by Swami Krishnananda
The nature of the path and the way of treading it have been described up to the conclusion of the first chapter. This section one of chapter two describes in more detail the intricacies of the inner way of the Spirit and proclaims that until the Supreme Reality is reached, man is not going to have any peace. All efforts in whatever direction are a failure, and all wealth and fame in all the worlds will pale away if this Supreme Being is not realised. Everything shall flee and perish without giving the least comfort if you try to acquire, possess or enjoy it without a knowledge of this Reality. The worth of all things lies in It alone.
parᾱńci khᾱni vyatṛṇat svayambhῡstasmᾱt parᾱṅpaśyati nᾱntarᾱtman,
kaściddhīraḥ pratyagᾱtmᾱnamaikṣadᾱvṛttacakṣuramṛtatvamicchan. (1)
A philosophical and psychological truth is stated in this verse, summing up human potential as well as the nature of divine Truth. “The original Creator inflicted the senses to go outwardly, so everyone looks externally. Desiring immortality, not satisfied in this world, some wise man turns within, self-controlled and heroic.” We do not behold the Atman because of the original difficulty that seems to be sympathetically working everywhere; a tendency being set at work at the beginning of creation: to gaze outward. All creation is doing so. God looks at Himself in space. The will of ishvara is this original gazing or sankalpa: the creative affirmation, a fundamental urge, though consciously initiated in the beginning; a deliberate and wilful tendency to look at Himself, to be conscious of Himself, to enjoy Himself and to do this in the form of the vast panorama of creation. This brahma-sankalpa to create is so powerful that it is felt in every part of the universe which is His body, just as the effect of our thinking is felt in every pore of us.
That supreme idea takes a concrete form through every part, every being. Everything is made to think in accordance with that original Ideation, though distorted. The child may imitate its father in a wrong manner.
He gazed at nothing but Himself, a sankalpa raving Itself for an object. While this is His original act, and while we try to imitate it, our error seems to be the ‘other-ideation’ in us, as against self-ideation in God. The senses of the human being, of all beings, seem to be inflicted with the punishment of looking and projecting outward. The original sankalpa of ishvara is a conscious movement of thought, while we think without having any control over it. We drift with creation, while in ishvara, creation drifts with His will. The jivas are isolated centres of thought, thinking of not only themselves, but of others in the form of objects.
In God-thought, others are not objects but subjects. We cannot understand what His thought is because we have never seen Him. In us, thoughts work in a mysterious way, independently catching hold of the impulse to create and thus making us totally unaware that there is a consciousness at all; so much so that there is only world-consciousness and no Self-consciousness, to the extent that even the Atman is denied. The Atman denies Himself: ‘I do not exist.’ You as a centre of consciousness have identified yourself with the object, including your own body, so much that you see only them and are not aware of Self-consciousness. This is the deterioration of the Original Will, the mystery of God’s descent into jiva-consciousness. This is maya. So we are world-conscious, body-conscious, worried because we have lost our ‘be-ness’ in objects; we exist as them. There is only a heap of them; the world.
But there are rare souls who have got a glimpse of what is behind it. How they have come upon this Atman in the midst of the darkness of objects, and seen light which is not otherwise seen, is a miracle. How God became this world is a mystery, and how knowledge arises in the jiva is a mystery too. Dhiras, strong desireless minds who have self-control, are the ones who have turned their gaze inward and seen their Atman, and the Upanishads are their revelations.
Consciousness drifts away in space and time; this is creation. The scriptures tell us that there have been stages of descent of consciousness. Just as a stone thrown into the middle of the still waters of a lake creates waves deep in the centre, and becomes weak in the periphery, the Original Will of ishvara becomes weaker and weaker as it goes through the human beings, the animal and vegetable kingdoms and becomes finally arrested of all its outgoing tendencies when it reaches inanimate matter. We, as waves produced by the momentum of ishvara-sankalpa, are in one of the conditions of descent. Because of this, we are compelled to go outward, not inward. If this drifting is allowed to go uncontrolled, we go to realms lower than human. But if it is checked and allowed to know its consciousness, it may try to recede rather than proceed, and become the ripple beholding its bottom, which is the substance of all waves.
parᾱcaḥ kᾱmᾱnanuyanti bᾱlᾱste mṛtyoryanti vitatasya pᾱśam,
atha dhīrᾱ amṛtatvaṁ viditvᾱ dhruvamadhruveṣviha na prᾱrthayante. (2)
“Children, therefore, who have no knowledge of what is happening, go after objects, and thus to destruction. This mrityu that is spread everywhere, into it they fall by falling into the net of objects, because when you get lost in any sense-object, you are sure to perish.” The consciousness that gets attached to objects is death. When the object dies, consciousness, too, seems to die because of its identification with the former, though it never dies. All affections are of this nature. If the object with which we are identified fails, as everything has to fail, consciousness also fails and gets extinguished, and that is called death.
The struggling of consciousness to recognise itself in that object which has gone away from its clutches is the state of preta-loka. Literally, preta is ‘that which is dead’. When consciousness, due to attachment, tries to catch hold of what is lost, what is in a different condition, it is in preta. The body is ourself, and when we have to go, when the body is destroyed, consciousness seems to go with it. It feels it is the body—and then it is the body. Pain of death is experienced by consciousness when its immediate object, the body, perishes, and also when other objects go. When you regard yourself as ‘I’, you refer to the body, and as time sweeps all away, it cannot exist forever. This is the law of individuality: no part which is separated from the whole can remain so isolated always. It goes back to the whole. Thus, Yama is operating everywhere as time.
Death is a blessing, an eye-opener. Otherwise, we would remain ever bound to this body because we are so much attached to it. As long as this attachment is powerful, we take another body, though Yama snatches the present one. And so we are born and die, and we undergo samsara because we regard objects as ourselves, and our body as the most immediate one. Immature ones who have such attachment to tantalising objects naturally fall into the net of death. Yama is the form of the objects, and he is everywhere, as God is everywhere. From one point of view, it is ishvara, and from another point of view it is kala or Yama.
God destroys you if you don’t want Him; He saves you if you want Him. When you turn away from Him, He destroys you as Rudra, and when you turn to Him, He receives you as Vishnu, calm and peaceful. When you go beyond the limitation of freedom given to you, you are punished—whether by the government, health, or God. If you overeat one day, or a few days, the stomach will tolerate it. But if you persist in this practice, you will fall sick. So is the case with God’s laws. Duryodhana was given a long rope, but finally punished when the limit was reached. Life is such an integrated completeness that you cannot bifurcate it as spiritual and material. It is one. What is called material life is the turning away of consciousness and losing itself in objects. When there is Self-consciousness and you feel a dissatisfaction with the things on earth, then you are getting awakened to super-physical consciousness. When you feel something higher, you become spiritual. Therefore, babies they are with no understanding whatsoever, who go to objects of the world, who think there is pleasure there.
The objects are nooses of Yama, and whoever goes to them is caught, like fishes get caught in a net cast out in the ocean. Die we shall, if we go near objects!—“Dhiras, heroes, spiritual giants, self-controlled beings who have mastered their mind and senses, feel something immortal in the objects of the world. They do not want objects, but That which is hidden behind them.”
This consciousness that has been lost in objects—how are we to extricate it? To wean the mind from things, how is this difficult task performed? The next mantra gives a clue to it.
yena rῡpaṁ rasaṁ gandhaṁ śabdᾱn sparśᾱṁśca maithunᾱn,
etenaiva vijᾱnᾱti kimatra pariśiṣyate etad vai tat. (3)
What is the Atman? This is the Atman: “That which is not the object that is seen, but That which sees the object.” Try to differentiate between the object that is seen and That which sees. Take the example of the body: it is seen and so it is an object. Who is seeing it? I taste a dish; but who is tasting? Not the tongue, because it is also an object.
“Who perceives form, taste, smell, sounds and touches of love—that Knower is different from the known.” We must be very subtle to do this great analysis. The distinction between consciousness and objects is atmanatma-viveka. This body is seen. Who sees? “The senses,” you may say. “The mind is thinking the body.” Analyse the condition of the mind and senses again. You exist as the seer of the body. Do you exist as the bundle of senses?
No, because in the condition of dream you exist even without them. So mind can sense things even if the senses do not operate. But then, are you the mind? No, because in deep sleep it does not function, and you exist as a centre of consciousness. In what condition do you then exist? Not as the body, not as the senses, not as the mind, not as the intellect. You cannot say that you did not exist in deep sleep. Mysteriously enough, we have a memory of it. Memory is a conscious state. You cannot remember unless you were conscious, and memory is a remembrance of a past condition. How could you have a conscious memory of an unconscious experience? How can you say consciousness proceeds from matter? Consciousness cannot emerge out of dead matter.
The conclusion is that experience can exist as mere consciousness, even without the senses, the mind and so on, and that it is different from them. “What remains after cutting off all that is not consciousness? The body is not consciousness; the senses are not consciousness. Isolate all these. What remains then? “This, verily, is That.” This is another method of neti neti: “I see something; I am not that something, because the seer cannot be seen.” Similarly, “I think something and I cannot be that which is thought, because the thinker cannot be thought.” Again, “I understand something, and I cannot be that which I understand, because the understander cannot be the same as the understood.”
This whole world is regarded as a jugglery of maya by the scriptures, due to this important truth found out by this analysis. We have somehow identified consciousness with objects, and whatever value or meaning we see in things is the Atman. When you isolate the Atman from this world, the world does not exist. When the Atman is extended, He is seen as this world by the senses. When He is withdrawn, the world does not exist. Therefore, it is maya.
Mantras three, four and five of this section are directions in the process of self-investigation, atmanatma-viveka, the way in which we dive deep into our own self. Apart from the consciousness that sees objects, there is a consciousness that illumines the mind, and beyond this is Pure Consciousness. There is an essence and a form of the world. Its substantiality is due to consciousness. Objects are the combination of form and essence—the essence is the Atman, and the form is the world. If the essence is withdrawn, the form loses its substance. If you withdraw all the clay from a pot, there is no pot. The Atman is present in the world just as the clay is present in the pot. The forms which we are interested in, which we perceive, are shapes taken by consciousness in space and time due to externalisation. We do not say that the pot is the same as clay, nor can we say it is different from it. This mysterious existence of the pot is maya. It is difficult to say what the pot is; similarly, it is difficult to say what the world is, because it has no substantiality apart from the Atman, just as there is no pot without the clay. Yet, the world appears. This analysis is for meditation on the Atman: He can be—and is to be meditated upon as—anything and everything: the Atman in the Ganges, in the sun, in every sense-object; because it is His presence that makes the appearance of the object and without Him, the object cannot exist.
The Atman can be meditated upon both inwardly and outwardly. The drik-drisya-viveka is a beautiful composition, attributed to Shankara: you can enter into samadhi by withdrawing into yourself and by projecting yourself externally. Looking at an object is, therefore, not objectionable. Only when we see it as an object of sense is it our enemy. So the Atman is your friend as well as your enemy. Minus name and form what remains in an object? Minus the name ‘pot’ and the shape ‘pot’, what is there in a pot? Even matter is the expansion of space and time, say the scientists, and their theory is not new to Indian thinkers. It was also held by the Yoga Vasishtha, which says that the whole world is nil. If you withdraw the essence, it is like a soap-bubble. It seems terrifying, but it is nothing, it has no substantiality. “This internal content of you and everything is That,” says Yama to Nachiketas.
svapnᾱntaṁ jᾱgaritᾱntaṁ cobhau yenᾱnupaśyati,
mahᾱntaṁ vibhumᾱtmᾱnam matvᾱ dhīro na śocati. (4)
“That which is the perceiver of the dream and waking-life objects and that which is between both these states, that is the Atman, knowing which no one grieves.” The Atman is the witness of the waking and dream life, and also that which links both in a mysterious manner. It is the same person who wakes, dreams and sleeps, and the continuity between these three states is maintained by one who is different from them. Otherwise, it would not be possible to experience continuity, or know what happened yesterday. All three experiences are the contents of one single consciousness.
The Atman is the perceiver in an unusual sense. In the same way as the clay in the pot is the perceiver of the pot—because it is its cause—so is the Atman the perceiver. If the clay in the pot were to be endowed with consciousness, what would it feel? For the clay in the pot there is no pot. It is only for the onlooker that there is a pot. The pot-consciousness is an externalised consciousness due to intervention of space and time. If this is withdrawn, there is not pot, only clay. But the difficulty is that we do not know what this withdrawal from space and time is. We can only know if we withdraw ourselves from space and time, which is not easily possible. And when we do this, we enter into a different state of consciousness.
So the Atman is non-spatial and non-temporal existence; the substratum, independent of space and time on account of which we experience the three states. The Atman as such is beyond them. He is turiya. There is a beautiful description of the Atman in the Mandukya Upanishad: The Atman-consciousness is not projected internally, not externally, not both ways. It is consciousness without a content, not attached to a content. What is That? It is a non-dual Substance which It alone knows. Here, It is referred to as ‘mahantam’. Once this Atman is known in realisation, there is no sorrow. All sorrow is due to entanglement of the mind in space and time. By knowing Him, one transcends.