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The Brahma Sutra on the Final Salvation of the Soul
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 2: The Intention to be Born as an Individual

In our study of the Brahma Sutra we had occasion to go deep into the question of the involvement of every individual person in a cosmic process, so that every individual when studied properly may look like a world individual, not belonging to any particular community, village, house, nationality, and so on.

The very formation of this body is the dexterous activity of the stuff of the universe. The material of the universe, in certain proportions, blends itself to form the structure of this body, just as the same material used in building construction can be used for erecting different types of buildings. We bring bricks, mortar, cement, steel, and whatnot. With the same material, we can build a temple, a prison, residential quarters or a bathroom. We can build anything, notwithstanding the fact that the substance of these buildings is identical. Just because the substance is identical, we do not go to a police station to offer prayers; rather, we go to the temple. Why do we make this difference, when the building material is the same?

There is something in the individual other than the building bricks, which is the reason for the different categorisations of individuality, and the reason behind why one person does not look like another person. Not only one does not look like another, but one does not even think like another person. Even the mindset differs.

The study taken up in the Brahma Sutras in this context is based on a great scriptural section in the Chhandogya Upanishad which goes by the name of Panchagni Vidya, the knowledge of the five cosmic fires. Five cosmic fire principles, as it were, join hand in hand in some way to prepare for the birth of an individual in this world.

In the beginning, there is a need for the constitution itself providing for the birth of an individual. No activity is possible or justifiable if the central constitution does not provide for it, accept it, and regard it as justifiable. Then, when the centre ordains the possibility, the necessity and the justifiability of the occurring of an event or the embarking upon a particular activity, the work is taken up in gradual stages of descent.

The framer of the constitution does not build a house. It comes down gradually through the order of the state governments, the district authorities, the executives and the engineers; finally, it comes to the masons and the labourers. Thus is somewhat the methodology of the coming of an individual into this world.

The central ordinance is a vibration at the apex of the cosmos. It is difficult to understand what all this means. Our present state of existence here is conditioned by that state of being which was there prior to the occurrence of the Big Bang. You will be wondering what this means. Millions and millions of years have passed since the Big Bang occurred. Do we exist in the present condition?

Due to the nature of that which existed prior to this occurrence, we are not as we appear to our own eyes. We are living in a process of time here; therefore, when it is said that we are made of the same stuff as that which existed prior to the Big Bang, we are astounded how this is possible, because we are time-bound in our process of thinking. But this particular thing, which was prior to the occurrence of the Big Bang, is timeless. There was no time at that time. Therefore, there is a timelessness in our existence here. We are in time, but yet we have a timeless core in our being, because of which, we wish to defy the time process. We would like to overcome death itself by some means or the other. Death is the consequence of the involvement of people in the time process, and our dislike to even hear the word ‘death' and the desire to overcome it in some way or the other arises from the timeless element simultaneously operating in ourselves. We are, at the same time, I may say, both in eternity and in time. We are both alive and dead simultaneously, surprising though all this may look.

The Panchagni Vidya I mentioned – the process of the five fires described in the Chhandogya Upanishad – cannot be understood easily by reading the words of the text in Sanskrit because they are like code words. The code has an implied suggestiveness, like algebraic equations. By themselves, the meaning is not clear in the equation, but they can suggest a tremendous upheaval in the cosmos.   What does the Panchagni Vidya say? It says that the descent of an individual into the earth plane is occasioned by several factors. Firstly, the material for the formation of individuality is necessary. This material is plenty, so to say, because matter is the substance of the universe, and our body is also material in that sense. But, as I mentioned a few minutes before, the individuality, peculiarity, independence, isolatedness – the specifications of particular individuals, one not looking like the other in any manner whatsoever – requires an explanation, apart from the fact that there is the same common matter forming the stuff of the body.

This separateness of the individual, one from the other – no person is like another person in any way – this difference arises on account of an intention to be born, in the case of every individual. Unless we intend to be born, we cannot be born. So, this again requires an explanation: What is this intention?

The intention to be born arises on account of the original segregation of a particular stress in the cosmos from the total substance of the cosmos. Indescribable are all these things to a common mind. It is as if a bubble in the ocean segregates itself, isolates itself like a renegade, from its own mother, which is the vast ocean. Though physically such an isolation is not possible and the bubble in the ocean cannot physically isolate itself from the ocean, if we grant a mind to the bubble, it can conceptually isolate itself. Thus, the isolation of the individual from the Ultimate Being is not actual. If it is actual, we will never reach that ultimate state again. It is a conceptual difference. The thought decides to be separate, like a member in a parliament defecting and not belonging to a party, though originally he was to be there. The member of the parliament who isolates himself or herself does not physically do anything, but conceptually there is an isolation; this is what they call a defection: “I do not belong to you. “Now, physically, nothing is happening, but mentally, a great thing is happening.

A son is born to a father, and a great relationship is there between the son and the father. As it happens in modern times of distorted education, one day the son may assert himself and tell the father, “I do not belong to you anymore. I mind my business; you keep quiet. “This is conceptual isolation, though really, biologically, the isolation has not taken place. Because the genes and the very blood of the father are flowing through the veins of the son, he cannot say that he does not belong to the father; but, conceptually, he has isolated himself.

In a similar manner, this wondrous occurrence beyond any conception or understanding of the human being makes out that a particular stress or a point of pressure in cosmic ubiquity conceptually, in a cosmic manner, isolated itself and asserted its individuality. This is what they call the fall of human beings.

In the bible we have a similar story. Lucifer asserted independence and told God, “I have nothing to do with you. I am what I am, independently. “Headlong, Lucifer fell. The fall is headlong; it is an upside-down falling. It is not a straight coming, but a topsy-turvy descent. When this isolation takes place, a very tragic experience also follows from it. What is the tragic fall? The consciousness of the isolation of the part from the whole engenders intense fear in the individual. There is sudden insecurity yawning from all sides. Death is everywhere, which never showed its head as long as the part was organically related to the whole.

Fear – what is the fear? “I am alone; I have nothing around to guard me and protect me. I am finite, and there are many other finites around me. “Suddenly, there is an appetitive eagerness to sustain this individuality by intense hunger for grabbing food to eat through the different sense organs. The eyes crave to see colours and shapes, the ears crave to hear sounds, the nose craves to smell fragrance, the tongue craves to taste deliciousness, and the skin, the tactile sense, craves to touch soft objects.

These cravings arise on account of a desperate attempt on the part of the fallen individual to survive somehow or the other – to rule in hell rather than serve in heaven, as the poet tells us. We want to survive here somehow or other, by any method whatsoever. Let it be hell, but let us be rulers in hell, not servants in heaven. This is what has happened to us.

The intention to which I made reference is the desire to assert oneself as an independent entity on account of the erstwhile segregation of oneself from the whole universe, the Cosmic Being. Since an individual isolated from the sustaining original whole cannot even exist, cannot survive, there is scrambling on the part of the individual to create circumstances artificially, and prepare a kingdom for itself where it can be a ruler, and have everything that it can have. This scrambling takes place in the form of desires of the mind and the sense organs; as one has lost everything, now one has a desire to get and absorb everything into oneself.

But this ‘everything’ does not mean the whole from which one has been isolated. It is a desire to grab what the sense organs can cognise. The whole to which the individual belonged is out of sight now, and it cannot even be thought by the mind. No individual can conceive the whole because the individuality precludes such an attempt. But unless a kind of artificial wholeness is created in our life, we cannot exist for three minutes in this world. So, we create an artificial wholeness and satisfaction, a kingdom of our own, by trying to sensorially grasp objects, which include persons and also things of different natures.

Now, here is a great mistake that the sense organs commit. We cannot grab another finite and make it our own, because as this particular finite, which is in a sorrowful condition, wishes to maintain its identity of finitude, other finitudes also assert themselves in a similar manner. You cannot become my servant under any circumstances, even if I try to do whatever is possible to convert you into my slave. No individual will be ready to do that because whatever is the intention of a particular finite is also the intention of other finites. So there is no such thing as ruling the world. There is no king anywhere. The king is a foolish individual. He is foolish because he thinks that others are under his control. They cannot come under his control because they are totally independent.

Every individual is a finite centre of isolated egoism and self-complacency, which defies interference from any other finitude. Thus, the birth takes place. It passes through different stages of coming. The central operation of the cosmic intention to isolate oneself from the whole enters space, then it enters air, then it enters fire, then it enters the water principle, and then the physical earth.    The tragedy of birth as a human individual is now complete, with all its accessories of dissipated combination of particulars, contributed by the five elements. Now we are here, as this person, this man, this woman, this individual, this child, this so-and-so. You can understand why we are perpetually unhappy, always anxious.

We are born. The intention, to which I made reference, is the force behind the nature of the life that we are going to live in this world. The intention of individuality is to be born in a particular way, live a particular kind of life, enjoy particular experiences, possess certain things only, and not other things. Every desire differs from every other desire. What you want is not the same as what another person wants. Due to this reason, the length of life of people differs. All people do not live the same length of life, all people do not pass through the same kind of experiences in life, and all people are not born in the same place. The location of one’s birth, the circumstances under which one is born, the conditions deciding the experiences, and also the length of life – all these are decided by the nature of the intention of this pressure point of individuality, prior to the very beginning of this constitutional ordinance.

This pressure, this force, this intention, this desire to live a particular form of life makes us what we are. But since no desire can be eternal, its pressure also cannot be perpetual; it exhausts itself. One day this pressure, this intention, this desire to be born in a particular circumstance gets exhausted. This is what they call the end of karma. Karma is a psychological need felt to experience certain things, and to manifest itself in action through the sense organs. When the force or the momentum of desire exhausts itself, the intention withdraws itself from the body, and death takes place.

But the intention to be an individual is a very tricky inexplicable mystery, not easily explainable. It does not mean that the intention is satisfied merely by being born into one particular body, and is over by the extinction of the momentum of that desire and the death of the body. It is not so. Let the body go, but the desire continues.

This particular body, this embodiment, did give some satisfaction for the sake of the fulfilment of certain aspects of desire behind this intention, but there are other desires connected with the intention. They cannot be fulfilled by this body, so the body is cast off, and this intention persists, and then it takes rebirth. What is rebirth? It is the materialisation of the very same individuality in another shape for the purpose of continuing the experience in some other realm of being.

As long as our desire to exist as an individual continues, birth and death cannot stop. Millions of years may pass, but there will be no satisfaction because satisfaction is only in the whole to which everyone belongs, but the whole has been cut off and only the part remains. A paralytic stroke, as it were, has occurred in the cosmical operation, and an individual is hanging lifelessly, like a lifeless hand hanging due to a stroke.

Individuals are partly like dead bodies, and there is no real life in the individual's insistence on existing like that. The joys of life are forms of misery only. They look like joys because we want to pass through the experiences. Even a misery may look like a joy under certain conditions, when it is our intention to pass through that misery.

Suppose you have won a lottery. Suddenly a telegram comes: Today evening you must come to Haridwar; there, the amount will be paid to you. But it so happens there is a strike of all vehicles. You cannot go. In the hot sun you will walk from this place to Haridwar. Who will walk in the hot sun? You will get sunstroke. It is a misery, but the misery becomes a joy because there is another tag behind it, which is well known to you. “Even if I pass through the experience of sunstroke in the heat of walking from Rishikesh to Haridwar, finally I will get something which is wonderful. “So misery gets converted into joy, due to a foolish admixture of conditions. This is the case with every experience in life.

A short life is permitted because of the shortness of the pressure of the intention to be born. Nobody can live for eternity; thus, birth and death go on taking place. At the time of the passing, when death takes place, the physical body is separated, but the subtle body of intention, which is called the sukshma sarira, continues. The psychological intention cannot die; only the physical body is shed. That intention condenses itself into a new form in a given circumstance, and merges into embodiment through another set of parents, who alone can be responsible to bring about this kind of body under the given circumstance.

Once the birth takes place the second time, nobody will know what is the reason behind it. None of us can know why we are born to certain parents, and not to somebody else. We do not bother about it; somehow we are born – why worry? This has happened umpteen times. When the death of the individual takes place, when the body is shed, the subtle body requires material to manifest itself as a gross body for further experience. So, what does it do? Like a magnet pulling iron filings, the subtle body, acting like a magnet, pulls subtle particles of matter known as tanmatras – the earth, water, fire and air particles and the space necessary for it – and embodies itself in a new form. The five elements persist and they will not leave us wherever we go, like creditors. Even if we go to Timbuktu, the creditor is behind us: “Where is my belonging? Pay it.”

We are slaves of the five elements. They formed the individuality; then the individuality was kicked out because of the inadequacy of that form. Now, once again, we have to beg the cooperation of the very same individuals, like a person who is perpetually in debt. He borrows, and with great difficulty pays it back. Afterwards, in utter penury, once again, shamelessly, he goes to the very same creditor: “Give me more.” There are people who live in debt forever. No peace of mind is possible. It is only a life of borrowing. Such a thing also is possible. This is our condition.

So, perpetually, this series of incarnations takes place, whereby the elements segregate themselves, dismantle their structure, like the breaking down of a house, and with the same material, build another house. This is rebirth.

The five elements are always with us. They will never leave us; they cling to us like glue, or much more than that, because we ourselves are the elements. The only thing is that we do not feel what is happening to us. This is samsara; this is the bondage of the soul. Do you want freedom, or do you want to be a perpetual servant of the five elements and have creditors for ever and ever? Are you going to be a beggar eternally, and have no self-respect? Such a kind of life, who would like to have? We require salvation, finally.

The salvation of the individual is the subject of that portion of the Brahma Sutras which we are studying. From this malady of involved tragedy is our birth in this world. It is not merely birth that is painful. Life also is painful; because the cause is painful, the effect also is painful, and the end result also is painful. The entire thing is pain. For any person who has proper sharp understanding, there will not be an iota of joy anywhere.

But because of misconception, not seeing things properly, one tries to lie down in the cool shade, and even if that cool shade comes from the hood of a cobra, it does not matter. Let the cobra be there; the shade is cool. Is it a great wisdom to lie under the cool shade of a hooded cobra, which can teach you a good lesson? The world is not your friend, because you are not its friend. You are a renegade; you have kicked it out and it is now trying to kick you out, tit for tat.

A cosmic upheaval, a kind of revolutionary process, may have to take place in order to refurbish ourselves and prepare us for this arduous struggle to make ourselves ready for reuniting with the whole, which we have lost. We have to go back like the prodigal son, and the good Father will receive us. You have wasted your life, disobeyed your Father, misused all the benefits given to you, led a reckless life, suffered a lot. Grieving, repenting, you go back to the Father, and He will embrace you. The Father – the Great Being Whom you have forgotten – is very kind. Kicking It out, you have asserted your independence; yet, you may be sure, It is not angry with you, because the Whole can never get angry with the part. The part is a fool; therefore, it can pass through any kind of psychological upheaval. But there is no such thing as upheaval in the cosmos. It is a stable equilibrium of perfection. Perfection never gets angry with anybody. It is ready to receive anybody. Whatever be the tantrums that you have manifested in your life, even the most abominable behaviour, it will be accepted by the Father in heaven, provided you repent, turn your tables round, and instead of working with head down and legs up in a topsy-turvy manner, stand straight and look at things properly, as they are, and then concentrate your whole being on those conditions necessary to make you united with the whole.

This is what is called yoga practice. This is called meditation, devotion, worship, by whatever name. But it is an arduous process. A person who has been accustomed to thinking wrongly, right from the beginning of life, will find it difficult to think correctly, though instructed properly. A good mentor, a corrective agent, a very experienced teacher – kind-hearted, tolerant, and highly experienced – is necessary to tolerate all the pranks of the distorted individuality and set that person right.

In this method, in the beginning of the vertical ascent of the soul towards the salvation in the Absolute Supreme Being, many conditions are laid down. We have to pass through a disciplinary process of gradual discipline which is, first of all, the conserving of the energy that is depleted daily by sense activity, and centring this energy, which otherwise goes out in the direction of objects, in the source thereof. Our energy should be in us; it should not be elsewhere.

When we cling to an object of desire, the energy moves in the direction of that object, and to the extent of the intensity of the desire for that particular object, to that extent, in that quantum, the energy moves from this person, and the individual becomes weaker. We are not merely losing some energy in an ordinary sense; a part of our existence itself goes out. We become less in the percentage of our being. Whoever loves an object outside is a loser of one's own self. We cannot love a thing unless we lose ourselves first. Loss of self is the precondition of love of objects. Who would like to lose oneself?

“Give me yourself; I shall give you all the kingdom. “This is what someone told Dr. Faust in the great drama of Goethe, which is interesting to read: “All the glory of this earth and heaven is laid down before you. I shall give you such a wonderful, astounding presentation of the glory of earth and heaven before you. Give me something in return.”

Dr. Faust thought, “What shall I give you?”

“You have got something in yourself. Give me yourself. Such a small thing, can you not do that? You are a small thing. I will give you a big thing.”

Dr. Faust thought over it. “Very good. What is there in this little thing? Let it go. Such a large empire of glory is before me.”

The tempting one said, “Take it, and give me yourself. Take it!”

Immediately a thunder broke out, as it were. The earth cracked. Dr. Faust felt that he shattered into pieces, and he was not existing anymore. It was all chaos and a thunderstorm. Nobody can explain what it would be to shatter one's own self, piecemeal, and to reduce oneself to a vacuous nothing. This has happened. This is the fate of every individual.

This is not a story for the sake of entertainment. Whoever is after this world of joys, whoever clings to objects of sense, broods over them in the form of money, authority, anything, loses oneself every day, and goes back old, haggard, and will leave this world like a nobody: “Nobody wants me; I am going.” Why do you want to go in that condition?

Hence, preparation for the ultimate salvation of oneself depends largely upon the discipline that we have to practise in the form of sense control. Sense control does not mean closing the eyes, plugging the ears, not eating food and not sleeping. These kinds of external rituals are not going to give us much benefit. The mind has to accept this process. The mind should feel convinced: “It is not necessary for me to engage myself in sensory activity. By the very act of deep concentration, I can obtain everything that I want. Thought can contact Reality.”

With this conviction, with this determination, like a Buddha who sat under a tree, you sit for meditation every day, and you will find all your sins will be destroyed. Even if there is a huge mountain of sins committed through various lives, to destroy it will take one minute only. The deep darkness of the night, which looks so long and impenetrable, can be dispelled in one second when the sun rises. Mountains of straw can be reduced to ashes by one matchstick. Jñānāgniḥ sarva-karmāṇi bhasma-sāt kurute tathā (B.G. 4.37): This wisdom of one's identity with the Absolute is like a fire that can burn heaps of sins in one second. With this joy of the possibility of a great attainment, engage yourself in sadhana, practice, the details of which will be touched upon little by little by these Brahma Sutras which we are going to study.