by Swami Krishnananda
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.
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?