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Living a Spiritual Life
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 16: Total Thinking—Thinking as Nature Thinks

A general clash that often takes place between socio-personal values and spiritual values may land a person many a time in a mood of despondency, melancholy, and despair. The clash is between these values which are open to the human individual, in which everyone is sunk up to the neck; one regards these values as absolute, believing in nothing more than what is agreeable to the mind and the reason controlled by the sense organs. What are these personal, social and spiritual values, between which there is a conflict leading to untoward consequences in daily life?

The values that a person holds as final, absolutely necessary, and inseparable from one's own self may be regarded as personal values. These values cause one to exercise authority and affirm oneself in a 'don't care' manner because the personal ego is threatened. As long as the egoistic personality is pampered, worshipped and adored, it looks like a golden temple, most attractive and beautiful, but the characteristic of the ego is intolerance of opposition. There is a peculiarity about this trait in every human individual. “What I say is right, and what anybody else says is wrong.” This is the affirmation of egoism.

Apart from egoistic values sometimes getting mixed up with so-called rationalisation of values, emotional values, there are values of purely sensory appreciation, to which a person will cling up to the point of death. For the sake of the honour of the ego, for the purpose of maintaining what is regarded as self-respect, one will be prepared to lose one's life. Similarly, unfulfilled sense-ridden passions may cause a person to consider his or her life as worthless. Egoistic values and sensory values are the principle values which the personality clings to. We judge everything in terms of these evaluations.

Social values are the well-known do's and don'ts of life—do this, don't do that. Everywhere we hear these things being told. These do's and don'ts vary from country to country, from culture to culture. The do's of one country may not be the do's of another country, and so also are the don'ts. They are galvanised by ethnic, anthropological and geographic influences, so they are not absolute. Yet, a particular culture or society regards them as absolute. When it is said that it should be done or it should not be done, it is a permanent dictum discharged by society for the fulfilment and obedience of every individual in that community or society.

That is why people who are tethered vehemently by certain kinds of restrictions in a particular society often abandon that society and go to another society, enter another country with another sense of values which may—from the point of view of that individual, at least—offer opportunities of greater freedom and facility of expression.

Social values are modern, as well as ancient. They change from time to time—from ancient times to medieval ages, from medieval ages to modern times; and, due to exigencies of certain circumstances in society, yesterday's social values may be turned down for the sake of a newly engendered value today. But personal values do not change. A person cannot change the egoism of oneself, even in centuries. Similar is the value attached to sensory attractions.

Hemmed in from all sides by these operations within as well as without, human nature, when it seeks to confront what are known as spiritual or divine values, faces a dark curtain in front—a thick wall against which it can knock its head and fall down.

The values that are known as spiritual are difficult to understand. They do not consist in study of scriptures, frequenting temples, rolling of beads, fasts and vigils. None of these can ultimately be regarded as spiritual. Only a thing that liberates a person from bondage of mortality can be regarded as a spiritual value. Let anyone cogitate for oneself whether these external manipulations, performances, and rituals which go by the name of religion can lead one to immortal existence. If, in the heart of hearts, one feels that nothing of this kind can lead to immortality, the religion fails as a saviour of humanity. What, then, is spiritual value?

Briefly, as I mentioned, it is that outlook of life, that adoption of behaviour, that consideration of one's circumstance and environment which will fit into the working of nature taken as a whole, and not in parts. Even cultural values differing from one country to another cannot be regarded as spiritual values, because they vary from one circumstance to another. Nature has no country. It has no class or clan. It has no language. It does not speak in a human tongue—though we may say that every leaf in a tree speaks, in its own way, a language known only to itself.

The operations of nature in the universe as a whole are totally different in character and modus operandi from the methods we employ in our day-to-day existence in this world. Nature has no respect for individuality. Whether it is a man or a woman, whether one is rich or poor, nature has no such considerations. Its values are totally different from humanly conceived social values. If someone dies, a great tragedy is said to befall that particular family; but if millions die, it is not a loss to nature. If one child is born, it is a rejoicing for the family in this world; if millions are born, it is nothing to nature because the workings of nature are based on what we may call a total visualisation of value. The whole thing is taken into consideration at the same time, while nature opens its eyes and works its ways through the process of evolution.

But no human being can think in a total fashion. Our method of mental operation is mostly personal, artificially family oriented, and if it is extended further into society and the like, it is again a diluted form of personal affirmation. All social values are actually extended forms of personal values. There is no such thing as society except a large body of individuals operating in a given manner. We speak of society; it is impossible to conceive its existence independent of the individual constituents of which it is made. An arrangement or a pattern of the operation of certain classes of individuals is called 'society' for the time being. Societies vary, as cultures vary in different countries, so these modes of working in life by human nature also vary accordingly.

The way in which nature works is also the way in which God works. Nature is the face of God, and if we cannot know how God works, we have only to observe how nature works. But, wedded as we are to the limited vision of personality and personality-oriented society, we cannot even find time to be impartial enough to probe into the mysteries of nature. What is nature? It is a total of phenomena, all things and everything put together—not in a slip-shod manner, but in a harmonious way so that the whole universe forms an organism, a living individual.

Nature is a living body, and it is one body only. We cannot have many natures, many universes, and all that. Since nature is one, and it is a living entity as a single organism, its ways are really the ways that finally succeed. No other boasting of man, in any manner whatsoever, will work, and it is no use wagging one's tail before nature's laws. It can topple down stars, suns and moons when it doesn't want them. It can dry up oceans, create droughts and floods, epidemics, wars and destructions. Anything of that kind may be sanctioned by the vision of nature from the point of view of its end, which always escapes the notice of human perception.

The whole of nature has a particular aim before it, and it relentlessly pursues that aim. Everyone has to follow the track followed by nature. It is like the vehicles attached to a railway engine following the track followed by the engine; they cannot have another track. If any individual is harsh and audacious enough to assert his or her own ambitious path of personal glorification and sensory gratification, nature will give a kick to that individual in the form of disease, aberration, bereavement, and finally death itself.

Actually, what we call death is only a nemesis that follows from the reactions nature sets up against violations of its own laws by the individual. There is no such thing as an individual body in nature taken as a whole. There are no personalities; there is no humanity, no creation as we think it to be. If this could be properly understood, even by the stretch of our imagination, we may be stepping on the first footstool of a spiritual view of things. Any kind of external performance and demonstration externally is not going to be regarded as worth a fig by the law of nature. We can deceive anybody, but nobody can deceive nature. It will penalise a person who goes against its principles.

Unfortunately, everyone goes against natural laws. By natural laws, I do not mean merely breathing fresh air, eating good food, drinking cows' milk, and doing daily exercise. I do not mean these as natural laws, though they also form part of it. Natural law is the vision of life, which is the vision entertained by nature itself. It is hard, of course, to conceive what nature is. For that, I gave an illustration of the farthest reach of the human mind, which includes the boundary of nature. We can imagine how far, to what distance, our mind can travel. It can reach the stars. It can go beyond the galaxies. It can touch the boundaries of space and time. All this is within nature. So vast is the concept that we can have, if we are to meditate on the principle of natural workings.

When the attempt at this kind of thinking succeeds even a little bit, a tremendous transformation will take place inside oneself, as well as in the atmosphere outside oneself—because nature includes oneself, as also what is outside oneself. So, if anyone believes in the law of nature and thinks, behaves and acts to the extent possible according to the law of nature, it will transform the individual as nature would deem it proper, and transform also the circumstances or the environments of the individual because environment goes together with the individual. We are made up of environment also, and not merely our bodily frame.

An effort of a veiled nature, unthinkable ordinarily, is necessary to conduct oneself in this manner in daily life. We have been discussing these subjects from different angles of vision, but how many can retain these thoughts in the mind? The mind is so tricky as to confirm again and again that sensory and egoistic values are final. Whatever we have heard from elders or from scriptures passes over the head of the individual; it does not enter within, as any amount of water poured on a rock will not permeate into the rock.

For this purpose, deep meditation is called for. We must remember that we have no friend in this world. We should not ignore nature and say that we have got many friends: “I can be protected by my family members. I have got even a large army.” The army is of no value before nature. All the powers that we can conceive in this world are like a little bit of husk before natural forces. It can blow a wind which can throw half of the world out; such power nature has got. Therefore, boasting too much about one's own capacity, and being too complacent about one's social and personal achievements, is tomfoolery of the first water.

Therefore, every seeker, everyone on the path of the spirit, has to guard oneself from the kicks and blows that one may have to receive one day from natural laws. Every minute we have such kicks by problems that we are facing in life. All the problems of life—social, political, economic, whatever they are—are the conflict arising out of the difference between the human way of thinking and the natural way of thinking.

It is an ungodly way of living that is the cause of all the sorrows of life, whatever be their nature. So, merely depending on one's own strength, muscular or industrial, is a futile way of living. Especially people who are a little aged, who have grey hair and have learned the art of mature thinking, will not fall into the pit of this erroneous thought that the world can save us from the sorrow of mortality.—A comprehensive approach to life, inclusive of oneself and society and the whole of nature, the entire creation, is required. This is what we may call absolute thinking, total thinking, universal thinking, or we may dare to say, God-thinking. This is true meditation. Any other kind of scratching the head cannot be a successful meditation at all. In meditation, we touch the core of reality.

If we are not even able to approach the borderland of reality, and it remains far away from us, the problems remain problems always. The world has remained an abode of sorrows and problems right from its creation, because the world is nothing but an area of action by individuals who contrarily work against nature. Universal thinking is unimaginable to the human level of approach. We are all human beings, no doubt, but how long will we be contented in being only human beings? From the biological point of view we are like animals, and even psychologically we are not far off from the subhuman level. Only our super-arrogant egoism distinguishes us from the category of life which we call, in our own egoistic adumbration, animal and plant life, etc.—which may be perhaps nearer to reality than the human ego.

Thus, seekers, inmates of this ashram, guests and visitors who come here to partake of the blessedness of the vibrations of this place, will do good to carry some treasure which is of permanent value when they go home; and those who are residents here will carry this wisdom with them permanently for ever and ever as an eternal gift that has come from God Himself.

What can be a greater gift than the ability to think like this? The greatest gift, the greatest treasure, is understanding. Minus that, everything else falls flat. A person without proper understanding always thinks wrongly in an egoistic manner, and sensorially; that person cannot sit for meditation because secretly there is a voice speaking from inside, guided by the senses, the aesthetic sense, and the ego, that life is something different than what others speak of. Every saint and sage, every master who has trodden this path had to face these difficulties of spiritual life where voices were heard from within and also from without, one opposing the other: one phenomenal, another spiritual, absolute, and noumenal.

It is up to us, with the utmost effort that we can exercise, to find time to befriend God. Would you lose anything by being a friend of God? You would rather be friends of people who pamper your ego, cajole you, advertise you in the papers, and do all kinds of things to fatten the ego-ridden personality than really help you on the right path.

Suhṛdaṁ sarvabhūtānāṁ jñātvā māṁ śāntim ṛcchati (Gita 5.29) is a solacing passage from the Bhagavadgita. “Know me to be the friend of all beings, and the final friend of you all. When everyone deserts you at the crucial moment of your life, I shall come to you as your real friend—a friend whom you have ignored throughout your life, right from your birth. Now at the time of danger and the utter sorrow of your life, I am here as your real friend,” says the great Master, Bhagavan Sri Krishna in the Bhagavadgita.

You cannot trust anybody in this world, finally; anybody can deceive you. There can be a clash among family members: a brother can separate himself from his brother, a wife can cut herself off from her husband. Anything can happen anywhere in human society. Knowing this, whom would you regard as your real friend and saviour? Do you want to go, quitting this world, with the feeling that you have lost the only opportunity given to you for preparing yourself for an onward march to the realisation of reality in this arduous task, which is so difficult even to imagine in the mind?

Many of the things I have told you in these few minutes will not remain in your mind when you go out of this hall. Yet, supposing you have entertained them in your mind, the implementation of these ideas in practical life is so hard. Who will help you? There also you have a great consolation from God Himself: “I am with you. Not only am I here as your Friend Ultimate, I am also a help to you at every step in your movement towards God.” This is what is called the avatara or the incarnation of God, which takes place at every critical moment of life.

Dharmasaṁsthāpanārthāya saṁbhavāmi yuge yuge (Gita 4.8) “For the establishment of the righteousness of the law, I incarnate myself at every critical juncture of life.” This is the great consolation again, by the most compassionate Almighty, dearer to us than mothers and fathers.

The incarnation comes to our aid as a kind of brilliant illumination, a flash of light on the path of yoga. Darkness gets dispelled, doubts are cleared automatically by our own self, without any external aid, because an incarnation is operating inside. Nobody can help us except God, and He operates within as well as without: without, as the ultimate goal for our salvation of spirit; within, as our perpetual guide and friend.

Sunk as we are in the values that are purely materialistic and mortal, accustomed as we are to value these visible comforts of life alone as final, we cannot seriously take to heart these admonitions of the spirit and the glories of the spiritual path. Repeated practice is necessary. Abhyāsa vairāgyābhyāṁ tan nirodhaḥ (Yoga Sutras 1.12): repeated practice, daily sessions of meditation, are necessary; and intensity of aspiration for liberation of spirit is also called for: tīvra saṁvegānām āsannaḥ (Yoga Sutras 1.21).

Easy it is to approach it, provided our heart wells up in an ardour and an eagerness which we alone can explain: the ardour, the eagerness, with which a mother would jump into the well to save her drowning child; the ardour, the eagerness, with which a millionaire will hug his wealth; an ardour and longing with which one clings to egoistic values of self-perpetuation by exercising authority and running for name, fame and power. That these values are no values at all, that they are empty of their content, is difficult to know because we are perpetually being deceived by the senses—like a magic show before us which is delighting to see, but the secret behind which we cannot know.

The world is acting like a magician before us, tempting us with all kinds of presentations and gifts, and finally denying each one of them so that we get nothing. Knowing this, a person should be internally detached and rooted in deep contemplation on what today I described as a way of thinking as nature herself thinks—a total way of thinking, an organic way of thinking, an absolute thinking—one thinking only, which includes every other kind of thinking. Then we will see the whole world lifted out of its veil and shining before us as a face of Almighty God Himself. When the veil of space and time is lifted, this external world which has been tantalising us for all time will be seen as shining gold of the beautiful creation of God Almighty. It will not tempt us; it will not repel us, because we are included in this wondrous creation of God.

With these feelings one has to take rigorously, vigorously, with mumukshutva, great ardent longing for spiritual success, through meditation—daily to be carried on, individually by oneself—not for a show before society or the public, but for an indescribable, perennial satisfaction that will automatically generate from one's own self. Such is the beauty of the path of yoga, such is the kindness of God, and such is the blessing that we all have to be in this auspicious place, and to consider and meditate upon these values at this moment.