We cannot know reality through the local consciousness

In more than one of his lectures in America Paramahansa Swami Rama Tirtha takes up the theme of the when and why of the world, and he makes the point with great clarity and simplicity that all such questions as “when did the world begin?”, “where did the world come from?” and “why was the world created?” are all questions which arise only through a misunderstanding, because the world has no real existence.

In “A Brief History of Time”, Professor Hawking, who holds the chair of Mathematics at Cambridge once held by Sir Isaac Newton, discusses the history of the Universe “from the big bang to black holes”. The book attempts to answer these questions, or at least to show how far we can succeed in answering them, by a consideration of the findings of modern physics in the light of the General Theory of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics.

But it brings out very clearly the limits beyond which we cannot understand or predict events. For those objects in the universe which disappear into a so-called black hole, time ceases, similarly the laws by which we predict the behaviour of the expanding universe following the big bang do not allow us to say anything about any preceding events. In these two situations, says Professor Hawking, we encounter what the physicist calls ‘singularities’, where the predictive power of the mathematical theories breaks down and we reach the limit of the determinable.

Swami Rama Tirtha says that: “Vedanta plainly confesses its inability to answer these questions” but “we can show you conclusively through experiment that when you advance high enough in the realisation of the truth, this world will disappear for you.” And it is easy to demonstrate that the world is not what it appears to be. When we ask where, when and why did the world begin, we are presupposing time, space and causation by the very use of these words.

Even Bertrand Russell says that the notions of causation or purpose cannot be applied to the whole of reality, but only to a part of it. It is clear, says Russell, that if we are deeding with the whole of reality, there is no possibility of saying for the purpose of what else does it exist, because there is nothing else, nor can we ask of the whole of reality, what other thing caused it for the same reason. So we can say of the whole of reality that it can be explained neither in terms of causation nor purpose.

To all such questions concerning the origin or source of the world we have to answer, in the words of the Upanishad: “Neti, Neti”, “not that, not that”. The idea of a Creator who created the world may be easy to understand if we think of the Creator as separate from the world that he creates, but if it were so, then the Creator and his creation would be in the realm of duality. Therefore we have to say ‘Neti, Neti’, ‘not this, not that’. Then, asks Swami Rama, can we say with the atheists that there is no God? Vedanta replies “Neti, Neti” ‘not that, not that’. The fact is that all these conceptions of the mind are only legitimate in the empirical realm.

The intellect is the organ of knowledge which operates in duality, but it is powerless to enter the realm of non-duality. Swami Rama says: “Your intellect has work enough in the material plane, in the empirical realms, but in the realms of metaphysics you have to come only by one way, and one way only, and that way is the way of realisation, that way is the way of love, feeling, faith, rather, knowledge. Strange kind of knowledge, strange kind of God consciousness. When you come to this region through the proper channel, all questions cease, all problems are solved. In the Kena Upanishad of the Sama Veda, we have a passage which translated into English is something like this:

“I cannot say I know it: nor can I say I do not know it; beyond knowing and not knowing it is.”

We cannot know this reality through the local consciousness, but through the cosmic consciousness.

“Now if the infinite could be known, we would have duality established immediately instead of oneness, and neither the knower nor the known would be infinite. But by the cosmic consciousness we see universality is established.”


The individual soul, melted in the fire of knowledge, kindled by Shravana, Manana and Nidhidyasana, is freed from all taints, like gold, and shines by itself.

“The Self is the sun of knowlege that, rising in the firmament of the heart, destroys the darkness of ignorance, and pervading all and supporting all, shines and makes everything shine.”

These verses make clear to us the meaning of the words of Shri Shankaracharya in his commentary on the Gita Shastra, that the Self which is the object of our enquiry is the Self which at the outset seems to be the limited Jiva confined to the body and identified with the mind, but turns out in the end to be identical with the supreme Self, Paramatman. How does this astonishing transmutation of apparently base metal into gold come about?

By what strange alchemy is it to be achieved? It is, says Shri Bhagavadpad, like the purification of gold in the fire. Note that it is not the creation of gold, but simply its purification. The lump of crude ore, which looks tarnished and dark and of no particular value, (except in the eye of the one who knows), turns out to our astonishment to be pure, shining, lustrous gold when it passes through the fire. In the same way the Jiva, melted in the fire of knowledge, kindled by Shravana, Manana and Nidhidyasana, is freed from all taints. What are those taints? They are the sum total of all the imagined impurities which make up Sansara.

The Self appears to be conditioned by virtue of ignorance. But when that ignorance is destroyed, the unconditioned Self shines by its own light, like the sun when the clouds have disappeared. The condition of Jivahood is imposed on Atman by illusion, in the same way as a post is imagined to be a man. The ideas of ‘I’ and ‘mine’ arise from confusion, because, when the sun is covered by the clouds of ignorance, the Jiva loses his sense of direction and becomes giddy and disoriented.

He no longer knows where he is, nor who he is. To such an individual, whose sins have been destroyed by austerities and who, with a tranquil mind and free from attachment, longs for liberation, the Lord appears a real Teacher (not a pseudo Mahatma) and by repeated instruction, begins to purify his mind and to bring him back to sanity and clear-sightedness. Gradually the clouds of ignorance disperse and the light of true knowledge dawns. Then, in the words of Shri Shankara:

“The Self, like the sun of knowledge, rises in the firmament of the heart and destroys the darkness of ignorance. Pervading all and supporting all, it shines and makes everything shine.”

“He who unmindful of the limitations of direction, space, time, etc, and perfectly tranquil, attains the sanctum of the Self, that is the all- pervading stainless, eternal bliss, which dispels all qualities like heat and cold, etc., he becomes all-knowing, all-pervading and immortal.”

Let us listen, not to the dualists or the self-advertising pseudo-Mahatmas whose main interest is to fascinate us with the greatness of their egos – and they are great indeed! – but to the words of the true men of God, the saints and Jnanis who have realised the summum bonum of life and discovered the light of Truth in their own hearts. They have no axe to grind, no ulterior motive in what they tell us. They simply want to wake us up to that reality which they have known.

Listen to the words of Meister Eckhardt:

“Schoolmen have often asked how it is possible for the soul to know God. It is not from severity that God demands much from men in order to obtain the knowledge of Himself; it is of His kindness that he wills the soul by effort to grow capacious of receiving much. Let no man think that to attain this knowledge is too difficult, although it may sound so, and indeed the commencement of it, and the renouncement of all things, is difficult. But when one attains to it, no life is easier nor more pleasant nor more lovable, since God is always endeavouring to dwell with man, and teach him in order to bring him to Himself. No man desires anything so eagerly as God desires to bring men to the knowledge of Himself. God is always ready, but we are very unready. God is near us, but we are far from Him. God is within, and we are without. God is friendly; we are estranged. The prophet saith: ‘God leadeth the righteous by a narrow path into a broad and wide place, that is into the true freedom of those who have become one spirit with God.’ May God help us all to follow Him that He may bring us to Himself. Amen.”


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