There is an obscure Protestant song entitled “With Eternity’s Values in View.” Musically it is not much, but philosophically it is profound. We are not temporal, mortal beings, and if we live our life as though we were, then only confusion and chaos can result. Instead we must see ourselves as eternal beings presently dreaming the dream of evolution–a dream whose culmination is awakening, toward which all of our attention and awareness should be focused. Nachiketa knew this, but Yama underlined it, telling him:
“Well I know that earthly treasure lasts but till the morrow. For did not I myself, wishing to be King of Death, make sacrifice with fire? But the sacrifice was a fleeting thing, performed with fleeting objects, and small is my reward, seeing that only for a moment will my reign endure” (Katha Upanishad 1:2:10). What are a billion years compared to eternity? Not even a glimmer. Why, then, do we scramble after short-lived earthly goals, goals that even if attained prove to be worthless since they vanish away so quickly? Why do we continually deny our eternity and affirm the delusion of temporality? Because we identify thoroughly with that which is temporal and finite.
The dilemma of the gods
It is true that there is nothing on this earth we cannot attain if we put forth the effort. In previous creations human beings performed elaborate rituals to become “gods” in this creation, including Brahma the creator. They succeeded, and the result was that they suffer more pain and anxiety than human beings do and are more subject to mental aberrations than humans. Furthermore, they are bound until the end of this creation cycle to fulfill their offices and can in no way shirk or abandon them. So they are more bound than any human being could ever be. In other words, their heaven has turned out to be a hell. Still their main anxiety is fear over falling from their exalted status and returning to human form. They have learned nothing from their experience.
A metaphysical fact
“But the sacrifice was a fleeting thing, performed with fleeting objects, and small is my reward, seeing that only for a moment will my reign endure.” Within this lament of Yama is embedded a profound truth regarding spiritual life.
Only the spirit is eternal and everlasting. Everything else is temporal and impermanent. In time they will dissolve back into the primal energy of manifestation and we will lose them–never really having “had” them at all. Consequently, the wise seek only for the eternal spirit, though using the material and the temporal to aid them in their search. For example, physical health is not enlightenment, but it certainly makes the enlightenment process easier. Material sufficiency relieves us from anxiety and helps us pursue spiritual life without distraction.
Discipline is essential for material life, and even more so for spiritual life. Yet, discipline will not take us to the goal–it will greatly facilitate our going, but we must never mistake proficiency in any discipline or practice for spiritual attainment. In the same way, any type of yogic practice that does not deal directly with consciousness will not result in enlightenment. Like discipline, it may help us in our ascent to higher awareness, but it must not be mistaken for that awareness.
“Sadhana” means spiritual practice that leads to the revelation of the Real (Sat). The temporal does not lead to the eternal, therefore real sadhana must begin and end in spirit-consciousness. No material procedure is sadhana, nor is any externally-oriented practice sadhana. The only true sadhana is the turning inward of the mind and the perception of the inmost spirit. In other words, meditation alone is sadhana–meditation free of all mechanics and gimmicks, simple and direct, leading to the ultimate simplicity that is the Self. We must begin with spirit if we are to end with spirit.
All truth is a two-edged sword. It tells us what IS and what IS NOT. The truth about the Self and Brahman also tells us what is not the Self or Brahman. Those of us who are clinging to the unreal will find this painful or at least uncomfortable. But we have to let go of the unreal to lay hold of the Real. If we do not like this fact we need not bother with the Real, but keep on whirling around in our little hamster wheel we call life. But the wise listen and act upon Yama’s next words to Nachiketa:
‘The goal of worldly desire, the glittering objects for which all men long, the celestial pleasures they hope to gain by religious rites, the most sought-after of miraculous powers–all these were within thy grasp. But all these, with firm resolve, thou hast renounced” (Katha Upanishad 1:2:11).
To enter into Life we turn away from all fulfillments of material and temporal desires, no longer attracted by their false glitter. Nor do we aspire to some heaven or heavenly pleasures offered to us by ego-oriented religion–things that also end as painfully as the joys of earth. Even miracles mean nothing to us, for they occur only in the realm of duality, the realm of death.
Where is Life?
Seeing that Nachiketa was yearning to pass from death to Immortality, Yama continues: “The ancient, effulgent being, the indwelling Spirit, subtle, deep-hidden in the lotus of the heart, is hard to know. But the wise man, following the path of meditation, knows him, and is freed alike from pleasure and from pain” (Katha Upanishad 1:2:12).
First of all, before analyzing this, it must be realized that Yama is talking about us. Certainly, we are finite and God is infinite, but substantially (essentially) we are the same. So Yama is talking about our true nature in these amazing words, and we should consider them accordingly.
We are puranam–ancient. God is called the Purana Purusha, the Ancient Person. Since we coexist with Him, we, too, are ancient. Shankara in his commentary explains that in this context puranam does not just mean incredibly old, but everlasting. That is, we, too, are primeval beings. “There was never a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor any of these kings. Nor is there any future in which we shall cease to be,” Krishna tells Arjuna in the Gita (2:12).
Our eternity is very hard for us to grasp even theoretically because we have been caught in the time-space web for ages beyond calculation. Creations have come and gone as we barely crawled along the evolutionary path. We just cannot conceive of eternity, for it is not time without end, it is that state of being which lies beyond time. Actually, we are living in that state right now, but have completely lost sight of it and imagine we are immersed in the sea of constant change, of constant birth and death with their attendant sufferings.
To view ourselves as eternal, immortal beings is therefore most important, for without that perspective life will totally overwhelm us, drowning us in illusions without either numbering or end. Yet when we step back, withdrawing our consciousness into our own reality, it will end instantly. It is the stepping back and withdrawal that takes the time.
Devam means “shining one.” We are ourselves “the light that shines in darkness” (John 1:5), for we are a living part of the Light of Life (John 1:4). Consequently we must turn within for illumination. Until we are perfected in that in-turning we do need some external lights such as holy books and teachers, but it is unwise to become dependent on any outer source of knowledge. Eventually we must get it all from within, having become swayamprakash, self-illumined.
Certainly we should be discontented with our present ignorant and bound state of being, but there is no room here for condemning or loathing ourselves for being sinners, weak, foolish, etc. Our discontent with our present state should arise from our conviction that we are ourselves divine–for devam means that as well. We are living far beneath ourselves. Knowing that, we should turn around, stop our descent, and begin ascending to our real place–far beyond any childish heaven or relative condition of any kind however exalted.
Since we are Self-effulgent, all guidance must eventually come from within. We may not be able to tap the inner light right now to the needed degree, but in time our atma alone must be our guide through and beyond this life. We must learn to rely on our capacity for pure Knowing.
As a child and a young man I looked upon myself as a “Bible-believing Christian,” so naturally I believed that Jesus Christ was the Light of the World (John 8:12, John 9:5). But it was only when I found the wisdom of the upanishads that believed Jesus when he said: “Ye are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). For the fundamental necessity is to realize that we are the Light also. “God is light” (I John 1:5) and so are we, for we and God are one, not two. No one who claims to be spiritually enlightened can teach otherwise, “for with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light” (Psalms 36:9). The Light of God reveals the Light of our own Self. The closer we get to our real Self, the closer we come to God, and vice versa. Then “the sun shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee: but the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory” (Isaiah 60:19). For we shall know ourselves as Light and Glory. This is not egotism, for in the Light the ego melts away. “The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day” (Proverbs 4:18).
“Indwelling spirit” not only tells us that we are pure consciousness by nature, but the important fact that our consciousness is the noumenon which dwells at the heart of all phenomena. That wherever there is any “thing” there are we as the reality that is the substratum of all existence–even of illusion. That is why we find our selves if we pierce the veil of illusion or look within. We are omnipresent.
We do not perceive the Self because our conditionings from aeons of relative existence has coarsened our perceptions. Experiencing materiality over and over and over again has oriented and confined our awareness to the grossest levels of existence. Further, it has oriented and confined our awareness to externalities. Any reflective person can readily understand the need to turn our awareness inward to perceive the Self, but more is needed: we must refine our minds, rendering them more and more subtle so they can eventually see the Most Subtle: the Self.
Meditation refines the mind no doubt, but we have to do more than that, otherwise an entire life will simply not be enough time to produce the requisite refinement. Therefore Patanjali in Yoga Sutras 2:30,32 lists the necessary means for the physical and psychic refinement without which the Self cannot be realized to any degree. They are:
1) Ahimsa: non-violence, non-injury, harmlessness
2) Satya: truthfulness, honesty
3) Asteya: non-stealing, honesty, non-misappropriativeness
4) Brahmacharya: sexual continence in thought, word and deed as well as control of all the senses
5) Aparigraha: non-possessiveness, non-greed, non-selfishness, non-acquisitiveness
6) Shaucha: purity, cleanliness
7) Santosha: contentment, peacefulness
8) Tapas: austerity, practical (i.e., result-producing) spiritual discipline
9) Swadhyaya: introspective self-study, spiritual study
10) Ishwarapranidhana: offering of one’s life to God
All of these deal with the innate powers of the human being–or rather with the abstinence and observance that will develop and release those powers to be used toward our spiritual perfection, to our Self-realization and liberation. Equally important is their effect on our minds: harmonization, strengthening, and refinement.
These ten factors and successful meditation are actually interdependent. Without meditation they are impossible to accomplish, and without their steady and complete observance meditation becomes impossible. This is why after nearly forty years of the “yoga boom” in this country nothing significant has been accomplished spiritually. A lot of money has been made, organizations formed and exalted over the lives of their members, and a great deal of folly and neurosis has resulted (what to say of virulent scandals) but that is all. Why? Because these ten needful elements are utterly omitted from the spheres of their existence. They are never mentioned, much less advocated. The only exception is ahimsa–limited only to opposition to war. This is because everybody wants to be nice and the pop-yoga movement was born during the “Hell no, we won’t go!” war-protesting hip era. However, the most obvious personal application of ahimsa: advocacy of abstention from the eating of animal flesh, is usually absent.
The sensible aspirant cannot do otherwise than make these ten disciplines part of his life if he truly wishes to render himself capable of beholding the Self and living as the Self.
Deep-hidden in the lotus of the heart
Why are we out of touch with God and our Self? Because we are skimming on the surface of things while Reality is “deep-hidden in the lotus of the heart”–the core of all. Actually, Reality is deep-hidden in the core of the things we are experiencing. We only need to see into them to find the True. That is why in Buddhism we find the word Penetration so frequently used. We must See Deeply. That is, we need not turn away or withdraw from outer phenomena, but rather develop the capacity to see into them to their ultimate Depth. To do this we do enter inside through meditation, but since there really is neither Inside nor Outside in the truest sense, in time–through the practice of meditation–we come to see all there is to see: The One.
Hard to know
We have all experienced getting a mistaken idea or impression stuck in our head that we could not get rid of even when we knew better. The same is true of habit patterns. Living in conditioned existence we ourselves have become conditioned–or at least we identify with the conditionings of the ever-shifting mind. This is the only reason that the Self is hard to know. It has nothing to do with the nature of the Self, but with the conditioning of the mind–conditioning resulting from billions and billions of lifetimes as everything from an atom of hydrogen onward to where we are now. It is not easy to undo in a few years what we have taken thousands of creation cycles to build up. Yet it can be done and will be done in time. We just have to understand the way things work and that it will take time. Nevertheless, the words “hard to know” assure us that the Self can be known.
The way and its effects
“But the wise man, following the path of meditation, knows him, and is freed alike from pleasure and from pain.” It is the path of meditation that leads to Self-knowledge, none other. “The uncontrolled mind does not guess that the Atman is present: how can it meditate? Without meditation, where is peace? Without peace, where is happiness?” (Bhagavad Gita 2:66).
It is not that Self-knowledge renders us incapable of experiencing pleasure or pain, but of being in bondage to them–that is, being subject to reaction to pleasure and pain. “The bonds of his flesh are broken. He is lucky, and does not rejoice: he is unlucky, and does not weep. I call him illumined” (Bhagavad Gita 2:57). “To obey the Atman is his peaceful joy; sorrow melts into that clear peace: his quiet mind is soon established in peace” (Bhagavad Gita 2:65).
Read the next article in the Upanishads for Awakening: Finding the Treasure
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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