The Heart Of The Spiritual Problem
Sri Swami Chidananda
This article is a chapter from the book A Call To Liberation.
What is the heart of the spiritual problem of the individual soul upon this earth plane, who is in a state of bondage to an earth consciousness, a limited individual consciousness which is referred to as jivahood? It is important to try to understand or to get to the essence of this metaphysical problem, this cosmic problem of the individual soul imprisoned in a structure made of flesh and bones, in a labyrinth, a net, of constant, unceasing thoughts, fancies, imaginations, memories and projections into the future.
These constitute an inner mesh or net in which we are caught and held firmly, for the identification with the psycho-physical dimensions of our personality is so total, so complete, that it has become normal. It has become the one and only consciousness that we know. It has become our natural condition although Vedantic psychology would describe it as abnormal. It is an aberration.
Thus, Swami Vivekananda, trying to make his Western audience understand this subtle, inner metaphysical point a hundred years ago used the term “dehypnotise.” When they suggested that Vedantic affirmations such as “I am Atman, I am immortal, I am without birth and death, name or form,” were only a form of self-hypnosis, he replied: “On the contrary, you have been hypnotised into thinking I am the body, I am a human being, I am so and so, I belong to this family, to this country.” What Vedanta wants to do is to dehypnotise you from the hypnotised condition you have fallen into through birth after birth of wrong thinking.”
Thus it is that we have to go through a process of trying to discover what it is into which we have landed through ages of wrong thinking. That state Vedanta pinpoints as a state of identification with that which we are not, a total moving away from the centre of our real, natural awareness of what we are. Moving away, completely forgetting and becoming disconnected, as it were, from the awareness or from the consciousness of what we really and truly are, we have entered into a state of consciousness identifying ourselves and thinking ourselves to be something which we are not.
We are immortal Spirit, but we think we are people subject to birth and death, a beginning and an end, a birth day and an epitaph. So, Vedanta precisely pinpoints our situation as this state of forgetfulness of our real nature and being totally caught up, entangled and overcome by a wrong awareness, an identification with a personality consciousness which is not our real consciousness.
Out of this wrong identification has arisen a false ego-sense, and we are held in bondage to this wrong, vitiated consciousness dominated by ego and totally pervaded by selfishness which is the outcome of ego and which leads to a self-centred, self-seeking life. This is the present malady. And, this condition seems to be our real, natural condition, whereas it is a diseased one. It is called bhava-roga (disease of transmigration).
The bondage of earth life is not outside you. It is not made up of anything other than your own self. It is not the outer world perceived by the five senses that constitutes prapancha or samsara or earth life. It is this inner state of becoming completely deprived of our true awareness and becoming enslaved by a wrong consciousness dominated by a false ego and further complicated by selfishness that is the natural immediate outcome of the ego and its attachments to so many things.
It is this wrong awareness of ourselves, this self-centred, self-seeking life that is the root cause of all clash and conflict with others, differences of opinion, disharmony, discord, prejudice, bias, hatred, misunderstanding, envy, jealousy, suspicion and anger. Everything stems from this basic state which constitutes your bhava-roga. Bhava-roga is not outside, it is inside. Samsara or prapancha or bandhana (binding) are not outside, they are inside.
Therefore, the first process is to somehow or other clearly perceive this. Because, as long as you do not clearly perceive this and honestly accept this state of yours, kaivalya moksha, liberation and illumination are all far, far away. They are only so much of fancy. They are only a vapour of imagination. We must clearly perceive this state, and we must be honest enough to admit this very painful truth about the actual inner state of our consciousness.
It is not at all flattering, but unless there is honesty about oneself we cannot step into spiritual life even if we know all about Vedanta. For the spiritual life has two dimensions. One is the Vedanta siddhanta (doctrine) of the ultimate experience, but the other is vyavahara (worldly activity). Unless Vedanta is brought over into vyavahara, it is only a burden to us.
Siddhanta is useless unless it is brought down to the level of abhyasa (practice), and takes the form of sadhana in day-to-day living—in your everyday activity, thinking and feeling, reaction to things around you, and your relationship with others with whom you have to live. These have been provided by God Himself for the jivatma as a field of sadhana so that siddhanta can be applied, so that one may begin to move towards Truth-experience, Reality-consciousness.
Unless we understand our position in samsara to be thus, unless we see it as a gymnasium in which to exercise and strengthen our inner spiritual sinews and muscles, we are the losers. We shall ever be in a wonderful field, yet we will not be able to take advantage of it, because we will be thinking that sadhana is somewhere in a forest or inside a cave. It is inside a cave, but the cave is inside us.
We must see very clearly that it is here, it is now, it is in this way that I have to evolve. There is not going to be another opportunity given. If we fail to recognise and bypass the opportunity that God has given, then we are losers. Every moment, every day that dawns is a great, golden chance and opportunity given. The field is immediately reopened afresh for you to exercise practical Vedanta, for you to put siddhanta into abhyasa. This constitutes practical spiritual life. It is the practical aspect of Yoga and Vedanta.