by Swami Krishnananda
While consistent spiritual practice is an establishment of harmony with the universal nature, it is also, in another sense, an opposition to nature. There is a double aspect involved in spiritual meditationcoordination, and opposition. This mystery involved in the process is the reason why we are often under the impression that we are progressing and, at other times, have the opposite feeling that nothing is being achieved.
The reason behind this circumstance is that we belong to two different realms of beingthe phenomenal and the noumenal. We have to struggle against the phenomenal involvement of our nature when we try to coordinate ourselves with the noumenal existence. While it is true, for obvious reasons, that God and the world are inseparables, in a different sense they are also contradistinctions. We cannot isolate the world from God, because God is present everywhere, and we have been told that the universe is the face of Godor, rather, the body of God Himself. Yet, there is a mysterious difference between what we regard as the world and what God Himself is, or what we think God ought to be.
In a particular, specific sense, the universe is the body of God; but, in another sense, the universe cannot be identified in any manner with the characteristics of God. This peculiarity introduces itself into our spiritual meditations, especially when we are able to move further on, to an appreciable extent. When no winds blow and no dog barks in the realm of nature, we should not be under the assumption that things are quite well, because nature is like a lion which, because of its strength, will not mind our existence. It will begin to snarl and stare at us only when it feels that what is in front of it is its opposition.
A little scratching activity of the thinking process so-called meditationwill not affect nature in any way, and nature is not going to be afraid of our meditations. So, everything will be calm and quiet, undisturbed, as if nothing is happening anywhere. But the moment we push ourselves with the force of that which is called the noumenal in us, and elbow our existence into the thick of phenomenal interconnections, there will be that circumstance we call natural opposition.
Sage Patanjali made reference to this condition in some of his aphorisms, in which he said that many a difficulty has to be passed through in meditation in ones endeavour to reach the Ultimate Reality. All that we consider ourselves to be will be shaken up from its very root. Physical illness, psychological doubts, and a feeling of spiritual aloneness and nothingness will take possession of us, and the condition will be indescribablelike a drowning man or a person who is thrown into empty space.
We are too very phenomenal; very little of the noumenal is in us. We belong to this world of external contacts and sensory relationships to such an extent that a wrenching of ourselves from such an involvement in our attempt at meditation will tell upon us acutely, in many ways. Our involvement in this world of nature is multifaceted, multifarious, and ramified in many directions. We are, to repeat what I said earlier, involved in this world socially, politically, physically, psychologically, even rationally and, much more, emotionally. Would we like to sever all these relationships in our adventure of spiritual meditation?
We know how hard it is to break our affections. If there is anything difficult in this world, it is this. But when our will is strong and the reason is determined to achieve its spiritual goal come what may, the whole world will wake up, and we may have to stand before the whole world. Again, the lives of great saints and sages are examples before us. They had to stand and face the world. The world was ready to crush them down and see that they were effaced. Many times it appeared that they had to succumb to these threats from the world. All this is beyond our understanding. Somehow, the problems were faced and the world was defeated.
The process in spiritual life involves both progression and retrogression. It is not a smooth, buttery movement in one direction only. As in the activity of an army in the field of battle, it is not always a seamless movement in one direction. It is a coming back, and a moving forwarda descending, ascending, and many other things.
Each one of us has to be honest to discover within ones own self the extent of ones own involvement in this world. We should not overestimate our own capacities and be foolhardy in our attempts. There is no use in misjudging our involvements and patting ourselves on our backs. As we move forward we become lonelier and lonelier, helpless in every way, and it will appear that the world has deserted us.
In the earlier stages, as I mentioned, nothing happens; nothing appears to happen. Everything is good; everything is fine, and we are happy because we are still in the sensory world. To be fed with sense is to be happy, and we are acquainted only with this kind of happiness. We become unhappy and thrown to the winds when sensory pleasures are withdrawn. The ego and the body become fat by the feeding of the senses. The Yoga Vasishtha mentions, in a famous passage, that our personality becomes robust by the intake of sensory food.
Most, if not all, of our pleasures are sensory. We have no spiritual happiness within ourselves. When we are elated within, it need not necessarily mean that the spirit is operating. It may be an emotional satisfaction caused by the sensation of having what one has obtained in this world of relations, and so our happiness is relative, nevertheless. The happiness that is consequent upon the entry of God into our being is a death of all earthly pleasures.
This is surprising and most intriguing for every one of us. Why should our pleasures die when God enters us? Why should we become unhappy when we become spiritually-oriented persons? Why should spiritual life mean a destruction of the joys of the world? This is so because the joys of the world are sensory joys. Even the greatest satisfaction we can think of is, finally, motivated by sense activity. It is not spiritual, because spiritual bliss is non-relative. It does not require contact with anybody or anything else.
We can, to some extent, understand whether our pleasure is sensory or otherwise by subjecting it to a touchstone of internal examination. Is our happiness caused by contact, by relation, by acquisition? Or, is it a self-blossoming from the very fact of our existence, independent of any kind of psychological or emotional relation? We will find that our pleasures are not born of just our existence, but are related to certain conditions prevailing in the world.
What we call the world is nothing but conditions of relation. The world is relation; that is all. And, inasmuch as God, the Supreme Reality, is non-relational, every movement in the direction of God-being is a movement towards non-relation. Therefore, there is a simultaneous withdrawal from relation. This involves withdrawal from all pleasure centres of the world because pleasure centres are relatively connected to us, not absolutely oriented in our being.
Thus, when there is a war going on within and without behind, and in front of usbetween the two realms to which we belong simultaneously, we are torn apart into shreds. The troubles of a spiritual seeker, in the advanced stages particularly, are unthinkable,indescribablehorrible, really. We cannot understand these things by reading metaphysical books or logical texts. Some insight into these problems can be had only by the study of the lives of great saints and sages. They are greater examples before us than metaphysical books or philosophical treatises. A person who has lived this life is a better example than a textbook.
This is so because spiritual life is not academic information or study, but life, and nothing can be more difficult to understand than what life is. The difficulties that we may have to pass through have been listed by Patanjali: the body rebels, the mind rebels, the emotions rebel, the reason rebels, society rebels. There is no friend for us anywhere. Our physical health is mostly connected with sensory satisfactions, even as our emotional feelings are. We are totally sensory, root and branch. There is nothing else to us.
So, any attempt at the restraint of the senses tells upon the physical health, mental peace, social security, and also intellectual conviction, in many ways. We will be shaken in all these levels. In Patanjalis list he mentions, first and foremost, physical reactions set up by the organism in the form of many unpleasant sensations: aches, illnesses, fevers and so on, dullness of attitude and a subsidence of enthusiasm, a torpidity of mind, and a putting off the sessions of meditation by procrastination and by one excuse or the other. Excuses are many, and every excuse has a justification behind it. We can substantiate it and logically convince ourselves that we are on the right path. But, the greatest difficulty that Patanjali mentions is doubt and a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness.
The last, and not the least, of the problems is a sense of incapacity on ones part. Everyone has felt it; even the great ones had to face this difficulty. Many a time we feel that God has left us. He is not going to help us. We may even doubt the very existence of God. Does He really see us? Does He exist? Is there such a thing as Nirvana, spiritual salvation? Is there such a thing called moksha, or are we in airy abstractions?
Even if such a thing be, we seem to be away from it, with no contact with it. The mind will wind up all its activities and go to sleep. Inordinate sensory activity, gluttony, talkativeness and excessive social contacts felt as a necessity from within, coupled with a desire to sleep excessively, will all be the reactions that the mind will set up. This will all gradually, slowly, secretly sneak into us, and we will not know that the enemy has entered our camp.
Again, to repeat, we are still in the phenomenal world. It has not left us. Fathers and mothers, brothers and sistersall the relations who love us intimatelyare connected with nature as a whole. They will weep before us. Everything that we have severed ourselves from will present itself as an endearing thing before us; and it will become more endearing as we try to reject it more and more. The more we try to abandon a thing, the more beautiful it will look, the more necessary it will appear, and the harder it will be to avoid its presence. That which we are trying to be away from will appear to be coming nearer and nearer to usin direct proportion to our attempt to be away from it. The more we wish to avoid a thing, the more frequently will it come to us. This is how nature will work, to see how we are faring.
The other difficulties, of an astral nature, not merely physical and visible, are also mentioned in the scriptures of yoga. These astral problemsthe supernormal visions and the auditions and temptations and oppositions mentionedare the cosmical counterparts of our own internal makeup. Our desires themselves become persons and present themselves as hard realities in front of us.
When Buddha was in deep meditation, his wife was there in front of him, with a little baby on her lap. He was not able to understand how this could be. How has she come from the palace, from such a long distance? How is she seated before me in the thick of the forest?
My beloved one, how have you deserted me and come? Here is this little child of yours. Are you going to kick it aside? This is what the young and beautiful wife Yashodhara exclaimed before the meditating Buddha, to his consternation and fright. How could this be? And, angels danced with beautiful musicnot the music that we hear in this world, but music that will melt our hearts and scathe our nerves completely. Such celestial music was around him. Beauties unimaginable by this world, undreamt of by man, were presented. But Buddha was made of different stuff. He knew the reason behind these appearancesthe causative factors behind the appearances of this kindand stuck to his guns in his pursuit. Still, the matter did not end there.
When we resist a temptation, we are assaulted by fear and an untold type of insecurity and threat from every side, as if our life is going to break into pieces. Thunderbolts and lightning from the heavens may appear to descend on our heads, their causative natures not easily discoverable. All this is because nature has two sidesbeauty and terror. It is beautiful on one side, and terrible on the other side. Nature has both these things. Nothing can be so tempting, and attractive, and beautiful as nature is. Nothing can be so fearful and terrorising as nature can be. Sometimes nature puts on a very beautiful feature; and when we are not going to acquiesce in its presentations, it will raise up a storm in the way that only it can.
We have a description of the Visvarupa-darshana in the eleventh chapter of the Bhagavadgita, where in earlier stages it was a terror and, later on, it became a very calm and composing, motherly, affectionate presentation before Arjuna. Everything in this world, everything in creation, has these two sides beauty and terror. Everything is beautiful; everything is terrible. This is so with everything, even a mouse. It can be a very beautiful thing to see and touch. It can also be a very terrible thing for us. Even an antnothing can be excluded from this feature. The whole universe is two-sided. Every man, every woman, every child, everything is of this naturegood and bad, beautiful and ugly, nice and terrible.