Life is One
Sri Swami Chidananda
There was a poet who once wrote,
“You cannot pluck a little flower
Without the shaking of a star.”
All life is one. There is one common consciousness which links the life of all beings into one great cosmic unity.
There was once a Sufi mystic who was established in this state of cosmic consciousness. He was a gardener. One day a friend of his came to visit him. In the conversation that they were having he was distracted and the sharp gardening tool which he was using hit his leg. His friend was startled , for he saw, oozing out of the wound in his leg, not red blood but a thin, pale fluid. It was the sap of plants. This Sufi mystic was in an a absolute rapport, a perfect harmony with all life. He was at one with the plants, He had entered into their very consciousness. His life and their life was entirely one.
Many other stories could be told about mystics who have attained this state of absolute consciousness with all life. One such cosmic being was sitting in that state one day in the courtyard of a great temple situated on the bank of a river. A ferryboat was carrying passengers across the river. One disembarking passenger queried the ferryman regarding the cost of the fare. First there was a discussion. Then hot words. Then a lively argument. Suddenly the passenger lunged forward and hit the ferryman. And this mystic sitting nearby was so sensitive that the blow caused him to fall over unconscious. It was as though the passenger has delivered the blow on him.
There is another poem in which the poet says,
“One touch of nature makes all life kin.” The poet here refers to the original nature in which all forms of life are related to the One. Vedanta proclaims the oneness of all existence. Vedanta declares that there is one divine principle present in all things. The first Sloka of the first Upanishad says, “Whatever exists is pervaded by the one great Cosmic Being. That Being permeates, saturates and pervades all things in the universe.” Even modern science is now confirming this great truth. At the back of all this diversity the back of all this multifariousness, there is something common to all life. If you touch it, you experience cosmic consciousness.
The Vedantic method is deductive; the scientific method is inductive. The Vedantic method starts with the one and proceeds to the many. The scientific method starts with the many and proceeds to the one. Now it seems almost as though modern science, especially modern physical science, is proposing a theory which corroborates nearly verbatim the central thesis of the ancient Sakta school of philosophy in India. The Sakta school postulates this thesis: that universal energy or cosmic force is the ultimate factor in existence. Isn’t science saying much the same thing today? But science does not specify whether this force is conscious and intelligent or not. Whereas the Sakta philosophy is very specific on this point. The Sakta philosophy states that energy or force is the very nature of pure Consciousness. Modern scientists are noncommittal on this point. Everything is the outcome of force. This they do admit. Force is conscious. This they do not at all accept. For, if this force is conscious the implications is clear. There must be some vast intelligence guiding the movement of the cosmos–an intelligence much greater than man’s reducing man, in fact, to no more than a puny pawn pushed about according to the degree of that great intelligence. The very idea is so intolerable to most scientists, it is so ego-unflattering, that they refuse to accept it. Only to a few, only to those who are humble and unpretentious, is it credible.
The Sakta school of philosophy plainly states that man borrows light from another Source of intelligence. Without this light the intellect would be inert, for it is that light which illumines the intellect and enables it to function. Man borrows it from pure Consciousness. It is, therefore, pure Consciousness which lies behind man’s intellect. Pure Consciousness alone is real.
The intellect is conscious when man is in the waking state, semiconscious when he is in the dream state and unconscious when he is in the deep sleep state. This consciousness is not continuous. When you wake up in the morning, it rises, but it sinks or sets, so to speak, when you go to sleep at night. It is therefore transitory and temporary, not permanent or real. If it were real, it would never be discontinued. The consciousness of ‘I am’ , on the other hand , is always present even in the deep sleep state. “I slept well,” you say on waking up in the morning. So the consciousness is continuous. You affirm the existence of an ‘I’ at all times: waking, dreaming and sleeping. The ‘I’ principle is the substratum upon which all the three states of your consciousness are supported. This ‘I’ principle is common to all sentient beings . It is a mysterious factor which binds life into one great cosmic unity. Ponder upon it. For eventually you must know everything about it.
“The word would be much better place and people here would be much, much happier if everybody would do one simple thing,” an old Truth-seeker once said to me. “What is that, Tabby?” I asked. “Let everybody write in the air in huge letters: MYOB!” was the answer. “Tabby, what is MYOB?” I asked. “Mind Your Own Business!” she said and added, “If everybody would mind his own business, the world would be quite all right.”
I found another meaning in her little homily. Do you know What Your Own is in Sanskrit? The word in Sanskrit is Atman. Atman is your own self. So, mind your own business really means mind Your Own Self. Now this Atman-business is the one thing we don’t do. We turn to minding other people’s business instead. That is why we do not realise ourselves. We should be filling our lives with a great concern for this Atman, pondering upon it, reflecting over it, meditating upon it, living to attain the fullest experience of it, for this Atman is our own self.
Lord Buddha put much the same thing in a different way. In his parting message to the Bhikkhus he said, “Ananda and all ye Bhikkhus , listen to the Tathagata. Do not neglect your higher self. Always be diligent in your own welfare. This is not selfishness. This is annihilation of the little self. And when the petty self perishes, what remains? There is no word that exists to describe that which remains–in a way which relates to the self–because the self has ceased to be.”
Recall the story of Sinbad the Sailor. Sinbad was shipwrecked and his body was cast up by the sea on to the shore of an island. There he fell asleep. And when he woke up, he found himself all alone. One day he found an old man lying on the beach, whose legs were all shrivelled up. The old man begged Sinbad to be lifted up. So, out of compassion, Sinbad raised him into his shoulders. But as he did so, the old man coiled both his legs around Sinbad’s neck and locked them. Then Sinbad was hag-ridden by this old man of the sea. “Take me here! Take me there! Let me have this! Let me have that!” And Oh, Sinbad almost fell into despair. Then an idea came to him. He took the old man one day to the grape-vines. The old man gorged himself on grapes, got intoxicated and in a swoon loosened his grip on Sinbad’s neck. Then in one great thrust Sinbad threw him off.
Just as Sinbad was hag-ridden by this old man of the sea, so are we all hag-ridden. The old man riding us is the ego. The ego has been holding us in a tight grip for ages. He is a diehard. Our bondage is due to this little ‘I’. We must shake it off to be free. That is the only way.
In the Kathopanishad there is a boy called Nachiketas who asks Yama, the great Lord of justice, “Why are all beings in this world in such misery?” And Yama says, “You are asking for the knowledge of the Immortal Self! Ask again, O Nachiketas! Ask for something else. Even the gods long for this knowledge.” But Nachiketas is adamant. And soon recognising the worthiness of his disciple, Yama initiates him into the knowledge of immortality.
“When he created all beings, O Nachiketas the Creator put some Rajas into their minds. The outcome of this Rajas is the outgoing tendency of the mind. The mind loses itself amidst the countless objects of the universe. And the natural consequence of this loss is discontentment and dissatisfaction for man. As long as the movement of the mind is outward, man can have no peace, no rest, no bliss. Rare, indeed, O Nachiketas, is the one who perceives the true inner state of the mind, arrests its outgoing tendency, draws it inward and turns it Atman-ward He is the real hero. He is the one who succeeds in entering into direct inner communion with the Atman. There he finds peace, rest and bliss.
“Be thou in-seeking O Nachiketas! Be thou in-gazing! Withdraw your mind from passing phenomena. Direct it deep within. In the centre of yourself, Eternity abides. You must discriminate. You must not allow the sense-object to draw your mind without, to lure you away from the path. It is at first very difficult. Unthinking foolish men are easily beguiled and deluded. They forsake the path of good and rush into the path of the merely pleasant. Beware! The path of the pleasant does not lead to peace. It seems to be very pleasant in the beginning, but in the aftermath it is very unpleasant and very painful. It is moreover, not conducive to your highest welfare.”
Who knows the difference between the path of the good and the path of the merely pleasant? Who resolutely turns away from the merely pleasant and voluntarily elects to go in the direction of the good? He is the one to whom the victory comes. He is the one to whom the Atman yields itself.
Be intent upon this Atman-business. This Atman is all your own. Awake! Arise! Walk not as one who slumbers, but as one who is wide awake, as one who discriminates. Those in whom discrimination is not active slumber, even though their eyelids are up.
In my school-days I once read a little poem called, I think, ‘The Vision of Meza’. Meza is taken by his teacher up to the top of a mountain and told to look down into the valley below. As he is gazing at the lush green verdure and the sheep and goats grazing on the slopes, suddenly he sees a mist beginning to creep along the valley floor. The scenery gradually disappears. Meza tries to penetrate the mist when his master abruptly calls out, “Look, look!” And, he sees, suspended in the air, a tiny bright spot shining with clarity. A bridge appears in it with many arches, both ends of which are shrouded in the mist. “Look again, look again!” the master says. And as Meza peers again, more intently, more closely than before, he sees that the bridge is not empty but swarming with people. Some are dancing, some are swaying and singing. Some are running after bright things, bubbles and butterflies. Some are clinging closely to possessions. Some are moving hurriedly forward at a fast gait. Some are moving along cautiously with great care. Then some people suddenly disappear. Meza takes another look. Very few are reaching the other side. “O master,” he cries , “explain this to me!”
“This is the bridge of life, O Meza. All these being are trying to cross the bridge to the other side. But very few, as you see, are able to do so. Why? Because there are so many trap-doors hidden in the bridge. They open downward into the stream so that most people are plunged into the water and washed away. Those who really want to reach the other side are rare. And of these, few are vigilant and careful enough to avoid all the pitfalls on the way. Great is the rejoicing on the other side when one or two are able to do so.” Then the vision fades.
Remember “The Vision of Meza.” Be diligent. Keep your gaze ever fixed upon the goal and avoid the pitfalls through discrimination. Rush not towards the merely pleasant. Move towards the good even though it is hard! Then Mind Your Own Business! Attain the Atmic experience. And reach life’s goal.
You have heard these ideas. Now ponder upon them. Reflect over them. Do not allow them to leave your mind. Try to see in what way they are meaningful to you in your life. Are they significant? Realising their significance, you will convert them into pearls of pure wisdom. Gradually your wisdom will grow and with it your awareness of the truth these ideas represent. Slowly you will come to feel that all life is one.