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Swami Krishnananda in Conversation
by Swami Krishnananda
Compiled by S. Bhagyalakshmi

4. The Atman-Universal

Between the two spreading trees with festoons of a creeper in flower on one tree forming almost a stage backdrop under the chequered shade, the devotees and visitors await for the exciting morning darshan to start. Some choose to be in the sun and others the shade. A visitor asks about the path the Lord indicates for the evolution of man.

Swamiji: He tells you both: Nature drags you in the direction of objects, nobody can restrain the impulse of nature. But He also says that He takes man across the ocean of maya.

Those who turn to Him for succour, they alone can conquer maya. Prakriti, maya, desire, they all mean the same thing. If you turn to the original substratum of all things, then the pull of maya or prakriti gets mitigated gradually. Normally you cannot conquer nature, you cannot resist its impulses. According to the Bhagavad Gita, Chapter Three, there is a way to draw the senses into the mind, the mind into the intellect and the intellect into the Atman. The Lord says it is impossible to conquer desire and anger. Kama eshah krodha eshah rajo guna samudbhavah. When He says that, it looks as if there is no hope at all! But immediately after, He gives the remedy. There is a method; the senses have to be sublimated in the mind, the mind in the intellect, and the intellect in the Atman, the Atman in the Universal. Evam buddhe param budhva…

Desire ceases when you behold the Atman, and this beholding the Atman is called meditation. You have got both the impulses in you: the externalising as well as the internalising, the centrifugal and the centripetal. By abhyasa you can overcome externalising impulses. You are not impelled only by prakriti, you are also impelled by the Atman. So why do you not turn to the Atman? As no one can resist the urges of prakriti, in the very same way no one can resist the urges of the Atman. That also is there! And perhaps the Atman is more powerful than prakriti, eh?

According to the Bhagavad Gita, ordinarily it is not possible to swim against the current. But it is not totally impossible; under certain circumstances it is quite possible. Everything has a time factor. When the time comes, it becomes possible. You did not come to this place for so many years. Today you have come. What brought you here? Not your effort. If that were so, you could have come earlier also. There is something more than human effort in everything that happens. You came in 1950… why not in 1940?

Visitor: I came in 1953.

Swamiji: How is it that you come at certain times, and go only to certain places? These are all mysteries. It is not your effort. You did not come to this world by your wish, nor will you go from here by your wish. And you are not living by your wish. Something is controlling it all. There is something that gives you succour and power.

Visitor: Swamiji, what is it that the philosophers call “chance and necessity”?

Swamiji: There is no such thing. It does not exist. It is in the imagination of the crochet in the philosopher's mind. It is not chance and necessity. Everything is integral in the structure of the cosmos. Nothing happens by chance, by a freak or circumstance. There is no such thing as a miracle, it does not happen; everything is systematised. If the sun rises in the east you cannot call it a miracle taking place every day. It is a scientific phenomenon. Because you do not understand the causal factors controlling things, you think it is a miracle.

For example, would you call the flying of an aeroplane a miracle? A siddhi moving in the air! When you understand the scientific background of it, you know that there is no great miracle about it. It is based on the laws of nature. The law of nature has various levels of manifestation, and when you are at a lower level of manifestation and try to envisage or visualise a higher one, it looks to you a miracle. But when you reach that state it is no more a miracle, it is just a simple fact. It is surprising how a bicycle moves on just two wheels... it does not fall down.

Now, the cow must be wondering how we are walking with only two legs, “These people walk like sticks, without falling down.” It must be a miracle to the cow. So the cow should be convinced that we are great yogis on two legs! And you cannot walk like the cow with four legs. (Swamiji acts like a man walking on all fours while seated in the chair. There is laughter in which Swamiji joins.) So miracle is only the name for what you cannot understand. When you understand the secret of it, it becomes a normal thing, there is no miracle about it.

Visitor: What is the nature of freedom?

Swamiji: Freedom is an approximation of Reality. The more you approximate to the nature of the Self or the nature of the Ultimate Reality, the more free you are. Some people say self-determination is freedom. But then the question arises, what is self-determination? What do you mean by self-determination? When you go to the kitchen for your lunch, you are determined by your own self, nobody pushes you to go there. Now you can say “I am doing a free act.” But you are impelled by certain physiological urges and your psychological structure. You are urged by hunger and a desire to exist. The struggle for existence or the desire to exist is connected with the desire to appease hunger. If you do not appease hunger, you will not exist. You are motivated by a desire, and to subject oneself to desire cannot be called freedom. Just as you subject yourself to somebody's mandate, you subject yourself to some urge from inside. Even going to the kitchen for lunch is not a free act. You act under the urge of somebody.

So when we talk of self-determination, we are touching a very difficult subject. It is not the bodily self, nor the psychological self, nor the emotional self that we are speaking of—we are speaking of the Ultimate Self. When we are motivated by that Self, or rather when we are urged by God's presence itself, the impulsion is from God. In other words, the impulsion is from the Universal Self, which is not separate from yourself. Now we are acting in real freedom. The less we are bound by individuality, the greater is our freedom. Finitude is our bondage, and any tendency to outgrow finitude is a harbinger of freedom.

The question is: Is morality, our attitude of mind, determined by a social necessity or does it arise as an inherent aspect of spirituality? You have a feeling from within, apart from the awareness of the social convention, as to what is proper and what is not proper. You may live in a jungle, or in a far-off place among strangers. Yet you spontaneously assume a stance in a given situation. This is because of a prompting from within, the prompting of conscience. And if conscience is the voice of God, it is also the voice of spirituality. But the normal morality, as you practise it, is social, it is traditional, it is a kind of protocol—all conditioned by external circumstances.

There is a story in the Yoga Vasishtha. There was a king who was not born, and he had five children who were in the womb of the wife who also was not born, and he went hunting in the forest in the skies. He enjoyed the beautiful flowers that grew in space… Like that the story goes on and on. It builds up very interestingly. But actually there is nothing—no substance—on which it is built. Hollow like a balloon, a big bloated thing with nothing inside it. The world also is no different.

It is a long and absorbing story, but absolutely meaningless. There is no king who was not born and he cannot go hunting in the skies. But all the time it is like your listening to the exploits of the unborn king who himself is not there.

An ashramite: But we are waiting for a denouement which doesn't come.

Swamiji: It is a parable, a parable of creation. You say God created the world once upon a time and this came from that, and afterwards the other came from that and so on. Nothing has happened—nothing has come from anywhere. Everything is as it is. But the child wants to hear a story, so the mother tells a story, and here it is. At the end she says, “My dear child, this was a beautiful story. Now go to bed.” And the child goes to bed after hearing the story which is no story (laughs). It is called a Barmicide feast, to which all people were invited. They uncover the plates and nothing is found inside. A grand feast on empty plates! This is a joke that God is playing with us, if you can call it a joke (laughs).

Ashramite: What a serious joke!

Swamiji: Making you feel that something serious is taking place, when nothing is happening. (Laughs again.)

Another ashramite: Why don't we know that we are sleeping when we are sleeping, but know it only afterwards?

Swamiji: When you know that you are sleeping then it is called samadhi. It is like the sun shining outside a dark cave. Though the sun is shining, you can't know that it is shining.

Ashramite: So actually one can know one is sleeping?

Swamiji: But the desire should not be there. As long as desire exists in you, you cannot know that you are sleeping because desires prevent the consciousness from touching the Atman. It is projected outside. In the external impulse the mind is pulled outside with great force. Sleep comes from having desires—unfulfilled desires.

Ashramite: Not caused by the senses?

Swamiji: It is fatigue caused by the senses in search of objects for satisfaction. They are tired out and get exhausted and then they go to bed.

Ashramite: Why do they become conscious?

Swamiji: Because the karma sare not fulfilled. So the karmas germinate once again. It is like a thief getting exhausted, but not satisfied, so he goes to bed to get refreshed.

Ashramite: Swami Sivananda says desires never get old. Man gets older—not desires.

Swamiji: As you get older, the desires get younger (laughs). Trishna na jirna vayameva jirna,” is what Bhartruhari said. We become old, but not the desires in us. They are for ever fresh and young, and therefore they are the cause of our rebirth. If they also get old, they will not be able to cause rebirth.

Ashramite. Does it mean that people who sleep a lot have many more desires than those who sleep less?

Swamiji: Y-e-s. One reason is that which I have now given you. There are many more reasons… Sleeping less is poor sleep. Poor sleep is only a symptom. It is something like a person having temperature. The temperature can be for various reasons. Even so, not sleeping has various causes. Sometimes it is due to drugs.

Ashramite: People who do not take drugs also are sometimes very poor sleepers. I cannot sleep for more than two to three hours.

Drawing close to Swamiji a visitor had stated his problem of sleeplessness and allied problems in a confidential, low tone.

Swamiji: Does anyone else in your family have these problems?

Visitor: Yes, my father.

Swamiji: I see! Now you have told me a secret. Rest and reduction of intake of food will help you. Do not read any literature on this problem now. First give up all pills, and sleep as well as you can. Don't read before going to bed. You say you read till midnight. No, you should not do that.

Visitor: I cannot get sleep.

Swamiji: It does not matter. Go to bed by about 9 o'clock at night. Just lie down and rest even if you do not get sleep. No, don't go on one year's leave. It will do you harm. You have not trained yourself to keep your mind at rest. You do not know what to do with yourself. So take only one week's leave; that is enough. Keep working. Stop trying to find answers for useless questions like you have been trying to solve. Will the sky fall on my head? What will I do if the planets dash against each other or the sun burns up the earth, etc.? These have no answers. Even so your questions that you have been trying to solve have no answers. Don't bother about them. They have nothing to do with you. I will give you some medicine from the Sivananda Pharmacy—our Ashram's. Ask the Panditji in charge to tell you how to use it. Do you go to Delhi sometimes? Go and see an Ayurvedic Vaid there. I will give you the address of the Vaid, and you can tell him that “Swamiji has asked me to go to you”. He is good in the profession. He will help you. (After a long pause.) Have you been meeting any other sadhu?

Visitor: Yes, one. He told me to do japa.

Swamiji: And gave you a mantra?

Visitor: Yes, the mantra also.

Swamiji: Do you know it?

Visitor: Yes, I am a Brahmin and have been given it earlier also.

Swamiji: Good, very good. Japa is good. Gradually try to increase the japa by, say, ten malas at a time. Give a good interval after every increase; you may increase it at fifteen days interval or even only once every month. The mind should not be taxed or fatigued. It will rebel if forced against its will if you slowly make it work longer or harder.

(The lunch bell rings.)

Swamiji: Lunch bell? Oh! Today is ekadasi?

A foreign visitor: Why do you observe Ekadasi?

Swamiji: It is said that the mind has connection with the moon which influences it, and the movement of the moon is said to come to rest on the Anjna Chakra and, hence that time is best suited for mediation. So you fast to help the senses quieten and to bring them under more control to be able to take advantage of that fact. It is part of the effort for prayers and meditation and a harmonious environment.

Another visitor: Not any biological reasons?

Swamiji: Yes, there could be such as overeating; and one day of fast is good.