by Swami Krishnananda
Spiritual life is the intensive and systematic disentanglement of oneself from the clutches of the unspiritual forces, all which arise from what we call the consciousness of externality. This is what is called Vritra, to whom I made reference yesterday from the Mahabharata. The consciousness of externality is the consciousness of space, time and objectivity. It is this that is harassing us every day – night and day, from birth to death. This is also called the trouble arising from sense perception, due to which we say the senses have to be controlled, and so on. The senses, their activity, the outward projection of the mind, the consciousness of space, time and objects – all these ultimately mean one and the same thing; and yoga, spiritual life, is only a consistent effort that we put forth to gain independence – freedom from these tangles in which we are caught.
We are caught not only in one way, but in every way – not from one side, but from all sides. We are in the midst of a very powerful net that has been spread before us, above us, below us, to the right and to the left, to the front and the rear, and all around; and like a small fly that is caught in the spider’s web and unable to free itself, similarly we are caught up in the network of external relations which also include the relation with this body, because this body is also an external object. Externality does not mean ‘outside this body’, as we are likely to take it to mean. The body is not so important a substance or a centre as we imagine it to be. It is as important as anything else in this world. But to give it an exclusive importance, to regard this body as of primary importance, greater importance than we attach to other bodies, is called selfishness. That is worse than being caught up in the network of externality. We have gone deep, deeper and deepest – far below a possibility of easy extrication. We have sunk ourselves into the heart of matter, and become one with it.
Something worse than that has also happened. We have not merely got ourselves absorbed in matter and become the body, due to which we say ‘I’ as this body; but we have done something more serious than this. Serious it is, no doubt, to get identified with this body; a great blunder it is to imagine ourselves to be this body, but a greater blunder have we committed. What is it? We have come out of this body in an artificial manner, not in a natural way; and this coming out of our consciousness from this body in an unnatural way is called sense perception.
Sense perception is not natural knowledge. It is unnatural, distorted, erroneous, binding, misleading; that is called samsara. Like a light ray passing through a prism and getting split up into different aspects of its constituents, consciousness appears to have passed through the prism of this bodily individuality and got spilt up into the rays of sensory activity. The indivisibility of consciousness has been split up into the divisibility of sensory activity and perception.
The great scriptures tell us that there has been a gradual descent of the supreme state of consciousness. Speaking the language of Vedanta, there has been a concretisation of the Absolute into the will of Isvara, then to Hiranyagarbha and to Virat, the cosmic animating consciousness of the physical universe. But up to this level, it is only a metaphysical descent. We may even call it a spiritual descent – a drama of the Absolute, a free play of consciousness with full consciousness of its independence and freedom. It is a joy up to this level.
But there has been a further descent into bondage. The great drama of the Virat in this form of the vast multiplicity of creation, which it is playing in its own self-immanence and transcendence, in its own majesty and glory and beauty and grandeur – this wonderful drama has become a pitiable plight by a peculiar feature that crept into the consciousness. This is a mystery for all, and perhaps it will remain a mystery forever.
The split-up rays of the Universal Virat Consciousness asserted itself as an individual, isolated from other individuals. It is like a ray of the sun isolating itself from other rays of the sun, each ray asserting itself independently, with apparently no connection with the other rays. This is the beginning of what we call earthly bondage, samsara, the fall of Satan from the Garden of Eden into the hell of torture. This is the symbol of all religions representing the fall of man from the angelic condition of his proximity to God.
And there has been a descent into this individual consciousness of this personality. Individuality does not mean merely the individuality of consciousness. Consciousness, which was originally universal, became split up. We may think that even a split-up part of it should be consciousness only – because even a spark of fire is only fire. Well, it is so naturally. It had to be like that. But, a peculiar state of affairs compelled consciousness to imagine itself to be matter. It has never become matter, because one thing cannot become another thing. ‘A’ is ‘A’. ‘A’ cannot become ‘B’. But the intensified affirmation of consciousness as an isolated individual brought about the effect in the form of what we call the body – a concretisation of consciousness.
But this is very unnatural, untrue to the right state of affairs. There was a struggle of consciousness to regain its lost independence. When something toxic or foreign enters the body, there is a war of the entire body to throw that matter out of the system. There is a struggle of every cell of the body to throw out that toxic matter. If a little particle of sand enters the eye, the entire eyeball starts struggling to throw it out by exuding liquid, etc.
The lost independence of consciousness cannot always be in that condition. In the Aitareya Upanishad, we have a description of this fall in cryptic language. Symbolically, the Upanishad tells us that the soul began to cry. It did not cry with a mouth. There was no mouth. It was only an agony that it felt: “Oh! What has happened!” The isolation of the part from the whole is the greatest agony conceivable. It is like death; it is veritable death, and death caught hold of consciousness. That is the beginning of mortality, and that is the beginning of hunger and thirst and the writhing of oneself in a sorrow indescribable in any language. All this description is symbolic, very difficult to explain. The effect cannot explain the cause, and we are trying to understand the nature of the cause from where we have fallen.
We can only say, in the language of the Upanishads, that this fall ended in a sort of makeshift between the condition into which the consciousness fell and the longing which it cherished in its own self. It is like the League of Nations. Internally we are at war with one another, but we sit at a single table and talk on world peace. The League of Nations failed. It never worked well, and it does not exist anymore.
Likewise, consciousness had no other alternative than to reconcile itself with the fall, at the same time not forgetting that it is impossible for it to continue in that condition of fall. We are in a prison, and we cannot escape from it, but yet we cannot be happy in the prison. So the necessity to be inside the prison and the need to get out of the prison is a conflict in the mind. The prisoner is never happy inside; on one side he is compelled to be there, and on the other side he wants to get out. What a pity!
Consciousness asserted itself as this concretised individuality, and started making good of the situation, making the best out of what had happened. “It is better to rule in hell than serve in heaven.” I think it is a saying from Milton’s Paradise Lost. The devil speaks: “What to do? I cannot do anything else. It is okay; I will rule in hell rather than serve in heaven.” So we are trying to rule in hell, rather than serve in heaven. That is what we are doing. There has been a reconciliation with the fall: “Okay; all right. I have fallen, and I shall be happy in the fall itself.”
But, no. How long can we be happy in this untrue state of affairs? How long can we find happiness in crying and weeping and sobbing and beating our breast? Even beating one’s breast is a source of joy – otherwise, why do we beat our breast? Even striking our head on the ground in grief is a state of joy. But how long can we hit our head like that? There must be an end for it.
Now, we have tried to make the best of the situation: “I shall be happy in hell itself, because I cannot get out of it.” What is hell? The entry of consciousness into this body, that is the fall. But how can we be happy? Happiness – even a jot, even a modicum of happiness – cannot be had unless the Universal is reflected, even in a very, very distorted manner. Even the least form of joy that we have in this world is a consequence of a reflection of the Universal in that particular condition, though in a very, very muddled and distorted manner.