The Universality of Being
by Swami Krishnananda

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Chapter 5: Contact with Reality

Contact with reality, which is the aim of yoga, involves a divesting of ourselves from erroneous notions of what reality actually is. Broadly speaking, we may distinguish between two kinds of erroneous notions. One is commonly experienced, which is, we mistake one thing for another. For instance, at dusk, when the light is not sufficient, a telephone pole may look like a man, and a coiled rope may look like a snake; and in deserts, the refraction of sunlight on dry sand may produce the illusion of there being water. These are types of illusion about which we are familiar.

But there are more serious errors, such that we cannot even know that the error is taking place at all. When we stand apart from the object and see it erroneously, as in the case of the illustrations I mentioned, that is one kind of error. But when we are ourselves involved in the error, we will not know that the error is taking place. For instance, when you see a movie on a screen, you are outside it, so you can visualise what is actually taking place on the screen. Imagine for a moment that you are inside the screen. You will never see that you are involved in the very process of the perception of the movement because you are moving at the same speed as the film. This is a very interesting feature, which may be called a transcendental error. It is transcendental because it surpasses human understanding—because the understanding itself is part of this error.

What is this transcendental error? We have certain types of prejudiced confirmation that everything is only in some place, and not everywhere. Everything has length, breadth and height. Everything was yesterday, or it is today, or it will be tomorrow. The dimension that we see in objects—length, breadth, height—is the work of a spatial expanse, about which we know practically nothing. We simply say there is space, as if the matter is very clear to us. The most tremendous conditioning factor in our life is the character of a power that creates the imagination or the notion of distance. Everything is distant; it is different from the other. One object does not touch another object because of their individuality, characterised by the spatial qualification—or the mode, so to say.

Apart from this, there is also the time factor, which makes us feel that everything is only at some time, and not always. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, particularly, are very cautious in telling us that we cannot contact the reality of a thing unless it is divested of characters which do not really belong to it. Because of the location of an object in space, it looks like an isolated something; and it is dressed up by the notion of size, weight and features which distinguish one object from the other. All the things in the world do not have the same features. That is the reason why we are able to distinguish one object from another.

Firstly, we have to be careful in analysing our process of perception, and try to detach ourselves from the perceptional process—which has involved us to such an extent that we are involved in the very process of perception. Independent, free judgment of a thing is not possible because every judgment, so to say, of the nature of an object is determined by the structure of the perceiving faculty itself. Totally isolated apprehension of an object, independent of this involvement, is practically impossible. Because of the almost impossible task that we have before us in this regard, it looks like a transcendental mystery and a transcendental enigma before us.

Is an object by itself exactly as it appears to our perception? This is the main question that has to be raised even before we try to know how we can contact an object. No contact with anything is possible under the prevailing circumstances because everything stands apart from everything else; spatial distance operates between everything in the world—yourself, myself, and so on.

If spatial distance is an inveterate characteristic of an object, nothing can contact another thing. The spatial description of an object will vitiate even the very attempt to contact it. Thus, we cannot contact anything, really speaking. Even if it is in our grip and we imagine that our hand has contacted it, really there is no such contact because the object is quite different from the grip of our hand. It is totally different. Even if we hold something tightly in our hand and imagine we are contacting it, it is not really contact because it is still outside us and it will drop from our hand. If that is the case, reality cannot be contacted if we are to view it with descriptive qualities such as isolation of one thing from the other, and location at one particular place.

If you can remember what I told you earlier, these discussions must have revealed that there is an interconnection of all things. Thinking that there is no such interconnection is a transcendental error that we commit in the perception of an object. I am I, you are you, that is that; this is not the truth. The undercurrent of interrelation of the very substance of all things is withheld from our ordinary perception. Because all perception is externalised, that which is internally, organically related to another thing cannot be externally perceived. There is a difference between interconnection and externality of perception. The doctrine of the Sankhya that prakriti is the matrix of all things in the world in the form of its potential properties, called sattva, rajas and tamas, indicates that nothing can be isolated from another thing. They are, as it were, waves in a vast sea of material presentation. Though all the waves in the ocean are many in number, they are vitally connected to the bosom of the whole ocean, which does not permit a substantial and real distinction of one wave from another.

The sense organs, about which we were discussing last time, prevent us from thinking along these lines. Just as when a river is in flood and we are caught up in that flood—there is only one direction of movement permissible to us, and we have no choice over what direction we will move because we are carried away by the force of the waters—so is the case with the power that is exerted by the sense organs that compel us to see with blinkers, in one direction only, and in one manner only.

We were discussing the necessity for self-control, which means the restraint of everything of which our personality is made. Self-control is not closing the eyes or shutting the ears. The very consciousness of externality is contrary to the necessity for self-control. The descriptive characteristics of things and persons are not actually the essence of persons and things. Contact with reality is actually the contact with the essence or substantiality of things which, unfortunately for us, eludes our grasp because of the fact that it underlies both our own selves as perceivers and the objects that are perceived. We are caught as the objects are caught, and one cannot be seen or judged independently, freely.

The reaction that is set up between the perception of the object and the nature of the object creates the illusion of there being real perception and that we have really contacted something. What we call physical contact is only a phenomenon created by electrical impulses. You will be surprised to hear that such a thing is possible. When we touch a physical object we may be under the impression that it is an object that we are touching, but actually the object is a mass of electrical impulses that rush outward in one way, and our fingers are also nothing but sensations of electrical impulses. When one impulse touches another, it looks as though there is a hard substance, and we believe that there is a solid object in front of us. If we get an electric shock by touching a high voltage current, we may feel that a huge mountain is hanging on our hand. A very heavy weight seems to be tied to our hand, while no object is actually there. Sensations are electrical impulses, really speaking, the prana vibrating in a particular given direction. In this way, we may say the world is an illusion. It does not exist as it appears to our eyes. There are only the forces of objective substance we call sattva, rajas and tamas, about which we know practically nothing.

We have heard these words sattva, rajas and tamas a hundred times, yet their meaning may not be clear. They are three forms of the action of force which constitutes matter. Matter—prakriti, as it is called—is itself not a hard substance. In modern terms, we may say it is a potential for manifestation in the form of electrical activity. And we are completely befooled in this sort of appreciation of objects on account of the consciousness, which we ourselves are, moving together with the mental activity of perception.

When we see an object, two things take place. The mind takes the shape of the object, the form of the object. But merely the mind taking the form of the object will not result in the consciousness of the object. Consciousness has to pervade the mental modification, by which we are able to contact the object in a psychological manner. Consciousness is pulled, dragged by the power of the sense organs in the direction of their movement. And the perceiving consciousness, like a slave of the impetus of the sense organs, takes it for granted that it is moving in the direction of an object. Because of its all-pervading nature, consciousness does not really move anywhere, but it is made to believe that it is an accomplice or a participant in the mental activity which forces the senses to move externally.

The externality, so-called, is also a great mystery. Everything is outside. But what is the meaning of this ‘being outside’? We can have some idea of how this outside-ness creeps into our mind in a most dangerous manner when we compare our waking experience with our dream experience. We know very well that when we are conscious of objects in dream there is space, there is externality, there is individuality of objects, and one thing is different from the other. But is there really individuality of things, one cut off from the other? Is there really distinction created among objects by the so-called space that we observe in our perception? The externality, which is the cause of the perception of dream objects, is also an operation of the mind. It is a trick that is played by the gyrating activity of the mind involving itself in a dance of which it is itself not conscious, and compels anything connected with this dance to imagine that it is also involved. We daily pour ourselves on objects in order that we may be aware that they are existing at all.

How do we pour ourselves? The whole being of ours, which is psycho-conscious, wells up like a wave of the ocean and dashes against the form we considered as an object. The so-called object is only a form, it is not the substance, so we cannot think that we are able to possess any substance in the world. The so-called externality is the real object which looks like a substantially-existing something. Yoga tells us a very intense analysis of the process of perception has to take place, and then we unite ourselves with the substance of things. This union of our true nature with the true nature of things is called samadhi in yoga language. Samadhi is not an unconscious trance, as we may imagine. It is the real union of one thing with another in their essence, minus the forms or the temporal characteristics that may be invested upon them.

We define an object in a particular manner. This is the object; it has these qualities. The qualities that we see in a so-called object are nothing but the projections of the structural pattern of the mind itself. The mind thinks in four ways: everything is a quantity; everything that is a quantity also has a quality; everything is externally connected in some way to another thing; everything is in a particular condition. These are the four ways in which we think. Everything is in a particular condition or mode, as they say. Everything, including ourselves, exists in a mode, a circumstance, and everything is definable in terms of certain qualities which distinguish the object from other qualities.

Then there is the concept of the quantum of an object. It is of this size, this weight, and is only in this location. This peculiar intrinsic, vehement character of the mental structure also imposes itself upon what it wrongly perceives as other things. In this involvement of prakriti, which is all-pervading, there are no things called other things. Everything is everywhere. But this otherness of a thing, which compels the senses to come in contact with what they regard as outside, is an imposition inflicted upon the spatial form of an object by the mind, which itself is the source of the nature of the perception of an object. We see what we ourselves are in our mind. Whatever we are, that is our perception.

The Yoga Sutra tells us this descriptive affirmation in respect of an object, which is called the idea of an object, should be withdrawn. That is, we should not look at anything with a prejudgment. Without any kind of previous notion of a thing, is it possible to associate ourselves with the thing? The idea we have of an object—or our idea about anything, for that matter—cannot be regarded as a completely justifiable idea. The idea that we have about anything arises on account of the very nature of the structure of our psychophysical personality. When we change in the process of evolution, our ideas of things also change. There is a total change taking place, and the whole world evolves higher and higher into the further levels of the evolutionary process. Therefore, with intense analytical power it should be possible for us to adjust ourselves to the true nature of an object without any kind of description or ideational quality about it.

We also give the object a name. This is Rama, this is Krishna, this is Govinda, this is John, this is Joseph, this is a tree, and this is a mountain. Things have no name, really speaking. Name is a necessity that has arisen in the process of determining the nature of an object as distinguished from another object. When an object emerges, it does not come with a name attached to it. You yourself have no name, really speaking. You are Govinda, Rama, Krishna or Joseph, but who told you that you are that? The basic characterisation of ourselves as somebody, and not somebody else, gets infused into our existence right from the beginning, at the time of birth. This naming quality introduces itself to us so intensely and vehemently that we cannot think that we are someone else. Joseph is only Joseph; he will not think that he is John, though there is no great philosophical justification that he should be only Joseph and not John. This applies to the nature of every object in this world. It need not be called by that name. Its name is a convenience that we have created in order to distinguish one thing from the other, but that convenience itself becomes the nature of the object. Hence, we have to divest ourselves not only from the idea of the object, but also from the name or definition that we attach to it.

But the object itself is different from both these things. The thing in itself, the object as such, is the true essence of whatever we call the object—which we cannot perceive, cognise or contact because of our total erroneous involvement in the externalisation of activity since, as I mentioned, we are organically, vitally and totally involved in this perceptional process. There is the humorous example of a witness of a drama or cinema projection entering into the screen and creating a chaotic perception.

The whole point in yoga psychology is that the things or persons are not as they appear to our eyes. But nobody will believe this fact because the belief is contradicted by our psychophysical personality getting organically involved in the mistake. If the thief and the policeman are identical, we can imagine the consequence. Great power of will is necessary here. Can you stand together with an object without actually observing it with open eyes? Can you be parallel with an object, and not externalise it? Can you stand side by side with an object, and not look at it with your eyes? Difficult is this idea. Can you imagine that your object of meditation is parallel to your existence because, in perception, the subject and the object stand on a par? One thing is not superior to the other; they both stand on equal footing in the same level of reality. If that is the case, it is very, very unjust on our part to externalise the object, which is our dear friend and inseparable from our own selves.

The true nature of the object cannot be known when you put it outside, far away from you, and allow space to interfere between yourself and others. With the power of concentration, you can deeply imagine that what you are concentrating upon or seeing is just beside you. There is nothing difficult about it. It is not merely beside you, it is so parallel to your existence that you cannot regard it as outside you—somewhat like your hand hanging on your body, existing and operating parallel to the structure of the body, and you cannot consider the hand as an object of the body. This requires a very intense power of will. Can you consider me as parallel to you, and not as something that you can look at with your eyes? Can you consider me as inseparable from you in the consciousness of my being here?

Such a thing is unimaginable in ordinary perception. Freedom from extraneous desires and emotional disturbances is absolutely necessary before attempting to practice yoga. You must be friendly in your basic spirit with the spirit of objects. But you cannot be so friendly because you always have an interpretation of things—this is this, and that is that—not knowing that this interpretation applies to one’s own self also. You cannot judge others without judging your own self.

Yoga is a difficult practice. Total dispassion is necessary. In that state of yoga, you do not want anything because that thing which you seem to want is inseparable from you in the very nature of things. Would you want a thing which is really inseparable from you? Would you hug your own nose or hand as an object of affection? The philosophical foundation of Sankhya and Vedanta is the way in which we have to adjust our consciousness in knowing things.

The nature of knowing is a subject by itself. How do we know anything? Philosophically it is called the theory of knowledge, and in metaphysical language it goes by the name of epistemology. Before you say anything about a thing, you must know how you know that thing at all. In the epistemological scheme there are five or six varieties of the mode of perception, into which detail we need not go at this time.

Being in empathy with the object of perception is the primary step. The Ishta Devata in meditation—the god that you worship, or the object that you are concentrating upon—does not stand outside you because if you have already decided that it is outside you, you are not going to get it. You are attempting the impossible by trying to obtain a thing which you have already considered as unconnected with you. Here is a contradiction in the way of thinking about objects. When you want a thing, you have decided it is outside you; otherwise, there is no question of wanting it. But if you have decided that it is outside you, how will you get it? So all desire is a contradiction, a self-defeating process, and nobody who desires gets anything because of this psychological contradiction of placing the object outside and imagining that it is not outside. Intense effort in this direction is necessary, and everyone should go on doing this practice without any kind of remission of effort.

Actually speaking, yoga meditation is not some kind of activity which you can take up at some hour of the day and then ignore at other hours. Since the meaning of your existence lies in this way of direct yoga perception, you should consider the yogic way of thinking as your primary duty. It is not something that you do at the end of your life, in old age, after Sannyasa; it is an organic science of existence itself. Hence, it is not meant only for Brahmacharins, Sannyasins, yogis and old men; it is meant for every little atom in the world, which struggles to unite itself with everybody else.

The longings in our nature, which are basically emotional, stultify our intellectual effort in properly understanding these things, which is why the disciplines that are prescribed prior to the attempt at achieving this end in meditation should not be considered as irrelevant. Are you really prepared to receive a thing? Are you constituted in a harmonious manner with the thing that you are trying to contact or attain, or are you completely dissonant? Are you repelling the thing while wanting it? What is called contact with a desirable object is a repulsion that is taking place, and is not a contact—of which you have no knowledge at all. The object repels you because you consider it to be outside you; and this repulsion is like an electric shock which makes you feel that you got the object. Deep is this subject. When, in your perception of an object, you are free from the idea or the description of it, the concept of it and, at the same time, the name of it, you at once become a friend of all people, all things.

One person cannot really be a friend of another person—because it is another person. That is the whole point. You cannot be a friend of another because you have used the word ‘another’, which defeats the purpose. Hence, another thing cannot come to you. You can get only yourself, really speaking, in the largest dimension of inclusion of all things in your pure subjectivity. Yoga experience is universal subjectivity; it is not externalised perception.

When this is achieved, you are in a state of samadhi. According to Patanjali’s description, it is called savitarka samadhi. The first stage is a universal experience, which will shake up your personality completely and rebuild the very cells of your body. You stand in at-one-ment with the things that you sensorially or mentally experience. The first stage of samadhi is very difficult, but if you can cross this barrier of the very first stage, you will be automatically taken along the power of the ascent of consciousness towards higher and higher stages. The most difficult is the first stage; then the second comes of its own accord.

Whatever I have told you now may look very mystical, mysterious, out of the way, difficult to comprehend, and something beyond this world itself. In yoga, you are trying to contact that which is beyond this world. All the things in the world are beyond this world, really speaking—we ourselves included. We are not originally involved in the forms of perception which constitute this world. We have an original form, which is beyond the world of perception. Everything and everyone is of this nature. We do not belong to this world, really speaking, and nothing so belongs because the world of perception is a spatiotemporal complex, and we cannot say that we are really basically involved in it. We have a higher self, and that higher self is our real self. It is not in this world; it is above. Above what? It is above space and time. That is why we are restless in this world. Nothing satisfies us. Wherever we look, we see trouble, resentment, unhappiness. There is something very erroneous, a malady prevailing everywhere, and nothing can please us in this world. No one can be happy, finally, because that which we consider as our source of pleasure or happiness is involved in this error of spatiotemporal operation which externalises everything, one from the other. Since everything is externalised, one thing from the other, nobody can get anything in this world. There is no such thing as property. We can get nothing, and will have only dust and ashes, finally.

The illusion in the very act of perception involves our consciousness itself, and is so intense that a hectic effort of meditational process is called for. In a sense, you have to be a yogi throughout the day. Do not say you are very busy, because your business is a part of the process by which you achieve this great end. If you think that your activities in the world are different from yoga concentration, you will be cutting the ground from under your own feet and you will have no place to stand. As I mentioned, yoga is not a mental activity. It is an adjustment of our whole personality with the truth of things.

Is yoga not necessary in business performance, for instance? Do you not want to be united with the fact as such in business management, in industrial occupations, or do you want to be outside completely? If you stand outside the business, outside every performance, you will find there is no benefit from your action. There will be a kind of reaction unnecessarily set up. Every activity in the world can be called a yoga because you are in union with that which you are doing. Can you do something while standing outside the act of your doing? Then your action has no meaning. It is a meaningless, absurd occupation. Action which is worthwhile is actually the emanation of your own self. You are in the world and, therefore, your action becomes successful. Suppose you are not in the world; you are outside. Then the work is ash and dust. There is nothing in it.

This is the great karma yoga philosophy of the Bhagavadgita, where action becomes yoga when we are identical with the action itself. We have a peculiar notion of action. It is an ulterior occupation of ours, unconnected with our true personality. We are totally different from what we are doing. In that case, the doing has no meaning, and will bring no fruit. If the doing is a process of the manifestation of our own existence, it is union with the fact of the process of action, and the so-called fruit of such an action does not produce reaction. Karma yoga does not produce reaction—it does not bind—but all other actions bind because they are outside us.

A professor in the college may be an ordinary person in his own home, so there is no advantage to his being educated. His professorial knowledge is his existence itself, and even in the bathroom he is a professor and full of knowledge, and not merely in the classroom. The foolishness of being different people under different circumstances is the cause of our sorrow here. You cannot be something here and something else somewhere else. When you know that you are the same thing everywhere, you will find everything becomes friendly with you. Everything embraces you, and even the leaves on the trees start smiling at you in friendship.

Honesty is necessary here. You must know what you actually expect and want. Do not dabble in a thing which you cannot understand. Again I repeat, you require a guide. This is such a difficult subject that the mind refuses to think along these lines. It revolts, and kicks you back, saying, “No, not for me.” At that time, you require a power which will guide you. That power is your spiritual teacher, without whom you cannot stand on this path. Cyclones will blow from all sides; tornadoes will push you in a direction which is quite different from the direction that you are trying to take. The world forces which are wrongly considered as external will attack you and make you feel that you are helpless in this matter. Many people fail even in the act of meditation because the mind is like a fool, imagining it is something when it is really something else.

Every day you must check yourself. Every day you have to verify your own feelings and actions: “What have I done today from morning onwards, up to this time? What have I done, and if I have done anything, has it benefitted me in any way? Or have I foolishly been running about here and there?” A self-check is essential every day. But we may check ourselves wrongly due to a kind of complacency that we may erroneously attribute to ourselves. That is why we require a guide to whom we can tell our experiences and ask if we are on the right path. Since the teacher’s experience is much greater than your experience, he will tell you where your mistake is. Self-estimation may be right or wrong, and it cannot be corrected unless there is another rectifying factor, which is the guide.

Go slowly, therefore, on the path of yoga. But be sure that you will achieve something, and do not have doubts about it. Do not say it is too hard. All great achievements in the world are the result of hard effort. You cannot dilly-dally; nothing will come of it. You must be sure that it is going to be achieved. You must be sure that you are on the right path. You must also be sure why you are doing it.

Do not have any notions which are totally disassociated from the nature of things. Why do you meditate? Many people do not know. They say they want peace of mind, or that they want to be alone. These are all childish answers to the great question of why you should be Reality. It is like asking why you should be real at all. Such is the question that you put when you ask why you should do yoga meditation.

Yoga is nothing but the conscious adjustment of your personality with your originality—which, as I said, is above this world. Every one of you is a transcendental individual. You are eternity parading in this world of temporality, looking like ordinary persons and things. This conviction should be driven into your heart with great force, and this conviction itself will be a great blessing to you.