Experiencing the Divine

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

Does it say anywhere in the vedic literature that God is an experience and not a person?

In the Srimad Bhagavatam there is a verse which says, “You are formless, but for the convenience of my meditation I have created a form for you. You are placeless, but in order to worship you I have erected a place for you. You are beyond all description, but in order to pray I have created your descriptions. God, due to my inability and inexperience, I have committed three sins. Please pardon me.”

The absolute experience is beyond time and space. At the same time, most people cannot visualize the formless aspect. So from time to time, God has incarnated himself in different manifestations and forms (avataras) so the devotees will love him. I like Rama very much because for me his personality is absolute, disciplined, systematic and perfect. Other people are attracted to Krishna as the ideal form and embodiment of joy, dynamism, love and music. For others still, the form of Shiva whose detachment is perfect is the form of greatest attraction. The form of the supreme varies according to the inclination and personality of the devotee. These forms become the object of awareness through which the devotee moves forward and evolves. This is the vedic tradition as it is taught.

In the vedic tradition, you start from your town and let others start from theirs, and ultimately all converge in the centre. It is not necessary that only Rama, Krishna, Govinda, Devi, Christ or Mohammed will take you there. Any way you go, you will reach there. That is experience, and after experience you are fulfilled.

London, September 1979

Why is it necessary to do so many yogic practices and sadhanas such as asana, pranayama, pratyahara and dharana? As a layman of faith, when I love the Lord all I have to do is fall at his feet and cry! Why can’t you do that?

First show me where his feet are and then I will cry! Our body and mind are valuable instruments and therefore we should not misuse them in drinking, overeating and other abuse. We should take care of the body and keep it in the best condition by practising asana and pranayama. One cannot get food from a cookbook; only cooking can satisfy our stomach. By reading a book on electricity, we cannot bring light into our house. Likewise, by reading books on yoga theory one cannot attain samadhi. One needs to practise. Yoga increases the mental, physical and psychic capacities of the personality. Even if we are to dedicate our life to the service of the Lord, what use is it to offer a diseased, sickly flower to Him? In the ancient vedic scriptures it said that the body is a means to great virtues, to great attainments, spiritual or otherwise.

What about japa? Hindus practise it to remember the Lord. How does that help?

Japa is practised by all faiths, but maybe without understanding its psychological import. The emotional energy should be sublimated and properly channelled for constructive work. Bhakti is the best method of sublimation. Japa is the easiest and safest way by which a person can elevate the state of consciousness, by reciting the name of the Lord in a particular manner, either alone or in a group.

What happens in japa is that you slowly create a rhythm and then a momentum is produced in your brain. After a while the mind loses touch with external objects and the consciousness is withdrawn and elevated. A blissful state is reached and eventually it brings you to a state that is higher than pratyahara. Sometimes it gives a glimpse of meditation also. You can thus see that japa is not repetition of the Lord’s name for the sake of repetition, and it is not only for Hindus.

You mean to say that japa is primarily intended to concentrate the mind. If that is true, then why can’t I say ‘kitchen, kitchen, kitchen’ instead of the Lord’s name? Any word or name will have the same effect.

The origin of the sacred syllables, mantras, can be traced back to the time of the ancient sages who received these sacred syllables through higher states of consciousness in meditation. Every mantra has a deep meaning according to the arrangement of letters and sounds. When we do japa of a certain mantra, we simultaneously meditate on it. For example, by doing japa on the mantra Om, we reach a certain cosmic realization which is not possible by repeating ‘kitchen, kitchen, kitchen’.

I do not believe in the name of the Lord. I am not emotional; I am intellectual. Why should I do japa?

Man possesses all the three faculties of intellect: intellect, emotion and spirit, although they appear in different degrees in each individual. There are many situations in life when one is not only intellectual but also emotional. Even too much intellectualism is actually suppression of emotion. The question is how to employ the emotions for spiritual development. A certain amount of emotional energy should be sublimated through divine love, bhakti, and utilizing the emotions in constructive purposes, such as maternal love or social service.

If this is not done, there will be emotional imbalance and that has taken place in many cases. Even those who have faith in God are sometimes found to be unbalanced because the emotional energy is not let out, but suppressed inside. When the emotions are suppressed, they have to come out in some form or other. Even an intellectual person, on hearing good music, can be deeply moved. At that moment he forgets his intellectual personality. In the same way, by seeing a lonely house in a forest, even an intellectual person can be moved. He becomes calm and relaxed. The happiness in such instances is an expression of the elevated emotion. He is separated for some time from his intellectual personality. Even a hard-boiled intellectual becomes emotional from time to time.

Bombay, February 1968

I have studied many Chinese books and was struck by the fact that they hardly mention God. They say Tao is the way. Could you give your idea about this?

The concept of God is always different in different periods of history. Hindus in the vedic period and even now believe that God is someone, somewhere. Then followed Christianity and Islam. They believed in God as someone, somewhere. In between came the Upanishads in India. These were discussions between guru and disciple about the ultimate nature of the individual and the universe. The Upanishads were less concerned with the God who is someone and somewhere, but more concerned with the ultimate nature of reality. They came to the conclusion that everything is within, that is the microcosm, the miniature of the macrocosm, and that the God who was someone and somewhere was inside also.

Now, these discussions about the nature of reality and the nature of God continued for centuries in India and finally they said that the self was perfect. With the help of meditation, dhyana yoga, you could become aware of that microcosmic consciousness. However, this discussion about the nature of reality became so metaphysical, so abstract, so abstruse, that by the time Buddha came he just kept quiet about all these topics. Later on when his disciples, the Buddhists, went to China, Japan and other south-east Asian countries, they also said nothing. Buddhist monks travelled extensively throughout the world, but the Buddhist philosophy had the greatest influence in China and Japan. Therefore, in their system, although individually they do accept God as a reality, the philosophy teaches that everything is part of the way.

When you think about God, He is the goal, but when you go in search of Him, He becomes the way. And if He is the goal, then He is not infinite because the very word goal presupposes an end. One who is endless and infinite can never be a goal, He can only be the way.

Talking about God will lead you nowhere because we are all blinded by avidya, psychosis and neurosis. Our vision is too narrow. We are like the seven blind people trying to describe an elephant. One says it is like a rope, another like a pillar, and so on. God is not a matter of discussion. God is a matter of love, dedication and surrender. Those who have not seen God can find Him in their guru. By faith, devotion, sincerity, virtue, by complete surrender, you are nearer to God. Even if you do not see Him, it does not matter. We should not try to dissect God on the table of logic.

Chennai, August 1976

What does God mean to sannyasins?

We feel that God is within. God is the subtle or spirit body in everyone. When you have illumination within, you don’t seek God outside any more. God is a symbol for the beginner, but one who is illumined has found God within. When you start school, you begin with the ABC. However, an older student who already knows the alphabet shouldn’t be put into kindergarten. For a beginner the symbol, a cross, flower, lingam, etc. is necessary, but when awareness is deep, grand and magnificent, then what need is there for symbols?

Everything depends upon one’s own awareness. If you want to enter the temple of God, at the beginning you can do it externally, but the high temple, Shiva’s real dwelling, is only found within. The external holy places and shrines are built of bricks and mortar on the basis of the envisioned model that people have experienced within themselves. They are only expressions of what is found within.

So it is very important to know the way to the inner shrine. Only by entering the inner shrine can one know God, the deity dwelling there. As long as you are aware of the external symbols, you are within the boundaries of the mind. In order to experience reality, one has to transcend these boundaries because God is beyond the limited, finite mind.

There are many techniques which lead to the point or brink at which you have to jump over the mind. But I don’t think that anyone can teach us how to make this jump. Up to this point the yoga practices which your guru has given you, or any spiritual practice, can help. Beyond this point, however, there is no spiritual practice, no yoga practice that can help you and no book has been written on it.

Only one thing can help us transcend the mind, and that is grace. But what is grace? Nobody knows. So all our spiritual pursuits and religious practices only take us to the edge of this boundary of material consciousness. Up to that point everybody can teach you, but to go beyond surpasses all human power. You alone must find the way.

Kathmandu, February 1977

The saint knows everything without looking out of the window. The farther out you go the less you know. That is why the saint does not travel. He knows all things without seeing them.

Yes, that is true, because our spiritual nature is not something which is far away from us. It is the nucleus of our existence, the seed, the centre, and we are the circumference. It is within; it is our totality. Our absolute personality is that. Therefore, we do not have to go through the windows; we do not have to go through the door. We just close our eyes and then we can see everything inside.

Bombay, November 1976

Are Shiva, Parvati, Ganesha and other gods legends, or are they real?

Shiva, Parvati, Ganesha, the Holy Ghost, the Holy Trinity – all these things are a reality of another dimension. When you talk about reality, you want to know if they lived like you and me. Do you call that reality? There is a joke about this.

Once a fellow from a primitive tribe, a very simple people, dreamed that one of his chickens was stolen by a neighbour. In the morning he got up and reported to the chief of the tribe, “Sir, my chicken was stolen by him.” “When did he steal it?” “In the night.” “And what were you doing?” “I was sleeping.”

The chief called the culprit and asked, “Did you steal his chicken?” He said, “I don’t remember.” The chief said, “He says you stole his chicken.” The culprit asked, “When did I steal it?” The fellow replied, “In the night.” “You saw it?” “Yes, I saw it.” “What were you doing then?” “I was sleeping.” “But I did not dream that I was stealing your chicken!”

This is the concept of man’s reality. What you think is real need not be real. According to science, too, every experience is relative, it is not absolute. On what is this experience dependent? Is it a concept? Is it an object? Has it got a reality in space and time? Finally, you will find the definition inside. Even this world in which we have been aspiring and trying to prove so much does not really exist.

Everything is relative, and therefore Shiva, Parvati, Ganesha, the Holy Ghost and the Holy Trinity are absolute realities in the realm of reality, but in the world of appearance, I think they are not real, they are a vision.

London, February 1983

What is the yogic significance of the rasa lila?

The Srimad Bhagavatam mentions the rasa lila. It is commonly understood as the cosmic dance of purusha and prakriti or ishwara and shakti. Between these two, a constant dance or rasa goes on and that is samsara, the illusory world. Learned men have interpreted the rasa lila in various ways. I shall try to interpret it from the yogic standpoint.

In our body there is purusha, call him the divine Krishna. Purusha also means the kundalini power. You must have seen the illustration of Bhagavan Vishnu reclining on the eternal Shesha Naga, the multihooded serpent. This image is based on the Puranas; it is not merely a figment of someone’s imagination. The purusha arises on the night of Sharada Poornima (September–October full moon). Sharada Poornima, a great favourite of our poets, here means spiritual illumination. Our senses which constantly run after external objects, call them gopis, give up their objectives when spiritual illumination, Sharada Poornima, comes. They harken and unite with the purusha or Krishna within, and at that moment occurs the ecstatic dance, the rasa lila of Krishna and the gopis, of purusha and the senses.

This phenomenon is described in the Bhagavad Gita also as going from ‘dhumra ratri (darkness) to moon light’. Or in other words attaining chitta laya, dissolution of consciousness. Our commentators have given various meanings to these words, but with due apologies to them, I must say that these terms mean chitta laya and nothing else. When the full moon stage for Krishna-gopi love sport is set, at that time there is the call of the divine flute. This is nothing but the nada emanating from the sushumna passage when chitta laya is complete.

There is a song by Dariya Sahib: “Who plays the flute under the canopy of the sky, at trikuti, where the confluence of the Ganga and Yamuna occur?” These lines refer to the ida, pingala and sushumna passages, and the entire song describes the union of the senses with the purusha, or in the language of bhakti marga, the Krishna-gopi rasa lila.

The dance has begun and it pervades every fibre of one’s being. It is bliss supreme. It cannot be seen by the eyes; it can only be felt. When it occurs, “The blind see it and the armless play the mridanga.” The gopis (senses) wake up, that is, they become aware of their true function. They forget their clothes, meaning the habits they had fallen into. They forget their homes, meaning their inherent tendencies of external perception, smell, sight, taste, touch and sound, and harken within to the call of the divine flute. Here is a paradox. Sadhakas will see the rasa lila even if they don’t understand what I am saying, and non-sadhakas will not see it even if they understand what I am saying.

The laya condition of the senses does not mean a state of complete inertia. It is like an electric wire which is not alive when electricity is not passing through it, but is full of energy when charged. Similarly, our senses are inert and impotent due to dissipation, but when they become introvert, return to their source and unite with the purusha, they are charged. There is tremendous power at that time.

The floods in the Yamuna river, the removal of the gopis’ clothes by Krishna, all this did not happen in actual life. Still, those with ecstatic experiences will maintain that it did, and they are right. This is the mysticism of bhakti marga. The rasa lila is for followers of the bhakti path. Yoga is for yogis. The names differ but the experience is the same. When you are too much with the world, it is viyoga, separation. When you withdraw yourself and go inside, it is yoga.

Here again is a paradox. You get attachment through detachment and detachment through attachment. When you are attached with the inner purusha, then you are detached from the world and vice versa. This is the mystical rasa lila of our scriptures.

First International Yoga Convention, Bihar School of Yoga, Munger, November 1964