by Swami Krishnananda
This is the week dedicated to the considerations on the details of sadhana, which means "spiritual practice." The word "sadhana" in Sanskrit means "an effort exercised towards the achievement of a purpose." In this sense, every effort is some kind of sadhana, because it leads to the achievement of some intended goal.
Here in the context of what is known as spiritual sadhana, what is it that we are aiming at? This question has to be put, each by oneself, to one's own satisfaction. What do you want, finally? This clarity should precede the bestowing of thought on any other type of accessory in sadhana. If the goal is not clear, any means adopted to the goal will fall flat, like a huge structure raised on a weak foundation. Let each one of you put a question to your own self, "What am I seeking in the end?"
A chaotic answer, a hotchpotch type of response with no logicality behind it, will come up to the surface of your mind. You will never be able to easily answer this question, because when you decide that some particular thing is your goal, you will find, after a few days of pondering, that this chosen goal is unsatisfying; then, you will ask for something more than what you had earlier chosen as your goal.
The more you think over this matter, you will enter that the goal is receding further and further from your grasp; you will never be able to give a final answer to this question, because you yourself, who have to answer this question, are internally in a muddled condition. Our minds are confused as to the purpose of their operations. Every day we make different decisions, not very relevant to our earlier decisions of the previous day.
There are moods and vacillating ideas which keep us floating on the surface of life, never allowing us to delve into the depth of the fathomless truth of existence. There were great sadhakas in ancient times, great masters who sought the nature of the Ultimate Reality of life. One of them is the well-known Narada Maharshi. He was a master of every kind of learning available in the world. He went and prostrated himself before a great master known as Sanatkumara, the first-born of Brahma the Creator. The great master asked him, "How is it that you have come? What do you require?"
"Master, I have no peace of mind."
"Let me hear what you know already. After hearing from you an answer to this query, I shall tell you what I can."
Narada opened his book of knowledge and narrated a list of the sciences and the arts in which he was proficient. "Master, I know every science and every art in the world: metaphysics, theory of knowledge, astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, psycho-analysis, aesthetics, ethics, sociology, political science, culture, religion, philosophy. There is nothing that I do not know, but I have no peace of mind. I do not know myself."
The great master replied, "All this that you have learned is a bundle of words, with no content inside. You have smeared your personality with a veneer of apparent knowledge, but you are quite different from that which you have gathered on your personality. The shirt is not the person and, therefore, your learning is not what you are."
What does this situation point to? If nothing that we know is of any final utility to us, why are we living in this world? From the nature of the answer given by the master Sanatkumara to Narada, it would appear that all our efforts in life are finally futile. They keep us in an illusion that we are getting on well in this world. A rich man, well-to-do man, healthy man, ruler of the world – they are under a delusion in thinking that they are such things as they are considering themselves to be.
The delusion has entered into the core of our being, as an incurable disease can become part and parcel of the very cells of our body. We cannot know that we are ignorant. We know nothing about the delusion in which we are sunk, because our very existence, the total personality itself, is made up of ignorance. Darkness is the substance of our personality. If there appears to be some light before us that we see in our daily life, it is a radiance penetrating through the mass of the cloud of ignorance.
Well said, therefore, is the answer of Master Sanatkumara to Narada: "Your learning is a brilliant radiance before you, as it were, but this radiance is muddled and is contaminated by the very process of its passing through the thick cloud of ignorance, of which you are yourself made."
If the disease that has caught hold of a person becomes the very essence of the person, that person cannot even know that there is a disease at all. When ignorance is the substance of our existence, there is no way out. We require a bolt to descend on our head, in order that we may awaken to the fact of what is happening to us.
Imagine for a moment: who are the happy and completely satisfied people in this world? Go on a world tour; go to every country, meet all people and ask, "Are you happy?" The answer you receive from these people is worth knowing. Sorrow gnaws into the vitals of human nature, and it is whitewashed by a smear of egoistic assertion of adequacy of oneself. As we cannot live like puny nothings in this world, we put forth great effort to parade in the eyes of people, and before our eyes also, that we are not what we are. Even if you have fallen down, you will say that your nose is not hurt.
That you cannot find a single satisfied individual in the world is a matter for deep consideration. What is wrong with us? How can we live by knowing that everything that we do and think and speak is wrong? We require the grace of a power beyond us to liberate us.
In philosophical circles, questions were raised: How does knowledge arise in the individual? Who manufactures knowledge? You cannot say that you have created your knowledge, because in order to create knowledge within yourself, you must be already possessing that knowledge. An ignorant person cannot have the seed of this knowledge. If you are not the source of the knowledge, who created this knowledge? Has it come from outside? It does not appear that it has come from you, because to manifest knowledge from your own self, you must have already, within yourself, the potential of that knowledge. If that is already there, then you need not seek knowledge at all.
The great Dattatreya Maharshi says in the very first verse of the Avadhuta Gita: isvaranugrahad-eva pumsam advaita-vasana; mahadbhaya-paritranat vipranam upajayate: The knowledge that frees you from the fear of life, the threat of death, does not arise by a slipshod effort on the part of any person. A miraculous occurrence in the very operation of the cosmos takes place, the pros and cons of which process we cannot know – just as we cannot know how we are born into this world.
We did not push ourselves into this world with our efforts; we were pushed by somebody else. Similarly, we will be pushed out of this world without our wanting it. If our coming and going is not in our hands, what else is? The beginning is not in our hands; the end also is not in our hands; how do we arrogantly conclude that the middle of our life is in our hands? That is equally beyond our control.
The entire life is superintended over by something which we are not capable of knowing by the apparatus of knowledge available to us. This is briefly the introduction to the liberating discourse that Maharshi Sanatkumara gave to Narada.
The difficulty is in not only knowing things outside, but also in knowing our own selves. Put a question again to yourself: What kind of person am I? In the midst of many people, you will not be able to think in this manner. Go to your room, shut your door, put down the telephone, close your eyes, and think for yourself: What kind of person am I? A revelation will emanate from yourself which is contrary to what you thought you are.
Bereft of social associations, bereft of any contact with the wealth of life, bereft of even a cloth on the body, sitting alone by yourself in a lonely corner with nothing around you to consider as your own, in that state of affairs, if you raise a question to yourself, "What am I?" what will you think you are? Misery will be the response to this question. You will enter that nothing seems to be in your hands. As you came, so you go, and so you live also. Your importance to a large extent depends upon social relations, the connection that you establish with people in the world. Minus these connections, what are you? When nobody wants you, when you have nothing for yourself to call your own, when the ground under your feet is shaking and you cannot stand on this earth, when you have lost everything with nothing left to call your own – what do you feel at that time? You will then know what you are.
An empty balloon, which was filled with the air of arrogance, has sustained man through his life. Arrogance cannot feed you; it depletes your personality. It draws your energy out into an area of perception which is misleading you. The more are you egoistic, the weaker you become, though the egoistic person imagines that his importance increases by the affirmations of his personality. Who are you to affirm yourself in this condition of affairs? Everything has been torn into the shreds of unimportance; even the body is trembling, and the mind is roaming around with a crazy power.
Something like that happened to the great epic hero Arjuna, as described to us in the first chapter of the Bhagavad Gita: everything has gone; nothing is left. You do not know whether you have to cry at that moment, or what to do. You are sinking, you are breaking, you are crumbling down, and none wants you in this world. At that time, what is your importance? If any importance is left even in that condition, that is your real nature. If there is nothing left at all in you under these harassing conditions, you are in danger.
Sanatkumara told this to the sage Narada: you are in danger from your egoism of learning. In a series of declarations, the great master Sanatkumara raised the mind of Narada to the heights of larger and larger comprehensions. Here is an essential point for us to bear in mind. The process of sadhana is an adventure, whereby we move forward gradually, by degrees, in the comprehension of our own selves – but, what is meant by "comprehension"? Again, we should not fall into the pit of that list of learning, which Narada presented before the sage Sanatkumara.
The point driven into our minds in this context is that we are not a bundle of social relations, because these relations can snap at any moment, as we can see it in the process of history. Then, what remains? Only your body remains; but the body is unreliable – at any moment it can be snatched away by the icy hands of death.
You still will remain, as you know very well. You will never feel that you have been abolished even by the loss of the bodily personality and all the social relations. You will continue to feel always that "you are," not that the body is, the mind is, friends and relations are, wealth is. Nothing of the kind can be called what you are, because now you are ridding yourself of the relationships, even of the bodily encumbrance, and trying to know where you stand in this great environment of the universe.
Narada is educated by Sanatkumara like a great intelligent psychologist schoolmaster. He came to the astonishing conclusion that our happiness does not lie in acquiring anything at all. It is finally in the acquisition of our own selves. The previous considerations have shown that we can own nothing in this world, not even this body, or our friends and relations. Yet, we do exist, clamouring for an ultimate solution to our perilous predicament.
Sanatkumara's final answer is that we cannot know anything unless we know everything, just as a good physician cannot know the ache in a part of our body unless he knows our whole physical, anatomical, and physiological structure. The whole body has to be known before knowing what has happened to a part of it. If we can apply a similar diagnostic method to our own selves, we may conclude that we are asking for "everything," and not only "something," in this world. That is why anything that is provided to us in any abundance is not going to satisfy us, because we have a feeling that there is something more than what we have already gotten: Why cannot we have that also?
We would like to rule over the earth, if that could be possible; but we would not like to be merely stuck to the ground of the earth as its emperor, because we would be harassed again by our ignorance about the skies and the stars. They are above the air, beyond this world, telling us that we know nothing about them. We would like to conquer the stars in the sky, and all space.
There is no such thing as possession, is what we concluded. If that is the case, we cannot possess the earth, the sky and the stars. Then what do you mean by saying that we have to know everything in order to be happy? You have to know everything by standing inseparate from that which you are seeking, because if you stand separate from it, whether it is the earth or the stars and the skies, it will elude your grasp, just as anything that is outside you will escape from your grip. That which will not leave you, and will always remain with you, is that which is inseparate from yourself.
Then what does Sanatkumara say as a conclusion? "Yo vai bhuma tat sukham." Here is the final Supreme Court judgement on the nature of human happiness: The Infinite is bliss; the finite is wretched. As everything is finite in this world, including our own body and personality, everything is ruled over by utter sorrow of the inadequacy of the finitude of personality. The inadequacy of the finite individuality is overcome by the infinitude that is reigning supreme within the deepest core of every finite being. There is an ocean roaring behind the drop that we appear to be on the surface of perception. That roaring ocean is the Infinite Existence.
The Infinite is not a large accumulation of particulars. One has infinite wealth, we say. This is not the sense in which we have to understand the word "Infinite." Infinite wealth is an accumulated group of finitudes, but many finites do not make the Infinite. Therefore, the richest man, the ruler of the world, is not happy. The Infinite is That, outside which nothing can exist. You can behold nothing outside That; you will behold nothing outside yourself. Nothing will be heard, nothing will be understood through the intellect as external to its own self. This is the great, glorious Infinite. Religions call this state God; philosophers call it the Absolute, Truth, the Ultimate Being. All these names are associated with this wondrous, miraculous, enrapturing, magnificent Truth that we are something more than what we project ourselves to be in our social life, in our public life, even in our private life.
A time now has come, therefore, to ransack our personality threadbare, and be honest to our own selves before we are honest to other people. To thine own Self be true.