Want of proper attention to the aim of human life often limits our understanding of the world and the people around us. We are generally masters of mixing up issues and not giving the proper attention that is due to any person, any action or any relationship in our life. We often seem to be very enthusiastic, and this enthusiasm, when it fires up our nature, may outwardly appear to lead us to a kind of success in what we regard as our aim of life. But, enthusiasm is not always coupled with a proper appreciation of our position in life and an understanding of the true nature of things. Do we not suffer and feel unhappy for some time or the other every day of our life in spite of our knowledge and learning, and in spite of our age and experience in the world? Does the world not sometimes seem to give us a shock in a form we never expected? And, does it not appear that our learning and experience is not of much value to us when we are placed in a tight corner and when circumstances around us seem to be unfavourable to our chosen or premeditated notion of our good?
Man is man. Human nature cannot leave man, in spite of his being a genius in a particular line of education. Our knowledge does not always come to our aid because we do not have within us that level of knowledge which can face, interpret and implement every circumstance in our life into a means of transformation of that particular event for the sake of a higher achievement. Even elderly people weep when something unexpected happens. They start shedding tears like children when something very grieving, shocking and unfavourable to their emotions takes place.
We seem to have friends around us. We put too much trust in personal relations among human beings, and when this trust gives way to an unforeseen encounter, we do not know where we actually stand. This inadequacy of understanding seriously affects not only our temporal life in human society but even our spiritual aspiration and our sadhana, our spiritual practice.
After all, we cannot completely shed human nature merely because we have an aspiration for God and God-realisation. Our concept of sadhana is human. The tools that we employ in our sadhana are also temporal and coloured with human sentiments. There is an instinct in the human being which makes him feel that he belongs to a fraternity of a particular species called humanity. We always talk about human beings. We have nothing else to think about. Even when we speak of universal love and brotherhood, we are likely to pinpoint human relations, rather than anything outside the purview of this setup of things. Even a spiritual seeker, a sadhaka of a fairly advanced type, cannot totally free himself or herself from human sentiment and weakness.
We should not be under the impression that we are so advanced in sadhana as to be impervious to the action of sentiment and reaction. There is no person in the world, practically speaking, who can stand the onslaught of psychological rifts and social encounters. We seem to be well off on account of the prevalence of certain conditions which are agreeable to our sentiments and personal satisfaction, but we are not really all right, as we imagine ourselves to be. When conditions change, we can become something quite different from what we appear to be. Our friendships are skin deep; they can break like a bubble at any moment of time. Even the friendship of brothers can break because it is based on a very shaky foundation. For the matter of that, the relationship of human beings, and the relationship of anything with any other thing, is subject to separation and transformation without any previous notice.
When we dissociate ourselves from the ordinary relationships of family, society, etc., and take to a whole-souled, full-time and whole-hearted practice of sadhana, it should also be our endeavour, simultaneously, to see that we are rid of those tender bonds with earthly things that secretly lie embedded in our own hearts. Our loves and affections are in our own hearts, in our own minds, feelings and emotions. That we have come several miles away from our home and family relations does not free us from subjection to these emotions of like and dislike, the seeds of which are buried in our hearts. Our difficulties and problems are inside us. We carry the seeds and roots of all our difficulties with us wherever we go, and they can sprout under suitable circumstances. We are wholly human—and even subhuman, many a time—in the manifestation of our sentiments and instincts, notwithstanding the fact that we are also spiritual seekers and aspirants on the path of God-realisation. Many years of hard toil, expectation and effort have passed, and yet it is difficult to believe that we have actually changed the quality of our thinking. Our thoughts may be different from the thoughts that occurred to us earlier, but the quality of thinking is the same as it was many years back, even before we seriously took to the spiritual path.
The danger of not being able to distinguish between what is actually expected of us in spiritual practice and the sentiments that are deeply buried within us is horrible indeed. The love for comfort is ingrained in the mind of every person. And when comforts are provided in the degree that is necessary for the upkeep of our present state of emotions, it may appear that we are near God and that we are rising from success to success, not knowing the fact that we can be shaken up from our very roots if the laws of the environment around us change. The study of human history, political as well as psychological, has not given us greater wisdom or greater knowledge than the usual reactionary knowledge that we have in respect of the senses and their objects.
The advancement that one makes spiritually in the practice of sadhana can be tested by the emotions that pass over one’s mind every day. The attitudes that we project every day in respect of others and those feelings which we want to hide from others, the kind of thought that we entertain in respect of others and the kind of thought that we would not like to manifest before others, and also the several moments of joy and sorrow through which we pass in a particular day will tell us the substance of our character. Man is a social animal, as is usually said. This sociable instinct in human nature pursues the human mind wherever it goes, so that we feel insecure when we are alone. We have questions which the mind poses before us, which we are unable to easily answer. We feel that we are lost, as it were, when we are not placed in such social circumstances as would promise us the needed physical protection and psychological satisfaction.
Spirituality is far superior to the social sentiment of man. It has nothing to do with one’s father and mother, brother and sister, friends, enemies, etc. These are sentimental notions with which we are born and brought up, and which we are unable to give up even if we are old people. We seem to take spirituality very lightly, as if we can go scot-free by merely uttering a few words of praise about it and making others believe that a spiritual regeneration is taking place in human society.
Spiritual life is not confined merely to human circles. It also has to take into consideration factors which are other than human. Our life is not regulated merely by human relations. We do not live merely because there are other people around us. As a matter of fact, the most important factors that control our existence and our actions are other than human. Sunlight and the sun’s heat, for example, are not human factors. We know how dependent we are on the light of the sun, but do we pay any heed to its existence and action? The air that we breathe and the water that we drink are not human. And the physical relationships which sustain even the planetary system, and which govern our life, are not human. Superhuman factors control our life, and these factors cannot be ignored when we contemplate the spiritual import of how we conduct our sadhana.
The practice of true spiritual sadhana is a terror to the human ego. It comes like a fierce lion or tiger, threatening it. Sadhana is not a comfortable process to the human ego, which is involved in personal and physical relationships with people. Even spiritual seeking cannot be wholly free from a subtle longing for recognition, appreciation, and a promise of security for its existence. It is on account of this weakness, which subtly operates from within us, that we many a time feel uncomfortable in our life. Due to this weakness that is present in us, there are occasions when we react sharply in respect of other people. Our dependence on external factors is too much, and that is the reason why we feel insecure and unhappy. There is no strength within us. The strength is external, a borrowed facility which seems to be maintaining us, and it can be withdrawn when our relationships with people change on account of a change of circumstances. That we are sitting together here in a hall, that we have a community of our own to which we seem to belong, that we have people who can be regarded as our friends, supporters and well-wishers—all this is a transitory bubble that has arisen before us on account of certain effects of our deeds in previous lives. When the momentum of those deeds is exhausted, these relationships will also change. We will not be in the midst of the very same people with whom we are sitting and chatting today. The whole scene will be shifted, as in a drama. When a particular scene is enacted and has finished, the curtain will immediately fall and we will be surprised as to what has happened. The curtain has fallen, and all the people have vanished into the background. Well, the curtain may be raised and may fall again at any moment.
Our present relationships of every kind, positive or negative, pleasurable or otherwise, are entirely the consequence of certain deeds that we did in our previous lives. The result of a particular karma is not permanent. It is only temporary. As every action has a beginning and an end, the product of that action also has a beginning and an end. The world is temporal, and it has a beginning and an end in the sense that it is a manifestation of the cumulative effect of the actions performed by all the contents of that particular realm. There is what is called individual prarabdha and group prarabdha, individual karma and group karma. We are all human beings living in a common realm of experience on account of a similarity of actions, broadly speaking, which we did in our previous incarnations, because of which we are here on a common platform. But, really speaking, we are not inwardly related in the manner in which we appear to be outwardly, on the surface. That is why there can be the separation of friends, and war between father and son. We may wonder how this could be possible. Is it not unthinkable? It is really unthinkable, though this is the only thing that we can expect in life. While our higher nature tells us that we are united among ourselves in a particular state of consciousness, we are completely different from one another in another state of consciousness. Unity among people is possible only on the basis of a common and similar structural pattern of our personalities, and it is impossible merely on the physical or social levels.
That is why political peace, for example, is not wholly trustworthy. We do not have permanent peace. Though it may appear that the international setup is peaceful, amicable, and to our advantage, this cannot be wholly relied upon because it is brought about artificially. It is like the coming together of many logs of wood floating on the surface of water. They can be separated when the current changes or a strong wind blows over them. The scriptures tell us that our connections are similar to the connection of one log of wood to another log of wood floating on a river. On account of the pressure of the water and the intensity and direction of the wind, two logs of wood come together. Likewise, by the force of a particular set of karmas we have come together here in this world, on this earth plane, in this country, in this town, in this hall. But the wind can blow in another direction at any moment. It can blow just now, and we will all be thrown helter-skelter, most unexpectedly. This is what we call a catastrophe; and such catastrophes can be physical, astronomical, political, social or personal.
Are we prepared for these catastrophes? Our unpreparedness secretly sits in the heart of even a spiritual aspirant. We cannot wholly trust God or depend on His favour, due to the fact that we are still humanly limited and our notions of success or advancement are humanly conditioned. They have not taken a divine shape. A real spiritual seeker is a divine person. He is not an ordinary being. But we maintain human sentiments still, and then try to rouse in ourselves the spirit of aspiration for God. This is very unfortunate. The principle of this feature is stated by Manu in his Smriti, where he says in a half verse: sarvaṁ paravaśaṁ duḥkhaṁ sarvam ātmavaśaṁ sukham. Wherever there is dependence, there is sorrow; and joy is the result of independence.
Now, we do not know what real independence is. We are never independent. We are dependent on a hundred factors outside, due to which we seem to exist and breathe in this world. Dependence on God is made up of a different stuff altogether. A spiritual aspirant may look at people and see the world outside as anybody else does, but he will not merely see things, he will also start seeing through things. A spiritual seeker does not look upon another person as a son or a father, a brother or a sister, but as a symbol of a more significant reality. The Divine Truth, the Supreme Being, who is said to be perpetually present in each and every living and non-living thing in the world, appears as persons and things, a truth which we know by reading scriptures, etc. But all this is brushed aside as a light affair by our sentiments. Our understanding never cooperates with our feelings, and our feelings do not go hand in hand with our understanding. We are something in our feelings, and something else in our understanding. We are very learned persons. We know that God is the only reality, that He manifests Himself as all these things that we see—sahasraśīrṣā puruṣaḥ. We know all these things and we repeat them a hundred times, but our feelings revolt against this kind of intellectual conviction. We cannot look upon another person as a manifestation of God, though we may go on repeating it a hundred times, like a parrot. It is impossible because when a person or a thing is envisaged as a manifestation of God, that particular person or thing ceases to be individual in the sense our sentiments would like to take it to be.
When the spirit begins to behold things, a new value begins to be visualised in persons and things outside. The vision of a sadhaka is a spiritual vision. It is not merely a vision of the eyes. We are looking through the eyes at the object from the standpoint of the spirit, which alone can be called spirituality. Spirituality is the standpoint of the spirit, not the standpoint of a person. The idea of personality is outgrown when the spiritual attitude manifests itself in outward life. We do not smile at each other as friends in an ordinary human relationship. Though we may contemplate this inner secret of the subtle bond that exists among human beings, we still stumble upon our own sentiments. We get angry, and we are emotionally attracted and repelled. We are still mortal to the very core.
Yet, it is essential to go on spiritually reinterpreting our relationship in our day-to-day practice of sadhana. There is no use doing sadhana with buried human sentiments inside one’s own self. These sentiments do not always come to the surface of consciousness; they come out only when it is necessary. As I have already mentioned, when we lose things that we regard as dear and when things happen which we have not expected, we are shocked. But why should we not expect it?
A sadhaka is one who expects anything, and therefore he can stand on his own legs spiritually. There is no use depending on outside factors for our happiness. As I have already pointed out, these outside factors are temporary relationships due to the operation of karmic forces, the prarabdha karma, as it is called. All that we have today with us, all our possessions—our wealth, our prosperity, our security—is the effect of our past karmas. If we are rich today, it is because of some karma from our previous lives. But we should remember that we will not be rich always, and we will not be friendly with people always. These external relationships will suddenly change and transform themselves when the effect of those karmas is exhausted. Then another set of results from another set of karmas will manifest itself, and then it is that a poor man becomes a rich man or a rich man becomes a poor man, and friends become enemies and enemies become friends. Overnight a millionaire can become a pauper if the old karma’s momentum is exhausted. He is simply thrown somewhere else, into the limbo of another side of life altogether. Suddenly a poor beggar can become rich if his karma for poverty, which is the result of some previous action, has been exhausted.
Hence, we are living in a relative world of various conditions. These conditions can change, and therefore we must be prepared for these changes. If the very earth under our feet gives way, we should not be surprised. It is also expected. But, we are not prepared for such a fierce onslaught of natural forces because we are accustomed to physical comfort and egoistic satisfaction due to personal relationships with people.
It is impossible for us to look upon the world as a manifestation of God because though it is easy to say this, when we think about it and begin to feel it and manifest it in our lives, our heart quakes. That would be something impossible for the mind to contain, and would mean another set of circumstances altogether around us. But, this is the psychological background which every sadhaka should prepare for, and this alone can keep us safe, secure and happy throughout the day and night. We stand on our own ground, and therefore we are happy and possessed of a sense of security and strength.
We should not be moody. Moodiness is caused when pent-up emotions of a human and even subhuman character start vehemently coming to the surface, when spiritual understanding becomes feeble and sometimes even gets misdirected. Suffice it to say, it is hard to become a spiritual seeker. Merely smiling with our lips, shaking hands with friends, and sitting together in a gathering is not spirituality.
Our real stuff is of a different nature, and that has to be remoulded and transformed. Our relationship with God is not an individual relationship. It is not a relationship of one person with another person. Spiritual relation is divine relation, the relation of the soul to the infinite background on which it is sustained. To love God is not easy, because God is not a person like a human being; and, therefore, it is difficult to trust God. Our understanding of the nature of God is humanly conditioned, socially limited, personally interpreted, and so it falls to the ground when we are actually in need of its support. Even yogis and seekers of Truth cannot reach God so easily, unless there is that strength within them by which they can take to the spiritual point of view, the standpoint of the Spirit in the judgment of things outside and the understanding of life in general. The spiritual seeker is a God-man who stands alone, unbefriended, in front of that Mighty Alone, the Great Creator of the Cosmos. When we face Him and stand before Him, we do not stand before a human being or a humanly interpreted personality. Divine values are transempirical. The God whom we are aspiring for is no doubt in the world, yet He is different in His character and substance.
Thus, to take to the spiritual path, to lead a spiritual life and to practise spiritual sadhana would be to die completely to the old prejudices of our life. “Die to live,” as Gurudev Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj used to say. To take to spiritual life is a veritable death. Are we prepared for death? Nobody is prepared for it. We have our own small preferences, likings, weaknesses and sentiments which assume large proportions when they are given a long rope. We remain human beings till the end, and die like human beings, repenting for not having utilised our lives properly as it ought to have been. We are still the old persons with the same desires and the same weaknesses. May this be shed.
May we carry this message to the spiritual seeker on this eve of the New Year. May we carry this message of God in our own bosoms, enshrine it in ourselves and practise its principles as veritable God-men in this world. We are perpetually connected to God. He is not separated from us even by an inch; and yet, it appears as if He is totally dead to us, just as the waking world of experience is regarded as totally absent in the dream world. How far is God from us? He is as far from us as the bed on which we sleep at night. Do we know what this means? In the state of dream, we cannot know that we are sleeping on a bed. We are in another world altogether, in a different realm, and we do not know where we are and what has happened to us. But, we are really sleeping on a bed. How far is that bed from us? We are on it and are in contact with it. We are lying on it and yet it is not there, for all practical purposes. We are in a fairyland of dream. Similarly, God is as far from us as the very bed on which we are sleeping. We are touching Him, we are lying on Him, and yet how far He is! We are crying for Him in the same way as a dreaming person cries for the bed on which he is lying, which he seems to have lost. Such a state of affairs has taken place, unfortunately.
We have to reconstruct our consciousness from the point of view of the laws and regulations of spiritual life, and then we will realise God, just as a dreaming person will realise that he is sleeping on the bed when he wakes up. He will know where he is. What happened to him was only a reshuffling of the constituents of his consciousness. He has not travelled somewhere to catch the bed. He has not moved an inch; he is just there, and yet what a difference it makes to him. He comes to a different world altogether merely because of the change in the constituents of consciousness. Similarly, we are on God even now. We are sitting on His chest, as it were. We are living and moving and having our being on Him, and yet we are crying for Him as if He is far away. What a pity!
We can imagine what sort of spiritual practice is expected of us to realise That, on the basis of which our very existence and activity are possible. What should we do to realise That on which we are seated? We are not to run about here and there, frantically in search of it. We are on it, so why are we searching for it? Our mind has wandered away in a dreamland, and therefore it looks as if we have lost it.
Hence, spiritual sadhana is not a hectic activity of the physical personality or the social individual; it is a spiritual retransformation of the very consciousness which we really are. It is difficult to conceive what spiritual sadhana is. Though we advertise it, print books on it and talk about it to others, it has not really entered our spirit, and so we are still weeping. Our weeping has not stopped. It is necessary, therefore, to reinterpret ourselves, to understand our situation once again in a proper form and perspective, and to stand undaunted, confident and perspicuous in our understanding. Can any of us believe that we are in the very presence of God just now? But, this is the fact.
Therefore, it is imperative for us to reconsider our position in this world, to reconsider our relationships to other people and things, and to reconsider the very meaning of sadhana. If this truth is properly grasped, we should regard ourselves as thrice blessed. It is a hard thing to understand, and is very difficult to absorb into our feelings and emotions. Though our intellect may appreciate it and come to a sort of logical conviction, the feelings will not retain it for more than a few seconds because of the human and the temporal conditions into which our consciousness seems to have fallen, by which it is conditioned and in which it is involved. We have to raise ourselves from this mire of limiting sentiments and emotions, which are merely the state of human consciousness, to a higher pedestal of appreciation, understanding and meditation. We have to truly become spiritual seekers. We must be capable of smiling always, and never have moods of melancholy and depression. That would be the stuff of a spiritual sadhaka. May this message enter us. May God bless us.
**By Swami Krishnananda