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The Vision of Life
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 6: Religious Vision

When the spiritual outlook of life assumes a practical shape, it becomes religion in one's day-to-day life. The conducting of one's personality in its entirety in the light of this vision, which is spirituality, is religious practice. We have to bear in mind that religion is the life that we live, and it is just that. All conduct in life is a manifestation of a vision that we have in our entire arrangement with the total atmosphere.

Knowledge of what we are actually seeking is at the back of what we have to do in life. Inasmuch as all activity in life is an endeavour towards the fulfilment of the basic aspirations of our total personality, and also because of the fact that all aspiration is, in the end, spiritual, life in its varied performances also becomes spiritual. All work, everything that we do, our professions and our undertakings, are various ramifications of the central aspiration to achieve the direct experience of the spiritual constitution of existence.

We are likely to miss the point that the life that we live in this world is a complete encounter with the world as a whole and never, in any of our undertakings or works, are we fractionally connected with anything in the world. The world is a whole in itself and we too are a whole in our own selves. Thus the way in which we come in contact with the world is also a whole in its operation. But the way in which we usually think, due to personal desires, prevents this placement of the entirety of our personality in its real encounter with the whole world.

We belong to the whole world in this sense. It is not that we belong to any little segment of existence. There are no fractions anywhere in creation. Even the minute organisms are not fractions, and the smallest atom is a whole in itself. Our expectations in life are not fragmented. We do not ask for a little of something—we expect the whole of anything. That we are unable to achieve this purpose, that nothing in a wholesome manner comes to us, that we seem to be getting little, small things, is the outcome of our distracted approach in respect of the constituents of the world.

To be a religious person is not an easy job because if religion is the way of living, it is a process of the transmutation of oneself as required in the light of one's placement in the structure of the world. If this is religion, any activity that would not touch the core of ourselves would be a kind of movement taking place on the surface of our being, touching not our own selves, and any work, any activity that proceeds not from our own selves but from the surface of our being will not bring satisfaction to our being. We will get nothing out of this world, inasmuch as our work does not manifest from our own selves. A deed is supposed to be a manifestation of one's intentions. The intention is not merely makeshift. It is not a political adjustment or maneuver—it is a rising to the occasion of the whole that we are.

All spirituality is wholesome in its nature, to repeat once again what we have been considering earlier. Spirituality is the nature of the spirit, and the spirit is the essence of anything and everything. Inasmuch as there is an essence, a core in all things, there is also a spiritual longing in everything. Basically all asking is a spiritual asking. But because this call of the spirit, this expectation of the soul, passes through the medium of the sense organs, mind, intellect and even the physical relations, it gets diversified and diluted into the form of external contacts, and it loses the vitality with which it rose. It also gets divested of its very intention—the purpose for which we undertake to do anything in the world gets lost in the diversified forms through which this intention of ours reveals itself outwardly.

Our longings are not an outward movement. Our desires are not actually a physical activity. It is not merely the skin of the body that is asking for final freedom and satisfaction. We have a deeper core that remains in a state of dissatisfaction, due to which it asks for that alone which can free it from this eternal longing, the cause of its dissatisfaction. Many a time we find it difficult to extricate the inner content of our basic longing or aspiration from the external forms it takes when it passes through the shells of the personality, the forms of our individuality, or the sheaths of the body, as we say—the koshas, etc. As the light of the sun may appear to assume different colours and project itself through various rays in convex and concave forms or in distorted shapes, so this real asking of ourselves inwardly, which is wholly spiritual, appears to be a physical asking, a social requirement, an outward comfort that we actually seem to be wanting.

The outwardness in which our basic longing gets involved is the difficulty that we are facing in our life. Nothing in us is really outward. We are ourselves. We do not become something external to our own selves at any time. Therefore anything that emanates from us also cannot be an external action. No action can be really called external. The great teaching of the Bhagavadgita is just this much, that work is not an externalised performance. It is only when we are able to envisage the non-externality of the performance we call work that it becomes a divine worship. The divinity in our daily performances arises on account of the divinity that is at the back of our aspirations. Basically, we are divine in our essence. The soul is the symbol of divinity in us. Its longing is the true longing. What it asks for is only what anyone wants. This aspiration is called spiritual longing, a search for truth, and therefore it cannot be an outward time-conditioned performance. But it appears as if we are conditioned by the time process. The body is in the midst of the movement of time, divided into past, present and future. The body is a space which is three-dimensional. Because this is so and because we mistake our body for what we really are, we condition our spiritual longing by the pressures of the dimensions of space and the segmentations of time. Not only that—our longings appear to be physical rather than spiritual.

Do we not ask for physical comforts, though it is sure, as everyone knows very well, that physical comforts are not the only things that we need in the world. Yet we crave for physical satisfaction only. All our longings in the activities of our daily life are just a call for physical comfort. Even what we expect from human society and the administrative set-up of the government is physical. It is very unfortunate that we seem to want only physical satisfaction, security which is physical in its nature, protection against the annihilation of our physical existence, freedom from the fear of death of the physical body. We seem to be asking only this much, while this is not actually the intention of the soul. Our soul is not placed in space, it is not in time, it is not inside the body—it is a very widespread operation taking place everywhere at all times, in every nook and corner of creation. Spirituality is a universal operation. A spiritual seeking is not one man's work. It is not something that someone does, somewhere independently, unrelated to other factors that conditions life in the world.

Spiritual asking, spiritual seeking, spiritual living, the religious conduct of existence is not a personal affair. It is not personal because spirituality is not limited to the physical personality of anyone. As I mentioned, we appear to be personally conditioned even in our religious practices. It looks as if someone is independently doing some spiritual practice somewhere because of a travesty of affairs that has taken place, because our inner spiritual longing passes through the lens of the covering of the soul, the bodily encasement. Inasmuch as it is so, it is assuming a form which is psychological sometimes, physical at other times. Very unfortunate that the unending joy that we expect from an eternal quest that is emanating from ourselves, has taken the form of a psychological security by means of name, fame, power, authority and a physical security by way of all available comforts and outward protection. The universal longing, which emanates from the universal centre which is our source, apparently assumes the form of the human desires and the social requirements of the personality. We should free ourselves from this predicament with a great effort of our will, intense reasoning along these lines, and a devoting of sufficient time in our daily life for this kind of meditation.

It is, first of all, essential for us to be convinced that we are more than what we appear to be. We always go with a satisfied feeling and take for granted that we are sons and daughters of people, socially connected with other persons, we are human to the core—we are nothing more, nothing less. If we are only individual units in human society and we are no more than that, our desires should be capable of fulfilment instantaneously by a human adjustment of values and a social adaptation of our life. But any kind of adjustment and adaptation does not give us freedom; we know that finally there is the icy hand of death that strikes on the head of everyone one day or the other in spite of any kind of adjustment that we make and all the protection that we expect, psychologically or physically.

There is a rule and a law, evidently, that defies the arguments of the physical body and human society. That law tells us that we shall be wrenched from this involvement which is physical and social by the operation of factors which are neither physical nor social. The asking for God is supposed to be the occupation of a religious person. Religion is spirituality in practise. Inasmuch as the spiritual vision of things, as we have noticed already, is a universal vision of all things—it cannot be anything else—the religious undertaking in our daily life also is a practise that is super-individualistic. It is not ever a social performance. It is not a creed to which we belong. It follows from this analysis that religion is not a character of a community; it is not conditioned by anything that we can associate with factors geographical, ethnic, linguistic, etc. It is a common requirement of anything that is alive, anything that is really human; all mankind basically has one longing only—to survive, and to survive at the highest possible reach of achievement.

But it appears that the forms of religion are multifold—there is no universal religion available in the world. This again is due to the fact that the otherwise universal upsurge of the human soul, which is the basic religious asking, gets conditioned by geographical factors, historical conditions and ethnic relations. All this merely highlights that we cannot easily get over the limitations of the physical body and our sense of belonging to a particular group of people called society, the idea of a nation or a country, sometimes going even lower into smaller circles of limitation, thus converting our so-called religion into a fanatic creed of a particular community, or perhaps even a little family.

This difficulty in first of all envisaging the true meaning of a spiritual vision and the difficulty of living a religious life is the reason why we have been told, again and again, that a special disciplinary process under a competent master has to be undergone by every seeking soul. A religious university is called for, evidently, for the training of religious seekers, which has to be carefully guarded from its spontaneous and automatic involvements in conditions which are other than spiritual and religious. A godly aspiration can get involved in ungodly conditions, which mostly happens, as we see through the passing of the history of religions of the world.

A disciplined approach to the fulfilment of our spiritual longing is usually known as the practice of yoga. Nowadays the word ‘yoga' has become so very familiar in the countries of the world that it does not require much of an introduction. Everyone is a yoga student, of a yoga teacher, from one's own vision of what yoga is. But in order that yoga may yield its desired fruit, it has to become the true implementation of the real religion which we are expected to live as a manifestation of a totally spiritual vision of life. We are told that yoga is a kind of union, a unitedness of ourselves with something in all the levels of our being and in all our relationships with people.

We have different kinds of yogas with which we are all familiar. These definitions of yoga relate to the many-sided approach that is possible in the practise of this discipline, in the light of the temperaments of people, varying one from the other, and conditions of life differing in different ways. Nevertheless, in spite of these differences that we concede on account of varying temperaments, basically yoga is an onward march of the deepest roots of whatever we are. This march is a systematic process of expansion on one side and ascent on the other side—it has a width as well as a height.

In our daily routines of yoga we become wider personalities, more than what we physically and individually are. That means to say, we become more considerate in our relationships with people—we become loving in our conduct, we become appreciative of the circumstances in which other people are placed, we are cooperative and sympathetic with others, we harm not any living being, we deceive not anyone in society, we grab not anyone's property, we hoard not wealth more than what we require for our basic existence, and we live a life of utter truthfulness. This is how we can expand our personality into a cooperative existence so that society, not merely of human beings but even of all beings, gets transformed into a framework of association and cooperation with us. The world is at our back in a relationship of friendliness and sympathy and affection—the world shall love us. We become sarvabhutahite rataha, in the language of the Bhagavadgita. This is how we expand the dimension of our personality—socially, horizontally, as it were. The yamas and niyamas mentioned in the yoga system are this much—a consideration on our part in relation to the world in which we live, so that we do not live as strangers in our own world but become citizens of this universe.

But there is also, at the same time, an ascending factor in the practice of yoga, other than the expansion of a horizontal dimension by way of social cooperation and external consideration of values. This, as the ascending aspect of the practice of yoga, is the higher side of it. It is also said that yoga involves a twofold practice known as vairagya and abhyasa. Maybe from one point of view, at least, we may say that this horizontal dimension of ours, expanding beyond the limitations of the physical body, is a kind of practice involving detachment and freedom from attachment but for which our affection for the things of the world, our cooperation with things would be impossible—vairagya is this much.

Abhyasa is the direct inward practice of our soul's location in the direction of its movement upwards. Yoga is an upward ascent from involvement in physical matter and conditions which are outward, in the direction of whatever is above it from whatever is beneath it. We look upon ourselves as the physical body only—we have little time to think that we are anything other than this body. Conceding that the involvement of our mind in the body is a fact of life, to that extent we have to be sympathetic enough to also take the body into confidence and convert the body itself into an instrument of higher ascent. It is not true that the body is to be always rejected as something redundant. Nothing can be called unnecessary when we, mentally or intellectually or in our conscious life, get involved in it. Even an utter illusion can become a reality, insofar as we are involved in it. It is no more an illusion to the extent we are involved in that illusion, our mind is in it, our consciousness has enveloped it—to that extent, even utter unrealities are realities only. Do not illusions satisfy us in life? They do so because of our involvement wholly by the entry of our consciousness into the structure of that illusion. So do not say that the body is an illusion, that it is an ass that is to be struck down. It is no more that. As the body has somehow managed to insinuate itself into our own feeling that it is us, it has to be utilised and not rejected in the practise of yoga. This healthy, cooperative, sympathetic, intelligent transmutation of our physical association with this body into a practise of yoga actually is what is known as hatha yoga. The asanas, the postures and the various disciplines of the muscles and the nerves are physical no doubt, but they are disciplines of such a nature that they stabilise the muscles and nerves and the biological functions in such a way that the chaotic involvement of our psyche in the physical body through the pranas, causing distress to us every day, are properly aligned along required lines, and we assume a health which is not only of the muscles and the nerves but also of the vitality in us.

We are sick people, though we may not be always lying in bed, in a hospital. Our ailment is not always a medical sickness, but it is some kind of discomfort that we always feel in our own selves, caused by a peculiar wrong adjustment between our thought and the body, and our not being aware that we have some inner mechanism operating inside the body. We are just the body, and sometimes we do not even know that we have a mind, as we are wholly occupied with physical relations and physical activities.

The ascent in yoga is also an inwardness that we establish in our own selves. Really the ascent is an inwardised ascent. The ascent is not actually to be construed in spatial terms as a kind of rising from one rung of ladder to another rung of a ladder, the type of ladder which masons or workers use in the construction of a house. That is not the kind of a ladder which we are using in our ascent through yoga. It is an ascent of ourselves through our own selves. The ladder is not outside us—we ourselves become the ladders.

At present we are in the lowest rung of the ladder. We say the mind is lodged in the muladhara chakra, which is to say that we are wholly involved in the physical world. We are entirely sunk in physical relations, and our desires are entirely material and physical. Our frustrations are caused by the inability of the mind to secure enough physical satisfaction and material comfort. Our instincts are basically animalistic. If we are in the lowest rung of the ladder, which is the entire satisfaction that the senses feel in their contact with physical objects, we are at the lowest level of life. We are unable to find any joy in a life which is not sensory, which is not physically construed, which is not material in nature. To the extent that we require material objects for our comfort, to that extent we are far, far removed from the spiritual requirement.

The physical exercises, known as asanas, constitute therefore a necessary discipline to stabilise the operations of the body in order to facilitate the permeating of the vital energy in us through the pores or cells of the body, making us healthy, first physically and then poised in our minds as a consequence. The practise of yoga is a movement towards the health of the personality and also in the direction of the establishment of a healthy relationship with people.

The mentioned achievement, by way of an expansion of our dimension through social coordination, also is not an easy affair. We generally take to yoga asanas, pranayama, concentration and such practices under the impression that we are wholly prepared for such exercises. It is not always true, because our relations outwardly, our visioning of things, our opinions in respect of the things of the world, are not always as they ought to be. The loves and hates that mostly condition our social life and personal relations will tell us how far we are from even the initial requirement for the practise of yoga. We have to emphasise again what yoga calls the yamas—they are not so many unimportant and merely ethical instructions, as we consider them to be. The yamas are not a requirement of ethics and morality. They are a direct requirement in our daily life, in our day-to-day relationships.

The yamas—we know very well what these are in the language of yoga—are not instructions given to us to be good. It is not a teaching that we should be moral and ethical in our behaviour, in spite of the fact that it is told to us again and again that it is good to be good, it is proper to be ethical and it is necessary to be moral. It is not an injunction that we are following—it is a necessary recipe that we have to adopt for the freedom that we have to achieve from every kind of illness that is social and relational. We are good, we are moral and ethical not because it is good to be so in the light of social requirement, but because it is essential for the maintenance of our health. Any kind of anti-ethical movement emanating from our internal nature would not merely be an anti-social attitude, it also would be anti-healthy. Anything that is anti in the outer sense is also anti in the inner sense, merely because the relationship that we have with the world is neither inward entirely nor outward entirely—it is a wholesome action taking place vitally within ourselves and the world.

Hence, one need not be too very enthusiastic in devoting all one's time only for hatha yoga, or even pranayama, not knowing where one stands in one's outward relations, in one's opinions, in one's philosophies, and in one's likes and dislikes. The touchstone of our personality is the attitude that we put on when we are opposed in life. The strength of a person, as well as the essential character of a person, gets revealed during periods of intense opposition from outside. Otherwise these natures are buried and we cannot know exactly what we are. Though we do not expect actual opposition from nature or society, we can intelligently, rationally, spontaneously place ourselves in an atmosphere of this cooperation that we establish with all things, which is an opposition that we instill into our own selves deliberately—opposition to our own instinctive nature, because if this test is not injected into our own personality, we will be put to this test one day or the other by the compulsions of nature and the demands of the higher reaches of yoga.

Very cautious one has to be in treading these levels of yoga. Haste always makes waste, as they say. There is no need to be quick and anxious in the steps that we take in the direction of yoga practice, because as we rise higher and higher in the ascending series, we will find the practice is more and more difficult. The intensity of the difficulty that we may feel in the higher ascents arises because of shaky foundations that we have laid earlier. The structure cannot rise on a foundation than has not been well laid. We cannot lay this foundation by ourselves, inasmuch as we do not know what is ahead of us. The secrets of nature are always hidden from our eyes, and therefore a Guru is essential. We have to be humble students under a competent master. The study under a teacher is a vital communication that that we establish with a higher response that comes from nature that is above us. The Guru or teacher or master is not just an individual like us, another person, but a super-person who is the object of our adoration. A master, or a Guru, or a teacher is not a person like us, because if we consider the Guru as another person like us, naturally there will be an inclination sometimes to change the person and become a student of some other Guru, which is not possible if we understand what a Guru actually means.

A Guru is a spiritual entity, a manifestation of a higher dimension of realisation that includes the dimension which we are occupying—super-social, super-individual and therefore more capable of inclusiveness than we are. In these days, of course, we know very well that it is difficult to find a competent teacher, yet we may say the world is not so bad as to make it impossible for us to find a good teacher. There is some virtue still prevailing—the world is not all devil yet. There is some sort of goodness, dharma—God is still alive, and there is hope for everyone.

It is therefore necessary for each one of us to gradually move upwards, cautiously taking our steps, one over the other, and find enough time to be alone to our own selves for this purpose, and not become too engrossed in the unnecessary activities of life. In our daily program a distinction should be made between the most essentials which we cannot avoid, and the non-essentials which we may avoid. It is not that everything that we do from morning to evening is all very, very essential. Sometimes we like to be a little light-hearted, free in a sense of abandon in our physical and social nature, on which we can put a sort of restriction gradually, which is not very difficult. It is necessary to feel a kind of greater satisfaction in oneself when alone than when in the midst of people.

We feel miserable when we are alone, mostly. We feel wretched. We would like to go to a shop, go somewhere and shake hands with someone, go to a tea shop and chat with someone, because it is difficult to be alone to oneself. The social nature has entered us in such a morbid way, we may say, that we have ceased to be what we are in ourselves. But to be a spiritual seeker, to be a healthy person is to also realise that it is not always necessary for us to be dependent on external factors. There is a potentiality in us. We are healthy. We can be healthy in our own selves without borrowing things from outside. It is essential, one day or the other, to be alone in our own selves. Alone we have come and alone we will go—we must remember this. Therefore it is necessary for us to realise that even today in social life, in this family life and community life, we are really alone; our friends are not real friends. It is good to be a little wise in our life in this world. We should not wait for a kick from nature forcing us to be alone to our own selves.

We should find a little time to be alone to ourselves, and be free to place ourselves before this great majesty of God's creation. In the early morning, when we wake up from sleep, we are face-to-face not with people, but with creation. What we see in front of us is God's creation. It is not our house that we see in the early morning—it is not our kitchen, it is not our family members, it is not our study, it is not our office—it is creation that we are envisaging. It is possible to widen our vision a little bit, it is so easy, if only we can be little investigative and capable of going deep into the implications of our daily perceptions. Again, to repeat, all this is difficult for an individual seeker without the help and guidance of a competent master.

We had, in our own life, the blessing of being under the umbrella and protection of a great sage, Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj. Physically he is not visible, but invisibly he is operating even now, and even if one cannot find a teacher due to the difficulties of one's personal life, one can be sure that this great master, Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj, will act as one's guide even now, though he is not visible to the eyes. If our soul is actually aspiring, if our heart is sincere and if we truly wish to be spiritual and be on the path of the quest of reality, sages and masters of the higher realms will descent for our protection. Nobody is dead in this world. Neither Swami Sivanandaji is dead, nor is anybody dead. They are placed in some realm, a higher potentiality of existence, from where they can operate in a greater and more powerful way than they could through their physical bodies. When God himself can come to help us, why not others who are Godmen? The world is not remote—it is not entirely outside. It is involved in everything that we are, and our sincerity will summon and is capable of evoking the blessings of all the saints and sages, visible or invisible. Great adepts who live in higher realms will descend and bless us, whether we are aware of the way in which this blessing comes or not, because divine grace descends in its own way and it need not work always in the manner we expect it to work.

God's incarnations are supposed to be perpetual, and they take place from moment to moment whether or not we are able to recognise them. The entire wonder of God's creation, the way of nature, of the process of the history of humanity is a perpetual incarnation that is taking place and a perennial demonstration of the fact that protection comes perpetually from every side. It is available to everyone, at every moment—even just now if only we really ask for that protection and grace from the bottom of our hearts.