Self-Realisation, Its Meaning and Method
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 5

We have heard it said many a time that the world is more like a dream than anything substantial in itself. This is repeated again and again in scriptures of various religions, and even poets seem to agree that this world is made of such stuff as dreams are made of. The dreamy character of the world consists in a peculiar activity of consciousness in its perceptions. This we call life in the world. The excursions of consciousness have to be outside itself in order that they may present a variety before itself. You have to listen to me very carefully here, in this little analysis of the activity of consciousness.

The experience we call life in this world has necessarily to be spread out in its various diversities, in its externality of presentation, or outwardness of contact; else it would not be what we call experience, at least it would not be what we call the world. Now, in order that an experience of this type of a projected phenomenon be possible, consciousness has to move out of itself into the realm of its contents of experience. But consciousness cannot move outside itself. This is what we would have understood by our reflections and studies. There cannot be any such thing as the movement of consciousness outside itself, inasmuch as it cannot have an outside. That it cannot have an outside is something which we would have by this time made clear to our own selves, because, to be aware of an outwardness of oneself, one has to move from oneself to that which we considered as outward. If we have moved out of ourselves into another that we call the world of experience, that ‘another’ has to be bridged with our own selves by a phenomenon we call relational contact, perception, cognition, and the like. In other words, there should be a sort of gap between ourselves and the content of our experience in order that the content may become what we call the world. If we are sticking to the world as the skin is sticking to our body, we would not be able to visualise the world. But this is impossible and it cannot be, because the consciousness of a gap between its own self and its content has also to be conceived by consciousness only. There cannot be a gap in consciousness, it cannot be cut into pieces. It cannot engage itself in this drama of a world, unless it is nothing short of a dream experienced within itself. It is a dream because such a perception is logically inexplicable. It is inexplicable because the experiencing consciousness in its experience of the world has to become other than what it is, in order that it may be experiencing the world, which certainly is not its own self. We do not take interest in the world because of its being our own self, rather we take interest in it because it is not ourselves. Here is a little philosophy behind the worthwhileness of our activities. All our adumbrated encounters in the world seem to be based on a conviction that the world is totally different from us. If there was a suspicion that it is vitally related to us, we would be in a state of automatic withdrawal of interest in everything. This is the background behind the injunction that self-control is necessary, tapas is to be practised, in order that the True Self may be realised.

This seems a world of dream because of the reason mentioned. It is a contradiction in terms to say that we know the world and yet it is not ‘we’. Such a presentation is necessary in order that we may delight ourselves in the perception of things in the world. Most of our delights are characteristic of unrealities like the picture which we eagerly run to visualise in a cinema house, though it is only a shadow that is dancing on the screen. But it has to be a shadow, else its beauty will not be there, because real personalities will not attract us so much as their camouflaged pictures. The beauty of the sunrise and the sunset, the grandeur of a painting—perceptions of these types are coloured with a little bit of an illusion before consciousness; otherwise beauty cannot be perceived in the world. The attraction that consciousness feels in regard to things outside, gross or subtle, beautiful or otherwise, is the peculiar placement of these objects in a location that would fit into the particular type of limitation in which consciousness is involved at any given moment. ‘Any given moment’ is something to be emphasised, because we would not be attracted to a thing always, throughout our life. Also, we cannot be attracted to everything at the same time. So, there seems to be a psychological intervention of our own selves in the reading of meaning in the objects of the world, and that alone can be tasty which will fit into the particular lacuna of our psyche, and, incidentally, of the senses, because the two go together.

So, what you call taste, including beauty, sweetness, etc., is the filling of the gap in a particular structural pattern of consciousness at a given moment of time, and not always, so that there is nothing, and there can be nothing which we can like always. Nothing can be sweet always, nothing can be beautiful always. It can be so only at a particular time, even ugliness is not a permanent feature, because when beauty goes, ugliness also goes.

Thus, the whole pattern of our experience of life in the world seems to be a sort of metaphysical aberration of our own selves, a type of abnormality that has crept into consciousness, and at a special level we should say that the whole world is abnormal in the sense that it cannot know either its own self or the nature of that which it considers as worthwhile and real. Sometimes poets consider the world as a madhouse where everyone is equally crazy with a uniform intensity of error of perception, and there is no one to recognise what has happened. The unnaturalness of the movement of consciousness in the world of objects becomes patent when we realise that such an experience cannot be explained on the nature of consciousness itself.

I am here today not to speak of the dreamy character of the world, which is a philosophical theme, but to place it as a kind of background to pinpoint attention on a practical aspect of spiritual living called self-restraint, self-control, the withdrawal of oneself into oneself. Here, I shall not repeat, once again, what I had pointed out earlier, namely, what this ‘oneself’ is, or what ‘within’ is, or ‘without’ is. The reason behind the necessity to restrain oneself should be obvious by this time, because, in the usual experience of the objects of sense and mind, we have necessarily to lose ourselves in a world of conceptualisation only, abstraction and visualisation of a mirage-like presentation before us. It has to be mirage-like because there is a concoction attempted by consciousness in making itself a localised percipient of a widely spread spatio-temporal world of objects. It cannot have a world of objects in front of its own self, accepting that division of consciousness into the percipient and the objects of perception is not permissible under the nature of things. This would mean that every value we attach to everything in this world is an error in the reading of meaning. There is a total and fundamental mistake which we seem to be involved in, even when we glory in the grandeur of the world, of the objects of sense, and we seem to be such rulers, emperors or possessors of the treasures of life. May be these treasures are the treasures of dream and they cannot be substantial and real for the reason already noticed. As long as we have taste for things which are estranged from consciousness, we are in a world of dream. And who has not got this taste? The taste referred to may be of the eye to see colours and shapes, or of any other sense-organ or of the mind to dance to the tune of these sensory presentations, and of the ego to prepare a bulwark for fortifying the stand taken by the mind and the senses in this tremendous activity in a world of their own perceptions, their cosy dream. Why are we happy in this world of dream, at least why is it that we seem to be happy? Why do we not cry it out and beat our breasts from moment to moment as if hell has descended upon us; why is it that this does not happen? How is it that, somehow, we seem to be acquiescing in the nature of things as they are presented to us through our senses! This, again, is a trick of consciousness, because a sense of reality has to be foisted upon even shadowy things in order that they may assume any meaning, like the picture in a cinema. Here is a substanceless dance of shadows, but if it goes on telling our mind that it is only that, how can one take an interest in it? It has to be told that it is not that; it is another thing altogether. It is not a two-dimensional shadow, it is a three-dimensional substance. When this conviction is driven into the mind, it sees beauty, meaning and value in what it visualises, in spite of the fact that the mind is picturing what is other than what it understands it to be. There is a lot of mystery in this world, and we cannot call it by any other name. There are secrets which do not seem to be accessible even to the best of our understandings. There are, indeed, more things in heaven and earth than philosophy dreams of, than our religions can tell us, than books can describe. These secrets have to be maintained as secrets only and they should not become public objects of observation, because, then, their importance vanishes. A thing that you know very well does not attract you much. That engages your attention wholly, which you cannot really understand, and which eludes the grasp of your understanding. The world is attractive because we cannot understand it. If its secret is known threadbare, through and through, there would not be a moment’s rest for us in this world. It is only for the discriminative faculty of understanding that life is not worth its promises, at least life as we appreciate in the present condition of our mind and the senses. The world does not kick us as a ghost or a devil, as an ugly creature, but presents itself as a marvellous beauty because of the movement of consciousness in a very specialised manner. The beauty and the meaning and the value of things in the world is not in the things themselves, just as, to come to the analogy once again, it is not merely the reflection or the shadow on the screen that attracts us, but it is a peculiar juxtaposition of our mental operations and optical behaviour with the structure and movement of the shadows that gives us the impression of a tremendous meaning there. Many things are necessary in order that we may see a value in a moving picture. Our minds have to be conditioned, the senses have to be placed in their proper location, a suitable distance between the object and ourselves, also, has to be maintained, we cannot strike our nose on the screen and then visualise the picture. Also, there is a peculiar optical arrangement due to which we cannot recognise that it is a two-dimensional presentation. A similar illusion is attributed to the three-dimensional world of length, breadth and height. There are no lengths and breadths and heights in this world, even as there is no depth, or solidity, or spatial expanse in the picture on the screen. But the idea of a three-dimensional projection is driven into our minds. Have you not heard people telling us these days, though we do not know what actually they are speaking about, that this three-dimensional world is only a shadow cast by a four-dimensional reality! This three-dimensional solidity is the shadow of a trans-empirical something which cannot be visualised by our three-dimensional perceptive mind. The mind cannot have access into this fourth dimension, which is like the Atman, or the Turiya, we speak of, because the mind is a three-dimentional operation of consciousness. It is bound to space and time. Therefore, the mind cannot conceive anything which is not spatially or temporally bound. We are completely bound, head to foot, by this entry of the vehement operations of space and time into our perceiving capacity, the consciousness operating as it does now.

In this condition, how would we realise truth? Where comes the methodology to recover ourselves and place ourselves in that context of what reality is there, above these shadows, these three-dimensional solidities, externalities, objects, and the like. We cannot, usually, expect success in this attempt, because our attempts are mostly operations of the mind, and the mind is a friend of this very intruder, the space-time complex. Hence, the usual operations of the mind, the accustomed procedures of understanding, would not be of adequate utility in this regard. This is the reason why saints and sages speak of the need for the performance, the exercise of tapas—self-control. An easy-go-lucky life is not the way of self-control. Many a time, control of the self, or restraint of the self, is wrongly interpreted and translated as ‘mortification’. tapas is not that. Tapas is discipline. It is the regularisation of the movement of consciousness. It is the systematisation of the activity of consciousness. It is the streamlining of the movement of our own selves. Hence, it is to place ourselves in a precisely calculated position, wherefrom we can have the vision or the vista of our True Self.

Tapas has to be properly evaluated and understood. All spiritual exercise or spiritual discipline is tapas. This Sanskrit word, tapas, has many a connotation. One of them is that it is the process of energising our system through the heat of self-restraint. So, tapas may also mean the energy-heat that we develop in our own selves through the introversion of the power of the will by redeeming it from involvement in the activity of externalisation in the world of perception.

It would not be easy to conceive the procedure of this self-control, much as we are accustomed to the normal way of thinking in terms of objects only. The withdrawal from the objects of sense that scriptures and religions speak of is a very subtle procedure. It is not a withdrawing from some place to another place. It is not even withdrawing oneself from some really existing meaning to another conceived meaning. It is not a withdrawal of our attention from really existing things in the world into abstractions of consciousness. It is a different thing altogether. There is a little bit of hint given to us in a verse of the Bhagavadgita, towards the end of the third chapter, where we are suggested that we should not take lightly this difficult task of self-control. It is a hard task and the problem behind it is made clear by this verse of the Bhagavadgita, when it mentions that the senses and the mind can be disciplined and restrained only in the light of the structure of the Highest Self. The visualisation of the pattern of the true nature of the Self would be a strong support in our adventure of self-control, because the senses are strong indeed. The strength of the senses is known to everybody. They are so powerful that they have succeeded in making us believe, one-hundred-percent, that the world of externality is the only reality. One can imagine what strength they have.

But the mind is superior to the senses, though, mostly, the mind acquiesces in whatever the senses convey to it, and does not bother to investigate into the reality of these sensory presentations. It merely takes the evidences of the senses, collects them into a synthesised picture and agrees as to the reality thereof. However, this is not the end of the whole matter. There is a ratiocinating faculty within us, a discriminative power, an understanding or a reason which can be applied and has to be applied even after the mind has synthesised and practically accepted the evidences of the senses.

This is the work of the philosopher, and here is what we call “manana”, reflection over the fact of experience after collecting evidence through various sources, by perception, by inference, by study, and the like.

But, the senses are turbulent. Control of the senses is like binding wind and thrusting it into a briefcase. You cannot succeed in this attempt. Wild is their impetuosity and loud is their roar and clamour in this world of longing. They will shout at the top of their voice and drown the little music of the soul, and the mind, mostly, does not bother; it does not want to take much of a pain. It is only a confirming feature in us of what the senses present. But the reason is going to be of assistance. Of course, the reason, too, does not bother much. Mostly, it is also an idle witness, a spectator, an onlooker of what the mind is saying and the senses are reporting. This acquiescing reason is what we call the lower reason, the investigative reason is what we call the higher reason. Even now we are exercising our reason in some way. When we work in this world, in any field of our occupation, we apply our reason, or understanding, no doubt, but it is the lower reason; lower because it works according to the judgement passed by the mind on the report of the senses. The investigative faculty does not always operate and we do not even feel the need to exercise that higher faculty. This necessity will arise only if we face insurmountable difficulties in life, so that nothing can satisfy us and we seem to be cornered from all sides. The investigative understanding, or the higher reason, will be able to proclaim the non-utilitarian character of experiences in this world in terms of the senses and the ordinary mental cognitions. What is the function of this higher reason? It is the ambassador of the Spirit. It is the voice of the higher reality within us. It is the light shed by the Atman, though it is not itself the Atman. It is to be considered as most proximate to the Atman, the Self, inasmuch as it is the integrating faculty in ourselves. The dissipating character of sense-activity is restrained by the higher reason which sees a unifying meaning behind even these distracting presentations of the senses. The world is entirely a field of scattered particulars. You do not see an inch of unity anywhere in anything in this world. Everything is different from everything else. But the sense of belonging, the feeling of cooperation, and the insight into the presence of some unifying factor in life, arises on account of the operation of the higher reason which reflects the ultimate unity of the pure Spirit. If that were not to be present and active, we would be like pieces thrown in different directions and there would not be anything to connect one piece with another piece. There would then be only discrete particulars without anything to cement them into an organic completeness, or a beautiful presentation. A very cryptic statement in the Bhagavadgita says that the support of the Atman is necessary in order that the senses may be subdued. We cannot abandon lower desires unless we gain something higher than what the lower desires promise. We cannot lose both the golden axe and the iron axe at the same time. We will not be happy about it. Initially, there is a feeling that the joys of life are abandoned in the act of self-control. This feeling of isolation from the delights of sense will be made good and compensated adequately by the larger delight of the grasp of something superior to the delights of the senses. This is what the Bhagavadgita means when it says that, finally, you will have to resort to some speck of the reflection of the Atman in order that you may subdue the senses. No one would be agreeable to become a total fool or yield to anyone thoroughly, root and branch, and even the senses would not agree to that; the senses will not permit themselves to be utter slaves of this procedure you are adopting, called self-control, but they yield provided a higher satisfaction is visualised by them. This higher satisfaction is the controlling power. The faith in God, or the vision of the presence of a higher being, would be the strength that we have to exercise in the subdual of the otherwise impossible sense-organs. The violence of the energies through the channels of sense can be diverted intelligently, but not checked with any unintelligent force.

Spiritual life, therefore, is something to be lived cautiously, like the work of an engineer who harnesses powerful flow of waters or constructs meticulously unsupported bridges across wide rivers. It is not a fool-hardy attempt but a wisely conceived mathematical and logical procedure. We have to understand, first of all, what it is that we are aiming at in order that things may be clear to us as far as the restraint of the senses is concerned. The difficulty would be with our own selves. What for is this self-restraint? What good will come out of it? We will speak thus to ourselves, though, by listening to the need to restrain oneself, we may be tentatively, though reluctantly, made to agree to this proposal. You know that anyone who is convinced against his will is of the same opinion still. So, if you can convince the senses against their will, they will naturally tell you, ‘Yes, we seem to be convinced, but;’ they will add a ‘but,’ and this ‘but’ is a dangerous clause that they will project due to a little difficulty they will feel in wholly accepting this advice.

“Do you want that we should totally ruin ourselves, lose ourselves, die in the name of what you call a discipline!” Who would like to dissolve oneself in total annihilation? Nothing can be more fearful than death, and if you are expecting the senses to die in order that something else may be achieved, it is better to know that nobody will be prepared to die for your satisfaction.

Now, this is not merely, a humorous story about the attitude of the senses, but a practical difficulty which one could feel even under the best of circumstance and the most cautious exercise of understanding. ‘After all, there is something,’ so the voice will speak. Did not Buddha hear this voice? He did hear. That situation, which the voice pointed out, would be the very same thing we too may visualise before ourselves, namely, the value we attach to things which the consciousness contacts, perceives, enjoys. The senses are eagerly waiting for this moment of weakness on the part of the mind and the understanding so that they may jump upon you from the ambush and catch you unawares. A starved sense is more violent than a satisfied one. Hence, like a river in spate that may break through anything if a little passage is given, the senses may break the whole personality into shreds and drown it in sorrow if proper care is not taken in this arduous adventure.

Unless a positive substance is under your hold, a negative withdrawal will not succeed. Hence, self-restraint which is the spotlight of spiritual practice is not negative in the sense of a withdrawal of one thing from another thing; it is rather a gaining of even the lower dimension in an entry into a wider realm of reality than the one in which we are at present.

Self-restraint is a gain, rather than a loss. It is to be possessed of larger values and meanings and satisfactions and delights than the ones we are now acquainted with in this world. So, the senses need not be awed at this suggestion of restraint. If you lose one dollar, the consequence of that loss would be the gaining of one million dollars, as in a lottery wherein you may lose one dollar because you purchased a ticket, but may gain one million. The gain of one million is a greater satisfaction than the sorrow caused by the loss of one. Actually, there is no loss of even one dollar. That, too, would be to say very little. It is all gain, positive, throughout.

In the process of self-restraint, nothing is lost. It is a complete gain; it is a move from the lesser reality to a higher reality. Self-restraint is of pre-eminent importance in spiritual life. The greater the extent of self-restraint, the more proximate is the Goal of Self-Realisation.