Non-dualism and conservation of energy18 min read

The conservation of energy may sound too practical a subject to have any spiritual significance. But here, straight away, we come on one of the principal tenets of the philosophy of non-dualism, namely that there is nothing whatsoever which has not got some spiritual import, for everything which can be apprehended through the mind or the senses, is interpenetrated by Consciousness or Chit, and is made knowable and exhibits its particular qualities by virtue of that Consciousness.

Anyone who wishes to grasp the philosophy on which Adhyatma Yoga is based will be faced at once with the inadequacy of this term ‘Consciousness’, which is used in our language to denote that Power—one without a second—which contains within itself the basic facts, known in this empirical realm as Existence, Being, Bliss and Fullness.

In Sanskrit there are many words available to describe these states, awareness of a thing being differentiated by word from identity with the being of that thing. Chit, or the supreme Reality, which is the germ of all apparent reality in phenomena, is unimaginable, unchangeable, and all-pervading, and it is That which invests the Universe of names and forms with its apparent power, movement, beauty and evanescence, while remaining itself unchanged in the process.

The appearance of names and forms within this all- pervading formless Chit is held to be the visible result of a power inherent in it, called Maya, which is composed of three degrees of activity and density by which the light of Chit is veiled, and which are known as the three Gunas.

This power of Maya, which together with the three Gunas is postulated in the Advaita philosophy as the cause of the empirical world, is immaterial and inexplicable, and it conceals the nature of Reality by causing the Infinite to appear as finite and by producing the conception of time and space where in reality there exists only the unbroken stretch of Consciousness. It can be taken that all manifestations of power spring from this one source—Chit—seen through the distorting medium of the power of Maya and its three Gunas, and this causes its power to manifest in the empirical world as energy, its being as the phenomenon of life, and its bliss as human love and sansaric attraction.

One would think that this Reality, so powerful and all comprising, could never be hidden and that it must necessarily reveal itself in its entirety to the empirical consciousness of man and not appear as if made up of parts and effects. But it must be remembered that man is himself a part of this Mayic perversion or delusion, so far as his body and mind are concerned, and therefore blind to Reality, for though the sea may know the wave, the wave will never recognise the mighty ocean until it becomes one with it.

The sun’s rays are all-pervading and its naked light cannot be borne by the human eye, and yet a leaf held before the face can block its brilliance from view. Empirical existence, with its conception of multiplicity, time, space, forms, concepts and percepts, is as a leaf held before the divine vision, and the end and aim of conscious spiritual endeavour is to remove this obstruction, and, seeing Truth in its fullness, to recognise it as the basic nature of all things and re-enter it finally and for ever. It will thus be seen that Yoga is really a process of unlearning, of re-adjustment and removal, rather than a science which will impart something new to the learner; and this is borne out by the fact that at each progressive stage in his training, the pupil seems to recognise the country he is entering, and his sense of security and joy increases as he proceeds.

These words may give a general idea of the goal of the spiritual endeavour, but our interest is to see how the power of God or Reality which permeates all may be loosed from the restrictions created by the illusion of Maya, and so manifest in its fullness. Power and energy are obviously not one and the same thing. Energy is the outcome of the action of power on an object. The magnet, itself immobile and without qualities, creates a manifestation of intense energy and characteristic movements in the filings which come within its orbit, but is itself untouched and unchanged. The question before us is not how to conserve power, for that will never change in quality or intensity, but how to manipulate the object upon which this Power plays—in this case the body and mind— in such a way, that they may be filled with energy and retain it for as long as possible—that is the problem.

How that which is greater can be manipulated by that which is less? In other words how such a power can be turned to man’s uses, and apparently undergo a change, when conceived by the mind. Dr Shastri used to explain this by using the simile of a glacier, rising high up in the Himalayan heights, where its waters are pure and uncontaminated. The water descends to join the rivers of the plains on their way to the sea, and in its progress it passes through many cities where the inhabitants throw their refuse into it. The water has now become turbid and polluted, and yet it is the same element which issued from the glacier far away on the Himalayan peaks. The change has been wrought by the action of man alone, and is temporary, for it will pass away when the water reaches the infinite ocean. Just so Chit—Consciousness, or whatever you wish to call it —interpenetrates all phenomena, but due to the finitising power of Maya, is seen everywhere as the pairs of opposites —as terror as well as joy, hatred as well as bliss.

It is the same force or element which makes the sun to shine, the atoms to cohere, and at the same time causes man to think, have likes and dislikes, and create a battleground of moods and emotions within his mind, and yet it is intrinsically without form, limits or qualities. Granted that this is so, how is it possible to call a halt and resume one’s own nature, which is one with this pure element? What steps can be taken to withdraw the leaf from before the inner eye, so that its vision may be unobstructed and undistorted? The world is suffering from universal tension. Wars and rumours of wars, not to speak of personal discord, and fears, are taking an enormous toll of our mental and nervous energy. Something must be done by each individual to stop this waste, and to bring the nerves and mind into a state of equilibrium, in which they are not so easily affected by the adversities of life.

And here we come to the value of the practices of Yoga, and the facts on which they are based.

According to the Vedanta, before man becomes self-conscious, that is, before he conceives of himself as other than the body and the mind and superior to both, he is like a web, made up of the mind and its contents, and the body and its reactions, though both are animated by the Divine Spirit. The body and mind have no power of activity in themselves, but are energised and made seemingly alive, as we have already said, through their proximity with Consciousness.

It is held that throughout creation, that is, wherever the power of Maya reaches—and it is all-pervasive—the light of Consciousness is veiled by three densities, or impulses towards activity, known as the three Gunas. It might be said that Maya is another name for these three Gunas, and that the three Gunas are another name for Maya. These Gunas condition the reception of Chit by an object, and they are known as Tamas, Rajas and Sattva, and are present in varying degrees in all phenomena.

Tamas is the Guna which produces the thickest veil, and it manifests as the inertness in matter, and as error, sloth and the absence of discrimination in the mind.

Rajas produces a less complete veiling; it is the principle of activity, manifesting as life in all things, and desire, greed and ambition in the mind.

Sattva produces the most subtle veil; it is the principle of transparency and reflection, producing the qualities of balance and understanding in the mind.

The Gunas are said to act together, and together they form the changing texture of the outer and inner life.

They are all present, for instance, in matter, mind and life, but each in varying degrees. Thus, although Tamas predominates in matter, the Sattva Guna, the principle which reflects or manifests Consciousness most clearly, is present there also. Therefore Consciousness is not only present but is faintly discernible even in the lowest forms of matter, a fact which has now been established by science. Matter is also resistant, for it has the Tamas Guna predominating, but although it may appear stable to the eye, its every particle—atoms and molecules—is capable of change and motion. In other words Rajas is present. There is also rhythm in this movement, indicating the presence of Sattva.

As in matter, so in man. He also is an admixture, not a simple product, all three Gunas being present in him; but in his case they are subject to alternation, one Guna gaining the ascendency at one time and another at another, and this persists until man achieves inner control. Therefore he has no reason for hopelessness, nor for complacency for that matter, for he will never be safe from their pitching and tossing until he has reached his natural state, that is, until their influence has been neutralised and transcended.

At this point one asks oneself: “Is there any purpose in this perpetual interchange?”

According to Vachaspati Misra, a great philosopher of the 15th century, there is a purpose, for he says:

“Like a lamp, the action of the Gunas is for a single purpose. The wick and the oil in a lamp is each, by itself, opposed to the action of fire, but they co-operate when in contact with fire for the single purpose of giving light. The various humours of the body, though possessed of contradictory properties, co-operate for the single purpose of sustaining the body. In the same manner the three Gunas, though possessed of mutually contradictory properties, co-operate towards a single end—the emancipation of the Spirit;”

The Gunas, through their very existence and activity, drive man to transcend them and so win his freedom. How does this emancipation take place? The true nature of man is complete freedom and sovereignty, and he will never be satisfied until he has unveiled his nature and lives in it. He will therefore be impelled at long last to free himself from any domination or restriction whatsoever, and the most complete domination is servitude to the influence of the Gunas, whereas liberty means their transcendence. Spiritual training, discipline and instruction have this emancipation as their goal, and the progression they teach is from the domination of Tamas, to the ascendency of Sattva, and then beyond that.

There is much instruction in the Bhagavad Gita on how to transcend the Gunas and so control mental activity, which leads to bodily action, and also on how to conserve energy; and in one verse it says: “The Gunas perform all action. With understanding deluded, the ignorant man thinks: ‘I am the doer’.”

This verse is often tortured into meaning: “I am not responsible for my actions, for it is the Gunas that are acting.” But nothing in this world is as simple and easy as that! We are responsible, in so far as we offer the suitable soil in which a specific Guna can flourish and in which a certain type of action can germinate and bear fruit. Yet the true position is implied in this verse. It is the ignorant man who identifies himself with the automatic activity which is brought about by the Gunas. It is the attraction of the Gunas to each other that causes action and therefore re-action. They cause reactions in the subtle senses and responses in the gross body.

The true Self is detached from the senses, the mind and—in the end—from the Gunas as well; but only when this fact has been confirmed by direct experience and therefore has become an ever-present certainty, to be acted upon automatically, has the man earned the right to dissociate himself from his actions and reactions. By that time the false self will have dissipated in the light of the true Self, and a man will have become as incapable of doing harm as a snake with its poison fangs removed; but he will not reach this state of transcendence by abstaining from action, but by dispassionately performing whatever action comes his way, unsought.

How may a man free himself from this domination of the Gunas and attain an altitude from where he can enjoy them, while remaining untouched by their machinations? There is an Eastern saying: “While the pearl is still in the oyster, it cannot decorate the royal Crown.”

Therefore so long as we are netted down and in thrall to anything, our true nature will be hidden, and we shall be in bondage. Balance, so long as it is consciously maintained, still contains within itself the seed of the fear of falling. It needs courage to maintain a balance, but fearlessness only comes to him whose feet are both firmly planted on the ground.

Different aspects of the training provide different means of controlling the Gunas, and stopping the ceaseless squandering of energy they bring about. These practices are directed at the heart or the intuitional centre, the mind and the will, and in each case they aim at slowing down unbridled activity through conscious and enlightened selection, thereby allowing the Power behind these centres to manifest. Meditation, control of the mind and alertness or concentration—these are the practices.

Meditation empties the heart of temporal concepts and then fills it with the infinite and abstract. True control of the mind means discovering and controlling the cause of its activity, and not only controlling the effect of that Cause—which is the activity itself. The Cause can only be revealed through intuition, born of meditation, but its effects may be neutralised through control of the damaging mental wastage caused by unpremeditated speech, and the idle imaginings born of desire and aversion. Finally, concentration on a focus is practised which alone makes the sustaining of the Sattva Guna possible. These practices produce a technique which teaches the pupil how to rise above those causes of ignorance—the Gunas.

There is a passage in the Masnavi where the perfect way of robbing the Gunas of their power to distract and steal is given.

“O God,” it says, “there are myriads of snares and baits, and we are greedy foodless birds, O Thou without want! We are putting corn into our barn, and yet we are losing the corn that has been garnered. If there were no thievish mice in our barn, where is the corn of forty years works of devotion ? Why is the daily sincerity of our devotion not being stored in this bam of ours? But though there be a thousand snares at our feet, if Thou art with us, there will be no trouble.”

That is the secret—“If Thou art with us, there will be no trouble.”

So long as we keep our heart’s eye on God, or Truth, these snares, these shifting Gunas, will have no power to rob us.

So it seems that the power of the Gunas can only be broken when something greater than they swims into our view, and is acknowledged by our mind.

The Lord in the Gita says: “Verily, this divine illusion of Mine, made up of the Gunas, is hard to surmount. Only those who devote themselves to Me alone cross over it.”

It is now clear that the secret thieves of energy are the Gunas, and that the only way of preserving our treasure is to dissociate ourselves from them, by transferring our inner gaze to the Unchanging, and merely witnessing their changing activities without being influenced by them.

Dr. Shastri used to say: “Imagine a certain volume of water. If that water is confined between banks, that is to say—if it is conserved and is directed to its proper course towards the sea—it will become a deep moving stream. But allow it to spread unrestricted over a two-acre field, and it will only be a few inches in depth, have no movement, and will soon become stagnant.”

Therefore control and direction are the methods to be employed, if energy is to be conserved and the supreme Truth known.

The final verdict of the Upanishadic Sages is: “No one whose senses are unpurified, and whose mind is not collected and at rest, can acquire knowledge of the Self—no one.”

Therefore withdrawal from the endless experiences of the senses and the mind, and concentration, through meditation on the subtle realm behind and above the mind, is the only certain way to release. In fact the Saints of all religions have proved this in their lives.

They are manifestations of extreme yet selective energy, which is apparently inexhaustible. They draw the spiritual Power naturally through the now open and purified channels of their hearts and minds, and they conserve it by devoting it exclusively to the glory and service of the Source from which it comes, and with which they are now consciously joined. To them, the whole world, and their bodies and minds as well, are manifestations of this Power, and their lives are dedicated to revealing this Truth to others.

The more directly the fact of the all-pervadingness of God is realised by them, the more clearly will it reveal itself to their fellow-men, for man can only take fire from a living flame and not by contact with the dry sticks of theories.

This may be so, but we are not saints, and we have still to bring this Truth into being for ourselves in this world, and there are certain outer ways of doing so. Among these is the elimination of unnecessary activity on all planes. First and foremost amongst those activities, as has been said, is the habit of unconsidered and exuberant speech, which is like a tap with a perished washer, allowing the water constantly to run to waste. There is an old saying that every man is allotted at his birth just so many breaths and no more, and that if he excites himself, or allows himself to become angry or voluble, his breath quickens, and he spends it recklessly and to no purpose, and is therefore forced to leave the stage of life before his due time. This may be a cri de coeur from some monosyllabic one linked to a voluble talker, but it has a value as a warning all the same.

After having started to curb his outgoing activities, the disciple must establish a rhythm and formulate a plan by which to live his daily life. This will prevent preoccupation with trifles and make it possible for the mind to turn to essentials. Order without is generally an indication of order within, and this powerful practice of selection and rejection must be mastered if man is to be able to direct his life, instead of allowing it to direct him.

Two inner practices make these outer ones fruitful— meditation and contemplation, and also—and this must never be forgotten—the cultivation of a universal outlook, which will not countenance harm to any, by thought, word or deed. Where this attitude is not present, it means that there is an absence of the true understanding of the Advaita philosophy, and, what is more serious, no belief in the all- pervadingness of Spirit.

Withdrawal from the surface life, in order to concentrate on its substratum, the Unmanifest, through the study of meditation and contemplation, together with this feeling of universal good-will, are the traditional methods for conserving spiritual power and energy. These practices have not been dealt with in detail, partly because this talk only aimed at indicating the way of progression towards the goal, and the means of conserving energy, but also because they are dealt with again and again in other talks, and more deeply still in Dr. Shastri’s books. His work Teachings from the Gita gives much valuable information on the subject.

In conclusion, here is a short verse of Shri Shankaracharya, to end on a note of hope and refreshment. It tells us that true freedom means freedom of action on this plane of being as well as on the highest:

“One may live the life of the world or be a monk, live in society or in a hermitage, but he whose mind is devoted to the joy of the contemplation of God—he is happy, he is happy, he is happy.”

It is only by ceasing to roam, that a man reaches the inexhaustible within his own nature, and by identifying himself with the One that he escapes domination by the many.