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

Chapter 5: The Stages of the Ascent of Consciousness

The Brahma Sutra is a guide to the salvation of the soul. It is not a book which will entertain you, tickle your imagination, or give you a temporary touch of satisfaction of an empirical type. What I speak is of a different touch altogether.

In our study of the Brahma Sutra, we have encountered various propositions, which we have to face openly and solve completely. The Brahma Sutra is a large guidebook, like an encyclopaedia. It brings forward various difficulties which we may have to face on the path of the ascent of the spirit from the lower stages to the higher stages.

The problems mainly will take the shape of doubts in the mind. These doubts also are mentioned in the Brahma Sutra – what the types of doubt are that we may have to face. There were people who felt that the universe itself is God and there is no necessity for a God outside the universe. On the grounds that a God who is outside the universe will not have any vital connection with the universe, people who live in the universe cannot reach God because it is already established by this doctrine that God is above, outside the universe.

But there were others who felt that God has to be above the universe. He cannot be merged in the universe, because the universe is a created stuff. The creator cannot be inside the object that he created. The creator is always independent of the created object, because anything that is created is subject to modification. Created objects are composite structures; they are not indivisible existences.

If there is no creator above the universe, and we consider that the world, the universe itself, is self-sufficient and self-existent, we will not be able to explain the evolutionary process that is going on in the universe, the tendency of fluxation of the parts of the universe, the perishability of things, the destructibility of everything in the world, and the passing away of everything that is created. Therefore, there must be some point towards which the evolutionary process is moving, and that point has necessarily to be transcendent. The evolution cannot move in the direction of itself; it always moves in the direction of a transcendent ideal beyond itself. Therefore, God has to be transcendent. He must be above the world. But if He is totally above the world, there will be no connection between the world and God; therefore, He has to be also immanent. God is within the world, and yet not within the world.

I mentioned last time how this situation is to be understood by citing the instance of dream and waking. All that we perceive in the dream world is a manifestation of the contents of the waking mind, but the waking mind remains transcendent during the dream experience and does not involve itself in the processes of dream perception. That is to say, when we are dreaming, we will never know that there is such a thing called waking. The transcendent is apparently cut off from the immanent, which is the dream world. This is the reason why people like us, who are involved in the immanence of the created world, cannot conceive of something that is above the world. It just does not exist for us, notwithstanding the fact that without the presence of that transcendent reality, the immanence of experience in the dream world would not be possible. All the inner components of the waking mind are externalised, spatialised, temporalised, and thus experienced in the dream world. That which was in the waking mind as an integrated self-identical experience alienates itself, as it were, into a false concept or imagination of a world of space and time and objects with causation attached. The whole world, so vast like infinite expanse in the dream world, is contained in the waking mind.

But for the immanence of the substance of the waking mind in the dream world, the dream world would not have been practicable. It is an entry of the substance of the waking mind into the substance of the dream world that makes dream possible; yet, it transcends the dream world. This is the reason why when we wake up from dream to the waking condition, we feel that we are in a different world altogether, and the loss of all the world of possession in the dream world while we are awake does not affect us anymore.

You might have been a king with a vast kingdom as your possession in the dream world. When you wake up, you may find that you are a beggar. Do you not feel that this beggar consciousness in waking is better than the king consciousness in dream? The quantitatively considered valuation of the dream world would make it superior to the beggar experience of the waking mind. Why should you wake up and be a beggar on the streets? Why should you not be dreaming and be an emperor always?

Strangely, for some reason that you yourself understand, you would not like to continue dreaming as an emperor. You would like to be a beggar in the waking condition, because quality surpasses quantity. The quantity of the expanse of the kingdom of dream is surpassed by the quality of the waking consciousness. That is why even if we are poor people in the waking condition, we feel it is better to be awake, rather than be in the dream world of an emperor.

Such is the analogy that we can have before us to understand the relationship between the world of creation and the transcendent creator – by an analysis of which, the doubt that is in your mind regarding what will happen to you when you attain God will be removed automatically. What will happen to you when you reach God? Will you really lose all the wealth of the world? You will finally, perhaps subtly, feel: “Yes, it is true. All the glory, all the value, all the richness, all the beauty and grandeur and magnificence of this world is wiped out in one second, and I will reach God as a non-entity.”

Now, are you justified in thinking like this? Then, you will also be justified in concluding that it is better to be dreaming as a king rather than to wake up as a beggar. The value of consciousness is to be appreciated. The value of anything does not depend upon the quantity or the externalised form that it assumes. The externality of an object diminishes its value, and its union with the perceiving consciousness increases its value, such that when the objects of the world are involved in the very perceiving consciousness, they become universal existences. This is a little hard to conceive. An object of sense perception, which is totally outside you, will become a universal inclusiveness, if the object enters into the very perceiving consciousness, so that there would be no perceiver in the world. It would be a self-identical experience of the object. When the object enters into the experiencing consciousness, there is an enhancement of the dimension of consciousness, because what you considered as a desirable thing in the form of an object outside has entered into you automatically.

So, the desirable thing is not only in you, it is you. If this transformation is possible in regard to the entire created universe, the whole world of objectivity entering into the consciousness of experience will be tantamount to a sudden burst of universal integration, which means the awareness of this situation is identical with the awareness of a totality of existence. You will never want anything afterwards, because there will be no ‘you' at that time. The person who wants will not be there, nor the thing which is wanted. They coalesce and become one mass of experience. The Brahma Sutra takes up all these questions.

In the light of these difficulties even in understanding what is going to happen to you in the future, the Brahma Sutra has chalked out for your easy understanding the various stages of the ascent of consciousness. When a person passes away, the body is shed. What happens to that person? The person does not dissolve into the Universal, because death of the body does not mean death of individuality. Death of the body is not death of the desire to continue to be anything you want. The desire to be an isolated person does not cease merely because the body is shed. The affirmation of self-being is not an act of the body. The body does not think. The self-affirmation of one's own individuality is not an act of the physical body; though it may appear that the body is inseparable from your way of thinking, they are two different things.

The self-affirmative principle continues to exist even after the shedding of the physical body. What gets transmigrated into a new realm of experience after the shedding of the body is the self-affirming principle, the “I-am-ness” of the individual. It is the desire to be “me”, this particular so-called individual of this nature, this capacity, with these bundles of desires, that takes another shape by drawing into itself potentials of the physical elements earth, water, fire, air and ether, in their subtlety known as tanmatras. Fine electromagnetic forces, as it were, are these subtle potentials of the five elements earth, water, fire, air and ether. They are drawn into oneself, as a magnet pulls iron filings.

So when a particular body, which was the instrument of the satisfaction of the sense organs for a period of time, is shed because of its non-utility, a new body is assumed. A person can be reborn. Where that person is reborn will depend upon what he has been thinking in his life. If you have a desire to come back to this world and live in the same house where you passed away, you may be reborn in the very same family as a little child of the remaining members of the family, with no one knowing what has actually happened. Such attachments can bring about birth in the very same family.

But if the desires are not of that nature, they are general desires just to enjoy life, then this self-identical individual principle will gravitate towards that area of existence where it is possible to manifest its desires and experience them. It will be born in some other realm, under some other circumstance, with a different set of parents, all quite different from the earlier ones. The subsequent experience will completely wipe out the earlier experience, so that today we do not know what we were in the previous birth. We think that we have suddenly dropped into the world, but it is not so. We have not suddenly come into the world from nowhere. There is a long, long chain of developmental process after the coming down of the individual, as I have mentioned previously. In a similar manner, there is a long developmental process after the passing of this body.

It is possible to take birth on the earth plane, if the desire is such, but if you have performed good deeds, charitable acts, and you have been a philanthropic, good-natured, charitable person, these karma-phala, the reactions set up by the good deeds that you performed, will mature and congeal into an experience of great satisfaction in a realm where you will receive what you have given. You may receive more than what you have given.

All the joys, satisfactions and comforts that you are enjoying in this world now should be considered as a reward that you are receiving for the good deeds that you performed in the previous life. Unnecessarily, nobody can enjoy; unnecessarily, nobody can suffer. There is some background for both, though you cannot remember the background of these experiences. There is perfect justice operating in the cosmos. It is precise, mathematically complete, and no mistake is committed anywhere. You get what you want; that is all. It is, therefore, first of all necessary to decide in our own selves what it is that we want.

The Brahma Sutra – I am repeating something which you might have forgotten now – tells us that good deeds take a person to the higher regions of joy, called the lunar regions in the Brahma Sutra, and when the potentiality of the good deeds that you performed gets exhausted, you come back to this world, and you are once again to experience the earthly life because the rewards have been already enjoyed in some other realm, and now you have reverted to the earlier condition because of the momentum of the good deeds getting exhausted by experience.

This is also part of samsara. This is also a bondage. Having a good life, a prosperous life, does not mean that you are free from samsara, because this is also a reaction to karma. Both good deeds and bad deeds bind you, in different ways. You can be bound by an iron chain or a diamond chain but it makes no difference because still you are bound.

But – I am repeating now what I told you last time – if your mind is not hankering after the externalised objects of the world, but is intent upon meditation of a cosmic total, called the Creator of the universe, God, and you do upasana on that Being, wonderful things are told about you in that condition. The entire world assumes life at that time. The entire creation wakes up to consciousness and receives you. The directions open up their treasure before you. The quarters of heaven open their eyes and see you. Now you feel that they are all dead to you. What does it matter what happens to the horizon? The horizon will wake up. The rays of the sun will start looking at you and invite you.

The Brahma Sutra, in this context, tells us that such a person who has been continuously meditating on the Cosmic Being will be received by the rays of the sun, which will act as vehicles for the ascent of the soul. You can imagine how subtle the soul has to be in order to ascend to the solar orb through the rays of the sun. You have to become as light as light itself. The physical embodiment goes; even the individual affirmation of personality is shed completely. You become very ethereal – so rarefied, so light, so buoyant that the rays of the sun will lift you up.

In the picturesque description of the Upanishads, which is very delightful even to read, we hear that the representative of the Creator, which is the solar orb in front of us, will receive you, purify you, burnish you, make you as brilliant as himself, and push you up to the higher realms.

Fourteen stages of ascent are mentioned. I will not repeat them once again now, because I mentioned them earlier. This kind of ascent to the Ultimate Being through various stages of progress is called krama-mukti, or gradual salvation. It will take a lot of time to reach that stage because there is still space and time consciousness, and the world does exist, and the transcendent concept of God continues, which is the reason why the idea of ascent arises in the mind. But if the transcendent is also immanent, as I mentioned, the question of ascent does not arise because that which is above, towards which you have to move, is also in the very spot where you are sitting, so there is no ascent.

How would you contact a thing which is everywhere? How would you move towards a thing which is in all places? You can move towards anything which is a little away from you, in some direction. It may be God; it may be anything. That thing which I am aiming at is in this direction, so I am moving. But this thing here, which you are aiming at, is all-encompassing. How would you contact a thing which is all-encompassing? In which direction are you going to move? There is no direction at that time, because directions are swallowed up by the everywhereness of this mighty Being.

There is another interesting thing here. You yourself will have no place to exist. If that which you are aiming at is everywhere, it is also everything. It is not merely everywhereness; it is everything. If it is everything, it is yourself also, so you cannot be there to experience that universality. Now here is a shock to the philosopher, and even to the mystic: “Oh, I am not going to be there.” This is the last bullet that the traitor, called doubt, will shoot at you. The last shock will be this only: “Am I not going to be there at all? All this effort of mine is ending after all in that experience which is no experience at all. I will be wiped out completely.”

“I will give you salvation by making you non-existent.” If anybody says that, how will you swallow it? This is a negative interpretation of what is actually going to take place. You are not going to be non-existent.

The abolition of your constricted finitude does not amount to self-destruction. It is the elimination of the restricting factors of your being that is going to be swallowed up by the universality of the ideal. The eternal that is in you will rise up to experience; the temporal in you will vanish. The temporal is that which is confining you to the finitude of your individuality, due to the interference of space and time. That finitude consciousness will be eliminated. You will experience – you cannot use the word ‘you' there. Language is very poor. There is no ‘you', no ‘I', no ‘it', no ‘this', no ‘that'. Language is very poor. No word is suitable for that purpose. Who attains what?

I mentioned to you last time that great purification of mind is necessary. You should not jump into this experience or want it immediately unless you are prepared for it; otherwise, you will get a shock. That shock can be dangerous sometimes, because an unprepared mind which is not fit to receive this great treasure of the universe should not seek it.

I have given you some indication as to what these preparations are: purification of the mind, self-restraint, self-contentment, abandonment of hatred, desire, prejudice, etc., and feeling happy when you are alone to yourself, not wanting any company outside. The very idea of ‘outside' will be abominable to you. You are fully satisfied in yourself. ‘Yourself' means not this ‘Mr.' and ‘Mrs.'. It is not this kind of ‘yourself'. It is the potential of eternity that is masquerading through the temporality of your being. It is difficult to understand. If this takes place, there will be no ascent of the soul. You will simply dissolve into the Absolute.

How much time does it take? The idea of time vanishes there. There is no time and space; therefore, you should not ask how much time it takes. It does not take time. Because there is no movement in the direction of space, there is no time, also. It is an indescribable experience of eternity. Such kind of salvation is called sadyo-mukti, immediate salvation, a thing that comes to you not tomorrow, not even today, but just now, minus the time element involved in the concept of now.

How would you make yourself fit for this experience? Your mind has to think in terms of that which you are aspiring for. You have to be a friend of that which you are wanting. Can you become a friend of God? Just imagine. You are getting a shiver in your personality when such things are told to you: A friend of God? Who can be? This is because we are so very poor, in such a degraded condition of self-conscious finitude, that even the very thought of God is frightening. Nobody is pleased by hearing His name. We never can fully accept that God is beauty, love, and a parent. In religious parlance, we generally consider God as a judge, a judicial supremacy, Who can reprimand us and pass a sentence for or against us. God is not just a judiciary, though He is that, also. He is a grand, magnificent, beautiful experience. All the beauties of the world are little drops of that beauty. All the honey that you taste in this world are drops of that honey. All the great authority, power, and joy that you can conceive in this world are drops of that great, wonderful Being. “It is the joys of all the whole world put together,” says Sage Yajnavalkya in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. Just imagine how much joy is there in the whole universe. Collect it all together, millions and millions and millions of drops of joy. Bring them all together. If they are all joined together and become one amalgam, that will be one tiny drop of that wonderful bliss. It is not even a spoonful of it. It is below that.

This enthusiasm that such a thing is possible will purify your mind. Your wanting it is your qualification, but when you want it, you must know what exactly it is that you want. Do not ask for tinsels. Here you are warned once again to be always under the protection and guidance of a competent teacher. Do not tread the path of a razor by yourself. It is a wonderful thing, but a difficult thing.

The path to the Absolute is like the path of the razor's edge. It can cut you this way or that way. It is so subtle. This path is sometimes compared to the track of birds in the sky. You cannot see the track. The track is invisible, but the birds have their own tracks. Or, the track of fish in water – you cannot know where the track is. So is the nature of the track of this great soul that is aspiring for unity with God. Moksha is not your attaining anything; it is God being conscious of Himself.

We were just now mentioning that we must learn meditation. Only God can meditate, and nobody else can. The contemplation of God on Himself is this universe. The whole world is His beautiful meditation. For that purpose, the mind has to be purified in the direction of that kind of thought which is thought thinking itself – not thought thinking an object outside. When you reach that state, there will be no coming back to mortal existence afterwards.

Mortality and immortality are contradictions. The immortal can never become the mortal. Here is the difference between the comparison that we had in connection with waking and dream. A person who has woken up from dream can once again dream, but here it is not like that. You will never dream a second time. The Bhagavad Gita says, “Having reached it, you will not come back to this mortal experience.”

Here is another doubt. We are full of doubts; as if we have no other work, we go on creating doubts: “If I have come once, why should I not come a second time?” The whole point is that you have not come even once. This is another difficulty for you: “Is it so that I have not come at all, because creation has not taken place?” If creation has really taken place, and it is there as a hard object in front of you, it will never allow you to go to God. It is an obstacle permanently. If today you can reach God, you have to melt down the whole universe in one second. This cannot be done if the universe really exists. It is a phantasmagoria that is presented before you, a fact that you have to understand by proper analysis.

You cannot cut through a thing which is already there as a hard object. If the world has been really created, the Creator will go on continuing creation, and you will never be able to cross the creation, because you are involved in the creation. A person who is involved in the creative process cannot reach that which is above the creation, so moksha is not possible. But if it is possible, then you must find out why this obstacle seems to be in front of you. The obstacle is mental. It is purely conceptual. It is a difficulty of the mind to conceive, as there is a quandary presented by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant. There is a thing called noumenon; whether it is there or it is not there, you cannot say anything about it. If it is not there, then why do you talk about it? If it is there, you must be able to contact it. Here was also a quandary of the same type. All this arises on account of not having served a master, or a teacher. Go and prostrate yourself before great beings. Who are the great beings? Perhaps you think that you will never find them in this world.

Whoever has inspired you, among the thousands of people whom you have contacted, if one person has inspired you as better than anyone else, for the time being you can consider that person as your guide, until you find a better one. Here you have to rise gradually. There are people who know things more than you. It is not that the world is empty of such people. You require a guide; otherwise, you will come a cropper. In the middle you will find a difficulty, and not only a difficulty; you will have troubles of a psychological nature – pain in the body, pain in the head, pain in the neck, and so on.

Self-purification is the first thing that you have to attend to. Purge yourself of all the dross of longings which are of a perishable nature. Cling not to anything, and trust in that which you are really aiming at. Half-hearted longing for that will not do any real good. If you half-heartedly want salvation, there is no question of its manifesting itself before you. If your whole-hearted longing arises as mumukshutva, like dharma-megha samadhi mentioned in the sutra of Patanjali, you will find there a shower, a rain of virtue falling on you, and a resplendent world opening up before you when the mind is prepared for it.

Therefore, be a good person. First of all, try to be a good person – a really good person. There are varieties of people in the world, varieties of human beings. Even a cannibal is a human being, but it is not a perfected human being. Beyond the cannibal, there is a better human being who is intensely selfish, minding his own business and not caring for anybody else. That person is not a cannibal; he will not eat you, but he is so much self-centred that he will not bother about anybody else. Higher than that is a person who is not so much self-centred, but considers the existence of other people also to the extent the existence of other people is contributory to the welfare of one's own self. That is a give-and-take, commercial attitude of people with others. Then comes the really good person: “Under any circumstance, I shall not harm anybody.” Beyond the good person is the saintly person. Beyond the saintly person is the godly person. Beyond the godly person is God Himself.

So, where are we? Each one should assess one's own level in this process of evolution. Are we cannibals, greedy people, tit for tat, violent, or what kind of persons are we? When we are rubbed the wrong way, we will know what we are; but we always are careful to see that such a thing does not take place. We have to assume the possibility that any kind of difficulty may arise in our path. Difficult is this path, but if we persist in it for a protracted period, it will mature.

In the Bhagavad Gita there is a very consoling passage: “Even a modicum of effort that you put forth in the direction of this achievement will free you from great sorrow of life.” Personally, I like this proclamation of the Gita. Even a tiny dot, a modicum, an insignificant little bit of effort that you put forth in the direction of this great achievement will free you from great sorrow of life. What a great proclamation! Thus, a little consideration, a little step that you have taken, a little inkling of your wanting it, will redound upon you, like a flood coming upon you, as a saving factor.