In the ancient classic called The Conference of the Birds, by Farid Attar, the Persian poet and philosopher, there is a verse which says : “ God is all, and things have only a nominal value ; the world visible and the world invisible, are only Himself, there is none but Him”.
Attar is showing by these words that this all-pervading, pure and changeless Spirit lies above, below and within all phenomena, and that a direct realization of It must be the goal and climax of all life, for man will never know himself and be at peace until he knows this Spirit directly. All earthly and subtle wonders emanate from It, for it is the matrix from which all springs forth, and man is the most astonishing wonder of all these wonders, and he exists in their midst, biding the time when each in turn will give up its secrets under his adventurous investigation, for he has a divine thirst within him, a determination, subconscious yet driving, to know the Truth, not only about himself, but also about all that surrounds him.
If we look back on his climb towards knowledge, we shall see that when he started his career as a conscious though primitive being, man was like a child at a fair, fascinated, frightened by what he saw, greedy for more, yet taken in by all the tricks of the trade. He was surrounded by a world of matter, subtle and gross, which as we know, is held by the Vedanta philosophy to be governed by a divine Law or intention, but which, to him then, must have been a spectacle either of terror or of opportunity.
The laws of time and space, attraction and repulsion, gravity and so forth, which operate around us, are surely a pledge of the presence of an all-pervading Power, but while man was in his spiritual and mental infancy, they manifested unnoticed or rather misunderstood by him. In this primitive state, he was not aware of the fact that he was the only conscious spectator of this scene of wonder.
Animals, fish and birds exist within it, but unconsciously, that is to say instinctively, while obeying its laws in many cases better than man does. But man alone is actively conscious of multiplicity, the matter and variety which surrounds him, and he watched it then through his as yet unknown mind, which, according to Vedanta is itself composed of subtle matter and yet which records the various manifestations of matter which exist around it.
In his primitive stage, man invested whatever he saw or experienced with a life similar to his own. To him, his mental states were induced by living invisible forces. Hatred, revenge and the sense of power, were indications of the presence and action of powerful beings. And so were the outer storms also—floods, pestilence, eclipses, earthquakes, and the like; to him everything was alive and full of mystery.
The only thing which as yet he did not consider to be full of mystery, was the greatest mystery of all—his own mind—for that mind was still unaware of itself, being solely engaged with outer objects, and with recording and assessing them, which means that he had not as yet learnt to look on it as an object, and to watch its activities, and assess them.
According to the teaching of the Vedanta, the mind is composed of subtle, yet inert matter. Its characteristic of constant change both in movement, quality and intensity is superimposed on it by the supreme Principle which interpenetrates it. This inner organ, or Antahkarana as it is called in Sanskrit, is held by the holy philosophy to operate on two levels, the one known as the lower mind or manas, which is the recording receiving centre, the seat of the outwardgoing activities, and the other, the higher mind or Buddhi which is the diagnosing and discriminating centre. The lower or outward-going centre, or the Manas, may be said to perform the functions of an usherette in the great Theatre of the Mind. It contacts, and without selection directs that which it encounters, into the presence of the Buddhi, the discriminating power.
A writer has said that its action is like that of a gate, for it indiscriminately lets through sensations one by one into this higher region of the Buddhi; it summons all man’s personal qualities and instincts to assist it in its work—the ego with its prejudices and preferences, the memory and the emotions are among these—and they reach the Buddhi and while it is still untrained, colour its findings, weaving a web of distortion round unfortunate vulnerable man.
The higher centre of activity, the Buddhi, itself also acts on two levels. The lower Buddhi, as we have said, diagnoses and discriminates, while the higher receives and responds to very subtle impulses and impressions only. Discrimination and recognition through inference and logic is the function of the lower Buddhi, while the higher Buddhi is the field of the great powers of immediate perception, inspiration and intuition. The difference in the quality of activity, in the lower and the higher mind, is due to a difference in their power of reception, which means, in their perception of the divine Light or Knowledge, which though permeating them both, is unequally recorded by them.
Roughly speaking, all Yogic exercises and practices are designed to produce a balance, harmony and quietude in the mind as a whole, which will enable the inspirational and intuitional powers of the higher Buddhi to manifest and direct the general mental activity, that is, direct the lower as well as the higher mind.
The practices of mind control, dispassion and above all the slow entry into the realm of meditation, if intelligently carried out and not engaged in in a ferociously ascetic spirit will, when working together, produce in the whole mind, first a balance, then a vacuum, which does not mean an emptiness but a state which is unidentified with, and not unsettled by the diverse impacts it is subject to. It is in this mental calm, the hall mark of the presence of the powers of the higher Buddhi, that the final wonders and transformations of the Yoga take place.
But when we left our man in order to say a few things about his mental instrument, he was still in his primitive state, that is, his mental life was still confined to his lower recording mind, which is under the direct influence of the instincts and emotions and the unevolved ego.
The words “ unevolved ego ” which I have used, have no doubt a strange sound to some, for one gets the impression, during the preliminary period of investigation and study, that maybe we shall have to lose this ego, or kill it, or somehow put it out of action. But the teaching of the Vedanta is, that the ego is basically divine, that it is potentially the “ I ” of man, and that in the two centres, the higher Buddhi and the Ego, is hidden the secret of immortality and the key of release.
As the higher Buddhi, the apex of the mind, begins to bring its great powers of inner direct vision and intuition into operation, the ego, detaching itself from the lower pandemonium, rises and sees its true nature mirrored in that clear and reflecting light, which now fills the highest region of the mind, and once these two, the Ego and the higher Buddhi, know their common origin, the play will be over, and man will be free, for he will know who he in fact is.
Rejection of the world and its joys does not make this consummation a certainty, for renunciation and asceticism may be undertaken as lip service, and without any real understanding of the Truth as it is taught in the philosophy. Release will come through the discovery by the ego of its true nature, when seen through the mediumship of the now dominating and shining higher Buddhi.
Now at some point in time, man’s first transformation took place, that was, he took his first steps towards a recognition of the existence of his mind, and therefore the possibility of the existence of that transcendent state which has just been hinted at. This recognition must surely have developed very slowly, but he must at last have become aware of the importance ‘ to him, of his own mind, and have gained at least an inkling of the powers and riches hidden within it.
What brought about this interior change, when it did come ? Why was man not satisfied to be an eternal spectator of the play ? It would have been an exciting and rewarding enough role surely. You will remember that Attar says : “ Things have only a nominal value ” meaning a changing value, an unsubstantial changing value, which causes the significance of objects and happenings to change as man’s understanding of their nature rises and changes, for man also, in common with all other objects, himself changes, and he changes in proportion as he yields to the growing domination of the Light within him.
Why should that Light increase at all, for it is already divine, which is another word for “ full ”. Why does it not remain for ever giving forth the same intensity of illumination, as does a candle or a torch ? The growth, the expansion takes place not within the Light itself but within the object in which the Light is revealed. This Light is Fullness, Being, the true life of all. It does not increase or grow, but like a divine solvent it causes changes to take place in phenomena.
Man will always be restless until this transmutation has taken place within him, until he directly experiences the Reality, which is his own being, without barriers of any kind. Until that moment, as the Elizabethan poet said : “ He is still climbing after knowledge infinite, and always moving, as the restless spheres ”. No fitting word has ever been discovered for this Fullness. Sometimes it is called Truth or Reality, sometimes God, sometimes Life of life, sometimes Bliss, but never by any word which gives any indication of what it in fact is. It will only be known at the moment of the final transformation, but at present we apprehend it through its effects, and more important, through the testimony of those who have had its direct experience.
Well, granted that at a certain point man becomes aware of the slow approach of a sunrise, how does that new and higher territory of his mind make itself known to him under this growing revelation of Light ?
In the Katha Upanishad it says : “ The Creator made man’s senses outgoing, a wise man turned within, and he beheld the Self, face to face ”.
These wise men are the vanguards of humanity, men whose mental admixture makes it possible for them to go ahead of their brothers and anticipate the path they must follow. These leaders, intuitive and dedicated are not only to be found among men, for one can perceive the potential emergence of their qualities in the kingdom of the animals and birds also. You see selfish animals, quarrelsome, egoistic birds, nervous placating animals and birds, but there are also noble, self-sacrificing creatures, who set a standard for their kind, and for man also, and wherever they appear they are the leaders of others.
The Leaders of men, the Gurus and Rishis, through their inspired spiritual and mental understanding, were the first to penetrate into the unworked mine of the Antahkarana, and they opened it up with all its treasures, for the good of their fellow men. These spiritual pioneers lived aeons ago, and their descendants live to-day. The Vedas and the Upanishads and probably many other spiritual classics, in other parts of the world, are many of them thousands of years old. The Bhagawadgita is itself a part of the Mahabharata, one of the most ancient Records, and it is still called “ The Bible of India ”. The Buddhist and the Christian teachings are also raised upon foundations which are far more ancient than they are themselves.
Man’s spiritual and mental awareness began to develop from the time when the Truth was given forth by these spiritual Teachers by word of mouth, and the Teachings we possess today were cherished and passed on orally by them for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years before they were written down.
We have said that the first transformation in man was probably brought about by obscure yet directed searching, and that due to this spiritual direction, and to the fact that his mind, although he was unaware of it, was inevitably expanding in light, he became conscious of the qualities residing in this inner tool, this instrument of precision with which he would be able to discover the secrets of the objects surrounding him. Thus began his search for the ultimate Truth, and it has been proceeding on two parallel lines ever since ; the one for those using the powers of deduction, logic and discrimination—the assets of the lower Buddhi—and the other, for those using the inner and supra-mental powers of inspiration, direct vision and intuition, which are tools of the higher Buddhi.
Those who are still ruled by Manas, the instinctive, emotional lower mind cannot be said to follow a path as yet, their mental and spiritual life is still only at its beginning. So the first defined path is the way of the lower Buddhi and it attracts the scientist, the inventor, and those who quarry out truth through experiment, deduction and logical thinking, but their findings having been obtained through the workings of a finite instrument, will also be finite, that is, liable to change.
The second path is walked by those who, having prepared and directed their minds under spiritual guidance, act and make their discoveries, impelled by those supra-mental powers which operate in this region and which have direct cognition and realization as their fruit. Slowly the inevitable fact of an all-pervading Essence— One without a second—must have been intuited by these adventurous explorers. Fortunate they were, and are, for this recognition when had, causes the Ego to lose its individual contour and thus brings about the final transformation, which is, the natural and spontaneous acceptance of non-duality.
Now, having spoken in generalities for three-quarters of the time allotted to me, we must try to relate this general account of man’s inner progress to our individual cases. Everybody starts his babyhood as a primitive being, reacting, recording, with his senses ever outward-going, that is to say, with his lower mind in nominal control.
The slow recognition of his own individual existence, that is, the emergence of his ego, not of his instincts for they appeared and manifested with his first breath, but his ego, follows inevitably, and then he will be, not free to choose, things are not as simple as that, but he will feel drawn, however unconsciously to one of these two paths, either towards empirical knowledge—the path of the lower Buddhi or towards the path of the higher Buddhi. Once he has begun, he may persevere on that path to the end, or he may, and he often does, change on the way.
Now it is held traditionally that there are two qualities which are essential to the spiritual aspirant on both paths. The first is Vichara or Enquiry and the other Reverence, for out of these two mental but in fact spiritual attitudes, will appear in due course, knowledge, devotion and the selfless sharing of the Truth with others. Enquiry is that investigation, patient, unprejudiced and attentive which can only be undertaken by a true explorer, never by an amasser of facts.
This enquiry opens up the way to knowledge, and reverence will inevitably he called forth from a true pupil, as he proceeds, and the vision of the expanse and grandeur of the knowledge he is pursuing, breaks upon him. These two qualities are essential, as we have said, for the walkers on either path, and both use them. The scientific investigators, the inventors, doctors, geologists, and many others, all those in fact who deduce and diagnose, and apparently obtain their findings as the result of mental activity, they show that they possess insatiable Vichara, and they reverence their material as well. But this is a Centre for the gaining of spiritual knowledge, so let us confine ourselves to the teachings of Yoga.
I know that the perpetual use of similes is irritating, but similes are of great use to one who is trying to explain the unexplainable, so I hope you will forgive me if I use just one more, and it is about the mind. The Yogic training for the mastery of the mind, for meditation and finally for transcendence resembles the technique of an accomplished mountaineer, and the mind may be visualised as a great mountain.
The spiritual journey or rather the spiritual training, is a climb up the mind, and the disciple under the direction of his teacher, passes through its different altitudes until he arrives at its summit, which, like the crest of a mountain is surrounded by the winds of heaven and the winds of inspiration, and is not shut in by any object. The lower reaches of the outgoing, busy lower mind are like the foothills at the base of a great mountain. Here there is luxurious vegetation and animal life, although very little direct sunlight, but there is also plenty of diversion and temptation in the shape of the inhabitants of the district who are always ready to waste the time of the mountaineer, and dissipate his energy in talk and general curiosity. This I understand is the invariable experience of climbers in both fields, at this stage.
When the climber has at last prepared himself physically and mentally and has decided on what he will discard and what he will take with him, which is settled by the preliminary training, he sets off on his way. Very soon vegetable and animal life begins to disappear and the landscape becomes bare, yet it has a beauty of its own.
Now his powers of discrimination and decision are constantly being brought into play, as he wins foothold after foothold up the side, and he is learning also, how to harbour his energy in order to meet the many demands which may be made on it as he ascends. In other words the plane of the lower Buddhi has been reached, and it may take the pupil a long time to climb beyond it. When he does at last arrive beyond the snow line, many experiences come to the climber on both the inner and the outer mountain, which are known traditionally, but about which few can speak.
As we have said, to attain the summit of a mountain, or to rise through the mind to its apex, calls for the perfecting of certain qualities. We have mentioned them already. The sense of direction, the practice of unprejudiced enquiry into the nature and scope of the enterprise, reverence arising from a recognition of its nature, and finally dedication of the resources, inner and outer of both mountaineer and disciple, to the quest they have undertaken.
But similes should not be stretched too far, otherwise they snap like elastic and sting. The progression up the mind is of course not as neat and obvious as I have made it out to be, for everyone has his own particular level at which he feels more secure than he does at any other. For some it is the level of the lower mind, for others either the lower or the higher Buddhi, some remain at the same level all their life long, others are restless to be up and away, but at some point, in some incarnation every man must start to climb his mountain and although he may often turn back, once the desire for freedom has awakened in him, he will at last move on and ultimately reach the summit. The only level from which no one will ever descend, is the crest of the mind.
During the ascent every exterior and interior situation is capable of maturing the technique of the disciple, just as the various problems of the ascent increase the experience of the mountaineer. Every emotion, every happening, every experience, has a teaching value in both schools of training, and is used for furthering the final purpose. The great Yogi, Swami Rama Tirtha says :—
“ Vice and virtue, joy and sorrow Were the rungs of the ladder to the chamber of the Friend. You may burn this ladder now, I shall come down no more.”
It is difficult to give practices after such a general survey, however Enquiry—Vichara can always be practised by anyone, starting at any time, but it should be given a definite form. That is to say, a definite time of the day should be allotted to it, and a definite amount of time also. It is wise to ask advice about which classics you should choose for study at first. Here is a meditation to strengthen the sense of direction.. This meditation can be done in the morning or in the evening, or both, and it is helpful to bring it before the mind during the day. Keep relaxed and reflect on its meaning as often as you can, and above all, speaking from personal experience do not quarrel with the mind if it is unable to accept the meaning of the meditation, and concentrate on it straight away.
OM. From the unreal lead me to the Real, From darkness to Light, ‘ From death to immortality. OM
That is the meditation. His form is not an object of vision, No one beholds Him with the eyes, but they who through reflection realise Him Through the pure Buddhi, they become immortal.