The Marionettes’ Game
SRI SWAMI VENKATESANANDA
The root cause of the restlessness of the mind is that every present situation is a challenge to which one little image in our consciousness responds. As one image responds the others feel threatened and also jump up. Then there is confusion. I like somebody and want to go forward and hug him but something pushes me, something inhibits me, something frightens me, something threatens me and so on. Each situation is played entirely by these marionettes. Therefore there is this seemingly unending restlessness of the mind and this restlessness is the mind. This mental restlessness is also called by the name vasana. The two do not make a cause-and-effect sequence but they are two sides of the same coin. If you knock the one down the other is gone.
Vasana is a lovely word used innumerable times in the scripture but is almost impossible to translate. However, it has been translated into ‘psychological tendency’, ‘psychological predisposition’. What do these mean? We use all these lovely words without understanding anything about them. Psychological predisposition simply means one of these marionettes jumping up. ‘I am predisposed to do this’ simply means that there is no ‘me’ at all because all these marionettes put together is what I call my personality or ‘me’. So it is not, as it were, a psychological predisposition in me, it is me. If I knock off all these images, one after the other, there is no ‘me’ left. Whatever makes you act or react as you do–that is called vasana.
Desire, craving, fear, anxiety are unrelated to life, except that they complicate life. This does not mean that if we were totally rid of cravings, fear and anxiety life would become static; nor does it mean that we make things happen by craving, fear or anxiety. Let us take a simple example: it is winter and it is dark at about five o’clock in the morning. You are excitedly telling everyone around you: “Oh, I wish the sun would rise, it would be glorious.” You can repeat this sentence like a Mantra two hundred times but the sun will not rise. But watch: you are excitedly expecting the sun to rise and when it does rise you say: “Aha, here it is!” The sun rose totally unmindful of your excitement but since you were excitedly anticipating that event the event made you even more excited. The excitement with which you anticipated that event is carried over as the excitement you experience and the mind relates to that event. You may be excited, you may not be excited, the sun will still rise. If you were excited the excitement would continue after the sun rose. If you were not excited but calm that calmness would continue after the sun rose.
The same thing happens at night. Some people are afraid of the dark. But whether they are afraid that the sun is going to set or whether they are happy the sun is still going to set. The setting of the sun has nothing to do with private whims and fancies but because these people work themselves up into this anxiety, when the sun sets, they collapse. Whatever happens in this world, whatever happens in life, will continue to happen and nothing will stop it.
Into this dream of life we introduce all our fancies, fantasies and neuroses. Then, having introduced these fancies, we experience them as if they were somehow related to us so that even the arising or the cessation of an event was dependent upon our promptings. But it has nothing at all to do with us or our fears. One who realises that sees that life or the events in this world are totally unrelated to his cravings, desires or otherwise.
The cravings will only affect me. They are not related at all to what is happening. My wish or my fear do not materialise. They materialise only as my own experiences, later. Life goes on totally unmindful of my private reactions. When I understand that it is not my excitement that pushes this situation up nor my fear that pushes that situation down I am able to observe what happens within me without complicating it with external phenomena. You may have a gun hanging from your belt and I may be afraid, but as long as I relate my fear to that, I am not able to observe that fear. For instance, if you were my bodyguard I would be quite happy to see that gun hanging from your belt! Therefore my fear is totally unrelated to the external event. When I see that then I am able to observe what goes on within me and I see that these are merely some of the marionettes reacting. This is the beauty of vichara or observation.
Related to this is the whole concept of creation and dissolution. How do all these come into being and how do they dissolve? You are already aware of the fundamental philosophical concept where it is held that whatever is in the microcosm is in the macrocosm. Whatever applies to the individual applies to the cosmos, and whatever applies to the cosmos applies to the individual. The two are indistinguishably, indivisibly one. In the Yoga Vasishtha it is beautiful to see that when it looks as though the author is talking about individual creation suddenly he changes and makes it look as though he is talking about the cosmic creation, almost as if to say: “Why make a distinction?”
What is the process of involution and what is the process of evolution? Or, what are the steps to ignorance of self-knowledge and what are the steps to enlightenment or self-knowledge? There is a very beautiful description and I will give you the steps. Then we will see how they can be applied to our life as a whole and even to our daily life and to the birth and dissolution of the cosmos. The material universe comes into being, exists for some time going through a lot of changes and is dissolved. You and I come into this world, we are born, we continue to live, thrive, decay and then disappear. The same thing applies to our daily life: every morning we are born, we grow and we decay–in the evening we are already stooping a little bit and instead of getting into the grave we get into bed! One is not fundamentally different from the other.
I am relating all this to our daily life so that we can see how very minutely the Yogis have observed this daily life. The first state in the process of involution, called bija jagrat, is just before we really wake up but it is not always that we become aware of this state. Bija means seed and jagrat means wakefulness. I am in bed, asleep, then the sleep seems to come to an end and I am about to wake up. I feel the sheet and I feel the bed but it is not as though “I am sleeping in this bed”; nothing seems to be real, nothing seems to be unreal; there is not even a distinction between real and unreal. But this is not self-knowledge, this is not God-realisation, this is not floating in space because I am about to wake up. This means that all the mischief that I am capable of is in a seed state.
The next state is called jagrat or wakefulness and in that period I experience: “Ah, I am here and this is my bed,” I am just waking up: “This is my house, I am sleeping in my house, I am sleeping in my room, this is me.” The person who is waking up at this point is unaware of the whole world but is only aware of these two concepts: ‘This is me’, and ‘this is my bed, this is my room, this is my house’.
The next state is maha jagrat; maha means great. This same wake-fulness has expanded enormously and ‘this is me’ and ‘this is mine’ have also expanded. Instead of merely saying: “This is me”, I have now woken up to the feeling that the ‘me’ is composed of a tremendous number of qualifications: ‘I am a doctor’, ‘I am a Yogi’, ‘I am this’, ‘I am that’–all these wake up. This is merely an expansion of the first wakefulness: the whole world has come into being.
Then comes a very subtle and beautiful state: ‘this is me and this is the world’–relationship begins to appear in this consciousness. The Master calls it jagrat svapna; jagrat means waking and svapna means dream. All our wonderful relationships with all these diverse beings in the universe with which we connect ourselves within our own imagination are nothing more than a waking dream. You think ‘you are’, I think ‘I am’ and ‘I’ think ‘you are’ and so I imagine some kind of relationship with you. It is nothing more than a ‘waking dream’. Since our whole life seems to be based only on this, the Master calls the entire life a long dream, nothing more than that. Only one thing is awake: the feeling ‘I am’ and that has projected innumerable objects with which it enters into certain relationships, all these being mere dreams.
The fundamental wakefulness of ‘I am’ is the only thing that seems to be real in this world-game. The rest is dream. We enter into these relationships and we think they are all real, factual, unshakeable, unquestionable, until we begin to question that. We have changed so often that we do not even realise when we are in the next dream. We do not realise: “I have walked into this illusion so often and I have been disillusioned so often. Why must I get into this again?” This does not occur to us because while we are engaged in that dream that dream seems to be real. This is the tragedy.
There is another aspect: while life, goes on like this–‘this is me, this is mine’, ‘he is my brother and she is my sister’, ‘this is my wife and that is my husband, father, mother, children, etc.,’–to some extent these things seem to share some quality of truth. Why? Because they are all related to me and this ‘me’ seems to be a stable factor.
In the waking dream there is some mixture of reality and unreality but all of us are capable of the next, which is svapna, pure dream. This does not mean the dream in bed but our present dream. Having heard all this, we go and sit in the meditation room or at the beach and we begin: “Oh, it is marvellous, I am going to be enlightened one of these days and once I am enlightened, what a wonderful thing–one foot here and the other foot on Mars…” The whole thing is imagination and this kind of day-dreaming is called svapna. We think we are awake but we are not. We are completely disconnected from reality; it is some kind of hallucination, day-dreaming. That is also part of our daily life.
Then there is svapna jagrata which means svapna, dream, and jagrata, waking. Here again there is a mixture of something that is not and something that is. We revive the memory of a past experience as if it were happening now. We are all capable of this–pure and simple but vivid memory. If we were awake to wisdom even the past experience as it happened would have a different character–we would neither enjoy nor suffer with it. But we revive this memory now and experience it as if it were happening now. That is another state of mind we pass through every day. Finally, when we get tired to all this we go to sleep and forget everything. This is the story of a person’s daily life.
This is the story of our total life-span. We are born–a little baby in whom all the seeds of potential mischief are lying dormant. Then the baby wakes up to the feeling: “I am So-and-so, this is my father, this is my mother.” Later the baby grows a little more and its world seems to expand. Can you visualise this? As we grow up–three, four, five years old–our world seems to expand far beyond our house, to our neighbours, to our friends, to our school-mates. The world seems to grow maha jagrat. Next we forge relationships which do not exist: ‘He is my friend and he is my enemy; he is my rival and he is my competitor’ and so on. We may throw out these relationships as dreams but they return to us as ropes, tying us to all sorts of situations. Caught in this web woven by ourselves, we dream of liberation and freedom, we dream of pleasure and happiness. These are all nothing more than dreams.
Then we come to the stage where the only thing we are left with is memory. All the good things are past and we go into the woods and think of all the nice things that happened, experiencing them as if they were happening now! This goes on for some time and then we seem to get tired of all this experiencing and reviving of memories and hallucinations and we fall asleep and do not wake up. (We wake up in another body!) Thus what applies to our daily life also applies to the whole life-span.
It is also possible that the entire cosmos or universe (or what we call our solar system–the universe we are aware of) also passes through the same stages. In this little body there are billions of cells, each of them functioning in a dual relationship. That is, each cell seems to be independent of the other and yet all cells are interrelated. Each cell seems to know its function and performs only its function, seemingly independent of the others. It can even fight with other cells of one living being so that if that being dies all the cells die. Each cell seems to function independently up to a point but not totally.
Is it possible that even now all these hundreds and thousands of stars that we see in the night are similarly cells in one enormous body of a ‘Mr. So-and-so’ (it does not have to be ‘God’) and that we are all tiny little microscopic entities in that enormous body? It is quite possible. And all the things which we call creation, preservation and dissolution happen in that enormous body. Creation exists and so does dissolution. That cosmic being also undergoes these several stages of involution.