by Swami Krishnananda
We had occasion to consider some of the difficulties in even conceiving what Self-Realisation could be. The difficulties are poignant enough and must have been clear to our minds to some extent by now. The difficulty is simple. It is simple because it concerns our own selves. It is terrific for the same reason. The nearer we come to ourselves, the more intricate does life appear, and the more formidable in its variegated presentations, so that the most frightening element in the world is our own Self. But we call this fear of ourselves a joy that we try to import from that which we are not. Imported goods come from a foreign land to which we do not belong, the world of nature, space, time and objects. These goods which do not belong to us are appropriated by us as supports, when we are drowned in the sea of an inexplicable position that we seem to be occupying in this mysterious atmosphere we call the world. There are countless things in the world which attract our attention, and no one can easily gainsay that the objects of the world are given a greater pre-eminence, prominence and importance than one’s own self. The weaker and the lesser the status occupied by one’s own self, the greater is the value that one sees in the outer world, so that when you have lost yourself completely, you seek nothing but the world outside. This is total materialism, a matter-of-fact merging of oneself in that which one is not, a negation of the Self in the not-Self. When it is total, literally one-hundred-percent, it becomes the doctrine of the supremacy of matter, so that there is nobody even to think that matter is, because that one who thinks that matter is, has become part of matter. This is the worst that can happen to anyone, and we people in the world do not seem to be very far from this terrible predicament. The value that human understanding attaches to the world of objects is the touchstone by which we can assess the value of the self of man. To what extent is the world of objects valuable to you? To that extent your value is negated, denied and suppressed. The larger the world before you, the smaller you are; and the grander the world of objects before you, the more ugly you look and meaningless is your existence, because all meaning has been transferred to the world of objects. When all the meaning of life is only in the outer world, there is no meaning in one’s own self. The attribution of value and meaning to the world of objects is a simultaneous negation of value to the self. It is utter slavery to matter, and matter is that which consciousness is not. If this is the world in which we are living and this is the life with which we can be satisfied, no one can educate us, because there is, then, no need for an enlightenment called education.
We were broadly discussing the various facets of the problem of the concept of the Self, inasmuch as it has vital relationship with what many a man in the world calls Self-Realisation. “I want Self-Realisation.” This is the honest feeling of several seekers who seem to tread the path of what they consider as Truth. We have seen how hard this issue is, this subject is, how easily we can misconstrue the meaning of the Self, and how quickly the erroneous meaning attached to it can be abused for purposes for which it is not intended, because there are no means available in the world to know what the Self is. We have instruments, but all the instruments belong to the world of Nature, and if the world is not the Self but that which is known by the self, it cannot be organically related to the Self. Hence, the seekers of Self-Realisation or the searchers of the ‘Self’ are placed in a very difficult position. ‘By what means can I apprehend the Self?’ ‘With my eyes I can see things, with my sense-organs I can contact the things of the world, but with what means can I know the Self?’ All the means we can conceive belong to the world external to the Self, and therefore there seems to be nothing which can be of real assistance in one’s search for what the Self is, or, rather, where the Self is. We bordered finally upon the difficulty in relying entirely on one’s own intellectual capacity, since the intellect is mostly playing second fiddle to the tune of the senses, and it is not always a guide, especially along the further reaches in the adventure of the Spirit. It has a tentative assisting capacity but it halts at a particular border-point, and that border where the intellect will cease functioning, rationality will stop working, is that hair’s breadth of distance differentiating consciousness from matter. No one can know how these are differentiated, while one has to accept that the one cannot be the other. Where lies the difference? Where is this borderline between consciousness and matter? There the intellect halts, because the intellect is an equipment which is externally manoeuvred by the operations of space, time, cause, relation, and, therefore, it is a property of the world of Nature, though in a highly rarefied form. Hence, even the intellect and the reason cannot be regarded as final means in the knowledge of the Self or as equipments for the purpose of Self-Realisation. They have a negative value in telling us what things are not, but what things are, they cannot say. We may say that anything with which we identify ourselves is also our self. It becomes my love when it stands inseparable from my existence. In some mysterious, unknown way, a thing, an object, a person or a condition gets identified with a person, and that is certainly a type of self. One loves as one’s own self that with which one has identified oneself—my country, my nation, my people, my community, my husband, my wife, my property, my building, my this, my that. People get worked up into emotions of great intensity oftentimes when they behold interferences in the way of that with which they have identified themselves. The father cannot tolerate interference with his children, and an owner of a property cannot tolerate interference with his property. An interference cannot be tolerated because it is an interference with one’s own self. It is ‘me’ that is present in ‘my’ land, in ‘my’ house, in ‘my’ money, in ‘my’ friend, in anything which is inseparable from ‘me’. I live by it and it lives by me, I swear by it and it swears by me.
The Self is an intriguing something. It is intriguing because it can deceive us into conditions of belief which are totally opposed to fact and reality. This is exactly what is happening to us in the mundane world. The ferocious attachments frantically manifested by people, whether in the cause of a nation, or in the cause of a religion, should be considered as demonstrations of this folly before man, the great wiseacre, in this world. In a very homely prosaic and visible practical matter-of-fact sense, we may say that the Self is anything from which one cannot be separated and with which one is emotionally bound. When a person is emotionally tied up to a particular object, one does not believe that it is merely an emotional relation. It is not considered at that time as an operation of the psyche within. The consciousness which is the root of one’s being jets forth with a tremendous velocity through the operation of the psyche called emotion or feeling and envelops that object which becomes that thing from which one cannot be separated. As sunlight envelops an object and makes it an object of perception, it becomes visible to the eyes. Emotions envelop objects of affection and hatred: positive envelopments are called love, negative forms of the same are called hatred. This is a difficult thing to conceive in our minds because we are no more cognisers of this psychic activity. We stand outside the objects of cognition and perception when we scientifically encounter things in the world, or act as spectators or witnesses of phenomena. But emotional activity is not a phenomenon outside which we can stand as umpires, spectators or witnesses. We ourselves melt into the liquid of emotion and pour ourselves on the object with which we identify ourselves. And as we ourselves have become liquid melted into the form of the enveloping power that has covered the object, we are no more there to see what is happening. We are no more there because we have become liquid. We have poured ourselves on that object of affection, and inasmuch as we have poured ourselves on that object we have become that object, so that the object is the only thing valuable in the world, and the Self is destroyed completely. The greater the love for an object, the deeper is the cut that you deal to the Self, so that the person who is merged in unprecedented affection for any object does not anymore exist as a human being. That person has ceased to be, the Self has become the object, the Atman has become the un-Atman, to repeat again, consciousness has become matter. Life has become death. It is not for nothing that we say that this is the world of death, mrityuloka. This is called the world of destruction, transiency, death and oblivion and darkness, and what not, as mystics and theologians tell us tirelessly. This is not the world of life, this is the world of death. Why is this the world of death, because the Self has to die first, in order that it may live in the object. And if any of us continues living in the object outside, to that extent we are dead. So we are not wholly alive, partially we may seem to be breathing as vegetables, but entire life does not seem to be bequeathed to us, since part of our life has gone to the object which we consider as inseparable from ourselves. Is there anything in the world which is inseparable from you, with which you have wholly identified yourself, or at least in a large percentage, or even in some small percentage? To that extent you are not the Self. The element of the non-Self has entered you, and that element of the not-Self has robbed you of the joy of the Self, and appropriated the Self to itself. The Self has become the not-Self.
What is the Self then? It is anything with which you have identified yourself. In technical language, we call this kind of self, gaunatman, a secondary and foisted self. An ‘object’ cannot ‘become’ you. The great Acharya, Sankara, commences his exposition of the Brahma-Sutras with a tremendous statement, an immortal proclamation, that the subject and the object are like light and darkness; they can never be in the same place, and the one cannot be identified with the other. Yet, we do nothing but that. We identify light with darkness, darkness with light, the subject must become the object in order that it may be an object of love. Love is nothing but the subject becoming the object. And Acharya Sankara says this cannot be, and we are saying that this has to be. So, here, we are in this world of terrific difficulties,—created by whom, no one knows. This gaunatman, this secondary self, is the object of affection and aversion, which are two sides of the same coin. What is the self that you are seeking, when you say, ‘I am after Self-Realisation?’ Let each one ponder deeply in one’s heart. What sort of ‘Self’ is it that you are asking for in your Self-Realisation? The ‘Self’, in one way, as I pointed out, is that with which you have identified yourself. Well, let it be there, and that is one aspect of the matter. Now, what do you mean by identification? Can you become something else? Can A become B? In the language of logic, A is supposed to be A, and A can never be B. This is the law of contradiction. If A cannot be B, you cannot be somebody else. How has it happened, then, that man has become other than what he is in his affections? How is it that he has found it necessary to seek his own Self in what is outside him? Where was the necessity? If the necessity is not there, affections cannot be in this world. Nobody can love anything, no contact of one with the other is possible. But such a thing is seen, and it is very much there. How does identification of the subject with the object take place? And how does A become B? How does light become darkness? Very intriguing indeed! Such things cannot happen, but they must happen in order that the present type of life in this world may assume any meaning at all. If this is the meaning of our life in this world, you can imagine well what sort of meaning it should be. Is there any meaning in the way in which we are living in the world? It is not for nothing that Milton had to write such a long poem on the fall of the angel to describe this condition, and he has described only ourselves, not somebody else about whom we are reading. This gaunatman, this self that is outside, that which identifies itself, is actually incapable of identification. I cannot be anything other than myself. How can I be non-I? But I have to be non-I in order that I may have an affection for anything. So, the loves of the world are the transference of the Self to that which is not the Self, in a very artificially contrived manner. It cannot be a natural action. It cannot be natural because A cannot become B. And any attempt to convert the A that it is, into the B that it is not, would be an artificial whitewash and this artificing of A with B which it is not, is the whole business of life. All our adjustments and adaptations in life are the dovetailing of A with B, while such a thing can never be. Hence, this is not the Self that you are seeking in Self-Realisation, when you say, “I want Self-Realisation.” How would you be satisfied with a contrived Self-Realisation, connived condition in an artificial projection on a screen, a shadow of a substance? The Self that you see in the object of your affection and love and attachment and identification is the shadow that is cast on the screen of the Self, and no one can be satisfied with the possession of a shadow. Hence, loves and hatreds are meaningless propositions of the mind in being happy in this world. This is one part of the story, this drama of life in this world-search for the Self.