Glorious Fifty Years of Wisdom and Service
A Souvenir released on Swami Krishnananda's 50th Birthday
Yoga by Correspondence—A Success Story
by William H. Swanberg
The Divine Calling that is Yoga entered my life in the winter of 1968, and it was a case of love at first sight. Not many books were available on the subject in my hometown at that time, in fact, just three: The Bhagavad Gita (Juna Mascoro's translation), 'Yoga For Perfect Health' by Alain (the best beginner's handbook available in U.S.A, in my opinion), and 'The Upanishads' (Swami Prabhavananda's Selected Texts). This limitation of reading matter to just three books, two of them basic, was a stroke of luck, although I did not so regard it at the time, and I read them over and over again.
The second stroke of luck was the Divine Life Society and Swami Krishnananda.
Alain closes his text with a mention of the DLS and a quotation from Swami Sivananda: "Friends, is there not a higher mission in life that just eating, sleeping, and talking?... Is there not a more dignified life than the life of the senses? Come! Become a Yogi. Come out of your narrow holes and ruts. To become a lawyer, doctor or a professor is the Night of your ambition. Can this give you any real kind of freedom? Then come. Struggle for higher things. Inquire: Who am I? Hear and reflect, meditate realize the Atmic splendour. OM is Sat Chit Ananda. OM is Infinity. OM is Eternity. Sing OM. Chant OM. Feel OM."
I was drawn by his simplicity and earnestness. Off went a letter of inquiry to The Divine Life Society in far of India and somewhat to my surprise I received an immediate response airmail which enclosed a membership application and a list of publications. Feeling just a little odd about applying for membership in an organization located halfway around the Earth, I nevertheless sent in the application and felt pretty good about it. As for the list of publications. I did not know what to select, so I ordered them all, the best bargain I ever made.
Surface mail between Rishikesh, India and Great Falls, Montana has some of the aspects of the Eternal about it, and pending the arrival of those books I kept studying the three that I had, especially the Upanishads. That sublime conversation between Nachiketas and the king of Death was read again and again. ("Arise! Awake! Approach the feet of the master and know THAT. Like the sharp edge of a razor, the sages say, is the path. Narrow it is, and difficult to tread.") And this Self business. What was it all about? It was mentioned on almost every page of the book. The frustration and excitement mounted. Some great answer lay in those pages, I knew, if it could only be fathomed. What was keeping those books from India, anyway? Had the ship sank, maybe? We want some answers to all this. Right now!
Finally they arrived, late in June, wrapped in a package that looked like it had been around the world about three times and dropped from a great height numerous times. By some miracle, the books were serenely intact.
Swami Krishnananda's 'The Realisation of the Absolute' was one of the dozen or so books and it drew me like a magnet. Opening the book, I studied the Swami's picture, and liking what I saw, passed on to the Introduction. Sure enough the Upanishads were mentioned in the opening lines and I read on, secure in the brief conviction that it would only be necessary to read this book to clear up this 'Self' problem.
Before completing page One, my confidence had dissolved. "Perfection or Truth," he states, "cannot be two, and there cannot be two Absolutes." Now, what in the world did that mean? Well, never mind, maybe it was explained later on. But no, what I had just read was the explanation.
Leafing through the book and pausing to read here and there, it was evident that it was all the same, 239 pages of very hard going. Wasn't there, perhaps, an easier way to master Yoga? I knew there wasn't.
The tremendous drive of this book is evident even on casual inspection. It is also became evident later that it is not so much a scholarly treatise on the Upanishads—although it is that, too—as it is a document of a personal experience. He knew, and I knew that he knew. Consequently in those dynamic and exciting months that followed, months that are now years, there was never at any time the slightest doubt about his advice and counsel. This is important. It eliminated at the outset any temptation to look for somebody else, somebody "easier". This would have been fatal.
As I recall it now, I wrote Swamiji and confessed my bewilderment. Would he, perhaps, be so kind as to explain what was meant by the Self? Here is his answer: "You have to walk the spiritual path and attain the goal yourself. Therefore strive. exert, serve love, meditate, realize...." (quoting Sivananda.)
Here then, was my first lesson, and it also established the nature of the relationship between Guru and Chela, teacher and student. The teacher's role was to be confirmatory, not expository. Instead of the teacher delivering expositions on the subject while the student nods his head in understanding, it was to be the pupil who was to deliver the exposition while the teacher nodded his head. The pupil sensed the wisdom of this but did not care much for the lesson even so.
The pupil registered another query. If the pupil cannot understand the books, how can he learn?
His answer: "Let your meditation continue steadily. You will have higher and higher awareness of the one reality, and ultimately 'you' will cease to be and 'that' alone remain. That is the goal. Strive and attain..."
Aid again, in a second letter a few days later: "In dream, the one mind divides itself as seer and objects seen. When you wake up, all that you saw in the dream, and the 'dream self', get transformed into a single waking mind. In the waking state some such thing happens also. The consciousness which is universal appears to be divided into objects (seer and seen) and when this apparent individuality wakes up to the higher consciousness, both seer and the seen get transcended simultaneously. Please continue your meditation,"
Meditation then, was the key, and it went forth in earnest under the Swami's guidance, equipped as I was with such a good teacher, progress could not help but be rapid. It was. One day in the Autumn of that year, after a period of pretty deep depression and frustration, the Self suddenly and in a matter of a few moments became quite clear. Consciousness was not some mysterious product of the mind, it was the other way around—mind was the product of Consciousness!
This realization emerged after a long pondering over the meaning of a sentence on page 73 of "The Realization of the Absolute": "Consciousness cannot be conscious of consciousness even as one cannot climb up on his own shoulders. Eternal consciousness is Being itself."
With this concept as a basis, the tempo of things q sickened, and since the pupil had demonstrated some slight knowledge of the subject, the teacher was now in a position to expound a little, after all.
The weeks that follow saw an exciting exchange of letters as this germ of a discovery expanded into the Infinite Consciousness, the Self, which is all things Infinite, Eternal: "Brahman reveals himself little by little as we continue to search for Him, by withdrawal of the sense powers by stages from objects to senses, senses to mind, mind to intellect, and finally into itself."
"When Reality is non-dual, where is the question of relation...?"
"Perfection is not acquired, but is only a realization of what actually and eternally is. God is both immanent and transcendent..."
"It is 'Ego' or 'I-ness' of the sense of individuality of different grades that holds the soul to the world consciousness. When it is removed one cannot express 'That' feeling which is beyond words; when it is expressed it becomes limited."
"Matter does not exist for consciousness. It did not exist even before; it only appeared… all duality and variety is in the… mind."
"Brahman is Silence. All the clatter and noise of the world is only one of the manifestations of this stupendous Silence."
"Yes, so long as the mind thinks through the senses it will perceive objects outside, which we generally call the lower mind, and when it perceives the inklings of consciousness alone even in the objects, we call it the higher mind.. We have to be a witness. Our effort should lead to a supreme effortlessness."
"The finite mind is a means to comprehend the Infinite Spirit but not the end in itself. The mind which thinks in terms of the senses is the lower, and that which has pure perceptions is higher. Both are subject to transcendence."
It was not all philosophy, of course. From time to time, in response to an inquiry, or seeing the need, there would be comments aside from Vedanta:
"…You can also practice deep inhalation and exhalation through both nostrils, slowly and comfortably, for ten to fifteen minutes in the morning and evening... This will help you a lot. "
"I am glad that you say 'devotion did not arise in me until there came some comprehension'. This is the right spirit and the proper way to approach."
Devotion, in fact, was a content of every letter, implicit in every word. Yoga, I came to see, is a love affair, a yearning of the Self in man to unite, merge. Be the Self that is Brahman. "Perfection or truth cannot be Two, and there cannot be two Absolutes." (page 1 Realization of the Absolute ). And here, in a nutshell, is the reason for the misery of mundane existence. Man can never unite with the objects of his lover be it woman, wealth, fame, or whatever. There is always the 'other', isn't there, in worldly existence.
To arrive at an intellectual comprehension that the Self is pure consciousness is a critical point, and it revolutionized my outlook my life. But equally critical is the one which follows from it–that the searching mind itself eventually becomes the obstacle of the search. Without a teacher one would be lost here, simply because one cannot bring himself to adopt of stance of 'non–thought' unaided when he has been using thought to solve his problems all his life. He would drift. The word 'Silence' began to appear often in the Swamiji's letters. The letters themselves became less frequent teaching Silence by being silent.
"In complete stillness, the mind is 'absolved" like a crystal of salt merging in the ocean. "
"God is Supreme Silence. Every human being's real nature is also Supreme Silence... The act of consciously absorbing oneself into that Supreme Silence is called meditation and finally Samadhi. All thoughts arise from that Supreme Silence like bubbles in a calm water tank… the mind stands as an enemy to consciousness..."
“All experiences such as of stillness 'awareness', and 'be-ness' are like finding the hoofmarks of an animal. By a mere finding of the marks the owner will not be satisfied. He will proceed until he finds the lost animal. Similarly, the aspirant should continue his meditation till he reaches the goal. Kindly continue your meditation with a longer duration of time."
"There is, in the unmodified mind, consciousness but not thought. In fact, there is no such thing as 'unmodified mind' for mind is only another name for modification of some kind. Mind bereft of thought is consciousness and consciousness thinking is the mind. There is no duality in consciousness, and mind cannot be without it."
The price of admission into Being is high, requiring as it does nothing less than the crucifixion of the worldly self. The Christian mystics term this stage purgation and the best Christian presentation of it is probably to be found in 'The Dark Night of the Soul' by St. John of the Cross. While the basic texts of Vedanta do not seem to lay stress on purification as a stage to be endured and surmounted so much as it is an accompaniment of the total process, it is nevertheless recognised, and Sivananda devotes a long and detailed book—'Sadhana' to the subject a great work and in 'The Realisation of the Absolute' also, we find: "The whole process of the realisation of Truth is... a sacrifice of the ego, and is a great pain. Suffering in the process of experiencing of Infinitude cannot be abolished… Hence, the attempt towards the attainment of the perfectly Real is generally looked upon with fear, disgust, and even hatred."
But he can know himself only through sacrificing himself. The highest sacrifice is the offering of the self to the Absolute. The greatest Yoga is the sinking of the self into unity with the Absolute, by denying the separate and asserting the One."
'The Realisation of Absolute' is a unique book. I have come across nothing else like it. This is not to say that it is his 'best' book.
'The Philosophy of Life' is more lucid and things are 'spread out' a little more in it, and his analyses of the Western philosophers in the light of Vedanta serve as a sort of bridge between Vedanta and Western philosophy, something badly needed. (It is interesting in this connection to note that Heidegger, I believe it was, discovered Vedanta late in life and stated that this was what he had been trying to say in all of his works! Yes, a bridge is badly needed.) 'Resurgent Culture', containing an analysis of the plight of modern man in the light of Yoga or rather the lack of Yoga—is also a valuable work. There is also a shorter work which I read as a pamphlet entitled 'The Practice of Meditation' and it is without doubt the best essay on meditation I have seen. Is this to be part of a longer work, perhaps? Let us hope so!
Here in brief summary then is the record of a Guru-chela relationship carried on entirely through letters over a vast distance, and as I read through these letters now, some forty or so, I can only marvel at the Swamiji's dedication (all this for one lone student in a far—off land!), and I wonder where he finds the time to write the books. Truly, a mighty force for good in the world. Swamiji, I salute you on this occasion.