The Problems of Spiritual Life
by Swami Krishnananda

December 13, 1990 p.m.

Sarah: In this life, in this world as I see it, in a limited consciousness (I recognise that), it is so hard just to tell the truth, and to earn a living, and to know how to be a good wife or husband, and how to act with love. It seems to me like that is the work that God has put in front of me. That is the work. It is right on my plate, it is right in front of me. But to always be in meditation—how do I know that is not…

SWAMIJI: What is your question? You have told so many things together.

Sarah: It seems to me that the work God gives you is right in front of you.

SWAMIJI: Whether God gives you or you have chosen—whatever it is, what is the trouble with the work?

Sarah: Because it seems here that it is suggested to remove yourself from that reality—to see that it is just a dream—earning a living included.

SWAMIJI: Just because it is a dream in its structural pattern, it does not mean that it is unreal. Dream also is a reality, because you can see it. Dream is not an unreal phenomenon; it is a real thing. Only it differs from waking in the degree of consciousness. You cannot ignore it as if it is not there; it is there. Even an illusion is a reality as long as you see it and trust it. If it is totally meaningless, why are you worried about it? A dream is unreal only when you wake up; when you are actually dreaming, it is not unreal. It is real—you can feel hungry, you can feel thirsty in dream. Why do you call it unreal? Anything that is experienced in consciousness is real to that extent and at that time.

You should not mix up two issues. You are contrasting two situations, but you should not compare and contrast anything. Each thing should be taken by itself. Why do you compare dream with waking? When it is experienced, it is there. Anything that you perceive is a reality; if it were not real, you would not perceive it. Why do you call it dream? You compare it with waking and then make a statement like that. You are not supposed to compare anything. Your experience is valid for you, though it is unreal from another point of view. Your problem is a very real problem, though for me it may look like a silly thing. So, you should not compare. The word ‘dream’ does not imply unreality; it only implies that it is a condition that is transcended by another condition. The word ‘dream’ is used only to explain that this subject is transcended by another experience. It does not imply that it is not existing. It does exist; and as long as it is existing in your consciousness, it is a reality for you and it will have its impact upon you. So, don’t call it dream and all that and then imagine that it has no substance. If you think that it has no substance, then your existence also has no substance, because you are also a part of the universal inter-relatedness of everything.

You have made a little mistake in the judgement. You are considering yourself as a reality and the perceived world as a dream. But you forget that you are also gone with it. If you are gone with the dream, then where is the problem for you? You have made a mistake in thinking that you are the real person and the world is unreal. But, it is not so. If the world is unreal, you in it are also unreal equally. Then whose problem are you discussing? The problem also becomes unreal. There is a mix-up of thought. Don’t say ‘dream’. It is a reality for you when you are in it, and its laws apply to you fully.

Sarah: And what about the goal?

SWAMIJI: Now, let it be. You are asking theoretical questions. You must be having some practical problem. Are you asking an academic question or you have got some real problem in you life?

Sarah: I spend a lot of time meditating…

SWAMIJI: Forget the meditation business. In your daily life of your work, have you any problem, or are you a happy person? I thought you are asking a question regarding your daily involvement.

Sarah: It is so much my daily life! This is the biggest question of my life.

SWAMIJI: Have you any problem, or are you happy always?

Sarah: I have been a happy person a lot, but now I am so troubled by the inability of myself to gain any wisdom.

SWAMIJI: Speak slowly. The inability to?

Sarah: To gain any wisdom.

SWAMIJI: Why are you worrying about wisdom? Just let the wisdom go. In what way are you affected by that in your daily life? You have enough wisdom to get on in life. In what way are you lacking it? I am asking, what problem you have. What suffering are you undergoing in your daily life, in your occupation, in your work, in your getting on, in your dealings, etc.? Or, you are quite all right—no problem?

Sarah: Well, thank God, in general things are good. I have enough to eat…

SWAMIJI: Then what is your question?

Sarah: Why is it there is something so dense, so ignorant? I feel so ignorant.

SWAMIJI: In what way are you ignorant?

Sarah: I do not see God as everything.

SWAMIJI: You will see it by gradual education. Why do people go to school? In order that they may get educated. And after ten years of study, their knowledge increases; then they understand things better. You have to undergo that education. You are on the way to it and when your understanding is complete by a training process, you will see things as you ought to see. How will you see it in the first step itself—in the beginning? You are in kindergarten, primary school, and suddenly you say, “I want to know everything.” You have to take enough time to undergo the necessary training. In due course, everything will come.

Sarah: And just living life as it presents itself to me is the training?

SWAMIJI: Training does not mean simply existing. Training is the process of undergoing a curriculum of studies which implies an adjustment of consciousness. Education is an adjustment of consciousness which is assisted by a curriculum of studies under a competent guide; otherwise, you will not be able to think correctly. If you can think in an educational fashion correctly at your home, you need not go to the school at all. At school the atmosphere is disciplined and streamlined in a particular manner; you are forced to think in a given way whereas in the house you can think as you like. So, you are asking me, “Is it all right if I just live as I am living?” No, it is not all right. Now you are living in a home atmosphere where you are free to think whatever you like, but you have to live in an educational atmosphere where you are supposed to think only in the manner you are expected to think. That is called training, which requires guidance. We require guidance, a superior.

Sarah: And that guidance is only in a place like an ashram?

SWAMIJI: Ashram or no ashram—some person is necessary to guide you, unless you do not require a guide and things are clear to you already.

Sarah: And you do not think the mistakes and the consequences that we are seeing in our life are enough to be a guide? One makes a mistake, and it becomes obvious.

SWAMIJI: No, that is called the trial and error method. That is not the educational way. You fall into a pit and then realise that you should not fall into a pit; but why should you fall into the pit if you can avoid it? Trial and error is not the educational system. Otherwise, everybody may learn by falling down and breaking their legs and then suffering. Education is the art of seeing that you do not unnecessarily get into trouble, instead of getting into the trouble and then learning a lesson thereby. To be healthy, it is not necessary to have an illness first.

However much trouble you undergo in life, you will never understand the wisdom of life, because the troubles are so many in the world that you cannot exhaust them in one life. Learning is not done by merely trial and error; it is by an internal discipline that is called education. It requires a guide; by oneself one cannot. So much we have been discussing here in the last one or two days. You have never heard such a thing in your life anywhere; and if you go to a marketplace will anybody talk like this? That is the difference between a disciplined atmosphere and a free atmosphere. This way in which we have been thinking in the last few days, you will never find people thinking anywhere in the world. No problem is there for them—everything is fine.

Constant company in satsanga (satsanga is company of the wise and the good) is very important. As much as possible, you must be in the company of the wise and the good, and if every day it is not possible to be in such company, occasionally at least you must resort to places where such training is possible. If nothing is possible, then you sit quiet and pray to God Almighty. He will illumine you and bring some light from inside. God knows your problems and He will remove them by your sincerely asking for it.

Sarah: And that is not just an egotistical desire, to want that?

SWAMIJI: Wanting God is not an egotistical desire. God is not an ego and, therefore, wanting a non-ego cannot be called an egotistical desire. The ego cannot want a non-ego. It is not possible. The ego wants an ego only, but God is not an ego, and so wanting God is not an egoistic desire; it is a non-egoistic asking. It is not desire; it is aspiration, as we call it. It is a desire to melt the ego, and so the opposite is the case. Asking for God is the desire to melt the ego. It is like a ball of ice standing before the sunlight. It cannot stand there and live. The ego cannot stand before God, or God-men.

Sarah: I want to ask you some questions.

SWAMIJI: Yes, you may ask.

Sarah: In Judaism, there is an idea that God makes contracts and pacts. What does that mean?

SWAMIJI: Covenants. In the Old Testament there are plenty of covenants mentioned. Covenant means an agreement with God.

Sarah: But, if He is Absolute, how can there be a covenant?

SWAMIJI: The Jews do not believe in God as the Absolute. He is, to them, a Transcendent Being. He is above the world, and, therefore, you can contact Him as you contact anybody in the world. The extra-cosmic transcendence of God is the concept of God in all Semitic religions. It is so in Judaism, in Christianity, in Islam, in Zoroastrianism, which are the four Semitic religions. Each one considers God as extra-cosmic, which means to say, above the universe; therefore, you can have your agreement, contract, prayer or covenant, whatever you call it. You can approach a big boss and have some kind of understanding with him. God looks like a boss because of this transcendence beyond the universe. You pray to God, looking up to the skies. Why do you look up to the skies when you pray to God? You have a feeling that he is not in this world. He is above and is not here.

But there is nothing wrong with it; it is one stage of religion. In this stage of religion, God is envisaged as a transcendent extra-cosmic power to which you can look for help by surrender, devotion and submission. But that is not the only meaning of religion. There other stages where the distance between man and God diminishes. In this concept of the transcendence of the God as an extra-cosmic reality, there are a lot of distances. You do not know how far God is—there is an endless distance in space and time. Afterwards, the distance becomes less and less in the acceptance of God, not merely as a Transcendent Being but also as immanent in all creation, right here and now.

God is not so far as you imagined Him to be earlier. He is also near; He is present in every atom. That is the second stage of religion. The third stage is where you yourself cannot be standing there outside Him, because of the all-pervadingness of God. These are the three stages of religion: transcendence, immanence and universality. All the three stages are valid; they are good in their own way. These are developmental stages of an ascent gradually from inadequate concepts to more adequate ones. So, all religions are good. There is nothing wrong with them; they are all different degrees of approach in an ascending order.

Sarah: And the Jews have an idea that they are chosen people, that they are a separate people from the rest of the world. What is the meaning? Why do they even come to that concept?

SWAMIJI: It is also one stage of thinking. You are a devotee of God, and so you consider non-devotees as not so equal to you. Suppose you are honestly a devotee of God and find others are atheists; don’t you think that they are a little inferior to you? Though you are not supposed to think like that, you have somehow a predilection to think that these non-devotee atheists are inferior and you are a superior person. Whether you are justified in thinking like that or not, it is left to you to judge. A holy man thinks that unholy people are damned. Now, is he justified in thinking so? He may be or may not be; it is a point of view. There may be some truth and validity in their feeling that they are chosen people because they are really devoted to God; but whether they are justified in thinking that others are inferior, that is a different matter.

Sarah: But there is no idea that certain people are chosen for certain roles; they are all equal with different roles? Is there any idea of that as truthful?

SWAMIJI: Everybody has a role to play. It does not mean that one is superior or inferior to the other.

Sarah: But there are different roles?

SWAMIJI: Different laws and different positions—each one is placed in different positions and stations in life, and from the point of view of the particular station in which you are placed, your work is decided. It does not mean that you are superior or inferior. You are fit for that, and others are fit for another thing. You cannot say that a shopkeeper is superior to the farmer, or a farmer is superior to shopkeeper. They are doing different kinds of occupation in society, meant for the stability of humanity. Nobody is superior, nobody is inferior. So, each one has to play a role according to the circumstances in which one is placed, and there is no question of comparison. Nobody is chosen, actually speaking; everybody is chosen. If all are children of God, who is not chosen—unless you believe that some are not the creation of God?

Sarah: And rituals in religion?

SWAMIJI: Rituals are very necessary; they are external gestures that you perform to express your inner feelings. Don’t you say, “Thank you very much. I shall see you again”? Why do you do this? You can mentally think it, and go away. What is the harm? The gesture helps you in expressing your feelings. Ritual is necessary. Anything that you ‘perform’ is a ritual, an expression of what you think. What you are is the spirit; what you do is the act, or the ritual.

Sarah: And what about rituals? You know, there is a Jewish rite when you eat special bread, there is circumcision—all different things that are not expressing my feelings.

SWAMIJI: That is one kind of ritual that must be having its own meaning. It is a feeling they are expressing—a feeling of love for God and worship of God. You can express your devotion and your worshipful feeling towards God by various gestures. It may be bread, it may be banana, it may be anything; it does not matter. All depends on your social circumstance, cultural background, etc. There is nothing wrong in these. Religion has ritual as a part of it. You can’t be totally free from it. Only, if you feel it is not an expression of yourself, it ceases to have relevance to you; you have, then, another ritual.

Sarah: And why is it so hard to love God—to really love God in this world?

SWAMIJI: Because it is not easy to know what God is. How can you love a thing which you have never seen or thought? You can love that which you see; unseen things, how can you love? That is the problem. We have difficulty in conceiving what God is. That is why the emotions are not going there. That which has a meaning is also an object of love. Meaningless things cannot attract. Know God, first of all.

Sarah: And what is it that is pulling the world away from God? You said that the universe is moving towards the Absolute. But there seems to be a force also in the universe that keeps it from the Absolute. What is it called—entropy—things going down rather than things going up?

SWAMIJI: That is what we have been discussing all along—what keeps you away from It is the affirmation of the part as an independent whole, though segregated from the whole.

Sarah: By affirming that one is an independent whole is making it stop?

SWAMIJI: That’s right, yes.

Sarah: And that’s also stopping loving and moving towards God?

SWAMIJI: Yes, true. But it will also be reclaimed, and once again, even that which is affirming independence will be defeated by the force of the higher whole. This is what they call the war between the gods and the demons in histories of religions. Have you heard of gods and demons fighting in theological epics?

Sarah: Yes.

SWAMIJI: These gods and demons are here before us. The demon is the ego, the god is the universal force, and one day it will demolish the demons and the part will be received back like the prodigal son going back, in the story. We are all the prodigal sons, and God will be very kind to us. He is not against us. Even if you are a renegade, God loves you, because, after all, the whole cannot but love the part. The father has to love the prodigal son also because he is a part of the father. Here is one analogy showing that the whole always integrally includes the part and however much you may try to wrench yourself from it, it will take you back, somehow, some day.

Sarah: But it is so hard; it seems so hard!

SWAMIJI: Because the ego is so hard. It wants to be independent. This is the Lucifer they are talking of in Biblical parlance. He has cut himself off from God, and that is the fall of Satan, and whatever story you have of that kind. We have fallen from that universal whole, and yet there is a hope. There is no eternal damnation, as the part is integrally connected with the whole. Ultimately, there is no damnation. It is going back only, gradually.

Sarah: And to work around the ego? How does one work without it? It seems so strong! It seems to me almost stronger than God, sometimes!

SWAMIJI: Yes, sometimes it looks stronger than God, but only ‘looks’, even as the darkness of night may appear to overpower the brightness of the sun.

Sarah: Anything that you can do?

SWAMIJI: You have already done something by coming to this place. Like that, slowly, it will scrub your ego. Your ego is already scrubbed to a large extent by your being here these few days. Already you are a better person now, don’t you think? So, like that, slowly it will be reclaimed. Reaching God takes time. And your honesty of purpose is also a very important factor. You must be sincere in asking for it and wanting it. You should not take it merely as a theory or an academic question: If it comes, very good; if it doesn’t come, that is also good. It should not be like that. “It has to come—and I shall have it!” You are determined for it, and it must come. The only thing that is required is your asking for it: “Ask and it shall be given.” It has to be given when you ask, but the asking has to arise from the soul. Your soul has to ask, and it shall be given to you, and it must be given—no doubt about it.

It is easier to receive the grace of God than anything from the marketplace. If you want to get something from the shop, you have to walk some distance. But to reach God, you do not have to travel any distance. Only your heart should well up and want to reach Him. There is no condition and no prescription, no other qualification necessary except that you should want it. And when you want it, it has to come. That’s all. No other qualification is necessary for you.

Sarah: But sometimes one feels there is a block. I almost don’t even want to reach God.

SWAMIJI: No block. No one can know what God is and afford not to want it.

Sarah: But I feel sometimes I don’t want it. I’d rather eat or do something easier.

SWAMIJI: Nobody objects to your eating. “Love God, and do whatever you like”—that is an old saying. You can eat jam and biscuit. Nobody objects to that, but under the condition that you love God.

Sarah: But Swamiji, I feel as if there is something that stops me from even wanting God.

SWAMIJI: The consciousness that some obstacle is there is itself an indication that you cannot be identical with the obstacle. The personality is a hard nut to crack.

Sarah: Then it is not true that there is really an obstacle!

SWAMIJI: Otherwise, you would not be conscious that it is an obstacle. It is going, slowly. Be happy—no problem. Thick is the darkness of night two hours before sunrise. Even then it vanishes as if it was never there. You cannot imagine that there would be light at all, a few hours before sunrise. So dense is the mass of darkness, but it goes. How it goes, nobody knows, but it is gone. Like that, all these blunders will vanish. The whole thing will go away. You will be surprised that it has gone. Like a nightmare, it will disappear. But you must want it!

Sarah: What I do is I raise money for charities…

SWAMIJI: You may do whatever you like. Nobody objects to it, provided that your heart is centred in God. And from that point of view, you do whatever work you do in this world.

Sarah: Sometimes, how do I know I am not just wishing that it was in God and making up that this is God, or that it is just ego, an illusion?

SWAMIJI: Even if you wish that you are wanting God, it is good enough, because God is the reality behind even the ego and the illusions you are referring to. To deny God is to deny oneself.

Sarah: Even if it is just an imaginary idea of what God is, an imaginary idea of what it is to love God?

SWAMIJI: A sincere affirmation has to materialise itself, certainly. When you want only one thing and nothing else, it is perfectly right. Wanting God means wanting only one thing; you, then, cannot want two things. You can be sure whether it is God that you want or somebody else by whether you really want only that and nothing else. But if you want something else also, it is not God that you are loving. From that, you can find out the genuineness of the asking. Also, God is an all-pervading thing. Are you asking about an all-pervading thing or only a located thing? If you ask for a localised thing, it is not God; if you ask for a universally existing thing, it is God. You please see whether your asking is for a universally existing being or only some other thing. Thus, you can distinguish between what is, and what is not.

Sarah: And what if I see that it is just a localised thing?

SWAMIJI: Then it is a mistake. You must not ask for it. You would, then, be asking for a limb of the body and not the whole body.

Sarah: Thank you very much.

SWAMIJI: There are about eleven religions in this world, what you may call the major religions—Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Taoism, Confucianism and Shintoism. There are minor sects that you need not regard as actual religions. There are subdivisions like Sufism and mystical Christianity. All these have to be studied to understand the multiple patterns of the religious approach of mankind in its struggle to know the Ultimate Reality. All religions are good, but they look very funny when they compare and contrast themselves with others.

The whole point about the religions is that they are like many roads leading to one peak of a mountaintop, where they will all merge into one single spot. If this is accepted, there will be fraternity and brotherly feeling among the religions in the world. But there is an isolated tendency to assert each religion as a complete presentation of reality in itself, which has also the tendency to reject other approaches. Then comes clash and communal skirmish leading to social and political catastrophe. Like many rays of the sun are the many religions in the world. If one ray of the sun were competing with another ray, what would it be like? You have not only to tolerate the validity of another person’s approach, but also accept the justifiability of that effort. Merely tolerating in a condescending manner is no good. You are not reluctantly tolerating the viewpoint of some person. That would make you place yourself in a position of superiority. There is validity in the approach of all. You cannot say that a child is just blabbering nonsense. Rather, it is asking for something that is absolutely necessary for it in the condition in which it is placed at that time. It does not mean that a child is inferior to a genius. Comparison is always odious. Never compare anything and contrast anything. Take everything for what it is.

Larry: Swamiji, what I find so perplexing is that I meet such wise and intelligent people in my own religion and other religions, but I don’t…

SWAMIJI: You are one of them.

Larry: Thank you, Swamiji. But I do not understand why, for example, within my own religion, which I know best, so many of these people feel that only this approach is the correct approach.

SWAMIJI: That is the whole problem. It is absence of the requisite broadmindedness. Why do you call people ‘children of God’ if one cannot have any consideration for another?

Larry: They have consideration for others, but they feel that because Moses received the word directly from God, this word is absolutely immutable and is the only expression, for a Jew, of God’s will. And my question is, how did that come to be?

SWAMIJI: This attitude is present in all the religions of the West—namely, the Semitic religions. The transcendence of God, which is their concept of God, cuts off the world from God and converts the world into an evil den of Satan, and the earlier you are rid of it, the better for you. That is why extreme asceticism, monasticism, and things of that kind, and a condemnation of oneself arise. Asceticism often goes to such an extent of self-condemnation that the very existence of oneself is considered as an evil, a fall into the realm of demoniac activities. It is an unfortunate thing to imagine that some people are permanently meant for damnation. Even in India, we have certain theological doctrines of this kind.

There are some concepts, even in India, among certain circles of theology, which very funnily have held that there are certain people who are intended for eternal salvation, and others for eternal purgatory, and a third for eternal damnation. It looks very repugnant to hold views of this kind. Their God creates somebody only for hell, somebody only for heaven, somebody only for a cycle of up and down. God does not create three sections like that. It is a travesty of religious approach to think that God created a world of sin and evil and He stands above it uncontaminated—and, then, the way of getting rid of this involvement in evil in the world becomes a great problem. If the soul is really a sinner, it can never be redeemed, and if it is capable of being redeemed, it is not really a sinner. Such theology has an internal discrepancy. They are inadequate religions.

You cannot love God by hating someone else. The whole point in religion is misconstrued. Love God and hate the world. Then, why not love the world and hate God? Even that is good enough for some. There are people who feel that way. There are stages of approach in religion: the transcendental approach, the mystical approach and the universal approach, to which everything has to tend one day or the other. The study of comparative religions is very good and necessary.

Sarah: You say each one is a separate path to the same goal. It is important to follow all the details of each path?

SWAMIJI: All the details necessary for assisting you in your onward movement should be followed.

Sarah: How do you make that determination?

SWAMIJI: Your soul will tell you which is the guide, the seeker and the goal. When you take lunch, you know what are the things you must eat and what you need not eat; don’t you understand? Twenty things are served on the plate. Do you eat all the twenty? You know which of these are necessary for you. Your feelings, your requirements at that moment, will tell you what it is that is essential for you. You are the judge, yourself.

Sarah: Will it not be the ego that is just judging them, choosing what would be easier for it to follow?

SWAMIJI: When you love God as the Universal Being, the ego does not arise. There is no ego there. You must see things in the light of the universality that you are approaching. The ego will not stand before that non-ego. Mentally, you have to place yourself in the context of being in the presence of God Himself, as if the Almighty is looking at you. And, at that time, what will you do? Suppose the Almighty is seeing you just now, and you are sure that He is looking. At that moment, what will you do? Will you commit any mistake, any wrong? Everything will be chosen rightly at that time. So, feel yourself as being in the proximity of God. You are in the presence of God even now. The only thing is that you are not accepting it. With millions of eyes is the Almighty looking at you always; what will you do at that time? Whatever you do at that time is your religion. Religion is that which you do in the presence of God.