Our Highest Potentiality
Whatever our age or position in life, we are right to believe that there are still great potentialities in us awaiting development. But there is one supreme latent capacity, which, when awakened, will free us from the need for further search. Our highest aim is to discover the eternal life that is our true nature, the abiding reality behind the ever-changing personality.
Is it really the case that our being is rooted in eternal life? It seems that the opposite is true, and that everything about our life is passing, passing, passing. As the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam reminds us:
One thing is certain, that time flies;
One thing is certain, and the rest is lies;
The flower that once has blown forever dies.
But do we really have this constant sense of transiency as regards our own existence? Do we not think in terms of life—ongoing life? We have a sense of durability, of continuity—that we will be here tomorrow. Our intuitive feeling, contradicting the physical evidence, is that our existence will go on and on.
What is it that gives us this intuitive feeling of permanence, even though our bodies and minds go through different stages, and we know that we will share the fate of all who have walked the earth? Where is the eternal life in us if it is not sourced in our body and our mind?
There is a prayer which starts with the words: ‘May all know the peace of the Divine Consciousness.’ This is the key to the riddle. The eternality, the freedom, the transcendence applies to our innermost consciousness. This ultimate source of all our knowledge is more than near. It is immediate—that is, unmediated or conditioned by the mind. We cannot see it because it is that which lies behind all seeing and thinking. It is our very being—our selfhood—that unfailing awareness in us which knows the mind and its thought processes from the inside. Even to say that this eternal consciousness is ‘inside’ us can be misleading. As regards our individuality, to use words like ‘innermost’ is a pointer, not the ultimate fact. For the ultimate fact—the fact of our reality—is the divine consciousness that underlies not only our mind, but all minds, yet transcends multiplicity. This imperishable principle is the basis of everything in the universe, from the elemental forces to human beings. It is present in us in all its perfection. It dwells in the mind—in all minds—as the inner ruler of the mind, and this is ‘our own immortal self’. The real in us is consciousness and it is consciousness absolute.
But can such an abstract assertion of the infinitude and immortality of consciousness as our true being have any relevance to our practical life? Are we not fixed in our strong sense of identification with our body and mind? Yet we can use this limited standpoint as a stepping stone to higher knowledge if we learn how to turn the searchlight of our attention within. This can be effected through meditation and self-enquiry based on the distinction, made clearly in the non-dual philosophy, between Self and not-Self. Pursuing this course, the true nature of our consciousness will reveal itself, and our sense of identification will be based on a deeper understanding.
Let us now pause and do a visualization practice that gives us a sense of our independence of both the body and the mind. We will do the practice in two stages:
Firstly, see yourself—visualize yourself, as it were, objectively.
Then reflect: ‘I live with this bodily form.
I live with this stream of energy called the mind.
But ‘I’, as awareness, am independent of these vehicles.
We view our body and mind in a detached way, as ‘not-Self’,
affirming: ‘I’, as awareness, am independent of these vehicles.
Do this for a few moments.
Next, slowly and calmly affirm ‘I am infinity, I am truth, I am bliss—independent of body and mind’. Again, spend a few moments with your mind filled with this affirmation, excluding other ideas.
Yoga is the way of self-training that helps us to adjust and purify the workings of our mind, so that more and more of the light of our true Self may reveal itself within us. Every human being, by virtue of the presence of the supreme consciousness as our substratum, is a centre of creative power. Sometimes we get the idea that learning stops with school or college, or that our capacities reach a plateau with our career, and that by then we know ourselves through and through. But within us all there remains a great capacity for spiritual growth and expansion. We can start this process of inner expansion at any time. This higher wisdom is embedded in us already. What is necessary is to remove the psychological obstructions and allow the light to manifest within us.
Those familiar with woodlands will know that when trees grow closely together, they form a kind of canopy which blocks out the light to the ground below. The result is that there seems to be little plant life at the base of these trees. But this appearance of barrenness does not tell you much about the content of that soil. In fact, that ground is pregnant with thousands of seeds, dropped by birds, wafted by the wind, or released by the trees themselves. What is necessary is to make a gap, a clearing, in that tree canopy, so that the light and heat of the sun can pour through, penetrate the soil, and rouse those seeds into life. Once that clearing has been made—letting in the light—we can start to enjoy the countless surprises and innumerable shoots that quite rapidly burst through and populate the ground with beautiful plants of many kinds.
It is the same with our higher nature. Sublime potentialities, not just for learning and self-improvement in the normal sense, but for the wisdom of enlightenment, are present in each and every one of us. The canopy, the covering that blocks the sun, is not made up of leaves and branches, but of the dense tangle of thoughts, worries, fears, passions, desires, ambitions, and so on—mental trends that hide the glory and fulfilment that lie close at hand. What happens when we thin this internal barrier? We enter a free world of peace, love and light—not entering it as an outsider, but realising this is our true Self, the divine consciousness, the eternal life.
Our highest potentiality is to realize our oneness as this eternal reality, to fully awaken the higher consciousness. It is to know the nature of our Self, our Atman, the inner ruler, the pure consciousness, our true I. This is the ground of our being, which is the eternal reality.
The great challenge for our power of reflection is to learn to isolate our true I from our thinking processes. Our true I is the light that illumines all our thoughts but does not move or change with those thoughts. This light is motionless, changeless, ever illumining, transcendent. It is Self and everything of which it is aware is not-Self. To know its nature in one’s immediate experience is to realize bliss absolute. From the highest standpoint, we have already arrived at our destination. We have never left it. In the words of the Zen master, Dogen:
The village I finally reach
Deeper than the deep mountains
Indeed—the capital where I used to live!
The essential knowledge we need, the knowledge that alone will satisfy us, is Self-knowledge, ‘coming to our Self’ in the deepest sense.
Let us appreciate that every religion has revealed scriptures whose aim is to awaken us to the higher life. These scriptures, at their best, speak not to our worldly self, but make their appeal to the divine principle within us. They remind us that we have a higher destiny.
As an example of the awakening of the potentiality for an illumined understanding, some five hundred years ago, a Spanish knight, with a strong sense of honour and quick to draw his sword, was lying helplessly in the family castle. He had received injuries to his legs in a battle. Now he was confined to bed for months, recovering from the primitive operations he had undergone. He wanted something to read, some tales of romance and adventure, that echoed the life he had lived and now missed. But the only books available were a long text on the life of Christ, and another book of the lives of the saints. Well, it was better than no distraction at all.
Yet as he pondered these writings, something quite new within him began to stir. Within his heart was kindled an attraction. A different ambition, or aspiration, formed itself in his mind. Now, he felt, ‘If St Dominic did this, and St Francis did that, why can’t I do as much? Why can’t I turn these energies I possess into following the way of Christ?’ In time he recovered, set aside his sword as well as his fine clothes, and took to the spiritual life of a renunciate, eventually travelling to Paris, where, with others, he formed what came to be known as the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits. His name was Ignatius de Loyola, and his book on spiritual meditation and contemplation, The Spiritual Exercises, is one of the classics of the Western spiritual tradition.
The point of relating this incident is to show how one person’s higher consciousness can be stirred and activated by the influence of what he reads and dwells on. It fired his imagination and caused a new orientation of his desires and ambitions. He was awakened to an altogether higher and wiser way of life.
There is a verse in the Upanishads which begins with the words: ‘Arise, awake!’, urging us to pursue our quest for enlightenment and emerge from the dream of individuality and finitude. Ultimate Truth transcends the realm of words and writings. Yet within this world of words, there are words which spring from the pure source of the illumined heart, from those who have realized identity with the transcendent, whose words have become an expression of that source. These are the words of the knowers of Truth. Their motive is not to draw us to themselves, but to awaken us to our own innate freedom and completeness.
One thing Ignatius noticed and learned from, was that when he let his thoughts play on the memories of his old life, he felt happy, but it was followed by sadness. On the other hand, when he dwelt on what he read in the holy books, the effect was to make him feel peaceful, with no sense of loss. As he writes, he learned by experience that one train of thought left him sad, the other joyful. The Upanishads remind us: ‘The mind indeed creates bondage, and the mind can also create freedom.’ So much depends on the quality and the purity of the stimuli that we absorb as we go about our life. If we stay in touch with the words of the enlightened teachers of mankind, we will be led away from inner difficulties and conflicts and brought into touch with the great qualities of peace and wisdom that emanate from our own higher Self.
Sometimes the rousing of the seeds of the Godhead in us is brought about through a direct appeal to our higher nature, not as something we will secure tomorrow, but as the accomplished fact here and now. In this case, what enters our heart denotes the truth about the Self, Atman. If we are open to it, it dissolves the inner darkness, banishes doubt and awakens recognition.
A story tells of a prince, who, as a boy, strayed from the royal household, and found himself in the company of hunters, who brought him up as one of their own. Then, one day, an old courtier was riding through the region, noticed the young man and recognized him. He told him about his earlier life and reminded him: ‘You are a prince, and your home is the court.’ Hearing these words, the young man’s memory was stirred and the consciousness of his original identity was reawakened.
In the same way, the enlightened teachers appeal directly to our Godhead by telling us: You are not this little individuality, craving for appreciation, fearful of the future, the abode of anxieties, sometimes happy, sometimes miserable, and the slave of fleeting joys. You are the all-transcending, supreme Reality. In your real being you are intrinsically free. You are not separate from Brahman, the Absolute, the Eternal Reality. Awaken your higher Consciousness, and you will prove for yourself the truth about your immortal nature.