The Art of Total Thinking
by Swami Krishnananda


Chapter 3: The Pursuit of a Hidden Mystery

We shall bring to our minds what we considered yesterday. The knowledge of things indicates the presence of something which is beyond the knowledge of things. This is the result of our analysis. We cannot know anything unless we know at the same time something other than this thing which is the object of our knowledge.

Something seems to be pursuing us wherever we go. Though our objective in the pursuits of this world seems to be the visible phenomena of life, there appears to be another factor running behind us and going ahead of us, whatever be the visible aim of our life. There is an invisible mystery which does not leave us wherever we go. We may soar to the heavens or sink to the nether regions; it makes no difference to this mystery. It is wherever we go, under every circumstance of life, at every time everywhere, because minus this mystery, life seems to be meaningless and it cannot be explained. The explanation of every experience in life is the presence of this mystery. So life may be regarded as a mystery in itself. Life is not a science or a logic, it is not an arithmetic or an algebra or a geometry, it is not a calculation or a computation; it is a miracle. It is this miracle that keeps us hoping and living. Our desires are a miracle, our ambitions are a miracle, our activities are a miracle. We ourselves are a miracle in this world of miracles.

Actually, religion is nothing but the pursuit of this miracle, the running after the Holy Grail and a knight’s errand of the spirit. We are participants in the religious pursuit, which is nothing but the pursuit of this Holy Grail of this wondrous mystery that grins at us, stares at us, and mocks us at every event we pass through here. There is apparently something that laughs at everything we do, and thinks before we start thinking, and does something before we start doing anything at all. This mystery is the explanation of every phenomenon in life, and this is the conditioner of the whole of human history. The process of the history of mankind is the process of the working of this miracle behind human history, but it eludes our grasp, escapes our understanding and defies our every effort to know it. While we can know anything and everything, we cannot know that thing. It is because of the fact that we cannot know that thing which is the only thing that is to be known, finally, that we are the fools that we are here. But this realm of experience looks like a paradise to us on account of the presence of this mystery. At the same time, we are made fools, so literally we are in a fool’s paradise. While we look like fools because we cannot know this mystery, we are also in a paradise because of the presence of this mystery. Wonder is life, and wonder is religion.

That is why great masters in any field of pursuit – literature, poetry, drama, fine arts, religion and spirituality, mysticism, yoga, whatever it is – have been the miracle mongers in the world of this mystery which stands supreme above all that we can consider as worthwhile and valuable in life. All the meaning that we can recognise and read in anything in this world is the meaning that descends as a jot or a ray from that supreme mystery of mysteries, the mysterium tremendum as the mystics are fond of calling it. Inasmuch as it is the explanation for the whole of phenomena and it is that which accounts for the secrets of every kind of experience through which anyone may pass, it has to be accepted as a universal presence. Inasmuch as it explains everything everywhere, naturally it has to be a presence that is everywhere. That which is everywhere is that which is considered as universality, the universal principle. Because it is the explanation of every particular and is the indivisible presence at the back of every related phenomenon, it can be considered the soul of all things. This is what is called the Atman in the Upanishads and the Self in mystical circles. It is the soul because it is the explanation of everything. It is the Self because it is behind everything that is known or recognised. It offers explanation for everything, but it itself cannot be explained by anybody else because that ‘anybody’ who could explain it does not exist. That which itself is inexplicable but explains everything else is the Self of all things. Because it knows the mystery behind all things, it is a consciousness mystery, it is a knowledge process, it is intelligence pristine par excellence.

The pursuit of this mysterious Self is the religion of mankind. This is what is called spirituality. You can have some idea as to what religion can be, what spirituality is, what anything worthwhile can be ultimately if this is the nature of this world, and if this is the circumstance in which we are placed in this mysterious world. The pursuit of religion is the pursuit of the Atman or the Self of all things, this mystery behind phenomena; therefore, it can also be said to be at the same time a pursuit of the mystery of our own selves. The knowledge of things is also the knowledge of our own selves, and our knowledge of our own selves is the knowledge of all things. To know anything is to know all things.

Here we are at the foot of this great ascent of the religious adventure, the spiritual activity which obviously cannot be any kind of outward movement on account of our aim being quite different from anything that can be comprehended within the field of human activity. All activities are presupposed by the presence of this mystery; therefore, the pursuit of this mystery, if it is called religion and spirituality, should be other than what we call normal activity in life. It is an activity no doubt, but an activity of the spirit. It is our inward self that conducts a process of work in its own manner, quite different qualitatively from the works that we undertake in this world of business and social activity.

Religion can be and ought to be made compatible with work, but it is not the work that we are thinking of in our mind. It is work, it is activity, it is enterprise, it is adventure; it is everything, but it is nothing that we can comprehend in our mind at present. It is a work that we perform from our soul’s essence, and not as a movement of any kind of psychic function. This is why people have been telling us ever and anon that karma is different from karma yoga. A spiritualised activity, which is karma yoga, is quite different in its nature from the activities known to the world of mankind. We cannot actually have access into the mystery of what we call karma yoga because it is an activity of the soul and not of our hands and feet, not even our empirical understanding and mind, to which I made reference yesterday. It is not a world process. It is a noumenal adventure; it is the thing as it is in itself that rises to the surface of phenomena when life becomes religion and spirituality.

Inasmuch as this mystery I referred to is perforce present everywhere because it explains all things at the same time, it is a universal compresence and not a particular existence somewhere. We cannot say it is in some corner of the world. Therefore, when we pursue it, we are pursuing all things at the same time. We become a person belonging to everybody at the same time and are not a person of one family, one community, one nation – not even of this Earth. When we enter into the field of religious activity we cease to be a man of a particular country. Perhaps we cease to be a man. Rather, we remain as an inward urge which presses itself forward towards the recognition of the presence of this mystery which explains the presence of all things, all phenomena.

Now, inasmuch as this mysterious explanation of the diversified phenomena has to be present everywhere as the Self of all things, it has to be an indivisible something which is incapable of division by space, by time, by even thought and conception. It is a whole of a mysterious nature. Therefore, God is a whole, the Self is a whole, the Atman is a whole, and this is the reason why we consider our little personality as a wholeness in itself. This wondrous, mysterious, universal wholeness explains the wholeness of any particular object in this world. Every little thing is a completeness by itself: A tree is a whole, an atom is a whole, an electron is a whole, a man is a whole, an animal is a whole, and even an insect is a whole. The solar system is a whole. Anything we can think of has a wholeness characterising its existence. Even what we call as an isolated thing is a wholeness by itself. You are an individual seated here as one among the many, yet you are a wholeness in your own capacity. You are an indivisible individuality. Though you are one among the many persons seated here, in your own status you attain to an indivisibility which is your personality, the so-called ‘I am’ you are affirming every moment of time.

In a sense, we may say the whole world is filled with this Self because everyone asserts “I am”. Even an insect, even a crawling earthworm asserts its independence and wishes to exist as that particular form. The love of life, the struggle for existence, the affirmation of the will to live is present even in the least of things. This affirmation can be explained only by the presence of that supreme affirmation of the mystery which unites the particulars of all phenomena and cries “I am!” in a loud tone. This universal ‘I’ reflects itself, descends further down into the relative particularities of what we ourselves appear to be as anything that can appear in its own form. The world is, therefore, a world of Selfhood. The pursuit of this indivisibility in any of its manifestations is the pursuit of religion, spirituality, mysticism, yoga.

Hence, a religious aspiration, a love for yoga, is a journey that we are undertaking towards a wholeness which is a little above the wholeness of our own personalities. We are also a whole in our own selves, but we are not satisfied with that wholeness because there are other wholes which contend with our own individual wholeness. The presence of another thing is a limitation of our being, and as we are inwardly a limitless presence of this all-comprehending mystery, we are not satisfied with our own selves. Nothing can satisfy us anywhere because we are seeking this wholeness which is to explain and to rectify the limitations of our little wholeness in which we are embedded at present.

We are struggling to overcome the limitations caused by the presence of other persons and things by all the means that are available in life by attempting to abolish other things. This is the reason why we love things and hate things. Our loves and hatreds of any kind in this world can be explained, and have to be explained, only because of our supreme love for the overcoming of our limitations by transcending them by an attainment of a higher wholeness where we have the vision of a larger dimension of this indivisibility. Even our little quarrels in our families can be explained only by our love for the urge of the self for a larger selfhood of its own self. Even our small skirmishes, battles and wars are ultimately spiritual. Even the worst of things has a spiritual element behind it, and nothing else can be anywhere even in the lowest hells. Even in the worst of the forms inferno can take, an explanation of spirituality is there, and a spirit performs this drama of the ups and downs of life. Crowning a person king today and hurling the very same person down tomorrow is the worst possible experience. This is the work of this mystery – to enthrone us in a kingdom and throw us down into the dust tomorrow. This is what God is doing, this is what the Self is doing, this is the explanation of the history of man which moves as a powerful river to its destination of an oceanic expanse. And thus we are pulled, whether we consciously will it or not, in the direction of religious pursuits for the practice of spirituality. There is a large significance behind the little jots that we have in the field of religion as a Sadhana Week, as a study, as a svadhaya, as a church-going or a temple worship, etc. There are more things in heaven and on Earth than we can imagine in our minds.

Our own little longings are more than what they appear outwardly. They enshrine within their little vehicles a mystery and a treasure which is far superior to the shape of the vehicle in which we are enshrined. Hence, even the first step in religion and spirituality is a step towards wholeness of experience. This is why it is often told us that particularised loves and hatreds are contrary to the requirements of religious endeavour. I told you just now that our loves and hatreds are explained only by the spiritual urge within us. But we are unable to interpret the experiences of life in terms of the meaning that is hidden behind them as a spiritual motive. We are carried away by the upsurge of the outward waves of experience but we are unable to discover the inward movement of the ocean that is behind this tumultuous activity of the waves. Our eyes tempt us and deceive us. Our understanding also goes together with the activities of the senses; therefore, we do not know what we ourselves are aiming at, what we ourselves are doing in our daily life.

The religion of yoga or the practice of spirituality is a movement of the finite in the direction of a larger finitude, so this itself may be a finite in the light of a higher experience. Spirituality is an evolutionary process, as anything else can be. The scientific evolution which biologists speak of is also a spiritual evolution. All evolution is spiritual, and the work of the various phenomena in the astral world, in the astronomical universe, in this physical realm, all outwardly appearing to be material in their nature, are also spiritually motivated. Matter finally does not exist; therefore, in a way we may say that the world also does not exist.

But the so-called world before us, the matter which contends with the spirit, is a false isolation of a part of the spirit itself as an object which it beholds like a counterpart of its own self, a segmentation of the spirit. Just as we can behold our own self in a mirror, spirit beholds itself, as it were, in the world, in the universe, in phenomena, in the form of matter. When we behold ourselves, see ourselves or look at ourselves in a mirror, we have not become another. We see ourselves in a mirror, no doubt, but we have not become that thing which is seen in the mirror. We are still the very same thing that we were earlier before we looked at ourselves through the mirror. Spirit remains spirit even in matter. Even when the spirit appears as matter or the world appears only as matter and nothing else but matter, spirit remains as spirit. It cannot become anything else.

The so-called material phenomenon, the world of perception, the universe of experience, is an interpretation of the universal spirit through space-time causal relationship. So the world is a kind of interpretation rather than an existence. It is a reading of meaning rather than a presence by itself. It does not exist. But it appears to be there as an inexplicable x in an algebraic explanation or equation. The x in algebra is a non-entity in itself, but this non-entity is an explanation of everything that is implied in this equation. So is this world. It is a tentative tool for the explanation of that which beyond itself reigns supreme while it itself does not exist. A non-existent something leads us to something which is really existent; as they say by an analogy, a roar of a non-existent tiger in dream can wake up the individual into a real experience. The dream tiger does not exist, and its roar is also not there, but it can terrify the dreamer to such an extent that we will wake up into a real world of perception. It is difficult to believe how a thing that is not there can produce an experience which is there. Similarly, the Guru, the idea of God that we have in our mind and the worships that we offer in the form of religion and spirituality are also the roars of tigers which are not there really, but they can wake us up into a real experience which is what is.

The practice of yoga, the pursuit of religion, the living of spirituality is, therefore, the pursuit of a hidden mystery. Religion is a mystery. It is not a social work. It is not a service that we render to our nation or to people outside as an effort purely on the empirical level. Service becomes spiritual, karma becomes karma yoga when we can see a meaning that is hidden in and through the outward performances of activity, and the intention that is other than the activity itself. The intention counts, not the form of the activity. Hence, karma yoga is not a work that we do but a meaning that is behind the work that we do. If the meaning is absent, work becomes a skeleton, a corpse which appears to be carried on stretchers but itself has no life within it. Action can become a mere corpse when it is divested of the spiritual intention behind it and, therefore, our efforts in life may not always succeed. People often complain they have done so much but nothing comes out. It is because they have done nothing really. They have only been moving like a corpse, and the movement of a corpse cannot be regarded as any worthwhile activity. There is no life in it. All the works that we do in life are usually the work of a corpse. There appears to be a movement, but it is like the movement of a car which has a driver. And so it is a chaotic activity, a movement in any direction whatsoever without purpose – a lifeless movement.

Karma yoga is a spiritualised activity, no doubt, but we must know what it actually means. It is the discovery of that outlook which is compatible with the presence of this universal Self in the activities of our daily life. It is a difficult thing to understand, and more difficult to practise. We wool-gather, we sleep, we slip, and we are once again the old guys that we were in spite of our effort because, as I told you, spirit always eludes the grasp of empirical understanding and, much worse, the perceptions of the senses. Kṣurasya dhārā niśitā duratyayā (Katha 1.3.14) is the cautious maxim we have in the scripture. Subtle, invisible is this path of the spirit; strait is the gate, narrow is the way, so narrow that it looks like the dimension of a hair’s breath. It is subtle like the sharp edge of a razor or a sword, invisible to the eyes. We cannot see the spiritual path. We cannot even know it with our mind wedded to space and time. Understanding is incapable of knowing what it is. Hence, one cannot know what the religious significance of life is by analysing it only though a vivisection by way of scientific analysis, etc. One has to be very cautious.

Heedlessness is death. We are mostly heedless because we are carried away by a complacency that we are already on the path, but no one can be so sure that one is on the path. Even if we happen to be on the path, we can be side-tracked. We can be taken in the wrong direction, and we will be made to believe that we are moving in the right direction. Here is the difficulty. But constant practice will save us. The light that will shine on the path as a consequence of the good deeds that we performed in our previous lives – the samskaras of earlier existences – as also the power that is produced by our own effort in this life, and the blessings of the master from whom we have received initiation into yoga. Finally, the grace of God will help us.

Every day one has to wake up in the morning with vigilance in the mind, as if we are walking on the razor’s edge or on a very narrow rope bridge, and non-vigilance may mean a dropping down into the abyss of waters. For this purpose we have to create a daily routine and a program for ourselves. We should never be under the impression that we are wholly religious or spiritual. Nothing of the kind is called for. Not even a great saint can be said to be wholly religious all of the time. That is not possible under the circumstance of life here. A daily routine is to be chalked down, and all the necessary things of life have to be taken into consideration. Our family circumstances, our office routines, our physical health, our financial condition – every blessed thing has to be considered when we prepare a program. Every item that is indispensible in life and cannot be avoided under the circumstances has to be put down in our diary. Oftentimes the different items of our daily program cannot be exposed to the public. The daily program is not necessarily what people see outside. The program is what is in our mind especially. The various tensions and anxieties are not capable of being demonstrated outside. Everyone has a worry in the mind, but we cannot tell everyone we have this worry because to tell that itself is another worry, so we keep it inside us somehow or other.

But we have to get over this. We have to see that every tension is removed from our mind before we step wholly on the spiritual path, because a morbid mind is unfit for this purpose. We have to be healthy individuals first. We are rarely wholly healthy. Our minds are distracted by compulsive movements of the social structure in which we are placed. Because we are made in that way, we are unable to live a life which is not social at present. It does not mean that we should be always social individuals from birth to death, but at present at least, it does not appear that we can live an unsocial existence because we have needs which are connected with social solidarity, social relationship and social cooperation. Apart from that fact, we have to breathe air, drink water, and bask in sunlight, which is a natural dependence on the physical world of nature. We have social dependences of other types. We require medicine when we are sick, manufactured by a firm which is not our own. We require a medical man. We require vegetables which are not grown in our own garden. We require pulses, we require rice, we require wheat; we require every blessed thing. This is a kind of dependence. Maybe a day will come when we need not be dependent like this, God willing, and a day like that has to come. We cannot go on cringing before others until we die; but at present, being independent does not appear to be practicable.

Therefore, the difficulties of this type which we might regard as necessary evils, though they are evils themselves, have to be paid their due even if they are devils. The worst of things has to be taken into consideration even if it may appear as totally unreligious and wholly unspiritual. Anything which we cannot avoid should be regarded as religious and spiritual. We should not say it is unspiritual. A thing that we can wholly avoid may be avoided. But when we have concluded that it cannot be avoided, why do we complain that it is unspiritual and unreligious? It has some connection with our religious or spiritual practices. It has some connection with our existence itself. Why do we say it is unreligious? Anything that is contributory to the values which are even in the remotest sense religious and spiritual are also religious and spiritual.

Here one has to be very charitable, and not very dogmatic and fanatic. We have one difficulty in life, which is social dogma and religious fanaticism into which we are many times born. We cannot forget that we are Hindus, Christians, Muslims, etc. Though this feeling is not necessary and perhaps, I may say, it is wholly undesirable, we are born into this. We think as Hindus, we think as Christians, we think as Muslims, we think as something else. And we also think as men and women, etc. We cannot avoid these ideas. These are great problems. These are the diseases of the psyche, and these diseases are there. When they are there, we have to accept that they are there. It is not true that we are Hindus or Christians, it is not true that we belong to a particular nation, and it is not true that we are men or women. But we have been forced into the belief that we are these and, therefore, consequently, we are also forced to behave in a manner as if we are these. This is a malady of human society, and it has to be taken into consideration as a necessary thing in our existence. We have to gradually rip ourselves open and shed these limitations by passing through them and not imagining that they are not there. We cannot close our eyes to the existence of a problem, though it may appear that it is a fallacy of thinking and a misconception in the minds of people. Even a total misconception in the minds of people can be a necessary part of our religious activity if we cannot get out of the clutches of this misconception.

Hence, when you chalk out a daily routine you have to be a highly impersonal psychoanalyst, medical doctor or a judge in a court, whatever you may call yourself, within yourself, though you may not express it outwardly. Your religion cannot be shown to others. It is impossible to demonstrate to people outside what kind of religion you are practising, and the religion that is seen outside is not your real religion. We live one kind of religion inside, and show another kind of religion outside because we have to live a social religion acceptable to people; otherwise, they will hang us or burn us at the stake, as we know very well, and we do not wish to be hanged or burned for our religion. So we have a double religion – a religion inside which is known to us alone in our private life, which nobody knows outside, and another religion which makes us bend down before a holy image and speak religion in conformity with the accepted norms of social relation. Therefore, we have two spiritualties, two religions, two Gods, two aims, two personalities, two everything. But this two should become one in the days to come.

This is a tension which has crept into us; therefore, having been forced to live a double life in our normal existence here, we are always sick. We cannot wholly live socially what we are inside us. This is very unfortunate. We do not know who to blame for this. We are always one thing inside and another thing in society because society is made in such a way, and it is not possible for society to accept what we think in our mind, and it is also not possible for us to accept what society takes as its norm. Hence, we have to be sick always. We do not know who made us these people that we are, and how society grew into this pattern. Anyhow, it is there. We do not know how it came to be, but it is there, and it has to be explained in the way in which it is there. We have to overcome this difficulty by passing through the difficulty, and not imagining that it is not there. Religion is a difficult thing. It is a medical treatment, yes. It has been that, and it can be nothing else.

So I request you all, as members of a fraternity of true religion and spirituality and God love, to have an inward program of your own which you need not tell anybody else except perhaps your own master, teacher, guide, superior, Guru to whom you can expose yourself wholly. If not, keep it to your own self, and pray to God. He will be your Guru and guide you, and throw a light into your hearts. See that every day is a day when one aspect of the tension is shed.

Many of the things which are the causes of our inward difficulties are the desires which we cannot fulfil, and which we cannot help fulfilling at the same time. This is a psychic problem into which people sink and become neurotic. Many religious people are neurotic. They are not wholly healthy minds. That is why they suddenly flare into anger, shout at the top of their voice, and show their irreconcilability with other people at the least word that is uttered. They have some great tension inside, but they cannot tell outside what it is. So they divert it by a displacement of its location in the personality of other people and pounce upon others as tigers, wolves, making it appear that they are in the right and others are in the wrong. This is a psychoanalytic problem. There are various defence mechanisms which the mind adopts to save its skin and put the entire blame on others, proclaiming in a loud tone that one is wholly unscathed and not at all in the wrong. This situation also has to become an analysis of our own self, and here we require a good psychoanalyst – not a medical psychoanalyst of the clinics of the world, but a spiritual man who has passed through these stages and knows what people are, and also what religions’ requirements are.

Today’s analysis has been more psychological, and I hope to lead you on further to a field of inward investigation and practice which will be more integrating than your present one.