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The Hindu Way of Awakening

Its Revelation, Its Symbols: An Essential View of Religion
by Swami Kriyananda



Chapter One: What Is Revelation?

Revelation is a sudden and complete knowing—usually of some spiritual truth, though not always so. The certainty that revelation suggests comes not from any process of reasoning, but as a direct inspiration from the superconscious, or, more exactly, in a state of superconsciousness.

Revelation may also be less purely spiritual in nature. Composers, for example, have spoken of receiving their inspiration from higher realms: from God, as some of them have put it. Scientists, too, have sometimes had sudden glimpses into the nature of material reality for which they could not account in rational terms. The physicist Albert Einstein stated that the Law of Relativity came to him in a flash. After that experience, he labored for ten years to present it understandably to his fellow scientists.

Mahatma Gandhi's uncanny knowledge of just the right tactics to follow in the crises he faced during his struggle to free India from English rule cannot have been due to political astuteness alone. His decisions were more than intelligent: They were intuitive; as such, they were, at least to some degree, born of revelation.

Paramhansa Yogananda, a born leader of men, was approached in Calcutta when he was young by persons who wanted him to lead a revolution against the British. Demurring, he replied, "India will be freed during my lifetime, by peaceful means." His inner certainty in this prediction may also be classed as a kind of revelation.

Any flash of certainty that enters the mind with sudden clarity, and that is neither clouded by imagination nor merely formulated as a reasonable hypothesis, is, in its own way, a revelation.

Revelations must be in some way verifiable. That is, they must be able to withstand the test of objective reality. If they really are soul-intuitions, they will be superconscious and as such will belong to a higher, not a lower (such as subconscious), level of reality. The products of fantasy or of wishful thinking have a different quality. They might be described as tentative. Revelation doesn't merely "make sense." The deep inner certainty it conveys is absolute. It comes not as a "conclusion" to some process of thinking or reasoning, but fully developed, like the goddess Athena from the brow of Zeus.

There are, as I said, many levels of intuitive insight. By intuition one may gain access even to trivial knowledge—solutions, for example, to every-day problems. Normally, however, revelation refers to the highest order of intuition, and concerns especially the soul's relationship to God, the Absolute. Indeed, the more clearly a superconscious inspiration reveals the Divine Will, the more it deserves to be classed as revelation.

An important feature of revelation is that it is always personal; it is not public. A genuine revelation may be declared in scripture and accepted as the truth by millions, but what those millions understand of it is not their revelation. It is only what they have read about someone else's experience. Scripture itself can only echo revealed truth.

Words are but symbols. They do not present: They represent. Even when multitudes receive a revelation directly, as has in fact happened occasionally, it remains personal for each member of the crowd. If an entire nation were born blind, then suddenly given the gift of sight, the experience would be personal for each citizen. Sensory in nature, the thrill would of course diminish in time as novelties always do, but even accepting that this experience was a "revelation" of a sort to each of them, it would still be personal, and would depend on each person's ability to see.

Einstein's intuitive recognition of the Law of Relativity was a revelation in a more valid sense of the word, for it was (indeed, it could only have been) inspired by the superconscious. For us, the beneficiaries of his discovery, his revelation is not our own. Nor does it extend to those few scientists who have been able to understand it intellectually. It is a revelation only for that rare person, if such a one exists, who has been uplifted in awareness to the same degree as Einstein was during his moment of discovery.

Revelation is not static. It brings an outwardly expanding awareness, which bestows more and ever deeper insights. Einstein, after that first revelation, continued throughout his life to receive further, often amazing, insights into cosmic reality. It wasn't intellect alone that brought him those perceptions: It was the fact that he had, even if only once, touched the hem of Infinity. As he was to write many years later, the essence of scientific discovery is a sense of mystical awe before the wonders of the universe.

Meanwhile, others have been left with the mere effects of his revelation. Indeed, all he could give them was, in a sense, its symbols. The revelation was his alone.

Revelation is wisdom as distinct from intellectual knowledge. The intellect analyzes and separates, then painstakingly reassembles the parts in the hope of making them fit together again. The intellect is like a child who, after taking apart a watch, tries to put the pieces back again as they were. The intellect, though gifted at analysis, lacks the understanding necessary for anything more thereafter than synthesis. But revelation transcends reason; it perceives the essential truth of a thing in its entirety, and in a flash.

St. Teresa of Avila, in Spain, wrote, "The soul in its ecstatic state grasps in an instant more truth than can be arrived at by months, or even years, of painstaking thought and study."

Superconscious revelation perceives an underlying unity, whereas the intellect perceives only diversity. Superconscious revelation may come in an instant, whereas the intellect must plod slowly over muddy fields, its boots gathering heavy clods of definitions. Superconsciousness is solution-oriented; ordinary consciousness is problem-oriented. Theology, for example, reaches learned conclusions by careful deliberation, sometimes by heated debate, and always by a process of laborious intellectual refinement.

Revelation is ever new and ever dynamic. Intellectual definitions of revelation, on the other hand, are formulated to remain forever fixed and immutable. Revelation is expansive: theology's definitions are contractive, in the sense that they deliberately exclude other points of view but that one. The authoritative pronouncements of theologians are designed to resist challenge. Revelation is the source of all true religious inspiration. Dogma, though purporting to derive from revelation, does its best to discourage any more revelations lest they upset its carefully erected structure of reasoning.

Not every writing accepted as scripture has been founded on revelation. Friedrich Nietzsche would have been a good example of a false prophet, had anyone thought to accord him the dignity of prophet in the first place. His book, Thus Spake Zarathustra, has some of the ring of authentic scripture, at least in its portentous self-assurance. But although it is good literature, and is even impressive to read in brief segments, it soon betrays itself as lacking in the one essential ingredient of all scripture: consistency with the oft-stated truths of the ages. It is, rather, the raving of an ego-maniac whose life ended in madness because his human brain was not equal to the strain of his presumption.

Nietzsche's greatest fallacy was his belief that the function of philosophy is not to interpret and appraise values, but to create them. "The real philosophers," he wrote, "are commanders and lawgivers; they say: 'Thus shall it be!' . . . Their 'knowing' is creating, their creating is a lawgiving, their will to truth is Will to Power." This, clearly, is not revelation but, as I said, presumption. Revelation cannot be invented. The truth itself, as Paramhansa Yogananda wrote in Autobiography of a Yogi, can only be perceived.

One of the hallmarks of true revelation is consistency. I don't mean a rubber-stamp sameness, for revelation is always, in its own way, fresh and new. Yet revelations never contradict one another.

If two travelers were to describe a city in exactly the same terms, it might be fairly safely assumed that one of them was echoing the other. Again, if they flatly contradicted each other—one of them perhaps describing the city as being surrounded by a high wall, and the other insisting that it was open on all sides to the surrounding countryside—we would assume that one of them, at least, was wrong. In either case, until we went there and saw the city for ourselves we could do no more than guess which of them had really seen the city. Only if their descriptions, though different, were not inconsistent might we assume that both of them had been there.

Some writers are adept at describing things that "eye hath not seen nor ear heard." A profane, rather than scriptural, example is the story, Anna and the King of Siam, about an English governess in the king's court in Thailand during the Nineteenth Century. Westerners, lacking good reason to doubt its veracity, found the story delightful. The Thais, however, familiar with their own country and knowing a fair amount about their former king, are outraged by the book's innumerable outright inventions.

Who is to know the truth of any report, including reports of mystical revelation, if he lacks direct personal knowledge? One way of knowing at least inferentially would be if everyone writing on the subject agreed on certain essentials. Hence the importance of consistency.

Where divine teachings are concerned, however, consistency with other high teachings is not enough to prove that their inspiration came from revelation. For one thing, people sometimes base their writings on the reading they have done. A well-written account of mystical experiences, such as one might encounter in a novel on the subject, might be consistent with the truth and yet not in itself be born of personal experience. The reader who lacks experience himself would need guidance to be sure whether it was really born of revelation.

There is a saying, "It takes one to know one." Usually meant derogatorily (it takes a thief, for instance, to know a thief), this saying can be applied equally well to spiritual experiences. The higher a person's own spiritual realization, the more instantly he will recognize true spiritual experience in others.

There are also objective criteria, which can be applied by everyone. And there is a direction of spiritual development that is relatively easy to discern: increasing inner peace, expanding awareness and sympathy, growingly impersonal love, deep soul-joy. Many are the signs—too many, indeed, to list them all here. Someone standing on a low mound would find it impossible to estimate the relative heights of Mt. Everest and Mt. Kanchenjunga, the highest and the third highest mountains in the world. From that little mound, indeed, the distinction would not even matter. Where the purpose is to rise higher, what matters is to find any hillock that is higher than the mound on which one is standing.

Considering the scriptures from this point of view, even a false scripture or one that is not born of true revelation should not be condemned, provided people draw inspiration from it. The important thing is that the inspiration they feel doesn't lower their present state of consciousness, and thereby diminish their degree of awareness. Many so-called spokespersons for spirituality delude others into imagining that some new "truth" has been discovered, one unavailable earlier during less enlightened times. Consistency through the ages is one of the surest guidelines for avoiding this error.

For if anyone should be so bold as to challenge the time-honored wisdom of the ages, as Friedrich Nietzsche did with his flash-in-the-pan philosophy, he should be ignored as a charlatan. No spiritual master has ever contradicted timeless wisdom.

Only in the spiritual field, indeed, do we encounter a fundamental consistency. Nowhere else. Where abstract principles are concerned, especially, who is there in any other field to speak for them authoritatively? Whom have innumerable "schools" of art produced to determine authoritatively the nature of good art? Whom, in business? In the field of science, "breakthroughs" are made every few years, many of which contradict tenets that long seemed firmly established. Only in the field of deep spiritual revelation is consistency the norm. Indeed, it is from superconscious insights gained into Divine Law that lesser laws have been discovered also—in art, business, science, and the humanities.

In revelation there are no surprises: There is only confirmation. Divine truths, though ever new in the sense of ever-newly inspiring, are at the same time changeless and eternal. Their expressions may change, but their central essence remains ever the same.

Consistency, then, is one of the hallmarks of true revelation. As waves are united by the ocean underneath them, so underneath all our restless ideas and beliefs there lies a deep stillness. And within that stillness lie soul-perceptions that have been experienced since time immemorial by the great mystics of all religions: divine love, bliss, wisdom, light, cosmic sound, and an extraordinarily heightened awareness known as ecstasy. Great saints everywhere have attained these states, regardless of their own systems of belief. In the realm of spirituality, unanimity transcends time, space, and every merely human perception of reality.

Christian writers have emphasized the progressive manifestation of God's will through history. Their view is focused on a very limited time span, culminating in events that transpired 2,000 years ago. It ignores altogether the histories of Europe, Asia, Africa, and of North and South America, as well as of other parts of the world, and is narrowed to a very small portion of the Near East.

Their focus may have a certain validity for all that, for God does also participate in human affairs, especially through the instrumentality of divinely awakened saints. There is no reason, then, to assume a radical separation between Absolute Consciousness and the relative universe. A stage play is not necessarily autobiographical, but its playwright is not therefore indifferent to the plot. Non-attachment is very different from lack of concern. Nevertheless, the essentials of revelation transcend all human realities.

Revelation is the perception of that which ever was, and ever shall be. The religions of the world, in their systems of belief, concentrate too often on that which in their eyes makes them unique: on the special ways in which their prophets, saints, or masters are different from all others; on the one special grace that animates them alone; on their own way of salvation as the surest for winning divine favor. They describe as "revelation" those truths which, they believe, set them apart from—and of course above—all other religions. Even the explanation of a revelation, however, is not the same thing as the experience of it. Though the explanations be many and diverse, the revelation itself can be only one.

One hallmark of revelation is its innate power. There is nothing vague or mystifying about its experience. The entire universe was projected from Divine Consciousness. Scriptures born of revelation project an almost palpable aura of divine power. Ordinary books are sometimes written and offered to the world as scripture that are merely mind-born, not superconsciousness-born. Some of them even become widely accepted as scripture. If they lack that aura of divine power, though, they must be classed as human inventions, merely. They are not expressions of true revelation.

In divine power there is another quality also: a vibration of expansive joy. Scriptures based on true revelation are never melancholy, pessimistic, or depressing. True scripture conveys a spirit of infinite hope. For such, through the ages, has been the experience of everyone who has been blessed with the experience of revelation.

The insights on which the Hindu teachings are based were revelation in the highest sense of the word. That revelation is not unique to any religion. No experience of the Absolute may be claimed as the possession of one person or one religion.

An aspect of the greatness of the Indian scriptures, indeed, lies in their own claim to universality. In this, Vedic revelation is, in the words of the American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, "sublime as heat and night and a breathless ocean. It contains every religious sentiment, all the grand ethics which visit in turn each noble poetic mind . . . eternal necessity, eternal compensation, unfathomable power, unbroken silence."



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