Analogies, inferences, illustrations, instances – these can never be more than encouragement to faith and practice. They may seem to give certainty, but that is only while circumstances remain favourable. Religious communities without real experience, as Hakuin pointed out, can be like trees with interlacing branches which have died at the root, but which support each other. They seem firm, but when a gale comes everything goes down.
To try to discuss freedom in words and concepts which are products of individuality-experience becomes self-defeating. Human beings inevitably think of a ‘liberated man’ as somehow like themselves, but with perhaps some ‘insight’ or ‘change of view-point’. The thought that there is no individual man there at all, but the universal Self moving that body and mind, can indeed be verbalized; but then somehow it is supposed that there must be an individual watching the activity going on, like a man aware that his teeth are chattering. There are those who believe that by following out instinctive drives they are somehow part of the ‘cosmic will’; they forget that instinctive drives are centred round individual and species, and so based on illusion.
The iron prison keeps its grip until man seeks through yogic practice to find what he really is. Mephistopheles whispers, ‘This is a prisoner dreaming that he is free; it may give him a temporary respite, but it is all nothing. It is really infantile – a child in a storm at sea closing its eyes and imagining it is safe home in bed.’
Yoga practice is not a dream. There is one case where closing the eyes to the storm and imagining one is in bed is not infantile, and that is when it corresponds to the facts, when the storm is a dream, dreamed by one in bed. In the years following the French Revolution it was not uncommon for the ruling class in various countries to dream that they were themselves French aristocrats about to be executed. When they were forced down beneath the guillotine, with eyes closed or bandaged, in some cases the thought came, ‘If only this were a dream!’ Then when the blade came down, they awoke, and it was.
Even in the most terrifying dream there is something which knows it is not completely real. This is shown by the fact that experiences which would leave a terrible wound if met in waking are vividly passed through in dream but forgotten quickly. In the same way, there is something in waking experience which is not completely submerged in it, but has a vague idea of something beyond. It is impossible to live in the conviction that this world is a mental construct unless there have been yogic experiences5 but the yogic texts, if attended to, make a stir in the depths below the personality.
A bird which has been kept in a cage, even a large one where it can fly, is uneasy when it is freed. It sits on a branch and watches the wild birds flying past, and hears their songs. Its wings quiver, and it seems to try to fly, but the conviction of imprisonment settles on it and it gives up. It is, observers say, sometimes only after many painful efforts that it finally arrives at the practical conviction that it is free. It can of course see that it is free, but the memory of the bars has bound it.
The yogic texts make a quiver in the seed-bed at the root of the mind5 as a famous Zen phrase says, they are a sword thrust into the seed-bed. Yogic practice does not actually accomplish anything new, but it removes the obstacles to the full manifestation of that obscure awareness of freedom which is innate in man, beyond practical everyday life, beyond the defensive cynicism of intellect, beyond the darkness of the seed-bed.
Here are the verses on the Self in the Apastamba Law-book :
Each and every living being is the city belonging to the one lying at rest in the cave, indestructible, taintless, the unmoving abiding in the moving.
Those who practise realization of it, they are immortal.
This indeed which here in this world and here in that world is called the object –
Having shaken himself free from it, let the seer devote himself to that which lies in the cave.
He who is constant in all beings, wise, immortal, firm, without limbs, without sound, without body, without touch, great, pure –
He is all, the highest goal, he is in the centre, he divides, he is the city.
The yogi who practises realization of that in everything, and always holds to firmness in that,
Will see that which is hard to see and subtle, and rejoice in heaven.
The seer meditating, seeing everything in the Self, will not be deluded,
And whoever sees the Self alone in everything,
He is Brahman, glorious in the highest heaven.
Subtle, finer than a lotus-fibre, he stands covering all,
Greater than the earth, firm, he stands supporting all.
He is other than the sense-knowledge of this world.
The world is not different from him, who is ever
standing as the supreme, who is to be known, who himself divides into many.
From him the bodies all come forth, he is the root, eternal, he is constant.
© Trevor Leggett