Sadhana – The Spiritual Way
by Swami Krishnananda


Chapter 9: Vaishvanara Vidya

Prajapati, the Creator, in his assembly hall, is said to have proclaimed, "Whoever knows the Self shall obtain everything." This declaration was heard by the gods as well as the demons. They all felt that this is good news.

"Whoever knows the Self shall obtain everything. Then we shall know the Self, so that we may have all things. We shall learn what this Atman, this Self, is. We shall go to Prajapati and request him to initiate us into the mystery of the Atman." The gods were represented by Indra, the ruler of the gods; the demons were represented by their leader, known as Virochana. Indra and Virochana, both, went to Prajapati and pleaded before him, "We have heard your great statement that whoever knows the Self shall have all things. We wish to know the Self."

Prajapati said: "Yes, good. Go and stand near a reservoir of water and see what is there; whatever you see there is the Self. Go. I have initiated you into the nature of the Self." They were very happy – this initiation is very simple,so Indra and Virochana saw what was there in the pool of water. What would they see, except their own body? Virochana and Indra saw themselves reflected in the water. Is this the Self? Well, Prajapati, the great Master, has told us that this is the Self. It must be. Very good.

Virochana was very happy, "I have understood the Self; now I shall have all things." He went to his people and proclaimed to all the Asuras that this is the Self. "This very body is the Self because this is what I have learned from the master Prajapati. Decorate it, feed it, maintain it well, let it be beautiful and gallant. This visible physical body is the Self." Thus, Virochana was fully satisfied on a simple indicative statement of Prajapati that what you see with your eyes is the Self.

After all, what can you see with your eyes, except material substance? Whatever you have before you as things to be contacted by the sense organs are substances, matter; and even this body of your own is just matter. Materialism became the philosophy of the Asuras: All that you contact with the sense organs, including all that you see with your eyes, is the Self. Materialism proclaims that the visible is the real, the tangible is the real, the audible is the real.

Virochana was satisfied; but Indra, on his way, began to doubt the significance of this instruction. How could this body be the Self? It can decay; it can die also one day. Will the Self also decay and die? This body is subject to diminution gradually by old age and it is going to be annihilated by death. If this body is the Self, this Self is of no utility to us. There is something wrong with this instruction. Indra went back to Prajapati. "Great master, I have a doubt."

Prajapati said, "Why have you come? I have already initiated you."

"No, I am feeling that this self, which you have suggested is perishable (what I see with my eyes), does not seem to be the real Self because that is material and destructible. Please instruct me properly."

"Yes, you can go back. What you see in dream is the Self."

Indra went back. On the way, again, he had doubts: "How could the thing that I see in dream be the Self, because it is as futile, as oscillating and transient, as what I see with my physical eyes in the waking state? Practically, there is no difference in the character of dream objects as compared with the waking ones."

Again, Indra went to Prajapati and said, "I don't see much meaning in this dream self, because it is as transitory as what I see with my eyes in the waking condition."

"What you experience in the state of deep sleep is the Self. Go," said Prajapati.

Indra was satisfied. "Now I have better instruction." But on the way, again, he had doubts. "What can I see in deep sleep? It is as if I am dead. It is darkness, annihilation, a kind of void, a nothingness. Is this the Self?" So he went back to Prajapati. "Sir, there is some doubt again."

"What is your doubt?"

"This Self which you are identifying with the state of sleep is as though it is not there at all. It is a Self-annihilation actually, instead of Self-existence. Darkness and negation seems to be the nature of the state of deep sleep. How could that be the Self?"

"Now, sit here," said Prajapati. "I shall tell you what the Self is." After testing Indra three times, the real instruction came from the mouth of Prajapati: "Transcendent is the Self, which rises above the entanglements and involvements in body, mind and the causal condition of sleep. The Self is not what is involved in the body. It is also not what is experienced in dream. It is not what is happening in sleep. It is beyond waking, dreaming, and deep sleep."

How can you contemplate this so-called transcendency which is not to be associated with anything that we are capable of experiencing in this world? What is it that you are seeing? This body, this bundle of relations connected with this body, and the dream and the sleep. We pass through three states of consciousness every day. These three states are waking, dreaming and sleep. We do not have any other experience in this world. Nobody has seen what is beyond waking, dreaming and sleep. Now, if Prajapati, the Creator, is to tell us that the Self is none of these, what else is it?

This kind of question arose in the minds of six great learned people as we have it recorded in the Chandogya Upanishad. What is the Atman? If the realisation of it is the greatest of blessings which one can think of at any time, how are we to attain it? How is it to be contemplated or meditated upon?

I suggested to you that these great men went to the king of the country, Ashvapati Kaikeya, and requested him to initiate them into the true nature of the Self. The king queried each one of them, "What are you already doing? What is the practice that you are carrying on? What is your notion of the Atman? Let me first of all hear what you know already. Then let me see if I can tell you something more." Each one of them started saying what he knew.

"I consider this entire earth as the Self," one of them said. "The whole physicality that I can think of is the Self."

"This is what you think is the Self?" said the king. "This is as if it is the footstool of the Cosmic Being. As the entire physical earth is a part of the whole of creation, you are considering a part as the whole. The Self is the wholeness of existence, and are you contemplating a section of the wholeness as the entirety? It is good that you came to me in due time for rectifying your mistake. If you had not come to me, your legs would have gone out on account of an erroneous contemplation on the footstool of the Atman."

Then, the other people also had their own say. One said, "I contemplate the sun." Another said, "I contemplate the whole sky or entire space as the Atman." And varieties of such objective considerations of them were placed before the king as their own practices and processes of meditation.

The king, who was a master of the spiritual wisdom known as Vaishvanara Vidya, said, Every one of your statements is involved in a mistake. Whether you meditate on the earth, or the sun, or the space, or the ocean, or light – whatever it is, this cannot be regarded as a real concept of the Atman, because you are making two basic mistakes in your notion of the Atman. Whatever be the object which you are identifying with the Atman, the procedure that you are adopting itself is an erroneous one. What is the error?

"There is a twofold error. Firstly, you are thinking that the Atman is outside you. When you say it is the earth, it is the sky, it is the sun, it is the water, it is the ocean, it is the light, you are considering the Atman as something outside you. This is the first mistake.

"The second error is that you are thinking that the Atman is in some place, and not in all places. Whether it is the ocean or the sun or whatever it is, they are locations spatially and durationally and, therefore, they cannot be regarded as a correct conception of the Self."

We have noticed in our considerations that the Self is an inwardness of experience and it is not to be associated or identified with anything that is outside. The outside things also have their own selves. This is, of course, to be granted and conceded. All people who are outwardly visible to the eyes, all things which are externally capable of contact with the sense organs, no doubt appear to be outside oneself. I am seeing you all seated in front of me and everyone is outside me as far as my perception goes, but each one of you has the Atman inside, the Self.

This Self, which is the indwelling principle in each and every person and each and every thing, is not cognisable either through the mind or through the sense organs because of the fact of its being the Self and not the seen thing. It is the seer, the knower, the cogniser, the perceiver, the experiencer. It is not what is seen or perceived or experienced, notwithstanding the fact that whatever is perceived or seen also has a self. How will you reconcile these two – aspects of your awareness of things in the world?

On the one hand, you appear to be sitting in front of me as external objects. On the other hand, it is to be appreciated fully that the Atman within me is also present in you. So, the knowledge of the Atman would not be equivalent to the perception of anything through the sense organs, but another kind of intuitive grasp, so to say,an insight into the Self-hood of the so-called external perceptions (persons, things, etc.) through a medium of contact which is other than sensory media. You have to adopt some means of the cognition of the Atman. What is the means that you are adopting in the perception of things in the world? Eyes, ears, etc. – but these are inadequate for the purpose.

Something which is dissimilar in nature to the Atman cannot become a suitable medium for the experience of the contact of the Atman. Whatever is similar in nature to the Atman alone can see, experience or contact the Atman. Is there anything in us which is similar to the Atman? There is obviously nothing similar to the Atman. The Atman alone is similar to the Atman.

Gaganam gaganakaram sagarah sagaropamah; rama ravanayor yuddham rama ravanayoriva: "How was the battle between Rama and Ravana?" someone asked. What is the comparison? The sky is like sky, the ocean is like ocean. Rama and Ravana's battle was like the battle between Rama and Ravana. You cannot compare it with anything else because they were incomparable occurrences.

So if you ask me, "How does the Atman look?" the answer is that it looks like the Atman only. And if you have any means of contacting the Atman, there is nothing in this world which can be an adequate medium of contacting it – not this body, not this dream self, not the sleeping self, also, as Prajapati has already indicated. Whatever you experience in the waking condition – the entire universe of physical perception – is insufficient for the contact of the Self. And all that you see in dream and sleep, of course, are good for nothing. And inasmuch as we have nothing here except these three states which you consider as useless, non-utilitarian and inadequate, what other means can you adopt in the knowledge of the Self? No answer can easily come to this question.

The Self alone can contact the Self. Ascaryavat pasyati kascid enam ascaryavad vadati tathaiva canyah; ascaryavac-cainam anyah srnoti srutvapy-enam veda na caiva kascit: A wonder is this great subject that you are discussing. A wonder is the person who can really expound it. A wonder indeed is the person who can actually understand what is being told. Wonderful indeed is the method adopted in the exposition of it. But in spite of this wonder which is the nature of the Self, even after hearing it a hundred times, nobody understands what actually it is.

How could you understand, inasmuch as understanding is a function of the intellect, and the intellect is a function that is operative, characteristic, only of the waking condition? The highest faculty available to the human being is intelligence which is manifest through the intellect, or the buddhi, or the reason, as we call it. But it comes under everything that is within the jurisdiction of the waking state. If all that is in the waking condition is not to be considered as a proper means of contacting the Self, then your understanding which is logical, intellectual, rational, also is of no utility here. All knowledge which is academic in nature, scriptural, linguistic, verbal, and grammatical, will not be of any use here.

The Atman is known by the Atman only. When you sink into the Atman, then you behold the Atman. What is the meaning of sinking into the Atman? And who is going to sink into the Atman? Is the body going to sink into it? No. The body cannot sink into the Self because the body is a perishable, material component. Neither can the mind, because that also is a rarefied form of matter only, nor the sleeping condition, for obvious reasons. The Self has to sink into the Self. The Self has to know the Self. This "you" so called, the sadhaka, the spiritual seeker, the practitioner of yoga, the devotee, whoever that person is, is actually the Self, and not this body or even the mentation or the process of thinking.

Questions arise one after the other, "How?" This is a fantastic situation that is apparently before us. There is no go except to realise it. But there is no go also in the way of our adapting ourselves to the situation by which we can know it. The answer is self-control – tapas. Tapas is the way of the contact of the Self by the Self. This consciousness which is the nature of the Self pervades all things. Because of the pervasion of this consciousness through this body, we are feeling that we are the body. We feel that we are existing as this body. This consciousness of the body existing is actually attributable to the consciousness pervading it. If the consciousness is abstracted from the body, it will become a corpse. So, the feeling of the existence of the body is not actually a quality of the body; it is a quality of the Self, which is consciousness. But, inasmuch as it has got identified with the cellular structure of the physical body, it looks as if the body is the Self.

Suppose a long iron rod is heated until it becomes white with heat. If you touch it, it will burn your fingers. Are you touching the fire, or are you touching the iron rod? You may say, "I am touching the hot iron rod," but the iron rod did not burn you. The quality of the iron rod, which was heat, was responsible for the burning sensation.

In a similar manner, this body has become red-hot, as it were, with the pervasion of consciousness, and that is why we feel that we are full of sensation and awareness. Every part of the body is charged with consciousness. If the body had the character of consciousness by itself, even a dead body should be aware. Why is the corpse not conscious? If you are to imagine for the time being, as behaviourist psychology or materialism will say, "The body itself can manufacture or exude consciousness," why should it not do that when it is dead? This phenomenon you call death teaches us a very good lesson – namely, that the sensation of consciousness in the body is not a quality of the body. It is another thing altogether which is extracted out of it at the time of death.

Similar is the consciousness of thought. We say we are thinking intelligently. Thinking is a process which is charged with a consciousness other than itself. The process of thinking itself is not consciousness, in the same way as the physical embodiment is not consciousness. So is the case with the deep sleep. In the state of deep sleep, there is no consciousness, practically. But the subsequent memory that you entertain or you maintain of having slept the previous day is an indication of the fact that consciousness was there even in the state of deep sleep, but shrouded in ignorance.

Then, what is the outcome of this analysis? Consciousness is present in the waking and the dreaming and the deep sleep states, but it is none of these. Fire is present in a red-hot iron bar; fire is present in a burning fuel; fire is present in anything that is hot and burning. But it is none of these which are the media through which it is burning. If a lamp is burning through a wick, the wick is not the lamp. The flame is quite different from the wick.

In a similar manner, we have to adopt a means of extracting this consciousness from its involvement in all particulars, firstly by detachment from all things which attract us or repel us. The attractions and repulsions cause loves and hatreds, emotionally. Your likes and dislikes for one reason or the other are consequences of the attractions and the repulsions engendered by the nature of objects contacted by the sense organs.

It is essential to arrange the pattern of our thinking in such a way that we centre it in itself, so that thought thinks itself rather than it thinks something outside. As philosophers tell us: thought thinking itself is God; thought thinking other than what it is, is man.

Thought has to think itself; consciousness has to be deposited in itself, as it were, and it has not got to be deposited in the physical body or the objects outside. When you are awake, generally, you are thinking of something outside, only.

Now, inasmuch as outside-ness is not a quality of consciousness (its nature is universality and subjectivity, pure perception and not perceptible objects), think the thought but do not think that which the thought is thinking. Withdraw the consciousness from the object on which it is contemplating and sink it down through the body, through the mind, through the causal state, into itself. Or rather, to put it more symbolically, feel intensely that you are thinking Yourself – but not thinking yourself as a physical body. This difficulty also should be avoided as much as possible. This Yourself, so called, has a big capital "Y" and not a little "y." The Self is not anything other than what it is; therefore, it cannot be any one of the objects. It is just what it is. It is a pure subject, but it is a subject that is indivisible.

King Ashvapati Kaikeya mentioned to the six great learned men that the mistake that they have committed in the contemplation of the Self, the Atman, was that, first of all, they thought it is outside; and secondly, they thought that it is in one place only.

Now, can you imagine yourself to be in such a position where you are neither outside, nor in one place? This is a kind of circus feat of consciousness by which it is possible to withdraw the sensations through a process called abstraction, or pratyahara, in yoga practice, and it settles in itself.

It is not easily done because of the habituation of consciousness to think only of external things in space and time. But, by an analysis of your own experiences in waking, dream and sleep, you can go deep into your own Self – "I am not this physical body because of the location of the body in one place, and the objectivity of it on the other side." Ashvapati Kaikeya's instruction was that consciousness is not located in one place and it is not also something that can be seen with the eyes. This body can be seen with the eyes and, therefore, it is one of the material objects. This body is one of the material substances in the world; therefore, it is an objective something. Therefore, the error pointed out by King Ashvapati is applicable to the perception of the physical body, also. And it is, on the other hand, also located in one place. This body cannot be everywhere.

Anything that is in one place only and not everywhere and also which is perceptible by the eyes cannot be regarded as the Self. So, you are not this body. This is very clear. Then what else are you? Are you the thought? The mind? No. What does the mind think? The mind also thinks something that is outside itself. Otherwise, what else is the content of thought?

You brood over things which are not you and, therefore, the thought process also is objective. Inasmuch as it is externally placed, the mind also is not the Self. And inasmuch as it is thinking only localised things, it commits the other mistake of locality. The mind also is not the Self, for the same reason why the physical body is not the Self. The body is not the Self for the two defects involved in it; for the same defects, the mind also is not the Self.

What else? The same difficulty arises which was pursued by Indra: is the deep sleep the Atman? No, because it is a negation of all values. The Atman is omniscient, all-knowing, present everywhere and conscious that it is present everywhere. It is not enough if you have wealth. It is necessary also that you know that you have wealth. Unconscious possession is no possession. So, it is an existence which is indivisible, non-objective, but conscious. This feat of contemplative process has to be achieved by every one of us in our meditations. This would be really meditation on the Atman.

Ashvapati Kaikeya, the great king, concludes his instruction to the seeking masters, saying, Whoever is capable of adjusting the consciousness in such a way that it can be considered as pervading all things, and yet be the Self and the deepest seer in the contemplator, attains the blessedness of eternity, infinity, immortality. The Truth is the Selfhood of Universality.

You need not have to enjoy things through the mouth, through your sensations. You will be enjoying all things through everything, everywhere, through all people in the whole universe because of your identification of the consciousness with all things in the world. "I am whatever I perceive."

When you see something, feel your presence in it. If you see a sparrow pecking grains, feel that you are pecking the grains, not the sparrow. If you see the light burning, you are burning there. If you see a pillar here, you are standing here. There is no pillar; I am standing here. If you see a tree in front of you, you are there. If the river is flowing, you are flowing. If the sun is shining, you are shining. If the space is vast, you are vast. If the ocean is turbulent, you are turbulent. Can you identify your consciousness in this manner? This is to put succinctly the instruction of Ashvapati Kaikeya whereby, success being achieved, one enjoys life in all beings, in all the fourteen worlds, and in every self of every little thing in the universe.

What will happen to that person who achieves this great goal? The world will fall at his feet. Generally, we fall at the feet of the world. We go and beg; everybody is doing like this. The world will come and beg and fall at your feet. Whoever performs this great sacrifice of the self in the Cosmic Self, which is known as agnihotra in the Upanishad, becomes like a mother to all creation. As hungry children sit round the mother asking for their daily meal, their breakfast, their lunch and dinner, saying, "Mother, give us food," – so will the whole world sit around this person and ask for his blessing. He becomes the parent of the universe, the centre of all creation – whoever knows this Self.

Such is the intricacy behind the teaching of Prajapati, the Creator, which was imparted to Indra, and the subtle secret behind the wonderful Vaishvanara Vidya instruction given by King Ashvapati Kaikeya to the great masters who went to him for instruction.