Living a Spiritual Life
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 9: The Various Human Longings

All activity, all performance, is an implementation of a longing from within oneself. The prompting of an impulse from within manifests itself as action outside. Thus, the business of life, in the form of a multitudinous variety of activities, can be said to be a concretisation of human longing.

But what is this longing? That will decide the nature of the performance, whether individually or collectively. That our longings arise from our own selves, and that these longings cannot arise from somewhere else is something well known to everyone. But, as every one of us seems to be an admixture of various types of potentiality working through different levels of being, the longing is also not of a uniform nature, as we can see in our daily life.

There can be a longing from the physical body, an entirely material impulse from within the physical structure of our personality. The body requires all physical appurtenances necessary to maintain its physical balance. Necessities of a purely physical nature—such as hunger and thirst, heat and cold—demand corresponding facilities to maintain the stability of the physical personality.

We know very well how we meet this requirement of the physical body every day by food and drink, by clothing and shelter, but we do not always long through the body only. The sense organs have their own peculiar longings. The eyes have a desire to behold, to see an endless variety of colour and motion. There is a dislike to be in an atmosphere of utter staticity, without movement of any kind.

The ears are fond of different kinds of sounds. When colour, sound and motion join together, we have what we call modern cinema. There are no persons on the screen. A particular formation of colour, together with an addition of the soundtrack, makes us feel that solid objects and concrete substances of great physical value are projected on the screen. The senses do not know that they are getting deluded by such presentations. We know very well that the screen is a flat surface and shadows do not have a three-dimensional substantiality, and yet we run after these performances. The desire to see, hear, smell, taste, and touch are the insatiable longings of the five sense organs. As a matter of fact, on a careful analysis we will observe that we want nothing in this world except these five sensations.

But, inasmuch as these sensations appear to be discreet, one distinguished from the other—the ears cannot see, eyes cannot hear, and so on—there is a necessity for a centralising authoritative affirmation which concludes that all these activities and operations of the five sense organs are the performances of one person only. Otherwise, if the colour and the sound and the motion are separated one from the other, we will not be seeing that which we want to see. An admixture of psychological and sensory operations creates the illusive form of a solid contact of the senses with tangible objects, and there is no need that these objects should really exist.

The example is the dream experience, where we can have all the sorrows and all the joys of life by coming in contact with real valuable substantial objects and personalities in the dream, while none of them really exists in the form in which they appear. There is no solid wall in dream, but the dreaming individual can hit his head against that wall and begin to bleed; we can see the blood flowing. One can fall from a tree and break one’s legs; one can have a sumptuous meal and be satisfied. One can rule a kingdom, be an emperor, while there is nothing of the kind except a vast spread-out network of psychological operations. The mind is creating the subjectivity of the perceiver’s position, the position of that which is seen as an object outside, and also creating the magic of there being a large space in this world of dream, including a time process connected with that spatial perception.

A magical performance, indeed, is the dream world. If we can believe that we had joys and sorrows in the dream world—very real indeed they were, when they were being experienced—we can also believe that in this so-called waking world, the senses can create a similar illusion.

The objectivity of a person or of a thing presented before the senses is not any justification for the real solidity of the presentation, because there is objectivity in the dream world, also. The externality that is the characterisation of objects of the dream world is also seen in this spatio-temporal world of waking life. We feel that the waking life is long, and dream life is short; this is the conclusion we draw by comparison. If we take each one by itself, we will find that this feeling is finally not justifiable.

A great master once said that if a person could dream for twelve hours in the night that he is an emperor, and a real king could dream for twelve hours that he is a beggar, what is the difference between these two persons? Who is the king and who is the beggar? We should not say that the waking man is real and the dreaming man is not. We draw this conclusion by a comparison which should not be drawn, because each thing has to be taken by itself in its own position and context. Nothing should be compared. We cannot judge a person by comparing that person with another person. That is an unjustifiable way of judging. Everything is to be judged from its own position, its own contactuality and stature; but we never do that.

We always compare one thing with another thing: dream with waking, waking with dream, one person with another person, one thing with another thing. By itself, individually, in its own position, most dispassionately, we do not pass judgement on anything. This is the havoc that is worked through the sense organs every day, and since the mind is inseparably connected with the working of the sense organs and we cannot separate the mind from our own being, it looks that we ourselves are engaged in this transitory perception of variegated phenomena, as described.

The mind works like a handmaid of the sense organs and plays second fiddle to their tunes. If the eyes visualise an object, the mind says, “Yes, correct. I accept that something is being visualised.” But who told the mind to accept the report of that sense organ? It is due to the identification of the mind with the sense organ.

Hence, unfortunately, our thinking also is sensory. We do not seem to be independently thinking through our minds. We really seem to be thinking through a mind which has been tarnished by the operation of the sense organs. So, we are a sense object—not a great compliment to our wisdom.

One who is involved in sense activity only, who gets into the delusive net of these magical performances of the senses and confirms these performances through the mind which is wedded to the sense organs, is in a dream world of a different type altogether. The whole world is basically unsubstantial, as it were, and nothing in the world can be trusted if the form of perception is to be taken as the criterion of judgement.

This is why we are oftentimes told that the world we see does not really exist, perhaps in the same way as the persons whom we see moving in a cinematic screen do not really exist there. If non-existence can appear as existence in a cinema hall, why should it not happen in the daily life of the individual? How could we be duped in one way at one place, and not be duped in another way at another place? A thief in one place can be a thief in any other place. A fool in one place is a fool elsewhere also. One who is caught in one type of illusion can be caught in another form of the same illusion without knowing what is actually happening.

Thus, coming to the consideration of the sensorially conceived longings of a human personality, there is a vast network of delusion. It is not true that our eyes present correct perceptions; it is also not true that the other sense organs really, truly, give us a justifiable report. They seem to be experts in creating a chaotic atmosphere of a conglomeration of perceptibility by introducing an externality into the presentations which are otherwise illusory, and making us run after them as one can run after a shadow. This is how a sensory longing differs from a physical bodily longing.

As pointed out, the mental or psychological longing is, unfortunately, not very helpful because it only confirms what the senses are reporting. Can we disbelieve our eyes? When we see something, we say, “Yes, I am seeing.” We do not say, “The eyes are reporting the sensation of a perception, but perhaps the thing is not there.” The mind will not say that. The mind says, “Seeing is believing,” and so is the case with the mind’s operation in respect of other sense organs also.

What else have we, except the body and the mind, which both play such mischief before us that we seem to be living in a fool’s paradise? It is a paradise indeed, because every magical performance gives us some kind of satisfaction. People flock to see a magician’s performance, though everyone knows that there is no substance in what he projects. Thus, everyone flocks in this world of waking life to visualise and enjoy, as it were, the presentations of sense organs. No sensory perception can be trusted finally, inasmuch as it is reporting a kind of sensation which we mistake for a solidity of perceptibility.

Even the tangibility of a so-called solid object such as a desk or a table in front of us does not justify the real presence of that object. It is a sensation created by the repulsions of electrical charges generated by the components of the fingers that touch and the components of that which appears to be a table or a desk.

Electrical repulsions can create a sensation of solid contact. If we experience an electric shock by touching a high-voltage wire, we feel as if a mountain is hanging on our hand, while there is nothing. It is only a sensation.

The chemical components of the articles of diet, which are forces—energies, actually speaking—come in contact with energies that operate within the linings of the stomach, and combine to create a sensation of stability, satisfaction and energy in the system. It is not the solidity of the food or the reality of the physical aspect of the stomach, but it is the two forces coming together in a harmonious manner that removes the sensation of hunger, thirst, and the like. Such is the way in which the mind also operates.

Now, if the mind is to operate only in this manner—sensorially, and in no other way—we cannot know if there is anything at all above this world of perception. Is this world everything, and there is nothing more? Animals, and even human beings who work only through instincts, may be satisfied with the belief that this world is the only real thing. Ayaṁ loko nāsti para iti mānī, punaḥ punar vaśam āpadyate me (Katha 1.2.6), says the Kathopanishad: This world is all and nothing more exists, is the belief of many people. They come under the grip of the widespread destructive power of Yama.

The lower mind, as we may call it, is entirely conditioned by sensory operations. Only in the human being there seems to be a prerogative of the manifestation of another, higher mind that is generally not to be seen in the lower species of creation, which tells that the world of perception is not all. For various reasons of observation and experiment, we immensely resent the finitude that we feel within ourselves. If finitude is a reality by itself, and we must remember that everything in the world is finite, then there would be no necessity to overcome the limitations characteristic of finitude. The desire to overcome limitations of any kind in oneself is a work of the higher mind. The lower mind is fully satisfied with the limitation itself, and it goes together with the sensory operations.

The transitory nature of things, the evolutionary process of the world, birth and death, and the observation that nothing lasts, everything flees, makes us believe that the world of perception through the sense organs cannot be that which is ultimately real. There must be something different from this world of perception. “Somewhere it should be,” says the higher mind, the rationality in us.

We have been discussing about the nature of longing. Material, physical, bodily longing is of one kind; sensory longing is of another kind, and the longing of the lower mind working with the sense organs is of the same kind; but the longing of the higher mind, the reason as we call it, is of a third nature altogether. The higher mind, or the reason, tells us that nothing can satisfy us, for two reasons. One reason is that everything is limited. Everything is in one place, and not in another place; everything is at one time and not at all other times. This resentful nature manifested by our higher reason concludes that there should be a higher reality, where finitude is not. Limitations of every kind are negatived, and even the time process is overcome totally.

Spiritual aspiration actually begins with the operation of the higher reason. It cannot arise with bodily longing, or even by the sense-oriented mental operation. This conclusion drawn by the higher reason, that there is a realm beyond this world of sensory perception, is called lower knowledge; yet, it is real knowledge. It can be relied upon, while we cannot rely upon the longings of the physical body, the sense organs or the lower mind. It is called lower knowledge because it gives only information, but does not bring to us the object of our quest.

The rationality or higher reason in us concluding that there should be a higher realm of experience beyond this sense-ridden world of transitory phenomena is still an informative medium. It only tells us that God must be there. Eternity is, evidently, our heritage, and immortality is our goal. The higher reason brings us this information by means of categorisation and logical judging, and gives us some sort of solace. Though we do not have what we require, if we are assured by a reliable person we are going to get it one day, that statement itself gives us satisfaction.

If a reliable person tells us that we can get what we want, though we have not got it yet, that satisfaction is solacing because it gives an assurance that, after all, the object of our quest beyond this world of perception is going to be ours as a solid experience, one day or the other. Lower knowledge obtained through gurupadesha, instructions from a master, from study, rationalisation, investigation, contemplation and deep thinking, is also a protective force that keeps us intact in this world of longing and hoping. If there is no hope of any kind, if there is a futility of all the longings root and branch, then we would perish in three minutes, and there would be no hope of our existing in this world at all.

Wretched as the world is, fleeting as things are, and unreliable as every phenomenon is, how could we be alive in this world but for a hope that is surging forth from within our hearts, telling us that we are going to get what we want? This is the beginning of spiritual longing. Intellectual, rational longing is not spiritual longing; as I mentioned, it is informative and purely secondhand. That is why it is called lower knowledge in scriptural circles. Yet, it is a harbinger, an indicator, a pointer to the existence of something that we are going to get.

If the information comes that we have been declared a success, though we have not got it on paper, in written form, we are happy. “Oh, is it so? I have been declared a success! Come on!” We jump and dance and hold tea parties and call our friends because the information itself is great. The declaration that it is all a success is wonderful.

Thus, we rise from one level of longing to another level by rising above the physical to the sensory-oriented mind’s longing, and further on, to the rational reasoning power which gives us the assurance of the presence of an eternal life. But even this is not sufficient. We have to experience it, have it, get it, be it.

Meditation, in one stage at least, is a lower knowledge. There are two types of meditation in spiritual longing: lower meditation and higher meditation. The lower meditation is an acute thinking through the mind of that which we signify as the ultimate reality of life. All-pervading existence, omniscience, omnipotence, everywhereness, all-timeness, deathlessness, blissfulness, are ideas that engage our attention in meditation; but as long as these ideas remain external operations of the mind, they will not bring us the desired result. The cogitation of the mind in respect of a desired object has to end finally in the entry of the mind into the very being of the object.

We have everything with us, provided we are there in that which we want. But the thing will flee away from us—sarvaṁ tam parādāt, yo’nyatrātmanaḥ sarvam veda (Brih. Up. 4.5.7), Yajnavalkya Maharaj tells us. Everything will run away from us if we are not in that which we are trying to possess, or in regard to which we are showing affection or longing. We can love a thing without wanting it. That is political affection. Political affection will not work in our spiritual meditations, as such a thing is not real meditation.

The heart shall tell us where we really are. Where our heart is, there our longing is; where our longing is, there our object of longing also is. That is to say, the object of our longing is there where our heart is. It can be in England or in America or in the stars, though we may be sitting here physically, on the surface of the Earth.

In the Yoga Sutras, three types of intensity of meditation are referred to: mridya, madhya and adhimatra, as they are called: mild concentration, intense concentration, and supremely intense concentration. Adhimatra vairagya or adhimatra abhyasa is super-abundantly powerful concentration of the mind. It is not concentration in such a way that the object of concentration is somewhere in space in the heavens; it has become inseparable from us.

There are also occasions in our daily life where our objects seem to be non-separate from ourselves. We get bathed in the nature of that object; we are drenched in the love of that thing which we need. What is that kind of drenching and taking bath? One can bathe in gold and silver, dream only that, and feel that one is inundated in a sea of gold sheets and precious metal; this is a rich man’s meditation. One can melt in the liquid of one’s love for the beloved, which one considers as one’s all-in-all. The object that is beloved may be physically far away, but the mind does not consider this distance as of any meaning. Truly, distance does not actually exist in this world—which one has to believe, without any doubt.

There is no such thing as distance. The distance that we see in this world is similar to the distance that we see in the dream world. The huge mountain seen far away in a dream experience is not really spatially far. In a similar manner is anything in this world. Nothing is far away from us. We can touch the stars and the heavens with our finger, as we can touch a mountain in dream, without its being there far away from us. This experience of complete identity with the object of longing is many a time illustrated in our daily life in the greed for wealth in the case of a millionaire, or the longing of a lover for the beloved, or the state of deep sleep. In all these three conditions, we are one with the thing. Distance is completely abolished.

The highlight and the apotheosis of the meditational process is such a distanceless identification of the longing arising from our spirit, which we truly are. The most important qualification that is required of a spiritual seeker is not learning, but a conviction that it has to come and it will come: “I am nearing it. I am feeling its presence. It is bathing me with its greatness. I am energised every day. I am strong. I want nothing. Everything has come to me.” These feelings will automatically follow from an inundation of the longing of the spirit, which is above the longing of the body, the senses and even the reason. The spirit has to long for what it is asking for. Meditation, finally, is the soul’s asking for the Universal Soul.

Here, the whole personality gets gathered up into a molten mass of onward march and focussed, as it were. The body, the senses, the mind and the reason do not work independently. They get melted down into the crucible of the longing of the spirit for the Spirit. This is the highest point in meditation. There, what happens? Tasya lokaḥ sa u loka eva (Brihad. Up. 4.4.13), according to the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad: the world becomes yours; nay, not merely that, you yourself become the world.

Such are the various types of longing that arise from our own selves. From the dust of the Earth to the perennial beatitude of eternity, all the longings are present in our own selves. They have to be made manifest gradually in a concentrated form by daily effort at spiritual sadhana.