by Swami Krishnananda
The spiritual seeker, the soul that aspires, is protected from all sides. This seeking centre becomes the cynosure of all the eyes of the guardian angels. The world opens its eyes and gazes attentively at a sincere spiritually aspiring soul. Spiritual aspiration is a miracle, a wonder in its own way. It is not a kind of occupation, a work that is of this world. It is an awakening, a rising from sleep into the perception of a new dimension and a different kind of world altogether. The seeker himself would be surprised when the world takes possession of this sincerity that emanates from spiritual seeking.
In the earlier stages it often appears that the spiritual seeker is abandoned socially and is often helpless, appearing to be isolated in a kind of individual religious practice. There is an unavoidable state of affairs through which one has to pass in the earlier stages of spiritual seeking, namely, the feeling of a kind of social aloneness.
We are born into a family. We are not born suddenly, individually, isolatedly in a desert. We have a father and a mother; we have an atmosphere of members who constitute a family. From our very birth we are in human societywe are never alone. The security, the satisfaction, the joy and the traditional clinging to an environment of this kind is so ingrained in the human person that no one can even dream of living a single isolated life, freed from social connections. So when a surge of spiritual awakening begins to activate itself in the soul, mostly people feel like being away from human society. Why such feeling arises is something interesting in its own self. What is wrong with our being in human society and yet being a spiritual seeker? No spiritual aspirant in the history of mystical quest has freed himself or herself from this pressure to be alone to oneself whenever this spiritual longing is felt to be very strong in ones own self.
There is a peculiar juxtaposition of factors which creates this impulse to be alone into oneself, and there is a feeling of irksome unhappiness when one is forced to live in the midst of people, though it is not that people around are always bad and are against the welfare of the seeking aspirant. The activity of the soul is an answer to this great question of the intricate and intriguing aspiration to be alone to oneself. On the one hand there is a feeling of insecurity and fear in being socially alone to ones own self. We feel protected in the midst of people. But here we have an apprehension which is not a happy thingwhen we are totally alone to our own selves we do not know what will happen to us tomorrow, though we feel that nothing of an unbecoming nature will happen as we are guarded by the society of which we are members. Yet spiritual seeking goes together with the necessity to be alone to ones own self.
This admixture of factorson the one hand a desire to be alone and on the other hand the feeling of uneasiness in being alonethis mix-up of feeling arises because of an admixture of the stuff of our personality itself. We are neither soul entirely, nor a physical body entirely. If we are wholly soul, the necessity that the physical body feels in its daily life would be out of point entirely, and if we are wholly physical bodies, there would be no impulsion inside along spiritual lines. We are partly physical bodies and partly not physical bodies. The physical aspect of our existence compels us to be in the midst of physically related society. The fear of annihilation and pain takes possession of the physical body, physical existence and all physical values; but the other aspect of us which is not physical, therefore not social, wishes to be alone to itself, because the spirit is always alone.
The spirit cannot be a social unit. It has no society. It is not a member of a family. The nature of the spirit inside us is super-social, eternity being its essential nature, and therefore it craves to assert its aloneness and non-externalised independence, which is the reason why there is a pressure from inside to be alone to oneself when there is an urgent call of the higher life. But the other aspect of the matter also has to be taken into consideration as long as the spirit feels that it is with difficulty that it can free itself from involvement in the physical body and the physical relations of human society. Thus there is a combination of inwardness and outwardness; a kind of contradiction takes possession of a spiritual seeker neither can one be alone nor can one be in the midst of people.
The earlier stages of spiritual practice are in a way the most difficult stages, because of it being not so easy to lay proper proportionate emphasis on these two aspects, these two sides of our personalitythe spiritual on the one hand, and the physical and the social on the other. Hence the advice of adepts in this line is for a graduated extrication of involvement in human relations and physical needs by a systematised diminishing of the percentage of involvement and an increase of the percentage of association with the call of the spirit in itself.
In the Yoga Vashishtha, the teacher mentions that in the earliest of stages of spiritual practice only one-sixteenth of the mind can be devoted to God. Fifteen-sixteenths has to go to the world, because the involvement of everyone in the world is so deep that any attempt at an isolation of oneself from the world entirely, at the very beginning itself, would be something like trying to peel the skin of ones own bodya total impossibility. The mind is involved in the body to such an extent that in will not permit any kind of attention that is compelled upon it in the direction of anything that is entirely cut off from its desires, which are manifest through the body and social relations. One-sixteenth of the mind, one-sixteenth of our time alone can be permitted to be given to the pursuit of God. Inasmuch as a large percentage of our life goes to social satisfaction, physical fulfilment of desires and all sorts of empirical longings, the mind will not mind much our occupation in the so-called other-worldly, godly occupation. The control of the mind is often compared to the control of a wild beast. No one can go near the beast, because it is violent in its nature. It asserts its own point of view to such point of vehemence that no one can afford to go near it. The mind has its say in everything, and everything has to be done according to its inclinations, predilections and instincts. Any requisition from the mental nature cannot be opposed by logic, social restrictions or religious forms. Therefore great caution is exercised in the restraining of the mind from outer involvements, as a ringmaster in a circus who tries to control wild animals takes care to see that he protects himself from any kind of onslaught from the beasts and at the same time tries to succeed in his endeavour to restrain them, control them and gain mastery over them.
We cannot dub the world as entirely bad while we desire it from our deepest recesses. It would be a hypocrisy of attitude to feel one thing and proclaim something else. The taste that the senses feel in respect of things in the world and the delicate nature of our performances through social relations are so very inviting, attractive and comforting that to make a theoretical proclamation of the illusoriness of the world, or the non-utilitarian character of involvement in the world, would be an entirely futile attempt on our part. It is impossible to escape the notice of the world to the extent that we are involved in the world and the world is entirely present in our own selves in a miniature form as a microcosm in the shape of this body. We are carrying the world with us wherever we go, though we feel that we have renounced the world. The world cannot be renounced by anyone who carries the body with him, because the world is not outside. This body is called the world; it is hanging so heavy on our minds and our consciousness, and it has become so intensely part and parcel of what we ourselves are, that we are ourselves the world.
Who can renounce the world, as the world is ourself? The freedom that one can establish in relation to the involvement of oneself in the body, which is regarded as ones own self, is also the extent to which one can be free from the world outside. Wherever we go we are in the world. We are not away from the world merely because we are seated on the peak of a mountain or geographically we are distant from some particular location. No one can escape involvement in the world, because all spiritual seeking arises from an individual nature originally, which is nothing but an involvement in the physical body. The needs of the body are something like the calls of a devil. It is true that we are not going to appease the devil, because neither can it be appeased nor it would be wise to pamper the clamours of a demon. But there is a way of freeing oneself from the demon, inasmuch as we can place ourselves in some intelligent context with the devil, not by denying what it asks, and not by entirely acceding to its requirements. We give it what it wants, though it is not our intention to go on giving it what it wants always, forever.
From moment to moment the mind finds itself in a necessity to fulfil its potential desires. It asks for its diet every day, and this diet has to be placed before it. Give it what it wants, though we know very well that we have no such idea of continuously giving it what it wants for eternity. As a statesman works wisely in the administration of a country with a consciousness of the past and also an anticipation of the future while he acts in the present, there is a kind of spiritual statesmanship, an adroitness in behaviour on the part of a spiritual seeker. The seeker does not rush headlong, like a fool, into a region which angels fear to tread. He carefully places his steps not to destroy himself in this movement, but to be firm in the steps that are taken, and yet protected even while moving forward.
A very wise suggestion that has come from Gurudev Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj that we should keep a spiritual diary, together with a daily routine. This is a system of personal check-up that we maintain for assessing the progress that we are making and the amount of control that we have been able to exercise over the calls of the inner nature. Though all the calls of the inner nature have to be attended to properlythe eyes have to see, the ears have to hear, the tongue has to taste and all the senses have to be given what they needthis has to be done only in that percentage and quantum which is essential at the given moment. Excessive pampering is to be avoided. For instance, we are hungry and we are thirsty; we need food every day. We also want drink for the quenching of our thirst, but it does not mean that we should go on eating throughout the day, occupying ourselves only with this work as if there is nothing else for us to do.
The satisfaction of hunger by the giving of a diet to this impulse we call hunger is very necessary indeed, but only in that percentage in which it is required. That is to say, for instance, we have to eat only when we are hungry and we need not eat when we are not hungry. But most of us eat even when we are not hungry. For instance, just at this moment we are not hungry; we have had our breakfast. But if some very delicious prasad is distributed just now, everyone will take it and put it in the mouth. There is no necessity to take it, but the inclination to eat in excess of an otherwise reasonable requirement precipitates into a habit of total involvement in a kind of appeasement of the senses. The senses take possession of us rather than our taking possession of the sense organs.
Social relations are very necessary. We cannot be brooding individually somewhere in a corner and crying that we have lost everything, the world is not helping us, the world does not want us, we have abandoned our homes, we have no friends, we have no wealth, we have no house, and God is not comingthe One whom we have been aspiring for, for whose sake we have left everything. This is not the way of living a spiritual life. Hasty steps should never be taken even when we are engaged in doing something virtuous and most desirable, even spiritually. Though God protects everyone and He is at the beck and call, as it were, of every devotee, there is a way in which God acts.
Our concept, our idea or notion of God will not always be adequate to the purpose. We may affirm that God is here just now and ready to protect us, give us what we need; but we have a peculiar sentiment, a traditional pressure of the feeling that creates a distance between ourselves and God. Even if there is only one inch distance between ourselves and that source from whom we expect protection, there will be no connection. We know very well that even if there is only a millimeter distance between the lightbulb and the electric socket there will be no light, though it is very near indeed to the point of contact. In a similar way, the psychological distance that we inadvertently create in our own selves between ourselves and God, whom we expect to protect us and save us every day, perhaps prevents God from rightly acting and taking steps in the direction of the fulfilment of our aspirations.
Why do we create this distance? It is the pressure that the world exercises upon us, the world that is involved in the space and time process. Because of the pressure of space, which is the very essence of the manifestation of the world, we cannot help feeling that there is some gap between us and the world. We cannot feel that God is sitting on our lap or is clutching our noseHe is not so near, there is a little bit of distance. This is caused by the element of space that is working as this world. Because of the pressure of time, we feel that God will come a little afterwardsa few minutes, a few hours, a few days, a few months or years afterwards. God will come. He has not come but He is going to come. This futurity of attainment and expectation of Gods grace is the subtle activity of the time process which keeps us in anxiety in respect of what has not taken place in the form of a future, and the space that creates the difference. There is therefore an intellectual honesty which affirms that we shall receive all abundance and grace from God Almighty, but a subtle dishonesty from the other side which is the instinct acting from our lower nature, telling us that this is not going to be a simple affair.
Again, to repeat what I mentioned previously, we initially require guidance for the spiritual seeker. To tread the path by oneself independently, to attempt this impossible task, would be to walk on the razors edge, which will cut either way and will not even be visible to the eyes as to the manner of its working. The weaknesses of the flesh, the involvements of the body and the desires of the mind are to be taken as they are. Call a spade a spade, as they saywe should not imagine ourselves to be more than what we really are. Mostly, in enthusiasm, we may consider ourselves to be superior to what we actually are. This self-approbation, an over estimation of ourselves, is the work of the ego which does not wish to be cowed down by any kind of advice or instruction from outside; it feels it knows everything for itself and it is not inferior to anybody else. The ego will not take everything that even the spiritual guide gives. It will sift the arguments and the instructions of the Guru and apply reason, so that its own point of view conditions even the more mature advice or instruction coming from a spiritually experienced state which is the Guru or the master. We have umpteen cases of fall in spiritual practice, leading not only to the breakdown of physical health but also to mental aberrations later on.
Most sincere spiritual seekers become nervous in their personality, quick in irascible behaviour, sudden in counteracting whatever is placed before them, and manifest an incapacity to accommodate themselves or even to be charitable in their feelings, in their words and in their outer behaviour with people. A self-assertive nature of a vehement type takes possession of spiritual seekers; they often become more egoistic and self-adumbrating in comparison with others who are not so spiritual. This is the reaction that is set up by the inner operations of the psyche, especially the ego, which objects to any step that we take in the direction of its own control. The nearer we go the to the wild beast, the more violent it appears to be in respect of us. If we are away from it, it appears to be calm and quiet, lying still, and it does not appear to be what it really is. The approach that we make to it rouses it into a fit of its essential nature. So is the ego, so is the instinct, so are the sense organs, so are the desires which are subhuman, animalistic and purely biological.
The presence of these instincts cannot be condemned outright as something totally undesirable, inasmuch as we have been born into a biological instinct and we are biological bodies only. Therefore the needs of this atmosphere, which are physical, social and biological, have to be taken care of in a proper percentage, but with a wise intention, namely, the need to gradually free oneself from these pressures. How? By proportionate feeling, and not going to excess in the act of indulgence. Neither indulgence nor austerity has to be of an extreme typewe should be balanced. Here is a caution exercised, namely, that yoga does not come to a person who is extreme in behaviour, excessive in performance either on the positive side or on the negative side. Yoga will not come to that person who does not eat at all. But yoga does not come to a person who indulges in eating too much, day in and day out, and goes on gorging himself with delicacies. Yoga also does not come to a person who sits idly and does nothing, or to a person terribly active and distractedly moving about here and there, with one business or the other, so busy that there is no time to sit.
Our relationship with God is a state of balance that we establish between the consciousness within and the consciousness that is operating everywhere. It is a system of harmony that is introduced in the relationship between the inner soul and the cosmic soul. Because the universal soul is present in the various degrees of manifestation in the creative forces of this world, this balance, which is also yoga, has to be struck by degrees, from the point of the lowest type of involvement gradually to the higher kinds of involvement, which are internal and natural. A great scientific attitude is sometimes called for in our spiritual quest. We have to be mathematically precise in keeping a watch over every thought that arises in the mind every day. We have to observe every impulse that arises from us from morning to evening, and even study our dreams, what they could be indicating. We have to be a watchdog of our own selves.