The Struggle for Perfection
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 2: The Progress Towards the Absolute

The typical man faced with the conflict of life is Arjuna, the hero of the Mahabharata, and the psychological seed behind the gospel of the Bhagavadgita. His position described at the outset of the Mahabharata war is symbolic of the state of mind of every seeker of Truth. While there is a lot of enthusiasm and tumult of courage and emotion to encounter the opposing forces on the eve of setting out for the actual hour of 'strike down' (I. 13-23), there is, when this hour is really at hand, an unexpected change of feeling. The body, vitality, mind and intellect fail him miserably at the crucial hour (29-31). The argument of Arjuna is also the argument of the seeker on the path. It is mainly threefold: First, the opposing forces are not always our ill-wishers but friends and relatives with whom we have lived for the major part of our life, and to strike them would be a heinous sin (33-37). Second, it is doubtful if this battle with the forces is going to be successful, for one does not know which side will win in the struggle – the seeker may overcome the world, or the world may overcome him and trample him down for his audacious attempts (II. 6). Third, any opposition to or encounter with our old well-wishers, friends, kith and kin, who are now regarded as foes in the battle of the spirit, may ruin the necessary social structure and one may be setting a bad example to mankind in generality (I. 39-44). For these reasons at least, the war of the spirit is an adventure of doubtful value and consequence.

This plea which was put forth by Arjuna harasses the mind of every student of Yoga, who finds himself in the midst of well-wishers and friends, whom it would be unworthy to oppose or give up (II. 4, 5); there is the suspicion that the effort may not be successful, and such forces as hunger and thirst, to mention the least, may threaten his very existence; also, men and the world who were with us and were our benefactors cannot easily be faced in a storm and overthrown without a feeling of compunction. This social logic of the sociological mind can be met only with the pointed retort of Sri Krishna stated in the second chapter of the Bhagavadgita, and expanded further on in the gospel, in graded steps, until the reach of the grand spiritual apocalypse. The immediate answer to the Arjuna in the seeker is that his understanding is not stable (11); it is biased in favour of his kith and kin with a prejudice of personal relationship, sentiment and emotion, which are the characteristics of the weaknesses of flesh. The understanding of the social man cannot really be regarded as stable, because its argument is always one-sided, it speaks in terms of gains and losses to itself in the realm of loves and hatreds, of 'mine and thine'. The higher understanding which the true seeker is called upon to entertain is what is known as Sankhya in the Bhagavadgita (39). This understanding has nothing to do with man's usual understanding of right and wrong, or of good and bad, for this latter is a highly affected partisan working in favour of the selfish individuality of sense and ego. What, then, is the higher understanding, on which Sri Krishna wishes us to base our Yoga of 'skilful action' (50)? It is that rarefied form of reason which does not stoop down to the level of a handmaid to the lower intellect operating in the field of the senses and arguing in favour of its own personal satisfaction (41). This higher reason is the inner spirit revealing itself occasionally in sober individuals with a dispassionate heart. The war of the spirit is not for or against anyone, for the spirit has no friends or foes (38, 45). But, when it is interpreted as a struggle for someone or something, it also, naturally, becomes at the same time against someone or something else. It is this wrong interpretation of the righteous war that led to the dispiritedness of Arjuna, and makes every seeker dejected, disconsolate and melancholy. It is not robbing Peter to pay Paul, but a type of struggle which the human mind cannot easily grasp, due to which reason it is that we find very few succeeding in this inner path of the search for spirit. This is a war not against persons or things but against unrighteousness which tries to defeat the final purpose of things in the world, and, thus, is wholly an impersonal attitude of spirit on behalf of the spirit (II. 48, 50).

This Sankhya-Buddhi, or impersonality of understanding, is, however, difficult of achievement as long as there is a world outside whose very presence makes effort personal, rather than impersonal. There cannot be impersonality as long as there is a reality outside. Here is the great problem. But, it is rooted in a misunderstanding of one's relation to the world, due to a commonplace view of things held on the basis of reports received through the senses (43, 44). The senses repeatedly affirm that the world is outside them and is to be dealt with as some sort of an alien object, by developing towards it attitudes of like, dislike or indifference, as a given context may demand. This is precisely what Sri Krishna rebutted as an entirely untenable position grounded in an error of standpoint. The stand which man usually takes in every form of judgment is personal;-that sometimes he thinks in terms of family, society and the larger expanse of mankind does not raise his view to anything more than the personal attitude, for collections of individuals cannot be free from the characteristics of the basic unit of individuality, and the so-called humanitarian view can easily be detected as a camouflage of the personal viewpoint of the individual extended to a group similar to him in the way of thinking. What is needed is a thorough change in the viewpoint itself, and not merely an extension of the individual's viewpoint to a larger group of individuals. It is quality and not quantity that makes the difference between the false and the true.

On a reinterpretation of the implications of the human standpoint, and not merely its outer set-up or form, it is seen that the ordinary man's judgment of things is incorrect, because it is the outcome of a psychological estrangement of the perceiving consciousness from the world of objects. The truth is that the structure of the senses is interwoven with that of the external world and, hence, any special bias in favour of the perception through the senses is uncalled for. Here is the weak point in all the arguments forged by Arjuna at the commencement of the battle. And this is also the weakness of every man in any walk of life, of even the learned and the student of Yoga judging and evaluating persons and things through the purely sensory standpoint. 'The properties move among properties' (III. 28), is the aphoristic answer of Sri Krishna to the quandary of Arjuna. The pattern of the senses is governed by the very same properties (Gunas) of the universal material matrix (Prakriti) as are the objects that are perceived by the senses. In the light of this analysis of the true position of the perceptual process, a judgment of things is inseparable from a judgment of oneself. Here is the qualitative difference of correct judgment from the quantitative shape of erroneous judgment.

This knowledge may frighten off anyone from making any effort in a world of such a mysterious make. But, says Sri Krishna, 'No one can rest without action even for a moment' (5), and 'One shall be dragged to action by the very structure of Nature' (XVIII. 59). Complexity of arrangement in the process of perception should not deter a person from doing his duty. This wisdom-action is known as Karma-Yoga, a term which applies to any effort in the world, whether personal or impersonal, material or spiritual. Thus, no one can get out of the law of Karma-Yoga. It comprehends all actions and all processes, whether they are visible or are carried on only invisibly. It is to fight the battle while it is there and not to avoid the battle itself, and this with the mature understanding (Sankhya-Buddhi) of the internal relevance mutually existing between the world outside and the percipient thereof. The endeavour in this direction, however, gets thwarted by the interference of the passions; 'desire and lust (Kama) and hatred and anger (Krodha), born of the character of distraction (Rajas), insatiable, sin-impelling, the one great enemy of man' (III. 37). But there is no cause for fear. The seat of this passion is the network of the operation of the senses, mind and intellect in a collaboration (40), due to which the individual is confounded and does not realise his true relation to the world outside and engages himself in likes and dislikes for things. This knot of collaboration can be broken by the sublimation of sense-energy into the mind, the mind into the intellect and the intellect into the supreme universality of consciousness (Atman) within oneself. Resort to the Atman is the solution for all problems and tensions of life in the world (42, 43).

This is the Sankhya and the Yoga of the Bhagavadgita, explained in a nutshell. The knowledge provided to a seeking soul in this revelation, no doubt, suffices to an extent, for here one comes to know of there being a new meaning hidden beneath the daily processes of life. While this is a powerful aid in living wisely in the world without the blunders attending upon sense-perception, this knowledge alone will not be enough to face problems of a different kind altogether. Who is to teach the senses that this is the fact beneath their perception? The perceiver himself is involved in the limitations of the senses and, as such, he cannot be expected to admonish the senses or exercise a restraining influence over their fumbling activities. A superior hand has to work in relieving the perceiving consciousness from the tangle and tension of sensory operation. This is the divine hand which moves as the incarnation (Avatara) of the Supreme Being. Its presence is felt everywhere and there is nothing which it does not touch, nothing to which it does not render succour in every crucial moment, juncture or crisis (Yuge, Yuge) (IV. 8). The purpose of this divine intervention is the establishing of the righteousness of the law (Dharma) which sustains the universe, and the complete overcoming and transformation of forces which go counter to this law (Adharma) (7). An insight into this subtle mystery of God working in the world, without the ordinary man usually knowing it, is a great advance in the way of Yoga. The common attachments to objects and the strings of affection get gradually snapped on the advent of this new light of knowledge in one's progress to perfection. The Bhagavadgita points out that at this stage a student of Yoga achieves three mighty results; viz., a balanced attitude of consciousness (Samatva) and a special dexterity in executing functions (Kausala), which is known as Yoga; a knowledge that the perceiver and the perceived are not independent entities as the subject and the object but form an interconnected organism as a single whole (24, 35), which is called Jnana; and a vision by which is beheld the totality of the universe as a unitary self in which the universality of objects is undividedly present (Atmavattva) (41).

A further movement of consciousness, by an intensification of meditation, causes its total detachment from all objective sensations, spontaneously, an achievement for which one had to put forth hard effort in the earlier stages of the application of Sankhya and Yoga. Here, all activity becomes a dispassioned sport of free choice and effortlessness. One who is united with the true self (Yogayukta), of an entirely purified nature (Visuddhatma), having subdued the urges of the individuality (Vijitatma), with the senses under a perfect control (Jitendriya), and beholding oneself in all beings (Sarvabhutatmabhutatma) – such a one is not attached even by doing everything (V. 7). But, for this fruit, one has to pay a heavy price in the form of restraint over the passions of love and hatred for persons and things (23). There is no other way of gaining this sublime end. And, once this stage of supreme renunciation is reached, one becomes fit for the higher attainment of self-integration by concentration and meditation (Dhyana Yoga) (27, 28). It is here that the disintegrated personality of the first stage gets gathered into a focus of force and energy, plumbs abysmal depths and soars into the empyrean of the unknown.

The law of this ascent of consciousness vertically towards a direct grasp of reality, as different from its horizontal movement heretofore, is the subjugation and determination of the lower self by the principle of working of the higher Self (Uddharedatmanatmanam) (VI. 5). God as the higher Self becomes the friend of man as the lower self, when the latter is determined by the law of the former; else, it would look that God disposes everything that man proposes (Varteta atmaiva satruvat) (6). When God befriends man, the light of the higher Self floods every nook and corner of the lower self; then supervenes the Yoga supreme. Herein the mind and the intellect stand together, and the senses return to their source. The Self delights in the Self, beholding the Self by the Self (18, 20). The world of objects gets reflected in the Self and seen as inseparable from it, bringing about a thoroughgoing equal vision in regard to all things (29). This is the highest Yoga which any man can hope to reach by the effort of his consciousness.

The soul now becomes confident of its powers and, like Hanuman, the epic hero, crossing the ocean, takes a leap into the expanse of existence, to reach the Absolute, finally, which, still, remains an 'other' to the meditative consciousness. The visible is not the whole universe, for it extends also into invisible realms. The five elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether form the outer crust of the cosmos and these alone are visible to the senses (VII. 4). But, internal to this region of physical objects are other subtler layers of the cosmos – the cosmos of energy, mind and intelligence. All this is beyond the reach of the senses and the individual's understanding. Transcendent to even these subtle planes of creation, hails God, the Almighty, as the dispenser of justice and the redeemer and saviour of all created beings (5-7). The illusion of sense-perception as the physical world of diversity is hard to pierce through except by resort to the grace of God; there is no other remedy for one's ailment in the form of stark ignorance of truth (13, 14).

With all this, and even in this stage of supernal experience, God retains His transcendence, and seems to be capable of attainment, not in this lifetime of the seeker, but after he quits his body and reaches the other world. Both the individual and the world appear to be so severed from the transcendent Being that He can be reached only after death, beyond this world, by traversing the path of the sun in his northern sojourn (VIII. 5, 6, 8, 12, 13, 24). There is maintained a distinction between the individual (Adhyatma), the world (Adhibhuta) and the presiding principle over these (Adhidaiva) (3,4). The thought at the time of death, and the Yoga of meditation practised at that time, determines the nature of the attainment, which remains a futurity to the seeking soul. This 'other-ness' of the goal which remains a theoretical possibility of the future cannot ultimately be satisfying, for satisfaction is a 'present' and not a 'future' to the consciousness. The future is a source of anxiety, as the past is mostly a source of regret and worry. It is the present that brings hope of the materialisation of values and the actualisation of principles.

The hope is rewarded. God now, at yet a higher stage, does not merely remain transcendent but is at the same time related to the world and the individuals as their protector and saviour by His immanence (IX. 4). He is the parent of all beings, looking to the needs of everyone, with great concern. He is the destination, the Lord supreme, the resort and the friend of all beings. He is the beginning, the middle as well as the end of things. He is not only existence but also non-existence and what is beyond both; immortality as well as death, and what can never be conceivable (16-19). The intimacy between man and God is vital and real. God pervades the universe as a whole, as its immanent sustaining force. All beings are stationed in Him, and He is in all beings. He is reached not merely after the death of the seeker; nay, He rushes to save and provide the needs of those who undividedly meditate on Him in their consciousness, here and now (22). This is a great solace to the soul which was upto this time frightened at the transcendent distance of God from itself. In fact, nothing can be nearer than God. This is the realisation and the satisfaction that comes at this hightened level of spiritual experience. As this experience deepens, a newer light brightens up the truth to a greater extent and the presence of God as the supreme immanence in everything becomes more and more a matter of day-to-day perception. He is present in things not merely in a general sense as fire hidden in all substances, but He is seen to be particularly active and specially manifest in all beings of exalted knowledge, power and splendour (Vibhuti) (X. 41). He is the Soul of the universe, the origin, sustenance and dissolution of everything, and the magnificence visible in all things of glory ((20, 21).

But the grand apotheosis is yet to descend and inundate the very substance and being of the soul. For, till this stage, the presence of God was either of a general character or confined to things of special exaltation and heightened capacity. But this is not wholly true. The truth is that God is really present in His supreme majesty and glory in all things equally, at all times, and everywhere. This is His essential nature and cosmic form (Visvarupa) (XI. 5-13). God is not merely in all things, but He is, verily, all things (38). This is the revelation which stuns and swallows up personality, individuality and isolated percipience of soulhood, and reigns supreme as the only reality. This experience is not to be had by mere human effort;-not by sacrifices, studies, charities, austerities, or activities of any kind (48). Action cannot touch the being of anything, and God is Absolute Being. The process of knowing (Jnatum), beholding (Drashtum), and entering into (Praveshtum) this Being of all beings is whole-souled devotion to it, by which the very self of the seeker is burnt, burnished and consumed in the fire of divine omniscience (54). This great reality is not perceived but experienced (8). It is the real and the only doer, enjoyer, seer and experiencer of everything (32-34). This is the goal of life.