Living a Spiritual Life
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 6: A Comprehensive Vision of Our Own Selves

We had in our earlier sessions a thorough study of the internal structure of the human personality in its relationship to the world and objects in general. But, our relations do not get exhausted merely by a study of the psychological constitution of ourselves and the consequent relation of such a constituent personality with the world of objects.

What is ultimately real is not exhausted by either our inner psychological constitution or the externally perceived physical nature. Mostly, in an enthusiasm of empirical observation, people do not see anything beyond themselves and the world before them. All the business of life, the activity of people, and the manifold endeavours in which one engages seem to be covering only the outer shell of the substance of reality. With all the efforts of man to make himself comfortable and secure in this world, he has remained insecure and uncomfortable, which is something which everyone has to appreciate for one’s own self.

From the beginning of history, materialistic science, sociological programs and political organisations have been working in a hectic manner to make life secure and happy, and trying to increase the quantum of happiness to the maximum degree. Every type of appurtenance is made available for our satisfaction, but they have not promised us final security. Finally, in the end, something opens up its inner secrets and speaks in a language which is not known to any human being, delivering a message that whatever he has seen with his eyes, contacted with his sense organs, or felt within himself does not touch even the periphery of the substance of life.

King and beggar have gone and have been reduced to the same level of what we may call an utter negation of all the values of life. It is a great tragedy, one should say, that with all the intelligence and education of mankind, one has not been able to plant in one’s program of life an element which is transcendent to the observable phenomenon of life and the available knowledge regarding one’s own self through any type of psychological investigation.

One is repelled by the very thought of the word ‘transcendent’, which has created not only a difficulty in its comprehension, but has even frightened people out of their wits due to the fact of a peculiar suggestiveness behind that word. What is the suggestiveness? It appears to indicate the presence of something which is not of this world, which is above the world, not contactable by the apparatus of knowledge available in this world.

People have used only a single word to brush it aside as irrelevant, by calling it an other-worldly concept. Whether what is called the transcendent is really other-worldly, or it is involved in the world itself to the very core of its existence, the human brain has not always been able to appreciate.

The theories of economic salvation, political freedom, and historical revolutions have considered the very meaning of the word ‘transcendent’ as not only irrelevant to the practical requirements of human nature in this world, but obnoxious, defying and denying the possible efforts of man for his survival physically, economically, and in a comfortable manner.

The word ‘religion’, which appears to have a transcendent suggestiveness, has gone out of the world of human thinking because it seems to suggest an aspiration and a longing for something which has no connection with this world. The mind of the human being is framed in such a manner that the relationship between the transcendent and the perceptible universe cannot easily become a program of one’s practical life. There is a basic defect in the very manner in which the human mind operates. The defect is so very organic to its method of operation that it cannot be recognised as being there at all—like some persons who are perpetually sick may not even be aware that they are sick, because sickness has become part of their very life itself. The defect which is organic to human thinking is its incapacity to correlate the transcendent with the visible world of experience.

Philosophers, mystics, saints and sages have ever been proclaiming in different ways that the human mind is necessarily confined to phenomena. Mental operation is a phenomenal operation, not a transcendental one. So, it is easier to flow with the current of the river than to swim against it. The natural flow of the river of life is in the direction of the way in which the mind can think, and feel satisfied with thinking. All of us seem to be happy with the way in which we are made to think in our mind and understand through our intellect. This is a delusive happiness, which can be equated with what is implied by the statement, “Ignorance is bliss.”

Any person who earnestly seeks liberation from bondage—which effort on the part of a person is usually known by the words ‘yoga’ or ‘spirituality’—this effort has to dig deep into itself and probe within the presence of something which is not entirely a part of phenomena. It is true, agreeing with the philosophers of both the East and the West, that the mind can think only within the horizon of the phenomenal world. But the very consciousness of the world being a phenomenon is an indicator of there being something in this world, and in our own selves, which cannot be brought within the purview of a phenomenon or the entire phenomena.

The consciousness of limitation is an ambassador from a government which is above the whole realm of phenomena. Unless there is a simultaneous awareness of there being something outside the limitations experienced in life, there would be no consciousness of limitation. If we are bound, we also know what freedom is. The consciousness of bondage has, within itself, the indication of there being such a thing called freedom. If that element were totally absent in ourselves, we would not even know that we are bound.

The inadequacies of life, the sufferings, the sorrows, and the anxieties consequent upon our way of living should suggest the presence of something which is not available in this world. If that is the case, the mind immediately concludes that it should be not in this world, but above the world. This conclusion is very hasty. The object of religion, the aim of yoga, is not outside the world, though it cannot be considered to be exhausted within the available structural pattern of the physical world.

The mind finds it difficult to conceive all these things; but viveka, or the power of discrimination, to which we made reference last time, is such an interesting and enlightening faculty in us. While it is outwardly bound to the perceptible world, it has also, at its root, an element which can rocket it up to a higher level, beyond the conscious perception of the world.

This is a brief introductory remark concerning the problem of the relationship between God and the world. It is not easy for even a sincere student of philosophy, religion or spirituality to give a conclusive definition of the relationship between God and the world. God is above the world. He is in heaven. He created this world. Every religion tells us that God created the world.

The creator cannot be inside that which he himself has manufactured. We do not see a carpenter sitting inside the table he has made, nor do we see the potter inside his pot. The potter is transcendent to the pot; the carpenter is transcendent to the table. The food that is cooked does not contain the cook also, inside. Here is the problem before us in the manner of thinking connected with the relationship of God and the world. So many schools of thought and so many differences of opinion held by promulgators of the nature of the Ultimate Reality have given us messages of such a variegated nature that we have never been able to reconcile one with the other. With all our capacity to probe deeply into these philosophical truths, we cannot get over the idea that God is above the world. Incalculably far, far away, as far as the stars in the sky or even beyond, is God’s kingdom—paradise, Brahmaloka, Vaikuntha, Kailasa. They are not touching our body; they are above us.

This has created a gulf between religious living, spiritual practice, and our practical life in the world. The Bhagavadgita has tried its best to remove this misconception that what we are seeking as something transcendent beyond the world is not outside the world. A transcendent thing need not be outside that to which it is transcendent. Though the connotation, the dictionary meaning of the word, suggests that it has to be above, our experience shows that something can be transcendent without being physically, measurably distant from that which it transcends.

I have given the analogy of the educational process as one example. The higher level of education is transcendent to the lower level of education. It is above, and the higher we go in the levels of education, the more distant is that level from the kindergarten or primary school level. Now, what is the kind of distance that obtains between the highest level of education and the lowest? Can we measure it with a yardstick, or geometrically, or in any manner whatsoever? It is a very interesting example of how something can be very far, and yet, really, not far. It is far because it is high above the lowest of levels, but it is not spatially transcendent—not measurably above, not geometrically distant – but logically it appears to be transcendent.

In a similar manner, we may say that the distance of God from the world is a logical distance, and not a physically measurable one. It is a distance within consciousness itself. But, as you know very well, consciousness cannot create a distance within itself, because if it splits itself into a distant part distinguishable from another part, it would not be even conscious that such a distance is existing. As I mentioned, the consciousness of limitation implies the consciousness of that which is above limitation, so there cannot be a division of consciousness. So, logical distance is an intriguing operation of consciousness itself, which makes it possible for God to be far, far away from the world and all of us, and yet be within us at the same time. That which is deepest at the core of our being can be also very far from us in a sense quite different from the way we measure things or understand distance in space and time.

These are the roots behind all our doubts, difficulties and problems in spiritual practice, yoga practice, japa and meditation, and various other exercises which we engage ourselves in as seekers of the Ultimate Reality. We will face these problems. Sometimes, these problems do not seem to be there at all in the earlier stages, because we are very sure that we are doing sadhana when we roll our beads, chant a mantra, study a scripture, perform a worship, go on a pilgrimage, and so on. We are quite comfortable with this. But, doubts also are intelligent creatures. They do not come and harass us unless there is a necessity to come and place themselves before us. When we are bent upon moving forward in our meditations, we will stir up the inner constituents of the mind, and the mind will be frightened as to what will happen to it. The phenomenal components of the mind will get disturbed, as the milk gets disturbed when we churn it to make butter.

Only in an appreciably advanced stage of meditation and spiritual practice will these problems come and face us as unexpected guests, and it will not be easy for us to decipher what is actually before us. To repeat what I have told you sometime earlier, Patanjali has given us a large catalogue of the difficulties that we may have to face in the practice of yoga. Vyādhi styāna saṁśaya pramāda ālasya avirati bhrāntidarśana alabdhabhūmikatva anavasthitatvāni cittavikṣepaḥ te antarāyāḥ (Yoga Sutras 1.30). Every little item that is enumerated here is to be studied threadbare. They come in a sequential order, as it were, one after the other. At the present moment, we may feel we do not have any of these difficulties. Let anyone ponder over these catalogued items of problems mentioned to us by the sutra of Patanjali. We will find that none of them apply to us. We are free from every one of these. We can concentrate, meditate, pray; everything is getting on well because the apparent ‘getting on well’ with our practice is a result of confining our practice to the conscious level of the mind only.

I have made some reference last time to the levels of our own personality lying subliminal, below the conscious level. We may mistake ourselves to be exactly what we are just now, as we are thinking in our minds in this hall, at the present moment; but, otherwise, we will be taken aback when pressure is exerted upon the conscious mind by an intense practice of meditation—in which process, the buried treasures of the subconscious and other levels will come up to the surface and blind our eyes. The stories of amrita manthana that we read in the Srimad Bhagavata, Vishnu Purana, etc., are not concocted stories for our entertainment. They are actually stages of spiritual development and spiritual encounter.

While the search through the manthana was for amrita, or nectar, what came up in the beginning was the opposite of nectar. It was a poison, which baffled all those who expected something else. The total opposite of what we expect may present itself in an advanced stage of meditation, but that will not be there always. Someone like Lord Siva will come and help us, and drink that poison. It may be our Guru who bestows his grace and frees us from this poison of the counterblast discharged upon us by the buried impulses of our nature. Sometimes, the good deeds that we performed in our previous life will come and save us. But that is not the end of the matter.

The impulses within can present themselves before us in many other forms, as we have in the story of the amrita manthana. Even after the poison was drunk by Siva and it was nowhere to be seen, amrita, nectar, did not come. There were some twelve or so items coming up one after the other, all very interesting, attractive and intriguing. They all started coming up, one after the other, some of them having the power of attraction to such an extent as to make one forget the very purpose of this amrita manthana. The desire for that delicious taste of nectar can sometimes get sidetracked into the fulfilment of a desire which seems to promise the same satisfaction through another medium, which is one of the presentations through the amrita manthana story. Lakshmi herself came from the ocean after churning, and who can stand it? No one can behold that glory and have peace of mind. But before Lakshmi came, many other smaller things came—all wonderful, great presentations, stunning one’s mind. Practically speaking, these items of the amrita manthana are, to some extent at least, items of our experience in our meditational process.

Another sutra of Patanjali makes reference to these stages of the coming up of the glories from the milky ocean when he speaks of sthanyupanimantrane. There is a sutra of Patanjali which goes like this: sthānyupanimantraṇe saṅgasmayākaraṇaṁ punaraniṣṭa prasaṅgāt (Yoga Sutras 3.52). “When the levels of being encounter you, do not come in contact with them because there is a possibility of once again falling down to the old, old level from which you wanted to rise.” Sthani is someone who is in a sthana—a locality, a level of being, a plane of existence; that is sthana. The denizens, the occupants, of that particular level are called sthanis. They will invite you: sthanyupanimantrane, come. The commentary of Vyasa on this sutra is worth reading. Read it and see what this invitation is about.

What kind of invitation will be there before you? “Come. You have worked hard, and you have achieved your goal. Get up, Buddha! Why are you suffering?” was said to even Buddha in his deep meditation. “Enough of this torture. Wake up. You are already enlightened. Here it is. Take all this.” I also mentioned to you sometime back of the calls of Mephistopheles in Goethe’s Faust, where such an invitation is given to Dr. Faust: “Take all the glory. You are going to be blessed. But give me only some little thing in return.” This story is suggestive of the difficulties that we may have to face, and the mistakes that we may have to commit.

The world of glory is before us, and it will come in some form or the other, in an unexpected manner. It will generally not come in the form that we expect; otherwise, we will detect it, and we will shun it as an obstacle. It has to come in a manner which cannot be located, deciphered or understood by us. That is how the inner impulses will present themselves for the purpose of their satisfaction.

I also made reference to this difficulty last time by saying that we cannot bypass the impulses within us. We may call them obstacles, but they are our own children. We have harboured them within ourselves as the necessary results of the acts that we performed earlier and the desires and ambitions we entertained either earlier in this life or in some past life. Every debt has to be paid. We have to pay a debt to our own self, also. We cannot say, “It is not there. Don’t come.” We cannot tell a creditor, “I am not here.” We will be very much there, and he will detect us. How will we tell ourselves, “I am not here. Don’t come”?

The discharging of a debt is one of the prescriptions of the religion of India, especially Hinduism, for which a person is expected to perform five sacrifices called pancha mahayajnas. We owe something not only to the world outside and to people at large, and of course we owe a lot to God Himself, but we owe something to our own inner personality, also.

We have various levels of personality. One level owes its debt to the other levels. The conscious level owes a debt to the subconscious and the impulses buried deeper still. Many a time we get disturbed, without knowing what the cause is behind it. Any little thing agitates our mind. That happens when the conscious mind’s engagement in what it regards as the happiness of life is interfered with by the subconscious calls, or the inner components of our nature. We do not want any interference in our conscious operation for the happiness of life. But, if we totally ignore the taxes that we have to pay or the debts that we have to discharge, they will, one day or other, come with double force, with compound interest, and we may have to pay it.

This is the subject with which we were concerned last time. Now, in the attempt to go a little further, beyond that study, I have to recapitulate the processes we underwent during the earlier days, lest we forget what we have studied. When we study a book, when we advance through the pages and gain more knowledge in the chapters that follow, it does not mean that we will forget what we have read earlier. We will carry the cumulative effect of the knowledge we have gathered in the earlier pages to the subsequent pages, so that the later one is not without the earlier one.

The conscious operation, which is the manner in which we live in this world, is not an ignorance of what is not conscious. The Mandukya Upanishad is another illustration before us of a description of the levels of our being. The conscious is, of course, the waking state. Then there is another level which operates in the dreaming state, and there is a third which operates in sleep. But there is a fourth level which dictates its prescriptions to the operation of all these three states, though it is not apparently a part of our day-to-day existence. The most vital factors controlling our life are often not visible before our eyes, because we get involved so much in the visible phenomena of life that we have no time to even imagine that there are factors which condition the operations of our conscious life.

The deeper levels determine what we may have to pass through in the conscious level. Jati, ayu, bhoga are three terms used in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which are the effects of the buried potentialities of our personality. Jati is the circumstances into which we are born—in this family or that family, in this place or that place, in India or in America. We are born somewhere, in some manner. Why should we be born in one place and not in another place? That decision that we have to be born in one particular condition of life is also decided by ourselves, in another level of our personality. It is not somebody else doing something against us.

Ayu is the length of life. The span of our life in this world is also determined by what is inside us. We can neither shorten our life nor lengthen our life beyond a prescribed limit, as this is already decided by the potencies inside.

Bhoga is the experience. All the experiences of our life, whether pleasurable or miserable, are not the gifts of the devil who throws problems before us unnecessarily. They are the necessary, logical consequences following from what is inside our own selves. We are the causes of our joy; we are the causes of our sorrow. No God in heaven is punishing us; no God in heaven seems to be blessing us, also. That transcendent thing to which I made reference just now is also immanent within us and it will speak in our own language from within, as it would speak through a scripture or the Veda as a transcendent element.

This is somewhat an attempt to have a comprehensive vision of our own selves and our involvements, so that, “well done in the beginning is well done afterwards, also.” A good beginning is an indication of good success. Though it is a beginning, it is a good beginning—well understood, well prepared and firmly grounded, as the foundation of a building has to be. We cannot raise a beautiful palace on a weak foundation.

Thus, everything should be clear, first of all—nitya-anitya-vastu-viveka. The discrimination called for is, substantially, the processes that we have to pass through under the guidance of a preceptor along these lines, which I have tried to outline briefly for everyone’s memory and recollection, contemplation, and deep meditation.