Spiritual Aspiration and Practice
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 1: Understanding Our Spiritual Aim

We have now before us a series of continuous sessions for the coming days of special deliberations, usually designated as Jnana Sathra, or commonly known as Sadhana Week. It is so called because during these days we are supposed to devote our time especially for intense considerations along the lines of our inner focus towards the Goal that we might have placed before ourselves. It is also called Jnana Sathra, offering at the altar of Knowledge. What we mean is an enlightenment into the manner and the method that we have to adopt in bestowing serious thought on this subject.

We are aiming at the achievement of a purpose. Every person in the world has some aim or motive, a purpose before himself or herself, without a consciousness of which no one will even lift a finger. If you see a thing, hear a thing, do a thing or move in any direction, there is a purpose behind this activity of yours psychologically, physically or socially. Purposeless actions are unthinkable. But what is the purpose? Each person in the world will give his own or her own answer. Why are you doing business? Why are you studying in schools and colleges? Why do you go to temples? Why do you do anything at all? What are you aiming at, finally? Though the answer seems to be ready at hand with all people, we will realise in the end on a careful probing into the matter that every answer to this question is tentative, relative and never final. In the end you have to say, “I cannot say what I am seeking.”

At the outset you will feel that right from the early morning onwards, you are face to face with certain realities. Your life presents itself before you as a kind of confrontation; you have to handle it in a particular manner. The moment you wake up in the morning you are face to face with a reality. On the one hand, it is the reality of the physical universe – the sun and the moon and the stars and the mountains and the rivers and what not. On the other hand, you have the world of human beings.

Instinctively, we make an adjustment of our personality with the conditions imposed upon us by physical nature as well as the social context in which we are placed. If it is hot in summer or it is cold in winter, or it is blowing a powerful wind or it is raining, whatever the case may be, we adjust ourselves according to the prevailing natural condition by various ways and means. This we do spontaneously. At the same time, we are conscious of people around us, even beginning from our nearest servant with whom we have to adjust ourselves in a particular manner. We cannot simply imagine that he does not exist. A visible humanity and a conceptual humanity are both there before us to be handled in a particular manner.

Is this the only thing that we are expected to do in this world – a kind of self-adjustment with natural forces and human conditions? We do that every day. Everyone does it, and that seems to be the be-all and the end-all of all things. Everybody is very busy. Busy with what? Busy with these adjustments only. We have to somehow or other see that we survive, keep our body and soul together intact in the context of this confrontation before us with physical nature as well as human society. We are actually fighting with something with which we cannot easily accommodate ourselves. This fight may not take the form of a material or physical presentation, but it will be a conscious tension in the mind.

Do you believe that it is a happy thing that you are required to be always adjusting your mind to some conditions prevailing outside, and do you do anything else in the world except this? With this physical body which has its own peculiarities, predilections and demands we have to adjust ourselves, and with other things which I have already mentioned. Is life just an adjustment of personality with prevailing conditions, or has it any qualitative meaning? Is it having an intrinsic worth?

An activity which is only an adjustment to the conditions prevailing outside has no intrinsic value. It is purely an extrinsic arrangement of the context of our individuality with the individualities of people outside. This is the battle we are facing every day – a thing that we must do, and have to do. See that you do not come a cropper in this attempt of yours in placing yourself in a state of harmony and cooperation with the world outside.

The world is before you. What do you do with it? What are you to do with this world? Is it your friend? Is it going to bow down to all your requirements and demands? Will it say ‘yes’ to everything that you say? The world does not seem to be prepared to accept this requirement on your part. Mostly it appears that we have to bend before the world. It has its own natural laws which will not change just because you would like it to change. The sun will shine, the rivers will flow, and the winds will blow.

Do people in this world feel comfortable to adjust themselves because of your personal requirements? Would you like all people to think as you would like to think? You would, of course. I would wish that everybody thinks as I think, and do what I want them to do. It may be a very satisfactory feeling in each individual. But if each one entertains this feeling that everybody else should bow to the psychological requirements of one’s own self, and each one thinks like that, it is like saying nobody thinks like that. It is a clash, and a kind of preparation for the great Mahabharata war will be the consequence. If each one wants everything, no one will get anything.

The Mahabharata context, which is beautifully placed before us in the first chapter of the Bhagavadgita, is briefly a traditional epic presentation of the few words that I spoke to you just now. There is a great fear inside – the fear, not that something will happen, but that something can happen. If you stand before an elephant, there is a fear – not that the elephant is really going to do anything, because it may be keeping quiet, but that it has the capacity to do something. You dread an ocean, you dread an elephant, you dread the world – not because the ocean is going to swallow you, but it has the capacity to swallow you. You are aware of it. So is the case with an elephant and the world at large. You are frightened.

Right from birth to death, we are in a state of fear of it being perhaps not possible for us to place ourselves in a state of perfect harmony and friendliness with this world. This is not a normal way of living. To be compelled to adjust oneself perpetually at every moment of time and to do a thing according to the requirements of conditions prevailing outside is a submissive life, a kind of slavish existence, a surrender to conditions abstracted totally from freedom. As long as nature is there as your schoolmaster and people are there to see that you bend before their wishes, you have no freedom. Neither the world of nature will give you freedom, nor people around are prepared to do that. But, you ask for freedom.

This freedom that you are inwardly contemplating in the deepest recesses of your heart is a varied expectation from your side, an asking for something which does not seem to be in this world because nobody seems to be really free in this world. No one can be one hundred percept free as long as there is another thing conditioning this freedom by its very existence. The freedom that you want will limit the freedom that I require, so no one can be one hundred percent free. There is limited freedom granted to the extent that you are also prepared to grant the very freedom to others which you expect from others. So there is only a relativity and a limitation of freedom. Absolute freedom you cannot see in this world.

In the same way, perfection is not seen in this world. Everything is defective. There is something wrong with everything that we see or touch or face before us. What is it that we are asking for? Absolute, unconditioned and unlimited freedom, and utter perfection. This, you cannot see in this world. How come you are asking for things which are not available in this world? Nobody can be one hundred percent free, and yet you are asking for that only. There is nothing perfect in this world, but you are seeking perfection only. Is there any sense in this asking, or you are just pursuing a wild-goose chase? Is there such a thing called freedom, and is there such a thing called perfection? If you open your eyes and look at the world, you will find that there is nothing of the kind. It is all bondage, suffering, crying and expecting, but getting nothing. Yet, the soul says, “I shall be free and I have to be, and everything has to be perfect to the core.” From where does this aspiration arise in the human being who is encased in this brittle personality of the body and who has no idea of perfection or freedom as long as the eyes are open before this world?

The aspiration in us presents a picture of a transcendent existence which alone can be our solace. If perfection is not in this world, it has to be somewhere else; if I cannot have one hundred percent freedom in this world, I shall have it somewhere else, not in this world. How is it possible to see any meaning and sense in our asking for that which is never existent in this world? The meaning is that it must be existing somewhere. The soul is not so foolish as to expect that which can never exist. It exists somewhere, and we are trying to pursue that which is certainly existing, because how can we expect a thing which does not exist? The mind is not a crazy thing which is asking for things which never exist anywhere. Freedom, freedom, perfection, perfection – there is nothing else that living beings seek. Even a plant or animal wishes its freedom. It requires a perfect existence by itself.

Where does this freedom exist? We concluded that it is not in this world. Then we picture before ourselves a world of existence which is different from this world. Critics of religion sometimes tell us that we are otherworldly in our outlook when we think in this manner. “Seek the Kingdom of God,” “Know thyself,” “Come unto Me, all ye who are heavy laden,” “Abandon all other laws in this world and come to Me alone for solace.” These proclamations and characterisations of this kind do not seem to tell us anything connected with this world.

Are we to exist in this world for the sake of another world? This is another question before us. You are not satisfied with anything in this world because the thing that you expect cannot be had here. You are expecting to find your solace only in another world which you seem to be presenting before yourself as a mental picture. So you live in this world for the sake of being in another world. What is this situation, this state of affairs? Can you live in two worlds at the same time? Is such a thing possible?

Would you like to sever your relationship with this world and devote yourself only for the sake of another world? There are some people who go to the extreme of asceticism and an otherworldly attitude of general perception with a hidden conviction that there is nothing sensible in this world. But there is a contradiction in these people. A feeling that there is nothing valuable in this world cannot go hand in hand with your existence in this world. The very fact that you would like to exist in this world shows that the world is not so meaningless as you think or picture before yourself. Will you like to abolish your existence in this world in one second because the world has no perfection and no freedom possible? No. You would like to live as long as possible in this body. You pray for long life, health, longevity, don’t you? What is the meaning of praying for longevity and perfection and health in this world, which to you, on this analysis, is meaningless?

A religious consciousness, an awareness of an initial concept of spirituality may involve yourself in a tension and contradiction of this kind – a kind of shunting of yourself between this world and the other world, sometimes feeling that the other world alone is meaningful: this world is nothing; renounce everything. But sometimes the soul says you cannot destroy this body as long as it is involved in this world. There seems to be a connection between this world and the other world. This world which denies you freedom and perfection seems to have some vital connection with the other world which is going to grant you perfection and freedom.

The Bhagavadgita is a masterly teaching on the way we have to adopt in our life, the manner in which we have to conduct ourselves in this world, so that we may strike a rapprochement between this world and the other world. This art is called karma yoga. Action is in the very skin of this world. Na hi kaścit kṣaṇam api jātu tiṣṭhaty akarmakṛt (Gita 3.5): There is nothing, not even an atom, that is immovable. Everything is action and everything is activity; everything is movement, everything is evolution. We are involved in this process of evolution. Every cell in the body is moving and transforming itself into a new condition. Every moment we renew ourselves, rejuvenate ourselves; we become new every moment. There is activity within and without. This compulsion to involve ourselves in continuous activity makes us part and parcel of this world, but it is activity for the achievement of a purpose to which I made reference in the beginning itself.

What is the purpose of this activity? Why should there be evolution? Why should atoms move? Why should the sun shine? Why should there be planetary movement? Why should there be anything at all? The present seems to be giving us an indication of the future. A logical conclusion can be drawn from present conditions in respect of a future that is before us. We always live in the future in the sense that we are expecting something every moment, something different from what we are already having now. Every moment is an expectation of a future achievement, transcendent to the present condition which is not satisfying. So in a way, we are always living in the future and are trying to lift our legs from the present. We are on an onward march towards a future possibility of a greater freedom and perfection. This is a picture that you may find placed before you when you go deep into the question of spiritual practice or living a religious life.

This world is very valuable because this body is also valuable. It is a part of this world. As threads are connected to a piece of cloth or fabric, this body, this personality is connected vitally to the whole world of nature. This entire world is a large spread-out fabric of which you are a thread. So when you speak of renunciation in the light of a religious enthusiasm or on account of a spiritual call from inside, when you think of renouncing  (every religion speaks of renunciation), question yourself as to what are you going to renounce.

When you say, “I am renouncing the world,” it is already meaning that you are a part of the world. It is like a thread saying, “I renounce the cloth.” When the cloth goes, the thread also goes, so when you renounce the world, you are also gone. Would you like to place yourself in this condition where you too have to go, along with your renunciation? Mostly, novitiates do not understand their difficulty. They think the world can go, but they should not go. If the renouncer also goes, what is the purpose of renunciation? Do you feel the difficulty before you? You cannot renounce the world unless you renounce yourself first because you are a part of it, organically connected with the fabric of nature. But, who is going to renounce oneself? The meaning is not clear. What do you mean by ‘renouncing oneself’? Here again is a teaching before you in the Bhagavadgita. I am not speaking to you today on the Bhagavadgita, I am only taking its name to mention that here is a great guideline before you, which has to be read carefully, thoroughly with intense probing into its meaning and connotation.

This question of the way in which you have to live a life of religious renunciation has to be properly answered to the satisfaction of your own soul. We do not live a religious life so that others may think that we are religious. We seek God not because others should know that we are thinking of God. That is not at all the case. We don’t live here for the sake of other people’s opinion about us. Many a time this difficulty, this hidden problem will insinuate itself into us. We may like to behave in such a way that we may be considered as a renunciate or a religious person or a spiritual seeker. Would you like people to think that you are a nothing? You will be very unhappy at this state of affairs, so you somehow or other try to place yourself in a condition where you are something before others.

Religious life is a life in the presence of God. It is not life in the presence of the world outside, or in the presence of people around you. You are face to face with the ultimate reality when you take the first step in religion. It is as if the eyes of God are looking at you, the Chief Justice of the cosmos is seeing you, and you know how to conduct yourself at that moment. This is true religion; this is true spirituality. It has no connection with the physical world outside or people around you. It has a direct connection with that which you are asking for at the end, the final destiny of yours. The final reality is gazing at you and demanding some manner of behaviour from your part. The consciousness of one’s being in the presence of God perpetually is true religion. If any other consciousness is in you, that is a delusion of true aspiration.

This world goes together with the other world, as I mentioned to you. This world which God has created goes together with the God who has created. The relative and the Absolute are components of a single indivisibility of purpose. The body and the soul have to be together; they cannot be thrown to different sides with the body here and the soul somewhere else. In the same way, God and the world have to be blended together into an indivisibility of consciousness. Simultaneously you are in this world and the other world. Simultaneously you are transcendent and immanent. Simultaneously you are here and there. Simultaneously you are conscious of a perfection around you and above you, while at the same time you are active towards the achievement of that purpose. You become a hero, a dheera, a heroic soldier of the spirit who is bent upon achieving his goal and girding up his loins, in every way possible, to see that the thing that soul is asking for, this utter perfection and freedom, is attained as early as possible.

Many a time we have another doubt in our mind: is it possible at all in this world of problems and in this very life? We may have to take many lives. There is no necessity to take many lives. The characteristic of spiritual practice or religion does not depend upon the quantity of performance, but the quality of it. A few minutes of qualitative thinking will be superior to many years of quantitative thinking merely. The way in which you think is more important than the quantity of work that you do, or your performances in the world. One thought which is correctly directed towards that which is your aim and purpose will burn all your karmas, destroy all that is heaped up in your psyche from your past lives, much more intensely than all the appurtenances of religion in the form of temple, church and paraphernalia and dress and behaviour, scriptures, rituals and what not.

Your value lies in what you are, and not merely in what you do. Your being is your essence, and all the becomings of nature are conveyed into this true expectation, the enhancement of your being. The goal of life is the enhancement of being, which in Sanskrit is called sat – the expansion of satta in you, the widening of your consciousness of existence. Consciousness of existence in Sanskrit is chit of sat. The existence of consciousness is sat of chit. The utter perfection, the great freedom is called in Sanskrit sat-chit or chit-sat, as you like. Because it is total freedom and utterly perfect, it is tremendously blissful. Therefore, it is called ananda. The utter perfection is sat-chit-ananda, existence-consciousness-bliss. It is not existence and consciousness and bliss. It is existence which is conscious of its own bliss. Such a thing is before you. It is around you. It is flooding you. It is within you, calling you, and never giving you a moment of rest unless you seek it.

I propose to speak to you some more words along these lines for the benefit of both my own self and the benefit of other people, so that I may be able to contribute something from my side to the achievement of this valuable thing for which you have come here, to be seated in this Sadhana Week session, in this jnana sathra. May God bless me to give me the strength to speak before you and tell you what is of real utility to you. God bless you.