The Inner Journey of the Sannyāsī
What is it all about?
What indeed does the Sannyāsī do within him? We keep hearing of it as a profound inner journey, don’t we? Are there stages and milestones to the journey? Some landmarks with distinct indications to confirm that one is indeed on the right path? Is it a journey at all, or is it a topple-over to another land?
The journey of Sannyāsa is that of the observer, the doer, the enjoyer: the ‘I’. It is a journey where the ‘I’ sorts itself better, comprehends itself more cleanly, gets a better sense of itself, frees itself from the conditioning brought about by society and genetic furtherance. Towards the end of the journey, the ‘I’ discovers itself enough to dissolve divisions, resolve contradictions, and dismiss entire clouds of confusion. It is not about what the ‘I’ does or experiences with the world, its body, or its mind. It is a movement in subjectivity, and therefore inward. Not inner with reference to the body, like one would meditate by closing one’s eyes and shutting off the world. Only when the ‘I’ begins this great work upon itself does it realise the enormity of this thing that exists. Until then, the ‘I’, in utter blindness, believes that all great work, enormous and most important, worthy of action, exists only in the world outside. Dropping that belief in extrovertedness and realising that the real journey is in subjectivity is itself the first step.
The Four legs
Broadly, the journey can be said to proceed in four stages. We will get into each of them shortly.
If the entire journey can be laid out as a flat road of 100 miles between point A and B, the Bhagavadgītā sermon to Arjuna could be considered to indicate the 25th mile. Upaniṣadic students like the one in the Kena can be deemed to be at the 70th or 75th mile of the journey. In his commentaries and independent texts, Śaṅkara deems the journey of Truth and renunciation to begin from the 75th mile. Setting out seeking the only thing that matters—Truth alone—that is the hallmark of Sannyāsa, according to Śaṅkara. In other words, he considers the last leg alone as true Sannyāsā. Until then, you could as well be part of this world, doing what you intend to do, and what you should do according to your station, svabhāva, and Dharma.
Both Vyāsā and Śaṅkara consider the movement from the 25th mile to the 50th mile as the journey of Dharma. Not the Dharma defined by a constitution of this world, or social custom, or a collective trend, or ethics, or harmony. Neither is Dharma a role definition, like the ideal husband, police officer, teacher etc. Those are mores within the context of family, community and society. Dharma, as defined here, is to be understood as the order that holds, directs, handles, and nourishes the soul and the cosmic mind from within. It is a movement towards discovering intrinsic regard for the entire design of the cosmos, a movement into the very throb of creation.
The usual sense of Sannyāsā
Traditionally, much before Śaṅkara, Sannyāsā is a journey begun from the 25th mile onwards. Hence, Arjuna seeks it. Of course, he seeks it more out of desperation, dejection, and unbearable grief. Even so, there is a running belief that one eventually renounces the world after doing whatever needs to be done here. Like Arjuna intended, most of the genuine renunciates that we know of have merely sacrificed the regular channels of individual rise in society. What would those be?
Through profession, you can discover eminence, wealth, and security. Through a family, one finds close-knit adhesion, a sense of belonging, commitment, parenting, a set of people that one is naturally held to, etc. Through sexual life, you give full vent to manhood or womanhood and experience pleasure, connection, attachment, love, and so on. Through education and research, you garner reputation and expertise; find a niche in society. Through consistent and competent action, you would harvest excellence and achievement, which commands fame and doubtless success here. Through leadership, be it at the level of family, community, state or nation, you discover political power and influence over many, which is necessary to change society through laws, demonstrable actions, civilian debate, etc. Now, a true renunciate, at the 25th mile, vows not to pursue any of these.
Hence, he doesn’t own property or possess bank accounts; he carries minimal belongings and proposes to get along with the current moment. Wealth, relationships, contacts, projects or assignments, goals or targets, commitments of any kind—he hoards nothing. Thereby, he ensures that he hasn’t carried forward any identity, if observed across a decade. ‘What is so great about it?’, one may find fault. ‘Even a weak man doesn’t become anything over time. He simply whiles away his time, or is distracted into something self-destructive, or lost in escapist channels. It requires a lot of strength to not merely survive this world well, but show consistent focus to shape a strong, coherent, and well-accepted identity’, one may argue. The Taittirīya describes a fully bloomed youngster (of course, in a different context) as Āśiṣṭho Dṛḍhiṣṭho Baliṣṭhaḥ, meaning, one who is full of noble aspirations, firm and coherent in resolve, and healthy and able in capacity. We are indeed referring to renunciation by an entity of such fullness. Because renunciation by the weak man is another act of weakness; what else remains to talk of it?
All identities are mere accumulations of one kind, isn’t it? If you hoard money and wealth, you end up becoming a rich man. If you accumulate people and contacts, you will be a community man or even a leader. If you hoard knowledge and skill, you end up becoming an expert in some field. If you collect adhesiveness and togetherness with your kith and kin, you end up being a home-maker or family-maker.
Having abandoned every form, role, identity, and the attendant responsibilities and privileges at the 25th mile, the true Sannyāsī never regains a full sense of himself, nor does he seek a ‘confident himself’ until he unravels the Self at the 100th mile. Finish the journey, find the true Self, let that assert, for that alone is the true assertion, if at all there can be an assertion. Therefore, the journey of Sannyāsa, from the 25th mile onwards, is extremely vulnerable, with absolutely no protection, no assuredness, a movement in aloneness, with nothing to guide you except the very order that has invented this process, and the light shone by those great souls who have already trekked the path before you.
What we have seen so far is but a sketch, to indicate the length, scope and canvas of the journey. It is not to be considered as a strict map that can be followed to traverse the journey itself. For, it is impossible, and even wrong, to lay this out as a linear journey, from point A to B. Because, one is actually moving backwards, being sucked in by something unknown, eaten up more and more. You can aim and target only when the journey happens in front of you, isn’t it? What if the one who began the journey himself is being stripped and eaten up?
In such a case, what is the point of such a map, one may ask. If you are serious about the true nature of the journey that unravels within, and if you care to ensure that you mustn’t falsely assume completion prematurely, then, at the least, it is essential to know that there is a lot more ground to cover. You could pause for a bit, definitely, but to assume that this is all there is to it shall merely strengthen the one enemy on this journey—blindness!
We shall continue.
The weakness of the ‘I’
Now, let us turn our attention to a more crucial factor in renunciation: Traits and tendencies!
What exactly is the trait or tendency that is the subject of focus here? Let me illustrate with an example.
Consider an 18-year-old girl from a metro city in India and her 50-year-old mother and maternal grandmother aged 75. All three of them were born and continue to live in the same city. Born in 1945, the grandmother was amongst the first generation of women in India, who had the opportunity for a good education during her times. Say, this grandmother wasn’t too keen on pursuing education and was married off early, as per convention. Now, we could blame the prevalent societal conditioning of the times that discouraged women from stepping outdoors, limiting their ambit to the family. In other words, the grandmother, in our case, had little choice to pursue studies and do something creative in the external world. Nevertheless, there have been women during the ’50s, or even earlier, who may not have necessarily had an encouraging background, but who made it a point not to get locked up in routine household chores alone, remaining a second-hander to their husbands. Our grandma chose to marry early, marking a significant milestone in her life, without even attempting to discover another channel of existence in this world.
Now, there is society and its mindset, which are potent forces, no doubt. And there have been women who have rightly asserted themselves, doing their best under the circumstances. Some have gradually convinced people around them of their rightness too. Do you notice women’s tendency to succumb to social forces, use that as an excuse, and not find the necessity to discover character? It appears as though the woman thinks this way: ‘Anyway, I’m born a woman. Anyway, there is a family that supports me, and they will get me married. Anyway, I will have to rear children and will need to do household chores. Anyway, I may be taken care of, but men will never understand me…’ You get the drift of this line of argument, don’t you?
Since our grandma didn’t assert herself and found no need to discover her character, her daughter, born in 1970, will likely continue that weakness. It is all the more difficult for her to discover a spine from within herself. If her mother had done it before her, it would have eased the femininity, and it may have been natural for her to step out and do something in the world outside. Now, she has to begin the journey of stepping out all by herself, and she may even have to fight her mother for it. She would be told not to spread her wings too much, ‘During our times, SSC education was the limit for girls; these days, you are privileged to earn a degree. Post that, you will have to get married’. Even if the daughter succumbs to this pressure, she may still find some independence through her job, where she earns some money, but she may not be much interested in pursuing a career.
Do you see the situation across generations? Society is one force, no doubt. Being born a woman who can run a family and have healthy children is one more factor. But those are not the central tendencies here. The refusal of the woman to discover her mettle is the central issue, isn’t it? Now, the girl born in 2002 will anyway go out into the world, because society itself has changed, and girls are under pressure to educate themselves and achieve something.
Darwin talks about survival of the fittest, doesn’t he? See how traits endure! Only when the entire society has changed does the trait within you find the assurance and strength to go out and achieve something; now, that is the sign of a laggard, right? When society is yet to change its mindset, but you see the necessity of such character and find the gumption to reorient your trait, let us say; then, that is an attempt to reshape the trait and tendency. You will not only find character but will also be a quick adapter, may even be a trendsetter. Do you get the point?
When the ‘I’ doesn’t stand up rightly, it succumbs to the past trait. In our illustration, general femininity means family, marriage, rearing children, and almost nothing else. When the ‘I’ stands up rightly, be it in 1950 or the ’70s, the ’90s or now, the challenge could be society at times, but the real challenge is oneself. Taking the easy path and succumbing to the easy flow of the trait is the real issue.
If you are born a Brahmin, you will likely take to some intellectual career. You may not get into sport, for instance. You may not become an entrepreneur because running a business and erecting a large corporation doesn’t come naturally to a Brahmin. Going in for a salaried job does! So, just to quote an example, for Rahul Dravid to walk into cricket, excel there, and compete with the Dhonis, Yuvrajs, Rainas, and Jadejas on physical fitness, is indeed going against the trait. He may never match them on physical fitness; but the journey to break free of his inborn-trait to meet the challenge of physical fitness, that very attempt is fantastic, isn’t it?
So, what exactly are we pointing out here? What do we mean by a trait/tendency? Where femininity finally heads hardly matters. Whether it sets up family, or plays a sport, or joins an āśram, where it goes is secondary. Primarily, there is nothing so innocent here, do you see? There exists a calculation, some motive, some pettiness in thinking, some form of short-sightedness hiding behind that trait. The ‘I’ hides behind the trait and is almost hoping that the trait will take it somewhere. Instead of taking charge, the ‘I’ is dependent on the trait, which is the weakness of the ‘I’. And such weakness makes you and me perfectly repeated products of our parents and grandparents, merely tweaked according to the changes in society and the times we live in.
The ‘I’ remains weak and reactive
Get the ‘I’ to stand up; then it doesn’t really matter whether the woman sets up a family, or pursues sport, or creates a corporate career, or whatever. Even if she turns a home-maker, it is she who has set up the family, which means it becomes her responsibility, and she brings in the creativity to shape the family that she dreams of.
Now, after that elaborate illustration, what is the end result? The individual finds his or her spine to get up and do something in this world, reorient his traits and talents and tendencies, take charge of himself, and get going. Right? Fine, but where does he or she go, and what happens to her or him? That question has already been answered right at the start, haven’t we? If you accumulated wealth, you would become a rich man…if you accumulated knowledge, you would become an expert in some field… You will end up becoming a strong, coherent, and useful-to-the-world identity. The significant difference is that you will achieve all these not because of your lineage or the inherent talent or drive in the traits you were born with, but because of the grit you discovered to take charge of them, and employ them rightly here.
Yet, even with this mastery over the trait, what is the destination you will take the trait towards? Success, creation of a coherent identity in this world, fame, love, art, etc., isn’t it?
Stepping out of the pool
So, what is Sannyāsā now? We defined the 25th mile as the renunciation of everything that propels one towards identity formation, didn’t we? Then, what does the Sannyāsī do with respect to his traits or tendencies? Does he work upon them? Does he try to transform his weak traits? Does he harvest his healthy and good traits? What does he actually do?
Sannyāsā is, therefore, renunciation of the trait itself. You simply declare that you have nothing to do with the trait. This means, neither will you succumb to the trait nor actively take charge of it to use it for something here. In short, Sannyāsā means cutting asunder the very connection with every trait that you were born with. At least, that is the resolve!
Why? Because the journey of subjectivity needs no traits. You need traits to build an identity here, in some form or the other. To discover yourself, you need to step out of the pool, the orbits where traits and tendencies thrive or wilt.
Then, what happens to those traits and tendencies, you may ask. If it is honest enough to abandon all its tendencies and traits altogether, the ‘I’ will see a subjective movement. True renunciation by itself will open up a door to oneself. And the same door shall open up to the larger cosmos too. That is how one realises that the key that opens the Self is the very same key that opens up the cosmos as well. As and when one gets a firm enough foothold into something beyond identity creation or sustenance, and the traits and tendencies one is born with, the ‘I’ discovers clarity of existence that it can indeed live without these. With that recognition, the traits and tendencies settle down, as though put in their place. As innocent and straightforward as the fact that sugar is sweet, neem is bitter. Only then will those very traits and tendencies be released from you and be ready to re-join Prakṛti, become part of nature.
So, at the 25th mile, Sannyāsā is stepping out of not just all worldly pursuits, but also walking out of all traits and tendencies that fuel identity formation. It is in this sense that the Sannyāsī gives up his family, and his parents too. Because, it is from them that he obtained those very traits, didn’t he? When he rejects the traits within, he rejects them without too. As clean as that!
True Sannyāsīs, therefore, can’t reconnect back with their families, friends, colleagues, relatives, etc., even later on in life. At least, the way they connected earlier, they no longer can.
We are still at the 25th mile. We shall see more.
Renouncing the twin crowns
Life in this world proceeds from two centres in the individual. First is esteem, second is desire.
Esteem is what one thinks of oneself, the self-authentication that sanctions confidence. Esteem is also about what you aim for, what you look at, to become, to reach. Without the ‘I’ thinking of itself in a strongly positive manner, confidence isn’t possible, isn’t it? And, if that sense of oneself is strong but isn’t steady, even then, you would experience drop in confidence, or your confidence would be wavering. So, steady confidence about oneself is necessary to breeze through the challenges of this world, for which, self-esteem is the basis. Either you draw your confidence from what you already are, or from what you are aiming to become.
Desire, on the other hand, is a craving, a passion for doing something, sometimes a search for something unknown. You and I may show interest, enthusiasm, considerable amount of focussed energy, without ever having to define ourselves. In fact, amongst many groups—creative theatre groups, music bands, scientific research teams, young monks with missionary zeal—you will see tremendous synergy. People are participating, creating, doing, exhausted but loving every moment of it. Even here, you could either begin with energy and enthusiasm, or you could begin with a strong desire and ambition—‘I want that’, or ‘that has to be achieved’, and find an unceasing drive.
To achieve some level of success in this world, you need at least one of these two engines to fire well for you. If you don’t have a pursuit, passion, drive, a fascination for something, then you shall hardly move. You will also not proceed if you don’t think well enough of yourself, or if you don’t seriously bet on a future you. When you don’t move on your own, society will direct you and use you for what it deems fit. Isn’t that how things proceed in this world? You may be a willing second-hander, or you may sulk but still go along conventional channels.
At the 25th mile, the Sannyāsī renounces both: esteem, as well as desire. Why? Because he realises that while esteem delivers the self-confidence needed to take up anything in this world, that very ‘I’-definition becomes a limiter to any pursuit of the higher. It is a crown for the outer world, but a severe limiter for the inner journey. Further, if one derives confidence from a self-authenticated definition of oneself, then where is the question of the higher? The higher could be God, cosmic order, Guru, Scripture, higher forces, anything. God is supposed to authenticate you, isn’t it? The higher is supposed to authenticate you, right? If you authenticated yourself, then what is the role of the higher?
And seriously, will ‘that’ remain higher? If what you think of yourself alone authenticates your confidence, then, it is your choice of Guru or scripture, isn’t it? Like how you choose your work, relationships, occupation, etc., you choose your Guru and scripture too, according to how it is convenient and comfortable to you. What you feel right about. If you are the one who makes the choice, according to your esteem, your sense of yourself, then how can the Guru or scripture ever be higher to you? Do you see the fallacy?
Self-esteem blocks the individual from the inner journey, while defining him more and more coherently for an outer pursuit. Same with any desire or passion. Therefore, the Sannyāsī discards them as blindness. Hence, the true Sannyāsī has no goal, no esteem, and he isn’t sure of what he is doing, where he is going, which doesn’t mean he is generally lost. As and when he is keenly observant of life within and without, he shall discover penny-drops of authentication arriving. They arrive slowly. The authenticator himself is still hiding, but his messages of authentication are being seen clearly now.
Worldliness begins and ends with esteem and desire. If you renounce them, you are giving the ‘I’ a greater chance. And you shall realise that the passion and desire you experience within is indeed connected to the sense of ‘I’ you carry within yourself.
Let us proceed now to the journey from the 25th to the 50th mile. The second leg of the journey.
It is a well-recorded fact that many saints are awakened, quite rudely, into the gravity of the spiritual journey, through an experience or profound realisation. In most cases, they stumble upon such an experience when they are relatively young, especially while moving from adolescence to their early 20’s. Vivekananda, Rāmakṛṣṇa, Ramaṇa, Chandraśekhara Bhārati, so many are the examples. There have been others who have had profound realisations in the second quarter of their lives, in their late 30’s, like Swami Chinmayananda and Swami Śivananda.
They come upon it all of a sudden. It comes out of the blue. Something seizes them from within, and strangely, they don’t seem to want to wriggle out of it too. It is very uncomfortable, highly unusual, brings pain and uncertainty, and often causes issues for the immediate family members. But, what catches them doesn’t seem to bother about society, family, or the direness of circumstance there.
In verse 6.44 of the Bhagavadgītā, Vyāsā says, ‘pūrvābhyāsena tenaiva hriyate hyavaśo’pi saḥ’, meaning, ‘the yogi is pulled unconsciously and helplessly to where he left off in his former birth’! The unconscious mind (it could even be the subconscious) has this ability to gift you what belongs to you, in one stroke. And the whole package is delivered within a few days to a few months. If it takes a few months, like in the case of Vivekananda, then the experiences and realisations arrive steadily, one packet a day, one hunch or prompt at a time. But, if they come in one lot as it did in the case of Ramaṇa, then the experience can be really intense. Because you are too young even to fathom the gravity of the package, you would be left reeling under the impact of the gift (not even realising it as a gift, as it happened in the case of Ramaṇa). You are indeed lost, helpless, utterly held from behind as though. Naturally, such a youngster would run to God, as Ramaṇa did, because he wouldn’t know what struck him. He would be lost in that experience for months, and it would take years for him to sort everything of that package, and comprehend its gravity and sense.
In contrast, Arjuna is shattered by the futility of identity here. The best of identities can only do so much, and it is so paltry that it can do almost nothing to avoid catastrophe and grief for so many. And now, having been there and done that, he seeks to walk out of all of it, retire to the forest, and turn a mendicant. Vyāsā disagrees with such a rejection of life here, and over an elaborate discourse, through Kṛṣṇa, puts forth an argument on why living here and walking towards the 50th mile makes more sense than abject renunciation. In other words, Vyāsā prefers, quite clearly, living in the world and taking to the journey from the 25th to the 50th mile. He doesn’t prefer wilful renunciation, unless the individual has been pulled into it because of an experience or realisation from the subconscious. Not that Vyāsā disapproves of Sannyāsā at the 25th mile, but he seems to prefer staying here and walking that journey. That is the central argument of the Bhagavadgītā.
It is because of this that seekers are advised not to emulate the spiritual experience of saints. Don’t seek the samādhi of Paramahamsa. Don’t blindly emulate the silence of Ramaṇa. Don’t imitate the wild joy of a Chaitanya. Don’t pursue the sweet brilliance of a Jñānadeva. Don’t covet or pursue the gentle piety of many of these devotees and saints.
That is the first lesson to be learnt. You must draw solace from those experiences and realise those as confirmations of a greater order and its design, not blindly aim at them. Don’t blindly follow these experiences as symptoms of where you ought to reach. For instance, if you deemed reaching the Samādhi of Paramahamsa as the final destination, then you have lost yourself on a false track.
Even if experiences are real, those cannot be gifted to you. So, if a Sadguru is trying to wake you up into something through spiritual jolts, he wastes his time and yours. Nothing is ever going to happen. You will only realise the futility of such attempts. Get inspired by the saint’s experience; don’t covet them or turn them into destinations for yourself.
If the so-called saints stop pandering to the commoner’s idle curiosity and stop marketing their personality and spiritual experiences, they will do enormous service to humankind. Else, they shall be creating brands of themselves, merely increasing their organisations’ size and the extent of the social clout they enjoy, not serving the hidden spiritual seeker in each one of us.
These men and women must realise that they are nowhere near completing their inner journey. They are intent on marketing what their subconscious gifted to them. They seem to have forgotten the real journey. They would do themselves a lot of good if they closed down all their maṭhas and organisations and began from where they left off in their past lives. By their focus on the real journey, they will then cut down all the fanfare, the miracles, the unnecessary aura, and convey the same to the average man, if at all it needs to be conveyed. They would be restoring the profundity of the journey in the human heart.
Summing up, stay away from spiritual experiences. Allow them to come, if they do come. Realise that all those are promptings of the subconscious. Don’t dismiss them away, nor take them lightly. Each prompting from the subconscious will change the way you exist currently, transform your daily life and personality. Welcome it if you can, and don’t be alarmed at its power. Ultimately, you must realise that you are your subconscious too. The wall between the subconscious and the conscious got erected because you took to worldliness and became extroverted. As and when you reject worldliness and turn inward, you will unlock more and more of the subconscious, and thereby, the mind will no longer be able to sustain the wall between the conscious and the subconscious.
We shall address this in more detail towards the end.
We will continue.
Vyāsā’s diagnosis and prescription
As I said earlier, Vyāsā doesn’t encourage asceticism or a life of severe austerity at the 25th mile. Instead, he points out three gifts that God has placed within the individual, as part of the design of creation.
The first gift is the doer.
Vyāsā asks you and me to stay focussed on the doer himself, and not get distracted by results and outcomes. Stay on the side of the doer, which means stay focussed on the intent, the plan, the process, the collaboration, the mindset and culture. Don’t flip over to the other side of somehow meeting targets and goals, ensuring outcomes, achieving gains, avoiding losses, aiming for victory, avoiding defeat, and so on. Stay on the side of the doer, and don’t be pressurised into the side of outcomes. This is the first part.
The second is to work backwards on intent. Question that very intent. Question your very power to act and bring about change. Wonder why the world has to move on cycles and cycles of action alone, necessarily. Keep to this wonderment. The more you keep to it, the more you will stay on the doer’s side and not move into the side of outcomes. The moment you have lost wonderment about the very design of creation, and how action plays a role in it, you will either be pushing for specific outcomes, or be left fussing over processes and plans. Or you may end up fighting the world. Either be a slightly reluctant doer, or be an efficient doer but be ready to wind up right away.
The third part is to allow outcomes to speak to you. Allow results to send messages to you, deeply. If you act for success, the outcomes and results will celebrate your action, or reject them. If you act for the efficacy of a process, the outcome and result will merely give you feedback about those very processes, allowing you to tweak them the next time over. If you act with intent as the centre, then the results and outcomes will respond to your intent. If you act as yourself, as the pure doer, you allow the results and outcomes to speak directly to you, and send messages to you. When you act as the pure doer, then the universe speaks to you in your language. DVG’s Maṅkutimmana Kagga is mostly an exposition of the nature of conversation between you, the doer, and Vidhi or Daiva, the God of this universe, who responds to you, action to action, intent to intent, feeling to feeling. Not merely that, it reveals to you many secrets that it withholds from the average outcome-oriented person. And you will slowly get enveloped into a different orbit or cycle of the cosmos. You will realise that such a levitation of the doer into a higher orbit is by design; it shows you what exists in the creator’s subconscious.
Vyāsā wants you and me to visit the subtle realm of this creation, to see and experience first-hand the universe at the subtle level, at its subconscious. Only when the doer exits the orbit of worldliness completely and is firmly entrenched in the subtler realm is it deemed Karma Yoga. Else, if the doer doesn’t graduate, then he is stuck in worldliness, in processes, outcomes or gains. He may go about it with equanimity, but that is more to combat the stress during the action than achieve true Śreyas.
What is the point of this movement of the doer into the subtle realm, you may ask. Well, if you seek to perform actions according to how the universe itself is designed—whether a doctor, or lawyer, or engineer, or politician—the doer must discover the universal order first-hand. Else, he is a slave of some concept or picture, or knowledge.
The doer is expected to rise from the terrestrial levels into the heavens, without leaving the ground. He must rise in stature and expanse, so that his head and heart are in the heavens, even while his actions are here, in the normal world. That, in Vyāsā’s mind, is Karma Yoga.
The second gift is the experiencer, feeler, and enjoyer.
The same principle applies to Bhakti Yoga as well. As much as we are doers, we are experiencers too, aren’t we? But most of us aren’t discerning enough during experiences. In what you see, taste, touch, or hear, or in the way you feel, emote, or receive, accept, like, or dislike, you could often be blind. Take the case of a mute person. When he eats a sweetmeat, one is the possibility that he isn’t discerning enough to experience the sweetmeat itself. The rasika in him hasn’t probably woken up enough. The other is that he experiences it distinctly, but is unable to communicate because of his disability. The latter is not such an issue. When music enters your ears, when foods pause on your tongue, when visual objects fall on your retina screen, what you experience matters. Great poets are not born in words; they are born at the time of experience. So are great artists. That Bhāvarasika has an extraordinary journey to undertake. Some may choose the medium of poetry, some music; others may take to dance, drama, or the medium of cinema. Satyajit Ray’s greatness is not merely in the way he narrates, not just in the way he collaborated with great musicians like Ravishankar, or how he conceived the film. It is in the way he sees and experiences itself. The rest, as far as Ray is concerned, is meticulous expression.
The world of experiences, emotions, and feelings is a huge sea that knows no horizon. Hence, it could be endless too. In other words, someone could ceaselessly enjoy until the difficulties of life rudely awaken him. What are the feelings and emotions and experiences that are ūrdhva, meaning upward, and what are those that are planar, meaning that keep going on in the same plane? What is the axis of rasa itself? Of Bhāva itself? And can one meet the creator himself through that very Bhāva? Is it possible to touch the creator’s feet and offer that very Bhāva that brought one to His feet?
Bhakti attempts to find not just an uplifting feeling but the very axis of all feelings and rasa, holding on to which one can climb into the lap of the creator himself.
Further, Bhakti is not merely the axis of rasa and feeling, but is also love. And, as we know, love is that which brings you out of yourself. If you come out of yourself, but stay within the ambit of family— just your spouse and children— then it is very limited. But, if the same love can indeed find itself adoring the universe as a whole, and hence its creator, like Rama did during his forest life, then, that very love is Bhakti. Bhakti is a positive feeling of love, of adoration, of heightened spirit. It is ceaseless, as Vyāsā would tell you, because it won’t stop until it takes you across.
How do you cross? By discovering the creator himself!
Why is there such a clamour for intelligence in this world? My brother and I may mindlessly fight over an ancestral asset, without even attempting to know the law in property matters. An illiterate wife may resign to fate and put up with an ill-treating husband, sulking daily and complaining to God. A good-hearted lawyer, just by his knowledge of the law of the land, can come to the rescue of such people and bring light into their lives, can’t he? The same applies to every knowledge domain: Medicine, Engineering, Architecture, Physics, Archaeology, Economics, and so on.
Where do they all gain knowledge from? From Universities, books, and experts in the field. Where do these experts get their knowledge from? Someone has taken the trouble of understanding the whole thing first-hand. While all civil engineers have learnt how civil structures get erected and built, how they can be designed for safety and utility, they all draw their knowledge from someone who first attempted to know it directly. Someone in the past took the bold step of understanding how physical materials like bricks and lime, and stone could create structures like homes and temples. Understanding something is different from being courageous, right? But you need the courage to step out of all your knowledge, ‘the known’, find the freedom to observe, be keenly curious, and not give up easily. Intelligence proceeds on the premise that there exists a riddle, a law, a principle, and if one understood it rightly, then the code can be cracked.
That is how you solve all problems, isn’t it? You look at a leaking tap, open it, diagnose the issue, and fix it. Who is it within you that trusts the possibility of this whole issue being solved completely? That is intelligence.
Most of us are merely slaves of knowledge. We have become doctors or engineers or accountants only because we studied it long ago in college and got a job requiring us to do the same thing repeatedly. But a few amongst us are indeed intelligent. This means they are curious, they want to know how things work, and they believe that someone has cracked the code of how things work the way they ought to.
Much of what comes to us as knowledge is merely snap-shot observations made once upon a time. What we learn in Physics or Astronomy today are snap-shot observations and inferences made at various times, by multiple scientists. Same with Medicine or Engineering or History or Chemistry. Some laws have been inferred, useful applications have been derived from them, and much of humanity has been employed to servicing these knowledge streams.
In other words, even the most outstanding scientist is, at best, a lot of inferred and sorted knowledge, based on rational thought. During his entire life, he or she would have cared to come up with a direct insight into the mechanism of God’s world once or twice. That is it!
On the other hand, someone like Krishnamurti asks us to dispense with knowledge entirely, once for all. Which means, give up all the laws and principles that you have learnt. Give up all the data and observation points from where these laws were inferred. Just renounce the whole activity of the brain. Stop living in the brain, and start observing life. Stay as the observer, don’t take a snap-shot of things there, don’t infer something, word it in some form, and place that as a theory or label in your brain. Stop that brain activity that disallows you from staying with the unfolding scene or circumstance. Which makes you move away by locking you in words, theories, concepts, and pictures, and the vanity of knowing it!
Using intelligence per se is not Jñāna Yoga, just as doing Karma sincerely by itself is not Karma Yoga. Extending the same argument, having feelings for the Lord by itself is not Bhakti Yoga. Your intelligence is into Jñāna Yoga only when your brain realises the fruitless activity that it indulges in compulsively, and makes a significant effort to stop it. Not by hushing it in any artificial manner, but by realising that the brain is not interested in actually knowing or holding or seeing that thing, but it seems keener to harvest a theory or concept or an image. One must realise the brain’s apathy, and that is how one gives up the hunger for knowledge. Cure yourself of that craving to know, give up the security of theories and step out into reality; walk naked, without the compulsion of brain activity.
Simply put, you must stop organising or figuring out everything in your brain. You must genuinely be concerned at how your brain can move from one conclusion to another, one judgment to another, one observation to another, almost recklessly, without caring about the Truth of things and beings.
Therefore, saints like Paramāchārya or Chandraśekhara Bhārati or Tapovan Mahārāj take to austerity in order to starve the brain and cure it of its restlessness; that is the attempt. Hence, austerity! Austerity is not about curbing the flesh; it is an aṅkuśa for the brain. It is a sword used against the restlessness of the brain. Punishing the body is only when you feel that the restlessness has entered and pervaded it. Such punishment is merely meant to get back the restlessness to its original brain centre, where it is to be dissolved. They are attempting to arrest the entire slide into illusion! The sense is that intelligence doesn’t need to be acquired, but illusion is to be arrested and dismissed.
What we generically call as illusion, the Vivekacudamaṇi specifically describes it as vikṣepa śakti, ‘the power that throws you away’, ‘the power that scatters you away’. Throws you away from what? Generically, you could say ‘from Truth’. But specifically, it means from the centre where your intelligence misunderstood in the first place. Misunderstanding proceeds from non-understanding; isn’t that easy to realise? Non-comprehension is āvaraṇa śakti, something that blinds you from seeing right at the moment of observation, and then you launch into misunderstanding, conceptualisation, theories, and so on. Therefore, true Jñāna Yoga is when you recognise that the brain has now gone into illusion, speculating wildly, and is consequently feeling lost. Retrieve it back to the centre of illusion, the point of misunderstanding. This is Viveka. The more you stay put at the point of misunderstanding, you will be able to break through the sheath of blindness, āvaraṇa śakti!
You remember the family-drama movies made during the 1960’s, don’t you? The father is a good man, the son is also a good boy, but they have a misunderstanding. And, after 20 years, the son meets his father, and the misunderstanding gets resolved. Yes? What brings them back after 20 years? A hurt within, an unclosed wound? A feeling of something remaining to be settled? You are again and again called back by the very centre of misunderstanding. Until you address it, it won’t leave you. You could take 20 years, if you insistently hide it or ignore it, or you could heed to it, and take just an hour. The wound calls you back.
So too, with something that you haven’t understood. You haven’t actually got a grip over it. You have easily concluded; formed a concept, or idea, or just a good generic sense. You haven’t hit right comprehension! Something tells you that you haven’t understood, and you are flighty, or specious. Respond to it right away. Go back and work harder. Think better. You will cross the centre of misunderstanding.
Those who have worked with intelligence would know the way of illusion, and the brain’s power to create fictitious and artificial realities, and subscribe to the same. This is why you are a good scholar if you are still grappling with it, and not ready to conclude easily. Resisting easy conclusions is a great virtue when it comes to the brain.
We will see more.
Where does Vyāsā’s prescription take us?
Whether by action, or feeling, or comprehension, or by taking to each of them simultaneously, Vyāsā is attempting to show one thing clearly.
There is much to be done here and now. With respect to the ‘I’. Rather than searching for knowledge or exposure or tools or āśrams or religious places, something ought to be done right here and now, and Vyāsā goes to extraordinary lengths to prove that it is possible. He wonders why Arjuna can’t reset his life fundamentally, right here and now, and begin working on the ‘I’, rather than getting worked up over property, relationships, nationhood, righteousness, etc. Straighten the ‘I’, deepen its roots, break into the subconscious, and from there hold all of these—property, position, relationships—lightly. Hold firmly, consistently, yet lightly.
It is for this reason that the Bhagavadgītā doesn’t prescribe abject renunciation. Renunciation can be subtle. Gross rejection of wealth, property, sex, family etc., doesn’t give us an entrance into the subtle subconscious at all, and thereby, you will never be able to read the mind of this creation or that of the creator. You won’t even have access to it. Therefore, the broad suggestion seems to be, ‘Stay put where you are, stay rooted in your culture and svadharma, find the inner freedom to move towards the higher, either through the doer, or the experiencer, or the knower’.
The Bhagavadgītā is not just a treatise of Vyāsā’s compassion for a man like Arjuna—very successful in the world outside but yet to begin the inner journey, and, who doesn’t know how to break into the subconscious by himself—but is a well-laid compendium to walk from the 25th to the 50th mile. Vyāsā seems to be saying this to Arjuna: “Son, do you want to renounce? Are you fed up with the way the world is? Good! Why did it take you so long to come to this realisation? Anyway, now that you are here, don’t be a fool to give up the whole thing. Instead, I will teach you how to re-begin life here, and give you a completely different land to stand on, one that you can’t conquer by your gāṇḍīva. From that land, this whole world and life as a whole would look and feel completely different. Take this gift, son!”
The journey from the 25th mile, therefore, is to discover a different land to stand on, a different vantage point to view this world and life as a whole. It is walking into vast grasslands, into space, it is flowing as a natural river. The richness of bounty and sense in that land shall make you realise how petty and small you were until the 25th mile.
Just to give a sense of scale and gravity, an individual at the 10th mile would be truly minuscule, in terms of experience, the sheer expanse in vision, the depth of quality in engagement, and the upward spirit about life, compared to the one at the 45th mile. This is why men like Swami Chinmayananda can easily pooh-pooh the kind of troubles and sorrows and dilemmas we are routinely involved in.
Twist in the tale
If, by now, you assumed that the journey of Sannyāsā is for the ‘I’ to be growing taller, sharper, bigger, heartier, nobler, there is a surprise. All growth into an immense stature ends by the 50th mile. Therefore, most saints and seekers lose their way in the journey after rising to certain heights in the subjective realm. They, too, are held by the same assumption as you: That you will simply keep growing subjectively, which gets reflected as external growth also. Inner growth reflects externally as outer growth; that is the general idea.
Unfortunately, or maybe even fortunately, the journey into the unconscious, into the very heart of Īśvara, is far different. The journey until the 50th mile can be termed the journey of Dharma. But the path ends there. And now, you will have to open up the path of Truth. If you are still operating on the mode of expansiveness, magnanimity, a life of non-attachment, humility, worship of the universal creator, then, you are likely to miss the path of Truth.
Truth is that which will eat up the entire huge self that you have discovered until now.
In the usual parlance, we would have heard that the path of Satyam and the path of Dharma are the same. Well, they aren’t. At least, they aren’t exactly the same. Meaning, if you walked the path of Dharma, you are very likely to assume that the same path will lead you to Satyam too. It will not! You will have to begin on an entirely different note. The man who has walked the path of Satyam alone can probably say that the path of Dharma and Satyam can be aligned as one. But, the one who is still on the path of Dharma is very likely to assume that Satyam lies a few miles ahead of Dharma, on the same road. That is a dangerous assumption to make.
What has Satyam got to do with working your way into the unconscious or the unmanifest?
The apathy of post-Śaṅkara scholarship
Before that, an important observation. Post-Śaṅkara, the very nature of spirituality in Hinduism changed. At least, Śaṅkara was instrumental in bringing about a significant impact amongst those who believed that they were on the path of mokṣa, or Truth, or self-realisation, whatever you want to call it. And hence, there emerged the need for much scholarship, because Śaṅkara placed an enormous emphasis on Jñānam or Samyagdarśanam. His commentaries repeatedly stress that there is nothing to be done really, meaning action takes us nowhere, and the Truth is to be merely acknowledged, realised, ‘awared’! Prāptasya prāptiḥ!
Why such an emphasis on Jñānam, one may ask. It seems to favour those prone to thinking rather than acting, prone to studying and reading books rather than connecting with people. Doesn’t that give such people an unfair advantage? That would be the question. Wouldn’t this make people born with one kind of svabhāva—oriented to intellectualism—superior to the rest? Added to that, it appeared that Śaṅkara was making ‘being born a Brahmin’ a necessary step in the path of Truth.
Unfortunately, this very sense of Jñānam has launched a false trait and tendency amongst seekers, mainly due to ignorance. Post-Śaṅkara scholarship, and even the so-called masters who are considered self-realised amongst the seeker community, have come upon various thought models, multiple kinds of tarka (logic or argument) to simply confuse the brain and accept some ideas of Truth. Even the great Swāmi Vidyāraṇya has fallen into this trap. His Pañcadaśī, for instance, is full of models, arguments, and illustrations, based on the fundamental premise that something exists that is to be known. While the premise is unquestionable, what one has made of it is the thing under scrutiny.
In the last century, though, the necessity of ‘being born a Brahmin’ has definitely seen a relaxation even amongst the seeker community. But, Śaṅkara and intellectualism seem to have been interwoven inextricably.
Knowing has become an intellectual activity. In effect, many of these well-meaning Swamis, in their real life, are pious, non-covetous, detached, make an effort to remain uninvolved in things and events around them, and come up with various kinds of models and tarka in the name of Self-knowledge. Every Sannyāsī knows this: that the very vitality of spiritual life taught by Swami Chinmayananda or Vivekananda seems to end abruptly in intellectualisation. Therefore, many saints in the Ramakrishna order privately distance themselves from Śaṅkara and his teachings because they associate it with lot of intellectual noise. So is the case with many saints in Chinmaya Mission or Divine Life Society. The same is true of many sādhus in the Himalayas. In their private conversations, most good seekers don’t seek light from Śaṅkara, because the experience is of unnecessary brain-twisting. Yet, none of them can give up Śaṅkara altogether because he addresses something fundamental to human existence.
Even for those who gallantly take to such intellectualism, who appear to have waded through many a conflicting argument, who appear to have sorted it all, their actual lives have seen nothing beyond piety and detachment. The fragrance of Truth seems nowhere near. Many of them seem to have become clever, coming up with fantastic justifications and absurdly wrong rationales for how they live inside.
With the result that to an outsider, those who are trekking the spiritual path from the 25th to the 50th mile appear inspiring, lofty, and tall, while those who are stagnating post that look ridiculous, repeating the same thing they have done for the last so many years, without finding any movement. Unfortunately, when they re-read Śaṅkara, their brains continue to concoct the same set of theories and ideas, and they keep chanting the same thing. All this goes under the name of Jñānam.
They have missed something vital! It doesn’t seem so evident to them, which indeed is sad!
The movement that pierces into the unconscious requires integrity coupled with intelligence. To put it more in bare terms, Light and Existence.
Your existential being is that which experiences life deeply. It is the one that desires, moves, relaxes, experiences assurance or release, etc. Light is intelligence, a path opened up, a direction discovered, a nugget of an insight into creation. Until the 25th mile, your existential being is tied to something of the world. Pleasure, property, family bonds, children, position, reputation, etc. Even if you intellectually understand that you shouldn’t be so attached, your existential being clings to any one, or more than one, of these. Because that is where it has organised its security.
Your existential being must renounce cleanly both the tangible and the intangible. The tangible is what it found until the 25th mile. The intangible is what it found from the 25th to the 50th mile. It must be utterly free of all forms of securities, or the craving for the same. Only then is your existential being ready to dance with light. Because, the unconscious cannot be penetrated with will power. You have to renounce your will power right at the 25th mile. Until the 50th, you may still use that will power sparingly, just to keep you on track. But, once you begin the journey of Truth, Light, and Existence, will power is to be utterly relinquished. So, the very idea of self-control is to be given up fully. The division between ‘what I deem as right’ and ‘what my personality can actually do or move towards’ must get erased fully.
Every insight you discover opens up a path for your existential being to move or find release from. Every such actual movement in Truth reveals new light and dispels the fog entirely. Light and Existence must move in tandem; that is the very dynamism of movement that penetrates the unconscious. If you hold on to words and ideas or use logic, but grope not for light, your existence won’t move. And the whole thing shall remain a stupid brain activity, without seeing light. You would end up seeking authentication from a belief or concept, or an authority like Śaṅkara, rather than working your way towards reality.
The value that Ramaṇa brings
By not just the power of his experience, but by the existential objectivity that Ramaṇa achieved, he brought tremendous value to the spiritual seeker. And, unlike the philosophers, his living message was indeed very direct and highly penetrating. Because, as I said, to the serious seeker, penetration into the subconscious and unconscious is the key. The frustration of having to live with words and beliefs is too painful! You want something real and solid.
By his focus on the ‘I’, Ramaṇa deftly brought in objectivity. In simple words, he seemed to say that the Self is that which can observe and objectify the ‘I’ thought. Simply defined, you as the observer is the true Self, if you can easily watch the ‘I’ thought. Just that single pointer can take you speedily across the subconscious. But, cross the 50th mile, and the pointer tends to lose its power. Because the ‘seen’ is no longer held by the ‘I’ thought anymore.
Let me explain. Right from the 25th mile, one of the salient features of spiritual sādhana is detachment. Detachment is where you experience yourself, the Self, as different from things outside you, including the body. Vyāsā describes such a one as muktasaṅgaḥ, free of contact. Śaṅkara describes him as nissaṅgaḥ, non-attached. DVG, in his Maṅkutimmana Kagga, says, ‘eraḍu koṇegaḻa nīṃ māḍu manadālayadi, horakoṇeyali logarāṭagaḻanāḍu, viramisobbane oḻamaneya śāntiyali’, meaning, ‘Divide your heart into two, the outer and the inner. In the outer, do what you have to do with the world. In the inner, stay alone as the peaceful Self’! This is not self-distancing. It takes quite long for monks and spiritual seekers to know the difference between ‘abject giving up’, and ‘detachment’. Detachment is not some fine line of balance between utter indulgence and abject denial. Neither is it a subtle midpoint between taking full responsibility and giving up responsibility altogether. You must find an inner distance between yourself and what you are involved in. That distance is the space of detachment, which Śaṅkara is calling as the no-contact zone.
Seekers repeatedly fall into traps of objects, relationships, inner fears, complexes, conveniences, so on and so forth. If a Guru were to rap them on their shoulders and remind them of detachment, they tend to become vigilant like a BSF soldier on a high-firing Indo-Pak border. Such vigilance lasts for a few days, and then, things are back to normal again.
Therefore, seekers are continually looking for some keys to stay in the no-contact zone for long. Ramaṇa provides that with his pointer about the ‘I’-thought. ‘Keep your eye on the ‘I’-thought’, Ramaṇa would say. ‘You will stay as the detached Self’, we could add.
Anyway, as I said earlier, even this pointer can reach you until the 50th mile alone. It can take you no further. It has no penetration into the unconscious. Why? Because the unconscious is too vast and versatile, sophisticated and intricate, intimate and existential, all at the same time. It is, in fact, the entire of God’s creation. And that can’t be wrapped up by the ‘I’-thought. This means that if you have taken to Ramaṇa alone and not anyone else, and been an observer of the ‘I’-thought, then you are likely to collapse back to the 15th or 20th mile, where you belonged, after a brief experience. If, on the other hand, you have done what Vyāsā asked you to do, you could, with the help of Ramaṇa, stay put at around the 50th mile.
We still have much to cover.
Path of Satyam different from that of Dharma
It is rare for a seeker to step out of the path of Dharma and discover the path of Truth, all over again. Sannyāsā is continuing renunciation! Renouncing the very path you trek, again and again! Meaning, not take it for granted, even for a moment.
Integrity is being truthful, simple and straight. Ruthless honesty with oneself. Such honesty alone will make you give up all the easy and clever explanations you have learnt by a casual study of many commentaries, or by living smartly in this world. Such honesty is required for you to study life deeply, not from a book, but directly, and give up the apathy and laziness to come to easy conclusions. Truth, insight, intelligence, experience, existence, all of them must go together. And such a journey of Satyam alone will destroy every idea, concept, sense, template, hunch, and experience that you have so far discovered until the 50th mile. All of that goes. They will all be consumed in a fire that rages. A fire that is provoked every time you slide into ignorance and illusion.
To be more specific, the journey from the 25th to the 50th mile rests on an ālambanā, a firm ground, or substratum. For example, if you take to Karma Yoga, the ālambanā is the kartā, the doer himself. The kartā becomes the pivot upon whom you are centred, and that single centre provides direction to the entire journey from the 25th to the 50th, the whole sweep. There is much work to do, much expanse to be covered, as shown earlier. But, from the 50th mile, you will have to give up the security of all ālambanā! Security of all feelings in Bhakti, the security of all paths that action can open up, the security of all hunches and senses opened up by working on illusion for long. The journey from the 50th begins only when you give up the security of any path or ālambanā that you rest upon!
Krishnamurti, in fact, begins from the 50th mile. ‘Give up the security of all paths’, he would say. ‘Reject authority’, he would vehemently suggest. It doesn’t matter to him whether you are a monk or gṛhastha, a mystic wanderer or a career-minded politician, a poet, a scientist, or a humanist. Discover light today, every day. Reject the security of the sense of constant time too: today, yesterday, tomorrow, every day. Security of path and security of time are both to be given up. That is when the path of integrity opens up. And the readiness to walk by yourself, whether someone before you has walked it or not, is crucial. It doesn’t matter what Śaṅkara said or didn’t say; what matters is where you are, what you are up to, what path you are stuck to. It is in this sense that Krishnamurti vehemently asks you to give up all authority. Because, even a single thought that confirms or ratifies what a Śaṅkara or a Vyāsā or Buddha said or did, locks you in thought-security.
The journey now is not to seek the security of authentication from Śaṅkara or some saint of that order. Because, we are seeking to meet the authenticator himself, aren’t we? If Śaṅkara already authenticates you, how could you be even seeking the authenticator? Like the student of the Kena asks, ‘Who authenticates all these? Who directs the mind and the senses? Who gets the Prāṇās to engage? Directed by whom does the faculty of speech speak? Who engages the senses with their specific objects?’
Because, by now, you are already attempting to zero in on the entity that authenticates. You still aren’t seeing him clearly. You have a sense of the nature of authentication, though. You have a clue of how the senses receive the sanction, without them seeking it, for instance. Authentication, you know, is not a choice exercised amongst multiple options. That also is clear. You know clearly that the creator is not a common juggler treating the world as a casino. And that there is a tremendous sanctity to this sanction. To the one receiving it, it makes a huge difference. It is not just a sentiment but is life-changing.
Krishnamurti, though, has a different approach, unlike the student of the Kena. To him, it is necessary, existentially crucial, that the flesh of the soul meets life at its bare, with no interface of authority or thought. For, only then will the soul be able to completely bring under scrutiny every stuff that drives it from behind.
So, what drives you from behind?
Krishnamurti broadly calls it thought. Someone else may call it fragments of consciousness. All these are words, basically, if you know not what is being pointed out. Suffice it to say that the universal mind is an enormous and gigantic order, and it derives its complex space-time sophistication from fundamental fragments and ego-structure. And, there is a way these fragments combine and move, which causes the entire universe to move.
The journey from the 50th to the 75th mile is not merely to allow the drivers behind you to reveal themselves fully, but to find the source of these fragments, figure out how they move, and then consider the possibility of dissolving the entire fragmentation of consciousness. Fragmentation of consciousness hides as the unconscious in the layman. And that, due to ignorance, makes the individual assume something lesser as himself, and hence, the ego is formed. When a seeker is serious enough about finding an end to the mind, not merely settling the froths and waves, but ending it all, then alone will he stumble upon the creator’s design. That is penetrating the unconscious.
It requires extraordinary integrity and extreme vulnerability, along with keen intelligence, to crack the creator’s code. The quality of renunciation must indeed be of a high order. Śaṅkara would merely call it purity and point out to the student of the Kena, for example. He would ask you and me, ‘How did that boy or youngster come to these questions at all? How did these questions become so crucial to him? How is he so sure that answers to these questions can indeed crack the creator’s golden womb, as though?’ To Śaṅkara, this is purity. Coming to the substance of the issue right away and staying there until one finds the answer. To condense the entire lifespan of all life here to merely one question, to seek the man who knows the answer to it, and wait upon him to deliver the insight: that is purity for you, Śaṅkara would say with a heart choking with tenderness.
Whether you call it purity, intelligence, or integrity, or keenness of the soul, all could mean the same if only you saw what ought to be seen.
It is only from the 50th mile onwards that you can be utterly focussed on what happens behind you. You are always conscious of what emerges through you, from you, within you. For the first time, the object of consciousness is everything that comes out of you. Hence, Ramaṇa’s ‘I’-thought focus will not take you anywhere.
Unravelling the structure of the unconscious, and the mind of God
Broadly, the unconscious, or the mind of God, can be delineated into two parts. One is the fragmentation of consciousness. The second is how the ego is formed at the levels of waking, dream, and deep sleep. The first one contributes to Nānātvam, diversity, while the second contributes to the creation of time, and hence, the experience of gradualism.
If you haven’t so far taken Vyāsā’s suggestions of Karma, Bhakti, and Jñāna Yoga seriously, then, you won’t be able to comprehend fully the fragmentation, Nānātvam. And, if you aren’t truthful to yourself, if you haven’t adhered to the very spirit of renunciation—giving up the false—you will never see through the ego structure. Delusion and self-deception stalk you at every step.
Let me explain. Instead, let us find out how you and I, groping internally, can figure out this extraordinary structure of the universal mind, of God, of the unconscious. Vyāsā calls it parā prakṛti, the higher prakṛti!
Wherefrom is this extraordinary diversity, both in the animate as well as the inanimate? Even if there be such diversity, why is there this sense of an underlying unity? Is this sense of unity emerging from the ego’s scramble, which craves a centre of existence? Does the ego experience assurance about its own existence if it knows that the universe indeed has an underlying thread?
When you keep to these questions, the point is to step aside from the ego. Because, we aren’t sure whether there exists a centre to creation at all. It seems to be an assumption of the ego. Or some learnt knowledge. Or more of a belief. The idea of unity or the underlying thread that the ego fosters disallows it from acknowledging the emerging diversity. When your existential purpose is to dismantle the very structure of consciousness, then you would be careful not to let the ego spoil the show. You would give up all hang-ups about unity or centre and go along with the diversity. Which means you directly throb along with the emerging diversity. That is how you discover centre-less living. Because, there exists no idea of a centre or unity within you.
Simultaneously, you will see changes in the way you understand your daily sleeping and waking.
We are getting deeper. Save your breath.
The dual mode of the brain
For an unevolved man, sleep is just like becoming a log. You hit the sack, you are sort of ‘out of coverage area’, and when you wake up, you may even have a hangover. That is it! Even during the waking state, when the individual is resting, doing nothing, or watching TV lazily, that state is no different from sleep. The brain is doing the least activity there.
So, there is the lazy mode, and then there is the activity mode: Task mode. Work mode. Anxiety mode. Brooding mode. ‘Driving or tracking something’ mode.
Your brain is modelled to function in two modes. Either sleep or activity. Therefore, when people aren’t active, they are likely to slip into sleep easily. To keep themselves away from sleep or laziness, people tend to take to activity. The more consistently active they are, the more they feel they have overtaken laziness by quite a distance. That is the sense of achievement!
This dual-mode of the brain is not conducive for the spiritual path. As you get absorbed in the subconscious, you will see your sleep patterns and wakefulness change. You will no longer be able to stick to tight routines and schedules. You would require quite an amount of flexibility because the subconscious mind doesn’t obey the guidelines and expectations of the waking mind.
When you renounce the waking ego, which means you renounce this dual-mode of operation, you are available to nudges from the subconscious at any point in time. The wall between the conscious and the subconscious tends to become weak, and there is transport across the wall. Only then can you gradually find the subconscious mind itself fully, even during waking. Isn’t that the aspiration of Vyāsā in Karma Yoga, or Bhakti Yoga, or Jñāna Yoga? That you wake up as the subconscious mind while in the conscious waking state? That is how you completely conquer the dual-mode of activity-laziness of your Prāṇās! That is how you now transcend to the higher kośās, shifting your centre from there.
This continues even when you cross the 50th mile. Now, you are even more vulnerable to what emerges from behind you.
The Māṇḍūkya and Consciousness
The pursuit in the unconscious is not only to decode the various fragments of consciousness, but also to figure out how they join to create an origin, and hence a centre for the ego. Once you comprehend the mechanism that emerges as the ego, then how the entire mechanism works at the subconscious and the conscious falls into place. When you see the mechanism of thought working live, you can immediately see the various twists and turns it makes, how it manifests, and why the mind finds it necessary to erect walls between the conscious and the subconscious, the subconscious and the unconscious.
The Māṇḍūkya Upaniṣad doesn’t talk of conscious or subconscious. It describes the Self as having four quarters or four parts. And, Śaṅkara clarifies in his commentary that the four parts are not separate like A, B, C, and D. Instead, A is a subset of B, and A+B become a subset of C, and the whole thing (A + B + C) when dissolved is D. Which is what we now exactly call as the conscious, subconscious, and the unconscious. Modern Psychology deals with all of these more through factual research, rather than working into it intuitively. Like the four levels of extension in a telescoping camera, each one slides within the next. The conscious slides into the subconscious, and both together slide into the unconscious.
But, this is the structure of the Universal mind once you have figured it out. But, if you haven’t, then you shall deem the physical universe and the physical body alone to be real, which means you will deem the conscious mind or the waking state alone as real. That is the brilliance of the pointer by the Māṇḍūkya! The conscious mind has the power to own up itself as everything. That is the jāgrat-abhimānī puruṣa, Vaiśvānara. In other words, the 25 percent entity appears as the 100 percent entity during the waking state, and is even claiming that he is all that is there!
Let me explain this a little further. How do you experience yourself? When you wake up from sleep, you say that ‘I woke up’. Which means what? That, you are really the person who operates in this world, as this individual, and who now went to sleep. Sleep is just one more experience for the waker, isn’t it? The waker ego seems to be the centre, the very definition of the ‘I’. Hence, you deem the subconscious as hidden talents or weaknesses, or potency, which manifests now and then.
But what is the reality? You are the entire Self—unconscious, subconscious, and conscious, put together. Out of ignorance, you seem to consider the conscious alone as real, while the subconscious and unconscious remain hidden.
Do you see the difference? The Upaniṣad says the entity who manifests in the waking state as Vaiśvānara is merely 25 percent of himself, but has made the error of declaring that this is all there is to him. Now, if that entity has to acknowledge that he may be limited, and that a greater entity exists as the subconscious, and that this Vaiśvānara must relent for that greater entity to manifest fully; only then the journey from the 25th mile to the 50th mile can proceed. The conscious mind is now willing to acknowledge that it is the outermost telescoped entity, and hence is willing to withdraw into the next bigger socket, the subconscious. I am assuming you understand the illustration rightly!
Dissolving the Cosmic organisation
Let me summarise. We said that the Universal mind itself is fragmented. And, there is a way those fragments combine and operate together. That is the first. The second is the organisation of compartments as conscious, subconscious, and unconscious. The first brings about space, while the second fosters the sense of time.
So, what is the journey from the 50th to the 75th mile? What happens if one gravitates towards the unconscious? What is seen, rather? That is what I have summarised above. Then, how does one dissolve that extraordinary structure?
Śaṅkara refers to this as Nididhyāsana: Staying with this entire elaborate structure, moment to moment, in utter nakedness and renunciation, and resolving the whole cosmic mind. Which means their identities can be dissolved. Nānātvam, multiplicity, can be dissolved. So too, the organisation of the ego into three levels can be dismantled.
The final frontier
So, what is the Self? The Self is everything, as the Māṇḍūkya states right at the beginning. Then, why has this entire thing come about this way? Why would there be a necessity for Sannyāsa itself? Why should one seek the Truth?
Rather than ask why, the immediate issue is always: why and how does the ‘other’ exist? Once every division ‘out there’ has been dissolved, only two entities exist: ‘I’ and the ‘other’.
Yuṣmad-Asmad-pratyaya-gocarau, describes Śaṅkara in his Adhyāsa bhāṣya, his introduction to the Brahmasūtrās. It means, ‘that which answers to ‘I”, and ‘that which answers to the ‘other”. Śaṅkara takes on the very experience of duality directly there. The gravity of that proposal will be deeply appreciated only by a seeker who comes thus far, until the 75th mile, who is locked in duality. Duality is just two parallel lines, two parallel planes. They never converge, they never meet, and they exist everlastingly. And, the very experience of pure duality, the way Śaṅkara catches it, is harrowing. And, therefore, the relief in recognition of the non-dual Self is indeed enormous, genuinely liberating.
Of course, as part of intellectualisation, Advaita and the Adhyāsa bhāṣya are learnt, argued upon, fiercely debated, and lots of side-notes have come about. But, to the seeker who wants the Truth and nothing else, who cannot, by the very nature of his grain, settle for anything less than what is, all those ideas of ‘learnt Advaita’ will be easily forsaken. And, as Śaṅkara states it so simply, duality is a myth, which seems to have come about from nowhere.
Krishnamurti, too talks about the observer itself being the observed. Duality is the most challenging puzzle on this enormous and grand journey. Non-duality is the only refuge, the real solution. The collapse of the mind’s apparent objectification in front, as though separate from oneself, is the only liberation.
The Sacred Land
The entire journey is indeed sacred. But the seeker experiences and knows sanctity only when he crosses the 50th mile, and enters the path of Satyam. Until then, sanctity as a gripping, intimate phenomenon is unknown. You would only have visited pilgrimage centres in the name of the sacred or bathed your body in holy rivers, or chanted mantras. All these only amounts to indulgence in symbolism and expansive feelings. None of these will get you even remotely to know or sense the very churn of sanctity.
The Self alone is the land of the Sacred. In finding oneself entirely, in finding the entire universe fully, in dismissing the very substratum of duality, in that alone exists true liberation and freedom.
The one who finishes this journey is indeed the Self, as well as the true Sannyāsī. The one who intends to complete the journey should also be called a Sannyāsī, but he has to be careful. There is no guarantee that he will indeed finish the journey if he isn’t at it seriously every day, every moment.