Self-Realisation, Its Meaning and Method
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 1

The few words that I shall be trying to speak today are intended specially to be of some benefit to those who are not accustomed to the usual Indian concept of the liberation of the Spirit, call it Self-Realisation, or God-Realisation. While, generally, the citizens of India may be considered to be fairly acquainted with a general notion of what liberation, or the aim of life is, though there may be some, even in India, whose idea about the supreme purpose of life may not be perfect and perspicacious, yet it appears to me that there is a greater misconstruing of the very meaning of the aim of life in certain countries like Europe and America or what you call the jurisdiction of Western culture. The word Self-Realisation is commonly used in spiritual circles, and is often identified with what is known as God-Realisation. In spite of this common usage of what should be regarded as the principal motive behind every human endeavour, there is likely to be the possibility of the intrusion of the human way of thinking even in regard to what is totally transcendent to human reaches. It is an inveterate involvement in the human vision of things that should be regarded as responsible for reading human meaning even in what you may consider as God-Almighty.

Now, the human way of thinking has certain specific characteristics: Firstly it is involved in the concept of spatial extension and distance, and the notion of temporal succession, process and movement, activity and effort, work and achievement of the result or fruit of work. There is no other way in which the human mind can normally think. But to stretch this logic of what one may call the three-dimensional way of thinking, thinking in terms of distance and spatial difference, thinking in terms of temporal process or a terminus calculated by the movement of time, much worse, to think always in terms of human needs only, and not to pay any attention to the possibility of there being things in the world other than human—may be more important than human—should be a matter of concern for everyone.

What on earth does anyone mean by Self-Realisation? What do you mean by God-Realisation? We, with all the stretches of our intelligent imagination, cannot but be human. The human foibles and weaknesses are not merely confined to what we call desires and aversions, likes and dislikes, prejudice, passion and anger. These are, no doubt, weaknesses, but there are more subtle weaknesses which pass for the wisdom of life. There are more dangerous troubles to life in the world than the usually well-known wickednesses which are listed in our catalogues and available in the notification given to us through the scriptures. But the more dangerous and surreptitious intrusions of invisible forms of weakness in human thought are to be a greater matter for our concern than merely an effort to get rid of likes, dislikes, ego, prejudice, etc., which are all publicly known. There are difficulties which are not so well known, and cannot so easily be known also, because these weaknesses are the very constituents of the individuality of man. Man is made up of these weaknesses only, and, therefore, he has no avenue to discover the existence of these weaknesses. The components of human thought are themselves involved in these fundamental weaknesses and, therefore, human thought cannot be permitted entry for any investigation into these matters which concern its own makeup, the very building bricks of its existence itself. These matters are serious in the light of the fact that they are the final barriers, the checkposts, the chungis, which will put to set our hard-earned advantages through the austerities and the Sadhanas we perform to the extent of our knowledge and capacity.

The concept of Self-Realisation can stir up divine visions and a highly balanced outlook of life, a sober approach to every event and factor in life, a policy of impersonality in regard to any kind of encounter in the world. Yes, this is fine, and this can be there, and this is sometimes there. But there can also be something else. John Bunyan in his beautiful work, “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” says in a fine passage that even when you are sure that you are at the gate of heaven itself, you are likely to step into a pit there which can lead to hell at the very gate to heaven. This pit to hell is nothing but the natural incapacity to overcome the human interpretation of the nature of God’s existence. And what is this human interpretation? That God also is positioned in this universe, something like a large individual, though He may be as large as this universe itself. Nevertheless, He is there, somewhere, as we are also here. Now, it is not true that God is somewhere sitting, though we may not be able to understand why it should be so. That we cannot escape the notion of God being somewhere sitting in some position, whatever be the extent of His personality, is related to our spatial way of thinking. God may be in heaven, in Brahmaloka, He may be in the highest possible universality and comprehensiveness of being, yet, He is ‘somewhere.’ The is-ness of God ‘somewhere’ creates a subtle difference between the location in which we are and the location to which we attach God. This notwithstanding the fact that we are honest in conceding an all-encompassing universality to God’s existence. Our honesty is one hundred per cent, and we agree that God is universal, is everywhere, and, therefore, He is everything, and at all times. But, still, I am also here conceiving this universality of God, and that the permission granted to God’s universality will not permit our existence does not occur to our minds. This is a fright to many of even the philosophers, both in the East and the West.

I had a discussion with some brilliant professors of philosophy come from America, well-known teachers of metaphysics, who have written good histories of philosophy. And one of the thinkers whom I had the occasion to meet here was a professor of philosophy from the Cornel University. He mentioned to me during the course of our discussion, “What good is there in such liberation? What point is there in the attainment of God if it means the cessation of the very existence of the seeker of God himself? Who is benefiting? The one who seeks benefit out of God’s experience, or God-experience, you say, will not be there. If the seeker of God is not to be there, who is seeking God?” This is a general difficulty with Western thinking, and it persists even today, and it cannot but persist as long as man is man. Some theologians in the East also have this difficulty.

Here is a point which may be relevant to earnest Sadhakas and seekers who come especially from Western countries, not necessarily professors from universities. There are sincere souls coming from the West, and they are sincere in their search for the finality of God’s Being, the end of human endeavour. But, the spatio-temporal vision of things does not easily take leave, so that there can even be a hard core of conviction within these sincere souls that there is some onerous duty that they have to perform even after entry into the bosom of God. The entry into the universality of God which we call liberation is only a permit that is granted to man for working greater wonders in this world, miracles, perhaps even to the extent of larger services to the human brethren. Again, we are in the midst of human brethren only. We rose from them and we have come back to them after having dipped ourselves in the light and ocean of God’s Being. This is not merely a philosophical mistake or a metaphysical handicap, it may end in a breakdown of the human personality which is in search of God. These subtle empirical intrusions into the final goal of life may, of course, not lead to that realisation, but may do something worse, from which it may be good for everyone of us to guard ourselves, namely, a breakdown of the whole nervous system and a disappointment with life itself, a disgust with existence in this world, and a sense of negation of any meaning in life. There have been honest souls who have finally found that life has no meaning, that it is a total idiocy. “It brings nothing, it can give nothing, and all these pursuits are a pursuit of the will-o’-the wisp, a phantasmagoria, an illusion, a fear-born delusion risen like a devil in the mind of man, a brain-washed education which has ruined my life.” With these notions the sincere seeker may leave this world because of an erroneous notion about God’s nature, the purpose behind the very reason in the search for God, and what actually could happen to one in God-Realisation.

It is difficult to believe that many of us have a clear notion as to what will happen if God-Realisation is to be our blessing. What will happen to us? You may scratch your head up to the core of your cerebrum, but you will not find an easy answer to this terrible question: What will happen to me after I attain God? You will have a hundred answers from a thousand people, all confusing and contradicting one another, leaving you at sea finally and landing you nowhere. This is a predicament we may escape if we have a competent guide. These days we feel that libraries are our Gurus, and travelling also brings experience. Well, this may be true in some percentage, but this is not a final support. Because, whatever be the extent of your study through books and encounter with personages in the various cultures of the world through your itineraries or tours—though they may be cultural tours—you will find that you are the interpreter of the books and you will see in these books only what you want to see, and you will not see there what you do not want to see. You go to these libraries and you go on tours round Ashramas and universities with some spectacles which you have manufactured for yourselves. These spectacles will determine the way of your vision of things and these mental glasses will also decide what you will read in these books. You will read only what is capable of being received by your mind through these specs that you have put on, and nothing else will come to you because you have become your own judge, you have become your own teacher, you have agreed to be your own Guru, finally, and many a young man feels that his judgement can be a final judgement. “What is wrong with them? I do not believe that the suggestions given to me should be wholly accepted. I feel and think and argue in this way and these ways of my thinking and arguing seem to be my ways.” So, a situation has arisen in the modern educated mind, where it considers itself as its own sole support, guide, friend, philosopher, and no other suggestion is acceptable. And even if any suggestion is given, instruction is imparted or knowledge is communicated, it will be received, through these spects, these mental glasses which condition everything that is communicated in any way. They will be sifted according to the idiosyncrasies, the background of education and the social circumstances of the person.

Self-Realisation is not an easy thing to achieve, because the notion of the Self is a barrier and a handicap. What do you mean by the Self when you speak of Self-Realisation? Where is this Self situated? “It is within me.” This is a usual glib answer available for any person. “I seek to know my own Self.” And why do I seek to know my own Self? Because I want to live in peace. What do you mean by peace? No answer can be given. Here, again, we are in a state of confusion. Why do you want Self-Realisation? To know my own Self. Why do you want to know your own Self? To be in a state of balance in my mind and outlook. What for is this effort? To be peaceful. What is peace? That cannot be answered. We do not know what this peace means, about which people talk so much and which is the theme of the various rostrums in the parliaments of cultural discussion the world over, which are taking place from Peru to China! But, what is this Self? While you may say, ‘it is within me,’ and this may appear to satisfy the person who has put this question, you will be sure that it does not satisfy even your own selves. There is no use merely saying ‘the Self is within me and that is my God.’ We have a curious notion of Self and God, indeed. It is within you! When you say, ‘the Self is within me,’ what do you mean by this ‘me’? What is this ‘me’ or the ‘I’? Again, the same question arises. Here, again, we are bodily shackled. We are men and women, we are human, and we cannot be anything else. So this ‘within’ in which the Self seems to be situated is the ‘within’ ‘this body.’ You have confined the notion of yourself to your bodily existence finally, though your intention is to break through the barriers of bodily consciousness in search for the Self. The thief has subtly entered through the back door, while you are keeping police and army at the front door to prevent an entry of the dacoits. They have come through the back door and they have done their work, because the Self which is supposed to be the means to break through the barriers of bodily consciousness has confined itself to the body only, again, for, when the Self is within, it cannot be but within the body. If it is not within the body, within what is it, when you say that it is within? Here is a difficulty before you. Many of the books will not answer this pose. If God is not within, where else is God? And if you say that He is within, within what? Within the body? You are caught again by the very answer that you are giving, which is supposed to be the solution to your problems.

There is also another difficulty that you may have to face. What will you do after Self-Realisation takes place? You may tell me, How can this question arise? It certainly arises and it cannot be escaped by most people because we are bound to the action-ridden world. The world is nothing but a field of activity. We do, and do, and do, and work, and work, and we have nothing else of meaning in life except action, doing something, working. So, naturally, the greatest meaning of life being working, doing, acting and moving towards achievement of something, that being the final meaning, that meaning cannot be abrogated even in what we may call God-Realisation. A heightened form of work may be the advantage we gain after God-Realisation! The Realisation of the Self or the Realisation of God will give me greater strength to work more in this world than I am capable of at present. I may be able to do a greater service to the people than at present. I may live a longer life. I may not die at all after the blessing of God is received. This individual immortality sanctioned to me by the achievement of the Self or the attainment of God will give me such suzerainty over the world that I shall be the master of all things and I shall be a wonder-worker.

Why should not these difficulties present themselves before us? And many of us may have a subtle reason for justifying these arguments. What will I do after the attainment of God? That there is nothing to do after the attainment of God will either make the person go crazy or just give up the pursuit itself, because if nothing is going to be done and nothing is going to happen to me after the attainment of God, it will be a vegetating condition of silent inactivity, a meaningless rotting in a totally void and valueless outcome. These are dangers that are at the back of the human mind. The Self-Realisation that we are speaking of is inconceivable to the human mind, because most of the knowledge that we have is book-born, lecture-born and contact-born by association with varieties of people. It has not come to us through a competent master, whom we have not had the patience to serve.

The ancient system of service of the Guru is not an old-fashioned story or dogma. It is the only way by which the mind can be purified. These difficulties and problems, a specimen of which I am placing before you (there are many others also), are due to impurity of the mind, the non-receptivity of the mind to the entry of Truth in its nakedness. These impurities of the mind are not merely the likes and dislikes and egoisms we are well aware of, but are the very conditions of thinking which prevent true thinking in terms of non-temporal facts. How do I achieve these means by which I can free myself from the shackle of temporal thinking and spatial envisioning? By the service of the Guru, is the answer. What do you mean by service of the Guru? These things are not considered fashionable these days, because we are under the impression that we are over-educated individuals, highly cultured and more broad-minded, advanced in everything, so that we are certainly capable of thinking for ourselves, and we can stand on our own rational and intellectual legs; we do not have to stand on somebody’s feet even if they be the feet of the Guru. Nothing can be a greater blunder in thinking than to think in this manner. The service of the Guru is not an old-fashioned system, and it is indeed the system that will prevail and work even today, and it has to work for all time; because the Guru is not to be regarded as a person, though for all outward vision the Guru may look like any person. There is certainly a mistake in our evaluation of the Guru. The Guru physically, from the point of view of a photographic camera, may look like you, and may not be different from you in any way, from the point of view of the physical contours, but he represents a principle which is wider than you and your individuality. The Guru is not a person, he is not a man or woman; he is a principle which represents a power behind and beyond the visible framework which you call the body of the Guru. There is an aura which is spread by the mentality and the vision of the Guru. That aura is the area which he occupies, and the location of the existence of the Guru is as wide as the reach of his own aura, just as the location of a government official is as wide as the jurisdiction over which he has authority and power. The person will be sitting on a chair like any other, but he is not merely limited to the chair. His power, his capacity and his knowledge in terms of action extend to that limit of space over which he has control and responsibility. In a similar way, we may say that the jurisdiction of the Guru is as wide as the distance of the aura which emanates from him, and, again, to repeat, the Guru is a principle and not a person. And, therefore, to look upon the Guru as a person and then to judge him as you judge anybody else in the world, and to take his word or not to take it from your own point of view, would be to cut the ground from under your own feet.

The purification of the mind is of paramount importance before you study books and imagine that you are on the pedestal of heightened thinking, perhaps on the way to God Himself. To be on the way to God is an immense blessing, nothing can be a more glorious achievement than that—but who can be on the way to God? Which man, which woman, which individual can be sure that he or she is on the way to God, if this humility characteristic of an utter submission to a higher authority, which is the divine principle manifesting itself, is not to be discovered in one’s own self? Many seekers who thought they were after God had disappointment towards the end of their lives.

The realisation of God is mostly identified with the realisation of the Self. And I have no time just now to describe to you why the two should be considered as one and the same thing, while there are others who will portray these two processes in a different way. There is no need to go further deep into these quibbles of academic difference made between Self and God, etc. For all practical purposes, from the point of view of the actual needs of Sadhana we may conclude that Self-Realisation is virtually the same as what we call God-Realisation. But this is a very difficult issue with which one can with hardship reconcile oneself. We have, again, here the inveterate conviction that the Self is ‘within’ ‘me’, well, that may be God. Where is God? The answer is, ‘God is within;’ whose ‘within?’ As pointed out, this concept of ‘within’ is a tantalising thing; one cannot say, where is this ‘within’ and ‘within which person’ is God sitting? We may, of course, say, ‘within everybody.’ Here is a subtle difficulty that may be posed before you once again. That which is within everything is inconceivable to the mind, because that which is within everything has lost the very meaning of ‘within,’ because you have conceded that it is within everything; therefore, not ‘within me only.’ Hence, the word ‘within’ may not apply to God. You cannot also say that God is without. That which is within has also to be without if you conclude that it is within everybody. But that which is within cannot be without, and that which is without cannot be within, and if you say that it is both within and without, your mind will stop thinking. We do not know what we are speaking about. Here is a matter for decision only by a competent master. How are we to encounter in our consciousness that which is the Self, which is God, which is within, which is without, and yet not within and not without? How are we going to think of this? How are we to conceive this? The difficulty in conceiving and entertaining the consciousness of this mystery arises, again, due to the impurities of the mind which we have not got rid of by humble service. I repeat, again, that this is not an old-fashioned system. There is no other way than to be submissive and humble before the might of this tremendous mystery we call God, we call the Self.

There is no end to this process, and the concept of end and terminus also arises on account of the notion of space and time. Someone told me the other day, ‘after all, this effort has to end.’ Why does this idea of end arise in the mind? The end notion arises because of the beginning notion. And notions of beginning and end arise because of the notion of time. God created the world sometime in ancient past—so do we believe. Then, by ‘ancient past’ we mean, again, some beginning of time, though we believe that God is beyond time. Therefore, to calculate the point of the creation of the world at some origin of time would be to defy our acceptance earlier that God is not in time. These are the difficulties, and why do they arise? Why should these difficulties harass us? They all vanish in a second like mist before the sun if the mind is pure. And what is purity of mind? It is the ability to accept simply, humbly and honestly that our knowledge and power is not adequate to the purpose and to accept at the same time that there are powers more than we. We are not the final explanation of things. Whatever education we may be imparted is insufficient here. The great master was approached, even in unthinkable past, by students who were themselves far superior to most us.

Narada, the renowned sage, humbly approached Sanatkumara. Do you think Narada was an unlearned person, an uneducated being? There was no science, no art in which he was not proficient, and no wonder and miracle that he could not work. Such a person devoutly went in submission to the master, Sanatkumara. Where was the need? Indra, the ruler of the gods, who can strike threat and wonder and miracle anywhere, went humbly to Prajapati for knowledge. The Upanishads are interesting demonstrative narrations before us of a series of masters themselves approaching greater masters.

You must have read of the six great men approaching a master, as related to us in the Chhandogya Upanishad. There were five Brahmanishthas, the Upanishad calls so those established in Brahman, not mediocres, not ordinary students—even such people had difficulties. They were meditators on the Atman. They were seekers of the Self. They were after Self-Realisation. But where is the Self? The difficulty naturally arose in their minds. Ah! Where is this Self? One of them asked the other. We are all meditators of the Atman, but where is the Atman? If we do not know where It is, how are we to meditate on It? How are we to conceive It? Five people joined together. They went to a sixth person who was a reputed teacher in the village. But this reputed teacher himself was flabbergasted at these queries. He said, “My dear friends, I am in the same boat as you. I am, too, a meditator on the Atman, to the best of my ability, but I cannot tell you where the Atman is. Let us go to the king of this country. He is known as a master in this Vidya. He is an adept meditator, let us go to him.” We had in ancient India, a tradition of the four classes of people known as Brahmana, Kshatriya, etc. The Kshatriya is the second category, the Brahmana is of the first order. The Kshatriya learns from the Brahmana, but the Brahmana will not learn from the Kshatriya. But all these great gentlemen, the seekers of the Atman, were Brahmanas and the king was a Kshatriya. You will be surprised at the humility with which these Brahmanas went, contrary to the accepted social tradition that a Brahmana will not learn from a Kshatriya. But when these great men went to the king, he thought that they had come for some wealth, because Brahmanas were mostly financially not so well off as the emperors were, and it was the gesture of the king to give charity to all such men as one of his duties. The king said, “Well, I am performing a sacrifice tomorrow, and I shall engage you, and you shall receive the largest benefit.” “We have not come for that, your Highness.” “What for have you come?” “Tell us what you know—we seek nothing else.” “Is this not contrary to tradition, great men, that Brahmanas should come and ask this question with a Kshatriya?” They were good and considerate and generous enough to openly say, “We have not come as Brahmanas, we have come as students, and we regard you not as a Kshatriya, but as a master of knowledge.” And, giving a special concession to the learning and sincerity of these six people, he did not put them to the rack of the disciplines to which students would be subjected usually before initiation is given. “Come tomorrow, I shall see what can be done,” he said. And you know how the story went and what questions were put by the king, what answers came from each one, and how each of the methods of meditation carried and conducted by these different men was examined. There was a flaw which was detected by this master, the king, who was an adept in this Vidya. What was the defect? The very same ones to which I made reference, a few minutes before: Where is this Atman? What is Self-Realisation? How would I conceive It? And, finally, what for is this Self-Realisation? Do not tell me that it is for peace of mind. I have already told you, this is a word which can convey no sense in the end, because no one can say what is peace of mind. It is an un-understood slogan, a shibboleth, whose significance is not clear. What is peace?

However, this is a story which you can read for yourself, and many of you may be acquainted with what I mean, what answers were given by the king. They all pertain to the question of the Self’s location and the way of meditation on It. The defect, the mistake, the shortcoming, the lacuna in the meditation of these reputed six great men was that they located the Atman ‘somewhere!’ It is ‘within’ or It is ‘somewhere.’ Now, the point is that the Atman is not ‘within,’ and It is not ‘somewhere,’ that both these statements are not correct. So, where is It, if It is not somewhere, and If It is not within? And a subtle answer was given by the master, the emperor who was so approached. Likewise, we have the lives of saints and sages of both the East and the West, who served great men with humility, sometimes even till old age, till their hairs became grey.

We need not be carried away by the complacence common to people that everything is clear to our minds. We will find that while everything seems to be clear now, when we proceed further and further, we will find it gets blurred more and more, until we see an iron hill in front of us, a mountain, a dark curtain which we will not be able to pierce, because the egoism of the individual is already there, which told that everything is clear. Humility is the hallmark of the spiritual seeker, and the guidance of a master is essential.