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Sadhana – The Spiritual Way
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 10: The Search for Truth

In the recognition of the true nature of the Self, there are before us three great impediments, due to which, rarely do people become successful in the attempt. These difficulties are so intense and involved in their nature that ordinary effort in the direction of obviating them would not be considered as sufficing.

We have a perception of our own selves as this particular individual which is vehement enough in its affirmation; this assertion of our personal individuality contradicts our aspiration for the true Self which we wish to realise.

Secondly, we have a perception of a society of beings outside us. Immensely are we involved day in and day out in our contact with society. The enterprises of the world, all the activities of mankind, are connected with social relation so that we may say that we live a social life much more than anything else. This again is an obstacle before us in our attempt to realise the Self.

Thirdly, we perceive a large universe in front of us. There is a vast sky and the interstellar creation, the cosmos of astronomy, which stuns our vision and which we are not in a position to handle expertly. These are the main basic problems before us and they should be called problems merely because of the fact that we deliberately identify ourselves with these threefold circumstances of personality, society, and the world. In the same way as we consider ourselves as individuals as very important, we consider society outside also as equally important. Do we not consider the world of nature as important? Certainly so.

Do you feel that these perceptions are commensurate or in harmony with the nature of the Self as we could discover by an analysis that we conducted in the last two days? There seems to be no connection whatsoever with the essential nature of the Self – no connection in any manner with what the Self could be really. It is not an individual person, or anything like that. It is not a bundle of things like society. It is not even a physical universe. What else is it? These three problems are highlighted in a majestic, epic manner in the Kathopanishad.

Our discussion centred itself mostly in the Chandogya Upanishad and a corollary of that finding we will advantageously discover in the Upanishad which records the conversation between the god of death, Yama, and the exemplary disciple and seeker of Truth known as Nachiketas. There was in him, of course, an intense consciousness of himself. He knew that he was there as an aspiring lad. For some particular reason, he was made to encounter the god of death, Yama. And as an introductory information to us, the Upanishad tells us that the host was not there when the boy was standing in front of the gates of the Master. Yama was absent; he was out of station.

For three days and nights this boy stood there without eating and drinking and sleeping. On the completion of the three days, he had the darshan, the vision of the great god of death. The Master greets this little boy and says, "I am sorry that I could not see you when you were here on the very first day. It was not proper on my part to have made you stand here waiting for me for three days and nights, starving. It really touches me. Anyway, the past is past. For the three days of suffering that you underwent, ask for three boons as a recompense."

One of the boons that Nachiketas could think of as the first one was connected with his own personal individuality. "When I return to the world, may the world receive me properly, especially my father." The returning to the world after encountering death is a spiritual phenomenon because when one enters the path of spirituality and sinks oneself even in the very initial level of Self-recognition, there comes a question of one's relation to the world outside.

Do we feel today, at this moment, that the world is receiving us appropriately? Most of us are afraid of the world because we do not know how it will react upon us. Everyone is afraid of everyone else in this world. Somehow we make adaptations and adjustments with conditions outside and see that this fear arising from persons and things and nature outside is ameliorated as much as possible. It does not mean that anyone loves us, really, and nobody wants us also, perhaps, in the end.

If this is the nature of the world, how would you expect it to receive us in an affectionate manner? There is a disparity between our nature and the nature of the world, apparently. The world seems to be made of some structure or pattern of existence which is not identical with the way in which our personal individuality seems to be constituted. We do not behave in the same way as the world behaves with us. As the world may be expecting us to behave in a particular way, and we may also be expecting, on the other hand, the world to behave with us in some requisite manner, there does not seem to be any kind of rapprochement between ourselves and the world. Neither we will budge, nor the world will budge. The world says: "You have to obey my laws, and I am not going to listen to you." But the human being says to the world: "You must obey my laws, and I am not going to listen to your pranks."

Man wants to conquer nature and nature wants to defeat man at every step. Who will win finally in this war? No one knows. Apparently, man does not win in this battle. He is finally kicked out of existence. He is annihilated completely. He shall not be in this world anymore when this war with the world continues to an extent of intolerability by the world. It issues an exit order: "Go." Nachiketas expects no such treatment from the world: "Let me be received affectionately by all people, by the entire nature."

This is possible only if the Self-hood, to which we made reference, can be recognised in all the things of the world, and the world also in its Self-hood will recognise the Self-hood in everyone's own self. That is, the Self of the universe should be in a state of harmony with the Self of Nachiketas himself. Yama, the great Master, says, "This boon that you have asked for is granted." When a Self-realised sage, having entered the nature of the Self, comes back to a world consciousness, he is received in a most affectionate, loving manner by every creature in the world.

We concluded by noticing that one who has the wisdom of the Vaishvanara is like a mother to the universe of all people; and as children sit around their mother asking for their daily bread, creatures, people, every living being in the world will sit around this great person asking for his benediction. This is the condition of that super-person we call a jivanmukta. He will be received as he would receive himself. "This boon is granted. Ask for another boon," said Yama.

The other boon coming is connected with the universe of perception. Personality and society were somehow brought into a state of adjustment by the granting of the first boon. Actually, the first boon included both these aspects of our difficulty – personality and society. The second boon is connected with the universe itself. What is the second boon?

"May I have the knowledge of the Universal Fire." This is the same thing that, in other words, is known as Vaishvanara Agni. The Universal Fire is the Cosmic Will that has projected this cosmos and sustains it and also will withdraw it one day. "May I have cosmic knowledge?" This is perhaps the indication behind this asking for the second boon. Elaborately, in a ritualistic manner, the great Master, Yama, initiated Nachiketas into this cosmic mystery of one's unity with the cosmos – omniscience.

But Truth is above even omniscience. Omnipotence, omniscience and even omnipresence cannot be regarded as Ultimate Reality because to be omnipresent, there should be space. But Truth is above spatial expanse. To be omniscient also, there should be many things. But Truth is above the manifoldness of things. To be omnipotent, too, there should be things over which one can exercise power and authority. But Truth is above the context of externality. So, even the definition of Reality as omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence will fall short of expectation. "The third boon, please ask," spoke Yama.

Now, Nachiketas brings the cat out of the bag. "Tell me what happens to the soul after it departs."

"No, this question you should not raise," asserted Yama. "Ask for anything else."

"When the soul enters into something, departing from this body, where does it lie?" asked Nachiketas.

"Even the gods cannot answer this question, my dear boy. Ask for better things. Doubts regarding this question harass the minds of celestials in heaven. They have not come to a conclusion about what this mystery is. And you are asking me, little boy? Ask for glorious things."

"What are the glorious things?"

"Longest life – I shall fill you with it. As long as this world lasts, so long shall you live."

Nachiketas said, "What is the good of this? Even the longest life is short when it comes to an end. Is the longest life going to end one day, or is it not going to end? Let it be longest; what does it matter? But one day it ends. Take back this benediction that you have granted to me. I do not want to have a longest life, because the longest life also is a short life when it is properly considered."

"All the wealth of the three worlds I grant you," said Yama.

"Are they permanent or perishable in their nature?" asked Nachiketas. "If the whole cosmos is going to be dissolved one day, are the glories, the gold and silver and the riches, going to last?"

"All the beauties and the grandeurs and the majesties and the attractions and the delicacies of the whole world of creation are here before you," said Yama. "But ask not this particular question regarding the soul's destiny."

"What is the good of all these, again?" queried Nachiketas. "They wear away the senses." "Svobhava martyasya yad antak-aitat sarv-endriyanam jarayanti tejah; api sarvam jivitam alpam eva, tav aiva vahas tava nrtya-gite." "Take back your dance and the songs and the beauties, great Master. I do not require any of these. But answer my question."

Yama said, "I am sorry that I said you are free to choose three boons. Perhaps I ought not to have said anything at all. I never knew that you are so clever. You are catching me by this strange question which no god can answer."

"But you have to answer," said Nachiketas. "You told me, great Master, that even the gods cannot answer it, which means to say that you are in a position to answer. Having come face to face with a great genius of divinity like you, which fool will depart? I shall not budge from this place. I shall leave this place only after I get the answer. What happens to the soul, please?"

The very words that we have in the Bhagavad Gita, we have also in the Kathopanishad. "This is a wonder indeed. The Self is a wonder." Why is it a wonder? Because, firstly, it cannot be seen anywhere. Even when you say that it is everywhere, you are making an understatement, because, as it was mentioned, the everywhere-ness is connected with space. So don't say that the Self is everywhere. Don't say that the Self is always, perpetually. By saying that, you are connecting it with the time process. It is not quite fitting to say that the Self is everywhere. Nor is it fitting to say that it shall be always. Neither is it a proper definition to say that the Self is in all beings, because there are no beings before it. Desha-kala-vastu-pariccheda: the de-limitation caused by space, time and individuality does not apply to the Self.

No definition conceivable by logic can apply to the nature of the true Self. No organ available with us as a faculty of knowledge can apprehend it. We seem to be facing a wall in front of us – a dark curtain – and we cannot pierce through it.

Does anyone realise the difficulty? The difficulty is in the operation of our consciousness. It has involved itself into a tangle of perceptions shrouded in the three states of waking, dream and sleep. All these three difficulties mentioned are connected with the three states of consciousness, jagrat, svapna, sushupti – waking, dream and sleep.

Neither the waking nor the dream nor the sleep condition is the essential nature of the Self, as we have already noted. The Self is just as it is. It is Pure Being, Existence as such, Existence which is aware of itself. It is not existence like a stone's existence. It is a consciousness-existence, or rather, existence-consciousness. In Sanskrit, we call it sat-chit. The Existence which is aware of itself is sat-chit. It is not limited by any kind of conditioning factor in the world and, therefore, it is utter freedom. So, it is bliss, ananda. Sat-chit-ananda is the tentative nomenclature-definition which we associate with the nature of the Self, for want of better words.

Can anyone contact Being, as such? If this could be possible, one can contact the Self, also. Actually, there is no such thing as contact with the Self, because contacts are always between two things and in the Self, there are no two things. No one is there who can contact it.

By hearing all this one can get frightened, as children are frightened in a place where they can see nobody outside them. A little baby cries because it cannot see anybody outside. It cries not because it is seeing something, but because it is not seeing anything. You place a baby somewhere where it sees nothing outside – nobody is there; it will start screaming. It wants somebody to be seen.

Our ego-consciousness will, baby-like, start crying in a state of consternation, fear arising from not something that is there, but from that which is not there. Each one of us can experiment with our own selves by living in a state of utter isolation for some months; and one can see what one feels at that time in one's own mind. You should not live in the midst of people. There should not be a second person next to you. Let us see if you can live alone in such a way that for several kilometres around you there is not one human being, and let this kind of life be lived for a long time. You will be frightened – not by something that is around you, but because of the absence of anything around you: Oh, there is nothing, there is nothing! There is then a shuddering of the ego-consciousness.

The ego-personality lives on account of contact with things outside. Any kind of non-contact is veritable death for the ego. You have to go on speaking; you have to go on seeing. These two things are very essential for your social existence. If you don't speak for one year, you will feel like a half-dead person. You will feel miserable to the core. And if you don't see anybody, it is still worse. And naturally when you are alone in that condition, there is no question of speaking. To whom will you speak? Will you speak to the sky?

So, neither will you see anything, nor will you speak to anybody. What is that condition? Fear! In a few days you will run away from that place, to the nearest market where you will have somebody to talk to and chat with, and something to see with the eyes. The desire to see and to talk is the basic impulse in a human being. Otherwise, misery is the fate. But this sight that you are asking for, in search of, this God-realisation that you are speaking about, the great God who is the Self of all things – this Self cannot be contacted because there is nothing with which it can come in contact.

Unthinkable, imperceptible, is the way of yoga. The way of the yogi is like the track of birds in the sky or of fish in water, as they say. The track is invisible. So are those of fish in water; so is the path of the Spirit. It is invisible. The Katha Upanishad warns us again – sharp as the edge of a sword or a razor, imperceptible is the path of the Spirit – subtle, cutting, and you can slip down from it in a second. One cannot always be in a state of yoga for years. In a few moments one can come down and slip to the lowest of social existence.

This is so because of the fact that we are not prepared to face this condition of fearsome existence where there is nothing outside us. You can sit in this hall with hundreds of people seated here in the audience and yet negate the consciousness of their existence by the affirmation of your mind and feel oneself alone if you so like. In the midst of hundreds of people, it is possible to feel alone. But where there are no people around, you can feel a city around you if your mind is so constituted.

If the mind is thinking of marketplaces, railway stations, bus stands, tea shops and societies, you are in a metropolis even if you are in the thick of a jungle. But even if you are in a large audience of people in a real city but the mind is withdrawn from the perception of the externality of these individuals, you are alone, still. Let them be there. There is nothing wrong with them. Let millions be there around you, but you shall not allow the mind to cognise them as external locations. Then in the midst of a large audience or even in a thickly populated street, you will find yourself alone to yourself.

Fear arises due to the aloneness of the mental operation at that time in the practice of yoga, and not necessarily because of the nonexistence of things outside. Everywhere there are things. How can you say that things are not there? It is a question of perceptibility or imperceptibility.

In the assiduous practice of yoga of the recognition of the Self, it is, of course, to some extent advisable to physically wean oneself away from human society; but this is not a solution to your problem, because in solitude also the mind can think of the world. You will at least think that you have come from such and such a place: "I have come from Rishikesh." There comes Rishikesh, even when you are in a state of utter isolation of mentality.

Physical aloneness alone is not a solution to the need for achievement of a real aloneness that is required for Self-recognition. Yoga is not a social practice. It is not a political administration. It is not a commerce. It is not a dealing with anything. It is non-contactual contact, impossible even to perceive, to think. Even yogis are frightened by it. Yogis are frightened even to think of such a predicament as what you are describing – what to talk of common people? But you have to pursue it.

If you are persistent and tenacious and bent upon getting it and will not budge from that attempt – day in and day out – your mind is thinking, dreaming, and brooding over it: "When shall I get it, when shall I get it, when shall I get it?"; if you have no interest in anything else, and you have a faith that you are going to get all things by the invading of the ego into the Self, "Then blessedness be yours," Prajapati, the Creator, said to the gods and the demons. "Whoever knows the Self shall have everything."

  The contact of things in this world, says the epic Mahabharata, is like the contact of logs of wood floating on the surface of the ocean. If two logs of wood somehow meet and touch each other by the force of the wind that blows on the surface of the ocean, and if you assume that each log of wood has a mind and a consciousness, it will think that a friend has come. Shake hands. "How happy to see you, my dear friend, my love." And they will hug each other and live together, not knowing the fact that the contact has been caused not because of their effort but because of the wind that blew from above. When the wind blows in another direction, there is bereavement, "Oh, my wife died. My child has gone. My relations are dead." Because the wind blew in another direction, the logs are separated. Neither birth nor death, neither coming together nor separation, is in anyone's hands. It is the will of the cosmos that operates.

Contacts of any kind are not to tempt us to such an extent as to make us forget the true nature of the Self. All joys born of contact of sense organs with things are wombs of pain, says the Bhagavad Gita.

People who cling to persons will also come to grief by bereavement and death. People who cling to money and wealth and land will also come to grief by a loss of it. People who cling to this body also will come to grief when it departs. There is no one who will not be in a state of sorrow if clinging is the way in which we conduct ourselves in this world.

Non-contact is the nature of the recognition of the Self. Yoga of the Self – atma sakshatkara, or brahma sakshatkara – the realisation of the Absolute is the way, the art, the technique, the science of non-contactual contact. It is contacting oneself.

To contact yourself, you do not require eyes. You close the eyes, don't see anything, and yet you will know that you are existing. Let the ears be plugged; you will know that you are existing. Let there be no sensation of any kind through the organs of perception. You will still be conscious that you are there. There will be the existence-consciousness of the personality. You will know that you are: "I exist, and I am aware that I am existing." To have this apprehension, sense organs are not necessary.

Sense organs are not the means to practise yoga. It is not even the mind that is thinking the soul; it is something different from the mind that is asserting that you are existing. Even in the early morning when you have got up from sleep, and the mind is not very active, you will feel that you are existing. You get up from sleep – "I am." The first awareness that is generated in your personality after waking up from sleep is "I am." You don't start thinking of the buildings and the walls and the things and the furniture in the room in the earliest of stages of waking. The objects become objects of consciousness only later on.

So, the first awareness is "I am." How do you know that you are? What is the proof? Can you prove that you are existing? People who always ask for proofs for the existence of God should be asked to prove their own existence, first. How do you know that you are existing? You may say, "Why should I want a proof for that?" If that is the case, there is also no need of proof for the existence of the Atman, the Self, or God, because the Atman, God, Self mean the same thing. It is Self-identical consciousness of Being. As this kind of definition is beyond the comprehension of the human mind, it is considered as a wonder indeed if it could be really made an object of one's apprehension. By sense-control, by the abstraction of the operation of the organs of perception, by freedom from desires that are mortal, deceptive and perishable, by contentment with whatever one has, by non-contact with people and having no attachment to anything, the Self reverts to Self-consciousness, the Aloneness that it is.

A gradual inwardness has to be practiced following the same process that perhaps Nachiketas adopted in his asking for the boons, rising from the personality and society and going further above into the cosmic existence, then finally centring oneself in the True Self.

This indescribable thing is our own Self. Myself, yourself, everybody, everything is the most important thing in the world. Don't say that the most important things are the gadgets of human creation. "You" are the most important thing in the world. The greatest value that you can discover anywhere is your own Self. This Self, that you call "Myself," – this is the greatest of values. And if we can bring this Self of ours, which we consider as the greatest value, into the surface of actual, visible contemplation, direct perception, that would be the state of the practice of the yoga of the Atman.