by Swami Krishnananda
Only at the human level does the understanding become fit for the reception of spiritual knowledge, not before. Spiritual consciousness, even at the human level, does not suddenly drop from the blue, and the difficulties of a spiritual life are many. Perhaps nothing can be more difficult than to be aware that there is a spiritual ideal in life, and it is not possible to be conscious of this opportunity of its own accord. While we have risen spontaneously, as it were, from the lower levels to the human state, the ascent higher than this has a difficulty felt only at the human level, and not before. Due to clogging of the consciousness in animal instincts, and to being enmeshed in a very translucent form of consciousness, animals and plants cannot be conscious of a spiritual life because the consciousness of a spiritual ideal is something quite different in quality from the consciousness of an object.
While we are all conscious, we cannot be conscious of the Spirit, or of spiritual values. Therefore, there is a sharp distinction between ordinary consciousness and spiritual consciousness. To be aware of something is not spirituality, because everyone is aware of something. There is a very subtle distinction, and it is this subtlety between the two types of awareness that makes it almost impossible for people to be spiritually conscious.
We may be well off in many respects, but we cannot be spiritual for the very simple reason that the distinction between ordinary awareness and spiritual awareness is not an object of our knowledge. At the human level particularly, the mind gets distracted in many directions and runs hither and thither, like a mass of water restrained by a bund bursting forth and running everywhere because of its force, without having any particular direction to its movement. This happens only with the human mind because of its advantages and disadvantages. The advantage of the human mind, as I pointed out last time, is that it feels for the Truth more than the lower levels. The call of the Infinite is felt more pulsating and more acutely in the human level. The call is very acute, stringent, impossible of turning a deaf ear to; yet, the eyes are blindfolded so that we cannot see what it is. It is like a child that is being called by the mother, yet it cannot see her.
There is a summons which we inaudibly hear from within us and from without us, and it is this summons that keeps us active, moving and asking for more and more of things in life. We ask for more and more because the limit of our asking hasn’t been reached.
In the previous session I said we have a hope which keeps us alive, and this hope is another name for this ‘more’ that we ask for, which is infinite. But what we are asking for is not clear to our vision; we feel a necessity and ask, but the nature of this necessity is not clear. We are in a very difficult position. We know that there is something that is pinching us and making us restless, not allowing us to rest in peace; something tells us that we have to march forward, to achieve something higher, and yet we do not know what it is. It is like a person falling ill and not knowing what the disease is. We are restless, agonised, and cannot be at rest. The human mind is in this position where it feels the push and pull of a higher value, and yet cannot be consciously aware as to the direction in which it has to move.
There is a mixture of two types of instinct and understanding in the human level. On one side there is an urge, a push and a pull; and on the other side, it is impossible to know what it is. This is why it is often said that man is a crossing of God and brute. We have the godly element in us, as well as the brute element. It is the godly element that keeps us hoping, keeps us moving, active and asking for more and more of freedom and happiness; but it is the other aspect in us that keeps us in the dark, not allowing us to open our eyes and see the daylight. We have two elements combined in us, the divine and the demonical, as the scriptures tell us the positive and the negative, the upward pull and the downward pull the sattvic manas, the rajo-guna, and the tamasic manas the daivi sampat and the asuri sampat. The Pandavas and the Kauravas, we can say, are both in our body. There is a tussle perpetually going on in our subtle being between these two forces which speak in different languages and tell us these two distinct things.
Dῡram ete viparīte (Katha Up. 1.2.4). The destinations to which these two direct us are poles apart, as it were. If one directs us to the north, the other directs us to the south. They do not even run parallel. They are opposed to each other, pulling upward and downward. Now, this characterisation of our situation is a mixture of the upward and the downward, something like our feeling that we are down below on the Earth. If we think about this, we will realise that we are as much in space as any star or planet is. We are not down below. There is no such thing as ‘down below’ in space. There is no up and down in space. It is only tentatively from the point of view of our Earth-plane consciousness that we say that we are below and the stars are above, though it is not really true. We are as much above as the stars are. We have to place ourselves in a proper perspective in order to understand the situation. The ideas of above and below are tentative, relational to the position in which we are.
Likewise are the psychological upward and downward. What is this upward and downward pull? What is ascent and descent? Is it really a movement upward in space, or has it any other significance? If it were really an ascent in the physical sense, then spiritual progress would be a movement physically upward in space. We would have to go higher and higher, perhaps in a jet plane. Is this the ascent in the spiritual sense? And what is descent? Is it to go down into the bowels of the Earth? What are the nether regions and the celestial regions? Neither the up nor the down consciousness can be interpreted in this manner.
To be ascending in evolution is not to be rising into space, into the higher realms of the astronomical worlds, nor is descent a kind of entry down into the earth of the physical part of creation. Evolution is not in space and time, because space and time are part of the evolutionary process. We are not moving as a leaf moves in the wind or a train moves on its track. It is not this kind of movement that is meant by evolution. It is a new type of transformation that takes place, a novel situation of consciousness a crisis of consciousness we may call it which is every step in the process of evolution.
At the human level, the mind finds itself in a situation where it has to face a peculiar set of problems, on account of which it is difficult to lead a spiritual life. The problems are the ways of our own thinking. We have been taught from our very childhood to think in particular forms. We are taught in kindergarten and primary school, “This is a cat, this is a dog, this is a hat,” and so on. This kind of thinking is implanted in our minds. A kind of object lesson is provided to the mind from the very inception of human evolution, and we think in terms of objects. We are given ‘object lessons’ in the literal sense of the term. The human mind particularly has the capacity to get entangled and to think in terms of qualities and relations. Every thought that is generated in our mind is in terms of certain qualities of things and their relation to other things.
Close your eyes for a few minutes and just imagine what you think daily, from morning to evening. All your thoughts are in terms of certain qualities, characteristics of objects and their relations to other things, persons or objects. It is impossible for us to think, except in these terms of relations. Thought is in terms of relations alone. This is why sometimes we are told that this is a world of relativity. Everything seems to be related to something else, at least in our thoughts, and we are thus bound up psychologically with the objects of the world. It is this psychological bondage which keeps us earthly conscious and not spiritually conscious, because to be spiritual would be to be aware in terms of the Spirit, not in terms of the qualities and relations.
Last time I mentioned that the Spirit is such that its thought is intuitive in nature and not sensory, intellectual, or even rational. Intuitive vision is the name given to the way in which the Spirit knows itself and its environment. It is quite different from the way in which the mind thinks in terms of senses and objects. It is difficult to be spiritually aware, spiritually conscious or to lead a spiritual life because it is not possible for us to abide by the laws of the Spirit.
We are embodied beings. We live in bodies, and our contacts are with other bodies in the world, so we have a bodily life a related life, an Earthly life, and life which is tethered to the consciousness of space and time. Not for a moment can we be spiritually conscious because we cannot be free from the clutches of these relations. The mind is a part of creation in this sense that it is related to every other object in creation.
Space and time, qualities and relations, are the limiting categories of human understanding; and whether one is a child, an adult or matured person, he will realise that everyone equally thinks in these terms alone. Rare, therefore, is that person who can be spiritually awakened. To be spiritually awakened is not to be moving in space, up or down, but to bring about a transfiguration within oneself, an evolution consciously brought about within us, a florescence of consciousness itself, something like waking from a state of deep sleep. When we wake up from sleep, we do not move into space, and yet we know the joy felt when waking up from a bad dream. We have not moved in space, not even moved in time; yet, what a vast difference it has made in our life. We have awakened into our own consciousness.
When a person who has had no eyesight can see, when a person who has been dreaming bad dreams wakes up, when a person who has been suffering from a bad disease gains health, he feels a change which cannot be explained in words. We must be very ill and regain health to see what a joy we feel. Only those who have been suffering with the flu would know what it is; when we regain health, it is as though we have been reborn into heaven, though we have no physical possessions at that time.
To come to one’s true nature is the symptom of spirituality, and this activity of the mind, this attempt of the human understanding to come to its own Self is prevented by its entanglements in terms of space, time, qualities and relations. The mind is the cause of our bondage in this sense. Our condition is more pitiable than other beings because of our not being able to know what our actual difficulty is. What is our problem?
There is another mysterious trouble into which we descend in human life when we mistake an erroneous consciousness for the requisite knowledge of truth. For example, we all make the mistake of thinking that we are conscious of truth. The world is truth, the objects in the world are truth, the activities in which we are engaged are real, and we make reference to this reality whenever we want to judge the objects of the world by the standard of truth. We are in a world of reality when we wake up from dream. What is this world of reality? It is the world of these objects, these persons, these things, these temptations, these positive and negative attributes. We have not only been caught up by the inextricable activities of the external qualities and relations, but at the same time we make the mistake that this entangled consciousness is consciousness of reality. Hence, blessed indeed should be that person who can wake up higher still from this state of entangled consciousness.
Ordinarily, no one can be aware that there can be a consciousness above, beyond or transcending Earth consciousness. The trouble is that when we are in a state of mind, that particular state of mind appears to be true, real. We cannot compare one state of mind with another when the higher one has not yet been reached. In the state of waking, for example, we may compare our waking life with dream life and say that dream life is unreal; but we cannot compare waking life with another higher reality because we have not yet reached that state.
This waking life is the standard of comparison for us. Everything is compared to this waking life and the waking values. This cannot be compared to something else. This is final. This is one of our difficulties, that there is no comparative value in waking life. It is an absolute value for us and so we take it for granted that it is the thing that we have been asking for. The freedom that we have been asking for has been achieved, and we are in a state of true happiness. So we search for happiness in this world of variety. We seek freedom in this world of qualities and relations, while we have been caught up by the very same qualities and relations. By the term ‘we’ I mean ‘the centre of thinking’. It is the mind that has been caught.
It is the attitude of consciousness, the way of thought that determines our state of evolution. The mind, which is a form of consciousness working in space and time, so much identifies itself with the qualities and relations that we cannot for a moment remain as witnesses of the world situation. We are involved in the world situation and we are the world, and many a time it appears that what happens to the world happens to us. Our joys and sorrows are connected to world situations. We are living an external life, an objective life, a life of sensory perception. We live in terms of qualities and relations, not in terms of our own Self. Thus, from this point of view at least, no human being can be said to be spiritually conscious; everyone is bound. It is not possible to be spiritually conscious as long as the mind has not come back to its own source and as long as it has not realised that it is tangled in the relations of objects. The mind cannot achieve freedom so long as it mistakes objects for truths, so long as it mistakes objective perceptions for true knowledge, because the very idea or notion of freedom is itself fundamentally erroneous.
To be free does not mean to possess the things of the world or to have the license to do whatever one thinks or likes. Freedom is independence, non-dependence. Where we are dependent, we are not free, and we are said to be free only when we are absolutely independent. We have curious notions of independence today. We think that we are free merely because we have enough to eat and drink, enough clothes to put on, a bungalow, and so on. These are supposed to constitute our freedom. How can we call this freedom, when we are dependent on them? This is not freedom or independence; one thing is hanging on something else.
The great Narada approached Sanatkumara and asked, “What is Freedom?”
Sanatkumara said, “Infinite is Freedom.”
“But what is this Infinite?” asked Narada.
“The Infinite is that where you see nothing else outside, hear nothing else outside and understand nothing else outside,” Sanatkumara said.
“But on what is it based? Where does it stand? What is its support? What is it, outside which there is nothing, of which you speak?” questioned Narada.
“How do you expect this to be supported by something else? Here in this world,” said Sanatkumara, “one thing is supported by another, one thing hangs on to another, one thing is dependent on another. One’s freedom is restricted by the freedom of the other. Not so is the Infinite. Its basis is Itself.”
Man cannot be really free, because of the very existence of other human beings. My freedom is restricted by your freedom. The very existence of another is a limitation on my freedom, so there cannot be absolute freedom on the part of any human being. It is futile to cry for freedom when freedom is not possible. The very situation of the human mind is such that it cannot have freedom. The constitution of the human mind is such that freedom is unknown in the human level because human thinking is a peculiar entanglement of consciousness in relations.
The mind is another name for a kind of conscious relationship with objects. We are living in a relative world, not only physically but also psychologically. Even psychologically, intellectually, rationally we are living in a relative world relative in the sense that the mind is hanging on something else, some other object. The mind cannot think without an object. This is the reason why intellectual knowledge has been regarded as lower knowledge, and spiritual knowledge is always regarded as something different from intellectual or ordinary knowledge.
The knowledge that we obtain from the world is regarded as inferior because it is relational knowledge, depending on external objects for its information. It is knowledge of things outside a relativistic knowledge, a comparative knowledge. We compare one object with another and try to have some kind of knowledge about it. We know ‘A’ in terms of ‘B’ and ‘B’ in terms of ‘A’; we have full knowledge of neither ‘A’ nor ‘B’, so relative knowledge is false knowledge in one sense. When we hang ‘A’ on ‘B’, and ‘B’ on ‘A’, we do not have a perfect knowledge of either one. If we require the assistance of one for acquiring knowledge of another, what else can be our knowledge but relative knowledge? It is workable knowledge in a pragmatic world, but it is not an absolute knowledge in a real world.
This is the reason why we cannot be free in this world. This is the reason why, also, we cannot be really happy in this world. All this is because we are not spiritually awakened. To clinch the whole matter, no unspiritual mind can be happy; no unspiritual mind can be free, and all the questions of the human mind are answered by a single principle, the principle of the unitariness and the infinitude of the Spirit. Even today, with all our learning and the information that we have gathered, people have a very poor knowledge of what spirituality is. Even today, at this very moment, it can be very boldly said that people’s knowledge of spiritual living is very meagre, poor and apologetic, all because we try to import our relative knowledge even to the spiritual realm, and try to understand God and the Absolute in terms of the education that we have gathered in our schools.