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

6. Poonthanam's Vaikuntha

Another day of sunshine. There are birds chirping and monkeys frisking around on the trees. Visitors, seekers of truth and Ashram inmates are gathered around Swami Krishnananda's feet. It is a small crowd of about ten to fifteen, all ready to laugh, listen and question. Swamiji is in a humorous mood. An atmosphere of joviality pervades.

Swamiji: Poonthanam, the Kerala Krishna bhakta, describes creation in such great detail as if he was himself helping God with creation.

An ashramite: He describes creation with great imagination.

Swamiji: Yes. Imagination. He says golden paddy grows in Vaikuntha. Not the kind of paddy that grows on Earth. Golden paddy. So in Vaikuntha people eat gold rice.

Ashramite: The story of Poonthanam's life says that he could not visualise Vaikuntha. Then once he had a dream of Vaikuntha, and he saw gold rice. He wrote the famous Jnanappaana after he lost the child that God blessed him with in answer to his prayer. And Poonthanam took his Jnanappaana to Narayana Bhattathiri, the author of Narayaneeyam, to seek his help in composing a particular stanza in Jnanappaana. But Narayana Bhattathiri disregarded him and dismissed him with derision. Krishna appeared in a dream to Narayana Bhattathiri that very night and said: “Poonthanam's bhakti is dearer to me than your vibhakti.” Poonthanam's Jnanappaana became very famous, and it is so even now.

Swamiji: Yes. Narayana Bhattathiri was a Sanskrit scholar and Poonthanam's poem was composed in simple Malyalam. The story has it that Narayana Bhattathiri's devotion to God, his erudite emotionalism, could not tolerate the mere Malyalam language. Then he saw God in a dream. “My dear friend,” said God, “Poonthanam's devotion, his bhakti, is greater than your vibhakti. His devotion is higher than your understanding of Sanskrit.” Poor Bhattathiri was contrite, and asked Poonthanam for the Jnanappaana. But Poonthanam, in the meanwhile, convinced that Jnanappaana, as it met with Bhattatiree's disapproval, must be useless, had thrown it into the temple tank. Bhattathiri then himself went into the tank and retrieved the book. Poonthanam was said to have been bodily taken to Vaikuntha.

Ashramite: Yes, correct. He went to Vaikuntha with his physical body.

Swamiji: He had a vision of Lord Krishna; he fed Him with fruits and many other things. Earlier he had told his wife, “God is coming tomorrow, Narayana is coming, Krishna is coming. Please prepare lunch. The poor wife thought her husband had gone crazy.

(The whole anecdote was related in a monoact)

Then she wept. She said to herself “My husband is going off his head. Till yesterday he was all right. Why is he talking like this now?” Next morning Poonthanam started sweeping and cleaning, sprinkling water to purify the atmosphere, and made all such preparations in all earnestness. He spread the leaf, placed the seat, kept the lota of drinking water, ever busying himself with the minutest details, with love and reverence worthy of a guest of honour. And at last he said, “O listen! Lord Krishna is coming. I hear the sound of the Panchajanya. He is coming. He is coming.” The wife thought that he had gone mad. “Here He is coming! I see him coming!” He hurriedly brought water and said, “Lord, welcome!” and poured water as he washed the Lord's feet. His wife was miserable. But Poonthanam ran here and there in the various actions of welcoming a guest of high regard and love. He spread the plantain leaves and led Him to His seat, served food on the leaf…

Another ashramite: Which food?

Swamiji: Real food. There was food in the house, the wife had prepared lunch. And Poonthanam was asking, “O.K.? A little more of this?”… just as we speak to any guest. And the wife, who was looking on, was seeing nothing! And Poonthanam was asking: “Can I give you a little more? Is it tasty?” All this as if someone as sitting there in person. But to the wife nobody was there! (Swamiji's acting and presentation brought peals of laughter from the listeners, he himself joining in.) Then after the Lord's lunch was over, Poondanam said, “Take rest, please take rest! Then he said to his wife. “Now He says I must go with Him. Please permit me to do so.” And immediately he vanished. He attained moksha. Nobody could know what had happened to him! He only told his wife, “God is calling me, I am going. He has come to take me. After lunch He is taking me in a special taxi”!! (A roar of laughter all round). And Poonthanam vanished! The poor lady, the wife wept. She never understood the mystery.

Ashramite: Who recorded all this?

Swamiji: There is no history behind it, for it is not a very ancient story.

Another ashramite: Yes. I also have heard it from my elders—related orally. But now Poonthanam's life history has been printed in book form.

A visitor: Jaidev also attained moksha similarly. So also Mira and Kabir.

Swamiji: Yes. Tukaram also. He went bodily to heaven.

Ashramite: Did Mira attain heaven with her body?

Visitor: They say she did.

A foreign visitor engages Swamiji in conversation. She had learnt hatha yoga from her 'teacher'.

Swamiji: He taught you only hatha yoga? I see. You ask him to teach you some other yoga now. When you go back, you tell him, “We have had enough of hatha yoga, now let us learn some other yoga.” Let us see what he teaches next. You tell him that I have suggested this (laughs). He will think that you have gone to a wrong man. Is he a friend or your Guru, or what is he? I see. Friend! Not Guru? To some extent? You studied under him?

An ashramite: You cannot have a Guru “to some extent”. Either he is your Guru or he is not.

Swamiji: (Laughs) If you learn something but not everything from him he is your Guru—to some extent. You have half a Guru, one-fourth Guru, you can have also one-eighth Guru if you learn one-eighth from him (laughs).

Ashramite: Which means the Guru need not be an entire Guru?

Swamiji: If you study the entire thing from one Guru, then he is your entire Guru, whole Guru. But if you go on studying one thing from one, and another from another, then you have “fractional Gurus”!

Ashramite: It is different when you learn from different Gurus as Dattatreya did. And Dattatreya had twenty-four Gurus. You may say each was 1/24 Guru. Dattatreya did not sit with them in the sense of the disciple sitting before a Guru and learning at his feet. This is the traditional Guru-disciple meaning.

Swamiji: That kind of Guru who teaches through his own reactions to things is a greater Guru than he who orally teaches doctrines and dogmas. The Guru who teaches without speaking is a greater Guru than the Guru who tells you this and that.

Ashramite: Yes, Lord Siva taught the Sanat Kumaras by His silence.

Another visitor: Is the world real or only a hallucination? Does evil exist or not?

Swamiji: In hallucination you see only what appears as real; it is there for that time. You cannot say that it is not there. But when your mind gets rectified, you will not see it.

Visitor: Why is that?

Swamiji: That means that your eyes are not seeing properly. What can be done to the eyes of a blind man or in the case of a cataract when the vision is defective?

Visitor: But that which somebody else sees?

Swamiji: Not somebody else's eyes, I mean. It is you that is interpreting things. And you say that that interpretation is correct. It may not be correct. Have you seen the whole cosmos?

Visitor: Can you avoid feeling that this is not there? We have to conclude that the other person is there.

Swamiji: You place yourself outside the person and are seeing him.

Visitor: We are outside of the totality.

Swamiji: When you see the whole of the cosmos in its totality, then you will speak from a different perspective altogether. You are not seeing things as God sees. You are seeing them as man sees. Evil is there for a person who does not like a particular thing which he calls evil. You do not like it; that is why you call it evil. A broken bangle is ugly, isn't it? But the very same bangle, when it is full and round, is considered beautiful. You may be a very good-looking person. Supposing something happens to your nose or ear, will you still be called handsome? Evil, thus, is the name that you give to the irrelevance in the context of any occurrence. Any occurrence out of context becomes irrelevant, and that is ugly, that is evil. But when it is in the proper context, and seen in its proper relevance to the totality of things to which it actually belongs, then you will see it in a different light, and your interpretation of it will be different. Is it good to kill an enemy? Warfare occurs when the enemy attacks you. You are just led to kill the opposing army. These are various aspects which have some connection, one with the other.

Visitor: Swamiji, if God exists then why is there sorrow and evil in the world? For we are told that God is good and we should therefore worship Him. If evil and sorrows are there, then why worship Him who has created such things as evil? How is it possible for one who is good to create evil? Is there not therefore justification for us to hold that God does not exist?

Swamiji: (A pause) There is no God for that man who sees suffering in the world, that is true. God who creates a suffering world is not God. So if you believe that evil is there, suffering is there, and God must have created it, then that God may not exist, eh? So it goes to the other extreme because a compassionate God does not create evil. You are now getting into more difficult problems. Whether God exists or not is an important question: Whether a cause exists for an effect? God is only a name you give to the cause of the world. Now, can an effect come without a cause? Then a cause must exist, then God must exist. God is only a name. Instead of God, I call it Cause. What does it matter? Only names differ, you only use different terminology. So if the effect is in the Cause, evil must be in the Cause (laughs).

Now let us take the pot. Does the pot exist in clay? There is a pot made of clay. The effect must be in the cause, and the pot is the effect. Therefore, the pot must be in the clay, according to this logic. But do you see that the pot is in the clay? It is not there; the effect is not in the cause. Then all your logic of effect being in the cause is defeated, and the whole philosophy falls to the ground. The effect is not in the cause. But if it is in the cause, then pot is in the clay. Is it true? You bring a lump of clay and let me see the pot! And if the pot and the clay are the same, then why do you say, bring me a pot? You can say bring me clay. I bring a lump of earth and say this is a pot. Will you agree? So there is something in the pot which is not in the clay. You understand me? If you touch the pot you are touching only clay, nothing else, see? And yet it is not true that it is the same as clay. Then you will not be using two words. So what is a pot? You touch it and you are touching clay only. So don't say, “I am bringing a pot.” You are bringing only clay. Wherever you touch the pot, you are touching only clay. Yet you say it is pot. Why do you call it a pot? Because pot is a concept. You are asking me if evil exists. If pot exists, evil exists. So, evil becomes a concept in your brain ultimately. When you see evil, you are seeing your own brain projected outside. That means you are an evil man. It comes to that. Do you accept it? You are not seeing evil, you are seeing your own evil outside.

Visitor: But we see that…

Swamiji: That is your own brain going out. You are the culprit. You have to be arrested for that, not somebody else. So, a man who sees evil is an evil man. What do you say? So it is hazardous to say, “I am seeing evil.”

Visitor: Swamiji, I found…

Swamiji: This logic will take you to a very peculiar situation where you are the culprit because you made the statement. This pot that you see is a peculiar space-time concept. It is not the substance that you are seeing. That is why you cannot answer this question whether evil exists. But you tell me whether space- time exists or not.

Visitor: Yes it exists.

Swamiji: Ah, yes, it exists as a concept. So then you are dropping into the idea that it is a concept. The whole world is a concept! It means that the world does not exist except in the idea of the person. Is it true?

Now, again, you are going into deeper philosophical problems. It is a concept, and it is not a substance. And a concept cannot be regarded as a reality, because it is only a pattern of thinking. It can change this way or that way. The space-time complex indicates that there is causal relationship among things. Space, time and cause—these are the creators of the world, not God. God did not create the world, so you need not say God created evil. It is the space-time complex that creates the world, and it is the space-time complex that is the brother of evil. This itself is the greatest evil. And there is no other evil than that. All the evil you see is because of space-time relationship.

I do not know if you have read the great logical epistemological analysis made by the philosopher Emanuel Kant. He has spent all his life answering this question; his whole life was spent only in answering this little question you put to me, and I am trying to answer it in a few sentences (laughs). And yet he was not able to satisfy people. But he has landed on some great problems. You cannot know reality because you are conditioned by space-time, and therefore whatever you say is conditioned by space-time. And even your conception of good and evil is conditioned by space-time. So long as you are conditioned, you are dependent. You are not independently thinking. So long as you are not thinking independently, your perceptions are not valid. Everything follows from that. Nothing that you see can be regarded as valid ultimately because you are conditioned by space-time causal relationship. And if you can overcome the dependence on the space-time complex then you will see the noumenon and not the phenomenon.

Visitor: Then how to see the noumenon? Does Kant say how?

Swamiji: He does not know the technique. (The visitor laughs heartily.) Afterwards his successor, Hegel, and others, turned the table the other way round. There was some error in Kant's way of thinking, though he paved the way for everybody else. If you cannot reach the noumenon, how do you know that the noumenon exists? He says everything that is known is conditioned by space and time. Then your idea of the noumenon is also conditioned by space-time. So you cannot say the noumenon exists. You are seeing only phenomenon, according to this philosophy. So even your statement that the noumenon exists is not valid because you say it only through an idea, and idea is conditioned by space-time. And space-time permits only the perception of the phenomenon, you see.

So here is Kant's mistake: that he posited something transcending phenomenon yet asserted that no one can know anything but phenomenon. That was his self-contradiction. This was discovered by those who succeeded him, like Hegel, and Thomas Green, Bradley, and others. Ultimately, the question you put can be answered only by this: that the objects of the world should merge into the subject. Then only the noumenon can be seen. When you see an object as outside you, you are seeing a phenomenon. Seeing the noumenon is the art of meditation: the merger of object with the subject, and vice-versa. When the object becomes the subject, with the communion of one with the other in meditation, the distance between them, verily space-time, vanishes. And when space-time goes, causal relationship goes. Then you will never put the question 'who created the world' because space-time itself has gone, and you have become one with the thing you are putting the question.Then you will never put a question like that. It is another way of asking whether you exist. You don't ask that question, you are asking if another exists. When you become one with that thing about which you are putting the question, the question ceases. And that is what in yogic language is known as samadhi, or communing with Reality.

So, no questions can be answered ultimately; relative answers can be given, but absolute answers cannot be given unless you become one with that thing about which you are questioning. That is called intuition. Now you are perceiving things, but not intuiting them. And intuition is the entry of your consciousness into the very substance of the object, and not looking at it from outside in space and time through characters which define it as distinct from other objects. You do not see quality merely in things. You do not describe them by qualities. You enter into them and become the object itself. And then you know it as it knows itself. If you want to know me fully, you have to become me; otherwise, you cannot know me. And then, you cease to be, and I cease to be; it is something else altogether; a transcendental element comes in.

If you want to know creation, you have to enter into the substance of creation. And that is called meditation. (A long pause.) Communion is the great intuitional awareness of things as they are, and not things as they appear to be. (Pause.) Everything that is outside you is a phenomenon and a relative perception and, therefore, you cannot have an absolute knowledge of it. There is no such thing as Absolute knowledge in a relative world, and therefore there is no Absolute answer also to a relative question. All questions are relative, so all answers can be relative only; they are tentative, makeshift. You bring a cup of water and ask me, “Is it warm or cold water?” The answer is relative to the condition of your body. Now the Ganga is very cold, but if you dip yourself in it in June it is very pleasant, not biting.

I am going to tell you a humorous story. (Every sentence in the narration is acted out by Swamiji. So the humour and interest get intensified.)

A man said, “If at all there is a creator of the world, it must be a devil. Because it is such a stupid world that he has created, a sensible person would not have created this world. He who created this world must be a devil.” The other man said: “If the devil had created the world, I will tell you what should have been the nature of the world.” Then he gives a funny description. If the devil were the creator of the world, what would happen is this: The moment you put your foot on the ground, the ground would crack and you would sink in. If you touched a leaf, it would turn into fire. If you drank a cup of water, it would simply scald you like molten lead. And the fact that this does not happen shows that the devil is not the creator.”

Ashramite: Who made that statement? And who answered it?

Swamiji: I do not remember the man who made the statement. The other man who answered is Gerald Heard, an American thinker.

Another visitor: Is the world absolute?

Swamiji: Einstein, whom nobody has the courage to refute (laughs)… says it is not. Up to this time nobody dared to refute Einstein. Newton said that space and time are absolute. And Einstein refuted it saying space and time are not absolute, they are relative. And today he is the god of scientists. So let us take him as God for the time being! (Laughs.) If space and time are absolute, they will catch you forever, you cannot get out of them. And the very fact that you are thinking that it is possible to get out of them shows that they cannot be absolute. If an enemy is an absolute enemy, you cannot defeat him. If he is not an absolute enemy but a relative enemy, then there is a possibility of defeating him.

That the world is not really absolute can be shown by the fact that you can get over it and reach God. But if it is absolutely real, you are absolutely bound to the world, and there is no hope of reaching God at all. But you have a feeling that it cannot be so, that you do have a hope of reaching God. That hope is the greatest mentor that is inside you. You have a hope that everything is all right and one day you will reach the Absolute. And that hope will defeat the argument that the world is absolute and therefore space-time is absolute, because space-time and the world are one and the same thing. They are not two different things. If they are absolute, you cannot transcend them; and if you cannot transcend them, there is no hope of salvation. You are eternally bound. But your conscience will not permit you to accept it, and your conscience is your greatest teacher. So, perhaps Newton is not right, and Einstein may be right! Space and time look absolute because we think in terms of them when thinking of the world. The thief becomes welcome if you become friendly with him and you also become a thief. But if you are not a thief, you do not regard theft as desirable. If you join a group of thieves and become one of them, then for you thievery will be all right. (Laughter all around). Yes! So you have joined this party of space-time and they look all right. But if you detach yourself from them, they look relative, and then they do not look all right to you.