Spiritual Aspiration and Practice
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 4: An In-Depth Analysis of the Process of Spiritual Practice – Part 2

Understanding precedes doing; theory is at the back of application; knowledge precedes the performance of anything. Before you do a thing, you must know what you are doing, how you are to do it, and what for it is 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 fingers’ ends 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, and 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 finger’s ends. Then you switch on, and immediately there will be illumination. Otherwise, if electrification is not properly done, any amount of switching will bring no light.

So, to continue our subject, I will introduce to you an interesting anecdote that we have recorded in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. There was a war between the gods and the demons in the heavens. The gods decided that they shall ask their friends to chant a powerful mantra called Rathanthara 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 may cease. Due to this attack, the eyes could not see things properly. The Upanishad says this is the reason why you always see certain things as good and certain things as bad. The distinction that you make is due to the attack of the demon on your eyes. You cannot say everything is bad, nor can you say everything is good. You always make a distinction between some part of the world as of this character and another part of that other character, though there is no proper justification for the classification you are making. The eyes failed.

The gods told the ears: “Please chant.” The demons attacked the ears. Due to this reason, you hear what is good and hear what is bad. When something is told, you always make a judgement on it: this is okay, this is not okay. Now who told you that this is okay and this is not okay? It is your own predilection arising out of the infected way of hearing due to the contact of the sense of hearing with the demoniacal forces.

What is the demoniacal force? They have only two things to do; either they throw a thing from out of its location in some other direction, or split one thing into two parts. This is what the demons do. If you are in one place, they will make you feel that you are in another place, and if there is only one way of thinking, they will compel you to think in two different ways. The gods then attempted other sense organs like the tongue. The tongue chanted and immediately the demons attacked the tongue also. So, you can taste what is palatable or unpalatable. So is the case with smell and touch, etc. All these sense organs failed. These sense organs also are attendants of the organisation of gods in heaven. They did not succeed.

The idea is that you cannot know anything correctly through the sense organs. You cannot open your eyes and see things correctly; you always have a prejudiced outlook of things, and everything is prejudiced in every way you try to contact the facts in this world through any sense organ. The real cannot be contacted through the sense organs because of this demoniacal attack. Yesterday I mentioned 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 yours to think correctly and do things properly.

So what is the fate of these gods who have 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 Rathanthara 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 will break when it is struck on a hard rock, says the Upanishad.

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

Our judgements psychologically or even logically are mostly partial, oriented by some influence of the sense organs. You like to eat something particularly, smell something, touch something, hear something and see something. You have a desire to have some particular contact of some type for your own satisfaction. That desire for a particular contact influences your thought. Even a judiciary can be influenced by family problems or a stomach ache or liver trouble. It does not mean that gods are in this world. Only human beings are living here, whatever they are. 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 with 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 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 is a warning in this anecdote. When the senses were freed from the attacks 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 placed in order?

Here, we go to the story of the creation of the universe that we have in the Aitareya Upanishad. How did the sense organs come into being at all? Who compels us to see things as we are seeing, and so on? The Aitareya is one of the Upanishads. The beginning of creation is supposed to be a multiple manifestation in a perfectly organised manner of a total living entity called God Almighty, the Absolute Being, Ishvara Shakti, Narayana, whatever it is. In the beginning, there was 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 the you-consciousness. There is no ‘you’; there is no ‘he’ or ‘she’ or ‘it’ there. It was just one blended ‘I’, in which also were enveloped space and time.

The next step in creation is the will to be conscious of one’s self. 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. 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 one 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 multiplicity of visibility with the consciousness that the many are me only. I am aware of the limbs of my body. I have got ten fingers and ten toes, and many organs of this body. Although they are many in number, I am still aware they are all me only. So diversity of perception is not always bad, provided the unity-consciousness is there, immanent, permeating it, and the many are known to 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 Vishwarupa, a description of which is given in the eleventh chapter of the Bhagavadgita and in the Purusha Sukta of the Veda. It is the grand manifestation of the One in 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 Me? It is the dance of the One in the form of the many. Reme rameśo vraja-sundarībhir yathārbhakaḥ sva-pratibimba vibhramaḥ (Bhagavata 10.33.16) is a verse from the Srimad Bhagavata Rasa Lila chapter, 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 He Himself – a child dancing because it sees itself in a multiple form through millions of mirrors kept around itself; it sees, it sees and it sees. Everywhere it sees itself, and yet it sees many. This dance of the cosmos is the Nataraja dance, also know 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.

Now, 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. Such a thing is not there here. The director of the drama, the audience, the light that illuminates the stage and the performer all are one only. The director himself dances, he is the audience, he is the illumining lamp in 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 – no me, no you, no he, no she, no it, no this, that. Suddenly triplication of process takes place. Here is the beginning of what they call the fall of man. You 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 know exactly the proper relationship of the seer with the seen, there is always conflict, tension and a desire to adjust oneself artificially 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 me and you. 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 I know myself properly nor you know yourself properly, and also nothing is known about how we are relating ourselves 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 pāni-pādam tat sarvato'kṣi-śiro-mukham, sarvataḥ śrutimal loke sarvam āvṛtya tiṣṭhati (Gita 13.13). In that glory, everywhere eyes were there, everywhere ears were there, everywhere feet and everywhere limbs, everywhere fingers. Eyes can walk, legs can see, ears can see, brain can digest, stomach can think. Every part can do as every other part. Intuition is a faculty which can see, hear, touch, smell; everything it can do. 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. God does not see anything outside Himself, but I see something outside me, you see something outside you. The infection of the demons takes place. The war has already started between the gods and the demons, to which I made reference a few minutes before. 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; and everyone falls. They fall – not straight down, not with legs down and head up – but with head down and legs up, like Trishanku. So we see everything in reverse: The external will appear as the internal, the internal will look like the external, top will look like bottom, bottom will look like top, the right will look like left and left like right. Everything is topsy-turvy in our perception. In this condition we are today, every one of us, all created beings, celestial or human or subhuman. In this condition of a tragic performance of God’s creation in which we are involved, what spiritual practice is possible? It is possible, and it is necessary.

We have to free our sense organs from the infection of demoniacal forces of space and time – Shumba, Nishumba and others. We should not think as we see or hear or taste or touch, but think rationally in an independent manner. Is there such a thing called 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, cultural background all influence your thought. You think like a Hindu or a Muslim, a Jew or a Christian. You think like a man or a woman. Can a man think that he is a woman? It is not possible; nor a woman can think that she is a man. They will 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, we are now to gird up our loins for an onward march in the direction of the attainment of that which was there before we fell down. You have to do a sirsasana of the consciousness. The head of consciousness should be down, the leg should be up. You do hatha yoga sirasanas, but a mental sirsasana is also necessary. That is, you reverse the process of perception in spiritual practice. Instead of seeing that something is outside you, you will begin to behold it as a part of you, so that you will not have to deal 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, will be the background of our thinking and activity. The intimate organic connection of your object with yourself is a remedy or a panacea for any kind of difficulty you will have in dealings 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 hard deposited in our own mind and psyche, will not allow us to go ahead so easily like that. “Why not have a little physical comfort? What is the harm? I will have this gadget and 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 little thought on it. Are you alone to yourself for some time in the day, or are you always talking to somebody, or are you telephoning? 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 somebody who is nearby. “Hello. How do you do?” Let him do anything, why are you worried? “How are you, sir?” Why are you interfering with people unnecessarily? Okay, you are busy people. Everybody has some occupation and they have to do hard work and contact people. Can you not sit alone for one hour – in early morning, after lunch, before dinner, after dinner, as the case may be?

You may wonder, “What am I to do by sitting alone?” Let there be no such question. Let anything be thought by the mind – this thought, that thought, distracted thought, useful thought, 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, “Do whatever you like; you go on dancing,” but don’t get up from that place. Sit. The mere fact of your sitting, a kind of asana jaya, you may say, will physiologically compel the mind to behave properly after some days and days of practice. The body and the mind are intimately connected. Though the mind may be erratically thinking a hundred things while the body is sitting quiet, it does not matter for some time. 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 also will become quiet.

Children in the 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. You need not tell them to keep quiet. You keep quiet first. The parents, the relations should not speak; let them not say anything. Keep quiet. Let us see whether this calmness of the parents has any influence over the children or not. Without telling them anything, they will become calm because how long can they go on making noise when you are keeping quiet?

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

In this way you can achieve this little success in attaining mental composure. I am not saying the whole day you must be doing this, because everybody has some routine of work, some duty, some office and engagements. What I am suggesting is, only one hour may be devoted. No busy person can say he has not 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 pencil. For one hour, what were you thinking? Make a list. A hundred thoughts came. Let the names 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. If you go on looking at some people, they don’t like it and think, “What is the matter that they are looking at me?” They move. So these thoughts which are now made a target of observation every day will see that they do not become an object of your observation any more. The number will slowly descend, and you will find that one hundred will become ninety-nine and so on until it becomes fifty percent, thirty percent, etc. This will certainly take place, without actually your having to put forth any special effort.

After achieving the 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 this.” Now each thought should be taken independently, like a patient to be examined by a physician. A hundred patients are not examined at one moment, but each one independently, and the others will be sitting there until the doctor calls. Each thought is to be taken. Why has this thought arisen? 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 a justifiable thing or a totally unjustifiable thing, but you will never be able to make a judgement on this matter of what is justifiable and what is unjustifiable. Certain things will look very bad from a traditional point of view, and certain things will 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. This is the disease, so this is the medicine – it is not like that. It is not a computerisation or a statistics of the medicines that have to be injected or 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 also cannot come from them. Ekadasi days come, and you should not eat. I am giving an example how you have to use common sense. The tradition says on that day you do not eat. There is a person who has been deprived of diet for the last fifteen days. He is emaciated. He is breathing his last, as it were, without proper food. Ekadasi has come. Will you give him some suitable diet at that time to revive his consciousness – some little milk, some glucose – or say, “This is ekadasi, so you die today.” Traditionally he must die, but by common sense he must live.

You should not steal. It is a tradition. Well, very good. Universally you should not take away something which does not belong to you without the knowledge of somebody who possesses that thing. Suppose there is a crazy man, mad; he is brandishing a sword and running here and there in the midst of an audience, so you slowly go behind him and steal that sword. Is it a permissible stealth or a condemnable one? So stealing is good sometimes, and eating on ekadasi is also good sometimes.

Drinking liquor is very bad. Nobody should drink brandy. A person has fallen from a tree and is unconscious. Medical men generally put a few drops of brandy in the mouth so that he regains consciousness. You say he is drinking brandy but it is not drinking brandy, it is 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 the Guruji, “Today I cannot speak.” Why should you not speak? Guruji only will know your background. Stomach will ache, back will give pain, 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.”

The ethical spirituality is a God-oriented envisagement of things. The ultimate purpose of spiritual vision is to see things as God sees, to feel as God would feel about things, and if possible, to also work also as God would work. Do you know 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, and you can bestow some thought: if God sees me, what will He think about me? “Idiot, fool!” – will He think like that? Will He think you are a good for nothing, nonsense, or a very wonderful being? You will be miserable even to think of such thoughts. You cannot go near Him.

Develop the capacity to endeavour thinking in the way in which God would think. You will say, “How will 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 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 an 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 how God would be thinking. That is called higher reason, higher buddhi. Uddhared ātmanātmānaṁ nātmānam avasādayet ātmaiva hy ātmano bandhur ātmaiva ripur ātmanaḥ (Gita 6.5). The lower mind says all things are divided. The higher mind says the division consciousness arises on account of there being 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 many-ness? 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 unified 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. Otherwise, how can I comprehend many-ness with my single mind? There is a higher mind in us which is superior to the dividing mind, the pure reason, as we call it, which, also, is a kind of ambassador of God. It will speak the message of God and will tell you what you are supposed to do in the light of God’s requirements.

So 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.