Just Two Words

‘Yes’ and ‘No’ are arguably the most important words in the vocabulary of any language. Like the power of the ocean, their range and application are limitless. Sometimes they slide across our conversations imperceptibly; or they may surprise and shock, vanquishing hope, or igniting new possibilities.

The infant, still imprisoned in the pram or buggy, soon learns to appropriate the ‘No’ it hears from its elders, and finds it is the perfect instrument for conveying dislike and non-cooperation; and unless those elders are prepared to be brutishly coercive, or patiently educative, the ‘no’ will gain their acquiescence, in the hope that it will be outgrown.

As experience widens, the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response remains ever present, sometimes muted by seeming contentment, but ever watchful for threats and opportunities. Our ‘yes’ ‘no’ mechanism reaches into every part of our material and intellectual or mental functioning.

This habit of reaction and response becomes increasingly complicated as life confronts us with moral imperatives, suggesting that we ‘should’ or ‘ought’ to respond in a certain way. Our instinctive ‘yes’ is now challenged by the contrary directive which tells us we should not, or ought not. Similarly, our ‘no’ has often to be overruled (by us) in the course of duty, for instance when we wake in the morning, when we know that our ‘no—I don’t want to get up yet’, has to be overruled by the need to go to work.

Thus our likes and dislikes, dominating our human consciousness, have often to be balanced by the call of duty, which requires us to say ‘yes’ to what is good, and ‘no’ to what is wrong.

But what exactly does this complex scenario lead to, and what is our true good? Can we prove to ourselves that the course we have taken is the right one? Can we shake off the sense of inadequacy that is often a secret lodger in our heart?

Relief and freedom are close at hand. We need to appreciate more clearly that all complications and conflicts relate to our state of mind, and the good news is that there is a healthy course that can help us to transform our mind and open up a level of Self that is not enmeshed in moral dilemmas or private selfishness. Paradoxically, this transformation and unveiling also has at its heart our capacity to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ as regards the most fundamental aspect of life: the real nature of the Self. We don’t have to do this blindly. There is a body of teaching that is based on the innate freedom of the innermost Self. To say ‘yes’ to such statements, letting go of all limited self-ideas, will in due time prompt a realisation that the inner barriers of our experience have no ultimate reality or authority. Such an affirmation, which points to the ground of our being, runs:

Know the Self to be infinite consciousness, self-evident, beyond destruction, enlightening all bodies equally, ever shining. In it is neither day nor night.

At the same time, we are invited to say an inward ‘no’ to the uncontrolled psychological activity and our habitual sense of identity with it, by giving careful attention to what our true Self is not, and through peacefully negating that false oneness of the Self and the mind.

Such practices are intended not simply to confer on us a feel-good uplift. Their real aim is to ascertain our own true nature. This ultimate nature transcends all conditions. It has nothing to do with likes and dislikes. When realised, we awaken to the deeper reality as Self. We know directly That which is the source of all wisdom and right conduct. In the light of this new understanding, we live in peace with ourselves and with the whole universe.

This article is from the Winter 2024 issue of Self-Knowledge Journal.