The Way to Fulfilment
One becomes happy by coming into contact with the source of happiness.
Who indeed can breathe in or breathe out if this bliss were not there within the heart?
Without peace of mind, how can there be happiness?
The Upanishads have much to tell us about human happiness and its source. The sentence ‘Who indeed can breathe in or breathe out if this bliss were not there within the heart?’ signifies that the source of happiness is within our own being. The way to it is through cultivating and deepening the mental condition which the Bhagavad Gita calls ‘peace of mind’—a deep and stable peace that influences the roots of the mind. The idea of cultivation is apt, because it suggests something that is transforming and developing, and leads to a wonderful and worthwhile result.
This peace is present even now at the deepest level of our nature. But our normal ways of thinking, feeling and willing, with their side-effects of restlessness and anxiety, obstruct our experience of the peace of our true Self. In some strange way, we spend our lives out of touch with what is best in us. It is to rectify this situation that the Yoga of Self-knowledge is practised.
Yoga is like a return home, to the home we have never really left. The lines of T S Eliot are relevant here:
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
The path of Self-knowledge leads to fulfilment because it leads to the realisation of that deeper Self, hidden behind the mental activity, through which we know in our own experience that this deeper Self is one with the reality underlying all.
Before we examine this claim, let us turn to the question of how to find fulfilment. Fulfilment surely deserves a place at the top of our list of positive experiences. That list includes pleasure, happiness, satisfaction—and fulfilment. Fulfilment cannot be less than pleasure, and it must include happiness and satisfaction. Whoever heard of a fulfilled person who was unhappy or dissatisfied?
How can we be fulfilled as human beings? Is it possible, or will fulfilment ever escape us, and perhaps remain in reserve for us in some after-life, if we are fortunate? We are surely here to fulfil ourselves in some meaningful way. But how is this brought about?
The normal view of fulfilment is that it is based on the amount of pleasure we gain from life. The appeal of pleasure is natural and unavoidable. Our nervous system is programmed to embrace what is pleasant and avoid every kind of pain. There is nothing wrong with pleasure, if it does not blunt the capacity of the mind to dive deeper into itself and find wisdom. There are many pleasures which, in Shakespeare’s phrase, ‘give delight and hurt not’, which harm neither ourselves nor others. Who can disagree with the saying that is inscribed on the box of a certain brand of tea: ‘The mere chink of cups and saucers tunes the mind to happy repose.’
But pleasure does not last long enough to give enduring satisfaction or fulfilment. Our pleasures come to us as transient experiences that have a beginning and an end. What matters is how we feel in-between those agreeable times. Are we generally happy or restless? Our inner mental and spiritual state at all times is the key factor. After all, who are we left with when the outer supports are not available to us? Ourselves alone. And if we have the power not only to endure our own company but to enjoy it in inner peace, we are on the way to fulfilment.
Who then is truly fulfilled? Some years ago, a newspaper explored the human emotion of envy. Famous people were interviewed, all of whom had achieved an eminence that suggested, of course, that they had fulfilled themselves. The question they were asked was: ‘Is there anyone you envy?’ It turned out that the business leader wished he could have been an actor, the actor had always longed to be a great writer, expressing his own thoughts and not those scripted for him; the writer wished he had the courage of a soldier, and so on. It may have been the case that these people were simply entering into the spirit of the interview. But not necessarily. Human happiness and achievement, if it is not grounded in spiritual wisdom, if there has been no opening up of the rich mine of our own soul—such happiness as we seem to have in the world seems always to have built-in restrictions and limits. It is as if the interviewer were saying to the celebrity: ‘Well, you have arrived! You have got what you wanted. You are admired, envied, and surely happy and fulfilled?’ And the response is a ‘Yes’ followed by a ‘but’.
What is the remedy for this ‘Yes, but’ which clings to so many aspects of human experience? Here are some words from The Power Behind the Mind—a title which itself gives a clue to our fulfilment:
Every man who is born into the world comes into it with latent powers awaiting development. Moreover, unless these powers are awakened and brought into focus, he will die half a man, ignorant of the greatness which lies within him and yet subconsciously aware of some deficiency of experience which was his right.
What are these latent powers awaiting development, and what is their source? The beginning of the higher Yoga, which leads to ultimate fulfilment, is that our underlying Self is quite different and immeasurably superior to the ‘self’ which appears to be identified with our body and mind. Our apparently separate individuality is superimposed on something far greater, like bits of mosaic superimposed on a wall of pure and rare gold, which for the moment they conceal. Our essential Self is infinite and immortal, and we have the latent power to realise that our true nature transcends all limitations and is free, whole, universal and at one with the innermost Self of all.
In the Bible we read that in the beginning God breathed into Adam the breath of life. The same idea comes in the Koran, and a similar image is used in the Upanishads. The Sufi poet Hafiz writes: ‘As soon as I heard the words “I breathed my spirit into him,” I knew He is in me, and I in Him.’ And the Upanishads speak of the supreme Self, the Absolute, entering into the being of man and residing there. It is the language of parable, used in order to indicate a truth that is beyond the power of our ordinary intellect to grasp. This truth is that the infinite is always present in us as our true Self. Our purpose in this life—the means to fulfilment—is to realise our innate and eternal freedom, evolving our higher understanding until we realise our oneness with the all.
Absolute fulfilment includes the satisfaction of two great urges we find in our mind: the need to know, and the need to love. If our concern is only with knowing and not loving, our mind can become dry and unfeeling. If we are purely a lover, a person of feeling, without a base in knowledge, our mind can become too soft and vulnerable. The superior path is one that attracts the force of love in our heart and also the aspiration to know all we can about the object of our quest.
When the Taittiriya Upanishad speaks of the bliss in the heart, that is, the happiness established at the very centre of our being, it means that this ultimate source has the unique property of being able to satisfy our thirst for love and our thirst for knowledge, at one and the same time. This integration of the personality, this fusion of wisdom and love, is well expressed by the Christian mystic, Brother Lawrence, and it is a key element in our quest for fulfilment:
Let all our employment be to know God: the more one knows Him, the more one desires to know Him. And as knowledge is commonly the measure of love, the deeper and more extensive our knowledge shall be, the greater will be our love.
The yogic teaching is that we are to seek fulfilment through the direct knowledge of Truth within the depths of our own nature and nowhere else. For what we seek is the ground of our being—the word ‘ground’ pointing to our ‘I’. This ‘I’ ever subsists, unconditioned by qualities or attributes, and is not separate from the All, the Absolute.
This fact applies to all of us. Every human life has an absolute value. Sanctity of life and unity of life are fundamental precepts of the path to wisdom. If we ask, ‘What is the source of this value?’, the answer is that human beings are precious because our higher Self is one with the Power behind the universe.
If we receive a letter from someone we love, even the envelope with the handwriting has a special meaning for us. It creates a thrill when we see it, and we feel impelled to intensify the experience by opening the envelope, reading the letter and absorbing what it says. It is the same with our innermost Self. Body and mind are like the envelope. The advice is to guard them well, but also to reflect more deeply on the source that underlies them. The real content, the essence of the person, is the transcendent nature, the bliss that is hidden in the heart. It is this concealed richness in us that makes all the difference. Through seeking to clarify this realm of our being and to open it up, we will find certain and lasting fulfilment.
The following verse from the Crest Jewel of Wisdom (verse 485) is an expression of the non-dual realisation:
In the ocean of the Absolute, filled with the nectar of unbroken bliss, what is there to reject? What is there to accept? What exists other than one’s own Self? What is there that is in any way different from one’s own Self?
Let us return to the question of how we may verify in direct experience that our deeper Self is one with the universal reality, and the practical challenges that face us on the way. If we want to tap the source of fulfilment in our own being, the bliss that is our innermost nature, we have to learn how to deal with the inland sea of our mind. For it is the mind, with its ways of thinking and feeling, that can thwart our explorations, or make for itself a path to illumination. What is necessary at first is to learn how to stop, or at least to reduce, the inner chatter. This is called pacifying the mind. We know this well from our attempts to meditate. And some people would have us believe that this pacification is all that is necessary and possible for effective self-help. But this is like dusting and polishing a chest containing gold coins without ever opening the chest. It makes handling the chest more pleasant, but more is necessary if we want to get at the coins.
To have the real fulfilment, which is our birthright and highest potentiality, something more than tranquillising the mind is needed. What will really open the way to inner peace, is to earnestly try to transform the mind, that is, to illumine its depths as well as its surface. How sincere we are is a personal matter and much depends on our answer to the question: ‘What do I really want?’
In the ordinary life of any dedicated person, their higher aim overrides the lower aims, unless those lower aims contribute to what we want to achieve. If our mind is dedicated to the path of spiritual illumination, we will naturally overcome many of the distractions that keep the casual enquirer wandering in the by-roads. To transform the mind in line with true wisdom means to widen our consciousness so that it is not hemmed in by strong likes and dislikes that blinker our understanding. This widening of the mind is summed up in the words of an ancient prayer from the Yajur Veda, every verse of which ends with the line: ‘May that mind of mine ever think of the highest good of all living beings.’
The true value of the mind lies in its potentiality for enlightenment. The way to arouse this potentiality is to saturate our mind with the great thoughts of those who have themselves realised the highest, and to bring the mind to serenity, with the help of those thoughts. These thoughts transmit the power of their original source, and are key awakeners on the way to self-realisation.
At this stage we may sigh and say ‘Yes, yes, I would love to do all this, but I have a weak will.’ Let us be assured that no will is naturally weak. It may be the case that our own mind has simply not had practice in creating inner peace. Starting in small ways, a great advance in understanding is possible for each and every one of us. The very effort we make to meditate each day means that our will is alive and capable of growth. The source of all strength and happiness is in our own being. It is our own deeper Self. Our true nature is not tainted by some original corruption, but it is bliss, infinite bliss. Though our higher nature may at present be concealed by what the Vedanta philosophy calls ‘ignorance’ or ‘illusory knowledge’, which is upheld by psychological habits, that ignorance can be reduced and removed. To seek for the inner joy, is to look in the right direction. One who is a seeker will be a finder. Or, as one writer has said: ‘Not seek and ye shall find, but prepare and ye shall be found.’
One of the joys in life is to recover something we thought was lost. We lose our wallet, our cards, perhaps our keys. Some kind person finds it, tracks our address, and sends it to us or gets the police to do so. We feel relief and our faith in human nature is restored. Yoga is about restoring to our possession the greatest thing of all, our own immortal Self. Our quest for fulfilment turns out to be a quest to recover our true Self. It has never been lost, but its nature is hidden while our ‘I’ is identified with the mind and we harbour a strong sense of identity with our personality.
Normally we express ourselves in terms of ‘I think... I said... I did... I feel’, and we tell ourselves: ‘I want... I need...’ The little word ‘I’ is habitually applied in this way, and sometimes comes in conflict with other ‘I’s that think differently. We are convinced that there is no independent Self over and above these experiences and feelings. But our innermost Self is not bound to the world and transcends all such narrow self-reference. The true I, being transcendent, is neither physical nor psychological; it is the light behind the mind. It is free from need, and knows no boundary or limitation.
What can we do to transfer our sense of identity to our higher Self, what the Upanishads call Paramatman—the supreme Self? Speaking generally, we can awaken the flame of interest in this higher life, and fan it with our love and desire to know more and more about Self- realisation and the way to it. And then, more specifically, we can guide ourselves every so often to sit calm, and commune or connect with our deeper nature. At these times let us forget the outer world. Have no concern—the world will survive without us. Then we try to go a little more inward by withdrawing our attention from the inner world, the world of internal sounds and images that the mind is forever generating.
With the detachment of an onlooker, let us witness the mind’s tendency to form itself into ‘I think... I said... I did... I feel... I want... I need’. View these mental appearances as passing traffic and know: ‘I am not this.’ For our conscious Self, our true I, does not belong to anything that appears in the mind. It is that unchanging principle of awareness before which this moving traffic, this stream of thoughts, appears. Self is the eternal consciousness that makes experience possible, but is not contained in heaven or earth. The supreme reality we are seeking is what we are in our inmost essence here and now.
Let us end by reflecting on the great statement from the Chandogya Upanishad that is at the heart of the philosophy of non-duality.
That which is the subtle essence—the whole universe has that as its Self. That is Reality, that is Truth, that is the Self. That Thou Art.