Spiritual Journey

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

The material journey is from the top to the bottom through the chakras and the spiritual journey is the ascent from the bottom back to the top. On this spiritual journey divinity is experienced only when consciousness and energy unite. Many people think of yoga as an atheistic doctrine or system as there is no concept of God or deity in yoga. In yoga the name of Rama, Krishna, Devi or of any other god or goddess does not arise. In yoga the universal soul, aramatma, has been referred to by only one name, Ishwara.

Nashwara and Ishwara

There are two words, one is Ishwara, the other is nashwara. Both words have shwa, one is prefixed with 'i', the other with 'na'. Shwa signifies time, whether the past or future time.

Nashwara means, that which was not in the past, is not in the present and will not be in the future. Nashwara means human beings, for they change every day; each day the state of mind changes. Every six hours the cells divide. The person who was six hours ago is no longer the same person six hours later; there is a new body. In this constant change there is no permanent state, and that is called nashwara.

Ishwara means the energy, the tattwa, which existed in the past, exists in the present and will exist in the future. That which is unchanging, permanent and eternal, is called Ishwara. According to the Yoga Sutras, it is beyond the experience of joy and the experience of sorrow. What is beyond the experience of joy and sorrow is called Paramtattwa. Whatever experiences joy and sorrow is not called Paramatma but Jivatma, the individual soul. By attaining this body, and through the medium of this body, one experiences pleasure as well as pain. Neither pleasure nor pain is permanent.

When Shiva and Shakti unite in sahasrara one experiences divinity, one realizes the eternal nature of one's life. Then one can say with full faith, 'I am unchanging and immortal, in any age I am not destroyed'. The soul exists in the three periods of past, present and future. Time cannot cause the disappearance and destruction of the Self.

Sri Krishna imparted this knowledge to Arjuna on the battlefield. He said, "What are you worried about? You are worried about the body, but the body is perpetually changing; and that which changes is also eventually destroyed, and subject to birth. Why are you infatuated with that material form? Why are you ensnared by that material form? Keep yourself free." The message Sri Krishna gave to Arjuna explains the impermanence of life.

The power of union

Ishwara is endowed with special qualities. When sattwa, rajas and tamas become one, there is no difference between them. When no distinction remains, the three gunas united as one are expressed in the form of an unbelievable energy and power. A branch can be easily snapped with one's hands, two are more difficult to break, and it is a still greater challenge to break three branches. The more branches are gathered together, the more difficult it is to break them, for there is strength in union. Nobody can break that unity. In the same way, when the three gunas unite in that ultimate, param, state, the energy of the ultimate is realized in the form of Ishwara.

The identity of Ishwara takes name and form according to one's wishes, and is expressed with a set of attributes. According to one's emotions and intelligence, one is able to see the essence, tattwa, in different forms. According to one's feelings one sees the form of one's deity.

There is a beautiful episode in the Ramacharitamanas. When Rama arrived to break the bow at the swayamvar of Sita, he entered the royal gathering: the yogis saw him in the form of light; the other contenders saw him in the form of a mighty warrior; the young women saw him in the form of their beloved; mothers saw him in the form of their child.

All the people present saw Rama according to their own feeling. This suggests that people try to see their deity in the form that is in accordance with their feelings. According to the feeling, the deity takes either the manifest or the unmanifest form. As long as emotion is absent, the formless can never take form, and that which is with form can never become formless.

Param tattwa

The ultimate, divine essence, param tattwa, has a place in life. Some people say that Ishwara resides in the heart of human beings in the form of light. In the Upanishads it is said that Ishwara resides in each human being in the form of a light the size of the thumb. This is a way of saying that one has a gross material form and the essence within, the primal essence, is small and subtle. One is free to express this in whichever form and with whatever name one wishes to.

No matter what name is given, what description is chosen, one creates it out of feeling, knowledge and faith. It is one's expression. However, the primal essence has no name, form, attributes or qualities.

Every individual is surrounded by that essence, as a fish is surrounded by water, yet it is not aware that it lives in water. Similarly, each person exists in Ishwara, yet is not aware that he resides in Ishwara. People think, Ishwara is distinct from them. They wish to search for Him, they wish to attain Him, and live in the world.

In the fortieth Samhita of the Yajur Veda there is a mantra:

Om Ishavasyamidam sarvam, yatkincha jagatyaam jagat.

This entire universe is the residence of Ishwara.

Therefore, where Ishawara resides, there one resides, and that which is given to enjoy, should be taken as divine prasad and enjoyed as such. This is the first mantra of the Ishavasya Upanishad.

Like fire and wood

This is not philosophy, belief or an ideology. Sages have tried to convey that one's entire life is steeped in God, steeped in that primal essence. One has emerged from that primal essence or param tattwa. In the end, one has to dissolve back into that primal essence. So where is difference, where is separation?

Fire is hidden in wood. If the wood becomes wet and one lights the fire, the wet wood will still burn. There may be more smoke, yet the wood will certainly burn. If one lights a match to dry wood, it will burn. Whatever the condition of the wood, whether wet or dry, the agni tattwa, fire element, is present in a hidden state. The agni tattwa is present not only in one portion of the wood; it is everywhere, and the whole log of wood burns. However, nobody sees the agni tattwa in wood. Until the time the wood is set on fire, no one is able to experience the agni tattwa inside the wood.

In the same way, in this life the individual is always permeated with that Ishwariya tattwa. No one is able to experience it, for no one knows how to ignite the fire within. This is done by means of spiritual practice, sadhana, rigorous spiritual effort, tapasya, and by changing one's expression and behaviour in life. Only then is one able to discover that essence within. This is the aim and purpose of spiritual practice, intense spiritual effort, kundalini and raja yoga. It is the aim of all yogas.

To set oneself on fire means to take one's circumstances and transform them; to take the mentality with which one exists and change it; to undo one's earlier state and form and create a new form.

When one assumes a new form, the earlier form is given up, is finished and dies. The limitation that a person experiences in life is burnt. The tamasic nature that a person experiences comes to an end and one tries to establish oneself in a state of sattwa.

The aim of sattwaguna

People often wonder about the meaning of spirituality: is it having the vision of God or the realization of the Self? There is a simple way to explain the word spirituality. You have seen a scale, haven't you, a ruler which is marked in inches. On one end of the scale is sattwaguna, on the other end is tamoguna, and the journey from tamoguna to sattwaguna is the spiritual journey. The journey from materialism to the divine is not called a spiritual journey; that is called Bhagavat Yatra, the search for God. When one starts moving from tamoguna to sattwaguna, it is spiritual, and the meaning of spiritual is to awaken the inner experience.

This is the distinction between religion and spirituality. Religion is not only spiritual, it is also material. Spirituality is not material, it is only spiritual. The identity of spirituality is singular and the identity of religion is multiple, and here lies the difference between religion and spirituality. Religion says, 'unite yourself with your deity', and spirituality says, 'travel from tamas to sattwa'. There is a point where the experience of religion and spirituality becomes the same once the intellect is transformed. Then one no longer perceives religion in the limited manner, rather one begins to experience its universality. When one experiences the universality of religion, then one enters the state of luminosity. This state of luminosity, sattwaguna, is where religion and spirituality converge at their final point. Until that final point is reached, the two do not meet.

A person may be of religious disposition yet in spite of his religious disposition, the spiritual bent may be lacking in his life. When the spiritual vritti has awakened in a person's mind, he becomes righteous or dharmic on his own.

It is important to know and understand the difference between the path and process of spirituality and religion. Spirituality links a person with himself, and religion links a person with a belief. Spirituality links a person with his inner self, religion links a person with an ideology, a creed and a doctrine.

Yoga speaks of spirituality, not of religion. When it refers to spirituality, it is necessary to reject all the masks of religion. Sri Krishna tells Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita (18:66):

Sarvadharmaan parityajya maamekam sharanam vraja;
Aham twaa sarvapaapebhyo mokshayishyaami maa shuchah.

Renounce all dharmas means give up your earlier, fixed thoughts and ideologies, then you will know the all-pervasiveness of Ishwara, and you will actually gain an understanding of that essence or tattwa.

Religion does not speak of the universality and all-pervasiveness of the divine principle. It points to the limited state of divinity. In that limited state, a person's work and teaching takes the form of a religious movement which people follow. In spirituality, one follows a practice and sadhana to transform oneself and to awaken oneself. This is the purpose of yoga.

19 September 2014, Tyagaraj Sports Stadium, Delhi, India