by Swami Krishnananda
To search for the Spirit is to seek a meaning or significance, rather than a substance or an object. This is a very subtle import for all spiritual seekers. We often make the mistake of thinking that when we ask for God, we are asking for a thing, a person, an object or a substance. While our notions of God and the Spirit have some significance in our search, they all fall short of the Real and the True, inasmuch as there is something deeper that we are really seeking than what comes to the surface of our mind.
To give a concrete example of what a meaning is, rather than a thing or a substance, when we ask for food, for all outward purposes it looks that we are in need of some substance. When I say I need some food, you may think that perhaps I need some wheat, rice, vegetables, butter, milk, etc. These are generally interpreted to be food. But there is something in this asking for food, a meaning or significance behind this asking, which does not become apparent to our mind.
Truly speaking, it is not these articles of diet that we are asking for. We are asking for a meaning that is hidden behind them. They are capable of conveying a significance in our personal life – here in this instance, our physical bodily life. If this group of articles is not to convey any significance to bodily existence, they will not be the things that we ask for.
Whenever we look at an object, we read meaning into it: it means something. This habit of reading meaning into it is so familiar that we cannot think in any other manner. We do not think first and then read meaning afterwards. Thinking and reading the meaning go together. Or, to put it in psychological terminology, understanding and feeling work simultaneously in our perception. When we think an object, we also feel something about it. In other words, it means the recognition of an object in terms of the significance it conveys to our lives.
It is this significance that misses our attention in our search for values in life. It is really a set of values that we want, and not objects or things. The meaning behind an article of diet is to appease hunger. That is what we need, not bags of rice. It so happens that when a certain quantity of rice comes in contact with our physical body, it is in a position to appease the state of biological reaction which we call hunger. Otherwise, it would be something else that we would ask for. So it is not any particular object that we seek; we seek only the value that is hidden in the object.
So is the case with money. It is not coins that we are in need of, but the capacity to provide us with purchasing power. The power of purchase is called money, not gold and silver or notes. That is the meaning behind cash value – and so on and so forth with every blessed thing in the world.
There is a significance in our asking for things, a significance and a meaning behind our relationship with things, a meaning behind the way in which we talk, the way in which we conduct ourselves in society, the way in which we think and feel and act. All these things have a hidden significance, a meaning; and it is this meaning which we are in search of. Unfortunately, we confuse this meaning with the outer form of objects, and it looks as if we are in search of objects rather than values. Not so. When we speak even in ordinary language we ask, “What is the spirit of the teaching?” We make a distinction between the letter and the law, for example. The words that I speak and the spirit in which I speak are different. So even in common parlance we use the term ‘spirit’ to signify a meaning rather than an outer form.
As is the case with ordinary life, so is the case with our cosmical relations. There is a Spirit behind our very existence as individuals. In the previous examples, the concrete substances such as articles of diet or currency notes have a significance behind them, which alone we are in need of, and not the things themselves. If the meaning is absent, we will not go for it. For example, if the present system of government changes, the system of currency will change, and our asking for money would be asking for something else afterwards. The meaning of the present currency has been lost, so we ask for something else with the same meaning.
In particular individual life there is a Spirit which we have lost in the midst of the clamouring particulars. Though we have heard this word ‘Spirit’ uttered many a time, we cannot help contemplating the Spirit as some object. We have to learn to think a little impersonally when we tread the spiritual path. We have been too much wedded to personalities, things and concrete substances, so we have been taught to think only in terms of these physical entities. We cannot think impersonally. It may be my person or somebody else’s person, but all our thoughts are personal. The impersonal is hidden behind all personal valuations of things, and it is the impersonal that we see even through persons.
The general is hidden in the particular. The impersonal is hidden in all the particulars. The implicit is present in all the individualities. There is a gradual rise in our aspirations from lower particulars to higher particulars and, for the time being, the higher particular acts as the general or the universal for the lower particular.
Therefore, in the search of the Spirit, we do not search for any existent object because the Spirit is not an object. To come to our examples again, the spirit of the law is not a thing that we can see with our eyes, yet we know what it means. The spirit is a very intangible significance which makes itself felt not to the senses but to something which seems to have a kinship in our own being. The Spirit of things cannot be seen though the senses. It is not appreciated even by the understanding, which always works in terms of the senses.
We have in our own individualities something which can be said to be the meaning of our own existence. What we call the ‘I’ is the meaning hidden in what we regard ourselves to be. The same analogy can be applied to our own personalities. The Spirit of my being is different from my bodily existence and the encasements of other bodies, other people, etc. So when I ask for the Spirit, what do I ask for?
“What is spirituality?” is the moot question. Spirituality is that condition of the consciousness where it asks for the Spirit of things rather than the forms or bodies of things. That is spirituality. We no longer interpret things in terms of objects and persons, and our evaluations of life no longer depend on persons and things. We learn to think in terms of the generals and the universals rather than the particulars and bodily existences. This would be spirituality, whatever be its degree of expression.
When we learn to be spiritual, we live more and more as generals rather than as particulars, which means that we begin to comprehend values in existences that we were not able to do earlier. In our present state of our bodily existence, our bodies are restricted to our own physical needs: my hunger, my thirst, my sleepiness, my difficulties, my problems, etc. These engage our attention so much that we cannot exceed the limits of our bodily needs. That is the lowest aspect of human life, where one’s thoughts and feelings get so restricted to the bodily encasement that there is no thought and feeling beyond that. But when one becomes capable of recognising the significance of the lives of other people in their Spirit rather than in their form, and at the same time learns to associate one’s personal values with the values which appear to be external at present, then one’s self becomes enlarged. What we call the Self is nothing but the Spirit behind ourselves, and behind all things.
When we talk of the Self, we are most likely to think of it as a kind of substance. Many a time philosophers have defined the soul as a substance, but it is not a substance in the sense of anything that we can understand. It is not a tangible object. It is super-sensible, as our scriptures are not tired of saying. Super-sensible is the meaning of our personality, the meaning of all creation. It is super-sensible, which means it cannot be seen. It cannot be touched by the hand, it cannot be smelt, it cannot be heard, it cannot be tasted, and we cannot have any kind of intelligible relation with it. Such is the Spirit of things.
Who is to understand the Spirit? What do we mean by spiritual aspiration? If the Spirit would mean the meaning of all life, and this meaning is so abstract to the senses that it cannot have any meaning to the senses, that meaning appears to be meaningless to the sensory operations. The Spirit of life is present in our own bodies. It is not far from us, and so it is possible for us to reach out to the Spirit of the cosmos – not through the senses and the intellect, but through something which we are.
That which we are is the eternal meaning hidden in us. It is not that temporary meaning that we seem to exhibit in our day-to-day life that we can call our own self. There are tentative local adjustments that we generally make, but these are not our real meaning. If we are divested of all physical and psychological associations, what remains? That would be our true meaning. If we have no body and no mind, what would be our condition? What would be the sort of relationships that we might establish with other existences? How can we exist without a body and a mind?
Every day we enter into a condition where we are not aware of either the body or the mind – such as in sleep, for example. In deep sleep we have no awareness of either the body or the mind, and yet we seem to exist as something we do not understand. What is that something? On a careful examination, that something into which we seem to enter in deep sleep appears to be more meaningful than our outward bodily relationships. That is why we run to our beds every night. Wwe would like to enter into this condition as many times as possible. Whom are we going to contact there? Why such a zest for entering into this condition?
People who have not been able to sleep properly will be able to know what such a condition is. There was a raja, a wealthy person, who had chronic insomnia. He announced, “I will give half of my kingdom to that person who would make me sleep at least one day.” Such was his craving for sleep, poor man! A state of sleep is not some silly occurrence of our daily life which we can brush aside as nothing. It is the most consequential of all occurrences in our life.
If, after waking from sleep, we have time enough to think for a few seconds about what our feelings are, what our situation is, we will realise that there was some experience which cannot be compared with the experiences of waking life – which seems more solid than the most solid of rocks, more pleasant than all the satisfactions of the world, and more necessary than the emperorship of the world. We may give up all other ambitions and cravings of life, but we cannot give up the longing for this one event. What is the meaning of sleep? What is the harm if we do not go to sleep? Nobody knows why we should sleep and why we feel so wretched if we cannot sleep.
No one can answer this question because it is so intimate to our person. We are pulled by force, as it were, into sleep – compelled to enter that state, because that state is more vital to what we really are, to our Spirit of being, than our outer associations. Again and again we are reminded of what we really are. It is a daily reminder that we are not prepared to heed. We get many kinds of reminders in life that there is something wrong with things, but we do not listen to them. We think that everything is all right.
We cannot know the ostensible problems that we have to face in this mysterious world, merely because we are not conscious of them. It is the pull of the Self, the pull of meaning, the pull of the Spirit that takes us into sleep, and because it is the Spirit of things that calls us, it is an irresistible call. It is not some object that is calling us. It is not some person that is sitting in our heart, calling us: “Come, come!” There is nobody to call us in person. The meaning of all things is lying there, hidden in our heart – the meaning not merely of our personal life, but the meaning of all people. It is my meaning, it is your meaning, it is everybody’s significance hidden in our heart.
It summons us. It is like the father trying to call the prodigal son. When we are not prepared to turn to it, it will be difficult to be conscious of the pull. Then the pull is automatic, and so much are we enamoured of the colours and sounds of the world that when we are pulled back to it we do not want to see it: “I do not want to see you. Why do you call me?” This closing our eyes to the Spirit of things is what we call sleep, and the opening our eyes while we are there is Self-realisation or God-realisation. If we go to sleep with open eyes we will see God; but we go there with closed eyes, so we see nothing. Yet, the presence of something there is felt.
So we are kept there as long as possible and released after being bathed in nectar, as it were, having drunk deep of some essence which we cannot forget; but we seem to be rising up from it only to be again distracted by the tinsels of things. We are taken to a royal palace, kept on the king’s sofa and served a royal dinner, but all while blindfolded. We do not know where we are, who is serving us, who is talking to us; nothing is known, and then we are again brought back to the jungles from where we were taken. That is life.
Every day we are taken to the mysterious palace of the Emperor of the Cosmos, blindfolded, and we are released in the wilderness of life when we wake up. So we know only the wilderness, and not the royal grandeur into which we were taken when we were fast asleep. It is this grandeur that is the significance of all life; that is what we call the Spirit of things.
You may be thinking that this so-called Spirit of things looks like an abstract meaning – not something substantial. It looks to be abstract – a psychological interpretation rather than a physical contact, due to our habit of coming in contact with objects beyond abstraction. Actually, the so-called concrete objects are an abstraction from it. When we contact the Spirit, we do not contact air or space or a non-existent something. The mind is unable to think it; that is why it reads an abstraction into it.
The existence of all things may be regarded as the Spirit of all things. Divest all things of their existence, and what do you see in them? When the mind tells you that the Spirit is only an abstraction and the objects are more concrete, try to tell it, “My dear friend, the Spirit is the existence of everything that you regard as concrete. Minus existences, what are these concrete substances?” Free all things from their existence; there is then only non-existence. They become non-existent. The concreteness vanishes. The so-called concreteness, tangibleness, hardness, substantialness, solidity, etc., is a way of sensation. It is the way in which the senses react to the Spirit. That is what we call tangibility.