The Path to the Inner Summit
There is a story about a poor woman who lived in a hut. One day, they found her outside searching on the ground. ‘What are you looking for?’ ‘I dropped my needle, and I am searching for it.’ ‘Where did you drop it?’ ‘In my hut.’ ‘Then why don’t you search the floor of your hut?’ ‘Well, the light out here is good and it is dark in my hut.’
According to the illumined sages, the jewel of perfect happiness and fulfilment is hidden in the mind itself, and is its very basis. This jewel is the immortal principle in us—the kingdom of heaven. But rather than turn within, we direct our attention outwards for bliss and peace. All the mystics, like St Augustine, say: ‘You were within me all the time, but I was outside myself.’ The secret of happiness is to be discovered in our own being. We must learn to enter the apparent darkness of the mind, and there search within for the self-luminous background of all our experience.
Commenting on the story, Swami Rama Tirtha said: ‘This is exactly the way with people. You have the heaven within you, the paradise, the home of bliss within you; and yet you are searching for pleasure in the objects, in the streets, searching for that thing outside, in the objects of the senses. How strange!’
Our innermost being transcends both mind and matter, time and space. This is the ‘God within’ spoken of by the mystics. Another imaginative story tells how, in the early days of creation, when the earth was first populated and human beings had just learnt how to pray, God became weary because all the time the folks down here were making their demands. All the time they were petitioning Him to make it rain—or stop raining, to confer riches, to find a wife, destroy an enemy, and so on. It was like a night alarm that couldn’t be switched off. So God sought a hiding place. He called together his wise men. One said: ‘Hide in the mountains.’ But God said: ‘No—I’ll be found.’ Others suggested: ‘Hide in the desert.’ ‘Hide on the moon’, and so on. But to each God said: ‘No, surely they will intrude.’ Finally, an old wise man said: ‘I know. There is one place where you will never be sought. It is the human heart. Hide within man himself, in the depths of his own being. No one will ever think of searching for you there.’ This is the heavenly hiding place, the sublime concealed in the commonplace, ultimate reality underlying the dream-weaving mind. In the creation hymn of the ancient Rig Veda, we learn:
Sages having searched in their heart found wisdom,
The seed of what is, in what is not.
The summit is within you. In Islam, as in the Bible, God ‘breathes’ his being into us. For the mystical poet Hafiz, this meant:
As soon as I heard the words ‘I breathed my being into man’
I knew I was part of him and he in me.
As human beings—bodies and minds—we are held together by virtue of the spiritual element that is the core of our being. We may call it soul, or ‘being’ itself. Yoga calls it the true Self. It is hidden behind the density of the mental realm, the realm of thought and memory. And we have to find it through thinning that density so that we see—inwardly—through it. Then we get signs that our true nature is a realm of experience that has no limit, and is fundamentally peace, joy and light. The path to the inner summit leads from the mental to the fundamental—the self-sufficiency and absolute unity of God close at hand.
The transcendent element within us is not an add-on to our personality, like a sanctified ecclesiastical vestment. It is our essence. Without it, nothing else would be experienced, for it is the source of all consciousness. In fact man is essentially soul, or self, and it is our body and mind that are like garments or dresses. The Bhagavad Gita speaks of the true Self as the one who wears the body and mind. Yes, the mind too is a kind of subtle undergarment, essentially a field of experience external to the real. Thus we ‘wear’ the mind much as a policeman wears a professional ‘vest’ crammed with all his instruments. He is not identified with the vest, and can slip out of it at any time. Like the police vest, the mind is our multi-faceted support for daily living; it is not the real Self, but rather an instrument of that Self.
Yoga leads to the recovery of our true identity. This locating of our true Self within, yet beyond, body and mind, is crystallised in a short visualisation practice given in the book The Power Behind the Mind.
This is an imaginative exercise, which will make our path much smoother. We can visualise, which is a fact, that we live in the body and mind and not as the body and mind—that we live in the body as a guest or a lodger. The mind is our vehicle and not our real Self.
The higher Yoga is practised as a means of awakening this sense of the authority of our higher nature. There is only one Self in all. Our body and mind is like a wave on the ocean of the supreme Self—the ocean of consciousness. Self is the golden thread that unites us all. The imperishable principle within us is the treasury of treasuries. There is nothing better, more sublime, nearer, so blissful. The experience of inner light is superior to any intellectual activity or gratification, superior to the intuition or inspiration of the greatest artists, which sometimes carries them away into a sense of the sublime. It surpasses incomparably any transient ‘buzz’ or thrill a person may gain through the pleasure and power trips of this world.
This awakening to knowledge is the summit of experience. Yet it remains an inner summit, something that we carry with us all the time. It is like the story of the lost necklace. The wife was upset. She had lost her beautiful necklace. The husband came, and he saw its impression under the dress, and said: ‘Look a little more carefully.’
Why does this realisation seem to elude our grasp? What do we find with summits, especially if we look from below? That the summit is often covered by clouds. Our inner summit is covered, we could say, by the mind clouds—thick layers of thoughts, ideas that sit like monuments, ancient certainties, deep clingings, riveting anxieties, and so on. A single cloud can veil the summit, what to say of this interior totality! This persistent cloud-bank of unknowing conduces to the belief that there is no summit, and that this collection of human thoughts, feelings, memories, and so on, is what we truly are.
Adhyatma Yoga provides a comprehensive course whereby we can abstract our central feeling—that of identity—from this psychological conglomerate, and source our sense of ‘I-ness’ in the true ground of our being and in nothing else. The illumined teacher is one who constantly prompts us to perform the ultimate identity-check: ‘What are you identified with right now—Self or not-Self, the eternal or the passing, the fact of your pure being or the dreams of your mind?’
Therefore it is at a certain point in our development that we feel ready to take a new turning along a track not noticed before, a path that leads us away from fears and doubts, and which gently rises to the supreme summit of all experience, Self-realisation. This is a path that comes to light in our own being. It unfolds within us as a higher kind of knowledge, a radiant understanding that expands our feeling of selfhood beyond all limitations.
Paths to the summit of experience may be discerned in the teachings associated with the world’s great religions. Sometimes we have to search carefully. But if we look at the writings of those who have actually made the inner experiments in tranquillity, we will find they speak of a path of inner transformation, a path of progress, leading to a goal, whether that goal be called sanctity or nirvana.
We sometimes hear that the higher Yoga is a fusion of three paths: knowledge, devotion, and action. The paths involve the exploration and use of faculties we already have. Everyone wants and needs to know: intellect. Everyone wants and needs to love: emotion. Very few people can stay still for long without doing something. Even when we retire, people say to us: What will you do? So we are all knowers, intelligent investigators. We are also live wires of human emotion, and our power-surges of feeling need a safe release. We also like to go here and there doing things, otherwise we may grow bored and frustrated. The path to the inner summit treats and trains all these seemingly irrepressible urges.
It is as if our mind were a room shared by three people—knower, lover and doer. We want them to express themselves, yet also work together, combine talents, and then the force will be irresistible. In our case, it is a matter of adjusting our instruments so that the kingdom of heaven within us can be fully expressed.
There is nothing wrong with any human faculty. They are god-given. But the key question is: ‘Who is in charge?’ And to what extent does our thinking and conduct reveal the Godhead? The paths awaken our authority and power of guidance and wisdom over our own inner being.
One path is called the path of knowledge. It is a quest for something more than intellectual knowledge. In this path for knowledge, our main endeavour is to discern the summit through the clouds: to separate the ‘I’ from what is not the ‘I’, the body and mind.
How did we learn to separate out chemical compounds? How did we prove that water is a compound of two gases? Often, these things were discovered through the process called electrolysis: passing an electric current through the compound, and this touch of electricity produced a marvellous and measureable reaction, a separation, even an ability to collect the gases.
In the path of knowledge, we study the holy texts about our true I, we meditate on them, and their effect is like that electricity. It will give us a sure sense: ‘I am not the body, I am not the mind. I am the Self, infinite, eternal, unmoving, transcendent.’
What about our emotions? How can we make them safe, helpful, creative, spiritually dynamic? It is no small challenge—to get our emotions on our side, so that they lead us further on the path, and not away from it. A highly intellectual person may yet have untutored, untamed emotions which may lead into harmful ways and be a constant source of restlessness.
The path of devotion means our feeling is poured into the quest for union with the divine. Our intellectual quest has become a need—like thirst. There is a Sufi story. A man was rushing to the mosque to get there in time. But when he arrived, the people were leaving the mosque. They said: ‘The meeting is over. The prophet has given the blessing.’ The man sighed. It was such a sigh that it seemed black smoke belched from his heart. The people were amazed. They said: ‘Oh, give us that sigh. It is worth more than all our prayers put together. And we will give you the blessing.’ He said: ‘Take the sigh—I receive the blessing.’
The path of devotion is the fanning and developing of this longing. Its goal is union with the divine. Nothing can prevent this union, it is so compelling, so powerful, so sincere. It means spontaneous willingness to give the power of our concentration to holy objects: fixing the mind, for example, on Christ, Krishna and the ideals they symbolise. It is a path of love, not without difficulties, but the rewards are the greatest intensity and sweetness of experience. In the words of Swami Rama Tirtha: ‘People hesitate to love God because they say they get no response . O beloved, know that when your heart beats in love for Him, at the very moment His heart beats in love for you.’ How is this so? The path of knowledge will show us: the lover and the beloved are one.
Now if two of the residents in our mind-room have made friends—intellect and feeling—and are getting on quite well, we still have the restless actor to deal with. As we have noted, we all need to act, and are usually involved in several different fields of activity, for example, the home, the office, the college, the gym, the charitable organisation, or the wider world of international affairs. Deprived of these outlets for the active expression of our being, we are likely to feel thwarted and incomplete. A great explorer was asked: ‘What about relaxation?’ He replied: ‘If I didn’t go on exploring, I would die of boredom.’ Edmund Hillary, despite the ‘ultimate fulfilment’ of Everest, could not rest content with that achievement, and needed further challenges to tax his mental and physical powers. This is characteristic of the active phase of human nature.
What is the Yoga for the person who is identified with action and thirsts for participation in the outer life? Karma Yoga. It means expansion of consciousness, getting a sense of the cosmos, of the whole of which our bodies and minds, our powers of action and knowledge, are a tiny part. Practising karma yoga, we have a sense of the All, and we carry out our actions under the umbrella, under the dome, of the All—the All-Glorious God. It means offering ourselves in service to the whole and being willing to let go of egotistical clingings. It is the transition from personal self-interested action to dedicated action without trembling for the results. Swami Rama Tirtha sums it up in this way:
You will have success in anything you do, if you do not let your mind be ensnared by the external causes or by your selfishness, if the way to the performance of your action is this: ‘O Rama, this is your work; all this is yours, and therefore I think it to be mine. O Lord, your will is my will. If you do not let me be successful in this undertaking, I do not mind; I am not enamoured of profit. My whole joy consists in being united with you in perfect unity. If my undertaking is successful, I am pleased. If it is a failure, then too, I am pleased.’ When this is your way of thinking and acting, with a sincere heart, then the ways of the world will help you.
If we want to realise that inner summit—which is far more fulfilling than the conquest of Everest—we need to be versatile, and to make sure that our three lodgers—the knower, the lover and the doer—work well together and agree that what they basically want is the same consummation of experience. In this way the inner clouds will shift, and our heart will not be troubled but will rejoice as we unfold within our own being what has been called ‘the glittering mystery of infinity’.