by Swami Krishnananda
The power of sadhana does not gain adequate confidence until divine powers collaborate with it, and God Himself seems to be at the back of the seeker of God. We have been noting a great epic symbol in the Mahabharata, wherein we are given the narration of the adventure of the spirit in its struggle for ultimate freedom. The wilderness of the forest life that the Pandavas had to undergo is a great lesson to the spiritual seeker. No one can escape the ups and downs of life, the vicissitudes of time through which the ancient sages and saints have passed; everyone seems to have the duty to tread the same path. We have to walk the same path, and the path is laid before us with all its intricacies, with all its problems and difficulties, as well as its own facilities. We seem to be lost to ourselves and lost to the whole world, with no ray of hope before us, at least to our waking consciousness.
When the Pandavas were in the forest, they did not know what would happen in the future. It was just oblivion and gloom which hung heavy like dark clouds upon them. When we are in the thick of the dark night of the soul—a dark night not of ignorance, but of the spiritual quest; when we are in a period of transition between the world and the Absolute, a universal screen falls in front of our eyes, as it were, and we cannot see what is ahead of us. When we are going to be severed from our attachments to the particular objects of sense and are about to enter into a larger expanse of a vaster experience, in that period of transition there is an unintelligible difficulty. Efforts cease, because all the effort that the human being can harness has been tried and found wanting.
The strength of the Pandavas was not equal to the task. Draupadi in the forest reprimands Yudhishthira as a coward and insults God Himself, as it were, when she cries aloud saying, “If God had eyes, He would certainly see our fate, and that He does not seem to be seeing us is not of any credit to Him.” Yudhishthira could not bear these words of taunt which Draupadi expressed even against God Himself; his reply was simple and expressed in a few words. He was aware of the strength of the other side. He spoke to Draupadi, “Poor lady, you do not know where we are actually standing. The power of Bhishma, the power of Drona and Karna is so immense that we would not be a match to these heroes, and to take up arms against them at a premature time would be folly.” To fight the world one must have strength enough—otherwise one would be in that condition described by the old adage: “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” Seekers, enthusiasts and honest sadhakas many a time overestimate their powers, and they do not know the strength of the world. The Kauravas had their own strength and it could not be in any way underestimated. When the war was actually to take place, the strength would be seen. And it was seen—not an easy task it was.
God helps us, it is true, but He helps us in His own way—not in the way we would expect Him to work. There is a logic of His own, which is not always expressed in terms of human logic. Sri Krishna was there, alive, even when the Pandavas were tortured, almost, in the forest, but we do not hear much about his movements during this period of twelve years. There was, however, a mention of his casual visit to the Pandavas, where he expresses in a few words his wrath, his intense anger against what had happened. “Well, I am sorry that I was not present. I would not have allowed this to have happened if I had been present.” That was all he could say, and that was all he did say. Well, his associates were more stirred up in their feelings than could be discovered from the words of Krishna Himself. They spoke in loud terms and swore, as it were, to take active steps in the direction of the redress of the sorrows of the Pandavas at once, without even consulting Yudhishthira. But Krishna intervened and said, “No. A gift that is given is not as palatable as one’s own earning. The Pandavas will not accept gifts given by us—they would like to take it by themselves. We may help them, but this is not the time.”
Many a time we feel as if we have been lost and have been forsaken totally. Even advanced seekers, saints and sages have passed through this critical moment of the sinking of the soul when, in anguish, words which would not ordinarily come out of their mouths do come and did come in respect of God. ‘God, are You blind?’ can be a poem of a great saint when no action is taken to redress the sufferings of the seeker, no blessing is bestowed upon him, no vision comes forth and he is only put to the grind and made to suffer more and more, more critically than the world would have tortured him had he been in the world. All these are peculiar psychical conditions in which we have to find ourselves and for which we have to be prepared, and no one is exempt from the law of the mind. Whether it is Buddha’s mind or it is the mind of a rustic in the fields, the structure of mind is the same, and in its evolution it has to pass through all the stages of agonising suffering, emotional tearing, as it were, on account of the tussle that one has to undergo between the spirit within and the spirit without.
This spirit that is implanted in us suffers for union with the spirit outside, the Absolute. There is its critical moment. It is as if we were going to embrace the ocean. This experience has been compared in many ways to merging into fire, tying a wild elephant with silken threads, swallowing fire, etc. The problem arises on account of the peculiar nature of the mind. The mind is addicted to sense experience. It is accustomed to the enjoyment of objects, and it is now attempting to rise above all contacts and reach the state of that yoga which great masters have called asparsha yoga—the yoga of non-contact. It is not a union of something with something else; that would be another contact. It is a contact of no contact. It is difficult to encounter because of a sorrow of the spirit, deeper than the sorrow of the feelings, which even a saintly genius has to experience. The deeper we go, the greater is our sorrow, because the subtle layers of our personality are more sensitive to experience than our outer, grosser vestures. We know very well that the suffering of the mind is more agonising than the suffering of the body. We may bear a little sorrow of the body, but we cannot bear sorrow of the mind—that is more intolerable.
There is such a thing called the sorrow of the spirit, though it may look like an anomaly. How could there be sorrow for the spirit? Yes, there is some kind of situation in which our deeper self finds itself in its search for the Absolute. These are all interesting stages that are in mystical theology and the yoga of the advent of the spirit. Some of the songs and poems of the Vaishnava saints of the south, the Alvars, particularly the Nawars, and some of the rapturous expressions of the leading Shaivite saints, will be enough examples to us of the inexpressible and intricate spiritual processes through which the seeker has to pass. We are accustomed merely to a little japa, a little study of the Gita that we chant and repeat by rote every day like a machine, and we feel that our work is over, that we have done our sadhana. The deeper spirit has to be touched, and it has to be dug out like an imbedded illness. When it is pulled out there is a reaction, and the reaction is a spiritual experience by itself, through which Arjuna had to pass. A little of it is given to us in the first chapter and the earlier portions of the second chapter of the Bhagavadgita.
The jiva principle within us has the double characteristic of mortality and immortality. We are mortals and immortals at the same time. It is the mortal element in us that causes sorrow when it comes in contact with the immortal urge, that seeks its own expression in its own manner. There is a tremendous friction, as it were, taking place between the subjective feelings and the objective cosmos. No one can know the strength of the universe. The mind cannot imagine it, and we are trying to overstep it. We can stretch our imagination and try to bring to our memories what could be the magnitude of this task. We as individuals, as we appear to be, are girding up our loins to face the powers of the whole universe—a single Arujna facing the entire Kaurava forces, as it were.
Yes, Arjuna had the strength, and also he had no strength. If Arjuna stood alone, he could be blown off in one day by a man like Bhishma. Well, Duryodhana pleaded every day before Bhishma and cried aloud, “Grandsire, you are alive, and even when you are alive, thousands and thousands of our kith and kin are being massacred. How can you see it with your eyes? We are depending upon you, we have laid trust in you—and with all this, this is what is happening.” Bhishma’s answer was, “Don’t bother; tomorrow, let me see.” Many “tomorrows” passed and there were massacres on the side of the Kauravas. Again Duryodhana came to plead, “How is it that while you are alive this could happen?” He gradually lost faith in Bhishma and wanted to replace him with someone else like Drona or Karna, if possible, but he could not speak these words. He dared not speak to this terrible old man, so instead he tauntingly expressed his misgivings concerning the future of this great engagement in war. “But there are some faults,” said Bhisma, “which I am not able to face.” This will come a little later.
I am just giving an outline of the situation, which goes deeper then the ordinary psychological level. It touches the borderline of the spirit, and yet has not entered into the universal spirit. That situation is a terrible situation indeed, where we have lost everything that we can call our own, and lost our grip and hold over things which are near and dear to us, yet have lost also our grip over that which we are seeking. This is exactly the condition of being left adrift at sea. “I am at sea,” as they say, which means there is no succour. We are just sinking because there is no support at all from anywhere. It is not true that there is no support, but it appears as if we are sinking on account of a contradiction between the values of the individual and the values Universal. We are still wedded to the calculative spirit of the individual sense, which assesses even the Absolute God Himself in terms of individual benefits and rewards. It is impossible to get out of our brains the idea of reward and pleasure.
Before the Universal takes possession of us, it burnishes us and cleanses us completely. This process of cleansing is the mystical death of the individual spirit. There it does not know what happens to it. That is the wilderness; that is the dark night of the soul; that is the suffering, and that is where we do not know whether we will attain anything or not. We weep silently, but nobody is going to listen to our wails. But the day dawns, the sun shines and there seems to be a ray of light on the horizon. That is towards the end of the Virataparva of the Mahabharata. After untold suffering for years, which the human mind cannot usually stomach, a peculiar upsurge of fortune miraculously seems to operate in favour of the suffering spirit, and unasked help comes from all sides. In the earlier stages, it appeared that nothing would come even if we asked. We had to cry alone in the forest, and nobody would listen to our cry. Now the tables have turned and help seems to be pouring in from all directions, unrequested for. Great princes, rulers of the time, join themselves into a force and gather into a power in an assembly led by Sri Krishna, contemplating the future steps to be taken under the circumstances. The most beautiful and magnificent force of literary strength of Vyasa comes in the Udyogaparva of the Mahabharata. God Himself takes up the responsibility of guiding the spirit. Well, when that happens there is nothing else that we need. We need not even speak—He speaks for us. He does everything for our sake. He advises us, He reprimands us and shows us the path.