The poet Browning wrote of “the end of life for which the first was made.” That is a lovely expression, but very few really believe it and therefore rarely think of their life’s end. Those of us who seek liberation must from the very beginning be looking toward the end we desire. In the next to the last verse at the close of the Isha Upanishad we are given the perspective we should be living with every moment of our life if we would truly “come to a good end.”
“Let my life now merge in the all-pervading life. Ashes are my body’s end. Om….O mind, remember Brahman. O mind, remember thy past deeds. Remember Brahman. Remember thy past deeds” (Isha Upanishad 17).
Emily Dickinson wrote: “While others hope to go to heaven at last, I am going all along!” This is the only way for those who would succeed in spiritual life. Nothing should be delayed for the future–it is all now or not at all. “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (II Corinthians 6:2).
There are many partially awakened people who know that God is the only real goal, yet they delay their endeavor. “After I get this,” they say, “then I will really dig in and seek God.” But they never do, for as soon as one little short-term goal is reached another arises that seems even more demanding. In this way they create in their minds the habit of postponing spiritual life, a habit that will surely carry over into the next life and perhaps into others.
How often do we think that the vision of God will somehow interfere with our life–when in reality we have no life outside that vision. Silly children, we dawdle and dally until the night falls, that “night in which no man can work” (John 9:4), which Jesus warned us about. “Now or never” happens to be the simple truth.
Merging in Life
Many people want to “embrace life” so they can egocentrically possess it and exploit it to the full. But they have no idea what life is. Just the opposite, for what they think is life is really death. “The all-pervading life” is the only life, for that is God. And the necessity is not to find or see God as an object (again, to possess), but to merge with God in complete unity-identity. That is, our consciousness must be completely merged in the infinite Consciousness, and irrevocably so. Just as a cup of water poured into the ocean cannot be drawn back out of the ocean, so we need to attain that state of unity which can never be reversed. Many yogis paddle their feet or go for a quick dip in the ocean of Satchidananda, but the goal is to unite with that ocean, to merge in it and become totally one with it. Consequently at ever moment of our life we must be holding in mind and living out the sankalpa: “Let my life now merge in the all-pervading life.”
Those who are unfit for union with God become all anxious and even fearful when they hear about merging with the Divine. “O! will I go out of existence?” they quaver. “What will happen to me?” Over and over again they plunge headlong into the sea of rebirth, never raising such questions about relative existence, but going on heedlessly. Only when confronted with God do they develop false prudence and caution and begin to question and doubt. Jesus has assured us, though: “Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it” (Luke 17:33). This is because we are truly negative–that is, we are absolutely backwards one hundred and eighty degrees. Consequently what we think will annihilate us will immortalize us, whereas what we think will make us live will destroy us.
Like the great master, Yogananda, we must pray: “Let me drown in Thine ocean and live!”
Understanding the destiny of the body
It is not a simple thing to rid ourselves of the conditionings of billions of lives wherein we identified completely with the body. Even when we have evolved enough to identify more with the mind and the spirit, still the body claims the majority of our attention–and attachment. It is completely reflexive with us, overriding any emotional or intellectual factors to the contrary. Therefore we must continually affirm in word, attitude, and act: “Ashes are my body’s end.” This will only seem painful or pessimistic if we are still identifying with the body. But if not, it will be as happy a statement as an affirmation that our prison is going to evaporate into dust.
We have died many times (or thought we did), but that did not free us at all. And in many lives we were no doubt cremated. Still, that accomplished nothing. Evidently there is a deeper meaning to the “ashes” that are the body’s end. It is the fire of wisdom that turns our “bodies” into ashes. Let us then be busy stoking the fires of yoga and getting on with the burning. Sadhus wear gerua, orange-red color, to remind them of the fire of discrimination and spirit-knowledge that must be perpetually burning in order to reduce all that impels us into embodiment to the ashes of freedom.
“Flying from fear, from lust and anger, he hides in me his refuge, his safety: burnt clean in the blaze of my being, in me many find home” (Bhagavad Gita 4:10).
“The blazing fire turns wood to ashes: the fire of knowledge turns all karmas to ashes” (Bhagavad Gita 4:37).
When the “bridges” of all bodies, subtle and gross, have been burned in the holy fires, then we will pass on into the kingdom of Infinity that is our eternal birthright.
How to kindle the ignorance-consuming fire? The upanishadic sage continues: “O mind, remember Brahman. O mind, remember thy past deeds. Remember Brahman. Remember thy past deeds.”
The thorough practicality and good sense of dharma is one of its most striking features: it works. And it works very well. So it is meaningful that the upanishad tells us to remember Brahman, then remember our own past deeds, then remember Brahman, and then remember our own past deeds in a kind of alternating current. This is to keep us from falling into two serious errors: 1) being so focused on the “spiritual” that we do not pay attention to what is really going on with us on the relative level of evolution, and 2) becoming so obsessed with ourselves that we utterly leave God out of the picture. Patanjali lists swadhyaya–introspective self-study–as an essential ingredient of yoga practice. Yet this self-study must be done in the greater context of divine consciousness: “In thy light shall we see light” (Psalms 36:9). Only in the divine light can we see things as they really are.
So we should meditate, and outside of meditation we should look at our past, comparing our past deeds and our past states of mind with our present deeds and mental condition. This will reveal to us whether we are truly progressing or not. I knew a woman who sincerely believed that God was appearing to her in meditation and talking to her so sweetly, making her feel so holy and pure. Then she would come out of meditation and be unspeakably cruel to her daughter, both physically and mentally. In meditation she was an angel, but outside of meditation she was a devil. Wrong meditation gives us a wrong image of ourselves, but right meditation shows us the truth about both God and ourselves.
Of course we have to have a correct memory of our past. Many people are so blinded to the truth about themselves that when they learn to meditate they start saying: “My mind used to be calm, but it has gotten so restless,” or: “I used to be a nice person, but now I am just a wreck and falling apart.” The reality is that their mind was always restless, but not being introspective they did not realize it. They were also a complete ruin, mentally and spiritually, but they had no eyes with which to see it. Now they do, and they foolishly blame meditation. On the other hand, people who are practicing a wrong form of meditation (or a right form wrongly) do become increasingly restless and increasingly negative. I know of several kinds of meditation that really do bring about the mental and spiritual disintegration of those who practice them, and often the physical degeneration, as well. But those who meditate according to the teachings of the upanishads will have no problem.
Read the next article in the Upanishads for Awakening: The Inner Fire
Sections in the Upanishads for Awakening:
- The Isha Upanishad
- The Kena Upanishad
- The Katha Upanishad
- The Past is the Future
- Seeing Death, Seeing Life
- The Good and the Pleasant
- The Way of Ignorance
- The Mystery of the Self
- How to Either Know or Not Know the Self
- From the Unreal to the Real
- Finding the Treasure
- The Transcendent Reality of the Self
- The Immortal Self
- The Indwelling Self
- The Omnipresent Self
- The Sorrowless Self
- Who Can Know the Self?
- The All-Consuming Self
- The Divine Indwellers
- The Chariot
- The Chariot’s Journey
- The Glorious Way
- To Know The Self
- The Power of Enlightenment
- The Infinite Self
- The Dweller in the Heart
- The Birthless Self
- The Shining Self
- The Life-Giving Self
- The Eternal Brahman–The Eternal Self
- The Radiant Self
- The Universal Tree
- Hierarchy of Consciousness
- From Mortality to Immortality
- The Prashna Upanishad
- The Mundaka Upanishad
- The Mandukya Upanishad
- The Taittiriya Upanishad
- The Aitareya Upanishad
- The Chandogya Upanishad
- The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
- The Shvetashvatara Upanishad
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