by Swami Krishnananda
A little that is done correctly is far better than much that is done incorrectly. We are often used to thinking in terms of magnitude – of quantity, rather than quality – even in our spiritual practice. We are satisfied with feeling, “I am doing japa for three hours every day.” We are concerned only with the three hours, and not with the quality of the japa. If we say, “I am living in seclusion for fifteen years,” we are thinking more of the fifteen years than of what we have been doing during those fifteen years. “The whole world knows me as an important yogi.” It is a great satisfaction, no doubt. But this is not a spiritual feeling because spirituality is a state of quality, not quantity.
But we live in a world of quantity. Whatever we see in this world is a quantity before us. Our body itself is a quantity, our personality is a quantity, society is a quantity, money is a quantity, self-respect in regard to this body and personality is a quantity. We do not know what quality is. The quality of spiritual practice enhances and increases in intensity as we gradually free ourselves from the entanglements of consciousness.
Yesterday we were considering the two aspects of a tension that we may be having in our subconscious personalities: the relationship that we have with the external world, and the feelings that we have in our own inner being. Truly speaking, we have neither a clear idea about our relationship with people and things outside, nor have we any clear idea about the reason why certain feelings arise in our own minds. Everything seems to happen beyond our control. Nothing is in our control – not even our own minds, thoughts and feelings.
To be generous towards other people, to be charitable, is a virtue; and to have a desire and passion within is not a virtue. This is what we have been told since our birth. But why is it a virtue to be kind to people, to be charitable, to be philanthropic, and to be considerate? Why is it an evil to have desires and passion inside? We cling to these notions as a dogma mostly, as a hereditary wealth that we have garnered and kept safe to be worshipped for all time, without being clear in our own minds. We live in a world of tradition, routine, and hearsay. Sometimes this tradition goes so deep into our personal life that it becomes a kind of logic by itself, and the logic is so strong that it will not bear criticism of any kind or modification of any sort.
We are pulled from two directions: the world of human society and the world of nature from outside, and the urges from within us which sometimes look all right and sometimes do not look all right. This is called tension. The laws of human society are often not in consonance with the desires of the human being. Now, who is right: our desires or the laws of society? If our desires are wrong and the laws of society are right, as reasonable persons we must be able to calm down our desires – unless, of course, we are totally unreasonable persons. But if we think that society is wrong and we are right, then there should be a justification for this feeling of ours.
But we cannot justify either the laws of the human world outside or justify our feelings within. Sometimes we hang on that side, and at other times we hang on this side. We are always in a condition of dubious ambivalence, and most of our time is spent in clearing doubts rather than doing something positive. Sometimes a large part of our life is spent in clearing misconceptions and prejudiced feelings, doubts and difficulties, problems, tensions, etc. It is something like spending all the time in dusting the room, sweeping it, painting it; but when are we going to live in it? All the time has been spent only in building, cleaning, painting, and we have got a few years more left, and those years are not enough for us to enjoy the consequences of our efforts in building, sweeping, cleaning, painting, etc.
Many of us are self-made spiritual seekers. Self-made Gurus are also there, and this is one of the drawbacks from the point of view of an honest spiritual effort. The great spiritual tradition of the ancient masters cannot be simply brushed aside as meaningless. In India we have the great system, called the gurukula vasa system, where students lived for several years with a Guru, under his personal guidance. That system is held in esteem even now, though it is not working as it was in the earlier days.
Spiritual problems are not like the problems of the world. They are very unique in their nature. They are wound up with our very existence and, therefore, they are very serious matters. The problems of the world are not so much wound up with ourselves. They are extraneous to us and, therefore, we can to some extent obviate these external difficulties in life. We have financial difficulties, legal problems, social tensions, troubles from enemies, and so on. But these are minor matters compared to spiritual problems, because spiritual problems are the stresses felt in one’s own consciousness. And as I mentioned yesterday, the problems of consciousness cannot be solved, because the one who is to solve the problems is himself involved in the problems.
There is a story in the Mahabharata. Indra, the king of the gods, attacked Vritra, the chief of the demons. This demon was very strong. He could assume any shape, any form, and enter into any realm of existence. When Indra hurled his fatal weapon against this demon Vritra, he entered the earth and was invisible. Then Indra hurled the weapon inside the earth, so that the earth itself would break, and with that the demon also goes. But then the demon entered the higher realm, the principle of water, which is subtler than the earth. The weapon of Indra entered even the water principle. Then the demon entered the fire principle. There also the weapon pursued him. Then he entered the air principle. The weapon of Indra pursued him there. Then he entered the ether principle. There also the weapon would not leave Vritra. Wherever he went in all the elemental realms, this weapon pursued him. Where was the place for the demon to stay? It was caught from all sides. Then what did the demon do? He entered the mind of Indra. How can we hurl a weapon against our own mind? When Vritra entered the mind of Indra, Indra got confused, confounded, lost consciousness. He was not aware as to what to do at all.
This is what has happened to us. Vritra has entered our minds. The spiritual seeker is Indra, and he is hurling his weapon of austerity, sadhana, tapasya, japa, meditation, etc., against the devil of the forces which are contrary to spiritual realisation. But these forces are Vritra himself, and as our personality is wound up with the vast physical nature, the forces of nature can take refuge in our own intellect and mind. When Indra’s mind was confused, what was his fate? Nobody could rescue him. He could not think; the mind stopped thinking. The matter was over. Then his Guru came to his help. Brihaspati, the preceptor of the gods, understood what had happened to the king of the gods: “Oh! He is in a great predicament. He has lost consciousness. He is lying unconscious, possessed by the evil force.” Then the preceptor of the gods, Brihaspati, chanted the Rathantara Saman mantra from the Veda, which lit up the mind of Indra like a brilliant sun and drove the evil force from his mind. Then Indra regained consciousness. “Oh! I have been possessed by the very enemy whom I was attacking with my weapon.” Self-consciousness came to Indra by the power of the mantra chanted by the Guru, Brihaspati.
Then what was to be done? This weapon could not be used against the evil force in that condition. Because the force had entered the subjective personality of Indra, objective weapons would not work here. When objective instruments cannot work, what other instruments can we use? All instruments are objective. There is no such thing as a subjective instrument because when it becomes subjective, it ceases to be an instrument. This is the difficulty of the practice of yoga. We can do japa, we can go to temples, we can go to Rameswaram, we can take a bath in the ocean. These are all objective instruments that we are using to drive the devil out. But what instrument will we use when he has sat in our own mind? This is the crucial point in the practice of yoga. Then that is the occasion when the grace of God has to work, Guru’s power has to work, and the force of the good deeds that we did in the previous lives has to work.
A time comes in the life of a spiritual aspirant when everything becomes hopelessly difficult. If yoga practice had been so simple and easy, by this time, after so many millions of years of God’s creation of this world, the majority of people would have attained God, and there would be nobody in this world. It is such a difficult thing, almost an impossible thing, that towards the end of the eleventh chapter of the Bhagavadgita, Bhagavan Sri Krishna in his Visvarupa says, “Nothing on earth can enable you to see Me in this form. Not if you stand on your head for your whole life can you see Me like this.” Na veda-yajnadhyayanair na danair na cha kriyabhir na tapobhir ugraih, evam rupah sakya aham nrloke (11.48): “Not all the charities that you do, not all the good deeds that you perform, not all the austerities, not all the studies, not anything that you are in a position to do can enable you to see Me in this form.”