SESSIONS WITH ASHRAM RESIDENTS - 3
The Not-Self has to Become the Self
by Swami Krishnananda


(Spoken on January 8, 1997)

Questions have been raised among philosophical circles, humorous though these questions may look, regarding whether God is a democrat, a monarch, a despot, a dictator or an elected president of the universe. How does He govern His creation?

Great thinkers along administrative lines right from the time of the Greek philosopher Plato categorised administration into several levels of hierarchy. Plato was fond of monarchy as the best form of administration. The idea behind Plato’s concept of monarchy is different from our notion of kings about whom we read in history. His monarch is a spiritual genius and a perfected administrator. “Until and unless philosophers become kings and kings become philosophers, this world is not going to see the light of peace.” This is an immortal saying of Plato in his wonderful work Republic. His concept of perfect government was a towering vision of what is prevailing in the high heavens.

After listening to the great discourse on this subject, a questioner raised a point: “Where is this government that you are speaking of?”

“It is in the heavens,” he said. We may laugh at this answer. If the best administration is only in the heavens, what is the use of Plato spending so much time in writing the book Republic?

It is difficult to understand Plato. He has been considered as the greatest thinker of the West and also a most unpractical person who has no vision of the difficulties of practical existence. All criticism against him is unfounded because that brain was towering above the complexities of selfish thinking, and he went even to the extent of conceiving what is known as ‘organic society’ or ‘organic statehood’. This has been condemned by people who said that you cannot conceive of a state as an organism, meaning thereby that the individuals are subservient to the state. This is an abominable concept to any person who asks for individual freedom. Do you wish me to be merged in the state? This looks like totalitarianism.

But again we have to bring into our mind the concept of the high heavens. Plato wants kings to rule this world by keeping their minds in the high heavens. He does not mean that a king should be a despot or tyrannical person. When it was told to Plato that he is going too high, he suggested another system of administration called aristocracy: Only the chosen elected ones will rule. But this was unsatisfactory because who will choose the people? Who are the best among people?

And then there was another system called plutocracy: Only the well-to-do can rule. This also did not sound good. Plato came to democracy. Democracy is a wonderful thing, and people today consider there is no other better form of administration than that. But Plato has a poor opinion of democracy. He says it is mobocracy, rather than democracy. Anyone can give a vote and it is valid, as much valid as the vote of a genius. An illiterate, unlettered, ignorant person’s vote is as valid as the great mastermind’s vote. So Plato thought that this abolition of the qualitative characterisation of the voting principle and the emphasis only on quantity is a defect in the democratic system of government. All said and done, Plato was a true philosopher – not a bookish man, but a person who could imagine in the depths of his soul and contemplation that the heaven has to descend on the earth if there is to be peace in the world.

Latterly, Sri Aurobindo had this idea. He went on emphasising again and again that it is necessary for heaven to be brought down to the earth if the earth is to survive, or if life in the world be anything meaningful. Ordinary people cannot understand what all this means. Who can bring heaven down to the ground of the earth?

Now, I raised the point whether God is a democrat. What kind of person is He? How does He rule this world, this universe of manifestation? Does He rule the world by a fiat of His will: What I say is okay, and you should not talk after that? Does He say that? Or has He given freedom to the individuals whom He has created? Do we have freedom, or have we no freedom because of the supremacy of God?

No answer has come from any corner of philosophical consideration. If God is omnipotent, omnipresent, all-in-all, then we are nothing. It follows from that. Then there is no such thing as individual freedom. But do you feel that you have no freedom? You feel you are a free person.

The relationship between God and the individuals is something like the relationship between government and the citizens. Therefore, the answer to the question “What kind of relation obtains between God and the individuals?” applies to the other question also, “What should be the relationship between an administrative authority and the administered populace?”

This will take us also to the question of how we can be totally spiritual people. The life spiritual is considered as a perfect life. It is not an excess that we are leaning towards. A spiritual seeker is not going to excess by rejecting the practical realities of life. He cannot reject God; he cannot reject the world. In concepts of renunciation, many a time such mistakes are committed. “We cannot be spiritual unless we renounce the world” is something that we hear in scriptures, from the mouths of saints and sages. Is it necessary to renounce something in order that we may be spiritually oriented?

The renunciation concept arises on account of there being something called unspiritual in the world. That which is not spirit and is non-spirit is often called anatman, opposed to the Atman. We speak of Atman and anatman in ordinary language: the Self and the non-Self. What is the meaning of non-Self? That which is not we, that which is not me, that which is not I, that is the non-Self. Is this non-Self existing, or is it not existing? Because of the difficulty in answering this question, people went to the other extreme of denying the existence of the non-Self completely, and saying that the world is an illusion. The best way of swallowing a problem is to deny the problem itself. You say it does not exist, and close your eyes like an ostrich. This is not a satisfactory answer. If you say the non-Self does not exist because it is illusion, the very idea of non-Self would not have arisen in the mind. Who told you that there is such a thing called non-Self if it really is an illusion? So there is a self-deceit involved in the concept of the illusion of the universe. If it is illusion, it does not exist. It cannot even appear to exist because appearance is only a camouflage or a kind of negative existence.

So spiritual seekers find themselves in a great difficulty, especially after several years of japa, meditation, etc. There is a sorrow descending on the heart of a spiritual seeker. They grieve; something is wrong with them because they have achieved nothing. The achievement has not come because of a fundamental error in the concept of the self and the not-self.

The not-Self is an opponent before you, and it is not an illusion. You cannot simply close your eyes to the existence of an opponent. You have to do something with it. What do you do with it? Some people deny the existence of a creditor, and say that they have no creditor. You have borrowed money, but then you say the creditor does not exist. You do not want to be pursued by the creditor. You do not want to be tortured by the non-Self, the objects in the world outside, and so you say it does not exist at all, like a narcissist; you inwardise your mental operations and become a sick person psychologically, saying that everything is well with you. It is like going to deep sleep and then imagining that you are in a state of samadhi. They are two opposite things altogether.

Here again philosophers fumble, and there have been great Vedantins who thought that sleep is the same as samadhi. It is not, because from sleep you can wake up into the world of experience but from samadhi you do not again rise to this world of experience. Sleep is a negative hibernation practised by a defeated mind which could not encounter the opposition of the not-Self. It is getting tired. By fatigue one goes to sleep. The opposition was too much. The war with the not-Self has not ended. It cannot end it as long as the not-Self is existing.

The word ‘not-Self’, which is inclusive of the whole world outside, is to be removed from the dictionary of spiritual philosophy. It is like accepting a non-God in addition to God. There are schools of religion which think that there is a permanent opposition to God taking place, as in Zoroastrian circles Ahriman, an enemy of God, is always there, of whom God has to be wary. There is a Lucifer, there is a Satan, there is some evil, and God has to battle with this force. Spirituality is not a battle with any inimical forces. It is a sublimation of all that appears to be a contending opposition.

The Self is not existing inside the body. Here is a great point. This is the reason why it looks that there is something outside the body, which is another way of saying outside the Self, outside the Spirit, outside myself. “The outside myself is an abominable something. I cannot tolerate anything that is outside me.” Now, what does this mean? What is the meaning of there being something outside me?

Spiritual life is a difficult life, unless you reconcile yourself with this outsideness, with which you cannot reconcile yourself. It stands always opposing you, and you are fear-struck because of the very existence of that which is not you. You love yourself so much that you cannot love anybody other than yourself. So there is a permanent opposition and a grief. Life begins with sorrow and ends with sorrow. This is the philosophy of spiritual pursuits. Most of the spiritual seekers are unhappy people. They are inwardly not composed, but they cannot be grieving inside always. Then they will not exist at all in the world. So there is again a camouflage of the sense of perfection. They take to a life of renunciation without renouncing anything whatsoever, really speaking. The world has been renounced, people say, but you forget that the world cannot be renounced because you are standing on the earth, and who will renounce the earth? And, as an individual, everyone is a part of the structure of the world itself. The creative process which contemplated the five elements – ether, air, fire, water, and earth – ordained at the same time that the so-called individual has to be composed of the very bodily substance as of these five elements. Therefore, we do not stand outside the world. We cannot stand outside the bricks of which our body is made.

But the renunciation concept, namely, the abandoning of the world for the sake of the pursuit of God, involves a misconception; and very, very understandably, it is common everywhere. The externality of the world, the outsideness of the things that we perceive with our eyes, is the reason why we find this difficulty before us. Is the world outside us? Then it has to be renounced. But decide, first of all, if it is outside. We have come from it in the process of the hierarchy of creation; the world came first, and man came afterwards. We all are latecomers in the history of creation, so how are we going to renounce that which is our own cause? It cannot be done.

The renunciation of the world spoken of in religious parlance does not necessarily mean going somewhere to some corner of the earth and then imagining that the world is not there. It is the abolition of the externality of consciousness. It is the negation altogether from one’s own self, the idea that the world is standing outside. A spiritual seeker is a world person. He has imbibed the world into himself, and he stands as a representation of this world. He does not have any opposition because the opposing, contending party is also a part of his own structure. Otherwise, if the contending party is standing outside, there will be a not-Self once again gazing at you, looking at you and telling that it also is.

The mistake of Lucifer was to assert divinity in his own self. He felt that he was as important as God Himself. There was an opposite to God. Now, this is a story of the fundamental mistakes in spiritual concepts, in spiritual thinking. We are grieved inside, unsatisfied, and there is no progress in our meditations. We are the same old guys that we were many years back with the same appetites, the same anger, and the same impulses. They do not leave us, and when they are impossible to handle, they go inside the subconscious mind and tell us that they are not existing. They hide in ambush and become completely unconscious in the state of sleep, only to wake up to tell us that they are as much alive as they were once upon a time.

I began with Plato’s concept of political administration, which is practically the same as the concept of administration in Manu, Yajnavalkya and Parashara Smriti in India and the Arthashastra of Kautilya or Chanakya. Spiritual life is a reconciliation between the visible and the invisible, God and the world, myself and yourself. What am I thinking about you? Here is the spirituality. You are sitting in front of me. What is my opinion about you? This will tell me what kind of spirit I am maintaining, to what extent am I spiritual. What are you thinking about me? That will tell you how much spiritual you are. Are you not thinking something about other people, about things around? You do not have any clear concept of anything. Something is here, something is there, and you are having various opinions about yourselves and other people.

What do you think about the people around? Are they a nuisance, or is there some meaning in their existence? Are they only barking dogs or are they friends of the spirit walking on the same journey? If I don’t like you and you don’t like me, is that spirituality? But if this situation should not arise, how will you reconcile yourself? How can I sit with another person near me? It is a terrible thing to be sitting with another person nearby. Is there another person near me? That is the not-self sitting. The not-self is looking at me and saying, “I am also here. You are not the only person that is existing.”

God descends into the dust of the earth when we think of these questions, and the heart will weep and cry that it is not fit even to think these subjects. The mind revolts against the concepts of unity and reconciliation. The word ‘reconciliation’ is something unthought of. When there were two irreconcilable things, we think of reconciliation. If there is no irreconcilability between two things, why should there be reconciliation at all? Something is gnawing into our vitals and telling us something is dead wrong.

This kind of difficulty arose right from the time we were born into this world of creation. It is in the Aitareya Upanishad that we are told what has happened to us. Biblical stories and stories of creation anywhere tell us that the creation of the human individual is a topsy-turvy, headlong fall from the topmost level of heaven to the lowest earthly level. When we fell, we fell with head down and legs up, so we see everything topsy-turvy. That which is really inside appears to be outside, and that which is outside appears to be inside. That which is everywhere appears to be above us. Why does God appear to be something very high above? How can everywhere, or omnipresence, appear to be far, far above us in high space? This is due to the topsy-turvy perception that came with us together with our fall from the heavens. The fall is a great subject in all scriptures. It is not falling like an apple from the tree because while the apple was in the tree, it was an apple, and when it fell down it was still an apple only. It did not become a stone. But here, the fall is not like that. When it fell, it became something different. It became upside-down and totally different in substance and contour from what it was before.

We are not mini-gods moving in this world, as people say we are made in the image of God. Well, if we are in the image of God, a little bit of the godliness will be present in us. We will be shining like God’s face. But does it look like that? We are not mini-gods. There is a total distortion that has taken place at the time of creation. We are not parts of God in the sense of parts of a flaming fire. A spark of fire is nevertheless fire only, but the spark of God that we appear to be is not actually the element of God operating through us. We cannot think like God because of the topsy-turvy perception. It is not only a partition into segmented little particularities that has taken place; there is something worse, namely, the reflection of it. It is said that the individual soul is not merely a part of the whole but a reflection of the whole so that even a little of the original is not present in this reflection. Thus is an accentuation of the difficulty of understanding a relationship to the whole, which is God.

Suffice it to say that we are parts of the mighty whole; that is good, and there is nothing wrong with it. One dollar is good enough because that one dollar makes millions of dollars when joined together. But many people put together do not become God. The whole point is that. The entire humanity does not reflect God’s existence, just as many fools sitting together do not become one wise man. So there is another difficulty here in understanding our relationship with God. We cannot fool Him so easily, and we cannot think Him also; therefore, our meditations fail. Our relationship in the world is also a catastrophe and a suffering, and we live losing everything.

A transvaluation of the whole value of life is necessary in every aspect, without any kind of complacency, disgust or despair in the mind. Neither should we be complacent that everything is fine, nor should we be in a state of utter despair that everything is dead wrong. Neither position can be justified. There is a via media between the two, a golden mean. Virtue, righteousness, which is so much praised, is supposed to be a means between two extremes. “I want everything.” “I want nothing.” Neither of these positions is correct. “Everything exists.” “Nothing exists.” These are two extremes.

The via media between two positions is virtue. Denying everything is not virtue. Grabbing everything also is not virtue. This admixture of the good points on both sides is the intriguing characteristic of virtue, which is difficult to understand. Can anyone define what is the meaning of a virtuous person? How do you find out who is a virtuous person? Can you bring one person and say, “Here is a righteous person”? No, you cannot find one person in the whole world like that. It is a pursuit of the will-o'-the-wisp. You cannot find one righteous person in the world because you do not know what righteousness is. How do you designate a person? What do you expect from a person in order that the person may be righteous? That also is a confusion. We live in a big, blunderous confusion of thought, not only in our field of virtue and righteousness but in our daily life in the world, and in our concept of spirituality also.

Going slowly, step-by-step, is wisdom. Hurriedly running to catch God today itself is not wisdom. Everything should be done stage by stage, as we have grown systematically minute by minute, second by second from babyhood to childhood, to the adulthood that we are passing through now. There is no double, triple or quadruple promotion in nature. Everybody has to pass the test of every stage of life. There is no exemption at all. In this world of creation, nobody is superior and nobody is inferior. Nobody is good and nobody is bad. Finally, it is again a concept. You cannot bring a bad person. Where is the bad person? You go around the whole of Muni-ki-reti and bring one bad person. You will not find that person, nor can you find a good person, so what is this peculiar idea in your head? We live in a wilderness of thought which goes by the name of great understanding, education, certificates, post-graduation, PhD, and so on, all which are bunk finally, which lead us nowhere.

So, inward investigation of the secrets of one’s own self is important. “I must know myself carefully. I should not be a hypocrite about my own self. Am I a virtuous person?” If you are to answer this question, you must know what virtue is. It is a reconciliation between God and creation. That is virtue. What is meant by this reconciliation? Everywhere we are caught up. We require a great Master’s guidance in this. That is why we say a Guru is necessary. Any amount of scratching the head will not bring an answer to this question. Who can say why God created the world, or how He created it? As no one has seen God creating the world, why do we speak of God creating the world?

We require the blessing of a great Master who is impersonal, unattached, wanting nothing, and representing a perfection or balance in one’s own life. These days we do not find such people. We hear of great Masters in early days. We had Vasishtha, Vyasa, Sukadeva, Lord Krishna, Jesus Christ, Buddha, but now we are not able to find such towering personalities.

But when the nadir is reached the circle gets completed and immediately the wheel goes up, and from the lowest Kali Age we will reach the Krita Yuga, or the best of things. The world process is considered as a wheel. It is not in one condition at any time. If something is now in one condition, it will be another thing altogether the next moment. And every experience has to be passed through. Nothing should be renounced or abolished from our mind. We are to be friends of people, friends of creation, friends of even the opposite thing because there is no such thing as opposites in spirituality. The contending not-Self has to become the Self.

Until and unless the contending not-Self that is sitting in front of me becomes me, I am not saved. The saving factor is sitting between the two individuals, myself and yourself. Between me and you there is somebody sitting. That is the saving factor, invisible, saying, “I am here, and I am your friend, and I am the friend of the other one also so that I imbibe both of you and stand transcendentally supreme.”

These are some of the intriguing, interesting, very necessary notions which come to the mind of any seeking spirit who has to be an all-around perfectionist. Dislike, hatred, rejection, not liking, or wanting, grabbing – these are not signs of perfection. Your face should tell you what kind of person you are. The spiritual seeker is an emblem of perfection, and it need not be advertised to newspapers or adumbrated anywhere by public proclamation. It shall speak for itself.