by Swami Krishnananda
What we are trying to analyse is the mental situation at the human level: what the good points and disadvantages of human life are. The good point is that we can think better than animals, so we can free ourselves; the bad point is that we can bind ourselves through the very same knowledge. Our rope can be used to tie our cow so that it may not go astray, or we can hang ourselves with the very same rope. We can use it for both purposes.
The mind at the human level is a boon and a gift of God, which has been the point emphasised in many of the scriptures: rare is human birth, and difficult is it to get this. Even Devas are supposed to come down to the mortal level to free themselves. So much praise is offered about human life, but together with this beauty of human consciousness, it is also most unfortunate that it is only at the human level that we can slip and fall down – not at other levels. Just imagine where we are standing and how cautious we have to be, how carefully we have to walk through life, though we should be happy that we have been blessed with a human life.
While we have been well armed, yet we move in the thick of enemies. Very cautiously we have to move in this world. The human consciousness psychologically analysed is this complex structure of thinking, part of it being rational and part being irrational or instinctive. The instinctive part of the mind asks for the forms of perceptions, while the rational part of the mind seeks the spirit behind the perception. In most of the activities of the day we run after the forms of perception rather than the spirit hidden behind the perception. We cannot see the spirit; we see only the forms. All our experiences are good educators; they teach us a good lesson of life, but we do not learn the lesson because we do not see the spirit behind the lesson. When we are given a slap on the face, we feel only the pain of the slap, and not the meaning behind it.
The child cries when the mother gives a spanking. It does not know the reason or rationality behind it; it sees only the pain. So is the mind’s reaction to things. Nature teaches us a lesson by the very process of the evolution of things, and in this process, we are given the positive and the negative types of experiences, the pleasurable and the miserable, but we forget the lesson behind it. The intention of nature is not to give us pleasure or pain. It is to educate us, train us and make us ascend further, but if we forget the spirit of the teaching and emphasise only the pleasure or the pain of it, then we are in samsara. The world is samsara when we take only the form of it into consideration, but it is a field of education and an occasion for a higher experience if we receive it as a teaching.
Before a spiritual seeker approaches a Master or a Guru for initiation into the mysteries of spirituality, he is supposed to be equipped with certain other fundamentals, one of them being viveka, or right understanding. And, what this right understanding is, I am trying to explain in these few words. The understanding called for is the capacity to distinguish between the spirit of experience and the form of it. The objects of sense are the form, but there is a meaning in perception. The meaning is the lesson.
I shall give one concrete instance of what the spirit is, as distinguished from a form. In perception of an object, the form is that we are cognising something in front of us. Is it good or bad? It is mine or not mine? Should I run after it or run away from it? This is the form of experience, and this is samsara. If we look at an object only in this spirit, we are in samsara. What do I see? I see a person. What kind of person? Is he a person to whom I shall move, or is he a person from whom I shall move away? Can I get something from him or would he harm me? What is this thing? Shall I get it or shall I throw it away? These considerations in regard to an object of perception constitute the form of perception. The external circumstances in which the mind is entangled in relation to the objects constitute the form of perception. This is samsara.
But there is a spirit behind the perception. The spirit is that we are conscious of the object. This is the lesson that is given to us. The lesson behind the perception is not the object or its relationship to us, for or against. The spirit of the lesson is not whether the object is ours or not ours, good or bad, this way or that way; the spirit of the teaching is that we are conscious of the object. That consciousness is present in perception. Without consciousness we would have not perceived the object. The consciousness is in us and, therefore, we are conscious of the object. The consciousness is also between us and the object; therefore, there is a link between us and the object. The consciousness is also immanent or hidden in the object; therefore it is that there is a kinship of two objects, ourselves and the other, and this is what we call perception. So this is the lesson that nature tries to give us in perception – that the spirit is present equally in the subject and the object and also in the process of perception.
In all experiences, sensory or rational, we are taught the universality of consciousness, but this spirit of the teaching is missed every time. We only run after the form. Nama-rupa attracts us, not Satchidananda. The scriptures tell us that every object has five elements: asthi, bhati, priyam, rupam, namachit, amsapanchakam. Asthi, bhati, priyam, rupa and namachit are the five elements or principles present in every object. It has a name and a form, a characteristic, a feature, a relationship; but apart from that, it exists. It is capable of being made an object of our consciousness, bhati. Asthi is existence, bhati is the shining capability of being made a constituent of our consciousness. It can also give us priya, pleasure; it is also dear, we long for it, we want it. We ask for it, and want to enjoy it.
There are three other characters in objects: existence, its relation to consciousness, and the capacity to invoke pleasure in our mind. But, it has also name and form. The name and the form may be compared to the pot of nectar. The nectar is asthi-bhati-priya. It is only the pot that is coming in contact with our mind; the nectar is inside. Asthi-bhati-priya is existence-knowledge-bliss, we may say in English. The essence of existence-knowledge-bliss in every object is the nectar. But, it is hidden, covered by the walls of a vessel, as it were, which is nama-rupa, name and form. We do not see the nectar, but we have a hint at its existence. Because of the hint at its existence, we run after the form. We are told there is something inside, but we see only the outer form. The senses are attracted by the name and the form through which the nectar shines.
Asthi-bhati-priya, the form taken by the Supreme Reality, shines through the name and form of the objects. And because of the shining character of the objects, the mind instinctively runs after them, but the mind goes and hits itself hard against the surface of the wall of the object, not finding the contents. The content is hidden within and can be contacted by a means unknown to the senses. Sensory contact is not the way of contacting Truth. This is what viveka tells us. The intention of the mind is to contact Truth – asthi-bhati-priya – for permanent existence, permanent omniscience or knowledge, and permanent joy, but the mind, when it runs through the senses to the objects, is in samsara. While the intention is good, the method employed is wrong.
“The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” said Milton. What is the use of mere good intentions? The result is contrary. We have a good intention of getting perfection through the objects, but we run into the abyss of things, contrary to what we expected. People run after things of the world and entangle themselves in various kinds of social relationships, thinking that the nectar from them can be snatched and drunk. But they see no nectar; they have been only experimenting and experimenting, and finding nothing. The world seems to be deceptive. It shines, but it provides us nothing.
The shining is the attraction in the world, but it is not true that there is nothing. If there were nothing, it would not attract us. We commit a mistake in the analysis of the perception of the world. There is some element of Truth in the world, and also an element of untruth. The element of Truth attracts us, and the element of untruth repels us. While the element of truth keeps us hoping for more and more perfection in things, the element of untruth perpetually defeats our purpose. While we hope and hope till we die, we get nothing from the world.
If there is nothing in the world, why do we hope at all? How is it that we say that tomorrow shall be a better day? Though we have received so many kicks today, tomorrow shall be better, is our hope. What makes us hope? There is something tempting, but this remains only an unfilled hope. See the mystery of life. How juggling and how beautiful it is! It keeps us hoping till the last breath; we hope and yet till the last breath we are given nothing. The hope never dies; even after the death of the body, the hope continues.
Satya and asatya, truth and untruth, are both mixed up in the objects of the world. The world is samasara and moksha, both. From one point of view it is moksha, from another it is samsara. It is the moksha aspect of it that tempts us, makes us hope. It is the samsara aspect of it that defeats us, makes us weep, propels us from birth to death. This is viveka. And when this viveka dawns, there is vairagya towards the untrue elements, and aspiration for the true element alone.
That which is true in the world should be our only concern, and that which is said to be untrue should be abandoned. When we seek Truth and abandon untruth, we are in a state of viveka and vairagya. Spiritual aspirants are those who long for Truth and not for untruth, but spiritual aspirants, being human beings yet, cannot be wholly free from the chances of falling back into the old notion that the objects of the world can bring satisfaction. Again and again we are likely to revert into the old way of thinking. Though the viveka may direct us to the Truth, the senses dump the mind back to the untrue aspects of things, and they want pleasure through the objects. Truth, being universal, can never become an object of consciousness. Hence, it is futile on the part of the senses to seek Truth in objects. The way to the realisation of Truth is another way altogether.
Anyatsreya anyatu preya (Katha Up.): The path of blessedness is one; the path of bondage is another. The path of bondage is what we are usually pursuing: the path of pleasure and contact with objects. The Bhagavadgita warns us that all pleasures born of contact of senses with objects are wombs of pain. They are misery only. Do not run after the pleasures which involve contact of senses with objects. But, what are these pleasures? They are these contacts. All our pleasures are born of contacts. And the Lord speaks the Eternal Truth in the Bhagavadgita when He says they shall be only miseries for us, one day or the other.
Yāvataḥ kurute jantuḥ (Vishnu Purana 78), says a famous verse in the Vishnu Purana. As many are the pleasure centres of your mind in the world, so many are the thorns that are pricking your heart. Remember this; it is as though an arrow has been run into your heart when you make pleasurable contact of any object. Hṛdaye shoka shankavaḥ: Arrows of agony shall put you to suffering if your heart goes for any object of sense because the objects of sense, while they are temping and promising, cannot provide what they seek because they seek the Universal which is True Freedom, and which cannot become an object.
Viveka tells us that the Universal Truth, not being an object, cannot be contacted through the senses; therefore, all sense contact is contrary to spiritual life. The spiritual seeker abstains from sense contacts as much as possible because all sense contacts are titillating to the nerves. They pamper the ego, stimulate the senses and then make the mind revert to the old way of thinking – that there is pleasure in the objects of sense. Hence it is that the spiritual seeker is asked to live in seclusion, at least for some time in the beginning, and not in the midst of sense objects, so that he may have ample opportunities to free himself from the clutches of sense perception. In order that he may have opportunities to strengthen the mind to think independently rather than through the senses, the spiritual seeker has to learn the art of independent thinking – thinking through the pure reason alone, unadulterated by sense perception.
We should never listen to the voice of the senses or the ego, which shall speak a different voice altogether to bind the mind. Viveka and vairagya are the prerequisites of true living. True understanding of the state of things should reveal to any thinking mind that while there is an element of Reality in the world, God is immanent in all things, yet He cannot be sought through the act of perception. God is not a sense object and, therefore, we cannot see Him through the eyes. This is why in the Eleventh Chapter of the Bhagavadgita, when the Visvarupa is shown, the Lord speaks to Arjuna: “You cannot see Me with these eyes. I shall provide you with a new vision to see this wondrous form of Mine!” because this is the Universal Absolute Form, not a physical object like a mango or a cow.
“Arjuna, you cannot see the Supreme form with these fleshy eyes. I am not an object. You can see Me only with intuition, which is the integral vision, not externalised partial expression of perception,” said Lord Krishna. The Universal can become an object only of the Universal consciousness. It can become a content only of the consciousness that has achieved the state of Universality. Universal consciousness is intuition, and its content is God. This is Virat-rupa or Visva-rupa, or whatever we may call It. And towards this end it is that the viveka of ours should direct us. But the aviveka would drag us into the preyas path again and again, whispering into our ears the poisonous words, “Here is pleasure.” How difficult it is to tread the spiritual path! We may think over it and see how hard a life it is. The sixth chapter of “The Light of Asia”, which is a book written by Edwin Arnold on the life of Buddha, describes beautifully in exquisite poetry ‘the tussle of Buddha’s mind in meditation’ – how he was tempted, and what difficulties presented themselves in contemplation. The realities of the world persist again and again and hammer upon our mind, “We are here, don’t leave us.” The more we run away from them, the more they will pursue us. Sometimes they try to overtake us, catch us and bring us back, and we may yield. Even Buddha was tempted, but he had a very powerful mind. He was made of a better stuff, and he knew what it was. All the things which he had abandoned appeared in front of him physically, concretely, visibly.
All this will happen to every one of us, because the mind which has its lower as well as its higher aspects is one complete, compact mass. We cannot take only half of the mind and leave the other half. Together with the instinctive mind, the rational mind also speaks. Simultaneously they speak, but it is up to us to choose only that which is good and reasonable, rather than that which is pleasing and tempting. The path of sreyas and the path of preyas – the path of the good and the path of the pleasant, are the two paths that we have in the world. We may tread any path we like. Do we want the pleasant, or do we want the good? We ask mostly for the pleasant. The good may be painful; it is a bitter medicine, but the good is to be sought.
Only the discriminating, only the dheera, as the Upanishad calls him, chooses the good rather than the pleasant. Kaś cid dhīraḥ pratyag-ᾱtmᾱnam aikṣad ᾱvṛtta-cakṣur amṛtatvam icchan (Kath 2.1.1): A very rare hero alone will shun these temptations of preyas or pleasure and seek the blessedness of the good, the Supreme Good, which is the reason behind even the temptations of the world, and which summons us when we run after the things of the world. But we run after them in the wrong manner. Instead of running to the Universal, we run to the external. This is the mistake that we commit. The distinction between the Universal and the external is the distinction between viveka and aviveka.