Living a Spiritual Life
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 10: Overcoming Space and Time

Our earlier considerations during the past several days were particularly concerned with the analysis of the very process of spiritual practice. There is a continuity of performance involved in what is known as spiritual sadhana, and we have cast our glance on various aspects of this wondrous performance of the personality of the human individual engaged in a task that is veritably super-conceptual, passing one’s understanding.

Incidentally, during our observations we noticed that much of the difficulty that we face is due to a vague, inaccurate notion we have about our relationship with things. There are various types of relation observable in this world. Everything seems to be related to everything else in some manner, though appearing to be inscrutable under acute logical analysis.

There are basic fears which we may have to confront in advanced stages of meditational practice which may not show their heads in the earlier stages of sadhana. Perhaps the greatest obstacle that we may face, finally, is a kind of unknown fear appearing to be pervading the whole atmosphere of our existence—a fear which was not there earlier on account of a confidence that we had in the capacity of our own investigative power.

The advance that we make in spiritual practice is actually an advance that we make in the diminishing of the intensity of our ego-ridden personality. We appear to be large and very significant in our life, perhaps prominent personalities in some way or the other, but as we move forward in the sincerity of our spiritual practice, we come to realise that the so-called importance of our personality gets diminished more and more; and the more are we diminished in the notion of our own individual strength and capacity, the greater is the fear that will grip us from all sides.

Generally speaking, we do not seem to have a fear of anything. We are getting on well in this world because of a notion that we have a strength of our own which can ward off any confrontation, bespeaking fear in any manner. The in-depth knowledge of our own personality, which reveals itself gradually in our meditational practice, reveals the hollowness of our previous assumptions, and we begin to feel that we are quite different within ourselves from what we assumed in our earlier days.

In the advanced stages of spiritual contemplation, simple things will assume enormous proportions, frightening us out of our wits. Objects of the world which are practically insignificant will assume a tremendous significance before us. Among the fears that may grip us, three at least are preeminent. The awful distance we feel between ourselves and the Creator is one source of fear. How far is God from us? Frighteningly distant He seems to be, and that fear can totally eat up our personality.

The second fear is the separation that we feel from the world in which we are living. We feel estranged from the world, which is our own habitat. We oftentimes feel that it is not a secure place, and we do not know whether the world really wants us—if it is truly friendly with us.

The third problem is the apparent irreconcilability of one individual with another individual in the world; we cannot compare or contrast one with the other, finally, when we reach the logical end of our investigations. We cannot know how far the Ultimate Reality is from us, though it frightens us by telling us that it is immensely distant, far, far away from even the stars. That the world also is an unreliable friend, which we have to tread upon with great caution, is also a fear we cannot easily get rid of by any amount of scientific understanding or observation. As to our relationship with people in the world, the less said the better. We do not know how to live in this world of people.

These three foundational concepts—the relationship among God, the world, and the individual—have to be probed into threadbare, lest the fear may take possession of us entirely. The fear can be so awful that we may lose our wits, and perhaps even our life itself. It does not mean that everyone realises God in a single life, though that is the aspiration and the point at which we begin the practice.

Why does it appear to us that the Creator is so far from us? Why do we feel estranged from the world, which is our own house? Why are we so suspicious about our relationship with people in the world? We take all these difficulties for granted and do not go deep into the matter; we ignore it, as we often ignore very serious illnesses of the body—to our own ruin, finally.

There is no use carrying on spiritual sadhana or meditation with a secret fear inside. That everything is frightening is not a happy state of affairs. Neither are you my friend, nor is the world my friend, nor does God seem to be very near me. Then, there is nothing left. Everything goes at once, with the going of the conviction that these three apparently separated entities are not organically related or affiliated.

But, is this fear justifiable? The question boils down to the concept of relation of one thing to another thing. “I am related to such and such a person,” is a statement that we often make. What kind of relation is it that we are maintaining with another person? That relation is an imaginary, unintelligible feeling which cannot be substantiated either logically or scientifically. A relation is a notion in the mind. It does not exist physically in front of us, but that non-physical concept rules the whole world in all its levels.

We have been accustomed to the great principles of space and time, which rule the world of perception, about which we have studied in our earlier sessions. The very function of space is to create distance and make everything irreconcilable. Distance explains all the problems of life. If there is a real distance between one thing and another thing, nothing can really be related to any other thing in the world—though we assume that we are related to friends, family, property, finance, and even to this body itself. But truly, the interference of space, which is nothing but the unavoidability of the concept of distance in things, cuts at the ground of any kind of true reliable friendship of anything with anything in the world.

Nobody can belong to anyone. Nothing can belong to us, because the distance that space creates between ourselves and our belonging nullifies the very idea of something really belonging to oneself. Hence, everything is finally cut off from everything else by way of bereavement—the destruction of something, the death of one’s own self, or the vanishing of that which one imagined to be one’s own.

It is the proper function of a spiritual seeker to see how one can overcome this notion of distance. Is there such a thing called distance, really? Even simple technical instruments of modern times such as radio, television, fax, and other things have very considerably reduced the notion of distance. Things do not seem to be so far from us as they appeared earlier. But, though these technical apparatuses appear to be working very fast, evidently destroying the notion of distance, they have not destroyed distance. They work vigorously, but distance persists. Even if we run with great speed and reach a destination, the speed does not abolish the distance. Thus, modern comforts available to us though our technologies cannot relieve us of our true suffering which is caused by something else altogether, which can neither be properly studied through our mental faculties nor defied by the technical equipment of science.

That is to say, there is a basic difficulty which is prior to even the thinking process itself which has to be solved by handling the mind in a proper manner. Here, no instrument of an external nature can help us. Not the whole world, as a property or a kingdom, can be of any utility to us in this adventure.

God created the world; this is what we hear. The very word ‘creation’ immediately brings into our mind the idea of a separation of something from the Creator, as if some chip has been shot off from the body of God and it has become this creation before us. Doctrines of the creational process in religious and philosophical parlance have struggled with this idea infinitely through the historical movement of thought, but they have not come to a conclusion, finally. How has God become the world?

We have seen in this world of experience something coming from something, something creating something else, and so on. It is only through these analogies that we can imagine how God must have created the world. One analogy before us is the manufactured goods of the world in their relation to the manufacturer and his instruments. The carpenter and the table, the potter and the pot, the goldsmith and the ornaments are illustrations before us. So, there are some schools of thought which tell us that God created the world out of some material, which is named differently in different schools of philosophy and religion. Some name it ‘inert substance’; some call it Prakriti, the matrix of all things. Some say that there was a void, and God created the world from a void—the consequence of which is not known to the promulgator of this doctrine, because if the world had been created out of a void, the whole world would be void in its essence, and we who are involved in the world would also be empty balloons with no substantiality in us.

A thing coming from another thing, being totally different from that out of which it has come, is a doctrine known as Arambha-vada in philosophical parlance. The Nyaya and Vaishesika philosophies, and others, are fond of adumbrating this doctrine. Their contention is that, though it should be accepted that ultimately there is no material totally different from God, some novelty is certainly introduced into that which is created—like water coming out of hydrogen and oxygen. Everyone knows that the two gasses combining in certain proportions become water, but water has a quality which neither of these gasses has. The novelty present in the water makes the philosophers of these doctrines feel that a new thing can come out of something though, in a very significant way, the newly created thing should be considered as present in the cause thereof.

Is cloth created by its threads? Is the cloth, as a created object, standing outside its threads? The cloth is not standing outside the threads. It is the threads; yet, there is a novelty in the cloth. We can put on the cloth or the clothing, but we cannot put on a bundle of threads. This is also an aspect of Arambha-vada, or the creation of a newly observable phenomenon out of a cause which may, for other reasons, contain the effect inherently in itself.

We see milk manufacturing curds, or yoghurt, by completely transforming itself into something else. Here, the danger of accepting this doctrine is that curd can never become milk once again. It is destroyed totally. Are we to accept that God has destroyed Himself in becoming the world? If that were the case, there would be no such thing as God-realisation, because He has ceased to be. He has become the curd of this universe and He cannot become the milk of Himself again. There is a defect in this doctrine of self-transformation, or what they call Parinama-vada. We cannot, under any circumstance, understand how God has become the world.

Now, a serious question of another type confronts us. Has God really become the world? That is, there must have been a beginning for this creation, because a beginningless creation cannot be conceived. To conceive the beginning of anything is to introduce the factor of time. It is only in the process of time that we can have a beginning, a middle, and so on. But time, being one of the objects created in the creational process, could not be prior to creation. Therefore, it is impossible to say that there was a time when God created the world because the concept of time contradicts itself by placing time prior to the act of creation itself—because without time, creation is not possible. So, the doubt arises whether God has really created the world.

Another problem in the acceptance of the fact of the creation of the world by God is that if the world has been actually manufactured, we cannot get out of it. We would have to be here in this prison for ever and ever. As long as the world of creation is there, compelled by the will of God at the origin of things, we cannot attain salvation.

Some people wedded to this doctrine hold that there is no possibility of individual salvation as long as the world lasts, because the world will bind us and the will of God will restrain us from going above Himself, or above His law of creation. The very intriguing result that follows from this doctrine is that we have to wait until the dissolution of the universe in order that we may attain salvation. So, where will we be sitting after we attain knowledge of God, until the time of the dissolution? And, when is the dissolution of the world going to take place?

This doctrine tells us that individual salvation is not possible, and nobody has attained salvation up to this time, because the world has not ceased to be; it has not been absorbed into God. Te brahma-lokeṣu parāntakāle parāṁṛtāḥ parimucyanti sarve (Mund. Up. 3.2.4). There is some corroboration of this doctrine in the Mundakopanishad also: at the end of creation, they all dissolve in God—not before. This is the concept of what is known as sarva-mukti, total salvation of the entire creational apparatus, but it is basically a stifling doctrine. Our heart does not accept it; though we cannot refute it logically, our heart says that it cannot be. It does not appear that we have to wait in the temporal process of God’s creation for the sake of Realisation, because God is eternity and not involved in temporality. People who advocate this doctrine forget that God is not involved in the temporal process or the movement of time. Therefore, the conclusion that we have to wait till the end of time is to imagine something which is impossible, because there cannot be an end of time.

Then, what is the solution? How did the world come from God? Our heart tells us that it is possible to realise God immediately, if our soul is actually asking for it. The soul does not accept from the heart of hearts that there is a necessity to wait till the end of the temporal process for attaining God, because God is above the temporal process. Eternity defies the temporal process, and the very idea of waiting for some time is contradictory to the eternity of God’s existence. There is no waiting in eternity, because there is no time. Thus, instantaneous salvation is possible. This is what our heart says, and the question of sarva-mukti, etc., does not arise. These are all empirical notions carried to the point of breaking by the futile logic of pedantic metaphysicians, whose hearts do not operate while their intellect is arguing.

The other illustration about God’s creation is that it appears that there is a world, but really it is not there. The most difficult doctrine is this. While the other theories are intelligible to some extent, this last one seems to defy our understanding. Why does the world appear to be there if it is really not there? Illustrations of dream perception, etc., are galore before us, and the most common example is how a rope creates a snake.

How has the rope manufactured the snake? An interaction in the perceptional process is the cause of that apparently existing snake in the body of the rope. Hence, the whole problem of creation seems to be a perceptional malady. It is a disease of the mind, a contradiction arisen in consciousness which has to be understood—not by the intellectual process of logical argumentation, but by an inner probing into one’s own self, where our heart is the reason behind all other reasons. It tells us that the feelings are within us. Our basic aspiration, which does not accept any kind of argument in a philosophical style, has its own conclusions, and its conclusion is the certainty of our own aspiration.

The intensity of the longing for God at once defies the concept of the time process involved in the practice of sadhana. Something tells us within ourselves that we can have this Realisation instantaneously. While all observation, technology, logic, or philosophising will frighten us away by saying such a thing is not practicable due to the immensity of the task before us, the heart says the entire problem can be solved in a magical instant.

Our nightmarish dreams can frighten us up to the point of death with experiences of living an indefinite number of years of turmoil, suffering and involvements of various types. These tragedies look almost unsolvable but get nullified in one instant by the rising of the waking consciousness. The longest life which we appear to have lived in the dream world does not seem to have been there at all.

This frightening doctrine that we have to wait for our salvation until the whole universe is absorbed into God—the sarva-mukti concept that one person cannot attain salvation but that everybody should attain it, and until all are withdrawn into the bosom of God, no individual can have the privilege of salvation—is answered by the dream analogy itself. You have seen many people in your dream world. You must have had a family, and may have been a king in that huge empire of the dream world. The entire creation was there, all people—your friends and relations were hugging you, you were enjoying your life there, and then you woke up. Who woke up?

Put a question to your own self. Who is it that has actually woken up from this dream experience of a long, difficult life in the dream world? The whole thing has woken up. Do you mean to say that all your friends whom you saw in the dream world are still there and you have alone, independently, wrenched yourself from the trouble of the dream world and come to the waking life? Are they still there? The whole world has been withdrawn into your mind. When the world of perception in dream is withdrawn into the waking consciousness, all that you saw, including your friends and relations and all the property that you had, everything gets absorbed into the causal nucleus, which is the waking consciousness. In a similar manner is evidently what is going to happen when salvation takes place.

The dream analogy is an illustrative example before us. The waking life is considered as a long, drawn-out dream process. As the dream world with all its appurtenances got dissolved into the structural pattern of the waking mind and the entire empire vanished in one instant, the entire creation will vanish in Self-realisation by the fact of the Cosmic Mind absorbing at that time the whole apparatus of creation because in meditation, our individual mind actually becomes en rapport with the Cosmic Mind. It is not me nor you that is meditating; it is the element of cosmicality that is masquerading in our own so-called individuality of the mind that truly meditates. Otherwise, if it is the individual mind that is thinking another apparently distantly existing Cosmic Mind, or God, there would be no connection between the two.

I have already mentioned the difficulty in the notion of relation. That the transcendent is also immanent is something we have to remember always. The most distant is also here at this very moment, because of the infinitude that is potentially present in every individual, working its own way in an infinite manner. The meditational process is the Infinite working in an infinite way, and therefore, it is a very joyous process. You feel most happy in your meditation. But, if you struggle and foolishly imagine that meditation is a thinking process—just as you are thinking a wall in front of you, you are thinking another thing—then you will feel fidgety and irked, and would like to get up from meditation as early as possible. But truly, the meditational process is vitally linking up your own so-called finite mind with the Cosmic Mind, and It has to do the work of meditation.

The ‘I’ in you has to rise to the dimension of that large comprehensive mind, so that in the act of meditation the total mind of the world starts contemplating, and not the individual mind of Mr. so-and-so, this person or that person. Then, an inexpressible joy rises into the surface of experience. A power that is unknown takes possession of us. Our dimension expands to an indescribable extent. We rise from meditation as a new person altogether, as if we have taken a dip in a reservoir of nectar and are refreshed into a new life of immense vigour, health, vitality, and a feeling of utter perfection in our life.

To live a spiritual life, therefore, is a great glory, and all other kinds of life with which we are acquainted in this world—industrial, political, social, educational, etc.—are all summed up within this total way of living, which is spiritual living. Spiritual living is not one kind of living. It is the all-inclusive total of every type of conceivable living. The whole life is embedded in the spiritual life.

A spiritual seeker is not one kind of person, he is all persons in himself. The All takes possession of him. The spirit is the All. It is not one unit somewhere in the process of creation, so asking for the true spirit within us is asking for the All and, therefore, spiritual life is total life. With these convictions we should commence our meditations and try to be always happy, and never give an occasion for complaint or remorse, depression, dejection, or dissatisfaction of any kind. A spiritual seeker is a blessing to this world, and he is always happy. God bless you.