A Slow and Steady Religious Awakening
by Swami Krishnananda

(Spoken on February 14, 1988.)

As is the growth of a little baby into the maturity of education and culture, so is the process adopted in the scheme of evolution towards the rise of religious consciousness. There is in the individual as well as in nature an incipiency of life seen outwardly in nature as inanimate existence and, in the human individual particularly, a state of life which is almost an absence of the motivating principals of life.

In the earliest condition of the development of a human individual, the state of awareness may be said to be practically absent, though it is present as a potential for further development. If the procedure adopted by nature in the process of evolution is true, the higher forms of life are latently present even in the lowest form of natural existence, inanimate life.

Matter effloresces, it is said, into the vegetable consciousness through further subdivisions of the growth of life. It is not that a stone suddenly becomes a tree. There are other antecedent conditions to be followed, many in number. We cannot count them with our computing mind. With all these antecedents which are far beyond the comprehension of ordinary thinking, there seems to be a tendency from the lowest form of natural existence to the visible forms of life we see in the vegetable kingdom. There is life in plants and trees, but not thought, not even the instinct that we see in animals. Instinct grows later on. Instinct develops into consciousness and self-consciousness in the human individual, and this self-consciousness of the human individual also is a pointer to a further possibility of development.

We are usually told by teachers that religion begins when intellect stops or reason is hushed. This is to say that the religious consciousness is to a large extent superhuman. The religious consciousness is not merely human consciousness. It is not intellection, it is not induction, it is not deduction. It is not the known forms of ratiocination. There is a potential above these available forms of human knowledge.

As the individual grows from an unlettered baby, almost equivalent to a plant or tree or vegetable for all practical purposes, it moves through these varied processes of evolution nature adopts objectively in this world. The vegetable forms of consciousness gradually develop into instincts which are blindly operative, knowing what they require but not knowing why it is that they require it. Instinct is not rational in this sense. The possession of the faculty which we call reason can distinguish between the pros and cons of a condition. It can infer circumstances from present situations prevailing. It can infer the present from the past, and the future from the present. Instinct has no such availability. It is just living in the present.

Nature, including all human individuals with all its contents of life, is supposed to be moving gradually from the lower forms of life to higher forms. The lowest form is a total abolition of self-consciousness as in a stone, a rock. The creeping sense of a dream type of consciousness arises gradually through the plant and the animal. They are conscious, but not self-conscious. “I know.” This awareness is supposed to be consciousness. But ‘I know that I know’ is an adaptation of the consciousness to a little higher degree, and it becomes therein what we call self-consciousness. Even if you are aware, you must be aware also that you are aware. The human individual has this prerogative of being self-conscious.

But unfortunately, for all human nature, this self-consciousness, which is a blessing granted far above the animal and the plant kingdom, is associated with what we call egoism. Self-consciousness goes with egoism. The knowledge that I know, the consciousness of one’s knowledge of a particular object – I know that I know – is not merely an abstract awareness of the object, but it is an affirmation of that knowledge in an individualistic capacity, tied so concretely to the individual that it becomes almost an affirmation of the body itself. The so-called ego of the human individual is not merely an affirmation of consciousness; it is finally and further on tantamount to an affirmation of the physical existence of the individual.

The pure abstract consciousness which asserts itself to the exclusion of other similar types of knowledge is bad enough. It is bad because it excludes the existence and value of other similar types of self-awareness, but it becomes worse still when the self-awareness gets tethered to what we call body consciousness. The ego, the reason and the body get clubbed together in human awareness. Hence is the difficulty in extricating the aspiration for religion and spirituality from this muddle of involvement of consciousness in the ego and the body.

It is a hard task because our awareness that we are the body – our body-consciousness, so-called – is so very intense that we cannot believe that we are anything more than the body. Every inch, every cell of our body is alive with the capacity to affirm that it is all-in-all. The I, which is originally a conscious affirmation, becomes a physical affirmation, a purely materialistic assertion of the existence of the body as the be-all and end-all of all things, so that the comforts of the body and the pleasures of everything related to the body become the meaning of all possible life in the world. We seek nothing but this support of physicality. Religion is far from this.

The consciousness of a religious attitude is superior to the available consciousness in natural evolution. The naturalistic form of evolution ends with human nature. We do not see any species in this world above humanity. It is the finality that nature has reached today, at least as far as we can understand in this world. The inanimate existence has become the plant, and the plant has become the animal, and the animal has become the human. It has not gone further.

Nature seems to have attempted the manufacture of superhuman individuals also in history, to whom we make reference oftentimes as saints, sages, incarnations, avataras, etc. The avatara purushas, the incarnations, the Godmen, the saints and the sages we adore are not mere human beings. They are superhuman in their comprehension. Where lies the super-humanity of these individuals, or rather, what is the inner constituent of this superhuman knowledge which a superhuman individual is supposed to possess? We generally hear it said again and again that they have an intuition, while ordinary human beings have only reason, intellection, understanding, which is based on logic.

In order to understand any particular given situation, we have to argue through logic. Such and such a circumstance is prevailing at present, and we compare that circumstance with other similar circumstances that have occurred earlier, and we infer the possible consequences that may follow from the present condition by observation of similar circumstances arisen earlier and consequences that followed therefrom. This is not the way of the avatara, incarnation, or the sage.

Our perceptions are mediate, where a spiritual perception is supposed to be immediate. It is non-mediate. A mediacy is necessary for us to be aware of the existence of anything. To know something, we require a mechanism of knowledge. We require eyes to see, a mind to think, and an arguing intellect to judge the consequence of perception. So there is a handicap in our attempt to know anything, namely, that we have to depend on certain apparatuses and the healthy condition of these instruments. The extent of the health of these instruments will also decide the extent of the veracity of the knowledge that we gain through perception, whether through the sense organs or through mentation.

We cannot say, therefore, under the existing conditions of human knowledge, that our knowledge is infallible. It is mediate. The conditions that are to prevail in order that we may know a particular object, the nature of the instruments we employ, decide the nature of the objects we gain. But immediate knowledge is a direct grasp of the object as such. This direct grasp in a super-mediate comprehension is supposed to be intuition. Religious awareness is an intuitive perception. It is not a knowledge that is obtained through the medium of the sense organs or the mental capacities. What is the meaning of this direct grasp? In what way is it direct as contrasted from the indirect grasp through the sense organs? The directness of perception in religious awareness consists in a sort of identity that is established, an en rapport that is established between the knower and the known.

Knowledge is always an inward process. It does not come to us from outside. It is an illumination that is taking place spontaneously from inside under given conditions. This inwardness of the potential of knowledge in us directly enters into the potential of the object of knowledge. It grasps that object by communing itself with the object and making its characters harmonised with its own characteristics.

The Yoga Sutras give us an analogy describing this condition of direct perception of an object. In ordinary perception knowledge moves in the direction of an externally placed object. But here in the intuitive grasp, it is difficult to know whether the knowledge moves from the knowing subject to the object outside, or if it moves from the object to the subject. The analogy, the comparison, is the water in two tanks on a similar level. Both the tanks are on an equal level, and both the tanks are filled with water to the brim. There is a connecting passage from one tank to the other. Water flows from one tank to the other tank, from this tank to that tank, and from that tank to this tank, so that when the water moves through that little conduit passage, one cannot know which water flows and in what direction, whether A moves towards B or B moves towards A. In an intuitive grasp of the object, so-called, the objects behold the subject in as intense a capacity as the subject beholds the objects. The object is not a passive existence subjecting itself to the activity of a knowing subject.

In our knowing processes, we appear to be active in the form of the perceptional operation, and the object seems to be passively lying there, ready to be grasped by us through our perception and knowledge, as if it has no independent existence at all. Every object is also a subject from its own point of view. When I look at you and know that you are there, it may appear that I am a subject of knowledge and you are the object cognised, perceived by me; but as you are also looking at me and seeing me, therefore, from your point of view you are the subject of perception and I am the object. It is, therefore, a question of standpoint and emphasis laid on the knowledge aspect of the cognition of an object.

Every little thing in the world is a subject from its own point of view because it has a desire to survive, a desire to know, a desire to perpetuate itself and to live as long as possible, and to expand its dimension. These characteristics present in any particular thing are also seen to be equally present in all things. Nobody wishes to die, for instance. The survival instinct is equally present in all living beings, and survival is not merely desire to live for a few days. It is a longing which persists endlessly.

On the other hand, there is another instinct prevalent in everyone, namely, the expansion of the dimension of oneself. We wish to annex our kingdom as much as possible. Politically, of course, it is direct grabbing of land and property of somebody, but in other forms of the manifestation of this instinct it is a psychological expansion of one’s dimension by the affirmation of the ego, dominating over others, exercising authority, or ruling the kingdom, for instance. That is a psychological expansion of one’s little otherwise-physical dimension. There is a desire to survive at the cost of others’ survival. This instinct is also present in everyone at the same time. We find that we would like others to go to dogs, and not our own selves. Therefore, the survival instinct also goes together with the ego instinct.

The religious consciousness is quite distinguished from all these instincts and forms of knowledge. It has a universality behind it, and not just the particularity to which all individual knowledge is tied. The way in which we perceive an object depends upon the conditions of the body, the sense organs, our instincts or predilections, the religious faith to which we belong, the language we speak, and our cultural background. Even our physiological condition, such as the health of our liver for instance, may affect our thinking and feeling. But this is a purely particularised form of knowledge, not valid for other persons. Everyone may not know a thing in the same way as one knows. The universality behind it is limited to pure formal individual perception. Religious perception is universally valid. It is like seeing a thing in daylight, not like dream perceptions valid only to individuals. Your dreams are your dreams; they need not necessarily be objects of another person’s dream. But the perception in broad daylight, in the midday sun, for instance, is a common perception. This kind of perception may be considered as an example of universal perception.

Extending this analogy, we may say that there is a common perception available at the back of our rationality – the perception of the Atman, the pure Self – beholding all things in terms of the pure Self existing in objects. This also may be said to be the reach of religious awareness. The Self beholding things or the attempt of the Self to behold things only from its point of view – that is, the point of view of the pure Self or the Spirit in man independent of the encrustations which have grown subsequently due to association with the body and the mind – may be said to be the beginning of spirituality or religion. It is the language that is spoken by the universal in the individual, not the language of the tongue of man but an instinctive capacity to communicate by the self in respect of another self. It is a far more developed instinct than the usual encrusted instinct which is inferior to the reasoning capacity. Here is an instinct which is superior to the reason, which collects information not by sifting information through logical analysis but by coming in union with that which is to be known in a fraternity of existence. The medium that we usually adopt in the perception of an object melts down into the substance out of which the visayi and the visaya are made.

In philosophical style we generally say the knowing principle is visayi chaitanya. Visayi is one who knows the visaya or the object. The object itself is called visaya chaitanya. Consciousness that is embodied in the form of an object outside is visaya chaitanya. Consciousness that is embodied in the perceiving subject is visayi chaitanya. Now, the visayi or the visaya, the knower or the known, cannot come in contact with each other unless there is a medium, that medium being called pramana chaitanya, the instrument of knowing. The pramana is perception, inference, verbal testimony, comparison, and so on, as theories of knowledge tell us. These instruments, these media that we adopt in knowing the objects, vary from person to person, from condition to condition, and from one state of feeling and emotion to another state of feeling and emotion.

The Yoga Sutras particularly are before us as a great guide in understanding what true religious awareness can be. There is a sutra of Patanjali: kṣīṇavṛtteḥ abhijātasye iva maṇeḥ grahītṛ grahaṇa grāhyeṣu tatstha tadañjanatā samāpattiḥ (Y.S. 1.41). Grahītṛ grahaṇa grāhyeṣu are terms used for the knower who is the visayi, the known that is the visaya, and the medium of knowledge which is grahana, the pramana chaitanya. They coalesce into a single mass of existence. The object that is out there in order to be known, and the subject which is here that knows the object, and also the medium of knowledge which covers the distance existing between the knower and the known, melt down together into a pool of awareness. They may become a veritable sea of awareness. It is also called a level of God-consciousness. The religious consciousness is also one degree of God-consciousness. The similarity between these levels is in the comprehensiveness which characterises a particular level, the comprehensiveness being the capacity of the knower to absorb the existence and characteristics of the object into itself.

Scriptures describe degrees of knowledge. These degrees of knowledge are just degrees of God-consciousness. God-consciousness is the same as a degree of universal consciousness. The universal need not necessarily mean the ultimate universal. The brihat samanya or the ultimate samanya is, of course, the final universality, which is what we call God Himself – the That which Is. But the manifestation of God can be seen in lesser levels also, where the gulf between the seer and the seen gets diminished gradually, and in a more condensed and concretised form of the union of the subject with the object, this universal can be explained. The more we feel in our own selves an affinity of ourselves with the object of our knowledge, the more are we religious, the more are we spiritual. The less do we feel the vital connection between ourselves and another, the less are we religious and the less are we spiritual. Usually, we have no religious consciousness in our daily life. There is nothing of the spirituality there because there is another separation of ourselves from everybody else. There is not merely a gulf, so to say; there is a severe cutting off of the very vitality of connection of one with the other in our daily life, so that I have nothing to do with you and you have nothing to do with me. We can live independently so far as we go.

This total independence that we assert in our life and the simultaneous adoption on our part of a non-connection with objects outside is the opposite of the requirement of a religious consciousness. Friendliness is supposed to be a good quality, but it is only an ethical manifestation in society of an inward necessity to be at one with the existence and characteristic of an object. Mostly, moral instructions and ethical mandates are social exercises forcefully imposed upon us in terms of an inward undercurrent of uniformity that exists among all beings, and inasmuch as this uniformity is not visible to the eyes though it is there inwardly, we outwardly impose the characteristic of this inward connection by way of an outward injunction of codes of law, rules, regulations, etc. Anyway, mere rules and regulations will not work because they are like the blind movements of an intention inside, and the intention has to become self-conscious. Unconscious intentions do not work, finally.

Hence, when we take to spiritual life or religion as such wholeheartedly, we have to first of all be clear in our minds as to the background of the rise of this knowledge in us: What do we actually seek when we wish to be religious, and what do we actually mean when we say it is the God of the universe that we actually are in search of? And, while this psychological affirmation is clear enough, to what extent is it put into practice in our daily life? The understanding has gradually to sink into the feeling, that is, the understanding of our intellect asserting the necessity of our being ethically and practically in communion with others. This awareness that is consciously operating in our mind during waking life should enter into the feeling, and we must not merely understand it but feel a living connection of ourselves with the atmosphere, the environment around us.

Our love for people should not be an instruction put into practice. It should be a necessity we feel in our own selves. It is not a scripture that is being quoted and then implemented; it is a feeling that arises in our own selves as a manifestation of the wider self that we basically are. The religions that people practice in the world are the forms taken by the basic religious consciousness, which is an asking for a more than what we are, a greater than what we are, a larger than what we possess, and to the extent we are never satisfied with what we are and feel dissatisfied with everything that we have, to that extent we may be said to be religiously awakened.

The saints tell us that it is necessary for us to be satisfied with what we have but we should not be satisfied with what we are. Mostly in ordinary life we feel satisfied with what we are, and pat ourselves on our back. But we are never satisfied with what we have. There is a desire to possess external property, belongings, not knowing the fact the desire for external possessions is inversely proportional to our inward condition. The more we are poor inside, the more we wish to be richer outside. The grabbing of material wealth or possession of any kind is an indication of the inner poverty of the individual. The richness inside has been extinguished completely by the wind of desire for external things.

The awareness of a religious goal inside us is also simultaneously an awareness for a self-satisfying principle within our own selves. We are complete in ourselves. Religious consciousness is also a consciousness of completeness, self-sufficiency and self-adequacy in every way. That is, we accept as a spiritual principle that the potentials for the fulfilment of all our longings are present in our own selves. Every human being is a miniature cosmos. Inasmuch as we are a cross-section of the whole universe, everything that we can find in the universe we can find in our own selves.

In fact, we are not a miniature. To say that also is an understatement of facts. We appear to be a mini universe because of the limitation of our knowledge to this particular body, as a vast sky may appear limited to a small cup when we look at that little cup encasing the vast space within its little walls. We know very well that space is not limited by buildings. Walls cannot limit space. Yet, we may feel that there is a little space. That is, the littleness of spatiality arises on account of the enclosures, like the walls, etc. So we feel miniature, mini-brahmanda or a small cross-section of things, due to our interpretation of our own selves in terms of this bodily existence. We can never forget this body at any time, under any circumstance. It goes with us as a dog follows us. There are great examples that even in the heights of religious pursuits the body has persisted, and the bodily demands are felt even at levels which we should consider as far beyond human understanding. Hunger and thirst and the fear of death, which constitute the basic essentials of physical clambering, do not leave us easily.

Hence, yoga exercises also give us a caution at the same time that we should transcend the body but not reject the body. We should transcend society but not reject society. We should transcend the world but not reject the world. And a distinction has to be drawn between rejection and transcending. Transcendence is a mastery that we gain over a thing to such an extent that it no more torments us. We are not its slaves any more. At present, we are to some extent slaves of this body and the whims and fancies of the mind. We are slaves, and as long as we are slaves of it we cannot reject it. No servant can reject that of which he is a subject. Transcendence is control over that which originally subjected us to its own rules and laws.

The physical body, social relations and the world as a whole stand before us and we have to give them an answer. Your body, society, and the whole world will ask you, “What are you going to do with me?” Are you going to tell the body “I kick you out” and tell society “I care a fig for you” and tell the world “Go to the dogs”? You cannot say that.

The religious awakening is a gradual blossoming of the flower of the longing for perfection. It is a fructification of life into a beautiful edible fruit of overcoming the limitations to which we were originally subject. Overcoming limitations is quite different from rejecting the limitations that are there. A consciousness of limitation cannot be abandoned, cannot be rejected. As long as that limitation is a part of one’s consciousness, it is a reality. A reality is that which consciousness accepts as reality. You may say this body is not real and the world also is not real, but what is the use of saying that? Your consciousness has to feel and affirm. This is something to be carefully noted. The consciousness of perception has to be convinced that this body is not real, but it cannot so easily feel this as long as it is involved in the body. A person who is involved in the condition cannot control that condition. You can stand outside the condition and then be a master of it. You cannot control anything if you are involved in that particular thing itself. So if you are involved in this body, and to the extent you are involved in human society, to the extent you are involved in the laws of nature, there is no question of abandoning them.

The world cannot be renounced so long as you belong to the world. You cannot renounce that to which you belong. It is a contradiction in terms. When you stand outside of nature, when you get out of the body and look at it as an object in the same way as you look at other things in the world, can you look at this body as an object? Can you stand outside of it? And can you stand outside society and behold society as something totally external to you so that you do not belong to society? Can you stand outside the world and then look at the world as an object? Then you can renounce the world, renounce society, and renounce this body also. As long as you are in society, vitally controlled by it, and also controlled by the bodily requirements and the natural laws of the world, they are not to be abandoned.

Actually, in religion, in spirituality, there is no such thing as abandoning or rejecting because the idea of abandoning or rejecting arises due to a false notion that what is real is actually not there. How can you say that a real thing is not there? A real thing is certainly there; only an unreal thing is not there. And a real thing cannot be rejected; an unreal thing need not be rejected. Nāsato vidyate bhāvo nābhāvo vidyate sataḥ, ubhayor api dṛṣṭo.antas tv anayos tattvadarśibhiḥ (Gita 2.16). This is a warning given to us in the Bhagavadgita. That which your consciousness affirms as a reality is to be gradually transcended by meditational processes, and not emotionally rejected. No one can renounce the world who has not renounced himself. First you renounce yourself, and then you can renounce the world. Together with it, the world goes also. But if you stand as a solid individual as you were before – inside the world physically, materially and bodily – how will you extricate yourself from the clutches of the world?

Religion or spirituality is a gradual growth into stages of perfection. It is not a sudden jump into the skies. It is the fulfilment of the requirements of every level of existence, all degrees of reality, slowly. It may take many lives to achieve this purpose. If we have to take many lives, so be it. It does not matter, provided that we get a pass mark in every level through which we pass and no jump is attempted at any level.

Hence, the physicality of the body, the reality of human society and artharthi nature of the whole physical existence also have to be taken into consideration and they have to be transcended by experience, and not rejected by feeling. The great scriptures of the world are guides. The Upanishads, the Bhagavadgita, the New Testament and the other great writings of Masters like the Sufi saints and saints and sages of India, and their lives themselves are before our eyes as guidelines to live a spiritual life. Without a good guide, without a Master either in the form of a scripture or a person, it will be hard to tread the path of Spirit, which is religion, which is spirituality.

Slow is the movement, as is the movement of a growing tree. Slow-growing trees are also mature in equal proportion. The toughest timber comes from slow-growing trees. The quickly growing tall trees are not so tough as rosewood, for instance. In a similar manner, excessive enthusiasm in religious life is not called for. A persistence and tenacity and ardour in practice is necessary, but not overestimation of oneself. The tax payable at every check post is also to be paid, and the check posts are this body, human society, and the whole world at large. Pay your dues and then cross the border, and then you are free.