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Spiritual Aspiration and Practice
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 4: The Process of Spiritual Practice

We continue from where we left off in the previous session. Our subject is an in-depth analysis of the process of spiritual practice. Understanding precedes doing; theory is at the back of application; knowledge precedes the performance of anything. Before we do a thing, we must know what we are doing, how we are to do it, and why it is to be done. Some of the implications of this interesting theme were considered during our earlier sessions.

We found, after all these investigations into the importance of knowing what spiritual practice is, that it is not so simple a matter as it appears on the surface. It is like medical science. The entire anatomical, physiological and even psychological structure of the personality should be at the fingertips of a doctor in order to handle a patient effectively. Partial, fractional, limb-wise treatment is no treatment. Such is the approach of a spiritual seeker to the expected attainment. It is an understanding from all sides, or something like a military march. It is not just going headlong without understanding what it is all about. The front and the rear, the right and the left, the top and the bottom, everything should be clear to the Major General. Otherwise, he will not succeed. A total understanding of every situation has to be at our fingertips. Then we put on the switch, and immediately there is illumination. Otherwise, if electrification is not properly done, any amount of putting on the switch will not bring light.

To continue our subject, there is an interesting anecdote recorded in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. There was a war in the heavens between the gods and the demons. The gods decided that they would ask their friends to chant a powerful mantra called the Rathantara Saman from the Vedas, so that if there is any onslaught from the demons, this mantra shakti will counteract their approach. They told the eyes: “Please chant for our sake.” When the eyes started chanting, the demons came to know of it. They immediately attacked the eyes so that the chanting would cease. Due to this attack, the eyes could not see things properly. The Upanishad says that this is the reason why we always see certain things as good and certain things as bad. The distinction that we make is due to the attack of the demons on our eyes. We cannot say everything is bad, nor can we say everything is good. We always make a distinction between some part of the world as being of this character and another part of the world as being of another character, though there is no proper justification for this classification that we are making.

When the eyes failed, the gods told the ears: “Please chant.” The demons attacked the ears. Due to this reason, we hear what is good and hear what is bad. When something is said, we always make a judgment on it that it is all right or not all right. Now, who told us that it is all right or it is not all right? It is our own predilection arising out of the infected way of hearing due to the contact of the sense of hearing with the demoniacal forces. What are the demoniacal forces? They have only two things to do. Either they throw a thing out from its location to some other direction, or they split one thing into two parts. This is what demons do. If we are in one place, they make us feel that we are in another place, and if there is only one way of thinking, they compel us to think in two different ways.

The gods then told the tongue to chant. The tongue chanted, and immediately the demons attacked the tongue also, which is why we can taste what is palatable and what is unpalatable. So is the case with smell and touch. All these sense organs failed. These sense organs are also attendants of the organisation of the gods in heaven. They did not succeed.

The idea is that we cannot know anything correctly through the sense organs. We cannot open our eyes and see things correctly. We always have a prejudiced outlook of things, and whenever we try to contact the facts in this world through any sense organ, everything is prejudiced in every way. The real cannot be contacted through the sense organs because of this demoniacal attack. In the previous session I mentioned that these demons are mainly space and time. We should not forget this. The Shumba and Nishumba, Ravana and Kumbakarna, as I said, are space and time. They always interfere with every attempt of ours to think correctly and do things properly.

So what was the fate of these gods who had been thrown out of gear by the attack of the demons? They had no other alternative, finally, than to approach the total energy of the system, which is called prana shakti: “Please chant for us.” When this total energy, which is not any one of the sense organs, started chanting the Rathantara Saman mantra, the demons attacked, but here they did not succeed. Anything that is partial cannot attack the whole. A part cannot interfere with the structure of the totality to which it belongs. If a fraction tries to interfere with that of which it is a fraction, it will not succeed in its attempt. When the demons attacked the prana, which is the total vital force in our system, they were thrown back with a jerk and a kick by the prana shakti, and they broke into pieces as a mud ball breaks when it is struck on a hard rock, says the Upanishad.

This analogy, this anecdote, this story in the Upanishad is instructive in a very special sense. All our ways of thinking are conditioned and sensorily infected. Even if we are introducing a new system of thinking in our mind logically or impersonally from our own point of view, we will realise that there is some kind of connection of our thought with one of the sense organs. We think according to what we have seen with the eyes. Now, who asked us to think in terms of seeing? It has already been mentioned that we cannot see things correctly. We externalise a thing in perception, and bifurcate a thing which is one into two. “I have seen it, and therefore I think in this manner.” So we feel that our seeing is the final judge in the ascertainment of facts. The Upanishad says that our seeing is not a criterion at all. It is not a reliable guide. If we have heard something, we pass a judgment on it through our mind: “This is what I have heard.” We might have heard anything, but how do we know that we heard things correctly?

Our psychological or even logical judgments are mostly partial, oriented by the influence of some sense organ. We like to eat a particular thing, smell something, touch something, hear something, and see something. We have a desire to have a particular contact of some type for our own satisfaction. That desire for a particular contact influences our thought. Even a judge can be influenced by family problems or a stomach ache or liver trouble. Only human beings, not gods, are living here in this world, whatever position they hold. If a great official, a powerful organiser, a judge, a magistrate has intense physical troubles and psychological tensions, he cannot perform his functions properly, whatever be the authority invested in him. Internal conditions determine external performance and social relations.

Much more so is the case with spiritual seekers. Conditioned thinking cannot take us to the unconditioned reality. Philosophers have told us many a time that our thoughts are also sensorily conditioned. We think as we see, as we hear, and so on. Total abstract independent thinking in a purely rational way, though it is possible with great effort on our part, is not usually resorted to, on account of the extremely intimate affiliation with the sense organs. There is nothing in the world that we do except through our eyes, ears, and so on.

The Upanishad warns us in this anecdote. When the senses were freed from the attack of the demons on account of the total chanting of the mantra by the vital force in our cumulative existence, the senses, freed from the demoniacal influence, saw things correctly. The ears heard properly, the tongue tasted correctly, and everything was in order. What is meant by saying the senses were in order?

Here, we go to the story of the creation of the universe that is found in the Aitareya Upanishad. How did the sense organs come into being at all? Who compels us to see things as we are seeing them, and so on? The beginning of creation is said to be a multiple manifestation in a perfectly organised manner of a total living entity called God Almighty, the Absolute Being, Ishvara-shakti, or whatever it is called. In the beginning, there is One Alone, the ‘I am I', the ‘I am what I am'. This ‘I' consciousness includes everything that it is conscious of. It is not an I-consciousness that is counterposed to a you-consciousness. There was no ‘you'; there was no ‘he' or ‘she' or ‘it'. It was just one blended ‘I', in which space and time were also engulfed.

The next step in creation is the will to be conscious of oneself. In the primordial condition, it is Being as such without having any differentiation even in thought or feeling. There should be a clear distinction between Being as such and the consciousness of there being such a thing as Being. If I am, and also I am conscious that I am, these two are different states altogether. The consciousness that I am is a step downward from the higher state where I am just what I am and there is no necessity to be conscious that I am. The creative principle operates in the second stage of the process of evolution, where the I alone becomes conscious that the I alone is.

The third step is a diversification of the total ‘I' into a visible multiplicity, with the consciousness that the many are me only. I am aware of the limbs of my body. I have ten fingers and ten toes, and many organs of this body. Although they are many in number, I am still aware that they are all me only. So the diversity of perception is not always bad, provided the unity consciousness is there, immanent, permeating it, and the many is known to be the manyness of the One that is beholding it, or is conscious of it.

Up to this time, creation is wonderful. This state where the One is aware of the multiplicity of its own manifestation is called the Vishvarupa, a description of which is given in the Eleventh Chapter of the Bhagavadgita, and in the Purusha Sukta of the Veda, and so on. It is the grand manifestation of the One as the form of the manifold cosmos, and the One being aware that it is all these things.

Up to this stage of creation, there is no bondage. Where is the bondage? Who is to create the bondage, when the I alone is there, and it is knowing everything as itself? It is a dance of the One in the form of the many. Reme rameśo vraja-sundarībhir yathārbhakaḥ sva-pratibimba vibhramaḥ (S.B. 10.33.16) is a verse from the chapter on the Rasa Lila in the Srimad Bhagavata, where Suka Maharishi says that Sri Krishna danced in the middle of the Gopis as a child dances in the midst of its own reflections seen in multiple mirrors. There were no Gopis there. It was Sri Krishna himself—a child dancing because it sees itself in a multiple form through millions of mirrors kept around itself. It sees, it sees, it sees. Everywhere it sees itself, and yet it sees many. This dance of the cosmos is the Nataraja dance, also known in theological parlance as the dance of Siva, the dance of God in the act of cosmic manifestation, where He rejoices in knowing Himself, where He is blissful because He has flooded Himself overflowingly, as it were, throughout the extent of space and time and externality. This is the dance of God in the form of this wondrous creation.

There is no audience to visualise this dance. Who is to see the dance? Only the dancer knows himself. Somebody speaks, somebody hears. Somebody performs, another visualises. Here, such a thing is not there. The director of the drama, the audience, the light that illumines the stage and the performer all are one. The director himself dances, he is the audience, he is the lamp illumining the stage, and all of the dramatic enactment on the stage is that One Being taking all forms, mad with the bliss of its aloneness. We cannot put it in any other way.

Then something happens, which is worth knowing because none of us were there at that time. There was no me, no you, no he, no she, no it, no this, no that. Suddenly a triplication of process takes place. Here is the beginning of what is called the fall of man. We come down to a tragic state from this otherwise blissful universality of Self-awareness. The One splits itself, as it were, into a threefold manifestation of the seer, the seen, and the process of seeing. I am seeing you, and you are the object that is seen, and there is something between us. This is the trouble with us. Inasmuch as the seer cannot exactly know the proper relationship of the seer with the seen, there is always conflict, tension and a desire to artificially adjust oneself throughout the day
and night.

The connecting link between the seer and the seen is invisible. I do not know how I am seeing you, though seeing is taking place. You do not know how you are hearing me, though hearing is taking place. There is a gap of distance between us. How are you seeing me, and how am I seeing you? There is some mysterious principle operating between us. That is the mischief-maker, the real butter thief of the Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana. That peculiar thing between us does not introduce itself into the arena of perception. Neither do I know myself properly, nor do you know yourself properly and, also, nothing is known about how we are relating to each other in our social concourse.

At once the process of perception starts. There was no perception in the Universal enfoldment of God-consciousness—no eyes, no ears, no limbs. Sarvataḥ pānipādam tat sarvato'kṣiśiromukham, sarvataḥ śrutimal loke sarvam āvṛtya tiṣṭhati (B.G. 13.13). In that glory, everywhere there were eyes, everywhere there were ears, everywhere there were feet, everywhere there were fingers, and everywhere there were limbs. The eyes could walk, the legs could hear, the ears could see, the brain could digest, the stomach could think. Every part could do as every other part. Intuition is a faculty which can see, hear, touch, smell, taste; it can do everything. All the sense organs, which are spread out in a fivefold manner, get concentrated in intuition, and there is one knowledge. Likewise, all the sense organs were melted down into that cosmic dance.

Now, in the triplication of the process, they get separated. The consciousness of ‘I', which was originally identical with the consciousness which was the whole, gets separated from the whole and projects itself outwardly through space and time and begins to see, as it were, something outside itself. God does not see anything outside Himself, but I see something outside myself, and you see something outside yourself. The infection of the demons takes place. The war between the gods and the demons, to which I made reference a few minutes before, has already started. At once they fall upside-down. The little parts of the cosmic process appear to assert themselves independently, as it were. They attempt a cessation from their relation to the whole, and every little part of the cosmic process secedes by an affirmation of itself. This is the biblical story of the fall of Lucifer into the satanic condition where he asserted independence from God. Everyone falls, and they fall not with legs down and head up, but with head down and legs up, like Trishanku. So we see everything in reverse. The external appears as the internal, the internal looks like the external, the top looks like the bottom, the bottom looks like the top, the right looks like the left, and the left looks like the right. Everything in our perception is topsy-turvy. We are all in this condition today, every one of us, all created beings whether celestial, human or subhuman. In this condition of a tragic performance of God's creation in which we are involved, what spiritual practice is possible?

Spiritual practice is possible, and it is necessary. We have to free our sense organs from the infection of the demoniacal forces of space and time—Shumba, Nishumba, and others. We should not think as we see or hear or taste or touch or smell, but we should think rationally in an independent manner. Is there such a thing as independent thinking? Have you ever heard of totally independent thinking? Mostly it is somehow or other influenced by conditions prevailing either in one's own mind and feelings, or outside in society. Geographical conditions, and historical and cultural backgrounds, all influence our thought. We think like a Hindu or a Muslim, like a Jew or a Christian. We think like a man or a woman. Can a man think that he is a woman? Can a woman think that she is a man? They think like men and women only. Why? It is because the consciousness has delved into this structural pattern of physiological differentiation, cultural disparity, difference of language, and so on.

In this difficulty, you are now to gird up your loins for an onward march in the direction of the attainment of that which was there before you fell down. You have to do a sirsasana of consciousness. The head of consciousness should be down, and the legs should be up. You do hatha yoga sirasanas, but a mental sirsasana is also necessary. That is, in spiritual practice you reverse the process of perception. Instead of seeing that something is outside you, you begin to behold it as a part of you, so that you do not have to make a business bargain with that object. Our dealings with people are generally business-like, a give-and-take policy. Though we do not think it is so, it is really so. “What will come from that person, and what will not come? What is the outcome of my relationship to that person?” and so on, is the background of our thinking and activity. The intimate organic connection of your object with yourself is a remedy, a panacea for any kind of difficulty you will have in dealing with other people. Whatever you think about other people, they will also think about you. The world is not so far away from you, as I mentioned in earlier sessions. If you smile at the world, it will smile at you. If you grin at it, it will grin at you. If you say something to it, it will say something to you, like a mirror. Whatever you do to the mirror, it will do to you.

The desire to be sensorily happy, socially comfortable and physically in a state of pleasure, so strongly fixed in your mind and psyche, will not allow you to go ahead so easily like that. “Why not have a little physical comfort? What is the harm? I will have this gadget, and will watch some kind of performance that will give me satisfaction. What is the harm if people consider me a great man? Let me behave in such a way that people respect me. Why not have many followers? Why should I live alone like a pauper? Why should I not utilise the objects of the world for my satisfaction? To some extent, it is permissible. What is the harm?” These voices will slowly start manifesting themselves from inside and pour salt into the beautiful kheer of your attempt at God-realisation.

At the very outset in spiritual practice, what is essential is that you should have time to sit by yourself. All of you may bestow some thought on it. Are you alone to yourself for some time in the day, or are you always with somebody or talking on the telephone? Think over this matter. Totally unseen by people, not seeing anybody, not talking to any person, closeted in your own room at least for one hour continuously—have you ever tried this? Many people become fidgety if they are alone. They immediately open the door and call out to somebody who is nearby: “Hello. How do you do?” Let him do anything, why are you worried? “How are you, sir?” Why are you unnecessarily interfering with people? It is accepted that you are busy people. Everybody has some occupation and you have to do hard work and contact people, but can you not sit alone for one hour in the early morning, after lunch, before dinner, after dinner, as the case may be?

You may wonder what you are to do by sitting alone. Let there be no such question. Let anything be thought by the mind: this thought, that thought, a distracted thought, a useful thought, a useless thought. You have a complaint that you are not thinking anything useful when you are alone. Let it be. Give a large margin to the mind that it can do whatever it likes, that it can go on dancing, but do not get up from that place. Sit. After some days or weeks of practice, the mere fact of your sitting, a kind of asana jaya, we may say, will physiologically compel the mind to behave properly. The body and the mind are intimately connected. Though for some time the mind may be erratically thinking a hundred things while the body is sitting quiet, it does not matter. Let it go on for even a month. The influence exerted by the stability of the body and the calmness of the muscles and the nerves will have such a sedative effect upon the mind that the mind will also become quiet.

Children in a family become naughty. They go on chatting and making noise. Let the parents keep quiet for some time. Father, mother, brother, sister, let them not speak while the children dance and make noise. They need not tell the children to keep quiet. They should keep quiet first. The parents should not speak. Let them keep quiet and not say anything. Let us see whether or not this calmness of the parents has any influence on the children. Without telling them anything, they will become calm because how long can they go on making noise when everyone else is keeping quiet?

The body, which is associated with the mind, is keeping quiet, and it is continuously keeping quiet. One hand cannot make a noise; two palms are required to make a clapping sound. The mind will automatically learn the lesson of being composed by its association with the composed body. So do not be upset, saying, “What am I to do by sitting alone? My mind is wandering in a hundred directions.” Let it wander. After a month, you will see that you are perfectly fine. This is the first suggestion that I am giving to you so that you may compose yourself in yourself. Do not be disturbed. The world is very good, finally. It is your friend. It has a remedy for all problems.

In this way, you can achieve this little success in attaining mental composure. I am not saying you must be doing this the whole day because everybody has some routine of work, some duty, some office work and engagements. What I am suggesting is, only one hour a day may be devoted to this. No busy person can say he has not even one hour to spare. Certainly it is possible. If you have the will, there is a way.

After accommodating oneself to the practice of being alone for at least one hour every day, the next step would be to organise the thoughts. “All sorts of thoughts were coming to my mind, and I don't know what I was thinking.” Now take up a diary and a pen or a pencil. For one hour, what were you thinking? Make a list. A hundred thoughts came. Let the thoughts be jotted down. The next day also, do the same practice. This is a kind of spiritual diary I am suggesting.

There are two aspects of this practice. After a continuous attempt at jotting down all the thoughts that occurred to you in one hour, you will find they will slowly diminish in number because even a thief does not want to be looked at continuously. He will feel miserable. He will get up and go away. If you go on looking at some people, they do not like it and think, “What is the matter that they are going on looking at me?” They move away. So these thoughts which are now made a target of observation every day will see that they no longer become an object of your observation. The number of thoughts will slowly decrease, and you will find that one hundred will become ninety-nine, and so on, until they become fifty percent, thirty percent, etc. This will certainly take place without your actually having to put forth any special effort.

After achieving this very interesting success that has come to you like a windfall without your knowing that it will come, you begin to bestow some thought on the nature of the ideas that arose. “What are these thoughts that came to my mind? What did I think—fifty thoughts, thirty thoughts, twenty thoughts? Why have these thoughts come to me?” These thoughts say, “I want something.” “I want to see.” “I want to touch.” “I want to go.” “I want to do.” Each thought should be taken independently, like a patient to be examined by a physician. A hundred patients are not examined at one time, but each one is examined independently, and the others will be sitting there until the doctor calls. Each thought is to be taken up. Why has this thought arisen? It comes because there is a desire to obtain something.

As an educated person and a person with some common sense, you may think that you will know whether this desire is justifiable or totally unjustifiable, but you will never be able to make a judgment. Certain things look very bad from a traditional point of view, and certain things also look very good from the very same point of view. But spiritual ethics are a little different from social ethics. It is not just a heap of dos and don'ts. Read the Bible; does it tell you what to do and what not to do? Read the Manusmriti; does it tell you what to do and what not to do? Nothing of the kind. Even a doctor has to use common sense. It is not that this is the disease, so this is the medicine. It is not a computerisation or a statistics of the medicines that have to be given to the patient. It is a vital, on-the-spot, intuitive grasp by the doctor of the condition of the patient.

Your problem is not in the books; therefore, the solution cannot come from them. On ekadasi days, you should not eat. I am giving an example how you have to use common sense. Tradition says that you do not eat on that day. Suppose there is a person who has been deprived of diet for the last many days. He is emaciated. He is breathing his last, as it were, without proper food. It is ekadasi. Will you give him some suitable diet at that time to revive his consciousness—some little milk, some glucose? Or will you say that this is ekadasi, so today he must die? According to tradition he must die, but common sense says he must live. You should not steal. It is a tradition. Well, very good. You should not take something which does not belong to you without the permission of the person who possesses that thing. Suppose there is a crazy man who is brandishing a sword and running here and there in the midst of a crowd of people, so you slowly go behind him and steal that sword. Is it a permissible stealth or a condemnable one? Therefore, sometimes stealing is good, and sometimes eating on ekadasi is also good. Drinking liquor is very bad. Nobody should drink liquor. If a person has fallen from a tree and is unconscious, doctors generally put a few drops of brandy in his mouth so that he regains consciousness. He is drinking a little brandy as a medicine. Every rule has an exception.

In spiritual practice these questions will come in hundreds galore. You will never be able to answer any question before you. Even if you have a headache, you will not know what is the matter with you. One day you will be despondent and will not like to speak. You tell your Guruji, “Today I cannot speak.” Why should you not speak? Only Guruji will know your background. Your stomach will ache, your back will give pain, and all sorts of impediments will be before you. Sometimes you will even feel that the spiritual path is a meaningless attempt and you will get nothing out of it. All sorts of demons will come again and again and tell you, “Get up from this place. Why are you wasting your time? Do something better.”

Ethical spirituality is a God-oriented envisagement of things. The ultimate purpose of spiritual vision is to see things as God sees them, to feel about things as God would feel about them and, if possible, to also work as God would work. Do you know that God sees everything? He knows that you are seated here. What is His opinion about you? What does God think about you all? Incidentally, it is a good idea for you to bestow some thought: If God sees you, what will He think about you? “Idiot, fool!”—will He think like that? Will God think that you are a good-for-nothing, or will He think that you are a very wonderful being? You will be miserable even to think of such thoughts. You cannot go near Him.

Endeavour to develop the capacity to think in the way in which God would think. You will say, “How can I know what God thinks? Have I seen God?” You need not see God, but you can adjust your mind to the position or the locality of the existence of a total whole which sees all things with one eye. You may psychologically place yourself in the position of the Creator Himself. “I am the Creator of the cosmos. I am at the apex of creation, above space and time, and I am seeing all things. What do I think about this creation? This is my friend, this is my idiotic enemy, this is good for me, this I would like to have.” Will you think in this manner about things around you? You will have no such thoughts. You will see yourself spread out everywhere.

I am giving you a prescription to maintain a psychological awareness of what God would think, though you have not seen God. Though we have not seen God, we have some instrument in us which can tell us how God would be thinking. That is called the higher reason, the higher buddhi. Uddhared ātmanātmānaṁ nātmānam avasādayet, ātmaiva hyātmano bandhur ātmaiva ripur ātmanaḥ (B.G. 6.5). The lower mind says all things are divided, but the higher mind says the division consciousness arises on account of there being a consciousness which is not so divided.

Many people are sitting in front of me. How do I know that there are many people unless my consciousness is above the manyness? If my consciousness is also divided and split into parts as the people seated in front of me, I would not know that many people are sitting there. I have a unifying consciousness in me which overcomes the limitations of that dividedness of people in front of me, and therefore I know that many people are sitting here. Otherwise, how can I comprehend manyness with my single mind?

There is a higher mind in us, which is superior to the dividing mind. It is the pure reason, as we call it, and it is a kind of ambassador of God. It will speak the message of God and tell you what you are supposed to do in light of God's requirements.

Thus, in your honestly attempted positive effort at achieving true spiritual success, do not be merely a routine performer of your mechanical devices of sadhana—chanting, reading, and so on. Let a vitality be injected into your daily practice, and try to know what you feel in your heart of hearts at the time of your performance.

In one sentence I conclude: Be aware that God sees you just now; and if He sees you, what does He think about you? Let your heart be satisfied that He thinks correctly about you.