By Swami Shraddhananda
Coming to the United States in 1957, Swami Shraddhananda was head of the Vedanta Society in Sacramento from 1970 until his death in 1996. He was the author of Seeing God Everywhere and Story of an Epoch as well as many articles published in both English and Bengali journals. “There is Fear from the Second” is found in Seeing God Everywhere.
The line entitled above occurs in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad and refers to the unitary experience—the supreme spiritual unity of everything. This unity is in our true Self; its nature is pure Consciousness. This unitary knowledge is the goal of our spiritual search. When the spiritual seeker thinks of this goal, any idea of duality becomes an obstruction and a matter of fear. The seeker’s constant effort is to merge all objective experience into his or her own infinite Self—the source and support of everything. Therefore, the grand maxim of our spiritual struggle is: “There is fear from the second.”
We have an innate urge for unity. If there is discord around us we cannot really function effectively even in daily life. There must be a sense of unison, a harmonious cooperation, among the different elements of our lives. Take the case of the body. When the body is healthy we feel it as a unity. There is no disharmony among the different functions. If, however, there is some trouble in some part of the body—the head, or the foot, or the stomach—that balance is lost. We feel that an intruder has crept in—a “second” has entered the scene and disturbed the unitary experience of our bodily well-being. If aliens (“seconds”) in the form of aches, sores, and abnormal pressures assail the body, there is fear.
So also the case of a happy family. The roof of the house is not leaking; there is perfect understanding between the husband and the wife; the children are well behaved, and there is a decent income. What is the subjective feeling of the family members? A feeling of unity. You, the master of the house, feel as though you have extended yourself to the whole family—even to your house, the gardens, the furniture. There is nothing to disturb you; you are really peaceful. But, if some disturbance occurs in the family—for example, if one child becomes boisterous, refuses to go to school, and wants to be in bad company, then what happens? The peace of the entire household is disturbed. A “second” thing—namely, the disruptive behavior of the child—has intruded into your feeling of unity.
On a moonlit night we look at the vast sky. It is all so peaceful. Suddenly we see some alien object flying down—not a bird, not a familiar passenger plane. Is it an aircraft from an enemy country, we wonder, or a spaceship from a different planet? Our peace of mind is disturbed. When we look at the sky in a mood of relaxation, we feel an experience of unity: we feel it is all peace in the heavens and in the stars. We extend our mind to the sky, and there is a feeling of unity. But if a second thing comes, a thing which we do not like, it disturbs our peace. In this way we are always afraid of things, people, and events that are foreign to the feeling of unity. From a philosophical viewpoint, the Upanishads call this source of disturbance “the second.” Thus there is always “fear from the second,” and that is what prevents us from experiencing the feeling of unity.
When we come to spiritual life, this becomes a very important maxim. A spiritual aspirant seeks the experience of unity, which is God or our true Self. The experience of unity does not come all at once; the seeker has to pass through various stages of development. For a long period of time the aspirant needs a God who is different from him or her; this is the path of devotion. In this path God is either an immanent God or an extra-cosmic God. In either case, God is separate from the worshipper. The seeker prays to God, meditates on Him, sings hymns to Him; for a long time these practices are necessary. We have to pass through the stages of prayer, contemplation, worship, self-surrender, and humility. But if we keep our hearts and minds open, then God will one day show His true face, the face of unity.
The highest experience of unity cannot be expressed in words or contemplated in an objective way. When we say, “God is my Father. He is the Origin and Creator of the world,” we are making an objective statement. God is one and we are another. But when God, the world, and the individual become one, words can no longer describe that state because it is not an objective experience. It is a nondual experience.
God in his indescribable majesty is called nirguna Brahman—Brahman without any attributes. In the nondual experience, the individual reaches the highest truth. We exist in the infinite all the time, but we do not know it; it is a question of discovery. We must go deeper and deeper within to discover our own ultimate nature.
But before we are ready for Self-knowledge we must go through the stages of dualism—worship, prayer, and spiritual disciplines. Much courage is required as well as great detachment. If we are attached to things, those things will pull our minds down. The mind also must be freed from all prejudices and dogmas. Vedanta says that when the proper conditions are fulfilled, the nondual truth is self-revealed. It does not descend from heaven.
When a person has a strong desire to realize this highest unity, his or her guiding dictum is: “There is fear from the second.” The aspirant must apply this maxim sternly, without any kind of hesitation, to all objective experience. Sometimes it may seem cruel. When the aspirant applies this principle to his or her own dear body, the aspirant must say, “Mr. Body, you are not me. I am leaving you, because you are a ‘second.’ I won’t poison you, but I will burn you by the fire of knowledge.” The seeker must constantly deny the reality of anything that is not the Self. This is the process of negation.
By negating the body and all objective experience, the aspirant does not go into a void. The Upanishads assure us that we are going to Brahman whose nature is fullness itself. The Full is so full that it cannot be described by words. The mind cannot comprehend it. If we insist on verbalizing or conceptualizing the true Self, we can approximately call it Satchidananda, the totality of all existence, knowledge, and bliss. But the Upanishads warn us that the highest truth of the Self is far above any positive description. Compared to the truth of the Self, everything that changes is a “second”—an obstruction. The spiritual aspirant uncompromisingly continues the process of negation, negating the body, mind, prana (the life force), and ego; the aspirant negates the vast external universe and even its matrix, time-space. In the language of the Chandogya Upanishad, any objective experience is alpam,“little”, and the Self alone is bhuma, “great.”
At a later stage in the process of negation, an “objective” God—a God whom we approach with mind and words—also becomes a “second.” An incident in Sri Ramakrishna’s life illustrates this point. When, under the direction of his guru, Totapuri, he tried to merge his mind into the ultimate unity of the Self, one obstruction came. It was the image of the Divine Mother Kali. And for him that image was living; it was not stone. During Sri Ramakrishna’s practice of negation, everything was easily negated—except his mind still beheld the smiling, living form of the Mother. The image would not leave his mind. He could not withdraw his mind from that divine form; it was too cruel. He tried and failed again, and his teacher became angry. Finding a tiny piece of glass on the ground, Totapuri picked it up and thrust it between the disciple’s eyebrows. “Now concentrate here,” he said. Sri Ramakrishna then felt that knowledge was like a sword, and as soon as the Mother’s form came to his mind, he imagined that with the sword of knowledge he was severing the form of the Mother into two pieces. “Go, Mother, go!” he said. He found that the Divine Mother was disappearing, and with a smile on her face she seemed to be saying, “You have passed the test. You are not really disposing of me; you are on the way to realizing my infinite truth.”
Similarly, the worship of an objective God also has to be negated because in the ultimate experience of nondualism there is no room for “the second”—not even for God. This is a stern discipline. But if a seeker can persistently follow it, he or she shall be rewarded—the true Self will manifest and the aspirant will experience the supreme Unity. The aspirant will find that this manifold universe in the past, present, and future is just an appearance. The manifold is present in daily life in the waking, dreaming, and, in seed form, in the deep sleep states of consciousness. It is even there in mystical experiences. But from the highest standpoint of truth, the manifold is not true. Only the indescribable truth of the Self is true; the manifold is nothing but a projection of the Self.
The Upanishads prescribe intermediate disciplines to help us comprehend this unity. Anything that helps us to experience any kind of unity can be incorporated into our spiritual practice. The more individualistic, selfish, and isolated we are from others, the more anti-spiritual we are. Spiritual life is a life of unity and friendship. Anything that helps us to experience unity with objects and people, according to the Upanishads, will be helpful in realizing the supreme Unity.
Take the case of body consciousness. It is normally pivoted in my own individual body. But isn’t it true that there is no difference between my body and the millions of other living bodies which operate by the same biological, chemical, and physical laws? There is unity among all these bodies. The Upanishads tell us to hold to this truth; it is not imaginary. Your body, his body, her body, millions of other living bodies—human bodies, dog bodies, cat bodies, mosquito bodies—all these bodies are nourished by Mother Earth. You are a piece of Mother Earth. That dog is another piece of Mother Earth. Spend some time in this cosmic meditation of unity. Your body is a part of this whole Mother Earth; your body, in reality, is cosmic. Your body is one with all bodies.
There is also a meditation on the unity of prana, the life principle. The prana that exists within you is the same prana that exists in the grass, in the flowers, and in the animals. The Upanishads tell us to meditate upon this cosmic prana. In the same way, our minds are a part of a cosmic mind. In this cosmic mind, all the minds of those present, past, and future are included.
A stage comes when the seeker feels that the solid world is really a mental world. We cannot experience anything without the mind. The seeker feels that the body—so solid and tangible—is really made up of mind and this manifold world is a world of ideas. Everything that is experienced becomes a particle of the mind. Finally, the seeker begins to understand the nature of consciousness. He or she feels that all experiences are experiences of consciousness, and the Self is the ground of all Consciousness. The body, the prana, the mind, and even the external world are projections of the Self which is pure Consciousness. Space, time, matter, and energy are nothing but radiations of Consciousness, which is the Self.
When this experience comes, there is no longer any “second” thing to the spiritual seeker. In deepest meditation, everything merges into that indescribable Reality. And when the aspirant comes back from samadhi, he or she sees everything as emanations of that great Light which is the Self. Seeing the Self everywhere, the knower of the Self no longer behaves as before. The knower of the Self feels unity with all beings. The fire of knowledge burns everything that appears to be non-Self. At peace with everything, the realized soul no longer experiences any duality.