes place, you will be not able to contain yourself at that time. You will be ecstatic in your feeling of a transcendence that has taken possession of you. You will sing poetry at that time, you will dance to the tune of a voice that you hear, and then you will not be the worshipper; you are the worshipped yourself, if this nyasa has been done properly.

Even in this lowest form of so-called ritualistic worship, the identity of the ideal with the seeking soul becomes very important. The point to be emphasised here is that everything has to be a completeness. You never want a part. It is not one idol among the many idols that you are worshipping; it is the wholeness.

I bring to your memory once again the categorisation of Bhagavan Sri Krishna in terms of the degrees of knowledge. From the point of vision of the little idol, it is only one among many other idols you can have anywhere. But in the light of its being something which is charged with the force of its connection with other things in the world, it is an organisation of power, and it can work wonders, as one official can work wonders in an organisation of which he is a part. But, more important than all this is your being one with it. Then it will speak through you, and you will speak through it.

The choice of the ideal is the first thing before us, and the ideal has to be very clear. The clarity of the ideal includes the conviction that it is the only thing that you want, and it does not need something else also added to it to make it complete. When I say I want this, it means I want nothing else. If you say you want this and also something else, this is not going to be complete. You will lose even the iron axe when you are searching for the golden axe. If you want one thing under the impression that it is only one among many things which are equally important and you may have them also after some time, you are giving scant respect to this particular thing. You are dishonest to it; you are not true to yourself, and that will not be true to you also. Then it is that you lose all that belongs to you. All your belongings will go, because they have not been properly respected. You cannot possess a thing for which you do not have real love and respect. “Well, sir, I love you, but there are other things also which I can love.” “All right, if that is the case, you mind your business, and I will mind my business,” is what the object of love will say. It may not say it verbally, but it will say from its soul.

Philosophers tell us that there is a dual way of connection of one thing with another thing in the world. One is called apprehension, the other is called prehension. Apprehension is the outward perception of a relation of one thing with another thing. When I see you and do not mind your being unconnected to something else, it is what is called ordinary apprehension. You know that you are one among the many people seated here; either you are connected to them, or you are not connected to them. But prehension is a different thing. It is a state of affairs wherein you appear to give the impression of the wholeness of attention to a particular person, while inwardly your mind is also elsewhere at same time. That particular thing – the person or object – may not be apprehensively conscious of this subtle undercurrent of action taking place, but prehensively it will know that is not being properly respected.

There are no dead things in this world. Every little atom has eyes to see. If walls have ears, even a sand particle has eyes to see. So the soul of that particular thing, object or person will prehensively know that you are not honest with it. Your mind is also elsewhere at same time, which you can cling to if this does not operate. “If this goes, I will go to the other thing.” But if you think, “You are all things and I shall have nothing else,” it will speak to you in the voice of the whole universe.

Can you choose one ideal in this world, one thing that you can be sure is all things? Yesterday I mentioned the saying of a great master, that if you honestly ask for a thing, it shall be given to you. Bhagavan Sri Krishna mentions in the Bhagavadgita: ananyāś cintayanto māṁ ye janāḥ paryupāsate, teṣāṁ nityābhiyuktānāṁ yogakṣemaṁ vahāmy aham (Gita 9.22): The object of your love will come to you and protect you, and give you everything that you want, if you want it undividedly. But if your devotion is divided, multifold, your prospect of having anything in this world goes.

So, to come to the point once again, choose your ideal, whatever that ideal be, but do not be dishonest to that ideal. Let your heart, the deepest recesses of being, tell you, “I am not after anything else. This is all things.” And even when it appears to be only one thing, it can become all things by its connection with other things in the universe by its being a focusing point of the cosmic forces operating everywhere through the five elements – finally, its being a location for the pervasion and entry of the Eternal Being Himself. Eternity is moving in time, and therefore that Eternal Being can be present even in this temporal object, which would otherwise be a little ideal before you. So the bringing together of eternity and temporality, universality and particularity, outwardness and inwardness, is the great task before you in the choice of your spiritual ideal.