The Problems of Spiritual Life
by Swami Krishnananda

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December 10, 1990

Larry: What is individual consciousness?

SWAMIJI: Individual consciousness? There is no such thing as individual consciousness; it doesn’t exist. There is only one consciousness, which is universally present everywhere, and when it appears to be located in a particular point of spatio-temporal context, you call it individuality. It is like space contained in a little tumbler. The space cannot be contained in a tumbler; it is not possible. But you can imagine that the space is inside the tumbler and it is a little small space, and that smallness that you attribute to the otherwise large consciousness is the individuality thereof. It cannot really become the individual; it is always universal only, but it appears to be individual because you have somehow imagined that there is a location for it and you impose a kind of restriction upon it—like the vessel. It is really not confined, and it cannot be confined.

Larry: So it just appears to be confined.

SWAMIJI: Yes, it appears to be confined.

Larry: And it appears to be confined in so many things. I wanted to know why that has happened.

SWAMIJI: You may ask that person who has made it. I am not responsible for it, so you should not ask such questions.

Larry: But you are responsible for it. You are consciousness.

SWAMIJI: I have not created this difference and I cannot see it, also. So I cannot answer a question on that which is not visible to my eyes. You are seeing something that I cannot see. That is the only difference. It is like a straight stick looking bent when you dip it in a glass of water. You are asking who bent it. Now what can I tell you? Who is responsible for bending it? It is a straight pencil; you dip it in a glass of water and it looks dented. Now, who is responsible for bending it, sir?

Larry: The Universal Consciousness.

SWAMIJI: Nobody—not the Universal Consciousness. Your eyes are not seeing properly, that’s all. The Universal Consciousness is not responsible. It is not bending the pencil. Your eyes are not structured properly while seeing then.

Larry: But the Universal is...

SWAMIJI: Who is the Universal? You yourself are That, finally. And why are you taking the name of That? You are the Universal, and why are you talking of the Universal as if it is sitting outside? How could you stand outside universality?

Larry: Because, for some reason, my consciousness is limited. It is confined.

SWAMIJI: No, it is not limited actually; and that idea also you must remove. You have already imposed some unnecessary ideas in your head. I told you it cannot be limited. It cannot be limited because the very consciousness of limitation implies that it is not limited. A limited man cannot know that he is limited. The whole point is that. He has exceeded the limitations; therefore, he is conscious of the limitations. Be a little logical. Unless you have exceeded the limitation, you will not be conscious that you are limited.

Larry: That to me sounds more like a mirror. In other words, by recognising that I am limited, I have exceeded the limitation.

SWAMIJI: How do you know that you are limited unless you have already got out of the limitation? The person inside the prison organically cannot know that he is caught up like that. He has a consciousness of freedom. He is conscious that there is something outside the jail, and so seeks freedom.

Larry: He is conscious of something outside the jail, but he knows he is limited to the jail.

SWAMIJI: But he knows that he is not limited, also; otherwise, the idea of going out cannot arise in his mind. There is a possibility of his real nature being outside the jail.

Larry: Yes, there is a possibility, yes.