Living a Spiritual Life
by Swami Krishnananda


Chapter 15: Bhrigu and Varuna: The Benefits of Meditation Come Through Tapasya

Throughout our studies we have been laying special emphasis on the practice of meditation, but it remains to be noticed with great care that meditation is a series of intense austerities, several levels of tapas, and not merely a rational thinking process. Meditation is not thinking. It is not even merely understanding in the ordinary sense of the term. There is a very severe significance behind what true meditation means or connotes.

A disciple named Bhrigu approached his Guru Varuna, who was the master of wisdom, and requested, “Instruct me in Brahman”: Adhīhi bhagavo brahmeti, eva varuṇam pitaram upasasāra (Tatt. Up. Ch. 3).

In ancient times, the Gurus were usually the parents. The father was the Guru, and he was quite adequate for the purpose of instruction in the higher realities of life. Bhrigu’s Guru was his father. What did the Guru say to Bhrigu when he requested him to teach Brahman? “Tapasā brahma vijijñāsasva: Know Brahman through tapas.” He did not go into descriptions, narrations, quotations, or citations of scriptures. He gave just one sentence of instruction: “Know it by yourself through tapas.”

Here is the essence of spirituality for any one of us who appreciates it. Spirituality is a way of living; it is not a knowledge that is to be acquired. It is accustoming oneself with the characteristic of the spirit, and to that extent, living one’s life with that particular vision directly in one’s experience.

The intense tapas into which Bhrigu entered on the instruction of the Guru ended in a realisation. What kind of realisation did he have? Annam brahmeti vyajānāt. He began to feel that all that is materially constituted is Brahman—including this body, including the entire created universe, physical and perceptible in nature. Not being satisfied for some reason, the disciple approached the Guru once again with the same request: “Teach me Brahman.”

These are wonderful examples of Guru and disciple indeed, because the disciple approaches again and again for the same purpose and expresses himself in the same manner and the Guru, in return, mentions the same thing as the instruction. He had nothing more to say.

The second time when the disciple approached the Guru saying, “Adhīhi bhagavo brahma,” the reply of the Guru was, “Tapasā brahma vijijñāsasva.” Why does he go on repeating this again and again? What does he mean by saying, “Know Brahman by tapas”? It was already told once; now, a second time he repeats the same instruction, and the good disciple enters into another type of intense tapasya, as per the instruction of the Guru.

Intense meditation enveloped the consciousness of the disciple. He realised something quite different from what he experienced earlier. This time he realised prāṇo brahmeti vyajānāt: There is a vital principle behind all material structures. A vital energy is pervading all forms of matter; this is what he realised. Our modern schools of scientific thought originally discovered that matter is a hard, tangible substance, but scientists also did tapasya by means of intense experiment and observation, and they realised that there is energy content potentially present within all material substances. If the whole universe is materially constituted, the discovery revealed now that the whole universe is made up of energy only. The universe is a force rather than a thing or a substance.

With this realisation, again the disciple went to the Guru. “Adhīhi bhagavo brahma.” What kind of disciple is this? He repeats the same question again and again, after having realised something which was quite good, for all practical purposes. When once again the disciple approached the Guru, the Guru said, “Tapasā brahma vijijñāsasva.” A very good Guru and a very good disciple, indeed! “You ask me to teach Brahman. Know it through tapas.” Well, he had already practised enough tapas, but the obedience to the Guru’s instructions was so important to the disciple that he took it literally and went back for further contemplation in the form of intense tapas.

And, he realised something. What did he realise? “Mano brahmeti vyajānāt.” He realised that energy is not the ultimate substance of things. There is mind behind all things. The operation of the mind can reconstitute the location of matter; it can transfer material objects from one place to another by processes of telecommunication, telepathy, and the like.

We, in our daily life, notice how powerful the mind is. Even if the physical world is strongly presented before us as perhaps the only reality available, the mind has power over even the physical nature of things. So again Bhrigu went to the Guru and said, “Adhīhi bhagavo brahma.” The Guru said, “Tapasā brahma vijijñāsasva”: “Know Brahman through austerity, tapas.” Again he meditated by means of a tremendous austerity of his personality, and realised that there is something above the thinking process, or pure mentation.

Discriminative understanding is higher than mere mentation. It is called vijnana. “Vijñānam brahmeti vyajānāt. Pure understanding, on which most of the philosophers depend for their conclusions, was realised by this disciple as Brahman. With this realisation and experience, he went again to the Guru, and said, “Adhīhi bhagavo brahma

There appeared to be some kind of dissatisfaction in the mind of the disciple, in spite of passing through some apparently satisfying experiences. Otherwise, there would have been no point in his approaching the Guru again and again with the same question. However, he went to the Guru once again and said, “Teach me Brahman”; and, once again came the same instruction, Tapasā brahma vijijñāsasva”: “Know Brahman through tapas, intense austerity.”

The transmutation of all the earlier experiences now takes place. It is not material substance that constitutes the world of creation; it is also not vital energy, electric force, and so on. It does not seem to be also mere thinking, or mental process. It is also not understanding, because though understanding, intellect, or reason is the highest faculty available to the human individual, it has its own limitations. The greatness of intellect is that it has the capacity to know its own limitations. By knowing its limits, it can infer the presence of something beyond the limits of its own operations.

Normally, no human being can go beyond this level. The greatest philosophers of the world were intellectual specialists, logicians. Pure understanding is their ultimate reach, and nothing more can be known. But, understanding is a process of analytically knowing something, which is other than the understanding process itself. The apparatus of understanding is logic. What does logic do? It separates the subjective side and the objective side of anything.

Even in a sentence, one part is the subject and one part is the predicate. The predicate may be supposed to be the object of this subject part of the sentence. Anything that is externally placed and is objective in character has to be somehow dovetailed to the subjective side in order that we may arrive at a comprehensive understanding of the situation. In forming a sentence, we use a link called ‘is’, or some kind of verb. Without a verb, there is no sentence. This peculiar thing called the verb is what gives meaning to a sentence. If the verb is absent, there is no meaning whatsoever in the sentence. It connects the subjective side and the predicate side.

Logic has this characteristic of knowing things by connecting two differentiated things. It assumes at the very outset that things are separated from one another—for instance, the knower is different from the known object. The known object is not itself the knower; this is something easy to understand. But, some sort of connection has to be established between the known object and the knowing consciousness. The understanding tries to do this artificially, by certain processes which are fundamentally and basically untenable.

The untenability of logical inferences in the knowledge of anything arises on account of a dual role that logical inference plays in the bringing together of the subjective side and the objective side. The two cannot really be brought together, because it is already affirmed that the object is outside the subject. Having affirmed the complete dichotomy of the object from the subject, the question of bringing them together does not really arise.

Here is the defect of logical thinking, though it appears to be very perfect on an outer surface of observation. The object cannot be connected with the subject because it has been already assumed to be outside the subject. This is one side of the matter. The other side is that unless somehow, though artificially, the object is connected or cemented with the subject, knowledge of the object cannot arise. That this cementing is artificial is something very clear, because the object that stands outside the perceiving, knowing consciousness can never become part and parcel of the knowing subject. But, unless it becomes related organically, in a sort of oneness with the knowing subject, knowledge cannot arise.

This drama of the perceptional process, or the knowledge process arrived at through the function of the understanding or reason, tells us finally that all our learning is artificial. Whatever we know is basically a husk; it is a big balloon within which there is no content. That is why even the most learned person in the world can also be very unhappy. This knowledge does not bring happiness. Professors and pundits are not necessarily happy persons. They have their agonising sorrows. Therefore, vijñānam brahmeti vyajānāt is not satisfying.

The disciple went again to the Guru: “Adhīhi bhagavo brahma.” The reply was, “Tapasā brahma vijijñāsasva: Do tapas once again and let us see what comes out.” The obedient disciple plunged inside himself and delved into the roots of his own personality—deeper than the material body, deeper than the vital pranas, the thinking mind, and the understanding, intellect or reason—and found something very mysterious. What did he realise? Ānando brahmeti vyajānāt. He realised that bliss is Brahman.

What is our idea about Brahman? We are also many people seated here thinking Brahman. What do we actually mean by this word? Every person will have their own fantastic idea about it, but all these ideas are intellectually construed with a framework of logic. As it is not possible to actually know the core of the Ultimate Brahman through even the highest faculty available—namely, reason and understanding—a self-identical process of appreciation of one’s own Self is to be called for. In meditation, this is the technique that we have to adopt. Therefore, it follows that meditation is not merely a bodily exercise. It is not merely a vital exercise, like pranayama, etc. It is not a psychological analysis through the mind. It is not a rationalistic understanding, like philosophy. It is another thing altogether that is within us.

Our knowledge of our own self is not observable like a body of physical matter. It is also not to be identified with vitality, mind, or intellect. It is something else. We seem to be something quite different from all these vestures. Probing through these vestures by tapasya is the art of meditation. We have to penetrate through the physical, vital, mental, intellectual layers—subjectively within our own selves, and objectively through the creation of the universe itself. Both through the subjectivity of our person and the objectivity of the created universe, we have to recognise one and the same Being pulsating at the root of everything. Happiness is Brahman: ānando brahmeti vyajānāt. After that, the disciple did not go back to the Guru.

No disciple will go to the Guru after he is filled with perfect happiness, through any means. Only when there is trouble, one goes to the Guru or the physician. Like a good disciple, therefore, clever in understanding the secret of things, Bhrigu realised that Brahman is constituted of bliss. But, here again a question arises as to what bliss is.

Human nature is so fragile, and so incapable of understanding even one’s own experience of happiness, that “What is bliss?” is a question which cannot be answered. Are we happy? Yes, we may think that we are happy, but what does it mean? We cannot explain it. We can only say we are happy, but we cannot say what the meaning of being happy is. Everything is describable, observable, analysable, but happiness is something which is inscrutable.

Brahman is such. No one can understand it by any means available to human nature, but it can be directly felt inside. Feeling melts into experience. Though we are happy oftentimes, this is not the kind of happiness that is to be equated with Brahman’s bliss. The bliss of Brahman is perpetual. Since Brahman is eternal, the bliss of Brahman also is eternal. It is not contaminated by the time process.

Our happiness is fleeting. Today we may be happy and tomorrow we may not be, for some other reason. There are a hundred things in the world which can extinguish the little flame of joy that a person experiences in life. The sorrows in the world oftentimes seem to outweigh the joys. Whether joy is more in this world, or sorrow is more, is a question that each one has to answer for one’s own self. Is the world filled with more sorrow than joy, or is it otherwise?

However, if Brahman is the Ultimate Being, and its nature is bliss, it should explain all the questions of life, because the sorrows of the world, to which we often make reference, cannot be connected in any way with the eternity of the bliss of Brahman. Just as night cannot stand before day, sorrow cannot be visualised or experienced in any way when Brahman’s bliss is experienced directly in one’s own self.

Whatever experience the disciple Bhrigu had, he had it through tapasya, not through study of books or listening to lectures. No other means can bring this blessing. No katha, sankirtana, bhajana, nothing that is outwardly motivated can bring this bliss of Brahman, because we can attend to all these kathas and bhajans, etc., without the least self-control in us. Even a person with no self-control can enjoy a bhajan, but he will not derive the benefit of it because the benefit of any kind of spiritual exercise can be had only by self-control. In different stages of self-control, Bhrigu realised that bliss is the nature of Brahman.

The bodily longings which are the cravings of sense have to be subdued first. As long as these cravings persist, physically, through the sense organs, through the desires and passions of any kind, the meditational process cannot go deeper than the physical level. That tapasya which was practised by Bhrigu in the form of utter self-restraint enabled him to go deeper—not merely by intellectual analysis, but by actual experience of his own vital existence, mental existence, and intellectual existence.

Therefore, one has to be purely subjective, in one sense, during meditation. There is no external interference at that time. When we reach the deepest level of our being, we will also reach the deepest level of the whole of creation.

This is why it is said, “Thou art That,” tat tvam asi. ‘Thou’ here means the deepest essence of spirituality in a person is identical with the deepest core of the cosmos. Identity does not mean one merging with the other, as if they are two different things. It is a cohesive process which is indescribable through our mind. It is like sinking into deep sleep, where our bodily, vital, mental and intellectual functions melt down, as it were, in a sea of experience where we remain as we are, and we do not require contact with anything else to be happy.

Everyone knows how pleasant sleep is. It is more pleasant, more delighting, than any joy that one can conceive. Let even the emperor, who has all the world to enjoy, not sleep for fifteen days and see what happens to his joy. He will say, “Don’t talk to me. Let me sleep. Let the empire go, but I want to take rest and sleep.” He wants to go into himself, and not into the empire. Though the mind and the sense organs wrongly suggest that we are in the empire and our joy is there, outside, the test is actual experience.

Daily we are taken to Brahman, says the Upanishad. A great wonder is this, that every day we are pulled into Brahman when we are in dreamless sleep. That is why the very presence of that apparent contact we have with the deepest Being in ourselves tells us that we can sleep more and more, and it is not good to get up: “Let me sleep a little more.” The honey-like bliss is poured into one’s experience in the state of deep sleep.

The Upanishad says that we are actually in contact with Brahman, but we do not know what is happening to us. We come back like a fool, as we went like a fool, into the state of deep sleep. This happens because of the absence of self-control, the absence of self-restraint of the different vestures mentioned—the body, the pranas, the mind, and the intellect. These vestures, or kosas, as they are called, are agitations of the spirit. It is a disease of the mind, concretised in the form of visible personality. To melt it down into the substance of which it has arisen, deep contemplation of an utter subjectivity in nature has to be practised. Finally, it would mean that one has to love one’s own Self, and one cannot love anything else—even the least tinge of love for anything other than one’s own Self. Looking almost like selfishness, when looked at from another angle of vision, this is the greatest altruism one can think of.

Why does it look like selfishness? Because we conceive of this Self, into which we entered, as a bodily content. It is as if we are going inside our physical individuality. That is why we say wrongly that it is selfish to go inside. But, the deepest inside in us is not ours. It is a property of everybody. It is like a bubble sinking into the ocean. The ocean is the root of all the bubbles. The ocean is not a selfish individual. Each drop may be regarded as selfish in its relation to other drops, but when it melts and bursts into the ocean, it has become the self of all other drops also.

This thing into which we are entering in the state of deep sleep is that into which everything sinks, and therein is our final solace and blessedness. But, however much we may go to sleep every day, Brahman is not realised because the desires of the mind and the passions of the sense organs, which are potentially present even in the state of deep sleep, cloud the intelligence which is flashing forth from the root of Brahman, which gives pleasure on one side and ignorance on the other side. We are happy in sleep but are unconscious that we are happy, so there is a curse upon this happiness. That curse is nothing but the unfulfilled desires of the sense organs, which crave to jump out upon the objects outside at the least opportunity provided.

Therefore, any amount of sleep will not make us know Brahman, unless the senses are controlled and consciousness retreats from the outer level to the inner level—until it reaches the deepest level, where consciousness establishes itself in consciousness. That is the bliss of Brahman, which Bhrigu realised by the blessing of the great master Varuna, who was his father.

Wonderful was the teacher; he would not utter one word of teaching, really. “Know it by yourself; go deep into yourself; work for yourself, and toil for yourself; know it for yourself.” That is the teaching of the Guru, and so obedient was the disciple that he never questioned this pithy, so-called meaningless instruction. He took it seriously and went inside by self-control, control of the operations of every level of the personality, and reached that bliss which is the very essence of all existence. Sat, pure existence, is also ananda at the same time. And, it is all consciousness at that time, so we call it sat-chit-ananda, existence-consciousness-bliss, towards which end we have to struggle hard, as the disciple Bhrigu endeavoured.