To Thine Own Self Be True
by Swami Krishnananda

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Chapter 1: Introductory

This is a period of seven days known as Sadhana Week, which this ashram has been observing every year during the occasion of holy Sri Guru Purnima and the sacred Punyatithi Aradhana of worshipful Gurudev Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj. In this seven-day Sadhana Week we devote our time to mustering our forces and focus our attention on what is generally regarded as Sadhana, or spiritual practice.

Everyone has some idea of what spirituality is, and a God-fearing life is. When we start doing something in this direction, we feel the necessity to understand at the very outset what are the circumstances under which we have to take even the first step itself.

The initial step is also an indicator of the general process of the entire endeavour. The initial step itself will suggest the direction which we are taking in our effort, whatever be the nature of that effort. That is to say, we will not be able to take even the first step correctly unless the methodology or technology of the practice is clear before our mental vision.

On a careful analysis of our own selves dispassionately carried on during our leisure hours, we would notice that every living being is engaged in a twofold activity every day. One type of activity is the pouring of ourselves on the world outside, which we perceive as an external object, concerning ourselves entirely with what we see with our eyes, being busy with the things of life in general. The extent to which we pour ourselves upon the conditions of the external world depends upon the intensity of the pressure exerted upon us by the world itself.

Sometimes the world does not seem to be bothering much about us; then our concept also is equally diminished in its intensity. For instance, there are mountains and trees in front of us; there is a river that is flowing and the sun that shines in the sky. These are also part of the world of perception. Normally we do not think that they are trouble-makers. We do not have to pay excessive attention to the mountain that is in front of us or the river that flows, or the sun that shines, etc., but there are things which draw our attention immediately and are our concern. Most of these aspects of concern are connected with our relationship with human beings like us.

There are animals and sub-human creatures in the forest who can become more dangerous in their behaviour towards us than human beings; nevertheless, we are least bothered about their existence. There are people in Junagadh, Gujarat, where lions are living. How many people there are afraid of these lions, though lions are there in the forest in the vicinity itself? They are concerned with human beings only (their next-door neighbour, the owner of the property, etc.) but not the tiger or the lion which is also nearby.

Our concern is proportionately divided on account of our involvement in the circumstances prevailing outside in the world. The nature of the involvement also is the extent of our concern and to that extent also is the proportion in which we pour ourselves outside in the world. This is a brief statement of the nature of our externalised activities known as pravritti – an outward moving of our mind, our consciousness, our own selves.

When I am busy with something in the world, I have transferred myself from the location of my personality (physical and psychological) to an externalised location which is my concern in that particular locality of the world. Pravritti is the externalised outward-moving activity of the human personality, but we are not doing only this much. Whatever be the intensity of our longing to be concerned with the world of objects and persons outwardly, we are also aware that we have to guard ourselves and our personalities to be secure in every way.

There is an inwardised activity also taking place – sometimes consciously, sometimes subconsciously. When I am intensely busy with doing something in the world, it may be that I have temporarily forgotten my very existence as a human being and I have poured myself on an externalised circumstance, but subconsciously I have not denied my existence.

There is another kind of activity taking place which is inwardised, known as nivritti – a withdrawal of externalised concern in the direction of a concern for what one regards as oneself.

We are doubly conscious every moment of time in our engagements during the period of our entire lives. Every one of us is conscious of oneself as a very important item in life, notwithstanding the fact that one is simultaneously conscious of the world also outside. This is the pravritti lakshana on one side and the nivritti lakshana on the other side of human activity, endeavour and involvement.

Why does this activity take place at all? Unless we know something about our own selves and the world in which we are placed, which we are perceiving with our sense organs – unless our understanding of this entire situation is adequately clear, we cannot take even the first step in the right direction.

It is like the march of an army in the battlefield, which is intensely active at a given moment of time. The soldiers are alert for an immediate march forward. What is forward – in what direction? The forward march is also doubly motivated in the sense that it is, on the one hand, directed towards the safeguard of one's own self (the soldiers do not go to the war to die there – they go to win victory and come back safe); on the other hand, they have a concern over the necessity to put a check upon the opposing forces. They have to assess their strength; they have to assess the strength of the other side also. What is the energy, strength and the capacity of the opposing forces? Without knowing that, nobody will march forward; and at the same time, what is 'my' strength in facing this force? If everything is clear (I know my strength and their strength also), I can take an initiative in the needed direction and march in the required manner.

Sometimes the marching is held in check. The General of the army may order to stop, though they are in the thick of the field; for some reason the order will come in that way, "Attention! Hold on!" Or, sometimes, it may be an order to take a step backward: "Retreat!" That retreat order is not an order towards withdrawal from the battlefield but one necessary step in the direction of an onward march.

Even if you are descending a hill when you are going towards holy Badrinath, that descent also is a part of an onward march towards the holy shrine. We are not always going up towards the peak of the Himalayas when we move towards sacred Badrinath. There can be a coming down and a going up in the process of movement.

In a similar manner is this dual activity of the human personality taking care of itself and minding its security on the one hand being cautious about the world outside on the other hand. This dual activity is not actually a two-sided activity; it is a single concentration of a total situation which appears to be twofold. If two hands lift a heavy object, two people are not actually working there. It is one person who is lifting the entire object because the two hands are two forces applied by a single individual, though the method employed seems to be with two hands.

The True Agent of All Actions

This personality, the so-called individuality, and the world in which this individuality is located are two arms, as it were, of a single operation taking place, conducted by some power whose knowledge is essential at the very outset and whose cooperation is to be summoned every moment of time.

To come to the analogy of the military march, the army receives instructions and obtains help and guidance from the Central Government at every moment during the march. The army is concerned with its own security and it is also concerned with putting a check upon the opposing forces. Two sides seem to be operating at the same time in the mind of the army, the soldiers and the General; but a third thing is there transcending both these operations, which is support from the Central Government.

Some such thing is happening in our daily life even in the least kind of activity: There is a central operation taking place, while I am speaking to you just now. I am here on the one side and you are on the other side. I am designated as the subjective side and you are called the objective side. I am the operator and you are the field of operation but in the analogy of the centrality of operation involved in all activity, we have to be cautious in knowing that there is something which we miss in our perception, namely the reason behind the very capacity in us to do anything at all.

The gods and the demons were engaged in a big battle, says the Kenopanishad. When victory was won, the victorious party celebrated the victory under the leadership of the king of the gods. The General of the army said, "See my strength! I have uprooted the opposing forces. I have won victory." Even the soldiers felt a pride that they have done the work: "See our strength!" The gods who had won victory felt that they had done very well. They had forgotten (and anyone can forget) that a finger cannot be lifted by anyone unless the whole body operates.

That Something which felt ignored, which was insulted in this victorious celebration of the gods, felt the necessity to teach a lesson to these gods. "You think you have won the victory?" the Central Government says. "You don't think that we are existing at all. The General thinks that he is everything, as if we have done nothing for him. OK, let us see to it."

This Something, which missed the attention of the gods and caused pride in themselves that they had won victory, appeared in heaven in the form of a mysterious object and sat on a tree – a very terrifying figure looking neither like a divine being, nor human, nor demon, nor like an ogre. Some of the gods beheld it and were surprised and were curious to know what it was. They went and told Indra, the ruler, that something was there in their region, sitting and gazing at them with frightful eyes. Indra sent the god Agni to find out what it was.

The great god Agni who can reduce the world to ashes in an instant looked at that 'Being'; that 'Being' asked, "Who are you?"

"I am Agni," he said.

"Agni! You are a god. What can you do?"

"I can burn everything to ashes."

The 'Being' placed a piece of straw and said, "Burn it."

It was a great insult to the mighty fire to be told to burn a straw! Agni felt insulted and immediately rushed, but the straw would not move. Three times he rushed with all his force but the straw would not burn. He went back and told Indra that he could not understand anything. "You should send somebody else," said Agni. He did not say that he was defeated, but just to send another one.

Then Indra told Vayu to go and see. Vayu immediately went there and, again, the 'Being' asked, "Who are you?"

"I am Vayu. I can blow the whole earth." The 'Being' told Vayu to blow the little piece of straw. Vayu felt insulted and rushed but the straw would not move. So the story goes interestingly.

The illustration behind this is that pride is the fall of man. The consciousness of selfhood is the greatest bane of life – the thought that 'you' have done something. Who is doing meditation? On what are you doing meditation? What is the object of your meditation? What are you thinking in your mind?

The Inner Personality

The whole of spiritual practice, the entirety of Sadhana, finally, boils down to a centralisation of our forces in the direction of the object of the practice known as Yoga. The word Yoga which is the highlight of spiritual practice suggests a coming together into a blending of forces of two sides – union of something with something. But in this practice of Yoga, what is it that is uniting itself with what?

Yoga students feel that they have to unite themselves with something in this practice. What kind of 'you' is getting united with what kind of 'object'?

Firstly, you take into consideration your own self. Who is this 'you' that wishes to be united with something that is regarded as the 'object' of meditation? A great confusion follows in answering this simple question as to who is this that is wanting to practise meditation. This son, this daughter, this husband, this wife, boss, subordinate, rich man, poor man, this that I am – is this person going to meditate on something? Put a question to your own self.

You are all different types of people coming from various parts of this country. What kind of people are you? When you put a question to your own selves, you will be flabbergasted at your own incapacity to answer this simple question as to what kind of person you are.

In the presence of all people, you may not be able to say anything about yourself due to some etiquette of society. Go inside your own room and lock the door. Let nobody be there and put a question as to what kind of person you are. Let the minister put a question to himself: "What kind of person am I?" The minister will feel miserable to find that he seems to be something different inside from what people think he is.

My real problem seems to be 'myself' only. What kind of person am I? Ask such questions to yourself every day: Am I a very important person in this world? What is my importance?

You will receive no satisfying answer: Your importance is something foisted upon you by your wealth, relations, office, etc. Minus all this, what is your importance?

Then what are you? Are you something, or are you nothing? To get a direct answer to this question you have to undergo a deep study of your own self, which is known as self-analysis. In the psychology of the study of human nature, it has been discovered that we have layers of personality within. We are many things in ourselves, not simply one solid compact mass like a rock. We are not a stone or a brick; we are like an onion, as it were, with many peels, one over the other, one inside the other, sometimes called the koshas in Sanskrit.

We seem to be a physical personality but our values, the worthwhileness of ours, do not seem to be confined only to the physical body. Your significance in life is not the significance of your physical vesture. Your importance, whatever it be, is not the importance attached to the body, because your body is made up of the same substance as the substance of any other person. A rich man's body is not made of gold and diamonds, and a poor man's body made of mud. You are the same mud as anybody else, even if you are a very special person. Your worth is not the physical body's worth.

There are so many things inside: your feelings, thoughts, understanding, education, health, and what you really seem to be in the in-depth root of your personality. For instance, some mystery is revealed when you are fast asleep. All your wealth, relationships, physical strength, even the mind, cease to operate in deep sleep.

What is your worth, and what are you actually when you are fast asleep? You seem to be annihilated completely out of existence, and assuming an importance when you wake up into the physical personality, subsequently. Has anybody thought over this intricacy of one's own involvement in the structure of one's personality? Are we the body, the mind, the intellect, or are we something else? None of these seem to be what we are.

Do you believe that you were existing in the state of deep sleep? Of course; but were you existing as the body, the mind, or as an intellect arguing? In what sense were you existing? How do you know that you were existing at all? Have you any proof? People want proof for everything. Scientific-minded people argue on the basis of evidence and verifiable proof. What is the proof that you existed in the state of deep sleep? Who is to prove your existence?

This analysis is not available in ordinary psychological parlance. You will know this only through an analysis conducted through Yoga psychology. Suffice it to say that there is an intricacy involved in the knowledge of our own selves. We need not go further into this difficulty for the time being. We shall take up this subject subsequently.

On the other side, there is the world of objects, people, etc. What is your relationship with this world? Is the world clinging to your skin? Does it belong to you? Or, are you totally unrelated to the world? Many a time you may feel that you have some relationship with it, due to which fact you are compelled to engage yourself in activity in this world. What kind of relationship is obtaining between you and the world?

The concept of relation is the knotty point in all philosophical investigation and any kind of deep deliberation. Nobody can understand correctly the relationship of one thing with another thing. It is something like trying to know the relation between what you call the cause of a thing and the effect that follows from that cause. You cannot know whether the effect is inside the cause or outside it. If it is inside, it cannot be visible outside; if it is outside, it cannot have any kind of intrinsic relation with the cause.

Now, in a similar manner, we cannot say properly whether we are 'in' the world or the world is 'outside' us. Is the world outside you, or are you inside the world? This again is a problem before us. In the same way as it was so difficult to know what we are made of, we seem to be facing another kind of difficulty in knowing where we are actually located in this world. Are we inside the world or outside the world? We cannot answer this question easily.

For some time, due to certain pressures exerted upon us, we may feel that the world is totally outside and we can go for a walk on the road without being affected by the world. The world does not give any trouble to us. We can just go as if we are independent and the world is there, away from us. The road on which we are walking does not cling to us or seem to have any connection with us organically. In that sense, the world is outside us, but is it wholly outside, or are we included in the world?

When you analyse this situation from another angle of vision, it would look that you are a part of the world. You are a part of your family, this country, a part of this international setup of humanity; don't you think like that? You are involved as a citizen of the world which cannot be regarded as totally segregated from you. But this kind of involvement, which is very much there, is not visible to the eyes.

Sensory observation cannot bring you this knowledge. Scientific observation and experiment in a laboratory is not the way by which you can know either your structure or the structure of the world. You cannot know anything about yourself by observing yourself through a telescope or a microscope or any kind of instrument available; nor can you know what an atom is made of, because it eludes the grasp of your senses; you cannot know whether it is an 'object' of your perception or whether it is something connected with your 'process of perception' itself.

The process of perception of anything in the world brings us face to face with this mysterious Something which seems to be operating between us and the world – this great mystery which felled the gods and made them feel utterly humiliated that their strength was not their strength. Our perception also is not actually our perception.

A total analysis of this kind is available to us at the very beginning of the eighth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita:

Aksharam brahma paramam svabhavo'dhyatmamuchyate;
Bhutabhavodbhavakaro visargah karmasamjnitah.

Adhibhutam ksharo bhavah purushashcha adhidaivatam;
Adhiyajno'hameva atra dehe dehabhritam vara.

You read these verses in the Gita. It is a brief statement in two verses of the entire structure of the cosmos, including me, yourself, and also including that mysterious thing which operates between myself and yourself. There is a finally responsible thing over and above all things in this world which is what they call the 'Ultimate Reality'. In religion we call it God, philosophers call it the Absolute. This is what is designated in this verse of the Bhagavad Gita as Aksharam brahma paramam – the Imperishable Being. Svabhavo'dhyatmamuchyate: the self-consciousness that you are, the consciousness of personality, is the individuality. Bhutabhavodbhavakaro visargah karmasamjnitah. How did this individuality emanate? The process of the emanation of all beings right from the time of creation is the karma, so-called. Here karma is not to be understood in the sense of an ordinary work of cooking food in the kitchen, etc., but the cosmic activity which is responsible for the emanation of the whole world. Adhibhutam ksharo bhavah: All that is regarded as external to the perceiving individual is the perishable. Everything moves, all things are in a state of flux, and nothing is permanent in this world. Such is the nature of this physical world: purushashcha adhidaivatam. There is a presiding divinity over and above the very act of perception. Adhiyajno'hameva atra: the whole activity of the cosmos, the entire work of creation, every type of activity anywhere, from top to bottom, is presided over by some principle – without which, a leaf will not move in the tree, a finger cannot be lifted.

There are one or two other relationships which are not mentioned in this verse. For instance, there is the consciousness of righteousness. Just as we have the adhibhuta and adhidaiva, there is adhidharma, which word does not occur in this verse of the Gita. Adhidharma is that presiding principle of righteousness which makes you feel that you must do the right thing and be in a state of harmony with all things.

Who tells you that you should do the right thing? Does the world tell you this, or you yourself are saying that? In fact, neither are you saying so, nor anything in the world does say so. Something tells you that you must do the right thing. There is another consciousness altogether which is the presiding principle over the imperative commandment known as virtue, morality, righteousness.

I may add one more principle which is not mentioned in this description of the principles in the verses of the Bhagavad Gita: adhimoksha. The moksha principle superintends over everything. The liberation of the soul is the conditioning factor behind every activity. Whether inwardly done, openly done, consciously or unconsciously done, every activity of every creature (living, non-living, known, unknown), all these are determined by the need for liberation of the spirit. Everybody asks for ultimate freedom, from the ant to the galaxies. So, add one more word: adhimoksha, the law of final liberation.

Such is the structure of the cosmos. In this structure, situated as you are, how would you practise Sadhana, meditation? Answer the question: Who is meditating? On what subject? What is the object of your meditation, and who is the person meditating? Be clear about that, and then take the first step.