by Swami Krishnananda
To feel that one has everything even when one is alone—this conviction may be regarded as a sign of spiritual progress. Mostly, we feel lonely when we are alone, as if we are discarded persons, and we seek company of people, we befriend others; and the lesser the relation we have with people, the smaller do we feel ourselves to be, and our dimension seems to expand in its importance by the largeness of our social relations. This is usual human feeling. But, the path of the Spirit is different from the path of ordinary human nature.
There is a tremendous departure, one can observe, that the path of the Spirit makes from the path of normal social living. Spiritual life is not social life. The two are different things. Many a time, in modern days, the one thing is mixed up with the other. A socially well-placed personality and a recognised individual need not necessary be an example of spiritual advancement; because the Spirit is lonely. It has no friends, and it is lonely in a very special connotation. God is lonely Being in an important sense—this seems to be so. God has no friends, He has no companions, He has no ‘second,’ He has no ‘other,’ and the movement of the soul towards God is naturally a participation in this great ‘Aloneness’ of the Supreme Being. Very ticklish is this matter, because the aloneness of divine experience cannot be compared in any way with the aloneness that an unbefriended, forlorn individual feels in the world. When a person has nobody, that person is alone. It is not in this physical, social, empirical sense that we have to understand the loneliness of God. There are many aspects of this peculiar spiritual condition called loneliness. When we are distressed due to circumstances of any kind prevailing in the world, we often feel that we better rid ourselves of communication with people. A person who is in deep sorrow does not speak, he does not eat, he does not want to have talks with anybody. He wishes to be alone, and why does one feel satisfaction in being alone in a state of total loss and social helplessness into which one may land in the course of history? Why should one feel happy in being alone when there is bereavement, loss of property and death of relations? “I have lost everything, don’t speak to me!” This is what one would offer as a rejoinder, and there would be no desire to speak to anyone afterwards.
The disconnection of association forcefully brought about by events and social vicissitudes also kicks a person down into this condition of a feeling of joy in aloneness, though of a negative type. There is a loneliness at the root of everything in the world. In a very important sense, we may say that the social concept is an anomaly in the structure of the universe. The universe is not a society; though we may look at it as a society of interconnected parts. But, this fact has to be stated with great caution! Is not our body a society of limbs? Certainly, so. Yet we are single, lonely persons. A human being is not a society of the limbs of the body. The many parts of the body are not friends of the person. The mere existence of variety need not necessarily mean a society operating. So, in spite of the tremendous variety in creation, creation may not be a society. It may be a single person, a ‘sole’ being, one individual, ekam sat, one alone, not a conglomeration of many people. I mention this example. Many a part of this physical body does not make it a society. I do not feel that I am a heap of parts sitting here. I am alone, and there is a struggle in every part of this creation to maintain its individuality, a state of aloneness. This concept of aloneness is hard to define. It operates in the various levels of human life. In social and political circles, even under family circumstances, we find the maintenance of an individuality by people, and nobody would like to merge into another’s body, because the reasons for this dislike to lose oneself in the personality or individuality of another will be well known to anybody. We maintain a status of our own. There is a struggle for the maintenance of individuality and isolatedness by everything in the world, in spite of the collaboration and participation that seems to be operating among parts in society, in family, in an organisation, in the universe. Again, to come to this example, in spite of the tremendous cooperative activity of the parts of my body, I am still not a bundle of parts. I am something quite different from these parts. I am not even aware that the parts are there.
So, this universe may appear to be constituted of tremendously variegated, multi-faceted parts; yet it is not a crowd of parts. It is one being in the same way as my soul animates this tabernacle and makes me feel that I am one, I am alone, and I am not merely a presiding principle over a heap of particular parts of the body. In a similar manner, there is the Soul of the universe which is ‘lone’ existence, and the variety of creation does not in any way preclude its being the alone, unbefriended eternity. And this aloneness is what we call the Self, the Atman, the deepest core of the spirit in all living and non-living entities in creation. We do not come to this world with friends, nor do we go from this world with friends. In a very stark realistic fashion we are robbed of all the associations when we depart from here. Reality shows its teeth when we are called to quit this world. The nakedness of fact, we may say, comes to relief at the time of the call of the individual from this realm. And in that very condition, almost, one comes also into this world. The beginning and the ending of things is supposed to decide, to some extent, the character of things in the middle also. As we came, and as we go, so shall we also be in the middle; but how come that we are quite different in the middle? Quite apart in every manner from our beginning and from our end, how do we seem to be living in a different fashion? This is why they say that the world is an illusion before the eye of the perceiving mortal.
The consciousness of social association, which is a descent of consciousness into a false relatedness to external particularities, has to be absolved from this condition, and raised to the status of a larger aloneness. It is true that there is a sense of finitude and grief associated with any limited form of existence. We wish to have friends because we have a notion that our being gets widened, its dimension increases due to this association with persons and things. Finitude resents to remain in that condition. Every finite struggles to overcome finitude, and birth and death also may be said to be processes of this struggle of the limited to overcome its limitations. The love for social relation and love for property and wealth, love for position in society may be considered as an erroneous movement of the spirit to fulfil a pious wish of its, namely, the breaking of the barriers of finitude. But the barrier of finitude is not broken by relating one finite to another finite. We do not become large persons merely because we have many friends. This is a false notion. Even the whole world of friends cannot make you a big person. Lo, you are the same limited little individual!
The attempt of the finite individual in overcoming its finitude by associations with finite persons and things is futile. It will not mean anything in the end. What the finite requires is not association with other finites, because a finite’s association with a finite, nevertheless, is a finite condition only. Finitude persists even in a multitude of finitudes. Association of finitudes is not anything more than a finite. Hence, no man can be happy in this world. The reason is simple. The happiness that we seek is only in the overcoming of our limitations, in every level and in every aspect of our existence. The search of the spirit within us is for universal existence. This is the one thing that it asks for. There is no bread and jam that Spirit needs. It needs no friends, it does not want any association. It has no needs of any kind, it has a need for itself only, and here the path of spirituality differs from the path of social organisation, social recognition and renown. But one can easily slip into the mistake of imagining that social largeness and dimension is in some way near the infinitude that the spirit is seeking. One has to ponder calmly, in leisure, over the fate of each one. Everyone has to find time to discriminate in this manner. “What is it that I really seek, and what is wrong with me? Why do I roam about here and there and maintain a restless condition throughout the day? What is the trouble with me? What is it that I seek in the end?” These questions one may put to oneself, and this search for the supreme aloneness manifests itself many a time in a distorted form of personal greed and a vehement attachment to one’s own benefit. Selfishness which is so much resented and condemned everywhere is a devilish distortion of the love for aloneness, because a greedy, selfish individual has this crude form of desire for that kind of aloneness which excludes the realities of other persons and others’ needs. So, again, the caution has to be exercised that any kind of social rule cannot be applied to the Spirit. Nothing that seems to be applicable to the social existence of people can apply to the realm of the Spirit. Here is a different law altogether. But, how could we enter this realm of what we consider the Spirit, which is a super-social, super-individual, and therefore indivisible, self-complete Being? How could one reach that condition? One cannot think of any other way than sincere delving into one’s own Self which one may call meditation, self-analysis, or devotion to the ideal of life. Seriousness is the hallmark of success on this path of intricate striving for that which one cannot see with the eyes. We see only human society and particular things and our sense-organs see only that which is totally anti-Spirit. Inasmuch as our perceptions are sensory, the spiritual sense, which is not the working of the sense-organs, does not seem to have been awakened in us adequately. Our logic and argument is mostly sensory and we are likely to feel elated in our social success, and imagine that it is a spiritual success. One need not be identical with the other. The glory of the world need not necessarily be the glory of a saint. That is another thing, altogether. The saint has none, but he has everything.
I began by saying that our success and our progress on the path of God may perhaps be ascertained by the extent of the completeness and fullness and satisfaction we feel in ourselves when we are alone, and we do not feel miserable when we are lonely. Do we feel wretched when nobody speaks to us, and there is none whom we can speak to? Do we feel neglected when we have no property to possess, when we have nothing except a strip of cloth on our body, and nothing to keep for the morrow? Do we feel dejected or rejected as if we are nothing? But this is the part of the sorrow that leads to the glory and joy of the Spirit. There is a peculiar spiritual sorrow, which realm one has to tread before the glory of God, or the joy of the Spirit, is tasted within. Though the path of the Spirit is a joyous one indeed, there is also a terribly disciplinary precondition which saints many a time describe as an anguish of the spirit. The word occurs in mystic scriptures and it is mentioned in the interior circles. The anguish of the soul for God may look like a poignant sorrow, but it cannot be compared with the mortal sorrow of the men of the world. There is nothing comparable in this world with the operations of the law of the Spirit. Thus, a complete reorientation of the outlook of our consciousness may be called for in a sincere treading of the path of God.