Shanti Sadan and Self-Knowledge name
Vol.68 No.3 Summer 2017

Quest for Fulfilment

The man of keen intelligence restrains his mind from the objective world and focuses it on his true Self, Atman, which is most ancient, hard to perceive, and abides secretly in the innermost cave of the intellect. He transcends joy and grief by realising this Atman, which appears to be seated in the dark surroundings of the mind.
Katha Upanishad 1:2:12

The way to lasting fulfilment is revealed in this ancient verse. It is to turn the mind inwards in such a way that it comes to recognise and realise the divine essence at the source of the personality—the spirit or true Self.

This priority is typified in an incident recorded in The Heart of the Eastern Mystical Teaching. Once, some of Shri Dada’s followers combined their efforts and resources and arranged for the building of a modest temple in their vicinity. They invited the holy man to preside over the consecration ceremony and, human nature being what it is, no doubt expected him to praise their achievement in building the temple. But what he said was: ‘My friends, it is good that you have erected this temple, but the outer temple must be no more than a symbol of the inner temple of your heart. From visible worship proceed to invisible worship.’

In the same way, Adhyatma Yoga teaches charity, compassion, respect for all religions. But if we want final fulfilment—the sense that we have grasped, assimilated and realised identity with what is ultimately and eternally real, the inner quest to fathom our ultimate nature must be undertaken.

This aspiration is not unnatural, and visits the human mind in the form of our thirst for a deeper fulfilment, and a yearning to understand the meaning of life—why we are here, and whether there is a hope of gaining some kind of inner satisfaction and peace of mind amid life’s contnual challenges. One person’s sigh: ‘I wish I knew the meaning of life,’ evokes another’s response: ‘You make your own meaning.’ But these reflections are usually transient, and are eclipsed by more pressing concerns. In the words of the poet-monk, Saigyo.

People pass away
And the truth of the passing world
Impresses me now and then.
But, alas! My dull mind
Lets this truth, too, pass away.

If we probe deeper, we will gain that sensitivity of mind that will enable us to sense a higher dimension of meaning hidden even now in our experience. To advance in understanding, this quest for true fulfilment has to become our persistent preoccupation.

In a sense, we do make our own meaning of life—it cannot be forced on us by others. But we need to be sure that what we are developing is something deep and sublime, and will open the way to complete fulfilment. This is the real purpose of philosophy: not to accept uncritically the maxims and conclusions of other people, but to awaken the light of understanding within ourselves.

In Yoga, we are given pointers and suggestions that indicate a deeper reality in ourselves and behind the universe. These pointers are aids to our personal inner enquiry. And that enquiry in turn will help us uncover, patiently and persistently, the peace, bliss, light and freedom of our own deeper nature, so that it no longer remains concealed by layers of mental activity that confuse the quest and keep our gaze turned outside ourselves.

We make our own meaning of life in the sense that we alone can learn to dive deep into the sea of our mind, and recover the bright pearl of illumination. Our answer is not going to be in the form of words, however beautiful or poetical those words may be. The texts about our transcendent nature use words to tell us clearly where to search—within, and such words strike an interior echo of recognition, so to say. But the reality is beyond the range of words.

The words of those who have realised the Self communicate their experience in seed form, so to speak, and these seeds then have to be cherished and watered by us if we want them to grow into true insight. These expressions are found in all the great religious traditions, and they transcend narrowness. The Old Testament proverb, ‘The spirit of man is the candle of God’, points to the same truth as Christ’s ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is within you.’ There is an underlying force in life which is deeper than meets the eye, and will not be obliterated when physical life comes to an end.

It is for this reason that the Upanishads speak of this indwelling principle not as ‘Life’ but as the ‘Life of Life’ (pranasya pranam). This invisible, imperishable Power sustains the life, not just of the individual human being, but of the whole cosmos. The Bhagavad Gita gives us the image of the thread of a necklace—a necklace where the pearls are set close together, so that you see nothing in-between. And yet there is a strong thread running through each and every pearl, holding it in place, and linking it, through its very centre, with all the other pearls. Such is the supreme omnipresent support of the whole cosmos, and the secret of life is to locate and discover this principle at its point of contact within our own being.

The instruction to turn the mind inwards is a great pointer to true fulfilment. In the Bhagavad Gita, it says:

With the mind free from external objects, one finds the joy that is in the Self. Engaged in contemplating the supreme (Brahman), we discover the endless joy.

What seems at first to be a restriction on the free play of thoughts, through our efforts to focus our attention on something abstract and as yet unrevealed at the mind’s core, turns out to be the laser-like power that probes and reveals the deepest innermost essence, leading to the ultimate universalisation of experience.

A scientist conducts research in the austere, sometimes windowless, confines of a laboratory, yet within those special conditions, that scientist may hit upon a universal law of matter that is of great benefit to mankind. In a similar way, the seeker of self-realisation works in the laboratory of the mind, challenged by all its limitations, before awakening the intuitive knowledge of the ground of pure being that proves our instrinsic unity with the divine principle behind all experience.

The path to true fulfilment has its own demands and challenges. In ordinary life, we may rank ourselves high or low, clever or dull. But when we start to turn within to follow a spiritual path, these empirical values have no relevance. What matters now is the depth of our desire for liberation and our receptivity, based on our willingness look beyond our personal pride. Our inner retinue of ego-based notions, likes and dislikes, has no value to one who wants new and true light on life’s ultimate meaning. It is best to avoid the instinctive (and defensive) response to teaching in the form of: ‘O yes, I know exactly what you mean. I’ve learnt all that.’ Instead, see new life and meaning in the spiritual texts, as if we are meeting them for the first time.

We may say: ‘The present times are against this simple and receptive approach to spiritual teachings. Our minds have become too crowded and complex. Look how many things we have to think about these days, and the stream of communications that expect our instant response. How can we attend to the abstract and refined topics that are characteristic of the higher Yoga?’

Let us admit that the precious energies given us in life—our time and our attention—are under siege, bombarded by trivia on all sides. Yet such distractions, and the swarm of cares they breed in our mind, sooner or later lead to fatigue and desperation, and we crave an antidote.

The former British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, was aware of the harmful and negative effects on the mind if it was continuously preoccupied with the affairs of the world—in his case, with work and what he calls ‘exceptional responsibilities’. He became intensely conscious of the need to deal with his mind, to recover its serenity and exclude the outer impressions and preoccupations at least for long enough to allow the mind to clear itself of all tension and agitation. Certain pastimes and solutions, he felt were not good enough. He writes:

It’s no use saying to the tired ‘mental muscles’...’I will give you a good rest,’ ‘I will go for a long walk’ or ‘I will lie down and think of nothing’. The mind keeps busy all the same. If it has been weighing and measuring, it goes on weighing and measuring. If it has been worrying, it goes on worrying. It is only when new (brain) cells are called into activity, when new stars become the lords of the ascendant, that relief, repose, refreshment are afforded.

His answer to this problem of how to deal with the mind, was to take up the hobby of painting. He found that it was the most powerful way of achieving mental absorption without exhausting the body.

Whatever the worries of the hour or the threats of the future, once the picture has begun to flow along, there is no room for them in the mental screen. They pass out into shadow and darkness. All one’s mental light, such as it is, becomes concentrated on the task. Time respectfully stands aside, and it is only after many hesitations that luncheon knocks gruffly at the door.

This discovery, described in the book Painting as a Pastime, is relevant to the process of yoga. Firstly, yoga practices are means to clear our mind of its habitual preoccupations, whether these involve our work or our personal frustrations. Note Churchill’s phrase ‘the mental screen’, as though he had learnt to see his inner life from a deeper, detached level within. Exclusion, learning to shut out certain thought trains, at least for the time being, is fundamental to yoga.

Then there is the positive element expressed in the sentence: ‘All one’s mental light, such as it is, becomes concentrated on the task.’ This is one-pointed, self-forgetting concentration. It brings the mind into a state of absorption, and when the mind is absorbed, and is no longer thinking of its little world, something deeper and more central to our being will shine through.

A creative interest like painting, in which we can throw ourselves with self-forgetfulness, is an excellent way to give us glimpses of wider horizons. But there is further stage where we need to envisage independence of external aids, however benign. What we really possess is our own mind and our true nature as the consciousness that reveals the mind. The yogic method is to learn to tranquillise our thoughts and pacify our feelings through internal practices like meditation and contemplation. We are then to seek the most refined and purifying satisfaction by absorbing our mind in the deeper truth about the Self which we have presented to us in the Vedanta classics. In this way, we can savour the food of eternal life, which has power to nourish the whole of our inner being.

Our inner problems are finally cured by drawing on our own innate resources—making the supreme meaning of life our personal meaning. Shri Dada of Aligarh advised his followers:

Life is a sacred trust and you cannot squander it on trivialities by devoting yourself to that which is not of permanent good to human society. Each of us must be able to go into voluntary mental and nervous relaxation, and concentrate our mind on a symbol of God, whether it be a word, a concept or an image. It is this prolonged silence of the soul which brings before us the patterns of what we are to create, the archetypes of our contribution to the inner and outer world. Everyone has an infinite world of beauty and goodness in their mind; the few who have recognised it call it ilham or inspiration. The Lord is all-pervasive and any mind can create for itself beauty and goodness, by coming into contact with Him through prayer.

This creative influence emanates from the depths of our own being, and each and every individual can make a contribution to the good of the whole. No one is insignificant since the supreme reality is the innermost essence of all, evident as our very consciousness and being, according to the philosophy of Yoga.

What we create need not be anything external. Our innate contentment and serenity of soul spreads of itself once we have created an inner clearing. The Japanese monk, Ryokan, records in a poem his memory of a fellow devotee who lived in the same monastery, and whose duty was the growing of vegetables:

Priest Senkei is a sacred man, seeker after mysterious truth.
Mute he works, his lips locked in silence.
For thirty years he has laboured under Priest Kokusen,
Never sitting in a temple, nor reading holy texts,
Not even saying a word of prayer in audible voice.
Vegetables he grows, giving them free to the villagers.
I saw him once, never seeing him in his true self,
Met him once, never knowing him.
Now I pine after him, hoping to follow him in my humble ways.
Priest Senkei is a sacred man, seeker after mysterious truth.

In order to awaken the higher consciousness within ourselves, nothing new needs to be added to our nature. We need to create a sufficient depth of inner calm that the influence of the Self may shine through, like the sun shining through when the clouds around it are dissolved. This involves the courageous choice and insight to give spiritual values and practices a higher place in our mind than its sway towards sense satisfaction or personal eminence.

When we devote a little time each day to meditation, we have to renounce, just for a time, our urge for continuous communion with the outer world, its objects, sounds and contacts. The instructions in mind-pacification are fundamentally simple and the skill is developed through repeated application, though the daily demands of our life often make the inner culture seem harder than need be the case.

But something deeper and more transforming is required if we want to complete the path to fulfilment. This is our willingness to dispel the inner darkness in all its forms and from the very root—a process sometime called ‘purifying the mind’, as in the saying of Christ: ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’

This inner darkness is not easily recognised, for it has become part of what we feel we are, and is not easily objectified. It is linked with our assumption that our deep wants can be satisfied within the realm of relativity—the world. Spiritual education turns our thoughts to the transcendent, and its attraction gradually triumphs over the thirst, and imagined need, for worldly gratification. The remedy is therefore to increase our desire for inner illumination to such a pitch of intensity, that it becomes the master driving force of our life.

No one is pretending that this re-orientation of our inner life is easy, but it is possible, and it greatly helps to come into contact with a friend or teacher who has walked the path, and understands both the challenges and the fulfilment that awaits the one who is determined to reach the goal.

Is this way of Yoga, with its in-depth approach to the problem of life, an unnatural course to follow?

It is uncommon but not unnatural. The natural desire of the soul, when probed to its root, is for a happiness that will never be marred by any change or anxiety or fear of loss. When we realise that the world can never match our aspiration, and we have the intuition to look beyond the given appearances for a unifying principle, then it can be said that our mind has reached a point of proximity to the great Way that leads to identification with the universal Self.

We seek far and wide, but the supreme value is the true nature of our innermost Self. Here is a short poem by the Islamic poet, Amiri-i-Khusrau, which communicates the ultimate recognition in the language of subtle and purified emotion.

I have searched many planes of existence;
Heart enchanting faces like the moon have I seen;
Fair ones of youth and tenderness have crossed my path;
But thou art so different, so different.