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The Glory of God: A Summary of the Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana
by Swami Krishnananda

Discourse 8: The Stages of Ascent to Moksha

Sadhana is the way to moksha. It has no other significance. Moksha is freedom from bondage. But it is necessary for everyone to know whether one is really in bondage or is really free. If we are free, then there is nothing to do. Let us be happy in this world.

Does anyone recognise that he or she is in bondage? If this question is put before anyone, they will be surprised. “What kind of bondage is there in me? I seem to be perfectly all right in my life. I can go about anywhere I like. I have all the necessary amenities for a comfortable existence. I am really happy. I require nothing. God has given me everything.” If this is the case, you are really a free person, and there is no need to strive for further freedom because of the conviction that you are already free.

The impossibility to even recognise that one is in bondage is a worse form of bondage. To know that one is bound is a great virtue. But to think one is free even while one is bound, and not being able to recognise the kind of bondage in which one is—there are no words to describe this most idiotic condition of human nature.

The beginning of sadhana is the consciousness of suffering. We must be immensely aware that we are in a state of agony. The bondage that we are referring to here is not an ordinary insufficiency that we have in our workaday life. It is a malady that has crept into our very existence.

Our total life is free movement on our part. But there is a root within us that is weeping because of this bondage, due to which the soul itself suffers. This is the bondage of the existence itself. To believe that we are really existing is ignorance on our part. The fact is that we are on a process of movement. We have moved continuously from previous lives to the present life, and we shall move from this present life to future lives. The movement is such that it is continuous, like the flow of a river. Buddha's wisdom recognised that bondage is the imagination that one truly exists in a state of stability. We are pushed forward by the requirements of our future incarnation, and also pushed from behind by the actions that we performed in our previous lives. We are propelled from both sides. The previous life's consequences urge us to move onward, and the possibilities of a future life pull us from the front.

This fact is not known to us. Ignorance is sometimes bliss, as it is well said. Total ignorance looks like total bliss. That we are caught up in a whirlpool of evolutionary process and we are helplessly driven in a direction of which we have no knowledge at all, that we cannot even lift a finger of our own accord unless forces outside us cooperate with us—we cannot breathe, we cannot think, and we cannot sleep, the heart cannot beat, the lungs cannot perform their functions unless forces transcendent to our personality operate—is not known to us.

The consciousness of the nature of one's bondage is the beginning of sadhana. This is what is told to us in the Yoga Vasishtha, in its description of the stages of awakening. “Something is very wrong with me right from the beginning. I do not know my past, I do not know my future, and even today, just at this moment, I cannot understand what circumstances I am passing through.” This is the beginning of wisdom, and is called subheccha in the language of the Yoga Vasishtha—wanting to know what is good. Though the nature of the good is not actually known, there is at least a desire to know it. Subheccha is the first stage of sadhana. We do not want to be bad; we want to be good.

The next stage of sadhana is an effort to find out what is good. It is not enough if we merely want the good; we must know where the good lies, and strive for it. This is self-analysis. Satsanga, study, attending discourses of mahatmas, worship, japa sadhana, are all helpful in investigating into the nature of the problem and then deciphering the nature of the ultimate truth. These first two stages, subheccha and vicharana, are mostly the preliminary stages of spiritual practice, and yet they are difficult enough for a person who is not acquainted with this way of thinking, just as a person who does not know cycling cannot sit on a bicycle even for a moment until he learns it.

By such kind of continuous, assiduous investigation into one's own bondage and what is good for oneself, the mind which is fattened by being fed through sensory life becomes thinner and thinner, and that which was once opaque due to the desire for enjoyment of the objects of the world—due to which, the light of the Self within could not be reflected, as sunlight cannot pass through a brick and can pass only through a clean glass—becomes thinned. In the earlier stages, due to the thickened form of the mental process, the very idea of there being something called the Atman within may not be possible, but after assiduous practice in this manner, the mind becomes thin. That condition is called tanumanasi, a threadlike condition of the mind where it is transparent and reflects the true nature of everything.

According to the Yoga Vasishtha, these are the first three stages of actual sadhana, spiritual practice. By continuing this practice for a long, long time throughout one's life, the sattva, or the purity in one's person, flashes forth, and the sun of knowledge begins to dazzle through this mirror-like clean mind that has been attenuated through the absence of desires. This is a pure sattvic transparent condition of the mind, free from any kind of distraction or lethargy, i.e., rajas and tamas. This in itself is a great achievement that we have flashes of insight in our sadhana. This state is called sattvapatti.

Because of the bliss that we enjoy by the experience of this light of the Self emanating from within one's own self through the mind that is so transparent, we do not feel a desire for anything that is outside, and we feel that we are sufficient in ourselves. Our very being is a joy to us, and we do not want assistance from any other thing. Detachment automatically, spontaneously takes place in this stage. This is the stage of asamsakti, non-attachment. It is not the non-attachment that has been inflicted by deliberate austerity, but a spontaneous event that is taking place on account of the knowledge arising spontaneously in the sadhakaasamsa. We have to take several births, normally speaking, to attain this state of asamsakti, or sattvapatti.

Total detachment is unknown to mankind. We always cling to something, either in the mind or socially, physically, materially. Total satisfaction in one's own self, free from having any desire to contact outside oneself, is something unimaginable for the common man. But such a state is reached by the intense practice of self-investigation—asamsakti, as it is called.

Then comes the higher state, called padarthabhavana. We do not recognise that the world is really material. It is no more an object. All the things in the world appear as a congealed form of universal power. It is as if the ocean of universal force gets concentrated into little knots here and there in space and time, to which we give an appellation of objects, persons, things, etc. There are no persons, no things, no objects, ultimately. They are concentrated pressure-points of universal force. We will never see anything material afterwards. It is all one inundating force permeating all things, looking like objects, persons and things. This is padarthabhavana.

When such a state of universal recognition of a pervading force is attained, the only one thing that remains for a person—who is really not a person but is a centre of force—is to identify one's own localised point of existence with this universal force so that what exists is not a sadhaka with a universal power, because this sadhaka has gone into the very bosom of the sea of power. It is cosmic prana, cosmic mind, cosmic intellect, cosmic consciousness—whatever we may call it. This state of immersion of one's own being into the pervading presence of universal force is true liberation. In that condition, whether we exist in this body or do not exist in this body, it makes no difference. While we exist in the physical body even with this realisation, we may be called a jivanmukta purusha in the language of the scriptures. The mind is not concentrated on the body; it is concentrated on that to which this body belongs.

It is then said to be salvation where even this little appendage of the body born through past karma drops completely, and the pure existence, the soul as it is, merges into the Universal Soul. This is called moksha, for which sadhana is practised. We do not live in this world for any other purpose.

The consciousness of the aim of existence is a primary modification of any kind of spiritual aspiration. Routine activity, doing the same thing every day, chanting the same mantra without knowing its implications, and actually in practical life getting immersed in the oblivion of one's relationship with this universal force, is not sadhana. There must be an actual awakening to this great fact of one's vital relationship to the all-pervading power, the immersion of oneself with it, the communion of oneself with it, the self-identification of oneself with it, being it, and having an experience of only one existence. This is moksha, for which purpose we are striving. May God bless you!