In the Light of Wisdom
by Swami Krishnananda

Conclusion: The Wisdom of Life

We should make it a point to collect our thoughts and make these thoughts a part of our personalities. Whatever we have learned, thought about or meditated upon has to be a little different from what people generally read in schools and universities. We know the difference, and I need not go into it at length. Generally, learning is a cumulative process. It is something like a property that one has, but this is not the real learning which will help us in our lives. It is said in an old proverb of India, that the food that is to be carried throughout the journey and also the knowledge that is in books will not help us for very long. Hence, our learning and knowledge should not be merely in books. Not only that, our knowledge should also not be a sort of property that we are carrying. We know that all property can leave us one day or the other. Anything that has been accumulated is likely to leave us.

Our learning or knowledge is not to be a kind of asset that we are carrying—something that is outside our nature—like the house that we have, the properties, the fields, the business or the money that we have. These are our assets, but these assets are not reliable, because we do not know how long they can be with us and when they will leave us. Our knowledge is to be a part of our being. This is the distinction between knowledge and wisdom, as it is generally stated. In an ashram, we seek out the presence of saints and sages in order to imbibe a type of knowledge which will not be easily forgotten. Similarly, we do not forgot our own existence, our own special inherent characteristics, our own name, that we have come from such and such a place, that we were born to so and so, or that we have a certain vocation, and so on. These have become so intimately related to our personalities that we cannot forget them.

So should be the knowledge or the wisdom of life that we acquire. It is this wisdom that has become a part of our nature that will indeed help us. When the need comes, we cannot just search for the knowledge in our pockets, as we will not find it there. Knowledge that is in our pockets or in the books or that remains merely a memory will not help us. The great distinction between spiritual insight and accumulated learning of the world is that while learning is tentatively helpful and workable in the pragmatic world, the insight of life enables us to be happy in this world. The essence of knowledge is happiness, and the extent to which happiness is rooted in our permanent nature will also be the test of our wisdom in life. It is difficult to be happy in the world. People who have lived in the world will know why it is so. There are obstacles of various kinds all coming to us unexpectedly—nothing comes to us with a previous notice! Nothing of the world will tell us that it is coming and whether it is for us or against us.

Everything will come when it wants to come. To take these things in their proper spirit when they come, whether they are for us or against us, is a part of the wisdom of life. Mere book learning will not help us in this matter, because the learning of a scientific or a philosophical character would give us only some sort of outward information about the characteristics of things. But this learning will not tell us how these things will act upon us. The things of the world may be studied in a scientific manner, but what counts more is not merely our understanding of what these things are superficially, but rather what they mean to us at any given moment of time. It is this knowledge that people lack. We always underestimate or overestimate things. We can never have a proper evaluation of things, because this is exactly the blindness that thwarts us, namely, that we lack the wisdom of life.

Insight into Life

The spiritual wisdom which the scriptures and the sages give us is not a bookish knowledge. It is not a learning in the ordinary sense at all. It is something difficult to equate with the qualifications that we generally acquire in our institutions of education. A simple truth of the world is that to be happy in the world is quite difficult. Just as it is difficult to be happy, so also it is difficult to be wise in this world. Both mean the same thing. The unwise man is always unhappy, because wisdom is happiness, and knowledge is happiness. They are not only qualitatively related to each other, but one is identical with the other. In the ultimate sense they are the quality of God Himself—wisdom and happiness mean ‘chit’ and ‘ananda’ in the technical Sanskrit definition of God. He is consciousness and bliss, to put it in ordinary language.

He is wisdom and happiness, and any reflection of God in the world is a comparative reflection of perfection. Wherever there is a reflection of God’s presence in any manner whatsoever, happiness is revealed. It may be just a drop, it may be a most inconceivably small percentage—it does not matter—but if God is revealing Himself, then we feel a rapture and an ecstasy. Insight into life is another name for a minute reflection of God’s presence in human life. It is towards this end that yoga and the psychology of spiritual practice lead the mind of man. Every day it should be the duty of a student of yoga to watch his steps and to determine the extent of the progress that has been made.

How do we know that we have progressed? It is not a physical space that we have to count—it is rather a mental attitude. Most people cannot go to bed with a contented heart. There is something heavy weighing down on their shoulders when they go to bed at night. It is impossible for most people in the world to get a good sleep, because everyone is tethered down to unexpected, unforeseen and anxious situations. “Something may happen; something may not happen; something which I don’t like may happen, or something which I want may not happen.” These are the anxieties with which we go to bed every night. These are difficult enough to understand, and burdensome enough for any person. The purpose of the study of yoga is to free us from these tangles and not merely to give us some information. It is not for us to assume that we have learned something and that we have progressed merely because we think we know more. There has to be something in it more vital and significant that is crucial to us.

We have to go with a contented heart. We have to go with a feeling that we have achieved something which is meaningful to us. What could be more important to us than our own Self? Can we count upon anything else in the world as more consequent, momentous and meaningful than our own Self? What is the use of gaining the whole world, if we are losing our own soul, as Jesus phrased it? If we are to lose our own soul and gain the whole world, what does it avail us? Ultimately then, what is the most valued thing? Our own Self is the most valued thing. If we are out of tune, out of track, out of order, and have got drowned in the ocean of life, then what value could the world have for us? What is all this glory of the world, and what does it mean? It is nothing, it is trash, and it is a straw for us if we have lost our own soul.

If we read Goethe’s Faust, we will know what it is to sell one’s soul, and what calamities can then come as a result. Every one of us has sold himself to some extent at least. It is selling one’s soul that keeps us in slavery to the world. We have sold ourselves; so naturally, we are slaves. To sell oneself is to be a slave of others or of the world. What is it to sell oneself? To sell oneself is to fix one’s affection in things which are untrustworthy and in a world where things will deceive us. In these ephemeral things we pin our faith and affection, and so we sell ourselves to phantoms of the world which will immediately react upon us in their own way. To guard ourselves against this onslaught of the world is the yoga that we practise. I’m now giving here certain practical workaday outlines of what yoga is, along with the deeper implications about which I have spoken earlier. Sometimes it is easy to understand big things and difficult to understand small things, and it may be possible that we will fail in the small things, while we may appear to be successful in the larger things.

Up to this time it was my endeavour to speak on the profundities of yoga, but now I want to discuss some things that are very simple, but which are also of great importance. What makes us unhappy in not our faithlessness in the existence of God. We may be a very good churchgoer and temple worshipper; we may be faithful to God and believe in the existence of God, but nevertheless we may be unhappy. While the larger, general perspectives of religion and philosophy are good enough, they may not help us in the small things in life, because the knowledge has not entered into our personality. This knowledge has remained a commodity that we are carrying, like a load on our backs, and no material or psychological commodity can help us. This knowledge should not become a commodity that we are carrying. Knowledge is our own Self, and where it becomes our own Self, we blossom like a flower. Then we will feel that we are a true human being with some meaning in us.

Otherwise, many a time we ask despondently, “What is the meaning in life?” Many people do not understand why they were born at all. There are certain circumstances in life which make us cry, and we feel that it would be better to be rid of this world. Such situations are extremes of reaction set up against people. Against these difficulties we have to guard ourselves, but not with a drawn sword as if we were confronting an enemy. Yoga tells us not to be an enemy of anyone. We are not to come with drawn swords, because this is not the way to happiness. Hatred does not cease by hatred. Hatred ceases by love, says the Buddha.

Yoga at Its Most Practical

This is not an instruction to us merely as regards our neighbour. Rather, it is in regard to all things in creation. This is the simple, outer, social and personal meaning of this attitude to life. Yoga has to come down to the practical level and be in our own homes as it were, and not remain merely in the heavens. Yoga is not merely a matter of our puja room, or the monasteries and churches. When yoga comes down to the street, to the shop, to the bazaar and to the workaday world, then it is that we can say that God has entered into our lives. To reiterate, the purpose of yoga is to make us happy human beings. It is only then that we can think of becoming a God-being. Every step that we take in the path of yoga is a path to happiness. From freedom to freedom, from happiness to happiness, and from broadness to broadness we move in the path of yoga. Our movement is from one whole to another whole. The ‘small whole’ we may say is the beginning, and the ‘larger wholes’ are the subsequent stages. There was one philosopher who wrote a book on what is called ‘whole-ism’. He said that everything moves from whole to whole. It is not a part that moves to the whole, as generally people think. Even a part is a whole in itself. A cell in our bodies is a whole and therefore complete. If we ask a biologist, he will say that any body is complete in itself and is a whole. It may look like a part, but in itself it is a whole.

We are told that we are a part of creation, but we think we are a whole by ourselves. We never regard ourselves as a part, because it is almost impossible to think so, but even a cell of our bodies is a whole by itself, if it is analysed. Many wholes make a larger whole—like cells becoming a body for instance. Wholes are concentrated into other wholes and are ultimately consummated in the supreme merger of all things, which is the Absolute. Such is yoga in its principle and practice—easy to understand, something very happy and most delighting when it comes into our hearts. In broad outlines, the outer aspects of the practice of yoga are possibly more important than our metaphysical understanding of it. This is because we are likely to be disturbed by small annoyances, and at the time that we experience them, they may be of greater consequence than anything else in the world. What disturbs our lives are the little pinpricks of life and not the larger aspects of maya or the cosmic prakriti. These are not really our problems. Acharya Sankara’s concept of maya as the universal attribute of Ishwara is not out problem. Our actual problems are very small ones, and if we carefully think about our own personal lives, we will find that our wants are small.

Yet it seems to be impossible to fulfil them. Our difficulties are many a time of a very silly character. To properly react to these simple situations of life is the test of yoga. If we want to know the inner stuff of a person, we have to watch his daily, small works and not just the big things that he does. He may be wonderful in the big public things, but if we watch him in the small things he does—like taking a bath, eating lunch, speaking to a person—these may all seem unconnected to his spiritual life. We can know a person and also know ourselves more from these things than from the university degrees that we have or the offices we hold. We can slip when it comes to the small things, while we may be very cautious as regards the bigger things.

Maya, if at all there is any such thing, tempts us and catches us in the small things. The devil catches us only in the smallest of things and not the big things. He knows that we will be very cautious in the big things. The enemy comes from the back—but never from the front—because he knows that with the things right in front of us we will be cautious. Why not then come from the back? This is how maya, avidya (ignorance), ajnana (lack of knowledge), nescience and the world work. Whatever we may call them, it makes no difference, because our problems are of a uniform character. We have to be cautious in our immediate circumstances, and not just in the more rarefied relationships.

We may not know what is just under our own skins pricking us from within, while we may be very careful to see what is far, far beyond. With a telescope we may be seeing what is happening on Mars, but we may not know what is happening next door. Yoga tells us that these oversights may be our doom, and therefore we must be wise in these immediacies of life. God is an immediacy and everything of true importance is also an immediacy. That which will help us is very near, and that which will trouble us is also very near. Our friends are not coming to us from thousand of miles away, nor are our enemies coming from such a distance. Our troubles and our solace are all immediately near us. Our ‘friends’ will speak to us from within, and our ‘enemies’ also may speak to us from within. “I am here,” both will say.

The student of yoga should be concerned with the larger philosophical aspects. However, while these issues have their own importance, there are other things which are also important, and which we are likely to neglect. I am going on repeating all these things, because I have tried to explain why we are unhappy in the world. Our unhappiness is not due to our religious attitude or because we lack education. Perhaps we are all well-educated, but despite that, we can be unhappy due to small maladjustments in the personality. For instance, we may not be able even to speak to a person without hurting their feelings. There are some people who are like that. It is impossible for them to meet with other people without causing some sort of negative response to be elicited. They may not be deliberately doing that, but it is almost second nature to them, and they always say the wrong thing at the wrong time. They shouldn’t speak things which are not necessary or things which are harmful, or conduct themselves in an anti-social or unsociable manner, but yet they do it time and again. Why should this be? These are some of the smaller difficulties in life which have not been dealt with properly, and which have much to do with yoga. We will be surprised that these things have something to do with yoga. I have said, God is nearest to us, and God will see what is nearest, because He is nearest. He is an immediacy. God is also called the ‘Atman,’ and this is a very significant word.

God is Not Far Away

The word implies that God is not far away. When we say God is the Atman, we mean that God is our Self. We can understand what the Self can be. What can be nearer to us than the Self? When God is the Atman, it means God is nearest to us, and therefore the Real can manifest itself in what is immediately here and near to us. All reactions are immediate. Perhaps I’m saying something new today. All the while we might have been under the impression that the world is big, the cosmos is so immense, creation is so wondrous and God is Absolute. That is so, but today I am trying to point out another thing, namely, that they are also something quite unimaginable, and that they can be in a place, a condition or a situation that is so very immediate to us—more immediate than we could even dream. God is not merely Ishwara, but He also is the Atman. When we say He is Ishwara, we speak of Him as the universal Creator—very big and awe-inspiring. When we say He is the Atman, He is very immediate. He is internal even to our own hearts. Nearer to us than our own breath is that Reality.

We have to learn in our study of yoga that the whole world can set up reactions—inside rather than just outside. We should not expect reactions always from the outside. While reactions can take place from outside, because God is also in a certain sense outside, He is also inside. He can set up reactions from another corner altogether. Whatever is outside is also inside, says the Chhandogya Upanishad. The text says in a very beautiful language that just as there are thunder and lightning, sun, moon and stars outside, these things are also inside. Everything outside in the universe has a counter-correlative in one’s own personality.

Therefore, our caution about the world outside is not enough. This is the wisdom of yoga, which is for us also the wisdom of life. This is why we are often told, “Know thyself and be free.” It is difficult to know this truth. We may know many things of the world, but not this simple thing, because the most difficult things of the world are the simple things. The complex things can be analysed, but indivisible, unitary and simple elements cannot be resolved further. The most indivisible and unitary element is our own Self, and everything is connected with it. This fact is very subtle and easy to forget, and it eludes our grasp, but this is the significance of the path of yoga. Yoga is external as well as internal. It is a macrocosmic as well as microcosmic approach, and our vigilance must therefore be twofold. Yoga is both a father and a mother in showing affection to us, but it is also like a double-edged sword which can cut both ways. Such is this wondrous and difficult path of yoga. I am confident that most can find access to its subtleties. There is absolutely no doubt that these ideas which have been implanted in our minds are going to help us in our practical lives. What is the use of anything, if it is not going to help us in our lives? Everything must also be helpful in relation to our day-to-day lives, and this knowledge is going to help us in our day-to-day lives.

It is going to make us a full human being—a human being in the sense of a happy being. This happiness will be a part of our nature. We will be radiating joy, and all the apparent reactions of the world around us will cease. In the beginning though, there will be opposition from inside as well as outside. Persons, things and conditions may terrify us many a time—outwardly as well as inwardly. The first thing that we get when we churn the ocean is vinegar and not nectar. In the Puranas there is the story of the churning of the ocean. The gods and the demons churned the ocean for nectar, but what they got in the beginning was not nectar but poison. The poison choked their throats, but then later no doubt nectar came. In the beginning though, what came was not nectar, so we shouldn’t expect nectar to come in the beginning in our practice. What we will get instead are disturbances, reactions and unpleasantness of various types, but we have to bear up to them.

All this is not merely a story of the churning of the ocean in the Puranas; it is also an analogy for the lives of all the saints and sages who tread this path. We will know this if we read the lives of saints—the most outstanding being the life of Buddha himself. We see what life he lived, what reactions he had to face, and what difficulties he had on the path. Many people would be intimidated by these problems, and they wouldn’t be willing to go through them. Fortunately for us we have the lives of these great people to encourage us, so that we will not be deterred by the initial obstacles.

When homeopathic medicines begin to act, they sometimes aggravate the illness which we are trying to cure. It looks as if we had become worse, but soon thereafter the illness ceases completely. Perhaps, all human processes and all things in the world follow this rule of aggravating first and then dying out completely. There is a particular section of the eleventh chapter of the Srimad Bhagavad Gita where everything seems to be ‘at sixes and sevens’—all confusion and disorder where nothing at all is clear. The eleventh chapter of the Gita is precisely the situation of the initial step in yoga. Everything will be hard in the beginning. We won’t know what this is or what that is, which is exactly the situation in which Arjuna found himself in the eleventh chapter. In the beginning we will have adverse reactions, which come because of an interference with the system of living to which the mind has long been accustomed. There seems to be a sudden upset of forces from all sides which may terrify us, because the mind is now being introduced to a new method of thinking to which it has not yet been initiated. The mind will not agree, and it can easily turn away from the path. The mind sets up reactions, and when the mind sets up reactions, it looks as if the world also is up against us. When we take the initial step in yoga, there will be a feeling of being lost. All this will happen to us only if we practise—not merely when we read or talk about it. When we really start contemplating, meditating and seriously taking to yoga, then it is that these experiences come to us.

One need not be afraid of these things. While these poisonous vapours may try to suffocate the efforts in yoga, later we will have a flood of nectar flowing towards us, as was the case in the story in the Puranas. What is this story? It is nothing but the spiritual evolutionary process described in images and symbols. The path of yoga is both difficult and also wonderful. It is the path to God. While God is most compassionate and loving, He is also a hard taskmaster. God is both of these. He is a loving mother and also a very critical father. He can punish us and also save us. The path of yoga, being the path to God, is of a similar character. These are the watchwords that I have offered as a kind of guidance in our day-to-day lives, which again I want to emphasise, should become a part of our nature and a part of our being. Yoga should be our own selves. We are yoga, ultimately. We are not to practise it as something outside us. To live yoga is to live a godly life, and it is to bring God into our own lives. Yoga means to be happy even in adverse situations. It is difficult indeed, but success will come, and it has to come, if we have honestly heeded the call. May God bless you all. Hari Om Tat Sat.