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

29. Agony Before Ecstasy

Swami Krishnanandaji Maharaj is in a reflective mood. There are a dozen or more people in his room but he addresses one visitor in particular in intense seriousness, looking only at him. Many questions are not recorded, only Swami Krishnanandaji's answers are given. The visitor has taken down the dialogues of the morning darshan over an extended period, excerpts of which are given here.

Swamiji: You will ultimately become like a child. All your greatness will go with the wind. Too much book learning is not good—you have to give your heart to God, not merely write on Him, before it is too late! What is the use of all your learning otherwise?

Swamiji gave a terrifying description of the agonies before the ecstasy.

Swamiji: Like Christ, one must be crucified, like Buddha one must suffer before one gets Enlightenment. We must endure all sufferings if we really want to realise God. If we don't want God then we will be free of these tortures; but if we truly seek God, we will have to weep, not merely in tears but the soul must cry out for God. When this happens and the ground breaks from under your feet, you, cry in desperation—intensely longing for Release. And then Grace, or whatever you want to call it, comes and you are free…

A true devotee never asks God for anything.

Question: What if you ask for Liberation?

Swamiji: In that case, you are asking for God Himself, God alone, not asking for another entity. You must not use God as a means to achieve some end—God is an end in Himself.

There are three kinds of disciples: one like a watery banana stem. No matter what you do, it won't burn. Yet if it stays in the fire long enough, some effect will eventually be seen. Second like firewood; you must blow at it, tend it carefully, and it will catch fire, and the third like gun powder which catches fire immediately.

When bhaktas get a lot of happiness—things are going well with them in life—they praise God. This is like you praise the sun in winter. But when these bhaktas suffer they condemn Him, as you curse the sun in summer.

You praise God as if giving him certificates... Oxford University wanted to give an honorary D. Litt. to Bernard Shaw, who said 'It's an insult for you to offer that to me...' God doesn't care for your praise. It is all subjective—it gives you pleasure by giving Him praise.

Q: What is the meaning of Darsan?

Swamiji: It is seeing a holy object. The influence it has on you can be great, depending upon the strength of the source. For example, if you sit for an hour out in the sun in summer at noon, you may get a tan but if you sit before candlelight, it won't affect you.

Q: What is prasad?

Swamiji: It is taking a consecrated thing. It may affect you immediately or much later.

Q: Is pilgrimage of any use?

Swamiji: It depends on what your motive is. Is heaven the motive? An action may produce good reaction (karma), bad reaction, or no reaction at all. To get moksha you have to get beyond all karmas—good karma as well as bad karma. A jivanmukta would vanish without karma so he must have some prarabdha karma that is sattvic that compels him to do good; otherwise he could not act at all.

Q: Is there really such a thing as grace?

Swamiji: You want God to be partial; why should he be partial to you? God is just, as Isavasya Upanishad tells us, He has established and fixed the law permanently. But this law of karma is not mechanical. When Ramana Maharishi attained liberation at such a young age, it was not that he just got 'there' quickly as it appears. The ceremony of awarding you a Ph.D may take a moment, but you must have laboured six years for it. So Ramana may have passed through the 'steps' in his previous life.

Q: What is the difference between mantra japa and meditation?

Swamiji: Japa is the verbal or mental repetition of words. Whereas in meditation you are dealing with concepts. Usually, you cannot separate the two, i.e. words and concepts. When you think of a tree, you think of the word tree. The two are practically inseparable, but theoretically they can be distinguished.

Q: Then we must repeat the words over and over until the mind becomes overburdened with words and drops words.

Swamiji: Mantra is that which protects you and elevates you. All mantras are equally good. They are suited to each individual in accordance with his or her temperament.

Brahmacharya is living as Brahman lives. It is not just a Now externally imposed, if it is only that way then the mind will rebel against it. It should be spontaneous—it should arise from within. If there are falls now and then, in the beginning, don't worry about them. Just forget about what has happened and carry on—after a while it will become a habit.

Q: What is your definition of morality?

Swamiji: Morality is the attunement of oneself with the environment one finds oneself in at any time. It is always changing—the law evolves. When you expand the nature of your being, the morality changes. Morality may be relative from place to place, time to time, but it is of absolute necessity. You cannot sever yourself from the environment because you are vitally related to it.

To find out if an action is moral or not, apply it to everybody and imagine what would be the result. Suppose everyone tells lies, then lying won't work. Suppose everyone is a thief, then stealing won't work. If, when universalised, it works, then it will be considered good. Morality is realising that everyone is an end in himself—not a means to some end. Others also are subjects—not objects to be exploited. Anything that conduces to the higher integration of personality is moral. Anything that tends to disintegration is immoral. The intention behind the action is what is most important. A man makes an opening in the wall—it is all right if he is planning to put a door there. It is different if he is a thief planning to steal.

Q: But they say that the path to hell is paved with the best intentions?

Swamiji: When the intention is bereft of understanding, it is merely emotional and bad karma results. All factors must be taken into consideration. A king had good intentions in giving away a thousand cows to the poor, but by chance a Brahmin's cow got into the herd that was to be donated. The Brahmin wanted his cow back. The king had no way of finding it and offered 10, 20, 50 and even 100 cows as compensation—but the Brahmin would not settle for any but his cow. He cursed the generous king to be reborn as a lizard.

Q: But the really spiritual man is beyond the laws of morality?

Swamiji: At that stage you cannot call him a man—he is a Universal Being. He is beyond law, but an ordinary a human being cannot break the law. The law works only for individuals, not for the akasa, which is universal. According to circumstances one may modify ones rules of behaviour. When you travel by train, you modify your programme somewhat, e.g. you cannot take a bath. You have to change even more if you are a general on a campaign—you cannot act as you do in peacetime. Some might even steal rather than die of starvation.

Q: They say it is necessary to follow the Guru without demur?

Swamiji: ( Jovially) Yes, otherwise one may land oneself in trouble. A disciple and his Guru happened to go to a land where they found any quantity of any food costing two pennies. The observant Guru said, “We must leave this place immediately, it is a place of fools.” The disciple however stays on despite the Guru's advice, and with overeating becomes very fat. After a time a wall collapses and a man is injured. The king wants to hang the man responsible for the mishap. They blame the mason, then the cement mixer, then the water carrier, and each claims he is not responsible for the faulty construction (20 years ago) of the wall. The water carrier says he got late in bringing water because a woman was singing. They bring this woman and are about to hang her but the rope is too long, for she is thin. Then the king orders a “fat man” to be brought. They found no fatter man than this disciple, who is brought before the king. The disciple recalls what the Guru had told him and prays, “Oh Guru, please save me.” His Guru, who was an omniscient jivanmukta, comes to the rescue of his disciple. He appears before the hangman and says, “I want to die—this is a very auspicious time—whoever dies now will be a king in the next birth.” The hangman informs the king of the happening. The king rushes to the gallows saying: “Then let me die,” and he is hanged. As they escape, the Guru tells his disciple: “You should have listened to me, I told you this was a place of fools.”

To various queries, Swami Krishnanandaji made the following remarks: If you want to live 100 years, it is a sin; if you want to die, it is a sin. You should not condemn life outright; make the best of your life here, 100 years is only symbolic.

The utter condemnation of this world is a negative, pessimistic attitude, hence wrong. But also falling in love with it, being captured by the beauty of the world—is also wrong. The truth is somewhere in the middle. Some fanatics believe that their mantra alone works, and also only if enunciated correctly. A Tamil devotee used to chant “Namah Chivaya” with such faith that he was able to walk on water. One day a grammarian corrected him: “Namah Shivaya.” But when the man started reciting correctly—he fell into the water.

A sweeper wanted a mantra, and approached a proud Namboodiri Brahmin of Kerala. He was angry that she should even ask for a mantra. She persisted. He yelled at her: “Frog curry” (Tapplla curry). In her innocence, she took it to be the mantra given to her and repeated it with such devotion that she became enlightened. When people asked her who her Guru was, she mentioned the name of that proud Brahmin. People went to him and raved about his “disciple's” saintliness. He had forgotten all about her—but when he remembered he felt very sorry, for he was still in the samsara and she had become enlightened with the “frog curry” mantra.

Swamiji: Our knots, granthis, are on account of our personal needs, and our relationships are established on these. One must distinguish between what one needs—that which is necessary—and what one wants—which is unnecessary.

Q: Some sages had families—is celibacy necessary?

Swamiji: I may live in a garden, yet I don't think of it as my garden. So, only if there is psychological attachment can you say that the rishis had families. The physical presence of or living amongst 'wife' and 'children' means nothing.

Q: Ishvara is associated with sleep, Hiranyagarbha with dream, and Virat with waking—does this mean all our individual experiences come out of sleep as the world comes out of Isvara?

Swamiji: The waking state, dream state, and deep sleep state are more and more dull in the Jiva, but the reverse is the case of the cosmic state where Isvara is greater than Hiranyagarbha, which is greater than Virat. It is like seeing your reflection in a river from its bank, where you appear upside down. Everything is upside down here—sirsasana is like that, everything is upside down for us.

You must see the object as subject. When you think of someone or something as an object, it is an insult to that person or thing. When the object becomes the subject, it is yoga. You are able to see that the object does not depend on the subject. The subject is in the object, only you do not see it.

Q: How do the Vedas give knowledge of Nirguna Brahman, if they were revealed by Saguna Brahman?

Swamiji: If Vedas are eternal, they cannot be said to come from anyone else. If they come from someone else, they cannot be eternal. So to say Ishvara created, or revealed, them is only a way of speaking. The Vedas are a thorn to remove the thorn of ignorance. They negate the Vyavaharika plane, but do not give knowledge of Brahman. A tiger in a dream can remove the dream experience—by waking you up with fear.

Q: In Brahma Sutra 1.2.26, Sankara says the gods have knowledge of Vedas. Then are the gods omniscient and on the level of Ishvara?

Swamiji: Only Ishvara can really be omniscient. The “knowledge” of the gods is only a concession—but it cannot be equated to Ishvara; no one can be equal to Him.

Q: In Mundaka Upanishad 3.1.1 Sankara says God is pure, wise, free, and omniscient, then how can he be limited by Cosmic Ignorance—maya? Maya is often called the upadhi—adjunct of Ishvara—is it a mistake to call it an imperfection?

Swamiji: You can see the sun. But suppose you have a cataract, then you cannot see the sun properly—but that is your fault—not the sun's. It is an imperfection of your vision to say that Brahman has limitations or adjuncts.

Q: Some Advaitins say Sarva Mukti means we attain Ishvara, then finally all attain Brahman; but Ishvara is not different from Brahman, so how can we attain this entity?

Swamiji: This is only a theory that may appeal to your sentiments—it is not real. When you say “all” attain, you have an idea of a finite number of souls—but really the souls are infinite, there can be no end—no “all” attaining. So this is a democratic theory that can be misunderstood. There is no ontological entity called Ishvara to be attained. Ishvara is like the X in a mathematical equation. It has no ultimate value but it helps you to solve the problem—of Reality—just as X created by you for the purpose of solving a problem. You think that Ishvara is infinite and the world is finite. You think that the finite has come from the infinite. But it really is not so; there is no finite.

All these theories of cause-effect i.e. creation, appeal to you. If the Sruti gives the ultimate truth—that the infinite comes from the infinite, which means nothing is (really) produced—you won't accept it. But really Sruti teaches us metaphysically—not literally. They mean to teach non-difference, not really creation.

The infinite is in the finite, the whole is in the part, the soul pervades the body, that is how the infinite can be here in the finite, as it is said in the Gita. The ocean is in the drop; but the ocean which is so vast cannot actually be in the tiny drop; so says the Bhagvadgita—I am here, yet I am not here.

No one can be as difficult as God—He is a confusion Master. For really the drop is in the ocean, and the ocean is in the drop in a way which we don't quite grasp. The essence of the ocean and the essence of the drops is the same—it is water—they are not two.

Q: What is the benefit of sirsasana? Sivananda says it is good for memory and brain power. Rajneesh says it makes you stupid. Who is right?

Swamiji: Sirsasana is the best asana. But it should be done for five minutes at the most. You won't get good memory immediately. Something may do good as well as bad. Someone says, “Eat, it is good for you, you will be strong.” Another says, “Don't eat—it's bad for you, you will get diarrhoea.” Actually your memory improves as your body consciousness decreases. The more the body consciousness, the less the memory and the ability to concentrate.

Q: What is the locus of avidya—is it in the jiva... as the Bhamati school asserts... or in the Brahman... as the Vivarana school asserts?

Swamiji: It can have no place, for it is not real. Each thinks it belongs to the other. A guest showed up at a wedding party. The father of the bride thought that the man had been invited by the groom's family. And the family of the groom thought he was a guest invited by the bride's family. He stayed there many days—enjoying their hospitality. Finally, one day the bride's father and the groom's father were talking about him. When they were about really to ask him where he belonged, he vanished. Avidya is like that—it is not real, so it vanishes when you enquire about it.