The Foundation of Spirituality
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 2: Who is Fit to Lead a Spiritual Life

On the essentially practical side of spiritual living, we have very few guidebooks or texts giving all the necessary details of the entire process, though there are general statements and broad outlines of the nature of the path which we find discussed in the scriptures of the different religions. For instance, everyone knows very well that religious and spiritual life implies truthfulness, honesty, straightforwardness, goodness, kindness, servicefulness, and so on. Virtues of this kind enumerated by teachers as well as texts are known to everybody.

But with all this knowledge of the absolute necessity to be good in oneself and to do good to others, when you actually place your foot on this way that is supposed to lead to what you call the goal of your life, you will find that your knowledge is not sufficient because each individual is unique in himself or herself. Generally and broadly we are all human beings, and therefore, we have human qualities; that is true, of course. All the needs of human beings are felt by everyone equally. Hunger, thirst, heat, cold, anxiety, need for security, food, clothing, shelter are the general needs of everyone. But there is something more in each person than these general requirements which are quite obvious, and these obvious things are not our difficulties. We can get on with them somehow with the wisdom of life.

But we have an inner personality which is actually the true personality. It is not inner in the sense of being something different from the outer realities. It is that which is what we really are and which we cannot always manifest outside in our daily occupations. There is a tremendous conflict between each person and the world outside, and the world being very powerful, each one swallows the bitter pill and suffers silently, weeping secretly in one’s own bedroom because no one is going to listen to our weeping. Everyone knows our cry is only in the wilderness.

Most people suffer this life, do not enjoy it, because enjoying life is not possible as the world is confronting us like a roaring lion ready to pounce on us and even swallow us, and we have to protect ourselves. It is the onslaught of these forces of the world with our meagre energies and strengths. This is a psychological tension with which we are born and with which we also die, and due to which we pass a camouflaged life of satisfaction that we are somehow well off in the world.

We can get on in this world with a type of adjustment, whether we are happy about this adjustment or not. Many of the sacrifices that we do are forced upon us – not that we willingly do them – because we know the absence of this sacrifice on our part will endanger our existence or put us in awkward conditions. So we demonstrate an outward charitable nature and sacrificial mood before our superiors, our bosses and the world at large, though inwardly we grumble and curse this condition that has come upon us due to which we have to unnecessarily spend from our pockets and waste our energies for nothing. But it is not for nothing that it is done because we know if we do not do this, we may be in a worse condition. So goes the world.

With this peculiar inner turmoil we are likely turn to the path of God, the path of religion and the path of spirituality. “I am fed-up with this world.” You do not turn to religion or spirituality because you are fed-up with the world. Here is a caution which has to be exercised by each one who really seeks victory in this spiritual adventure called the practice of sadhana. It is not because you are defeated by the world that you go to God. It is not because you are an escapist or a runaway from the world’s realities that you move towards God.

Most people are defeated by the powers of the world. Society and everything that goes with it is a trouble up to the hilt, and we cannot bear it anymore. When we are young, when we have a little money with us and we have some energy to run about even in the hot sun, we bear with all the difficulties of family maintenance and working in the office. But energy fails when we become a little old. And when we become old, we cease to be an object of attraction to people. We are no more a very useful person partly because our pecuniary conditions diminish in their intensity, the beauty of the body fades, and our utility to society also gradually diminishes in percentage. We become a sort of good-for-nothing individual, and the family is not very much interested in us, society knows that we cannot do much, and we also know that we have no energy. Then what do we do? “God help me. I turn to the path of the spirit.” This is the unfortunate understanding of religion and the most miscalculated understanding of spirituality.

The spiritual seeker is the strongest of people in the world. Nobody can be so strong as this person. Nothing can stand before a spiritual seeker honestly pursuing this path. He is a lion and an elephant because he has the strength of being backed up by a power which will never forsake him at any time; therefore, the world cannot kick him out. And our external conditions will not decide our value or intrinsic worth. Mostly our worth or value depends upon what other people think about us, and the way in which other people hold an opinion about us depends upon the varying conditions of human society. It is not possible to expect a uniform opinion or attitude towards us from everybody from the beginning to end, because an opinion is nothing but a calculation based on existing conditions, and conditions cannot be permanent in life. Every day situations change, every minute conditions may change, and so our hanging on our worthwhileness in the light of opinions held by people outside may require moment to moment adjustments on our part, like the caution to be exercised by a motorcar driver along the road to Badrinath which winds here and there every minute. He cannot close his eyes and be chatting because the road is so dangerous and he has to turn every minute. Such an adjustment we are making no doubt, but these are the techniques we adopt for somehow managing ourselves in this world of difficulties, and that does not prove that we have really understood the world.

We have a peculiar difficulty based on a basic lack of understanding of people or the world as it is. It is not easy to know another person however much we may be moving with that person. Because as we cannot know our own self wholly, and another also cannot know himself or herself entirely, consequently one cannot know the other. This difficulty basic to an ignorance of the inner constituents of human personality decides what sort of adjustments we are to make every day. What an activity, what an effort and what a strain it is that every moment we have to be cautious about who is around us and what is expected of us. We cannot be carefree in this world where we are expected to change our attitudes and adjustments every moment.

But with all these turbulent shapes of the surface of life, there is something which is secretly hidden. There is an essential uniformity in life and a basic goodness in man. If we are able to adjust ourselves with this, we need not have to wrack our heads every minute to adapt our circumstances moment to moment and strain our brain continuously throughout the day.

The structure of the world and the structure of the human being mean practically one and the same thing, inasmuch as man is a part of the world. If we know a human being, we know the world also and, vice versa, if we know the world, we know the human being also. There are basic illnesses which manifest themselves as a multitude of sicknesses and we try to heal the symptoms rather than the causes. The problems of human life are mostly symptoms of basic difficulties in human adjustment and human understanding. They are symptoms, not causes.

We read newspapers, we read novels, and we listen to information coming to us through radios and wireless communications. We know how the world is going on, what is happening anywhere. These are not actually the real stuff of the world. This information that we receive from various sources in this manner are the many-phased symptoms of a deep-seated difficulty which mankind feels essentially. But as an inner diagnosis of a central disease is not easily accessible even to a good physician and he somehow manages to convince himself as well as his patient that the disease is cured by a symptomatic treatment, we get on by a symptomatic adjustment of ourselves with the world of people. Thus, life passes. We become old. But problems are problems, and whatever were the problems of life during the time of Julius Caesar are the problems today at this moment. They are not different.

Now, the intention of a whole-souled and dedicated spiritual seeker is to be understood very carefully. Why are you hungering for spiritual life, and what actually do you mean by ‘this world’? What is religion, what is spirituality, and what for is this running after God? What is the idea behind all these things? Is it because you feel you will be rid of the problems of life once and for all and you will be in some other realm free from these turmoils? That is not possible because there is no such thing as moving away from this world of experience. No one can move away from it because what we call the world is not merely this physical Earth on which we are living, and what we call life is not simply the lodgement of our mind in this physical body. “If the body goes, I am rid of all problems,” one may think, and commit suicide. But the problems of life are not located in the physical body and, therefore, a shedding of the body is not a solution of the problems. This is a great error to feel that death is a solution to problems. It is not a solution to problems because they do not arise in the body. They are somewhere else. Therefore, the causes of problems persist even if the body is not to be there, and they will persist even if you are not to be in this world, because your personality is not this body. And in the same way, the world in which you are living is not this Earth. So either way, you make a mistake by imagining that you can be free from the problems of life by getting out of this world, or getting out of the body itself.

These notions either way are total miscalculations based on utter ignorance of the realities of life. Your personality which is the experiencer of the difficulties of life, this personality of yours, is different from the body which you are seeing with your eyes. Therefore, to punish it or to get angry with it or to consider it as the cause of problems would be a mistake. And, likewise, to imagine that this world that you see with your eyes is the cause of your problems and, therefore, you can be free from it, go somewhere else, is also a mistake. You cannot be out of the world at any time, and you cannot be out of the body also at any time because if this body goes, another body comes; and if you are not in this world, you will be in another world. Inasmuch as a single law operates in the whole cosmos, that law which engendered the problems you were facing will continue to follow you even if you have another body, and even if you are not in this world.

So spiritual seekers beware. No amount of trying to be free from the problems of life will be really a freedom from problems. Wherever you go, you will be pursued by these problems in whatever body you may enter into in your rebirth, and in whatever realm you enter after the quitting of this world, because there is no such thing as another world. It is a single government. The arms of law are so long, so widely spread and stretched that wherever you go, these arms will pursue you.

So nobody can escape from the problems of life; it is not possible. “I will take to sannyas. What have I to do with this world?” These ideas are miscalculations. Your sannyasa has no meaning because if you think sannyasa is a putting on of a robe or living in a sequestered cloister, it is not the solution to the problems because life is a universally spread-out operation of power, law, regulation and principle, and no man can be exempt from it. Do you think the sannyasin is not living in the world? Is he in the skies? Every law will operate upon him. And thus, the psychological complacency that one may wrongly enter into falsely imagining the nature of the problems of life may lead to rebirth, and your idea of freedom from problems will be an utter misunderstanding of the situation.

Who is then fit to lead a spiritual life? Who is a sadhaka? The world is not several kilometres away from God. There is no distance between God and the world. So when you reach God or move in the direction of God, you are not moving a few kilometres away from the world. But we have such ideas. As there is a distance between the world and God, as we are likely to imagine, we also imagine that there is a distance between family life and sannyasa life. There is no such distance. A sannyasin is not five kilometres away from family.

The family idea also is to be clarified first in the mind. What is a family? What is your knowledge about it? Your idea of family life is as poor as your knowledge of the world itself because what you call a family is nothing but an involvement of yourself in something, and anyone who is involved in anything is a family man. This is an internal principle which has to be revealed to one’s own consciousness. A person who has a compulsive obligation to perform is not a sannyasin. He is a householder only. But if he performs functions out of the spontaneous emanation of his own free will, then it can be called karma yoga, especially in the light of the Bhagavadgita.

But let each one judge for oneself whether activities are engaged in out of compulsive obligations in the light of circumstances in which one is placed, or they are utter freedom manifesting itself from the spontaneity of the great understanding of life. The associations which go with any kind of compulsive obligation are called family. It has nothing to do with husband, wife, etc. These are gross descriptions of family life. A family is a psychological involvement. It is not just physically living in the midst of people.

We are even now here in this hall living in the midst of many people, but do you call it a family? It is not a family. So living in the midst of a thousand people is not to live in a family. Family is a mental involvement, and whoever is so involved, even in a thick forest, is a householder. He is not a recluse. This is one point to remember.

The other side is the concept of the world itself. What do you understand by the world from which you wish freedom? Is this world the Earth on which you are seated? What is this Earth from which you want freedom? Do you want to be free from the mountains, from the trees, from the oceans, from the rivers, from the buildings, from the roads? What is the world? The world consists of only these things. Wherever you go, whichever place you visit in this world, this world which you want to renounce is only mountains, rivers, oceans, sun, moon, stars. Are you going to renounce the sun, the moon, the stars, the hills, the forests, the rivers, the seas? What are you going to renounce when you say, “I am renouncing the world”? These ideas also are very hazy in our minds. It is just jumping to conclusions with a nebulous notion of the circumstances in which we are placed.

Renouncing the world is certainly not renouncing the sun, moon and stars. Nobody can renounce them, and nobody has ever succeeded in doing that. Nor have you an idea of renouncing mountains. “ I have renounced the Himalayas, Andes and Alps, and the Atlantic and the Pacific.” Nobody says that. Nothing is there which is evidently to be renounced. But there is something pricking you from inside. “I have renounced.” The conflict of this difficulty of not being able to analyse what it is to be renounced, and yet a pressure felt within that renunciation is necessary, is to be obviated at the very beginning before we become clear as to what spiritual life actually means. We may safely say very few can be said to have succeeded in living that life. They go with a morose dissatisfaction, somehow or other. We have done many things indeed, many good things in the eyes of people, but the eyes of God may not necessarily be the same as the eyes of people. And it is generally held that goodness that characterises spiritual life is the goodness that will attract the attention of the eyes of God only, not necessarily the eyes of man with whom we can be very good and recognised easily by the adjustments of political and social manoeuvre.

What is the intention finally? What is it that you are asking for? Very few will be able to answer these questions. There are stock answers: “I have only a desire to have peace of mind. What else do I want? To be free from the difficulty of family life and the boredom of working in an office and live a little peaceful life in an atmosphere of an ashram – that is all I want.” Thus, spiritual life is wound up and is closed as a simple act of living without responsibilities of any kind. You need not have to do anything when you are in the ashram. What responsibility does any visitor or guest or a longstanding resident of the ashram have? They get free food in the ashram, and nobody asks them to do any work. Is it not freedom from responsibility? This is a very happy life. “I have not to do anything, and my needs are met automatically without having to do anything.” This is what generally becomes the conclusion of a retired life, and even the life of a person who thinks he or she is living a spiritual or religious life. Go to an ashram, and stay and do nothing. So to do nothing is the freedom. But if everybody is a do-nothing, you will know that your ideas of living a life of this kind of retirement in a sequestered ashram will not succeed. Because someone is working hard, the other can be free. If everybody is entertaining a similar idea of doing nothing – let everybody keep quiet and do nothing – let us see what happens. Nobody will do anything. We all have come to the ashram to do nothing because we are retired people; we have fulfilled our responsibilities and there is nothing to be done. Let each one, A to Z, keep quiet. You wish for that to happen: “Let somebody else sweat, and I will live a retired life in an ashram.”

This idea may go up to even God Himself, and in a naive notion of religion and scriptural understanding, we may not be far away from entertaining the idea that we may lead such a life in the kingdom of God also. “I will sit quiet without doing anything. God will do all things. God’s responsibility it is to take care of me. He will rule the world; I will sit there attending his satsangas and listening to his discourses. God may be saying some good words.” The kingdom of heaven flows with milk and honey, a cool breeze blows, the sun is not very hot and there is no perspiration, no fan, and everything is fine. This is what we read in scriptures as the description of heaven, the kingdom of God, where you have not got to do anything, and God does everything for you. Is this not your idea of salvation and freedom from turmoil?

It is difficult to lead a life of yoga. This is why they say mere study and reading of books will not be sufficient. With all the readings and studies of religious and yoga texts, these misconceptions still persis. And whatever be your logical, intellectual, university acumen as far as your learning of the scriptures and the philosophies of the world is concerned, you will be individually in your house the same little boy that you were as far as the basic notions of life are concerned. Whatever be your learning, basically you are a little child. This is what you will realise finally when you are rid of and free from all the associations of life in society which made you feel that you are different from them.

Why is it then said you should live under a Guru and live a life of discipline? Otherwise, go to the National Library of Calcutta and become a yogi in a few days because there are thousands of books, or the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. Go and read all the books. There is no book that you cannot find there. You can become a yogi. “I have understood everything, all the scriptures, all the Upanishads; everything in the Bhagavadgita is known to me. I know all the verses by heart.” Well, everything may be okay; you are the same man still.

Why is it so? Because the internal discipline required under the principles of living a life of yoga has not been undergone, and you do not want that discipline. Tad viddhi praṇipātena paripraśnena sevayā, upadekṣyanti te jñānaṁ jñāninas tattvadarśinaḥ (Gita 4.34) says the Lord in the Bhagavadgita. Approach a Master. And who wants to approach a Master? Everybody is a yoga teacher in this world; there is no yoga student anywhere. Everybody says, “I am a yoga instructor; I am a yoga teacher.” At least, I have never heard a person saying, “I am a yoga student.” They are yoga teachers only. This kind of attitude is the bane of real aspiration. Why do you want to be a teacher? Whom are you going to teach? And what is your capacity? What is your knowledge of life? What is your strength? And why are you doing this teaching? For whose good? Let these questions be put to your own self. These are again confusions in the head.

Which person has the humility to place himself at the feet of a Master and receive the spiritual vibrations emanating from that great soul? Humility is the most painful of sacrifices that we would like to perform. Who would like to be humble before another? Humble, humility, effacement – it is worse than death for us because there is always a need for recognition and importance wherever one is. Even before a Guru we would not like to present ourselves as nobodies and nothings, but as somethings.

The humility that is necessary is not a make-believe, or putting on an appearance. It is the automatic enlightenment and satisfaction one feels in the light of the magnificence and power of the whole universe. Your understanding of this vast creation, if it is sufficiently profound, will place you in such a predicament that you will feel that you do not exist at all. When you are not existing at all, where comes the need for affirmation? The world’s grandeur, power and all-comprehensiveness is of such a majestic intensity and profundity you do not seem to be anywhere there. Even if you have only a meagre knowledge of the working of the astronomical universe, the way in which the stellar system and the solar system operates, you will find you are nobody, and if the whole earth is only a speck of dust floating in the atmosphere of the solar system, your importance is well known to each person.

Well, why go to this? The might of God is something to be appreciated. Before this radiance and glory, what is your importance? And before this great representative called the Incarnation, the Master or the Guru, what is your importance? And the self-affirmative importance that one feels is simply the pressure of your own ego which insists on maintaining an independence of God’s creation itself, and independence even before the great Master. And any isolated individual or segregated independence is obnoxious to the great independence of God’s creation. Only one thing can be independent – the creation as a whole. The universe is independent, and it will not tolerate any other person asserting independence. That would be a secessionist attitude, and this will not be tolerated. In the Bible we read of the fall of Lucifer who asserted his independence.

Why not be independent? Because nobody wishes to be humble, even before God Himself. “Why should I be subservient even before God? Have I no importance of my own?” That importance made Lucifer fall. The Bible says he became Satan, and the Upanishad also says the same thing. The Aitareya Upanishad, the Chhandogya and the other Upanishads tell the same story of a peculiar metaphysical evil, as they call it, that crept into the centres of consciousness during the process of creation which made us what we are, and each one is totally independent: “I am independent, you are independent; who are you to speak to me? What are you?” Each one has this attitude psychologically.

Fall prostrate, do sashtanga namaskara before this sole independence that alone is permissible in this creation, and before which your independence has to go. This is atma samarpana; this is what is called surrender. Self-surrender is not an abject slavery that you are manifesting before a power due to your weakness. It is an understanding of the greatness of that supreme independence, communion with which is a gaining of true independence by yourself also.

So if you are really, honestly, sincerely interested in living a life of yoga, spirituality, religion, the path of God, then your sacrifice of your ego is called for before this might that manifests itself as the Teachers and the Prophets and the Incarnations of the world. Only a disciple can learn from a Guru, and one who is not a disciple has no relation to a Guru. Therefore, he has no relation to God also because what is called a Guru is only a symbolic manifestation of that supreme power and independence of God the Almighty.

Thus spirituality, yoga, religion is a life of tremendous discipline, in regard to which I placed before you a few ideas yesterday as a sort of preface which I dilated upon a little more today, which we shall try to touch upon in some more further details in days to come. May God bless you!