Actualising the Inner Light
The inner life needs light, and that light is the light of meditation.
Hari Prasad Shastri
We travel on a journey that was accomplished before we set out. The real end is gained when we stay still.
Swami Rama Tirtha
The light that is uncovered by the practice of meditation, when we are inwardly still, is the light of peace and wisdom. To uncover this light we need to adopt the role of a special investigator. The field of our investigation is our own Self. Our enquiry centres on the question: ‘What am I?’ This enquiry can only be pursued if our state of mind is serene and undistracted. The purpose of the higher Yoga is to bring about this state of mind.
Sometimes a market is held alongside a mosque, a temple or a church. What a difference between the bustle of the market and the peace of the place of worship. Our mind too has its market place and also its quiet space within, its inner sanctuary. The central shrine is our innermost Self, which turns out to be the universal light of knowledge and bliss.
This infinite knowledge is our highest potentiality. It is not to be found in the market—in the mental realm of chatter and agitation. But when we enter the deeper realm of ‘I’, in serenity, and with our desires for worldly gains hushed for the time being, something of the light of the Self will be reflected in our tranquillized mind. We will be launched on that ‘journey that was accomplished before we set out’.
The realization is that the light of eternal Truth is the basic nature of ‘I’, the Self. The true Self is ever enlightened. In the words of the Mundaka Upanishad, ‘it shines surpassingly in blissfulness and immortality’. (II.ii.7) This is the great Truth of our higher nature. It is implicit is such statements of Jesus as: ‘Before Abraham was, I am’, and in the lines of the Chinese poet-recluse, Han Shan:
Face and form alter with the years.
I hold fast to the pearl of the mind.
It is the pearl of wisdom and eternal beauty, which begins to reveal itself in our mind when that mind is serene and undistracted.
This transcendent Self is something far deeper than the limited personality, the close-fitting mask that we usually identify ourselves with. This Self is deeper even than our sense of individuality, this little island of being that makes me feel separate from the Whole. The true Self, the ever enlightened Self, is limitless, not bounded or restricted in any way. It is established in complete and eternal freedom. The path is to free our mind from all narrow conceptions, to foster the awareness that there is one divine life interpenetrating all. The goal is to realize: ‘I am the Self of all’, or, in the words of a meditation text:
OM. I AM ONE WITH THE INFINITE POWER OF LOVE.
I AM PEACE. I AM LIGHT. OM
How then do we set about our investigation? In chemistry, if we want to establish the existence of a new element, the task is to show that element in its pure form, uncompounded with anything else. The work of Madame Curie in isolating radium from the mass of pitchblende that it pervaded, is an example of undaunted perseverance. This is similar to the position with the supreme Self, which has to be discerned within as the ultimate principle of consciousness. As investigators, we advance our enquiry undaunted by difficulties. It is then that we gain the understanding that all associations that cling to the ‘I’, that appear to define the ‘I’, have nothing whatever to do with the ‘I’ in its true nature. For the real Self is what remains when all the qualities, all the descriptions of myself, all the images of myself in my own mind are negated, are subtracted, are sifted away, just as gold from the mine needs to have its surrounding ore shelled off, or as that pitchblende was separated from the pure radium.
As investigators, we already have the clue to the highest Truth within us. It is here, now, in our simple sense of being, I exist. It is with us every instant of our conscious life, the true nature of our consciousness. But this simple sense of being and of being conscious appears to belong to our body, our mind, our moods, our nervous system, and so on. It seems all too obvious that their pain and joy is my pain and joy. In the lines from Shakespeare:
If you prick me, do I not bleed?
If you tickle me, do I not laugh?
This is true, but it is not the whole truth about the Self. Though in a certain sense we live in and with the body and mind, or, as the Bhagavad Gita expresses it, we wear these clothes of flesh and thought, our being is not entirely identified with them—and, in the final analysis, it is not identified with them at all. Its nature is that supremely subtle and inward awareness that knows all our experiences, but is not part of them. This is the place where perfection is to be realized, a place we have never moved away from and can never move away from. In the words of the Chandogya Upanishad: This is the Self which has no sin, no decrepitude, no death, no sorrow, is ever fulfilled [literally, ‘has unfailing desires’].
Therefore, it is a mistake to think of our true Self in terms of age or with reference to our sins or disappointments in life. If we grasp this teaching properly, nothing will be allowed to get us down. Our innermost nature transcends these human limitations.
Our essential being is indicated in a simile of Jalaluddin Rumi:
Thy true substance is concealed in falsehood, like the taste of butter in the taste of milk. Thy falsehood is this perishable body; thy truth is that lordly spirit.
During many years this milk, which is the body, is visible and manifest, while the butter, which is the spirit, is perishing and naughted within it, Till God send a messenger, a chosen servant, a shaker of the milk in the churn, that he may shake it with method and skill, to the end that I may know that my true ego was hidden. [Masnavi III 3029ff):
Our bodily qualities and states are not the ultimate Truth of what we are. Though visible and manifest, they are changing all the time. If we are sixty, it is of no use if we renew our passport with a photo taken many years earlier. Face and form alter with the years. Our state of mind, too, is only something that is true while it lasts, and no mental condition stays unaltered. Change is the very nature of the mind. We will not find ultimate Truth in that which changes.
Underlying the changing appearances, inner and outer, is something durable, eternal, immortal. We already have a fundamental knowledge of this fact because we all have a sense of continuous identity—of being the same person, even though our body and mind have changed so radically down the years. We know there is something more than this mutability, and this is indeed the case. It is the unchanging awareness before which all mental activity appears. But the nature of this awareness as our true Self has to be realized. Then we will know ourselves as consciousness absolute, the reality underlying all experience.
The key fact about human nature is that we can make use of the changing energies of our mind, to transform our experience into inner illumination leading to the transcendence of all limitations.
What is this pearl of the mind, this supremacy, that is our higher nature, and how does it relate to the Whole? The ultimate Truth is that the innermost Self is, in essence, identical with the supreme reality, Brahman, the Absolute, the All. This can be summed up in the formula: ‘Truth is Self, and Self is God, and God is the all-pervasive Reality.’
When we see pictures of planet earth from space, we encounter a new perspective, where human affairs are viewed against a cosmic background, and localised quarrels seem meaningless. Our lives appear little indeed—like a single beat of the pulse, compared with the seeming endlessness of time and space. But this is not the whole story about our being. For our true nature and essence is eternal and without any boundary. It is not only in inner unity with all the other appearances in the universe, but in a real sense, we—as consciousness and pure being—are the all. Our underlying reality is one and the same in all.
Our investigation is not intended to lead us from a state of being that is familiar and homely to one that is new and foreign to us. It is to realize the Self as it is and always has been as free from all the conditioning that life imposes on us, and to live in perfect freedom and security.
This may seem a far-off ideal, but actually it is the natural state of the Self. It manifests in a distorted form in our worldly aspirations, in our love of glory, of freedom, independence, in our recoiling from the thought of death, in our love of praise and distaste of personal criticism. But this urge for perfection cannot be lastingly fulfilled for our body and mind, which themselves are subject to restriction, criticism, defect and death. Satisfaction is possible only through the higher self-knowledge beyond individuality.
Self-knowledge involves the cancellation of the ‘ignorance’ or ‘nescience’ that persuades us of our identity with the body and mind. This conviction, in the Vedanta philosophy, is regarded as wrong knowledge—false identification. We can only be truly free and fulfilled when we banish nescience, through letting in the light of Truth.
What is the function of light? To banish darkness. Darkness may have prevailed long ages, but once the light is in, there is a complete change and no longer fear of the unknown.
There was once a deep cave on a hillside that was feared by the superstitious villagers. They had convinced themselves that an evil spirit dwelt in the cave and they attributed various disasters to the mischief caused by that spirit. This belief was passed down the generations, so no one thought to challenge it. Then a visitor came to the region, who knew all about caves, and he knew perfectly well that the people were deeply afflicted by what in Yoga is called nescience.
This nescience has three forms:
lack of knowledge—we don’t know what is in the cave;
false knowledge—there is a demon in the cave;
doubt—the wavering in the mind due to uncertainty.
The visitor suggested: ‘Let us take light to the cave. Do not fear immediate entry. Several of us will attach the light, in the form of fire, to long poles; then we shall be able to keep our distance, yet see what is there.’ Such was his manner that he inspired confidence, and appealed to something deeper and more stable in the personalities of his hearers. They went, realized that the cave was perfectly safe, and their hearts were set at ease. The situation had not changed. What had happened was that this dangerous, mischievous nescience, this lack of knowledge, false knowledge and doubt, had been banished by light. It is the same with our inner being. In truth, there is nothing to fear, nothing to be anxious about.
What about our situation as seekers? The worldly experiences do affect our bodies and minds, but the crucial fact to hold on to is that our real Self is not affected by events, change or decay. Our Self is free, transcendent, enlightened, the Self of all. This being so, the light does not really need to be let in, because it is our true nature. But while we are fixated on the world and are hungry for its food in the form of sense experiences, we are unlikely to look in the direction where Truth is to be discovered, namely within. So when we actualise the light, it means we actualise the higher wisdom, the teachings that tell us what is already within, our divine wealth. These come to us like glad tidings of boundless wealth that we have somehow forgotten or overlooked. Spiritual practice is the way we realize our inner wealth. It means working on our mind in such a way that this nescience, this uncritical belief in the reality of this ever-changing world, is re-examined, challenged, and the light within us comes to dominate our consciousness.
Truth is the essence and richness of life, like the butter concealed in the milk of our ordinary experience. To return to the simile of Rumi:
A great shaking is required in the effort that the milk might render back that butter from its inmost heart.
The butter in the milk is invisible. Hark, churn the milk knowingly from side to side, that it may reveal that which it has hidden.
What is this churning process that will bring to light the best in us, our higher nature? Normally the mind’s energies are scattered over many things, roving from one interest to another. While scattered in this way, the highest creative potentiality of the mind, its potentiality for illumination, will not be realized. What is necessary? The mind’s energies have to be focused. The energy of the sun is always with us, but if we want to draw on its power, we have to use a lens or a solar panel, and so on, to capture its energy and turn it to a creative use. The great energy of the mind, which is wonderful in its force and adundance, can be channelled and focused within. This is done by focusing on a symbol of Truth, some form, word, or sentence, that points to the infinite nature of our Self. Then we shall no longer be misled by this unreal nescience. The light of Truth, our essential Truth, will shine as self-evident and self-revealed.
We remember the saying of Jesus: ‘If thine eye be single, thy whole body will be full of light.’ This is the result of that fusion of our inner energies, our one-pointed concentration on a symbol of Truth, conceived as present in the depths of the mind itself. We are already permeated by that light. But it only becomes apparent to us when our mind is absorbed one-pointedly in the inner stillness.
Truth is not complicated, nor is the path to its realization. The path can be summed up in three simple injunctions:
Calm the mind
Focus the attention on the spiritual principle
underlying the mind.
The supreme art of life is to live in such a way that we can turn within and find peace at any time—not just peace, but inspiration and wisdom. It is a matter of practice. To one who is new to typing, it may seem an impossible feat that someone can type rapidly without even looking at the keys, and yet this skill is second nature to so many. In the same way, once we grasp the concept: ‘The mind is my instrument. I can influence and steer its operations’, we can confidently make a start on the path of inner transformation.
The firm foundation is our meditation practice. It is greatly helped by making time to connect ourselves with the realm of tranquillity and spiritual thought during the day. This is done by pausing occasionally to lift our mind away from the outer scene, and revive some saying that reminds us of who we really are in truth. These spare or in-between moments come to all of us. If we are alert and eager to transcend our limitations, we will find that such opportunities are more plentiful than we might imagine. What seems impossible now will become possible and natural as we advance. Our mind will be transformed into an abode of peace—an abode of divine bliss. There are obstacles to be overcome, but if we are sincere in our wish to live in Truth, help is always close at hand, and we will find that all life’s experiences, even apparent setbacks, can be transformed into aids for our higher awakening.
The source of lasting joy is within us and if we persevere, there will be a psychological turnaround, where the attraction and joy of inner serenity becomes the magnet of our interest and quest, and we find that this is what we want and need more than anything else. Nothing need cut us off from our own infinite wealth. What is needed is faith that our true Self is the infinite, ever perfect spiritual principle. This faith is helped by an understanding of the basic principles of the non-dual philosophy. And our faith leads to understanding when we make our personal experiments in tranquillity through practising meditation and giving ourselves time and space for reflection and inner communion.
The path revealed by the higher Yoga is a return to our true home, self-realization—the home we have never really left. It is the goal of life, the consummation of experience, the final result of the millions of experiments we make as we journey through experience. It relieves us of all fear, anxiety, sorrow and uncertainty, just as the coming of the light expelled all the dark imaginings associated with the cave. In the words of the Crest Jewel of Wisdom:
Realizing the highest wisdom, we do not grieve. For our nature is bliss, all-bliss everywhere. We have nothing to fear from any quarter.