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Spiritual Aspiration and Practice
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 2: Becoming a Truly Religious Person

There is a secret teaching known as the Isavasya Upanishad, which makes reference to two worlds, about which I spoke something in the previous session. Anyad evāhur vidyayā anyad āhur avidyayā, iti śuśruma dhīrāṇām ye nas tad vicacakṣire; vidyāṁ cāvidyāṁ ca yas tad vedobhayam saha, avidyayā mṛtyuṁ tīrtvā vidyayāmṛtam aśnute (Isa 10-11). There are people who say that this world has no connection with the other world. There are others who say that the other world has no connection with this world. Some say that only this world exists and the other world does not exist. There are also people who say that only the other world is of consequence and this present world has no meaning. Those who deny the other world and assert only this world are called materialists. Those who deny all the significance and meaning of this world and assert only the other world are called ascetics, sometimes known as renunciates. In the previous session I uttered a few words in connection with what renunciation ought to be, and how difficult it is to even conceive it on account of the fact that the renouncer is involved in the very object of renunciation.

The difficulty in understanding the relationship between this world and the other world arises on account of a subtle implication hidden in the very concept of these worlds. The difference between this world and the other world is not actually in the worlds themselves, but in a peculiar characteristic of these worlds. The renunciates, or the ascetics, are right in thinking that there is something wrong with this world and that which is wrong has to be renounced, but it is not so easy to understand what is wrong with this world. Often, when we try to renounce or abandon the wrongness in the world, we may also try to abandon the rightness in it. In hating the disease, we may make the mistake of hating the patient himself. Do we dislike the disease or do we dislike the patient? Sometimes we mix up the two issues. We dislike the patient, though our idea is actually to dislike the disease itself.

‘This world' is a phrase in which ‘world' is the subject or the nominative, and ‘this' is the adjective. When we say ‘this world', ‘thisness' qualifies the world. There is a difference between ‘this world' and the ‘thisness' of the world. There is, similarly, a difference between the ‘other world' and the ‘otherness' of the world. The objection of the materialists and the socially-oriented workers in the world against clinging to the other world is due to their mixing up of two issues in connection with the concept of the other world, namely, the other world itself and the otherness of the world. This is something very subtle, which you have to think over with great care. The otherness of the world is not the same as the other world, because the word ‘other' is that which distinguishes it from this world. When we speak of the otherness of the other world, we mean that it is totally segregated from this world. Similarly, when we say ‘this world', we mix up the world, which is the so-called ‘this', with the thisness of it, or the immediacy of its perception. The contradiction is not between this world and the other world, but between the thisness and the otherness involved in the characterisation of these worlds. The other world is not really other, and this world is not so very immediate as it appears to our eyes. The other world is not distant in space and time, and this world is not as immediate to the senses as it may appear to be.

This world, which seems to be so very close to us and looks as if we are able to touch it with our fingers, is actually outside our grasp. No object in this world can actually be touched in the sense of a possession of it. It maintains an otherness nevertheless. I touch this desk with my finger, but my finger has not become the desk and the desk has not become my finger. Therefore, even a sensory contact with anything in this world need not necessarily mean union with the world. So is the case with all sensations including the eyes, ears, etc. When you see a thing, you are looking at a thing and are under the impression that you have a contact sensorily, perceptionally, with the world, but the world remains outside your perception. The world cannot become your eye, nor can your eye become the world.

This, incidentally, will tell you that you cannot possess anything in this world as your property. The concept of ownership is automatically abrogated by the very nature of the things in the world, which refuse to get into the fabric or structure of the perceiving individual. You go with nothing in your hand, in the same way as you came to this world with nothing in your hand. All the accumulations of your so-called land, property, money, relations, which you thought were vitally connected with you, will be shown to be totally disconnected with you at the time of your departure from this world. Naked you come, and naked you go. Helplessly you come, and helplessly you go. As a beggar you come, and as a beggar you go. This world deludes you, though you thought that this world is your world and the other world is far away from you.

In the previous session I mentioned incidentally that the otherness of the world attracts us so much that we immediately become religious by the very notion of the existence of another world. “What is there in this world? I aspire for the other world.” Now, this statement that there is nothing valuable in this world is, again, the consequence of a mix-up of ideas. The wrongness in the manner in which the world presents itself before us is the thisness attached to it, and not the world itself, because the world which we call ‘this' is internally connected with the other world which we call ‘different from this'. There is an immanent relationship between this world and the other world. So the Isavasya Upanishad verses that I quoted just now tell us that it is wrong to think that this world is different from the other world and that we can afford to reject this world for the sake of the other world or, conversely, that we can reject the other world for the sake of this world.

Both the materialists and the ascetics are wrong in the extremes of their concepts. We cannot live in this world even for a minute without a notion of a future that is before us. The so-called materialist, who does not believe in the existence of the other world, knows that there is such a thing called tomorrow. What makes one feel that there is a thing called tomorrow? How does this idea of a future arise in one's consciousness? It is an inference that we draw from the present about the existence of something which is not yet a part of our knowledge. Nobody has seen the future, and yet one believes in the future. ‘Future' is only a word which can easily be transported to the concept of the otherness of the world. Even the materialist believes in the other world because he wants to achieve something which he has not achieved just now. That futurity is the transcendence of the present condition. Whoever believes in the transcendence of what is present is a religious person. So even the materialist, who seems to be denying the existence of the other world, is unwittingly, unconsciously, becoming religious and aspiring for the other world because of his longing for the achievement of a future which is not yet there, of which he has no perception, and yet about which he has full faith. That is to say, even the rank materialist is inwardly, unconsciously, a religious candidate, only he is confused in his mind.

Likewise, there is a mistake in the ascetic attitude. We reject this world as not belonging to us, and we want nothing to do with it. There is a famous illustration in the Vedanta doctrine of what is known as the snake and the rope. In twilight, when you cannot perceive things properly, a rope may look like a snake. In right perception you reject something which is not there and catch what is really there. Now, what is it that you saw in your wrong perception? Did you see a rope or did you see a snake? Think over this matter carefully. Did you see a snake there, or did you see the rope? There was no snake there. You saw the rope, which looked like a snake; therefore, the rejection of the falseness in perception, in the case of the perception of a snake in the rope, is not the rejection of the rope itself. The substratum is perfectly all right. It is only the erroneous characterisation that is rejected.

The worlds are, therefore, perfectly all right in their own nature, just as the snake and the rope are not two substances. You cannot say here is the snake and here is the rope. It is only one thing, appearing as two things. It is one world that looks like the other world and this world. There is only one world finally, and there is no such thing as the other world and this world. So there is some difficulty in conceiving the object of our religious consciousness and also the concept of what it is that we have to renounce in this world in becoming a religious apostle or a religious seeker.

The Isavasya Upanishad tells us that rejection either way is not permissible because when we reject the snake, the rope also goes, and when we reject the rope, the snake also goes, because one and the same thing appears as both. So the otherness and the thisness characterising the world is what causes an apparent distinction between this world and the other world, as if there are two worlds. Actually, we are in the other world even now, as when we see the snake we have already seen the rope. When we are living in this world, we are also hiddenly present in the other world. The other world's immanence, or practical permeation, in this world is the reason why we cannot be happy with anything in this world. The high value, superior quality and permanency attached to the higher thing which is immanent in this world are what keep us restless.

Is any one of you perfectly happy? Is any one of you completely satisfied with all things in this world? Is there anything in this world which you love one hundred percent? No. It is not possible. You have a partial clinging to the specific characters of things tentatively presented before you in an act of illusory perception, and your objects of love and hatred go on changing from moment to moment.

You are living in a total world. The Isavasya Upanishad says that no question of rejection arises. Both the extreme ascetic and the extreme materialist are wrong in their notions and denials. Religion is not a denial, it is an affirmation. It is an affirmation of what is there, and not merely a rejection of what is not there. When you wake up in the morning, night automatically vanishes. When you awaken in the morning, you need not have to brush aside the night that was behind you, pursuing you. Do you tell the night to go away because the sun has risen? The sun has risen, well and good, and night is no longer there.

Religion has to become a positive doctrine and a practical affair in the world, a question of living in the nature of Reality, and not a theory of rejection or of clinging. Neither can you cling to the other world and reject this world, nor can you cling to this world and reject the other world. It is like clinging to the body or the soul separately. There are people who torture the body for the sake of the soul. This torture is condemned in the Bhagavadgita as asuric. There are others who torture the soul for the sake of the body. Sensualists, who go with the doctrine of physical comfort, have no concept of the soul in the body. Those who think of renouncing the facilities provided by the body, and the needs of the body, cling to a theoretical concept of the soul, and they wrench the connection of the soul with the body.

The worlds—this and the other—are something like the body and the soul of a human being. The body and the soul are not two distinct things, as you know very well. You are one psychophysical individuality, the soul and the body—not two different substances dovetailed together, but a blend, a comparison with which is difficult to find in this world. It is difficult to imagine what a blend is. When you mix water with milk, they seem to become one. Can you call this a blend? In some way, they look like that, but you will realise that the water can never become the milk, and the milk can never become the water. By a process of heating, you can remove all the water from the milk and the milk alone will remain. You cannot see anything in this world which will get into the substance of another thing and become that. Everything in this world maintains its individuality.

The blending of the otherness and the thisness of the so-called worlds before you is something of a novel nature altogether. Even the concept of the body and the soul is not adequate here as a comparison. Sometimes it looks as if the soul is inside the body, and the body is outside the soul. Here again you are making a mistake. The soul is not inside the body, and the body is not outside the soul. The body is nothing but a spatio-temporal expression of the soul itself, and the soul is nothing but an inwardisation of the principles of the physical personality. The transcendent world which you are aspiring for in your religious practices is connected with this world in the same way as the soul is connected with this body.

In the previous session I made reference to the Bhagavadgita, and today I am making reference to the Isavasya Upanishad. Both these scriptures, both these doctrines, both these verses say the same thing. The ‘here' has to get transmuted into the quality of the ‘hereafter', and the ‘hereafter' should absorb into itself all the characteristics of the ‘here'. Spiritual aspiration is a journey, an onward march, a process of evolution where you conserve what is in the present and absorb it into the future. The lower gets merged in the higher. The renunciation of this world is only the renunciation of the externality which appears to be characterising this world. The renunciation of the world is actually the renunciation of its being a kind of external object. The object is perfectly all right; it is only the externality that is not all right. If you remove the spatio-temporal externality from this world, you will find the world has merged into yourself. You yourself have entered into the world. It is space that creates distance, and it is time that creates the idea of duration. If time were not to be there, you would find yourself present everywhere. You feel that you are sitting only in one place, but actually you are everywhere, which you can know only if time is not present. The pastness, the presentness and the futureness of time, which dichotomises the movement of duration, creates the illusion of something being at some time only. If time were not to be there, you would be in eternity. If space were not to be there, you would be pervading all places. So if space and time were not there, you would immediately become eternity and infinity. This is what you are longing for in your religious practices.

These verses quoted from the Bhagavagdita and the Isavasya Upanishad say that you have to be very cautious in taking even the first step in religion. Many a time you go to religion with emotions—by a sorrow, by a tragedy, by a death, by a loss, by a humiliation—the absence of which would not have engendered in you any kind of desire for God. Because you have lost all the values of life, you seem to be searching for a value which is not in this world. That is a negative renunciation because if those things which you have lost were to be returned to you, that aspiration may cease. So religion is not the consequence of not having something worthwhile. It is the result of wanting something which is really worthwhile.

The religious consciousness is the great question of the hour, and there are many religions in this world, many denominations, one saying this and another saying that. These distinctions in the denominations of religious consciousness have arisen, again, due to the parochial associations of religion, geographical distinctions, ethnic distinctions, psychological distinctions, cultural distinctions, historical distinctions, and even the distinctions of the prophets who speak in different languages, all which make it appear that there are many religions in this world. If we remove the prophets, remove the cultural, ethnical, anthropological, geographical and historical backgrounds, we will find that all the rivers of religion will merge into the sea of the total religious consciousness.

It is necessary for you to know at the very outset what it is that you are seeking. Every step in religious practice will make you feel happier and healthier. If you complain and feel a sense of despondency even after twenty years of religious practice, you should be cautious and honest to yourself that something is wrong with the method of the practice itself. Every step that you take in the direction of the solar orb will make you feel warmer and warmer. In a similar manner, every step that you take in the direction of the Infinite will make you feel wider in your personality, broader in your outlook, healthier in your views, and happier in your daily life.

What is the test of spiritual progress? It is a feeling of inner satisfaction that today you are better than yesterday, and also a satisfaction arising from the fact that it is the only worthwhile thing, and there is nothing else worthwhile in this world. There should be no doubt whether it will be possible or not possible. When you have taken the right step for the purpose of achieving something that is perfectly right, the result has to follow. When you have done the means, the end will automatically follow as the completion of the means. When the farmer sows the seeds, manures them, gives them water and protection, he does not have to worry about the crop that has to come. Conditions being made favourable, the crop will automatically grow. Have the means well-guarded, and you will find that the end automatically manifests itself as a fruit ripening from a tree. What is important is not so much the eagerness to catch what is ahead of you but the manner in which you are trying to catch it. You need not have difficulty in catching God, because God will not run away from you at any time. The problem is how you catch Him.

The method that is adopted in contacting God is called religion. This methodology is a hard thing to grasp, at least in the earlier stages, because of the fact that we are physically and sensorily conditioned in every act of perception and thought; therefore religion, which is not sensory, not physical and not merely a perceptional activity, lies beyond the grasp of ordinary consciousness. Every religious seeker should have a guide, a mentor, a Guru, a master who has already trodden the path. Otherwise, you will be conditioning your religious aspiration with the qualities of sensory perception. God will look very far away. Because all things in the world appear to be away from you as objects of perception, God will look like a future and not like an eternity, to be contacted tomorrow and not just now. These psychological difficulties are to be averted by the process of proper initiation. Initiation is the technique of getting oneself introduced to the art of right thinking, which means to say, the art of thinking in the way in which the Ultimate Reality is to be entertained in one's consciousness.

Religion is mainly a question of practice. It is not merely a theory or a study or a scriptural narration. What you do, what you live, what you feel, that is your religion. To completely transform yourself into a new thing altogether, to become a truly religious person, you must have certain basic amenities. You should not have worries, which harass your mind constantly, coming from different sides of the world—either from the material side or the physical side or the social side—or have any relationship with things. The great injunction of what generally goes by the names of yama and niyama in yoga practice is directly connected with adjusting oneself with the conditions of the world in such a way that you are not repelled by the world, nor do you repel the world.

Yasmān nodvijate loko lokān nodvijate ca yaḥ (B.G. 12.15) is a passage from the Bhagavadgita. Can you live in this world in such a way that you do not reject anything in the world? Can you live in this world in such a way that the world does not reject you? You do not shun things, and things do not shun you. It is well said, but how will you manage yourself? The friendliness that emanates from your soul will come upon you as a reaction of friendliness from every leaf on the trees and every flower.

In the Kenopanishad there is a wonderful passage: tadd ha tad-vanaṁ nāma, tad-vanam ity upāsitavyam (Kena 4.6). The ultimate aim, which is God-consciousness, God Himself, is to be conceived as an object of love. God is great love. As God is everywhere, the love of God means the love of all things; and so the love of God—the love of Brahman in the language of the Upanishad—will immediately set up vibrations in the world outside, and you will be loved as you have loved the world. The world will embrace you because you have embraced it. It will love you because you have loved it. You have not rejected it, and therefore it shall not reject you.

Certain nominal basic facilities are necessary for religious practice, as I mentioned. Firstly, you must have a proper place to live, and you should not live under conditions of starvation, because if these difficulties are there before you as deterrents, you will be thinking more of the means of getting your daily provisions rather than the purpose for which you have been isolating yourself away from home. “When shall I have my meal? From where shall I get it?” Many a time people who have renounced things and live far away in forests, in kutirs, have a problem of finding food, and much time goes in thinking of it. Sometimes they have to walk a long distance to kshetras to collect their bread, and many a time it is also a very unreliable source of supply. There is a fear of falling sick. These are physical difficulties.

There can also be mental imaginations. You might have lost something very near and dear, due to which you have rejected things and come here in the hope of contemplating on God, but you will be contemplating only on memories of the past. “I have lost my wife, I have lost my child, a tragedy took place, and I have nothing with me.” Will this idea easily leave a person even if one were to be a hundred kilometres away from the place where this event took place? “What was I, and what am I now? If this had not been... O God, place me not in this condition. Bless me.” What kind of blessing do you want from God that you may not be placed under such tragic conditions of life into which you have been driven by fate? This, again, is a negative characterisation of your religious aspiration.

The moderation that the Isavasya Upanishad prescribes in the manner of a blend of this world and the other world is also the moderation that you have to adopt in your spiritual practice as seekers. Do not go to extremes. “I will not eat. I will not sleep. I will not bathe.” Why should you go to such extremes? If you go to extremes of this kind, you will find that some trouble will arise either in your mind or in your body. The means of practice itself will be destroyed in the eagerness to reach the goal prematurely. You have to guard yourself and see that you survive before you are enabled to do something worthwhile. This world, as I mentioned to you, includes this body of yours, and in the mistake that you can easily make in rejecting this world, you may make the mistake of rejecting the body also. You may think, “What is there in this body? It is an illusion. I will throw it away.” You cannot so easily throw it away because when you throw away the snake, the rope will also go.

Much good work that you have done in your past has brought you to a place of this kind. Much charity that you have done in your previous life, many good thoughts that you entertained, many loves that you extended to people, many services that you have rendered to those who are in need have fructified into the form of your longing to come to a place like this and breathe the fresh air of the Himalayas on the bank of the river Ganga. May not this bank balance that you have accumulated, and which you are enjoying now in the form of a happy, spiritually aspiring life, be exhausted by merely utilising it without replenishing it with further effort. The good deeds of your past have made you good people today, but what about your future? The good deeds will expire; and when they expire, the result that they produce will also expire. All the facilities that you are enjoying in this world will also expire. So that such difficulties may not arise, you must keep the stock of your goodness and your virtues continuously replenished by daily practice, because every action is perishable. Every good work produces a result that one day comes to an end; therefore, you have to go on adding to it every day, like your bank balance which will get exhausted if you go on withdrawing from it and put nothing back into it. Continuous vigilance in the religious practice is called for.

In the Mahabharata, Sanat Kumara speaks in his great gospel, called Sanat Sujathiya, that there is no greater blunder than heedlessness. Heedlessness is not bestowing sufficient thought on what is good for you, and contemplating things which are not at all necessary for you—engaging yourself in frivolous activities, in chit-chat, in gossip, in going to clubs and cinemas, in unnecessary travels, instead of confining yourself to a suitable place for a constructive building up of your psychophysical personality and religious values.

Therefore, have some prescription before you. The prescription is that all the necessary conditions for your meditation should be available to you at least in a minimal degree; and when you are honest in your practice, all the facilities that are necessary for you will flood you. Do not be surprised if I say the very gods will pour their blessings upon you, if your heart is honest in the practice. The people around you will become friendly, even if they have been otherwise. The world of nature will facilitate your existence, and the gods—who see everything correctly and know what you are doing and what you aspire for, what you are asking for—will descend from the heavens and protect you. The Yoga Vasishtha says that all the divinities of the quarters will converge upon you and protect you just now, provided you ask for them. The great saying “Ask and it shall be given” is not false. The very guardians of the cosmos will protect you just now. The army of the gods will guard you, and whatever you want shall be given to you, provided your soul, and not merely your lips or your tongue, asks for it.

With this earnestness, let us find some ways and means of taking the necessary steps in what we call spiritual practice, sadhana. In the time left ahead of us we will consider further some details of this—what actual spiritual sadhana is, what yoga is, and how you may manage it effectively under the conditions in which you are placed in this world.