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The Ascent to Moksha
by Swami Krishnananda

Discourse 9: The Creation of Pleasure and Pain

In the beginning, it is sheer trouble not knowing where the difficulty really lies. It is in this condition of uncertainty and an inability to know where one's problems really are that one moves hither and thither in search of solutions. In the earliest of stages it looks that the world is bad, that there are serious defects, and all the causes of problems are transferred to the world of perception.

There is a need for a long series of processes of evolution to discover that the trouble does not really lie with the world. Though at the very outset, on a surface view of things, it looks that all error and ugliness is only outside, a time will come in the process of the evolution of the mind when flashes of insight will make it clear that all the trouble is not wholly on the side of objects.

This stage of psychological struggle to discover the source of pain and suffering is an unavoidable condition to be stepped over by every sadhaka, every seeker of truth. In all practices of yoga, whatever be the path, at some time or the other we will find ourselves in an undecided state, not knowing whether the truth lies to the right side or to the left.

But, as analysis deepens and the mind matures in its educative processes, we begin to discover that the root of the difficulties and troubles we pass through in life is not outside but elsewhere, though it is not known where it is. This is a great advance that is made in mental evolution. We may not know where the trouble is, but at least we know that it is not in the world of objects. There is a condition of discrimination which is posterior to the condition of the erroneous opinion we hold that the things of the world are the sources of our sorrow.

We know very well that no object, no person can be a source of sorrow for us wholly, because if the causative factor of pain is to be inherent in any particular object or person, that object or person should be the causative factor of sorrow for everyone in the world. But this is not seen as such. A particular source of anxiety and suffering to us may be a source of great joy and satisfaction to somebody else. The tiger is a source of terror to us, but the tiger's cub runs over the back of its mother without any fear, jumps on her lap and kisses her, while we are afraid even to look at her. So the object as such cannot be regarded as a causative factor in any manner whatsoever.

The object has also to be judged from the point of view of a specific relationship that it has with us. This is a higher stage of discovery. That the objects are entirely the sources of pain is the first crass perception of the untutored mind: All error is outside, all mistakes are of other people, and everything that is ugly is what is not mine. But a higher inquiry lands us in the superior understanding that beauty and ugliness, virtue and vice, good and bad, and all such judgments depend not necessarily on the structure of the objects themselves but more so on the relation that these objects have with ourselves.

The world is relative, relational, conditioned by the dependence of objects on their experiencers, and vice versa. Any object is beautiful or otherwise in accordance with the specific relationship it has with us; otherwise, it is neither beautiful nor ugly. The ethical and moral judgments of good and bad are also purely objective. They are to be judged from a particular context. We cannot know whether a particular action is right or wrong unless the context also is known, so this context is the relationship of the particular occasion for judging. A superior insight would be the detection of there being a causative factor, known as relationship, higher above the pure structural context of the objects and persons in the world. Where does the source of suffering lie? It is not in the objects, but in our relationship with objects.

Can we say the relationships themselves are the causes of pleasure and pain? This is a question that we have to raise further on. The relationships are only psychological. They are not physical. What causes pleasure and pain to us is naturally a relationship of objects with ourselves. But what sort of relationship is it? It cannot be called a physical or material relationship. It is not a substantial contact of the object with us. A thing may not be physically in contact with us; it may be spatially distant and still cause pleasure and pain by an inwardly directed relationship of the object with its mental relationship. So while it is a very interesting discovery that we have made – we learned that objects are not the sources of pain but the relationships of objects with us are the sources of pain – even this is not an adequate discovery because we cannot say that there is any such thing as relationships outside us. All relationship is internal.

Do the objects jump upon us, or do we jump upon the objects? What do we mean by 'relationship'? What is this contact with the objects that we establish, on account of which we suffer or enjoy life in this world? Whether it is the object that seems to have an impact upon our experience or we have an impact upon the objects, the question is similar, a single common question. What is this relationship? Is it physical or psychological? If it is the object that has the impact upon our experience, it should be physical because objects are physical in their nature. But physical experience is unknown. All experience is mental. We cannot have a purely physical experience. There is no such thing as experience divested of a mental operation. Unless mind also plays a part, experience would be unintelligible. Physical experience divested of mental relationship is no experience at all, at least as far as we are concerned. Hence, all relationship, from the point of view of the causative factor of pleasure and pain, has to be psychological, and not physical.

Thus, we boil down the causative factors and come to a residuum: where do they actually lie? The factors of relationship with objects that are the causes of pleasure and pain, being psychological, seem to have an intimate connection with our own personality because what is psychological relationship but the operation of our own mind in respect of the objects of the world? Where does the source of pleasure and pain lie? Not in the objects, but in the relationship of objects with us. What is this relationship? It cannot be physical. It has to be psychological. But what is this psychological relationship? Being connected with the mind, it has to be connected with us.

So we are dangerously coming near to the truth that we seem to have a very important part to play in creating our own pleasure and pain. A very inconvenient truth is opening before our eyes, like Pandora's box: It is our mental relationship with persons and things that causes pleasure and pain to us. This is discrimination of the causative factor of pleasure and pain in the world.

What does this discovery mean? “Am I the cause of my pleasure and pain? Can I cause pain to my own self? Will I deliberately jump into a well and break my leg? Should I not be regarded as a sensible person who will want only satisfaction rather than suffering in the world? How is the cause of pain attributed to me?” may be questions that the mind raises. Nobody deliberately causes suffering to oneself. Nobody wishes to go to hell wantonly. Nobody wishes to be hanged, but people are hanged in jail. How does this happen? Nobody wishes to place oneself in such a very miserable state.

It is not that we deliberately create causes of our suffering. Unconsciously we create these factors of our suffering. Though deliberately we will not jump into a well, we may fall into a well not knowing that there is a well in front of us. With open eyes in daylight we may not jump into a well. Yes, perfectly so; it is accepted. But suppose the eyes are not clear in their vision – it is dusk, or perhaps the well is covered over with grass. We are likely to fall into the well unwittingly. We fall into error not because we want to commit error, but because we are led astray by certain factors unintelligible to our understanding.

The causes of our suffering are we ourselves, but we do not create these causes wantonly, with conscious deliberation. We are led along a wrong path by mistaken notions, erroneous judgments of our own selves, and consequently of other persons and things in the world. Now we are awake to a tremendous fact that the cause of suffering in the world is not the object but the relationship of the object with ourselves. It is not merely this physical relationship of objects with us but a psychological relationship, which means to say, a mental relationship, which again amounts to saying that our personality itself is the cause of our suffering, due to certain misapprehensions. We ourselves, our personalities, cause the suffering. This is another discovery that we make.

But what do we mean by 'this personality who causes the suffering'? Is it the eyes, the nose, the ears, the sense organs, the body, the limbs? What sort of thing is it in the personality that causes our suffering or creates a mistaken notion about the things of the world? “Which is the psychological organ that troubles you?” is a question in the spiritual diary. Some people say, “The eyes trouble me,” some people say, “The ear is my trouble,” some say, “The tongue is my trouble,” and so forth. These are the ways in which they fill up the spiritual diary. Some people say that the street is their trouble. God knows what they mean by that. “The bazaar is my trouble, the street is my trouble.” They mean to say that certain things which they see in the streets and the bazaars distract their mind. That is why they say the street is the trouble. Likewise, we very charitably say the eyes are the trouble, or the tongue is the trouble because it asks for delicious dishes, and so on. This is how we sift the evidences in this process of judging the ultimate cause of our pains and sufferings in the world.

The senses mostly are regarded as our untrustworthy friends who create a lot of misery for us, so in our attempt at self-control we subdue the senses so harshly that their backs may break. But the instigator of the senses is really to be regarded as a more dangerous cause than these instruments, or servants, the senses by themselves.

As we say, students are very bad these days. They are rebellious gundas. But we know, and it is well known everywhere, that there are instigating policies and fireworks behind the students, and these young juvenile enthusiastic minds can be bent in any direction, like a young bamboo stalk. When it is very old, it cannot be bent. But when it is very tender, we can bend the bamboo and direct it in any way that we like. These senses are like these rebellious students of modern days. They are not bad by themselves, but they are led along wrong paths by forces which are selfish, personal and injudicious. We have to find out the causes behind these incentives driving the senses along erroneous channels. We should not complete our process of sifting evidence merely by coming to the borderland of sense activity, because we find that we can be unhappy even when the senses are not functioning.

In the waking state we can be highly disturbed even when we are not actually seeing anything, hearing anything, eating anything or touching anything. Have you not had occasions of this kind in your life? You are seeing nothing, almost. You are sitting with a blank look, but are highly disturbed in the mind. It is not that the senses are active at that time; they do nothing almost, but you are highly irritated, agitated, upset, and disturbed by some factor not clearly known. So one can be unhappy even if the senses do not function actively.

What about the dream state? How wretched we become sometimes in dream when all the senses are inactive totally. None of the senses function in dream, but yet we can have all sorts of funny experiences in dream. We can also have experiences in waking condition such as reveries and occasional moods of depression, melancholy and dispiritedness of various types.

So where do we find ourselves now in our discovery? The source of our pain is not the world of objects, not merely the physical relationship, not the sense organs. It is something else, some power that drives the senses to objects and along channels which are untoward. This repository of energy, the reserve force which supplies the incentive for activity of the senses, is the antahkarana. Broadly, in English, we can call it the mind, generally speaking. The antahkarana is the internal organ. Internal organ is what we call the psychological apparatus. We have broad divisions of these functions such as decision and understanding, which we call the buddhi in Sanskrit. We have got the function of self-arrogation and self-affirmation for the ego, or the ahamkara. There is the psychological function of retention of past experiences in memory, which is one of the functions of what we know as the chitta, and we have indeterminate perception and thinking and doubting in a general manner, which is supposed to be the function of the manas. It is mind in a general sense.

Now, these are only functions, but they are not different organs of action. These are various methods adopted by a single intelligent force within us in obtaining the objects of its desire. The mischief-maker is this central operative factory inside us; it is not merely a factory of machines, but an intelligent, self-operating machine. In a very special sense, we can call it an automobile not driven by a person, but automobile in the strict sense of the term, which moves by itself. The mind can move by itself, act for itself, without a driver behind it. It is a self-propelled engine, and it is propelled in such a way that it knows its motives and the centre of its fulfilment of desire and satisfaction. For the sake of self-fulfilment, it employs the service of the senses. The senses are only servants of this self-driven intelligent force called the psychological organ.

The antahkarana is this abundant source of energy – not dead energy, but intelligent energy. It goads the senses to activity by connecting itself with them. When the power that is generated in an electrical factory is connected to a machine, the machine starts moving because of the energy that is supplied to it from the powerhouse. These senses are machines of different make. One goes in one direction, one goes in another direction. One may be a motorcar, another may be a tractor, a third may be something else, and so on. But the energy that is the driving force behind these different machines of the senses is the mental structure of our personality, the antahkarana-chatushtaya, the peculiar, unintelligible wheel with which the whole of our reality is identified day in and day out.

So what is the process of suffering? This intelligent force within, called the antakharana, supplies the energy for action to the senses. It orders the senses to move in a particular direction, and the senses run, being driven by this force to their respective targets. These targets seem to be the objects of the senses, but they are really the objects of the mind. It is the mind that wants the objects, not the senses, but the senses appear to be wanting them on account of their being directly connected with the objects. When a policeman comes and arrests someone, it is not the policeman who is interested in the arresting of the person. Some other force is driving the policeman to come in contact with the culprit. The force is not the policeman. He is only an instrument. Some other energy, some other intelligence is operating behind this instrument called the policeman who runs towards the object called the culprit and arrests him.

Thus, the senses cannot be really regarded as desirous of objects. They are unintelligent, structurally. They have no motivation by themselves. They cannot think, they cannot understand. They are blind, active, mechanical structures. They are driven in a particular direction by the intelligence that is supplied by the mind. To give the example of the policeman, he can be driven in any direction. If you ask him to go to the east, he will go to the east. If you ask him to go to the west, he will go to the west. It all depends upon the person who gives the orders. The intelligence for the direction of the senses is supplied by the mind; otherwise, the senses are just unintelligent machines capable of being used in respect of any object in the world.

Our analysis has brought us to this unexpected conclusion that the ultimate cause of all our experiences, internal and external, is invisibly hidden within our own personality and, like a thief sitting in our own house without our knowing he is there, it wreaks havoc within ourselves and transfers the guilt upon the objects of sense. Your own servant in the house can take away all your things and then he may complain to the police that so-and-so has stolen the property. He himself may file the complaint, the man who has taken the things. He will be the first person to come running to you and say, “Sir, the things are missing.” And he will run about, asking what is happening. He himself has taken it, and he will help you in filing the complaint.

This is what happens to us. The trouble has started within, but by a peculiar intelligent device, the mind has transferred this error to the objects outside. There is a peculiar defence mechanism of the mind by which it can transfer its properties to persons and things outside. What is within us, we see outside, like a  cinematographic projection. We see the picture somewhere on the screen in front of us, while it has come from somewhere behind. The projector is behind. There is nothing there – only a blank screen. The film is behind us, and the shape of the picture, the colour, etc., of the photograph in the film, which is somewhere unseen in the rear, is projected to the screen in front of us, and we begin to see it there, while it is really behind.

Similarly, the structural defect of the mind, which is the photograph in the film inside our own cinematographic factory, gets projected outside on the screen of the world of space and time, and we begin to see ourselves there as other persons and things. So we love things and hate things. The cause of the love or the hatred is here, but it has been thrown on the screen of space and time outside so that, God forbid, it can be cast on the screen of somebody else, so that tomorrow we like them or do not like them. They are only screens on which the picture is cast, and then only the picture is seen there; the screen is completely forgotten. This is what happens in the cinema. We cannot see the screen. If we begin to see the screen, there is no point in going there. We see only the shape that is cast on the screen that is deliberately made invisible.

The mind is such a wonderful mechanism which has unending resources of material of umpteen shapes and contours, which can keep us active for ages and ages. For years and years we can go on seeing a cinema endlessly, not merely for hours, and the screen is perpetually hanging there outside – an eternal screen in front of us, as space and time. The space-time continuum is the screen upon which is projected this series of the pictures that have been photographed by the mind itself in the process of perception and cognition through ages of reincarnation.

Very interesting it is, and very inconvenient also, to know this truth because there seems to be something seriously awful with our own selves. The morbid source of suffering is in the recesses of our structure, our own makeup, and to study this is to study the world. As far as we are concerned, the world is what means everything to us in our life. The meaning that we see in life is the world for us, and all the meaning that we read outside is the meaning that is projected from the mind. So to study the mind would be to study life, and that would be to study the world. The proper study of mankind is man. We study the human structure in its psychological makeup, in its entirety, and we know what we are, what others are, what the world is, and perhaps what God Himself is.

This is the psychology of yoga. What I have described just now as the process of sifting of evidence from the objects through the relationships, through the senses and the mind, is known in the language of Vijnanabhiksu, a great exponent of yoga, as samjnas, stages of consciousness. These are stages of consciousness. The first stage is the consciousness of the world of objects. The second stage is the consciousness of the relationship of the objects with us. The third stage is the consciousness of the senses. The fourth stage is the consciousness of the mind. So all these are consciousness states. These stages are the internal states of the mind gradually getting hardened into perceptible relationships with the objects.

Yoga, therefore, consists in operating the mental factory in such a way that it works harmoniously with the structure of the cosmos. The whole of yoga is only this much. It is an attunement of the mental faculty in such a way that it works smoothly and harmoniously in relationship with the world as it really is. The world as it really is, is different from the world as it is to the perception of the mind. The mind has created a world of its own. This is what they call jiva-srishti, the creation of the jiva. But Ishvara-srishti is quite different. What God has created does not trouble us. What troubles us is what we have created on the screen of God's creation. So if our creation is in consonance with God's creation, we are on velvet. This is yoga.

We are dissonant in our activities with the structural pattern of God's creation. We move disharmoniously with the pattern of what God has created in the form of this world. The nature of objects is different from what they appear to our mind and the senses. An object as such has no characteristic of its own. A person can be defined from the point of view of the individual mind in different ways. A person by himself or herself is indeterminate, not associated with qualities or characters of any specific nature. If the person is a father, the mind has one relationship with that person. But if the very same person is a son, the relationship of the mind is different. He can be a brother, he can be a friend or enemy, he can be well or ill, wanted or unwanted, an intruder or a necessary person. It may be even sexually distinguished as male and female, or tall and short, Eastern and Western, white and black; such distinctions are introduced to a specific individuality of a human being, which is Ishvara-srishti. But the jiva-srishti is what I mentioned as the mental reading of meaning on the person, on account of which we have emotional reactions in regard to the person or the object.

If my watch is stolen, my reaction is one thing, but if somebody else's watch is stolen, it makes no difference to me, even if it is the same watch. The same factory has made that watch, and from the point of view of the object as such, there should be no difference in the reaction of the emotion; but we know the connectedness of the emotion with the object makes all the difference. If my child dies, it means something to me. If somebody else's child dies, it is different.  After all, what is the difference between your child and somebody else's child in the pure, dispassionate judgment of a living human individual?

Such examples can be cited endlessly to give the distinction that we make in our personal relationship in regard to the persons and objects of God's creation, which are things by themselves. Some philosophers call them 'things in themselves'. The thing in itself is different from the thing as it means to me. I am not so much worried about the thing in itself. What troubles me is the thing that appears before me to my mental vision, and the reading of meaning by me in that particular thing. What is the thing in itself? Nobody knows up to this day. It is difficult to know it. Perhaps as long as we live in this world, we cannot know what a thing really is. As we go deeper and deeper in our analysis, we begin to see newer and newer meanings in the very same object of the world.

We have the famous physical observation of things, which has given us a startling meaning of things, quite different from the one that is seen by the senses. An object which is hard like granite or stone is supposed to be constituted of minute granules of force or waves of energy, continuous in their activity with the other inner structural patterns of other objects in the world. It looks, from modern discoveries, that objects do not differ structurally among themselves, at least in their fundamental being, because of the outer shape automatically fading away when we begin to observe a deeper vision of things through instruments – the inner structural substantiality of objects.

The difference that we see among the waves of the ocean slowly subsides when we begin to see the bottom, which are the waters of the ocean. Likewise, there seems to be a universal ocean of energy which projects itself into eddies of various shapes, concretising themselves into the shapes of objects when they are perceived by the senses. Energy cognised or perceived by the senses through the activity of the mind on the screen of space-time appears as objects. This is also one of the conclusions drawn by the analysis of yoga psychology. The term prakriti, or matter, the world of creation that is used in this psychology, is really a name that is given to the objective pattern of sensory and psychological perception.

It is, therefore, necessary to train the mind in order that it may know its proper relationship with things as they really are. This training is called yoga. We have now discovered that all effort has to be initiated from within. There is no use expecting help from outside. As a matter of fact, nothing seems to be wrong outside. Things are perfectly all right. There is a dislocation in the activity of the mind, due to some error of perception. The mind has mistaken its relationship with the things themselves. If you mistake your friend for an enemy, your relationship would be regarded as mistaken. In darkness you may mistake one thing for another thing and develop an erroneous attitude towards that thing.

You may scream at your own son, thinking that he is a thief. There was an occasion when a person shot his own mother, thinking that she was a burglar. She went out in the night, poor lady, for her ablutions, and this gentleman took his gun and shot her, thinking that she was a burglar before realising it was his own mother. This is gross error in perception and cognition of the mind. It can mistake one thing for another thing.

The whole world is thus mistaken in its totality. The mistake we have committed through the mind in its cognition is not partial, but total. There is a total, complete upsetting of values, so that we are literally standing on our heads instead of standing on our legs. What is above seems to be below. What is to the right seems to be to the left. If you stand on the bank of the river Ganga and look at your own reflection on the water, you will see that the head, which is topmost, is the bottommost there, and the feet, which are the lowermost, appear uppermost. And if you see yourself in a mirror, the right eye is seen as the left, the left is seen as the right. In the Kathopanishad it is told that the world of perception is distorted completely in the same way that objects are seen in a mirror. That which is right is seen to the left, and so on.

It is not merely this distortion that has taken place, but much more. It is a reflection, but also at the same time, it is a limitation. It is a distortion in many ways. This is the reason why the mind is unable to understand what has actually happened to it. The mind has the inveterate habit of believing what it sees. Whatever it sees, it trusts fully, not knowing that the seeing may not be correct. We have the famous instance of eyes with cataracts seeing the moon as double. If we trust our mind on the basis of the perception of the moon through cataract eyes, we are mistaken. We see two moons, while the moon is one. We cannot entirely believe what we see.

But the mind believes what it sees through the senses. The mind perceives the world through the sense organs. Through the eyes it sees, through the ears it hears, and so on. But these five senses are distorted lenses, through which a completely wrong picture of the object outside is presented to the mental cognition. Unfortunately, the mind has no other avenue of knowledge. It has to trust the eyes, trust the ears, trust the palate, and other things. But all these senses are distorted structures. We can compare them to broken lenses completely out of order, which will never give a correct picture of the object outside. But what can we do? These are the only lenses available, and these are the only avenues of perception; there is no other way of knowing truth, and we see things only as these are. So this is the predicament we are in. This is the world for us.

The mind has to be trained to perceive independently of the senses, so far as it is possible. This is the great task before the yoga student. We should not trust things merely because we see them with our eyes, hear them with our ears, etc. Tangibility, visibility, audibility, etc., cannot be regarded as standards of correct perception or judgment. “I hear it; therefore, it must be there,” is not an argument, because we have to be charitable enough to concede that the instruments of observation can go wrong. The instruments of our observation are the senses.

Thus, it is necessary that we enter into self-investigation rather than object investigation, world investigation, or an enquiry into the structure of the pattern of the world externally. There is no use observing a minute substance in a laboratory through a defective microscope. Whatever be the carefulness of the observation, inasmuch as the instrument is defective, the observation will bring a wrong conclusion.

So the first thing would be not to strain our nerves in observing through the telescope or the microscope, but to see that the instrument is in perfect good condition; otherwise, all our labour will be a waste. What is the good of philosophy, theology, argument, and scientific observation through defective apparatus? While sensory observation is the basis of scientific discoveries, mental observations are the basis of philosophical conclusion. Both are sailing on the same boat as far as their conclusions are concerned. If the senses are defective in one way, the mind is defective in another way. The senses cannot collaborate among themselves on account of their distinction in their structural pattern, and they seem to be collaborating on account of the single mind operating behind the senses; otherwise, independently, what the eyes see, the ears cannot hear, and so on. The mind somehow collates these reports of the different senses, and comes to a judgment of its own.

The senses have this defect that one sense can perform only one function and, simultaneously, the other senses cannot come to the knowledge of what the other senses perceive. While this is the case with the senses, the mind has a defect of its own. It can see things only in a limited manner – as a quantity, as a quality, as a relation or as a condition. There is no other way of thinking. Whatever we think of has a quantity or a mass. It has length, breadth, height. It has a three-dimensional structure. Can you think of a four-dimension or a hundred-dimension thing? Impossible. This is a limitation of mental operation or the structure of the mind. We think of only quantities or, if not, we think of certain associated qualities, attributes: it is of this nature or of that nature. Nothing can be thought of unless it has a character, a relation, or unless a thing is in some condition. Everything has to be in some state. So these are the operative limitations of the mind, like the limitations of the senses.

So we have ultimately a wild-goose chase pursued both in rational metaphysics of the mind and the observation of the sciences of modern physics. We are nowhere near the truth, either this way or that way. Hence, mere philosophical augmentation, logical disquisition and metaphysics as we usually understand it in the academic sense are of no use, nor are the observational techniques of physics of any use to us.

We come to yoga for a different technique altogether. Instead of observation and rational disquisition, we come for self-discovery. “Know thyself” is the oracle of Delphi. This is what the Upanishads tell us. The science of yoga, therefore, is a science of self-culture, self-study, and self-discovery by the process of self-restraint. Everything is concerned with the self, ultimately. From the objects of the world we have now come down upon the self itself as the source of all our agonies of life in this world.

This is the art of yoga, the scientific technique of self-mastery for the sake of self-unfoldment and self-discovery, which will be so startling to us that it would look as if we are awakened from a dream of world perception.