Renunciation—the Way to Freedom
The subject of this article is how to become free—that is, how to know yourself to be fearless, unassailable, completed—and capable of passing strength and hope to others. I am told that the title: ‘Renunciation—the Way to Freedom’, reeks of restriction and asceticism, and that it is sure to antagonise many, who will say: ‘Well, if the Yoga of Self-Knowledge is based on this sort of training, it is no better than the rigorous ascetic discipline of the Middle Ages, and it will certainly be of no use to me!’ Now I don’t believe this, for although, until it is understood, the word ‘renunciation’ may have a dying fall, the word ‘freedom’ is like the morning itself, which drowns darkness in light and is alive and progressive. Surely, anything which may lead to that state of things is worth investigating.
One of the gifts this Yoga can give to those who follow it, is the knowledge that all human beings are in essence divine, and this implies that they have always been divine and will never cease to be so. The picture humanity usually presents of varying degrees of domination or inefficiency is the result of ignorance. This is not the negative ignorance of not knowing through the mind. It is a primal ignorance, or nescience, which is positive and a divine instrument, for through its power, creation —the conception of multiplicity—comes into play, the world swims into view and the eternal non-dual reality appears as seeming multiplicity, limited by attributes.
In the outer world this multiplicity manifests as names and forms, colours and gradations of vitality. In the inner world, the world of our subjective being, it manifests as the mind, the senses, the emotions, the memory and the vital force. The unbroken play of this primal nescience forms the basic root of the world and produces the alternations of pleasure and pain, hate and love, in fact all the attractions and repulsions which make up the phenomenon called in Sanskrit sansara, or that moving thing, the world.
As far as man is concerned, the instrument which introduces him into this turmoil of existence and keeps him there, is the mind—itself the most important detail in the magic show. According to the Vedanta philosophy, the mind, or antahkarana, means the inner organ of activity as against the outer organ of the body, and it is a recording, hoarding, testing machine. The major activity of most people during their lives is to receive through the mind, and pack away in it, impressions, fears and desires. They have identified themselves with these things, and are therefore ruled by them unknowingly. Such impressions, fears and desires colour their relationships with the outer world, until the spiritual science has been learnt by which they can be neutralised.
The supreme reality cannot be described in the language of men; it can only be indicated and in relative terms. It is unchangeable and interpenetrates undetected the whole creation—before, behind, above, below and within. These words are themselves a product of maya or the agent of multiplicity; nevertheless, they give a picture by which the Whole may be theoretically apprehended by the imagined part.
In the realm of maya, the supreme reality is conceived as Consciousness, which, ever the same in itself, manifests in varying degrees in the thousands of forms which constitute the empirical world. Thus Consciousness is said to be progressively manifest in matter, flora, fauna and human beings. It is recognised by man as being the self-consciousness within him, and is known in its fullness by the spiritually illumined sages only.
This is another way of saying that reality—or what is called the Self, partless and supremely independent of all phenomena, the only lasting principle—is ever-present, to be revealed in due time within the awakened man, who will recognise it as his fundamental nature. This is true, but it is only after ‘he has risen from his mound of dust, has ordered his life and has looked upon the Sun’, that he will know it to be truth and will be transformed by this knowledge. Until then, the spiritual Sun will be concealed and overlaid by phenomena, in other words by the mind, for this power—called maya—which splits unity into diversity, operates wherever the mind can reach. It promotes multiplicity, and its accomplice, the mind, recognises and savours it.
All spiritual training has for its aim the withdrawal of the mental activity to the background in order that this divine power may manifest
But all the while, interpenetrating both maya and the mind, above, below and within, lies the supreme spirit, ever the same and self-luminous, which implies that its light and nature is derived from itself alone, and from no independent source. All spiritual training, whether yogic or otherwise, has for its aim the withdrawal of the mental or mayic activity to the background in order that this divine power may manifest, be brought to the foreground, and finally dominate the scene.
You may say: ‘If this spirit is supreme and unassailable, as you maintain, how can it possibly be overcome and distorted by a lesser power— this power called maya?’ The answer is that it is neither overcome nor distorted nor made less, for it is ever untouched. The Self, the supreme reality, is not changed or acted upon by the clouds which temporarily obscure it. It will shine out again in its original brilliance, when the clouds have dissipated.
The supreme Self is revealed through the action of powers which lie beyond or above the mind, and they only become active as the result of discipline and training. Just as scientific instruments can extend the range of the physical senses and enable them to view hitherto unknown objects, so these inner and higher faculties can be concentrated, controlled and extended by traditional practices and training, and in this way the omnipotent Power can be directly known. This assertion is neither hearsay nor personal opinion, but the testimony of illumined sages of the past and the present—for some of them are with us even today.
Now the seeker will probably have another question to ask and it is: ‘Why has this cosmic tangle taken place at all? Why must there be this interplay of beauty and horror, of joy and grief?’ In Dr Shastri’s book, World Within the Mind, which was translated from the great classic, Yoga Vasishtha, the pupil, Prince Rama, asks this very question of his Guru, the sage Shri Vasishtha. He says:
Tell me, O high-minded Sage, how could creation proceed from the supreme Brahman (which is the Sanskrit name for God, the Absolute) whom you represent as motionless in the void? Anything which is produced from something is invariably of the same nature as its producer. Light is produced from light; corn from corn; man is born of man. Therefore that which is created by the immutable spirit must itself be unchangeable and spiritual by nature. Besides, the intelligent spirit of God is pure and immaculate, whilst all creation is impure and of gross matter.
On hearing these words, the great Sage said:
O Ramaji, Brahman is all purity and there is no impurity in Him. The waves moving on the surface of the ocean may be foul, but they do not soil the waters of the deep.
Prince Rama rejoined:
Sir, your discourse is very abstruse and I cannot understand the meaning of what you say. Brahman is devoid of sorrow, while the world is full of sorrow. I cannot therefore understand you when you say that this is the offspring of That.
The great Sage remained silent at the words of Prince Rama. He thought: ‘It is no fault of the educated if they are doubtful of something until it has been explained to them to their satisfaction, as in the case of Prince Rama. The pupil has first to be prepared and purified through meditation, devotion and the service of Yoga and by the daily practice of tranquillity and self-control, and then slowly initiated into the conviction that all is Brahman!’ Then he said:
O Rama, at the conclusion of these discourses I will tell you whether the dross of gross bodies is attributable to Brahman or not. For the present, know that Brahman is almighty, all-pervading and is Himself all, in the same sense that a magician produces many things which are unreal appearances in the sight of man.
So Prince Rama is told here that knowledge only comes through inner maturity which is attained by discipline and spiritual application, and never through book-learning alone. There are many such discussions between the Teacher and the disciple in this work and the whole book is full of beauty and teaching.
Dr Shastri once said that the questions ‘why?’ and ‘how?’ and the speculations as to the reason for suffering, wars, illness, torture and the like, arise on the plane of maya and will never be solved on that plane. Man must rouse himself and pass from self-consciousness to universal consciousness if he is to understand the mystery of the trinity: the unconscious, the self-conscious and the supra-conscious. So the answer seems to be that the part can never know the whole and that we, imagined parts, will only know in truth when we know ourselves to be the Whole. This is the purpose of the Yoga training and it is also the goal of life.
What is the process through which man rouses himself, and then passes from the mayic to the eternal state—from the sense of separation and of being a part, to knowing himself to be the Whole? This transformation is said to be brought about through renunciation. What is true renunciation and what are we to renounce? Above all, why is renunciation capable of producing such inner changes?
This renunciation is traditionally held to be essential before growth can take place. It is in fact synonymous with transcendence, a word with much wider and more vital implications than renunciation. To the majority of men, growth means expansion, acquisition of wider scope, knowledge and possessions. But to the spiritual investigator, growth signifies transcendence, the progress from a search for increasing detail about an object or concept, to intuitive knowledge of that thing through detachment, purity and concentration.
The value and significance of an object or concept always exceeds any empirical knowledge of it, for it will never be truly known through an assessment of its component parts. Voltaire has said that a man could have a thousand senses and yet come no nearer to knowing the eternal than a man with five. True knowledge is not gained by the piling up of data, but by the submersion of the mind in the object to be known. This feat is brought about by meditation and contemplation, the bridge over which all men will pass on their way from the temporal and unreal to the real.
But what is the significance of transcendence, and how does it lead to freedom? Although it may not appear to be a fact, it is a fundamental characteristic of man’s nature to seek universality. He wants everything and will always want it. At first he wants everything for himself. Later he wants everything for all. Finally, his understanding of the term ‘everything’ undergoes a radical change, and it is at this point that he transcends the mind and goes free. He is also antipathetic to narrowness, which he interprets at first as restriction— restriction of his personal scope and mental range—but which he later realises to be due to the action of his lower self, his ego.
Ego! Now that the word has appeared and the cosmic cat is out of the bag, we had better assign it its place in the drama. Ego, the sense of self-reference, the ‘I’ sense, is held to be the chief enemy of man, the brake on his wheel, so to say. Its throne is the mind, which is itself the field on which the battle for liberation and conscious immortality will be fought out. You cannot over-come maya, or the sense of individualisation, by action taken in the objective world; it can only be dealt with on the mental plane.
In its higher aspect, the ego harbours a ray of the supreme Consciousness
A writer has said that the ego is man’s mistress in a wondrous love-affair which unfortunately is apt to outlast all the others, and that she can keep him dancing attendance on her, striving to please her whims, for incarnations. According to our Teacher, however, the reason why the ego exercises such power over man, both for attraction and the opposite, is because it has a dual action, or nature. On the one hand it can identify itself with the mind and the body, cleaving to the world and all that therein is. But in its higher aspect, the ego harbours a ray of the supreme Consciousness which is ever unaffected by these things, and it can be illumined by that divine ray. This is why man in his heart of hearts thinks, and in fact he is right so to think: ‘I am great. I am greater than you know’. He thinks this even while he is striving to free himself from the octopus-like clutches of his lower self. But knowledge, as always, will come to the rescue here; for once he has realised the dual nature of this ego, he can use its higher aspect to overcome the lower.
According to the Yoga teaching, when you consider an object or a concept, you are joined to that object by a subtle bond. This subtle bond is the ego sense. It is the lower form of identification which ties man to objects, and its power of restriction must be recognised and transcended before man can become free. We say ‘recognised’ because unless he ‘recognises’ the presence of restriction and the desirability of escape from it, his impulse to escape will not be permanent.
A hundred years ago people used to travel by horses and carts. Now they travel by air. They did not renounce horses and carriages because it was a good discipline to do so: they renounced them because they had found something quicker and less restricting. Therefore there was no danger of a return to the old method of locomotion. So it is with the instinct towards transcendence. Before the assault on the ego can succeed, we must be sure that we are heading for some state which is superior and permanently more desirable than our present one.
Now the question arises: ‘How, in our ignorance, can we be certain of this?’ It is at this point that, if he is to advance further, the investigator will have to become a pupil and undergo training. This is a serious step and will call every faculty he possesses into play. The idea of the necessity for training for the spiritual life is foreign to the West, except in the case of specialists such as priests and nuns, and not only is it foreign but it is usually regarded as rather excessive and unnecessary.
No one minds being specially trained in, say, the science of hydraulics; in fact one would expect to undergo a stiff course of instruction because no ordinary person could be expected to have any idea of such a subject. But when it comes to living as a spiritual man, knowing how to think and what to think and how to promote growth in the spiritual sense, it is a different matter. Everyone is supposed to know this science instinctively— which is nonsense. The only fact that man knows instinctively, while he is struggling with his mind and senses, is the mighty power of his vasanas, or subconscious promptings, which are forever producing fresh attractions and restrictions to chain him down. If he is to win freedom, he will not only have to be open to instruction, but he will also have to make his own contribution to spiritual eminence in the form of reverence and obedience. In all the Eastern schools the final goal of the training is the same—freedom through direct experience of Truth. But before that final goal can be realised, which means, before the transformation of the individual man into a universal being can be effected, he has to pass from revelation to revelation, through the acceptance of certain basic facts. For example, here are two preliminary and yet fundamental ones which a pupil must accept and act upon if he is to go further.
It is a universal teaching imparted by all Gurus of both East and West, though in different ways, that the imperishable Truth can only be revealed in a quiescent mind. A quiescent mind is a mind which allows objects or concepts to come into it and dissolve in it, instead of going out to these things and becoming dissipated in them.
The second basic fact is not so universally taught, but it is a cardinal point of this Yoga. It is held that the imperishable Truth can only be understood by a heart which has recognised the unity of life and which sees the whole creation as based on the one spirit and interpenetrated by it. Our Teacher has said that man is connected with every plant and every star and that his thoughts affect the whole universe. This truth of the universality of Consciousness must at any rate be accepted in theory before the way will be open to advance further.
The pupil is confronted with these two facts from the moment he starts his training. They are fundamental, and unless they are slowly and consciously accepted and their significance grasped, no meditation, service or study will develop to the full. Both these teachings deal blows to the ego and, if they are patiently carried out, will bring about its dethronement. The quiescent mind is anathema to the lower ego, which is like a bee, never satisfied with one flower, but for ever buzzing on after fresh scents. There are perfumes far more exquisite and rare than it has ever dreamed of, but unfortunately it cannot have access to them, nor would it appreciate them if it had. Nevertheless, the lower ego organises a strong resistance directly the pupil starts on the conscious practice of learning how to control and pacify his mind, and it spreads out the world in all its attractions before him in order to stay his progress. As for universality—where does the ego come in here? It is immediately on the alert, for it fears it will begin to lose its contour, like a ripple in water.
The pupil is expected to pay the agreed price in the currency of obedience and reverence. Reverence is that quality which makes it impossible for him to discount either the Teacher or his teachings. Obedience is the instantaneous acceptance of whatever comes. If the pupil pays this price, he will receive practices which will bring alive the two preliminary but essential inner states: the state of harmony, quiet and detachment, which is the state of good growing weather; and the state of recognition of the universal essence of Consciousness.
The dawning freedom thus acquired comes to the pupil through an intelligent acceptance. It is never gained through blind conformity, or excessive asceticism, or by renunciation for its own sake. Nor will it be completely won and the pupil freed, until he desires that state in every cell of his being. No need for him to fear that this climax will rush upon him and take him unawares or half willing. It will probably be the other way about: he will be supremely willing long before it descends upon him.
For those who may wish to give Yoga a practical trial, here are two general practices. The first is for stilling the mind.
Sit either on the floor or upright but not rigid on a chair. Make a mental salutation either to an Incarnation of God or to the abstract all-pervading spirit, and breathe in and out for a few minutes, bringing in the breath as from the feet to the head and releasing it as from the head to the feet. Imagine that this breath has the power to dissolve all thought, as a light wind dissolves a mist. When you feel that the mind is still—or stiller than it was—cease the breathing and remain quiet yet alert for a short time. Then place one sentence in the mind and look at it and absorb it. You must choose your sentence before you start. It could well be one which will introduce you to your second practice which produces the sense of universality. For instance: ‘All life is one’, or: ‘I was, I am, I shall be’. Spend five minutes or so in pondering over its meaning, then make another salutation and close the practice.
The second practice is the one which opens the heart to the universality of Consciousness or God and the consequent oneness of all. Sit still in the posture, but now your mind must be ready to receive thought. You say to it: ‘I will not injure any by thought, word or deed. They are my Self’, or: ‘May no one fear me and may I fear no one’, or: ‘May all derive good from me, may I derive good from all’. Meditate on the thought for about five minutes. You will notice that each idea has two stages. ‘May all derive good from me, and may I receive good from all’, ‘I forgive all, may all forgive me’. The second part of the thought is inserted to prevent the Lord of the Manor attitude from developing in the pupil! The sense of being a universal benefactor and the subtle satisfaction this produces spells a temporary victory for the ego and must be avoided at all costs, and this is a sure way to do it.
No doubt these practices will look as if they are very childish and easy, but this is not always found to be the case when they are tried out. You will only get to know how wiry your mind is when you try to quieten it and make it supple for even a few minutes. Many will only realise how much they dislike being forgiven or assisted when they use their imagination and their sense of humour to test their reactions in the second practice. If the practices do begin to have a result, which should take the form of a sense of security, peace and expansion, then you can go forward into the practice of meditation with a hopeful heart. May this be so.