Living a Spiritual Life
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 17: The Birth of an Individual

The coming of an individual into this world, hailed so much by every family as an asset come from the heavens, is a phenomenon not so simple as meets the eye. Since matter is latent with a cohesive force within itself, and all matter stabilises itself due to this cohesive force that is immanent, present within itself, anything that is concerned with material existence may be said to be concerned, at the same time, with the vast sea of matter pervading all space and constituting every blessed thing in the world.

The event called the birth of an individual on this Earth plane is regarded by a prosaic mind as something suddenly come from nowhere in a mysterious manner inexplicable to the mind, and there the exhilaration of having a child is over. But, there are great secrets behind this tantalising event called the advent of a thing into this world, because all material formation of individualities of any creature whatsoever calls forth the potencies of all material existence—so that, we may say, a single physical formation of an individual is representative of all the powers of the entire material existence, so that the mother of the child is the vast material universe.

It is in the Chhandogya Upanishad wherein we have the description of a science called Panchagni Vidya. We have this wonderful narration of how everything is born. Birth is, first of all, a vibration that is generated in the superior space, beyond the visible physical space. This vibration, which dictates the particular formation of the body of an individual, congeals in the form of the location of the birth, the circumstances of the birth, the atmosphere around which this birth takes place, and several other incidental issues.

The Upanishadic passage is very cryptic and not easy to understand through linguistic study. The passage goes in this manner: There is, first of all, a movement in the high heavens, demanding the birth of an individual. It is something like an incarnation or an avatara, we may call it. The difference between the coming of an avatara, or an incarnation, and an ordinary individual is that the avatara is conscious of what it is made of, while an ordinary mortal individual is not so conscious. The incarnation deliberately descends of its own free will, whereas the mortal individual is forced to come down, pulled towards the gravitational region of this Earth.

Thus, that which is born into this world is a representation, first of all, of all material existence, because when the dissolution of the body takes place at the end of time, this material composition will be distributed to the original material source in the same proportion in which it was distributed at the beginning of creation. But that an individual is not merely body, or physical matter, is something well known. What are the components of a human individual?

Briefly, the body has to be enlivened, vitalised. There must be consciousness manifest in that formation called the child; and this individualised consciousness, as it were, becomes what we call the mind, thinking through this little body into which the birth has taken place.

This is not the entire story; there is something more about it. The connection of the individual with all material sources of creation and vibrations to which also the mind owes an affiliation brings about a very interesting truth before our eyes—namely, the item that is manifest in this world is an unconscious spot in space and in time, under given circumstances of a great pressure exerted from the centrality of creation.

Therefore, truly speaking, one cannot say who is the parent of a child. There are layers and layers, gradations of manifestation of originality, of an event that takes place. Above matter there is vitality, or energy, which pervades the whole of creation. Transcendent to the vital or energy potential of the cosmos there is the thinking, mental process. Above that is rarefied understanding called buddhi. Still further, transcendent above all things, is Cosmic Consciousness.

All these levels of reality get concentrated into a particular form as is required for a specific purpose in the process of the evolution of the universe. Therefore, we are not our own, and we do not seem to belong to any particular family, social group, linguistic or regional limitation. Vibrating within ourselves is the energy of the whole world.

That is the reason why we, as individuals, are unable to contain within our minds the potentials within our own selves. The body, physical though it be, can demand infinite comforts. Anything that is provided for its satisfaction may be inadequate for its purpose. The modern equipments of physical comfort provided to man are indications of the infinitude of physical desire and the longing for physical comfort. Therefore, there is an area or an atmosphere of infinitude even around the physical existence of an individual, carrying the tentacles of human individuality up to the borders of creation, as it were—which is the reason why physical desire is insatiable and can never be satisfied by any finite presentation that can be made from the resources of this world.

But within the body, there is a mind. Even as bodily requirements are infinitude in their nature, mental longings also are of a similar nature. The reaches of the mind touch the corners of creation, we may say. Just as physical requirements are endless and nothing on Earth can fully satisfy the desires of a physically constrained person, the mind also cannot be satisfied because its longings are weird and heavenly in their nature.

Any person who can find time to think over the needs of the mind of a person will realise a fathomless sea of longing vibrating at the bottom of the little mind that seems to be within our brains. Infinite physical longing and infinite mental operation—these two phenomena are enough to tell us that physically and also mentally we are not located in any particular place. Our mind is not in one place, and even the body, which appears to be in one place, is really not in one place because its parent, which is the body of matter that is universally, ubiquitously distributed, pulls it from all directions and tells it, “You have come from me, and you have to come back to me.” This is the reason why there is infinite longing physically. And because the mental operations also are not limited to a little activity of the brain of the individual—it is also borrowed from cosmic nature—the mental aesthetic longings also are endless.

From childhood onwards till we reach old age and are prepared to depart from this world, we realise that we have not understood what our mind really requires. This is because there is an infinite background of the mental operations of even a single individual. Beyond aesthetic thinking of the mind, there is also an intellectual activity of the superior reason which tells us what a thing is and what it is not. This is a rarefied form of the mind itself, and the desire for knowledge is symbolic of the potentials of the human intellect. Any amount of learning is not going to satisfy a person; he researches over and above the possibilities of himself, goes to various places of research and learning, and finds that still his knowledge is insufficient. The mysteries of nature defy the understanding of man. Scientific observations and logical analysis have not brought an ultimate answer to the mysterious processes of the universe.

All this is a brief statement of a peculiar infinitude of potentiality in our own selves telling us loudly through the language of the mystery of the world that we do not belong to any place, and we are not friends of any individual. We are not children of any particular parent. There is a series of comings and, therefore, our parenthood lies in the centrality of the Creator Himself.

To whom do we belong then, finally? To the whole world. It is the Yoga Vasishtha that tells us, ayam nijaḥ paro veti gananā laghuchetasām, udāracharitānām tu vasudhaiva kutumbakam (Yoga Vasishtha 5.18.61): “Poorly constituted minds, ignorant as they are, say that this is my relative, my friend, my family, this is mine, and this is not mine. But to a large-hearted individual whose perceptions have exceeded the limits of ordinary thinking, the whole world is a family.” There is no one unconnected with us, finally.

It is said that if we could by chance remember all the five hundred births through which we have passed before coming to this world, those relationships that we had during those five hundred births will reveal that there is no one to whom we do not belong. All are our relatives only. In one incarnation, in one birth, in one life or the other, someone was our relation. And so, there is no one who is not our relative. There is none who does not belong to us, and yet, none really belong to us.

This is a poignant truth revealed by a careful analysis of our own situation in this world, and it is up to every person to probe into oneself and find out one’s own potencies. To walk on this Earth glibly, like idiots, believing what the eyes present as the realities of life, would be a great travesty and a tragedy.

One cannot believe one’s eyes, because they produce illusions. Today I read that in Delhi there is a flood. I was wondering what kind of flood it is: is it raining heavily? No. It is a flood of a deceptive water-like radiation arising out of the street, due to the heat of the sun. Such is the heat in Delhi these days, they say, that the road itself starts shining as if it is a flowing river. This is what is called a mirage. If we can believe that water is present on the road in this manner because the eyes are seeing it, then we can believe our sensory perceptions elsewhere also.

The scriptures of the Yoga Sastra awaken us by telling us repeatedly that we have come from an all-inclusive potential creative force, and through degrees of coming down we have reached this present state of sensorially perceived human individuality, like the apex of a triangle whose base is above, wider than the pointing apex. Perhaps it is in this light that the Bhagavadgita tells us that creation is like a tree which is inverted in its position, with its roots above and its trunk, branches, and leaves, etc., spread out downward. That is to say, our origin, the origin of each and every one, human or otherwise, is the root thereof, which is high above in what we call the heavens; and what we see with our eyes are the branches, the twigs, the leaves and the fruits in the form of our experiences.

Why is it that we are born? Who has called us to come down to this Earth? This is the mystery which the Upanishads, the Brahma Sutras, and such scriptures have tried their best to explain. It is a condensation of Cosmic Existence—physically, mentally, intellectually, aesthetically, and in every way—into a localised point in space and time. For what purpose? For playing a joke or enacting a drama. Very good actors in a theatre put on costumes and behave as something which they are not actually in themselves. They can descend into a little role from the high stature that they perhaps occupy in society. But in the case of a human actor in a theatre, the difference is that the actor is conscious of what he really is. Though he has changed his costume and behaves like something quite different from what he is, his consciousness of what he really is made of does not convert him into the ruse of the role which he assumes.

But in this drama, a reverse order takes place. When we put on the costume of a human individual, we do not remember who it is that has put on this costume. The costume assumes that it is itself the individual. It assumes a reality, and struts about on Earth, overruling the reality which has put on this costume, and it looks as if the person who has put on this costume is dead completely. Only the parading costumes look like living realities.

Sometimes, life in the world is compared to a theatrical performance. Poets have gone into great detail in their description of the dramatic character of human performances—finding out thereby that the entire performance in this world is a play, a diversion, an entertainment, as it were, to something which is much greater than what is presented in the theatre. But intense identification with the formation can compel the source of this performance to forget itself, in the same way as concentration on a sense object intensely for a long time makes one forget one’s own self, and one runs to the object as if one has poured oneself on the object. Totally, the subjective side has become the object of attraction.

In a similar manner, the creation of the individual seems to have taken place. The littleness of human individuality, the finitude of it, cannot survive merely with the consciousness of finitude, because to be finite is to be an untruth. Satyam eva jayate nānṛtam (Mundaka Up. 3.1.6) is a well-known saying. Truth triumphs, and anything else will not. What is the truth? The cosmic relationship of human individuals, of all things, is the truth. What is the untruth? The feeling that one is this individual, come from a chosen pair of parents.

Because of the suffering caused by this erroneous outlook of finite nature, it creates a heaven out of hell, as it were, by projecting sense organs, apertures through which it can peep outside through space and time, and contact the world as if it stands totally external to it, to be handled in a particular manner. Do we not think in this manner? The world is something in front of us, totally unconnected with us, and we have to deal with it in some way or the other, in this way or that way, for our personal satisfaction or group satisfaction. But the truth is not that the world is standing outside us. It is an integral part of our own self. The suffering continues because the senses insist on emphasising that our reality is this physical location only, and we think the pain of this kind of existence is mollified by contact with what we ourselves are not.

To be one’s own self as a finite individual is the greatest of sorrows conceivable. That is why no one can sit alone somewhere without coming in contact with things. One would like to talk to somebody, go to the market, do this, do that. It would be a veritable death to be alone to oneself. This is because the truth is not in this localisation of human individuality. To perpetuate this foolish clinging to this body as if it is the only worthwhile thing in the world, the sense organs are projected gradually, even during the child’s placement in the womb itself. All the future of a child, of the personality, is hidden in the mother’s womb, and it only intensifies itself when it comes out into the world.

To free ourselves from this tragic condition in which we are placed, the Yoga Sastra prescribes techniques of absolvement from the sorrows of life—that is, a retracement of our steps in the fashion in which we came down. How we came, and in what manner have we to go up is the subject of this Panchagni Vidya narration in the Chhandogya Upanishad, which describes only the process of coming down and the sorrows of life. But the way of ascent, going back, is a succeeding chapter in the very same Upanishad, which goes by the name of Vaishvanara Vidya. So, the Panchagni Vidya and the Vaishvanara Vidya act as the obverse and the reverse of the same coin of life—one describing the seamy side of things, and the other the positive glory which life is.

Intense study of these chapters of the Upanishad is necessary, but a casual reading of it will not bring out its truth, because the Upanishads are famous for pithy statements and enigmatic sayings which require to be probed into carefully with the guidance of a competent teacher.

Finally, the outcome of this study and the teaching of the Upanishad is that our salvation consists in the reconditioning of ourselves, the recollection of our forces, mustering in a new energy within ourselves by placing our inner selfhood in the context of what is potential in us, known as the Atman. The rootedness of our self in the recesses of our being is the meditating principle—not the body, the sense organs, the mind or the intellect, but the whole of what we are.

Disciples went to a teacher requesting initiation into Vaishvanara Vidya, or the way of salvation into the mysteries of cosmic living. The great teacher questioned each one of them, asking them what it was that they were already doing: “Let me hear what is the practice that you are undergoing already. After that, I shall tell you what I have to tell you.” Each one had something different to say. From Earth to heaven, every blessed thing was described by those who went for initiation, but each of the methods of meditation was found defective.

The great master, who was a king and a Brahmavidya master, told each one of them: “You are sincere students, no doubt. You are highly purified persons. Obeisance to you, prostrations to you all, Brahmavidya seekers. But your meditations are defective and, therefore, you have achieved nothing through years of practice. What is the defect? Your meditations have two faults. One of the faults is that you think that what you are concentrating upon is totally outside you. The other fault is that you are wrongly thinking that the thing on which you are meditating is in one place only. The object of your meditation is really pervading all space, so you cannot project your thought in a spatially directed manner to any particular object.

“Unless you are involved in the process of meditation, the object will not yield to your requirement. It is friendship that finally counts, and works miracles in this world. The friendship that you have to establish with the object of meditation is to commingle oneself with the nature of that object in such a manner that you turn the tables round and practise the same method that you adopt when you are concentrating sensorially on an object of desire. Divert that consciousness to this object that you are contemplating upon, and merge yourself in it.

“The difference between the object of meditation and the object of sensory satisfaction is that the object of sense longing is in one place only; it cannot be everywhere. Totally different is the object of meditation, because it is everywhere. That is why you can rest assured that whatever you are meditating upon as your object of devotion can take you to the highest heavens, because it is pervading everywhere in its basic structure.” This was the answer which the great Brahmavidya teacher imparted to the disciples.

All our discussions during the past several days have been practically a concentration on these issues in different ways, from different angles of vision—namely, that we have to learn the art, not of being some person, but of being all persons. “Look at me, Arjuna. I am the All. All persons are in this one Person.” It is an illustration of what everyone is. That Vishvarupa is potentially present in every one of us, and each one can say, “Look at me; all the persons are in me.”

If all the persons are in you, what do you lack in this world? Why are you weeping and crying and running about here and there, searching for what you cannot get in this world?

This is the message of the Bhagavadgita and the Upanishads—hearing which, our heart should melt, and the mind should become composed. Anger, greed, etc., should subside, making us different individuals, stage by stage every day, making us happier and happier as days pass—not getting up in the morning with a mood of grief and despondency that something is lost, and something is wrong.

With these kinds of meditations we will realise that nothing is lost, and nothing is wrong. The perception has to change completely in a positive direction. This practice is the quintessence of yoga practice. This is meditation proper. It is the art of reaching God, the Creator of the universe, Who is latently present in each one of us as Antaryatmin, Who through this little spark of divinity within us speaks to us what He really is. “All things I am, and infinitude is what I am,” He says. That is why we are restless in this world. We are restless because nothing that is finite can actually satisfy us.

Yoga sadhakas, searchers of truth, seekers of God, practitioners of the secret doctrine of inner attunement should realise this mystery of human creation and should not just walk about like foolish people woolgathering, thinking that whatever is visible to the eyes is exactly as it is. You will be surprised to realise one day at the end of time that the world is quite different from what it appears to your eyes.

Before the end comes, it is better to be wise, and be guarded so that you may not fall into the pits of error. Spend every moment of your life in this guarded consciousness of your belonging to a wider order of creation, to God Almighty Himself, Who shall protect you for ever and ever, and provide you with all things so that you rejoice perennially, forever, so that there is nothing that you lack afterwards.

Not only is the world a belonging of yours, it is yourself. The whole world will dance around you, the nucleus of creation, as the Gopis are said to have danced around the central nucleus of Bhagavan Sri Krishna. Such is the glorious attainment of spiritual realisation towards which everyone should strive, heart and soul, without a moment’s sluggishness of attention. This is a great message for everyone.