The Path: One Man's Quest On the Only Path There Is
by Swami Kriyananda
(J. Donald Walters)
Direct Disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda
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"I Am Spirit"
Yet hard the wise Mahatma is to find,
This passage from Sir Edwin Arnold's translation of the Bhagavad Gita was often quoted by Master as an expression of the supreme truth, that God alone exists.
That man who sayeth, "All is Vasudev!"(70)
A beautiful story on this subject was told me in 1960 by Yogi Ramiah, the saint of whom Master had said that another half hour in his company would have made it impossible for him to leave India again:
Namdev (said Yogi Ramiah), a famous saint of Maharashtra, used to worship Krishna in his local temple with so much devotion that the Lord often appeared to him in vision. Namdev was revered by many devotees, who came great distances to sit at his feet.
In his village there was also another saint, a potter by profession. Like Namdev, this potter was widely reputed to have seen God. One day a large crowd assembled in the temple to celebrate an annual spiritual festival. Many of those present were devotees of Namdev. Partway through the proceedings, the potter, acting on some divine whim, decided to test the spiritual caliber of each of the assembled worshipers.
A potter tests the soundness of his wares by rapping on them with his knuckles. From the sound a pot emits he can tell whether or not it is cracked. With this practice in mind, Namdev's fellow saint went about the crowd, slapping the devotees. Because he was held in such high esteem by all, no one complained; it was assumed that his peculiar behavior was intended as some sort of spiritual lesson. But when the potter-saint slapped Namdev, Namdev was incensed. Wasn't he this man's spiritual equal?
"Why did you hit me?" he demanded.
Calmly the potter stood up and announced, "There appears to be a crack in this pot!"
Everyone laughed. Later, Namdev, stung to the quick, went into the temple and prayed, "Lord, You know I love You. Why did You allow me to be so humiliated before my own devotees?"
"But what can I do, Namdev," said the Lord. "There is a crack in that pot!"
"Lord!" cried Namdev, prostrating himself full-length on the floor, "I want to be worthy of You. Won't You show me the way to perfection?"
"For that you need a guru, Namdev."
"But I behold You, the Lord of the universe! Of what use would a guru be to me?"
"I can inspire you through visions," the Lord replied. "I can even instruct you. But I can't lead you out of delusion except through the medium of one who knows Me, for such is My law."
"Lord, won't You then at least tell me who my guru is?"
The Lord gave Namdev the name of a certain saint, and that of the village in which he lived. "He will be your guru," the Lord said. He added with a smile, "Don't be surprised if he seems a bit peculiar. That is just his way."
Namdev went to the village Krishna had named, and made inquiries as to the saint's whereabouts.
"That lunatic?" laughed the villagers. "Who would want anything to do with him?" It is a practice of some saints to disguise their spiritual greatness, you see, to protect themselves against curiosity seekers. But when Namdev pressed the villagers further, they replied off-handedly, "Oh, you'll probably find him somewhere around the temple. He usually spends his time there."
Namdev went there. No one was in the courtyard, but on entering the temple itself he found a wild-looking, disheveled old man sprawled carelessly on the floor. "Surely this can't be my guru," he thought anxiously.
A moment later, the question faded from his mind. For, to his horror, he noticed that the old man's feet were resting on a Shiva Linga. (71) Furious at this act of desecration, he strode over to the man and ordered him to shift his feet at once.
The old man opened his eyes drowsily. "You see, my son," he replied, "my difficulty is that I'm old. This body is no longer so easy for me to move. Would you do me the favor of moving my feet to some spot where there is no Linga?"
Namdev hastened to oblige. But as he was about to set the old man's feet down in a new spot, he saw, directly under them, another Shiva Linga! He shifted them again; a third Linga appeared. Yet again: a fourth one. Suddenly the realization dawned on him: This man was indeed his guru! Prostrating himself humbly before him, Namdev prayed for forgiveness.
"I was blind, Gurudeva!" (72) he cried. "Now I know who you are, and I understand what it is you've been trying to teach me."
With calm majesty, then, the old man rose to his feet. "God is everywhere, Namdev," he said. "Realize Him in yourself, and with transformed vision behold Him residing in all things!" The Guru struck Namdev gently on the chest over the heart. Breath left the disciple's body. Rooted to the temple floor, Namdev stood as if transfixed, unable to move a muscle. His consciousness, like rising waters in a lake, burst the frail dam of his body. Like fluid light it streamed outward in all directions, embracing temple precincts, the village, the whole of India! Nations, continents, oceans became absorbed by his expanding bliss. At last it included the entire world, solar systems, galaxies! In every speck of space he saw God alone: unending light, bliss infinite! Too deeply absorbed for mere amazement, he realized that all this was he!
From that day onward Namdev lived immersed in divine consciousness. He wandered about the countryside, intoxicated day and night with fathomless bliss.
One day, many months later, he happened to be in the vicinity of his old village. Passing the temple where he had first worshiped God, he entered and sat for meditation. Again the Lord appeared to him in the form of Krishna, as of old.
"My child," He said, "for so many months you have neglected Meyou, who never failed to worship here a single day! I have missed you. Where have you been?"
"My Beloved," cried Namdev, smiling happily at the Lord's playfulness, "how could I think of coming here to see you, when everywhere I gaze I behold Your formless presence!"
Blissfully, then, the Lord replied, "Now there are no cracks in that pot!"
The "crack" in Namdev's "pot" was his awareness of himself as a unique being, distinct from all others. In cosmic fact, our egos are nothing but vortices of conscious energy that, within the vast ocean of consciousness, take on the appearance of a separate reality of their own, like the swirls of water in a brook.
Before this world was formed, when its atoms drifted about in infinite space, there were none of the distinctions of form and substance that man comes to look upon as reality. There were no trees, mountains, or rivers, no animals, no peopleonly nebulous gasses. Someday, so astronomers tell us, these forms will once again become gasses. Considering their amorphous past and future, material forms clearly are not real in any fundamental sense. They exist, yes, but their reality is not what it seems.
In the last analysis, as unreal as all these forms are that we see around us, so also are our egos. Spiritual evolution reaches its culmination when our separate vortices of consciousness are dissolved in infinite consciousness.
If human consciousness were, like weight, shape, and texture, the mere product of a coalescence of material atoms, then consciousness, certainly, would be as impermanent as they, and would die with the ultimate disintegration of our bodies. But matter itself, according to modern physics, is the product of a subtler reality: energy. This being the case, it would seem a contradiction in the universal scheme of things for consciousness, the subtlest reality of all, to be the outgrowth of the grossest, matter. Yogis are being joined nowadays by a growing number of physicists whose claim is just the opposite: that, as matter is a manifestation of energy, so energy in its turn must be a manifestation of consciousness.
To our limited minds, definition and understanding are often synonymous. The more specifically we can define a thing, the more clearly, so we imagine, we have understood it. Infinite consciousnessa state of being in which all definitions are perceived as unrealmeans to us the total loss of everything we equate with understanding. If, we ask ourselves, our egos were dissolved, and our little awareness merged into cosmic consciousness, wouldn't this loss of self-awareness spell the death of all awareness as far as we ourselves were concerned?
How cumbersome are the ways of logic. The answer, of course, is, Yes, the loss of self-awareness does spell the death of awareness as far as we ourselves are concerned. For there remains no "we ourselves" to be concerned! But loss of egoic self-awareness in no way spells for us the loss of awareness itself.
Alfred Lord Tennyson, the great poet, wrote in his Memoirs: "A kind of waking trancethis for lack of a better wordI have frequently had, quite up from boyhood, when I have been all alone. This has come upon me through repeating my own name to myself silently, till all at once, as it were out of the intensity of the consciousness of individuality, individuality itself seemed to dissolve and fade away into boundless being, and this not a confused state but the clearest, the surest of the surest, utterly beyond wordswhere death was an almost laughable impossibilitythe loss of personality (if so it were) seeming no extinction, but the only true life. . . . It is no nebulous ecstasy, but a state of transcendent wonder, associated with absolute clearness of mind."
Great yogis aver that with the complete loss of self-awareness, the seeker's consciousness merges into the ocean of infinite consciousness; it, itself, becomes infinite. Physical death alone cannot bring us to this state, for at death we shed only the physical body, but keep the astral body, and with it our egoic awareness. Only by meditation and self-transcendence in the vastness of superconsciousness can we win final release from the limitations imposed on us by our egos. In cosmic consciousness we discover our true Self to be infinite. This, and this only, is the actual meaning of that expression, so much abused nowadays: Self-realization.
One day at Twenty-Nine Palms, while Master was revising his Bhagavad Gita commentaries, he asked Dorothy Taylor to read sections of it to a group of monks from Mt. Washington. During her reading, Miss Taylor came to a passage that described the state of oneness with God. Once, Master had said, the devotee attains this divine state, he realizes that the Ocean of Spirit alone is real; God took on the appearance of his little ego, then, after a time, withdrew that wave into Himself again. In effect, the dream-child wakes up in cosmic consciousness to find himself God once more.
However, Master went on to explain, the saint who attains that exalted consciousness never says, "I am God," for he sees it was the vast Ocean that became his little wave of ego. The wave, in other words, would not claim, when referring to the little self, to be the Ocean.
At this juncture Debi, who was present, cried excitedly, "But Sir, if you are one with that Ocean, that means you are God!"
"Why I?" Master asked. "Say 'He.' He is God."
"But still, Sir, you are one with Him, and He is the only reality. That means you, too, are God."
"But this body isn't God!"
"You aren't identified with your body, Sir, so one may still say that you are God."
"Well, in that case why do you say, 'You'? You, too, are that! In a discussion of this sort, it is less confusing if we say, 'He.'"
"But what's the difference?"
"The Scriptures say . . ." Master began.
"It's only your humility, Sir," Debi broke in, "that makes you distinguish between yourself and Him."
"How can there be humility, when there is no consciousness of ego?"
Triumphantly Debi cried, "But if you have no ego left, that means you are God!"
Master laughingly continued the earlier statement, which Debi had interrupted: "The Scriptures say, 'He who knows Brahma becomes Brahma.'"(73)
"There!" cried Debi. "You said it yourself!"
Master rejoined, still laughingly, "I didn't say it. It's the Scriptures that say so." Master, in other words, would not identify those words with the human body speaking them. It was in his over-arching spirit that he saw himself one with the Infinite. But Debi was unable to make this mental leap from a pure expression of Infinity to Infinity Itself.
"You quoted those Scriptures, Sir," he reminded Master relentlessly. "That means you agree with them!"
Recognizing that the distinction was, perhaps, too subtle for many to grasp, Master concluded, "Well, he who says he is God, isn't God. And," he added with a smile, "he who says he isn't, isn't!"
And there the subject rested, amid general laughter.
Liberation from ego does not come with the first glimpses of cosmic consciousness. Present, at first, even in an expanded state of awareness, is the subtle memory, "I, the formless but nevertheless still real John Smith, am enjoying this state of consciousness." The body in this trance state is immobile; one's absorption in God at this point is called sabikalpa samadhi: qualified absorption, a condition that is still subject to change, for from it one returns to assume once again the limitations of ego. By repeated absorption in the trance state, however, ego's hold on the mind is gradually broken, until the realization dawns: "There is no John Smith to go back to. I am Spirit!" This is the supreme state: nirbikalpa samadhi, or unqualified absorptiona condition changeless and eternal. If from this state one returns to body-consciousness, it is no longer with the thought of separate existence from the ocean of Spirit. John Smith no longer exists: It is the eternal Spirit, now, which animates his body, eats through it, teaches through it, and carries on all the normal functions of a human being. This outward direction of energy on the part of one who has attained nirbikalpa samadhi is sometimes known also as sahaja, or effortless, samadhi.
Divine freedom comes only with the attainment of nirbikalpa samadhi. Until that stage the ego can stilland alas, sometimes doesdraw the mind back down into delusion. With nirbikalpa samadhi, one becomes what is known as a jivan mukta, free even though living in a physical form. A jivan mukta, however, unimaginably high though his state is, is not yet fully emancipated. The subtle memory, "I am John Smith," has been destroyed; he can acquire no new karma, since the post of ego to which karma is tied has been broken. But there remains even now the memory of all those prior existences: John Smith in thousands, perhaps millions of incarnations; John Smith the one-time bandit, John Smith the disappointed musician, John Smith the betrayed lover, the beggar, the swaggering tyrant. All those old selves must be made over, their karma spiritualized, released into the Infinite.
"Very few saints on this earth have achieved final liberation," Master told me one day.
I marveled. "What about all those great saints in your autobiography? Are they all dead, leaving none to replace them?"
"Great though many of them certainly were, very few had final liberationonly Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya, Sri Yukteswar, and a few others. But many had nirbikalpa samadhi, the highest state of consciousness. They were true Christs. Two of Lahiri Mahasaya's disciples attained full liberation: Swami Pranabananda ('the saint with two bodies') and Ram Gopal Muzumdar ('the sleepless saint')."
"What about Swami Keshabananda?"(74)
"Keshabananda was too much attached to miracles. Lahiri Mahasaya often scolded him for it."
"What about your father, Sir?"
"Oh, no! He was a great soul, but he was still attached to his sons."
"And Therese Neumann?"
"She has attained a high state, but isn't yet fully liberated."
"Was Badhuri Mahasaya, 'the levitating saint,' liberated?"
"He was a true master, but no, not he either. It is very difficult to reach complete liberation."
"And Trailanga Swami? I had the impression he was an avatar." (75)
"No, an avatar comes with a special mission. Trailanga Swami was a jivan muktaa great master, simply not yet fully liberated."
"What about Mataji, the sister of Babaji. She, surely, is liberated, isn't she? Yet you wrote that she was 'almost' as spiritually advanced as her brother."
"Well then, that means she wasn't fully liberated yet." Master paused, then added, "But she must be by now."
"Sir, why can't a master dissolve all his karma the moment he attains oneness with God?"
"Well," Master replied, "in that state you don't really care whether you come back or not. It is just like a dream to you then. You are awake, merely watching the dream. You can go on for incarnations that way, or you can say, 'I am free,' and be free right away. It's all in the mind. As soon as you say you are free, then you're free."
Boone, who was present, had evidently missed the central point that the total freedom of which Master was speaking could be attained only after one had reached the highest samadhi. "But Sir," he objected, "if I said I was free, I wouldn't really be free, would I?"
"Oh, yes! That is, you would be if you said it in that consciousness of freedom. But you've answered your own question: You've said, 'I wouldn't be.' The trouble is, the mind is already poisoned with the very delusions it is trying to dispel; it lacks force." Master went on to tell a story to illustrate his point.
"A man who was being troubled by a demon searched the Scriptures for a method of disposing of such evil entities. Finding the remedy, he recited certain words over a handful of powder, which he then threw onto the demon.
"'It won't work!' the demon laughed. 'I got into that powder before you said your incantations over it. How, then, could it hurt me?'
"The mind, you see, is like that powderalready infected with the very 'demon' of ignorance it is trying to dispel."
Another time, however, referring to that degree of mental freedom which is a prior condition for even a glimpse of samadhi, Master said, "It is only the thought that we are not free that keeps us from actually being free. Merely to break that thought would suffice to put us into samadhi! Samadhi is not something we have to acquire. We have it already!" Master added, "Dwell always on this thought: Eternally we have been with God. For a short timefor the fleeting breaths of a few incarnationswe are in delusion. Then again we are free in Him forever!"
When the soul attains final liberation, it becomes a siddha ("perfected being"), or param mukta ("supremely free soul"). Even in this state, individuality is not lost, but is retained in the form of memory. The karma of John Smith's many incarnations has been released into the Infinite, but the memory of them, now spiritualized, remains a fact throughout eternity. The soul, however, once it achieves this state of supreme liberation, rarely reactivates its own remembered individuality, and never does so except at the command of the Divine Will. When such a supremely free soul returns to this world, it comes only for the welfare of humanity. Such an incarnation is called an avatar, or "divine incarnation."
Such, Master told us, was Babaji, the first of our direct line of gurus. Such also were Lahiri Mahasayayogavatar, Master called him, or "incarnation of yoga"and Swami Sri Yukteswar, whom Master identified as India's present-day gyanavatar, or "incarnation of wisdom."
"Sir," I asked Master one day at his desert retreat, "are you an avatar?"
With quiet simplicity he replied, "A work of this importance would have to be started by such a one."
An avatar, he told us, comes on earth with a divine mission, often for the general upliftment of mankind. The siddha's effort, by contrast, has necessarily been to unite his own consciousness perfectly with God's. God, therefore, does not work through siddhas in the same way that He works through avatars. To avatars He gives the power to bring vast numbers of souls to freedom in Him. To siddhas He gives the power to liberate themselves and a few others.
"Master," I said once, "if Yogi Ramiah was fully liberated, did he, like his well-known guru, Ramana Maharshi, have disciples?"
"Oh, yes," Master answered. "He must have had. You must free others before you can become completely free yourself."
When I met Yogi Ramiah in 1960, and observed how very few disciples he had, I asked him why there weren't many more to absorb his divine wisdom. His reply was simple: "God has done what He wants to do with this body."
The lowest number that each soul must free before it can itself be raised to the state of param mukta is, I believe Master said, six.
Paramhansa Yogananda indicated that he had been sent into the world at a time of extraordinary spiritual need on earth. Debi once told me of a young Hindu friend of his who had come for a year of study in America, and who, on his way over by ship, had had a vision of Master. He had never heard of Yogananda before. Several months later Debi brought him to a Sunday service at Hollywood Church. When his friend saw Master, who was speaking that day, he recognized him immediately as the saint of his vision.
"Sir," Debi inquired later, "my friend has his own guru in India. Why was he granted that vision of you?"
"Because," Master replied, "this work is a special dispensation of God."
An avatar, unlike most saints who are still engaged in winning their own final freedom from maya's coils, may appear engagingly human and life-affirming. In his humanity, however, he offers mankind new insights into what it really means to be a human being. For people commonly equate humanity with weakness, not with strength. "I'm only human," they say as an excuse for failure. They see not that their humanity gives them the best possible reason for success! In the presence of a master, the term "human failing" translates itself to mean "the failure to be fully human."
Though every great master is fully qualified to say, with Jesus, "I and my Father are one," many descend occasionally from that absolute state, as Jesus also did, to enjoy a loving "I-and-Thou" relationship with the Lord. The Indian Scriptures state that God created the universe "in order that He might enjoy Himself through many." The vast majority of His creatures, alas, have lost conscious touch with the infinite joy of their own being. The saints alone, in their joyous romance with the Lord, fulfill this deep and abiding purpose of His creation, by letting Him express His joy outwardly through their lives.
Avatar s and other masters will often go through years of sadhana ("spiritual practice") in their youth, as an example to others. If they didn't, their disciples might claim that meditation and self-effort are not necessary for God-attainment, or perhaps simply that such practices are not their "way."
"If you want God," Master used to say, "go after Him. It takes great determination and steadfast, deep effort. And remember, the minutes are more important than the years."
But a great aid on the path is the constant thought that one is free already. "Memorize my poem 'Samadhi,'" he once told us. "Repeat it daily. Visualize yourselves in that infinite state; identify yourselves with it. For that alone is what you really are!"
(66) The ancient author of the Bhagavad Gita.
Back in context.
(68) The universe in which souls find themselves after physical death. The astral is the second stage of manifestation outward from Spirit. In the order of cosmic creation, first comes the causal, or ideational universe representing sattwa guna. At this stage of manifestation all things exist as ideas. The next phase is the astral, representing rajo guna. At this stage, primordial ideas have become clothed in energy. In the third phase, the physical energy takes on the appearance of solid substance. That this is an appearance, merely, has been demonstrated by modern physics in its discovery that matter is energy.
Shapes and colors exist in the astral world, as they do in the physical. There are planets, fields, lakes, mountains, and people. But all things there are seen as varied manifestations of light.
Back in context.
(69) I am referring to the 1929 and 1949 editions.
Back in context.
Copyright 1996 J. Donald Walters (Swami Kriyananda), Trustee