From Prashna Upanishad: ‘You ask questions more difficult, but you are a great lover of Brahman, therefore I shall tell you’.
THE goal of yoga is defined as knowledge of Reality, which is stated to be of the nature of absolute bliss and freedom from all limitations.
The most important factor in attaining it is Inquiry.
The spirit of inquiry is fundamental in man, and demands exercise, but unless properly directed it degenerates into mere inquisitiveness. In ordinary life we recognize that some kinds of knowledge are irrelevant and pointless. There are people who feel impelled to count the panes in every window they see, but the information obtained has no value to them. It is said that an industrial magnate once pointed out to a visitor a piece of machinery in his factory and said: ” There are exactly 1,763 parts in that machine.” The visitor was much impressed, and later asked the Chief Engineer whether it was true. ” I don’t know,” was the reply,” I can’t think of a more useless piece of information.” In the same way there are many facts which we feel it is important to know, but which on reflection have no meaning for us at all. And even what we call useful knowledge may turn out to have no absolute value.
The sages of the Upanishads divided knowledge into the Lower, which included all finite knowledge, and the Higher, by which Reality or Brahman is known. The Lower knowledge can never give permanent satisfaction, because it is knowledge of Maya, illusion. The objects of a dream world can never be accurately known, inasmuch as they have no permanence or substantiality and furthermore the dreamer even in the act of counting them is spinning them out of his imagination. In the Chandogya Upanishad, Narada approaches Sanatkumara and explains that though he has mastered all the sciences and arts, he finds no satisfaction or peace. Sanatkumara tells him that all he has learnt is merely a name and no more, and that he must now direct his inquiry towards Reality. There is no satisfaction in anything less.
The Mundaka Upanishad, explaining the difference between the two kinds of knowledge, recommends the spiritual student to examine the world and come to see that Reality, which is eternal, cannot be found in the changing phenomena. Then he should take a gift in his hand and approach a sage who knows the sacred texts and who himself lives entirely in Reality. To such a pupil, says the Upanishad, who understands that he will not find the goal in this changing world, the wise teacher will teach the knowledge of the Real.
The first point is that the inquiry must be pushed to the extreme, that is into the nature of Reality itself. The second point is that it should be intense. For those whose practice is ardent, says Patanjali, and who are not distracted by other interests, success is near. As in any other subject, the best way to intensify the practice is to have a qualified teacher, though it is also true that many of the pupils in the Upanishad stories had previously made great efforts on their own.
The teacher will prevent his pupils from missing the point. It must be remembered that there are elements in the mind which resist the yoga training and cling to their existence, and the pupil may unconsciously try to take refuge in some minor aspect of yoga. The critical interpretation of the texts, the history and development of the philosophy, symbolical interpretations and so on may have their value, but if they exert a peculiar fascination and crowd out other parts of the training, it means that the spirit of inquiry has fallen to the Lower knowledge, and what is being learnt is merely a name and no more. The Higher knowledge is not a mere knowledge of words, but a living experience of Reality which ends all suffering for ever, and by which all that had to be known is known.
When the pupil has grasped the outlines of the philosophy, the teacher gives him certain phrases to meditate on and to form the focus of his inquiry. A famous descripion of Reality given by the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad is the phrase : ” Not this, not this “. Reality is free from all relative attributes, from all that can be described as ” this “. But it is not sufficient merely to know theoretically that Reality is ” not this, not this,” when all the time in daily experience we do in fact attribute absolute reality to the objects of perception. Not only in meditation, but all the time, the pupil while treating with the phenomenal world has to apply his spirit of inquiry to realize that Brahman, the Reality, is ” not this, not this “. The description is negative, but its object is the positive experience of Reality.
All great mystic schools use some such phrase. A Chinese master was asked : ” Is there Buddha-nature in a puppy or not ? ” He replied with the one word : ” Not “. This ` Not ‘ was a favourite phrase on which Buddhist disciples were made to exercise their inquiry. A great master wrote : ” To have a weak spirit of inquiry is the great failing. Only if the spirit of inquiry is complete will the enlightenment be complete. If only the inquiry into the ` Not ‘ be great enough, then a hundred out of a hundred, a thousand out of a thousand pupils will without exception attain the goal.” Then speaking of his own experience with the ` Not’, he says : ” Day and night I kept before my mind the Chinese character for ‘Not’, of twelve brush-strokes, without any intermission. I was urged on by the thought that I had not yet attained complete undistracted concentration. Day and night I hardly slept, I forgot both food and rest. . . . Suddenly my inquiry became complete. I felt I was freezing in a field of ice a thousand miles wide, purity within and without.
I could neither advance nor could I retreat. I had lost all sense of anything else,-there was only the ` Not’ . . . Then in the evening at the sound of the temple bell it broke up ; it was as though a tray of ice was shivered to pieces or a tower of jade pulled down. All at once I came to myself, with all my doubts resolved. . . . I shouted with joy : We need not seek to escape from the cycle of birth and death, we are already free. We need not search elsewhere, we are ourselves the Buddha.”
In Islamic mysticism, the word ` Not ‘ is used in a similar way. Here the context is the sentence which forms part of the Islamic profession of faith : ” There is not any god except Allah.’ The mystic classic, Mathnavi, explains the meditation on this word Not ” Love is that flame which, when it blazes up, consumes everything else but the Beloved.
The lover drives home the sword of ` Not’ in order to kill all other than God : thereupon consider what remains after `Not ‘.
There remains `Except Allah’ ; all the rest is gone.”
The use of the ‘ Not ‘ by the mystics of these three schools is recognizably the same. The word has many meanings hidden in it. For instance there is the obvious point that we must not make a puppy our object of worship, that we must not make an Allah out of any object in the world, whether a human being or a flag or a race or anything else. But the mystics pursue the ` Not ‘ much further than this. The unreal, the world of phenomena is negated totally, and when all that is finite is gone, what remains is not a mere void. The underlying Reality is known which the Muslim calls Allah. But more than that, it is our own Self. ” That great Self is the lord of all, and that Self is That which is described as Not This, Not This,” says the Brihadaranyaka. The Chandogya speaks of it as the Infinite : ” The Infinite is bliss. There is no bliss in anything finite. Infinity only is bliss.
This Infinity we must desire to understand. The Infinite is immortal, the finite is mortal. He who sees, perceives and understands this, loves the Self, delights in the Self, rejoices in the Self ; he is lord and master in all the worlds. Those who think differently from this, live in perishable worlds and have other beings for their rulers. But he who sees this, does not see death, nor illness, nor pain ; he who sees this, sees everything, and obtains everything everywhere.”
© Trevor Leggett