by Swami Krishnananda
The whole world is nothing but Self. Idam sarvam yad ayam atma, says the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. Whatever was, whatever is and whatever will be is just this Self, and nothing more. This great proclamation of the Upanishad also lays the foundation for the great duty of man in the form of self-control. If all is the Self, what is self-control? What is yoga meditation? What are we going to restrain? The whole universe is vibrating with a centrality of Selfhood.
Previously, I mentioned that there are degrees of self. There are, rather, conceptions of self and different types of experience of the levels of self. It is this experience of the existence of degrees, or levels, of self that is responsible for the idea that there are degrees in the ascent, or practice, in yoga. The graduated stepsthe orderly movement in yoga meditationis consequent upon the presence of a graduated series in the notion of the self. The restraint of the self is, also, the realisation of the Self. The checks that we put upon the operation of the lower self are contributory to the experience of the higher Self.
We have to be very careful in understanding what we mean by the word Self when we speak of self-control or Self-realisation. There is an immense difficulty in entertaining a notion of Self because, in fact, no notion of it can be entertained. One cannot have an idea of the Self, because the Self is that peculiar thing which is behind even the very notion of there being such a thing called the Self. Hence, no one can think the Self, or imagine it, or conceive it, or have anything to say about it. Yet, it has to be there. It has to be there because there seems to be something. We cannot say that there is nothing. The very notion of nothing is, also, something. Therefore, it is impossible to conceive that there can be nothing, because the conception of there being nothing is, also, something. So, we are in a difficulty here.
This eluding something is the so-called Self, the Atman, which is sometimes said to be, and sometimes said to not be. Nusyestity eke nayam astiti caika, says Nachiketas to the great Lord Yama, as recorded in the Katha Upanishad. Some say it is; some say it is not. Does the Self exist, or does it not exist? If it exists, why should we control it, restrain it, subjugate it, or run away from it? If it does not exist, from where comes the need for realising it, or experiencing it, or running after it? Either way, we are caught. Neither can we say that it is, nor can we say that it is not.
But, while we cannot say either this or that about the self, yet, we can say both things about the self: It is, and it is not. In one sense it is, and in another sense it is not. The self that we are thinking of in our minds is an experiencing centre for the world outside. Such a self, ultimately, is not. It is this experiencing self which imagines that there is a world of experience outside. It is that which is to be restrained, and it is to be restrained to such an extent that it has to be abolished altogether.
This self is capable of being abolished, because it is really not there. There are not many points of view or many centres of experience in this world. So, the doctrine that there are no selves is also true, because there are no percipients individually gazing at the world or contacting it and experiencing it. This so-called centre of selfhood in us is a fiction; and fiction is also entertaining, sometimes. It has a reality of its own. Such a fictitious centre is what we call this I in ourselves. Such an I does not exist, really. It has to be subdued and completely annihilated. Like an incubus, a bad dream, it has to go.
This so-called self of ours is a knota granthi, as we are toldand this knot is a complex of energy movements, sometimes called chakras by certain schools of thought, animated by consciousness and, therefore, appearing like the self, just as a mirror may appear to be shining when light falls on it. Our individuality is not a reality, finally; and, if our individuality is to be taken as the selfhood, such a thing is not. It cannot exist. It is a contradiction of the ultimate nature of things.
Yet, we feel a hardness and substantiality in our individual existence. We are unable to abrogate our hard conviction that we do exist as individuals. It shows the extent to which we have descended into the grossened forms of individual consciousness. This individuality of ours is a knota Gordian knot, as it werewhich cannot easily be untied. What it is made of is also a little difficult to say.
What are we made of? What is this knot? What is this individuality, to which this so-called I-ness is tied? Some say it is a fabric of desires. Some say it is a heap of frustrated feelings. Some say it is nothing but a reservoir of unfulfilled and defeated ambitions, desires, cravingslongings for power, sex, and self-existence. These three notions are highlighted by psychoanalysts like Freud, Adler and Jung. Finally, to them also, this individuality is a hollowness.
This is the reason why a perpetual motion, and a growing, and a tendency to step beyond oneself is felt in every individual. We never exist in ourselves. We always move beyond ourselves; at least, there is a desire to extend beyond ourselves. The finitude of our nature compels us to pay attention to something unknown, beyond ourselves.
Many have compared this world to a flow, a mere transitionlike the flame of a fire, the movement of a river, a phantasmagoria, a city in the clouds, the water in a mirage, the snake in a rope, the horns of a hare, and so on. These illustrations exemplify the ultimate truth behind our individualities and, also, the extent to which we are caught up in a kind of delusion which we are unable to explain. If this kind of medley of confusion is what is meant by the self, it has to be completely annihilated. This is bondage, and bondage is nothing but this notion of selfhoodwhere the self is not.
Now, this bondage of selfhood is also of a complicated nature. Again, I revert to the point I touched upon previously. There are gradations even in our delusion. Our attachments are external indications of the way in which we are bound to this notion of self. The types of attachment, called asakthi, exemplify the characteristic of the bondage in which we are involved. We are not attached to one particular thing only, and it is not that the matter ends there.
Every bondage is a terrible involvement. It is like a thick layer of clouds, one hanging over the other, and one getting involved in the other. Our attachments are as difficult to understand as anything else. For the purpose of actual practice, we have been asked to concentrate ourselves on certain broad outlines of the manner in which this selfhood manifests itself. Mostly, we are attached to external things, though it is not true that this is the only kind of attachment that we have.
Yet we have to start from some point, as we cannot start from everywhere. As in a medical examination, we have to start from some sort of an experiment and observation of the kind of disease one is suffering from, though it may be a very difficult case. We know very well what we think in our minds when we wake up in the morning. Whatever our ideas are, our commitments are, our pleasures and pains are, these are the things to be taken note of first. The spiritual diary is very important in spiritual life. The spiritual diary is a note of the procedure that we have to adopt in the practice of yoga.
We have always to move from the lesser complications to the larger complications. The immediately visible things have to come first, and the invisible things may be taken care of later on. We should not jump into invisible spheres at one stroke while the visible ones are staring at us and we have not yet understood them. We have small problems which are very obvious and glaring, which have to be noted down in the order of their intensity. Even among the visible forms of involvement attachment, aversion, etc.there are degrees: the intense ones, the moderate ones and the lesser ones. The lesser ones should be addressed first. They have to be tackled in the order they have to be faced. As we may have many kinds of illness headache, purging, fever, eczema, and so many other thingseach has to be taken into consideration in the proper order.
The stages of yoga mentioned, especially in the system of Patanjali, are precisely the way in which we have to ascend the manner in which we have to engage ourselves in yoga meditation. We have emotional attachments of a very difficult nature. Attachments are mostly emotional. They are not so much intellectual, though there can be a type of intellectual attachment which sometimes goes by the name of egoism. That is a matter to be considered a little later.
Emotional issues are very touchy. These are the vulnerable points in our personality. Generally, we are open intellectually but are cowards emotionally. We cannot expose ourselves emotionally as we sometimes do intellectually, socially, etc. This shows that emotion is a more secret thing, and more intimate to us, than intellect and our outer behaviour. Our emotions subtly worry us and keep us restless. Here again we come to the point of a good guide, a Guru.
Emotions are such private things that they cannot be contemplated even by ones own self, much less exposed before another. The moment we bestow thought on our emotions, we get disturbed. The agitations in the deeper levels of our being can disturb us to such an extent that we may not even be able to properly exercise our reason at that time, especially when we are angry or when we are losing ground from every side and there is no hope of any kind whatsoever in the world. Everything seems to be lost; at that time, we are in a mood which is not rational or intellectual.
The student of yoga has to guard himself from the impulses which are characteristic of general human nature. Everyone is a human being; and, there are certain features common to all human beings. These impulses of human nature cannot be easily analysed unless we know the stages by which we have descended from the higher levels to the present level in which we are. These impulses, these desires, these attachments, these aversions are not erratic movements of personality. They are natural consequences of the present position we occupy in this universe in the scheme of evolutionor, we may say, involution.
I shall repeat once again the bare outline of this process of descent, for the purpose of regulating our thoughts in the direction of practice. We have not suddenly jumped down from God. There has been a gradual coming down. There has been, as our religions tell us, a mysterious occurrence in the process of creation: the individual sparked off from the cosmic whole. This is what is called the fall, in scriptural languagean event that is described in practically every religion, in different ways.
This fall is a catastrophe, a sudden shooting off like a meteor from the whole, which is God-beingor one may call it the universe, in ones own languagewhich is a kind of blow that is struck on that which has been shot off from the whole; and, suddenly, there is a blankness, an unconsciousness. Sometimes we have similar experiences in our own practical life when we become unconscious and we cannot see, we cannot hear, we cannot think; we are completely blank due to a sudden shock that has been injected into us.
If we have lost everything and there is nothing, not even one broken needle that we can call our own, we may receive a shock. At that time the mind will cease to think, and there will be a blankness. Even in midday, when the sun is blazing, we will see only darkness everywhere. When sorrow becomes deep, our eyes will become blind and the mind will become turbid at one stroke.
This condition is a kind of sleep, a coma, which follows as an immediate result of the separation of this angelic spark from the divine conflagration. It is called the fall of Lucifer, who was an angel. We were all angels. We are not devils, really. But, we look like devils due to something that has happened to us. Originally, we were radiant sparks of divinitywhich we are even now, essentially, basically, at our root. But then this spark, which is radiant, becomes charged with the power of self-affirmationwhich is the Satan we speak of. Satan is that power which affirms an individual existence, independent of God Himself.
This affirmation is preceded by an unconsciousness. There is an obliteration of every kind of awareness.It is said that this condition of unconsciousness lasts for some time, and no one knows how long it lasts. Here is a mystery. As the Aitareya Upanishad tells us, there was a great agony felt by each spark, or angel, or the fallen individual, and we were sunk into the ocean of hunger and thirst. There was a cry of agony. It is the loss of Soul, the loss of Self. The Supreme Self is God, the Universal Being; and, the loss of consciousness of ones relation to that Being is the loss of Selfhood. So, to lose ones Self is the worst thing that can happen to anyone.
Now we have lost our Self and gained the whole world which means nothing to us, finally. The loss of Self is such a loss that one cannot tolerate it for an indefinite period. One cannot even sleep, eternally. The condition of unconsciousness cannot last forever. Hence, there was a struggle on the part of this fallen individual to rule in hell rather than serve in heaven. As the poet says, It is better to rule in hell than to serve in heaven. So, we are now ruling in hell because we do not want to serve in heaven, before God.