Chapter 3: On Meditation and Service
Ronald: What is the purpose of meditation? What is the goal, and how do you know when you have achieved this goal?
Swamiji: You should answer your question yourself. What is your method of meditation?
Ronald: I try to be as quiet as I possibly can, and watch my breathing, and then slowly go to the mantra. I move from the breathing to the mantra, and then try to think it without verbalising it – in other words, hear the mantra without any physical movement or physical manifestation – and then, as the thoughts come up, try to act as a disinterested observer. I try not to identify with any one thought, to observe the thought but not cling to it, and then to allow the next thought to emerge.
Swamiji: You say that you are trying to go inward, but why do you want to go inward? What do you gain by it? What is the purpose that is in your mind?
Ronald: I want to go inward to appreciate my own being, unmodified by external influences. I want a greater awareness of that thing called my Self.
Swamiji: What is the meaning of "going inward"? Are you going inside your stomach? Where is your Self at this moment?
Ronald: My Self is right here. The whole entity encompasses the Self, but I want to become more fully conscious of it – to have a more complete sense of it as opposed to an intimation of it.
Swamiji: Do you mean to say that you are not conscious of your Self just now? When you say that you are Ronald, is there not a consciousness of your Self?
Ronald: In a superficial way.
Swamiji: Why do you say it is superficial? Is it not a reality?
Ronald: It is a reality, but I would say that there are stages of reality.
Swamiji: I am glad to hear all these things. Very good. Now, do you mean to say that your real Self is hidden deeper than the Ronald self? The Ronald consciousness is also a kind of self. You are saying that it is superficial, and meaning thereby that your real Self is deeper than the Ronald consciousness. How far deeper?
Ronald: That I don't know. And I don't know how one knows if one has arrived.
Swamiji: Suppose you reach the deepest level of yourself. What happens afterwards? That is the answer to your question of what is the purpose.
Ronald: I would say that I would be a complete person.
Swamiji: Will you still be conscious that you are Ronald when you have entered the deepest level of yourself?
Ronald: I would say yes, because if I didn't, it would mean that in that stage I would be limited. I wouldn't have a grasp of something that I had a grasp of before.
Swamiji: It means that when you have gone to the deepest level of yourself, you will also be aware of all the other levels of your self which you have transcended; so, you will have a multiple – personality consciousness at that time. You will not be having a unified consciousness, but a multiple consciousness of all the layers of whatever you could be. You will feel that you are many things, instead of being one thing.
Ronald: Well, I would say that it would be a sense of there being many aspects of something, but that it would be one entity there.
Swamiji: You mean that these aspects are conceptual, or really existing?
Ronald: Well, they are conceptual.
Swamiji: Then they are not really existent levels. They are only some ideas of yours.
Ronald: Well, if you operate on a concept, then it becomes a reality.
Swamiji: Now, here is a great question. Is thought identical with reality?
Ronald: Well, if the thought enters the world of action, then it becomes a reality.
Swamiji: You have a thought that the world is outside you. You think that the world is there before you. Can you say that the thought itself is the world, because thought is identical with reality? Is the thought of the world, or is thought itself the world?
Ronald: I would say that thought is of the world.
Swamiji: Then the concept is not identical with reality; they are two different things. Anyway, you are asking me what the purpose of doing all this is, and you answered your question yourself by saying that you feel complete when you go into the deepest level of yourself. Do you feel that you are satisfied with this answer?
Ronald: Well, I haven't achieved it.
Swamiji: No, but when you achieve it, you feel that you are going to be complete. A sense of completeness will supervene in your personality, and that is the purpose of meditation. This is what you think?
Swamiji: Whatever you have told me about this purpose of meditation is perfectly all right, but there is something more than that. You have reached only one stage; even if you go to the deepest level of your self in the sense that we have tried to comprehend it, this is not the end of the journey. There is something further. There is something greater than one's deepest self because the word "me" has come. As long as these "I, you, he, she, it" terms continue to persist, we have not reached the ultimate aim of life.
In the ultimate existence, there is no he, she, it, I and you. Nobody will say "my Self, your Self," etc. These ideas are empirical, tentative, relative, connected with personality-consciousness, and the Self is not a person, it is a Super-Person. I am giving a hint that there is something more for you to know than the level you have reached now by this analysis. It will take some time even to understand what this great thing is.
Knowing your deepest Self is identical with knowing God Himself. That will be a terrifying thing to hear! How will knowing the deepest level of my being be the same thing as knowing God? You have an idea of God as the comprehensive Almighty, the universal omnipresent Being. Is He planted in my own heart at the deepest level of my being? Then what is my relationship with God? After having known that in that deepest level you will have a sense of completeness, the question still persists as to what the relationship is between yourself and God. That is the next step.
Whatever we have been discussing up to this time is the first step only. We have not touched the second level. The second level is what your relationship to the cosmos, and to God Himself, is. That is the next step.
There is a book called the Bhagavad Gita. It has eighteen chapters. The first six chapters deal with all these questions, about which we have been discussing just now – about the deepest Self and all that. The next six chapters, from the seventh to the twelfth, touch upon this other question of what your relationship to the cosmos and to the Almighty Himself is, and then there is something more about it in the last six chapters.
An in-depth study of this profundity is necessary. You cannot know the secret of things in a few minutes of discussion. That is why we say that for years you must be at the feet of a master to understand these things. Books do not always clarify these matters. It requires a divine blessing to come upon you. According to Indian tradition, this blessing comes through the Guru, and perhaps it may come through God Himself. It is a quest that will continue throughout your life. It is not a question of a few months or years, and it will continue until you don't have a single doubt in your mind. You are asking how you will know that you have reached it. That is a question of doubt. A person who has reached it will not have any doubt.
How do you know that it is daytime and not night, and how do you know that you are a human being? How do you know that you are Ronald? This is an intuitive perception, and you will have that kind of perception there. You will never have a question afterwards of whether you have reached it or not. A person who feels a doubt whether he has reached it or not has not reached it. He is still outside it. You have to be at the feet of a Guru for long years, and then these questions will be clarified.
We had also this humble blessing of being with a great master, Swami Sivananda. We have been with him physically for some twenty years, and whatever peace of mind we have today is due not to study, but due to being with him. The personality of the master exudes an energy and a kind of blessing that is indescribable. You don't know what this blessing means, actually. You feel energised, clarified, elevated, strengthened, and a new light enters into you by merely having a contact with him and seeing him every day, talking to him, being near him.
Study of books is not sufficient. You may read all the library, but still doubts will persist. The company of a great master is necessary. Now you are on the right path, but it is still a long journey ahead. Be happy that you are on the path, but be also sure that you have to continue on this journey for a long time.
Ronald: Having been given this gift of life, how can we increase the quality of living?
Swamiji: It is a very serious question. Trees, animals, insects, and human beings live. Perhaps you have observed a difference in the quality of living among these species. Though the tree lives, we seem to be living in a better way than a tree or an animal lives; but in what way are we better? We breathe, and animals and plants also breathe; we eat, and animals and plants also eat. We sleep, and they also sleep. But apart from these phenomena, what is the speciality in a human being? Various answers have been given.
A human being can think, and argue the pros and cons of a situation, which animals and plants cannot do adequately. We can infer the future from a present condition, which prerogative is not given to the animals fully. There is also another aspect of the matter. We want to live, but why do we want to live? What is the harm if one does not live? What is the reason behind this insistence on being alive? What do we gain by being alive?
Ronald: Well, one would hope that one's life has a purpose.
Swamiji: Now you have touched a vital point. We feel that by being alive we will be able to fulfill the purpose for which we are alive. Now, what is that purpose?
Ronald: I would hope somehow to make the world a little better as a consequence of having been here.
Swamiji: Oh! You mean to say that we are alive so that the world may become better because of our being alive?
Swamiji: Are we here to make the world better?
Ronald: I think we are here to make a contribution to the world, and to others. How to do that effectively, and at the same time feel at peace with oneself, so that you are not making a sacrifice when you are doing it, not punishing oneself.
Swamiji: Now, what is it that the world is lacking which we are in a position to give to it? It appears that the world lacks something, and we have it; if we give it, the world becomes better. We have something which the world does not have. This is what you mean. What is it that the world is lacking and we have?
Ronald: The world can be an impersonal place, and we bring a certain personality and intimacy to it.
Swamiji: You mean personality is superior to impersonality?
Ronald: I would say so.
Swamiji: Here is a question we cannot answer in this crowd of people sitting here. This is a serious question being raised about whether it is correct to say that personality is superior to impersonality. This is a metaphysical question. Perhaps, it goes deep into the spiritual depths of all existence. Can we say existence is personal or impersonal? Personality perishes; and if that is the case, you cannot call it superior to impersonality. Anything that is perishable is not worth having, and if our personality is perishable, I think we should get rid of it as early as possible. What is the good of hugging that which is perishable? And the consciousness of something being perishable brings us face to face with something which is perhaps not perishable.
What is it that is not perishable in this world? If we can contribute something to make anything imperishable, that would be a great thing. Being ourselves perishable, what imperishable contribution can come from us? Who can expect anything worthwhile from us, when we ourselves are perishable? When our life itself is in danger, what contribution can we make to the world? At any moment, anything goes. The whole world is evolutionary, subject to destruction of a prevailing condition. It is in a state of flux and permanent movement, giving no indication of permanence anywhere. If every moment is a fluxation and a movement towards destruction (which includes our own selves also as personalities), where is the purpose in life? There is something imperishable either in us or in the world or in both things which we are pursuing, and if anything can be regarded as a worthwhile purpose in life, it must be something which is imperishable in nature.
Perishable things cannot be regarded as purposes in life. Nobody will go for perishable things, because at any moment that perishability will catch hold of our necks. So, there is something imperishable which is keeping us alive, and insists that we should be alive. This desire to be alive continuously is a touch of imperishability working in us. Perishability cannot speak because every minute it dies. I cannot speak to you, and you cannot speak to me, if there is only perishability in us, because thereby every second we are demonstrating the worthlessness of our existence. But if we are alive for three minutes at least, that would show that there is something more than perishability in us. The perishable cannot exist even for three minutes; it goes in one second. But that does not happen. We are continuing to exist, which shows that there is an imperishable in us, and we must find out what that imperishable thing is.
I think the quest for the imperishable is the purpose of life, and if that can be achieved, we can make that contribution also to the world. What is the use of giving a perishable thing to the world, and imagining that we have done some great good? Everything in the world has some element of eternity behind it; otherwise, it cannot exist. When we say that evil exists, we are saying that there is a divine element also behind it. Eternity is there in the midst of the temporal things that we see in the world. First, it is necessary for you to exist in order that you may serve the world. Are you sure that you are going to exist?
Ronald: Well, I am existing.
Swamiji: You are existing for how long? For how many minutes? If you say that you are going to exist for another fifty years, who gave you the guarantee?
Ronald: No one.
Swamiji: Then why are you assuming that you will live for another fifty years? How can there be such an ungrounded assumption?
Ronald: I am not making an assumption that I will live fifty years.
Swamiji: It is there, implied by the statement that you are going to contribute something to the world. It is a very important question. Unless you are sure that you are going to exist for a considerable period of time, the question of contributing to the world does not meaningfully arise. If that assurance has been given, it is wonderful; but let it be there. Otherwise, it is a futile attempt to go on saying that you will contribute to the world when tomorrow the man will breathe his last. There is some flaw in this doctrine of service to the world, which has to be found out. The man himself will not be there. What contribution can be made afterwards? There is something more in life than service, unless you interpret service in a different sense altogether.
Ronald: What do you mean by "more in life"? That implies that there's an awareness of what that something is.
Swamiji: I am thinking that I have spoken enough now. We should postpone this subject for another time. This is a serious matter, and it should not be discussed in a slipshod manner. It is a question of life and death, as they say.
What is our future? Let the future of the world be anything. What is your future, and what is my future? Let that be clear first. We shall think of the future of the world afterwards. We have not created the world, and we are not supposed to be so much concerned with it. Let the Creator of it be responsible for it.
Who created the world? Has He any responsibility over it? Or has nobody created it? If you believe in a person who must have created this world, can we say that He has some responsibility over it, or has He shoved the entire responsibility on you, or on me? Let us think over that matter also.
Somebody created the problem of the world, and we are responsible for it? Is it a justice? If God or somebody who has created this bad world expects us to share His burden and suffer for it, He is not a very wise person, nor is He a charitable person, also. Why should God create an evil world and expect us to rectify it?
There is something serious about this question. First of all, let us decide whether God has created such a world. Secondly, has He created an evil world so that we have to work for removing its defect? Is it true that our service is required by the world, or are we so egoistic in imagining that we have the power to redeem the world? These are important questions. Before we talk further, these questions have to be answered.
Is it the egoism of man that makes him feel that he is capable of serving, and making the world better? Or, is there some other thing behind it which makes us feel that we are to work for the world? Many have come, and many have gone, and they have left the world in the same condition that it was. Do you believe that because of the service of so many people, a world of iron has become a world of gold? Buddhas and Christs have come and gone. They have also contributed much to the world. What are you contributing further? Are you greater than Christ and Buddha?
Ronald: I think that, as we go along, the consciousness can increase and develop, but the world in a sense is neutral.
Swamiji: Is the world a bad world?
Swamiji: Then what is the contribution that you are making?
Ronald: The world is not bad, but it is men that affect the world. It is a neutral substance.
Swamiji: If it is a neutral substance, it is better you leave it as it is. Why are you interfering with it?
Ronald: It's the nature of man.
Swamiji: What is the nature of man? To interfere with things? Why should he? Why is he interfering with things which were created by somebody else?
Ronald: Just by the mere fact of acting, we have some effect on it.
Swamiji: What are we aiming at, finally? That should be clear first. Whether by contributing or not by contributing, what is the final aim? What are we aiming at? What is this contribution, the purpose, the final end of things?
This is a question of eternity, rather than a question connected with time. There is an endlessness behind all these processes we call service, life in the world, etc. We cannot discuss these matters in a round-table conference. We have to be sincere in this quest which is super-physical, super-social and to a large extent super-psychological. There is something in man which defies definition in terms of society and social relations. You are not merely a social unit; there is something in you which is above society, which is an eternity speaking through you, which is the reason why you feel that you are safe and secure and that you will continue to live endlessly in this world. That impulse has arisen on account of the eternity parading in the midst of temporality. We should not discuss things like this in a casual manner. They are serious things concerned with the future of humanity, and the future of the soul of the human individual. The impulse for service, for doing good, arises due to the involvement of every individual in the cosmic movement of Nature towards the Supreme Absolute. Here is the secret of all life and effort.