The Yoga of the celestial Sound Current – from the book "The crown of life", written by Sant Kirpal Singh
In the foregoing sections of this study, we have seen how it has been taught since time immemorial by the Indian sages that behind the apparent self of which we are conscious in everyday existence, the self that shirks pain and seeks pleasure, that changes from moment to moment and is subject to the effect of time and space, there is the permanent "Self", the Atman. This Atman forms the basic reality, the final substance, the essence of essences, and it is in the light of its being that all else assumes meaning. Likewise, we have seen how the Indian mystics have analysed the nature of the Universe. Seen from the surface, our world appears to be a queer composition of contradictory elements. Faced with these contradictions man is compelled to look for a Creator who holds the opposing forces in balance and represents permanence behind the flux of existence. But as he penetrates deeper and still deeper, he discovers that the contradictions are only apparent, not real: that far from being opposed in nature, they are differentiated manifestations of the same Power, and that they are not even "manifestations" properly so called, but are illusions of the ignorant mind which are dispelled in the light of realization when one begins to know that the ocean is changeless though it appears to change.
These two insights are basic to Indian thought, and on closer examination will be seen to be not separate, but one. The recognition of the absolute nature of the inner Self, the Atman, implies recognition of the true nature of existence of the Paramatman, the Brahman; while an understanding of the nature of Paramatman or Brahman implies an understanding of the Atman. If behind the changing, time-ridden self, there be an eternal, changeless and timeless One, and if behind the flux of mutability of the creation as we normally know it, there be an Absolute Immutable Reality, then the two must be related and must in fact be identified. How can there be two Absolutes? How can the Atman be distinct from the Brahman, when all that is, is only a projection of Brahman?
The moment we realize these truths about the nature of Self and Overself, or the One Truth about the nature of Reality, the problem that inevitably poses itself is: Why do we in everyday existence experience the world in terms of duality and plurality, feeling ourselves separate from each other and from life in general, and what may be the means for transcending this unnecessary constriction of ourselves and merging into the Ocean of Consciousness that is our essential state? The answer to the first part of this question has been that the spirit, in its downward descent, gets enveloped in fold upon fold of mental and material apparatus which compel it to experience life in terms of their limitations, until, no longer conscious of its own inherent nature, the soul identifies itself with their realm of time and space – nam-rup-prapanch. The answer to the second part has been that the soul can bear witness to itself, provided it can divest itself of its limiting adjuncts. The many forms and variations of yoga that we have examined are no more than the various methods evolved for accomplishing this process of disentanglement or spiritual involution.
The one recurring theme in the teachings of all great rishis and mystics has been that their insights are based not on inherited learning, philosophical speculation or logical reasoning, but on firsthand inner experience or anubhava – a word whose lucidity of expressiveness defies translation. They explain that seeming differences are not because of any contradiction inherent in what they say, but because men vary greatly in temperament, and what is possible for the man of a cultured and refined intelligence is impossible for the unsophisticated peasant, and vice versa. Various rivers may wend through different plains, but they all reach the sea. Patanjali's Eightfold Path is the first major attempt to correlate the many available avenues into a single coherent system for spiritual reintegration. Later rishis and teachers derived much guidance from him, but their teachings implicitly embody the recognition that his system is too exacting and tends to deny spiritual attainment to the average man. Furthermore, it is so complex that for the majority of sadhaks (aspirants) it is likely to become a maze in which they lose their way and mistake the intermediate goals for the final destination. And so, while Mantra Yoga, Laya Yoga, Hatha Yoga and especially Raja Yoga carry on Patanjali's tradition in modified forms, there emerge three other major forms that represent, in contrast to the Ashtanga Marg, a great simplification and specialization. The Jnana yogin, the Karma yogin or the bhakta no longer needs to retire from the world or undergo exacting psycho-physical disciplines. Each approaches the goal from a particular angle and reaches it by sheer purposeful concentration.
The end of all yoga, as Shankara clarified, is absorption into the Brahman. All the paths therefore aim at samadhi, in which state such experience can be attained. But if Patanjali's system and its derivatives have certain serious drawbacks, it is a question whether the three other major forms are wholly without them. If for the Karma yogin freedom lies through detachment and desirelessness, is it possible for him to be completely free? Does he not seek emancipation in following his path, and is not that itself a form of desire? Besides, is it psychologically possible for the human mind to detach itself completely from its normal field of experience without first anchoring itself in another and higher one? It is a universal characteristic of man that he seeks kinship with something other than himself. This is the law of his life and source of all his great achievements. The child is bound to his toys, and the adult to family and society. As in the case of a child, you may not without harm deprive him of his playthings until he has outgrown them psychologically, likewise to expect the sadhak to give up his social and family attachments without first outgrowing them by discovering something greater and larger, is to cut at the root of life. It will not bring progress but regression, for the man who undertakes it as an enforced discipline only succeeds in repressing his natural desires. The result is not the enhancement of consciousness but its numbing and atrophy, not detachment but indifference. This, as Mr. T. S. Eliot has pointed out, "differed completely" from both "attachment" and "detachment," resembling
…the others as death resembles life, being between two lives – unflowering, between the live and the dead nettle.
The discipline of Karma Yoga is a necessary one, but if it is to fulfil its end it must be completed by another discipline of an esoteric kind, without which it tends to reduce itself to an ineffectual attempt to lift oneself up by one's shoestrings.
As for the Jnana yogin, jnana may carry him very far indeed. It may take him beyond the gross physical plane into the spiritual ones. But can Jnana carry him beyond itself? And if Jnana, which as we have seen, forms one of the koshas that encompass the atman, albeit a very rarefied one, how can it then give the soul absolute freedom? Jnana is the help and yet it may prove to be the hindrance. It has indubitably the power to rid the soul of all encumbrances grosser than itself, but having reached thus far it tends to clog further progress. And since it is not of the true essence of the soul, the Absolute, it cannot be wholly above the reach of Kala or Time. Mystics distinguish between the two realms of time, Kala and Mahakala, thus: the first of these extends over the physical world and the less gross regions immediately above it, whereas the second stretches to all the higher planes that are not of pure spirit. Hence, the gains that the Jnani achieves may be out of the reach of time as we normally conceive it (kala), but they are not wholly beyond the reach of greater time (mahakala). It need hardly be pointed out that what is true of Jnana Yoga is also true of those forms of yoga that depend upon the pranic energies. They too are not of the true nature of the Atman, and as such cannot lead It to a state of Absolute Purity, beyond the realm of relativity.
Besides its inability to ensure absolute freedom, Jnana Yoga is not a path accessible to the average man. It demands extraordinary intellectual powers and stamina which few possess. It was to meet this difficulty as well as that posed by Karma Yoga when practised by itself, that Bhakti Yoga came into prominence. He who normally would not be able to detach himself from the world nor had the mental powers to analyse the true Self from the untrue could by the power of love leap or bridge the gap and reach the goal. But how can man love that which has neither form nor shape? So the bhakta anchors himself in the love of some Isht-deva, some definite manifestation of God. But in overcoming this practical difficulty he exposes himself to the same limitations as the jnani. The chosen Isht-deva bv its very nature represents a limitation upon the Nameless and Formless Absolute. And even if the bhakta reaches the level of that manifestation, can that limited being take him beyond itself to that which has no limitation? A study of the lives of the prominent exponents of this system clarifies the point. Ramanuja, the well-known mystic of the Middle Ages, failed to apprehend the teachings of his predecessor, Shankara. He followed what in Indian philosophy is known as the school of vasisht advaita, i.e., that the Atman can reach Ishwar (God as the manifested Creator of the Universe), and can get saturated with cosmic consciousness, but it can never become one with Him. What to say then of reaching God as the Unmanifested, Nameless Brahman? The experience of Sri Ramakrishna in our own time once again brings out this limitation. He had always been a worshiper of the Divine Mother and she often blessed him with her visions. But he always perceived her as something other than himself, as a power outside himself and one for whose operation he could often become a medium, but in which he could not merge himself. When he subsequently met Totapuri, an advaita sanyasin, he realized that he must get beyond this stage to one where there was no name or form and where the Self and the Overself became one. When he attempted to enter into such a state he discovered that his earlier attainments became a hurdle in spite of all his efforts.
He tells us:
I could not cross the realm of name and form and bring my mind to the unconditioned state. I had no difficulty in withdrawing my mind from all objects except one, and this was the all too familiar form of the Blissful Mother – radiant and of the essence of pure consciousness – which appeared before me as a living reality and would not allow me to pass the realm of name and form. Again and again I tried to concentrate my mind upon the Advaita teachings, but every time the Mother's form stood in my way. In despair I said to "the naked one" (his Master Totapuri), "It is hopeless. I cannot raise my mind to the unconditioned state and come face to face with the Atman." He grew excited and sharply said, "What! You can't do it? But you have to." He cast his eyes around for something and finding a piece of glass he took it up and pressing its point between my eyebrows said, "Concentrate your mind on this point." Then with stern determination I again sat to meditate, and as soon as the gracious form of the Divine Mother appeared before me, I used my discrimination as a sword and with it severed it into two. There remained no more obstruction to my mind, which at once soared beyond the relative plane, and I lost myself in Samadhi.
(Sayings of Sri Ramakrishna (Mylapore-Madras, 1954), page 313)
It is clear therefore that while the bhakta can go very far spiritually, can greatly enhance his consciousness, gain miraculous powers, and anchored in a higher love rise above the love of this world, it is nevertheless not possible for him to get beyond the plane of "name and form," and therefore of relativity. He may get lost in the contemplation of the Godhead with His amazing attributes, but he cannot experience the same in its Nirguna and its Anami, its "Unconditioned" and "Nameless" state. He can feel himself saturated with Cosmic Consciousness, but it comes to him as something outside himself as a gift of grace, and he is not able to lose himself in It and become one with the Ocean of Being. If he does seek to attain that state, his accomplishment as a bhakta, instead of helping him further, tends to hinder and obstruct him.
The two things that emerge from an examination of the popular forms of yoga that were evolved after Patanjali are: first that the soul can rise above physical consciousness, given means whereby it can focus its energies, without recourse to the arduous control of pranas, and second that full spiritual realization or true samadhi is not merely a matter of transcending the physical (though that is necessary as a first step), but is the end of a complex inner journey in which there are many intermediate stages the attainment of which, under certain conditions, may be mistaken for the final goal and may thus debar further progress. The problem that arises before the true seeker in the face of such a situation is to discover a means other than that of pranas, jnana, or bhakti of an Isht-deva, as not only to enable the spirit-currents to be released from their present physical bondage, but also to enable the soul to be drawn upward unhindered from one spiritual plane to another until it transcends completely all the realms of relativity of naam and rup, of kala and mahakala, and reaches its goal: at-one-ment with the Nameless and Formless One.