The Nature of the True Religious Life
by Swami Krishnananda


Chapter 12: The Simplicity Born of Utter Goodness

It would be good to bring your minds back once again to all I told you in order that the significance of this instruction gets related to your practical day-to-day life. There is no use of listening to instructions and going through studies if the instruction or the study has not entered the blood and flows through the veins and become part and parcel of your physical and psychic personality.

It is our attempt to live life properly, not to study much. All study, whatever be its extent, is a gathering of knowledge which has to be set into action in the environment of our life. In a large sense, this is the meaning of meditation. In a specific sense, it means the art of living. The way in which we have to live in this world successfully is itself meditation, though this name need not be associated with a perfect life.

The life that we are required to live in this world can be impersonally designated as a life of perfection, not a life of religion and spirituality or godliness, names which need not be associated with the task on hand inasmuch as they are oftentimes associated with preconceived notions.

Our minds are made in such a way that prejudices die hard. Whatever be our research in the line of religion, philosophy and psychology, the mind will have to say something after everything has been said because of the feeble impact that the studies could make upon our personality. We remain the same persons with years of study and any amount of learning, like a rock into which water cannot penetrate even if it is inside the Ganga for years together. Hardboiled is human individuality. Flint-like is the ego of man, and it cannot melt with any instruction and any amount of learning. All learning remains finally like a bathing of granite, over which water flows and yet not a drop enters.

This happens because of a notion we have about our own selves, consequently a notion that we have of ourselves and others, and finally a notion that we have about life as a whole. We are born with a particular outlook of things, and we oftentimes die with the very same outlook. It does not change.

Hence, a learning of the art of living requires a deconditioning of the mind. This is the reason why we seek sequestered places, come to the Himalayas or to any ashram: to decondition the mind. It has been conditioned into a particular way of thinking and living under a given atmosphere. The deconditioning of the mind is not possible unless we are put in quarantine, into a camp which is away from that atmosphere which has been responsible for influencing us in that particular way. When we go home and live in the midst of our family or parents, suddenly our mind changes its way of thinking. All our certificates of Oxford or Cambridge mean nothing there in the family where we are once again a small boy or girl; the same thought continues there with the same old rut of thinking, and our certificate remains a piece of paper with no meaning.

We are here for a serious purpose and not to waste our time, because we have not plenty of time to squander. “Life is short, art is long,” is an old saying. There is no end for knowledge. Ananta-shastram bahu veditavyam alpashcha kao bahavashcha vighnah, yatsarabhutam tadupasitavyam hamso yatha kshiramivambumishram is an old Sanskrit saying. Ananta-shastram: The learning is so vast, like the sky. We cannot comprehend it with all our might and main. Bahu veditavyam: So much is there to learn that our life is not enough. Alpashcha kala: The time at our disposal is very little. Bahavashca vighnah: Many obstacles come in the way even in this little period of time, the span of life that has been allotted to us. Therefore, the second half of the verse gives the advice. Yatsarabhutam tadupasitavyam: Abandoning the chaff, extract only the essence, as we are told that a swan can distinguish water and milk even if they are mixed together. The milk of life, the essence of knowledge, has to be extracted from the chaff of every type of information that is available in different places in the world.

The test of the progress that you make in the art of living is the amount of satisfaction and freedom from tension that you feel in your own life. It is no use saying, “I have learned so much; I have this degree and that title.” You have to set it aside as meaningless, finally. With yourself as a judge of your own personality, by silently contemplating your own self, you can gauge your own depths and measure the extent of the progress you have made by your own feelings about yourself, and also about other people around you.

When you look around like this, what do you think in your mind? This will tell you what you are. A type of diary may have to be maintained to undertake a psychological check-up of one’s own self. You have to be very strict with yourself, though you may be lenient with others. You should not be lenient with yourself and hard upon others. A strict disciplinary checking up of one’s own psyche and its functions is essential, and a specimen of this methodology of self-checking going by the name of a spiritual diary has been given in the prescription of Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj: “How many times did I get irritated; how many times did I resent something?” and many other questions of this kind are put to one’s own self.

For how many minutes of the day were you able to entertain the idea of the goal of life? For how many minutes, I have to say, because it is impossible to have this type of consciousness for hours. The hours of the day are spent in nonsensical thinking, which has absolutely no connection with our welfare. This is our fate because of the way in which our brains and minds are conditioned. We are the same old donkeys that we were when we born, and we have not become horses in a moment’s transformation. All great achievement in life has been the effect of hard labour on the part of the seekers in any field of work – scientific, biological, chemical or philosophical.

The little pinpricks of our day-to-day existence and the mutual action and reaction psychologically created among ourselves in social life form part and parcel of the observations we have to make in the leading of the life perfect. What we call life spiritual is the life perfect. A complete life is called spiritual life. It is not a monastic life, or a life in a cathedral. Again I come to the point of deconditioning our minds. We have been conditioned into a way of thinking the moment the words ‘God’, ‘religion’, ‘spirituality’ are uttered. We cannot escape this predicament of getting compelled to think only in one way the moment we think of the words ‘religion’, ‘spirituality’, ‘divinity’. These words immediately create in our minds a sense of alienation from things in the world and an artificiality of living, a complex of self-centeredness in the name of a religiosity or a Godward movement of ourselves. We may hear sermons from saints and sages to any extent throughout our life; they will not create any impact in the mind if an inward desire is absent to lead this life.

Most people are driven to a life of religion and spirituality by a defeat that they have suffered in life. This is unfortunate. It is not a coward that can go to God. Only a hero who has won victory in the battle of life can reach Him. In this tremendous warfare of conflict with the forces of nature and the ups and downs of social living in this battle, in this tug of war, you are going to be the winner and not a defeatist. A person who is defeated here will be defeated hereafter also. It is not a question of changing of place and circumstance; it is a quality of attitude that matters. Each one of you will know whether you have been defeated in this world, whether things are too much for you and you cannot face them any more, and then you turn to God, religion, monastery, church. If this is, and this has been, the cause behind your movement towards religion and spirituality, you will get nothing from them; you will go a bankrupt. Only a rich person can renounce. A poor person cannot renounce anything because the poor man has nothing. What will he renounce? A beggar cannot renounce, because he has nothing.

The spirit of renunciation becomes meaningful only when you have, and yet you do not want what you have. Renunciation is not the outcome of the feeling that, “I do not have anything and, therefore, I am an automatic renunciate.” You have all the things. Everything conceivable, glorious, beautiful, worthwhile, pleasant is under your command and you can get it if you want, and perhaps already it is with you; yet, you have no interest in them because of a higher light that has entered you. That the Godward ascent is a positive movement and not a negative defeatism is symbolically given to us in an instruction of the Taittiriya Upanishad where the gradations of joy are described. “Only a king can become a sannyasin,” used to be the saying of Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj. Unless you were a king in the previous birth, you cannot be a real sannyasin in this birth. The idea of renunciation arises in your mind because you have seen the world through and through and enjoyed it a hundred percent, not because you could not get it. Otherwise, you will be reborn as a seth’s son with all the amenities that are necessary materially.

The Taittiriya Upanishad tells us something very interesting which should make our hair stand on end. Imagine that there is a ruler of the whole Earth, a king, an emperor. In the history of humanity there has never been an emperor of the whole Earth. Such a person never existed, and perhaps it is difficult to imagine such a person. But for the time being, imagine that such a person exists. The whole world is under his control. He is an emperor, a ruler of the whole Earth. Very young, highly educated, very healthy, learned to the core, and the whole world is under his control. What will be his happiness? None in the world can ever imagine what it can be, because nobody has been in that condition. All these qualifications cannot be found in one person – very young, healthy, educated, cultured, without any form of disease, and the whole world under his control. Such a person never was, but if it were possible to have such a person, what would be the joy? He would burst with joy; that is all. That is the positivity of happiness that man can conceive in this world. But this is only a one-hundredth drop, says the Taittiriya Upanishad. This great joy that you are imagining in your mind as the emperor of the whole world is a drop, a hundredth part, as it were, of the great joy that reigns supreme in the higher realm which is of the Gandharvas. These are names which may have no meaning. We may say they are angels in the second realm, or the state of being that is just above this physical level.

To imagine what these levels are, we have to bring our mind to the point of concentration upon the layers of our own personality. There is the physical, the vital, the mental, the intellectual, and the causal sheaths, one inside the other – one inside the other not in the sense of physically one being one inside the other, but as gradations of intensity of subtlety. So when we say there are higher realms, we mean the same thing as when we say there are layers inside our personality. They are realms inside the cosmos. They are not spatially high, even as the layers inside are not spatially inside but only logically inside. The Gandharvas are angels, divine beings, celestials who cannot be seen with the eyes, as electrons cannot be seen with the naked eyes but they exist inside the physical world. Their joy is one hundred times more than the joy of this great man about whom we have been speaking thus.

Only a person who has seen the light of this joy that is above can renounce this world; and the Upanishad tells us this great joy, which is a hundred times larger than the joy of the great emperor of the world, is also a drop, as it were, compared to a still higher joy of the gods in heaven. The gods in heaven, therefore, have a joy a hundred multiplied by a hundred of this emperor of this Earth whom we have not seen with our eyes, whom we are only imagining.

One hundred times the joy of these celestials is the joy of the ruler of the gods, Indra. We cannot imagine what it is. Our mind will cease to think here. One hundred times the joy of Indra is the joy of Brihaspati, the preceptor of the gods. One hundred times the joy of Brihaspati is the joy of Virat, the Cosmic Being in its physical manifestation. One hundred times the joy of Virat is the joy of Hiranyagarbha, still higher. We do not know what we are speaking; these are only words for us. One hundred times the joy of Hiranyagarbha is the joy of Ishwara, and countless incalculable non-mathematical, super-logical – you cannot say a hundred times more, further – is the joy of the Absolute. This you are aspiring for. And you can imagine what you are; it is this you are longing for. The brain will cease to function, the mind cannot think it any more, the mouth will speak no words, and you would not know where you are sitting if these ideas are to occur to your mind constantly, day in and day out.

What is the state in which we are living here seated in this hall compared to these tremendous envisagements ahead of us, which actually are what constitute the essence in our spiritual path? The great stages of meditation mentioned in the various systems of yoga are the risings of the consciousness to these levels of bliss. So when you check up your own mind every day and make an assessment of your own selves, you will know where you stand. Have you gone to that level of inner satisfaction which can be associated with the king of the whole world? Or do you feel like helpless nothings, useless nobodies?

I mentioned to you some days back that you cannot renounce the world unless you have become greater than the world. Do you feel that you are greater than the world, any one of you? If this confidence has arisen in your mind; if this confidence has come to you for any reason whatsoever that you are greater than this world; if you feel reasonably so, with some substantiality behind this feeling – for this important reason, I am superior to the world of contents – if this conviction arises, true vairagya has arisen. I am repeating what I told you some days back. If you feel that you are only a small boy in this large world of terrible people, then the world cannot be renounced and even the next step cannot be taken. Even the second step in spirituality, religion, Godward movement, is not possible, what to talk of the higher ones?

The second step, the immediately superior one, is that which transcends this physical Earth, which goes beyond the joy of the whole emperor of the world; and if you have seen through the joy of this type of person, you have passed through the world and known every bit of it, and cannot be faced any more with the logic of the world, or if you cannot be shaken by any word that anyone utters, then perhaps you have the strength to enter into the next realm.

The Godward movement, the movement towards perfection, freedom from thralldom, liberation of the spirit, is a positive movement from one degree of perfection to another degree. There is no loss in any stage of achievement. There is only gain in every stage. The spiritual asceticism or the religious renunciation is not a giving up and a loss. It is a gaining of more and more substance. Thus, when you have renounced the world, you have not lost the world. You have got something which is bigger than the world. It is like gaining one million dollars by losing one dollar. Because the one is included in the one million, you have not lost anything. Everything has come back. All that you have apparently lost has been included in what you have gained.

The moodiness, the dejection, the melancholy mood, and the sense of defeatism, worry and tension in our minds in our religious life are unfortunate consequences which should tell us that we are not leading a religious life, or even a good life. We have been thoroughly defeated by our own minds. Hence it is that anything puts us out of order and makes us become irate. The amount of calmness that is in our mind, the extent of positivity that reigns in our mind, the quantum of goodness that we can see in the world rather than the evil in things, is a test of our advance in the life spiritual.

There is no such thing as a spiritual life isolated from the life of the world. Again, this point has to be remembered. Many times we speak like children and think like children when we say that we are after this or after that. It is not the truth. We are not after any particular thing in the world. We are after a wholeness which is the health of our being connected with the health of the human society and the world as a whole.

No amount of repetition of this truth that the word ‘spirituality’ connotes an inclusiveness rather than an exclusiveness would enable the mind to free itself from the old prejudice that, after all, the one thing is different from the other. The good life and the godly life are one and the same thing. To the extent you are godly, to that extent you are also good. You cannot be humanitarian, charitable, sympathetic, affectionate or good unless one modicum of godliness has entered you. Only God can be good. That is why the great philosopher Plato defined God as the Idea of the Good, because only God can be good and nobody else can be good. Sun is the supreme source of light, and everything is sympathetically brilliant. Likewise, we are sympathetically or conditionally good to the extent we are able to participate in the Idea of the Good; all other ideas are subsequent and subsidiary.

Many of us, perhaps all of us, are not even on the first step of yoga. We are unnecessarily imagining that we are very great persons. We are very poor fellows, really speaking, though with a genuine feeling to be good and do something good. Granting that this sincerity is already in us, still we are wriggling and writhing on the lowest pedestal of social living. What we see around us is a society of people, and not anything divine. That is not seen in this world. Where is divinity in this world? Can you show me which place it is? We see only people, human beings. We do not even see the whole world with our eyes. We see only human beings like us.

Even in this conditioned form of involvement in the thought of the world as outside us, we are further conditioned by the thought that only human beings exist in this world. Our state is really a pitiable one. We are thinking only of human beings; we cannot think anything else. People, people, people, friends, enemies, men and women – all thought is of humanity only. Even the thought of the world as a whole, as it is in itself, does not occur to our minds. We are utterly pitiable fellows. The idea of the world itself has not arisen in our minds when we think of human and humanitarian values and not world values. The idea of a value of the world has not come to us yet, because the world contains more than human beings, as everyone knows. Perhaps, things which are not human are more important than the human, as you would learn when you go deep into the matter. Things which you are not thinking in your mind, and which are not human, condition even human life; and very, very foolishly we think that life is only humanity, people, and there is nothing else. So even in this world itself we are in a very low state, what to talk of Gandharvas and angels and Indra and Brihaspati. This is tall talk. We may take thousands of births to reach these stages.

Hence, humility is the hallmark of the spiritual seeker. Don’t say, “I am seeing lights, I am shaking, and there is warmth in the spine.” Don’t speak all this nonsense. There is nothing of the kind. This is only a kind of hypnotism that you are introducing into yourself. You are yet to learn the art of humility before the majesty of the universe and the greatness of God. The more you learn of grandeur of creation, the less you feel the importance of your own self. Here begins religion, here begins spirituality. And, as I told you, the life spiritual or the life religious is a practical way of conducting oneself in this world, and all your learning and listening and studying is an aid in the implementing of this learning in your day-to-day living.

What is your reaction to human society? What is your reaction to the world as a whole? This is the thing that is to be assessed first and foremost. A hater of the world is not a religious man, nor is a person who is attached to the world. It is an impersonal outlook of a large friendliness, the great maitri which Buddhism speaks of, a friendliness which is equanimous and which does not see evil and ugliness in things. The non-adjustable feature of our personality is the first thing that has to attract our attention. The great canons of ethics, known as the yamas in the system of Patanjali’s yoga, are the prescriptions for bringing about a harmony between ourselves and human society.

When you cannot adjust yourself with anybody in this world, you are not even in the first step of yoga. You are a peculiar person. How is it that you cannot adapt and adjust yourself with anything and anybody? You quarrel with every person. There are people who are quarrelsome in their nature. In the office, in the family, in the shop, in the marketplace, in the railway station – everywhere they quarrel. Every word is a word of resentment and not of acceptance. And while many of us may not be so bad to this extent, this trait is present in every one of us in some percentage. We are not incapable of quarrelling. We are not incapable of going out of balance in our minds and becoming irascible.

The potential for retaliation in respect of the objects of the world is itself to be plucked out from the root. It is not enough if you are consciously good. Even subconsciously you have to be good. Many of us are consciously good. We are not quarrelling here. But we are capable of quarrelling under given circumstances. That capability itself should be removed. The disease has to go from the roots. Under no circumstance can you come in collision with others. It is just an impossible thing for you to collide. Such is the harmony that has to be established within in the deeper layers of our personality. This is real harmony, and a conscious effort to adjust oneself with great difficulty with other people is not enough.

Many of us adjust ourselves with great difficulty, as we cannot help it. But the adjustment has to be spontaneous. You are not putting forth a hard effort at adjusting yourself with people. It has become so natural that you are like a child, adjustable with anything. As the great Acharya Sankara says in one of his great verses: With an old man, he is an old man. With a child, he is like a child. With a sick man, he is like a sick man. With a young man, he is like a young man. With a wise man, he is a wise man, and with a foolish man, he is a foolish man. You have no personality of your own. That is simplicity born of utter goodness, which again is a result of an abolition of your egoism totally, by which you become one with things. Then the world is your friend. Then you have no fear.

Now we are afraid of even the wisp of the movement of the wind. A little straw that rustles can frighten us. The world is an enemy; people are opposed. Therefore, you are afraid. But when you are a sincere, genuine well-wisher of all people and bestowing benediction on all creation inwardly from the bottom of your heart, the world will protect you. You do not require army and police. You will be protected by the forces which are around you, provided you are their friends. They are your friends even now, but you do not speak to them. You are very busy. Your mind is turned otherwise. Yoga is a movement in the direction of the natural forces which take you by the hand higher and higher to the diviner realms.

Thus, coming to the point once again, before we withdraw ourselves into an inward contemplation or a meditative policy, we have to be socially good and harmonised and aligned in our personality. We should not go inward to meditation with an inimical feeling towards others. Make friendship with your neighbour first, said Christ, before you turn to God. You should not have an inimical neighbour. Make peace with the world first, and then only you can make peace with God. If the world is your enemy, God cannot be your friend. This is a hard thing for us. The world is still an enemy. We have many things which we do not like, and not liking is another name for inimical attitude to things. Is there anything which you do not like? Make a note of it in your diary. Make a list of all the things that you do not like, and give reasons as to why you do not like them. If you are unable to find an answer to these queries, go to your Guru: “These are the things I do not like.” Why is it you do not like a thing which others may like? A thing which you do not like may be the object of liking for another. How is it that the same thing is liked by one and disliked by another?

Hence, a policy of an inward subconscious acceptance of true friendliness is the beginning of yoga. Yoga is not a religion. It is the way in which you have to live in this world. It is union with the littlest atom of creation, with the most insignificant things in the world. With those things you have to set yourself in union. That is yoga. It is not necessarily union with the Absolute; it is union with a cup of tea, it is union with a banana that you eat, it is union with the most insignificant, silly things of the world – meaningless things, as it were, which no one considers. With those little insignificant nothings we are in harmony. Thus, every cell and every atom of the world is in unison with us. We become world personalities – citizens not of India or of any particular nationality. We are citizens of God’s creation.

Nature is our friend. This is the first step that we take in our onward movement, or we may call it an inward movement, or a movement in all directions. The step in yoga that we take is at once outward, inward, and multi-dimensioned. From the universal we have come down to this particular personality of ours in the process of creation, evolution. From this individuality of ours we have moved outward into an externalised form of relationship called society. Now the yoga practice is a reverse process of movement inwardly, in a very technical sense. It is not a physical inwardness that we are attempting. It is an inwardness of consciousness, which is not a spatial or temporal inwardness. As we have come down from the all-pervading universal to the particular, and from the particular we have gone outward into the human society in space and time in the downward movement of creation, in the same way in the upward movement we retrace our steps from the outward involvements in the particular things of the world into the inward contemplation which usually goes by the name of meditation.

Thus, in the meditational technique, in the art of inwardisation of mind and consciousness, we withdraw the consciousness from its attachment to the particulars. We do not physically withdraw from spatial contact with things. A meditational technique is a consciousness technique. It is a work of consciousness, and not physical or spatial in any sense. It has nothing to do with our physical location. It is an inward transvaluation and transfiguration of our conscious attitude. The whole world is consciousness finally, ultimately, as the end result. The objects so-called, the people we see around, are configurations of consciousness. They are gold shining as dross. A condensed form of light becomes matter. Modern physics says the same thing: Light can condense, become hard, solidified into the substances that we see as the things of the world. Energy can become matter, matter can become energy; light can become substance and substance can be converted into light. Consciousness has become the whole world. These people seated here and these walls and the buildings are consciousness condensed, particularised, localised, pinpointed in space and in time. So they have to be decomposed into their generality in the process of meditation. The ice has to melt into the generalised water of the cosmos. The hardboiled individualities of things outside, the objects in the world, and our own selves all have to melt in the menstruum of the originality of consciousness.

Here we come to the inner depths of religious practice and yoga. All yoga is meditation, finally. Religion and spirituality is meditation. Any successful endeavour in life is a meditation. The whole life is meditation. The Earth itself is meditating, as it were, says the Chhandogya Upanishad. The entire enterprise of life is summed up in one word: meditation. And meditation is the art of success – success in any field. In your profession, in your teaching line, in your professorship, in your business, in your family life, in your dealing with anything and anyone in any manner whatsoever in the world, there will be success.

Success is sure, says the last verse of the Bhagavadgita. Success is certain. Where is it certain? It is certain where the two join together. In the language of this verse of the Bhagavadgita, it is where Krishna and Arjuna are seated in one chariot. The individual and the universe melt into each other as rivers enter the ocean. We are able to think as nature thinks, not as X, Y, Z thinks or A, B, C thinks. Meditation is the way in which we think in consonance with the way in which nature thinks, or God Himself is thinking.

The gradational ascent of consciousness in its attempt to think in alignment with the way in which nature thinks or God thinks is the series of steps in the practice of yoga. These are the meditations, about which I shall tell you something in the coming few days.