In our search for God we seek to spiritualize our lives through the transformation of character and our consciousness. We seek to transform our lives right now, in whatever situation we find ourselves. Swami Ashokanandaji once called it “Spiritualizing our everyday lives”.
Spiritual aspiration plays a big part in this transformation of our character and ultimately in our transformation of consciousness. It provides the motive power. It is the yearning for God that overcomes the inertia natural to body and mind, and pushes the soul inward, Godward. This pushes us forward toward God and will not allow us to rest or give up our struggles. It is the thing which powers all our spiritual practices.
One of the ways to transform ourselves to is practice Swami Vivekananda’s ideal of service of jiva as siva, or worshiping the God that is the inner essence of people though service. This practice is not the same as simply doing good works or some the preliminary practices of karma yoga. Swamiji’s Ideal of Service means working through love, working through freedom. Karma yoga means becoming united with God through selfless work, but the Ideal of Service actually implies one step more, working with the knowledge of the Oneness of the universe in Universal harmony and Love. It is Worship of the Spirit by the Spirit, but we must begin our practice from where we are standing in order to realize this Truth.
This is why it is important to understand how we get from point A to point B, how we take the next step for us, as it were. How can we transform our characters until in the end, we become purified and our very consciousness is lifted and transmuted into our Divine Reality?
Karma yoga is a very useful tool for us in the beginning stages of the transformation of character, but just doing good action alone is not enough. In the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna the Master tells Vidyasagar who was known to do many good works: “The activities that you are engaged in are good. It is very good if you can perform them in a selfless spirit, renouncing egotism, giving up the idea that you are the doer. Through such actions one develops love and devotion to God, and ultimately realizes Him. By philanthropic activities you are really doing good to yourself. If you can do them disinterestedly, your mind will become pure and you will develop love of God. As soon as you have that love you will realize Him. The man who works for others, without any selfish motive, really does good to himself.”
He said, “Sambhu Mallick once talked about establishing hospitals, dispensaries, and schools, making roads, digging public reservoirs, and so forth. I said to him: ‘Don’t go out of your way to look for such works. Undertake only those works that present themselves to you and are of pressing necessity – and those also in a spirit of detachment. It is not good to become involved in many activities. That makes one forget God. Coming to the Kalighat temple some, perhaps, spend their whole time in giving alms to the poor. They have no time to see the Mother in the inner shrine! First of all manage somehow to see the image of the Divine Mother, even by pushing through the crowd. Then you may or may not give alms, as you wish. You may give to the poor to your heart’s content, if you feel that way. Work is only a means to the realization of God. Therefore, I said to Sambhu, ‘suppose God appears before you; then will you ask Him to build hospitals and dispensaries for you?’ A lover of God never says that. He will rather say: ‘O Lord, give me a place at Thy feet. Keep me always in Thy company. Give me sincere and pure love for Thee.’
Is it really possible to realize God through karma yoga, or does karma yoga simply purify the mind, until the Truth. which is its basis, shines forth naturally? In many Christian as well as Buddhist monasteries, a monk lives in communal life for some time, but when he reaches a certain degree of realization he retires for a time to solitude to perform tapasya. Only after this time does he return with new knowledge to teach. We see in the Ramakrishna movement itself, many of the first disciples and even other revered monks have spent time in solitude away from the duties of monastic life. It is here that their realizations become deep and lasting. Ramakrishna advises householders to retire for a few days now and then to solitude and meditate on God. Sometimes monks break away from traditional modes for some time and go to holy places such as Varanasi or Vrindavan to practice austerities. We also do have examples of those such as the Swami, Ban Bihari Maharaj in Varanasi, who have served the poor throughout their lives and become knowers of God through their practices. He worked there in the Varanasi Sevashram for so many years. However, he always continued with his contemplative practices as well, visiting the Vishwanath Temple every morning and spending the late afternoons at the Kedar Ghat Temple in meditation. We must hold on to our practices of meditation at the same time that we do our work.
Most of us are not able to spend long hours in meditation. We need to work to keep our minds concentrated and learn to control our will and actions. It is through work that we can progress to the state where it is possible for us to really feel our union with God no matter what we are doing. This is our spiritual practice. This is the idea behind all the philanthropic work done by the Ramakrishna Mission. Swami Vivekananda taught that even through work itself one can realize the ultimate Reality. Done with the right attitude work purifies and concentrates the mind and heart.
Life is constantly changing our bodies and minds. The ego is a projection of the Atman into this stream of existence. According to Ramakrishna the ego is Maya. Ego reduction must be accompanied by self-sacrifice. Self-sacrifice is impossible without love and compassion. This ripening of the ego is absolutely necessary in our lives. When the fruit is ripe it falls; when the fruit is unripe it clings. If you are still clinging to the ego, remember, the fruit is not ripe; hence the clinging. If the fruit is ripe, it falls to the ground and disappears. So is the case with the ego.
People who have not developed their egos can surrender, but their surrender will not be perfect, it will not be total. Something deep inside will go on clinging, something deep inside will still go on hoping: “Maybe there is something I can do. Why am I surrendering?”
The work of psychologist Abraham Maslow demonstrates that it is only after we have met our needs for food and water; then for safety; then love, a feeling of belonging; then after that our need for self-esteem; only then do we realize. We need and seek what Maslow terms “self-actualization”-“to become actually what we deeply are potentially.”
While we are in the process of preparation, the undeveloped ego worries that giving up would in some way undermine individuality, and therefore it resists spiritual development. This is something basic to be understood: the ego must come to a peak, it must be strong, it must have attained an integrity – only then can you dissolve it. A weak ego cannot be dissolved.
This is why Swami Vivekananda said: “The old religion said he who does not believe in God is an atheist, but the new religion says he who does not believe in himself is an atheist.” He always emphasized strength.
The Sufi mystics and many Christian mystics as well seek to ripen the ego through love. “Not I, Not I but Thou, Thou, My Lord.”
Rumi, a Sufi mystic, knew that the Love for God that he experienced was leading him back to the deepest level of himself and his own intimate connection with the Divine—for the secret of this love is in this dying of the small individual self:
There is no love greater than love with no object
for then you, yourself have become love itself.
When the compulsive, tyrannical self
sees the inside beauty, it melts.
You have suffered much agony,
but you are still behind a veil,
because dying was the one thing needed
and you haven’t fulfilled it.
Your agony will not end until you die.
You cannot reach the roof without ascending the ladder.
O Prince, you will not experience the wreck of this ship
until you put into it the last kilo that will sink it.
Wield the mace against yourself and shatter egoism to pieces.
Let your candle be extinguished.
Know that as long as our little stars are visible
the sun of the world has not appeared.
In the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna we read that the ripened ego is the ego of Knowledge or Devotion, the ego purified and illumined by Knowledge or Love of God. Some souls, after realizing their oneness with Brahman in Samadhi, come down to the plane of relative consciousness. In this state they retain a very faint feeling of ego so that they may teach spiritual knowledge to others. This ego, called by Sri Ramakrishna the “ego of knowledge”, does not altogether efface their knowledge of oneness with Brahman even in the relative state of consciousness. The bhakta, the lover of God, coming down to the relative plane after having attained Samadhi, retains the ‘I consciousness’ by which he feels himself to be a lover, a child, or a servant of God. Sri Ramakrishna called this the devotee ego, the child ego, or the servant ego.
In some traditions also the path of selfless work has been practiced to subdue the ego. Brother Lawrence remained working where he was and realized the Unity behind everything. He said that he was more united to God in his ordinary occupations than when he left them for devotion in retirement. That there was need neither of art nor science for going to God, but only a heart resolutely determined to apply itself to nothing but Him, or do everything for His sake, and to love Him only. He said that if one could pick up a straw for the love of God, that was all that was needed.
St. Teresa of Avila was a most active nun. Traveling here and there teaching and founding new convents, yet she is one of the most famous mystics of the Catholic church. Those who stayed in group life and realized God right there, always made prayer and meditation on God a big part of their practices. Even Mother Theresa who in recent times did so much work with the poor and dying in India and Calcutta itself, always would stop her workers at the hours of prayer so they could pray together. She once told someone that her work was based on 5 things. Ye have done it unto Me. This very continuity of the spiritual practices is an important point which is essential for the transformation of character.
We spoke in the last lecture about how we try through right actions to transform the karmasaya or web of our minds. This is our spiritual practice. This web, made up of all the impressions that we carry with us, causes our rebirth. A man dies; the body falls away and goes back to the elements; but the samskaras remain, adhering to the mind which, being made of fine material, does not dissolve, because the finer the material, the more persistent it is. This is our character, and this goes with us to our next birth. But even the mind with its samskaras also dissolves in the long run, and that is what we are struggling for as Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras tell us, “Citta vritti nirodha,” the end of the waves in the mind.
The character of a man is what he has created for himself; it is the result of the mental and physical activities that he has done in this, and in past lives. The sum total of the tendencies in the mind, is the force which gives a man the next direction after death. Every thought that rises in the mind, does not die out entirely, but leaves a mark and a future possibility of that wave coming out again. These are sufficiently strong to work beneath surface, subconsciously. We talked last time about the fact that if good impressions prevail, the character becomes good; if bad, it becomes bad. If a man thinks good thoughts and does good works, the sum total of these impressions will be good; and they, in similar manner, will force him to do good even in spite of himself.” I mentioned before the example of a gifted musician who simply plays naturally the right notes.
We see that through right actions it is possible for us to change these latent impressions in the mind and thus to some degree anyway to control our destinies. Through our actions now, we can change these neural pathways in the brain. This is called neuroplasity, the ability of the neural synapses to change. Science now is proving what the ancient teachers have told us. Through spiritual practices such as meditation it is possible to actually change the structures of our minds. By repeated actions and thoughts we actually change the neural-pathways in the mind.
Ripening the ego means raising the I consciousness until it merges with the Self within. Swami Premeshananda once wrote to a student: “By gradually making yourself better and more complete, you will ultimately become perfect. This begins with cleansing the body and mind-making them bright- and ends in transcending the body and mind. If you purify your body and mind and make them luminous, that brightness will be reflected in your face. Then you will understand. ‘I am neither the body nor the mind.’ Before that you will not believe that you are something other than the body and the mind. It is only for the sake of cleansing the heart that we have so many practices and preparations. Purifying the heart is the primary duty in life. When the heart becomes pure, the knowledge already present manifests itself spontaneously.”
Some of the qualities which the Gita tells us belong to a sattvic mind are: compassion, non-attachment, non-injury, truthfulness, forgiveness, fearlessness, same-sightedness and strength.
These are the qualities that will help us in our search for freedom. As we mentioned before Sri Ramakrishna says liberation means entire freedom- freedom from the bondage of good, as well as from the bondage of evil. “A golden chain is as much a chain as an iron one.” The example of the two thorns was given. There is a thorn in my finger, and I use another to take the first one out; and when I have taken it out, I throw both of them aside. The thorn in the hand is our ignorance, and by using the thorn of knowledge and right action we can dig it out and perfect our characters. So the bad tendencies are counteracted by the good ones, and the bad impressions on the mind can be removed by the fresh waves of good ones, until all that is evil almost disappears, or is subdued and held in control in a corner of the mind. Then if God is gracious we can rise above, throw both thorns away and be free.
Let one put garlands on, another kick this frame say naught,
What praise or blame can be where praiser, praise,
And blamer, blamed are one. Thus be thou calm
Sannyasin bold. Say Om Tat Sat Om.
Abhyasa, practice, is also very important; and it actually is the way that repeating the name of God works as well. Every time a person repeats the name of God, the mantra, it makes an impression on the mind. They say through practice one can pray without ceasing. The name of God becomes a flow of one thought in the mind, and it makes a deep impression. This means that it becomes easier and easier to think of and remember God. It is as though a virus has taken over your computer until that is all that is left there. In a good way of course. I often say that one Swami used to say: “Religion is caught, not taught.” It seems to have a life of its own. Actually holy company is another very potent factor in spiritual life. Our minds are elevated by the minds around us and spirituality is actually given to us, as it were, through these associations. I used to notice that when I was around one Swami, my mantra would just automatically start up in my heart. I became aware of it. This Swami was known to be an adept at japa. I felt it was because he was constantly repeating the name of God inside, that my heart just joined in whenever he was present. Nbh story: There was an old nun in San Francisco who was approaching death. A young nun was with her and she asked the older nun if she remembered her mantra. The old nun who could barely speak said: “Sometimes I forget”. The young placed her hand on the older nun’s heart and said, “It is alright it is here.” The older nun said,…”Yes with every beat of my heart I am sending my love to God.”
There are certain works which are, as it were, the aggregate, the sum total, of a large number of smaller works. If we stand near the seashore and hear the waves dashing against the shingle, we think it is such a great noise, and yet we know that one wave is really composed of millions and millions of minute waves. Each one of these is making a noise, and yet we do not catch it; it is only when they become the big aggregate that we hear. Similarly, every pulsation of the heart is work. Certain kinds of work we feel and they become tangible to us, they are, at the same time, the aggregate of a number of small works. “If you really want to judge of the character of man, look not at his great performances, Swamiji tells us. Every fool may become a hero at one time or another. Watch a man do his most common actions; those are indeed the things which will tell you the real character of a great man. Great occasions rouse even the lowest of human beings to some kind of greatness, but he alone is the really great man whose character is great always, the same wherever he may be.”
The desire to do good is the highest motive power we have, Swamiji tells us we must remember that it is a privilege to help others. We work and constantly do good, because it is a blessing to ourselves. That is the only way we can become perfect… It is entirely a mistake to think that we can or will do good to the world. It is a great blessing to be allowed to help anyone. It is a great privilege to be allowed to worship God by helping our fellow men. In helping the world we really help ourselves. We purify our minds. This is ripening the ego. It is extremely difficult to see beyond the surface to the essence behind the person and behind ourselves. We tend to identify with our superficial personalities and experiences. To work with the surface phenomena at the same time that we are aware of the Truth behind is difficult, yet this is our goal. The Knower of Truth is always aware of it in and through everything.
One question is, Do we have to stop our external search first and turn inward to realize the Truth? They say then and only then are we capable of giving true unselfish service. Swamiji seems to say this in his lecture on God in Everything. There he speaks of renunciation, yet he goes on to say, “What is it that you are to give up? Give up the world to which we have been clinging so long, it is a false world of our own creation. Give that up; open your eyes and see that as such it never existed; it was a dream, Maya. What existed was the Lord Himself. It is he who is in the child, in the wife, and in the husband; it is He who is in the good and in the bad…. “ So, do our work by giving up the apparent illusive world, Seeing God everywhere…Work incessantly, holding life as something deified, as God Himself, and knowing that this is all we have to do. God is in everything, where else shall we go to find Him? He is already in every work.- this is the only way, there is no other. Thus the effects of work will not bind us.” But he tells us this Self is first to be heard about, then to be thought upon, and then meditated upon. We must meditate on it and out of the fullness of the heart the hand works. See the Oneness and work on.
Sri Ramakrishna tells us that true discrimination is sat asat vastu viveka, separating the real from the unreal. What does this mean. He says it is very simple, “God alone is real, everything else is unreal.” He saw the world as the play of God, as Consciousness itself. He understood that everything is in its essence Divine, and he demonstrated the Bliss that such understanding brings to a person.
Swami Vivekananda repeatedly said that Vedanta must be practical. We must be able to carry it out into every part of our lives. “The ideals of religion must cover the whole field of life, they must enter into all our thoughts and more and more into practice…Fill yourselves with the ideal; whatever you do, think well on it. All your actions will be magnified, transformed, deified, by the very power of that thought… Bring this thought to bear upon your life,” Swamiji tells us the first step is to teach this truth to ourselves and to others. To be able to use what we call Viveka or discrimination in every moment of our lives in every one of our actions, to discriminate between what is right and wrong, dharma, adharma vastu viveka, to use it to know what should be done and what should not be done, karya, akarya vastu viveka, and to realize Sat, Asat vastu viveka, what is real, True, and what is unreal. To know this we shall have to know the test of truth, which is Purity and Oneness. Love binds, love makes for that Oneness… Therefore in all our actions we have to judge whether it is its making for diversity or for Oneness.
Everything we see in this world of apparent diversity can be looked at as Satchitananda, Being Consciousness, Bliss Absolute, and Name and Form. We get caught up in the names and forms and forget the Reality, the Oneness of everything. In and through the Self, all Knowledge comes, Swamiji tells us: “How else would you teach a practical God? Where is there a more practical God than He whom I see before me – God omnipresent in every being, for you are He, the Omipresent God and Almighty, the Soul of your souls. I know it, whether at all times I realize it or not. He is the Oneness, the unity of all.”
This living god can be worshiped, through service, physical such as food or medicines, intellectual through teaching and spiritual. Swamiji says that love is the highest worship, a love that is all embracing and universal. He says “Do you feel for others? Then you are growing in Oneness. – so love as you breathe to live”.
“What you want is character, strengthening of the will. Bring in the light and the evil goes in a moment. Build up your character, and manifest your Real Nature, the Effulgent, the Resplendent, the Ever-Pure, and call It up in everyone that you see. I shall call you religious from the day you begin to see God in men and women. Whatever comes to you is but the Lord, the Eternal, the Blessed One, appearing to us in various forms, as our father , and mother, and friend and child – they are our own soul playing with us…..He is in everything, He is everything. Every man and woman is the palpable, blissful, living God. Who says God is unknown? Everywhere He is eternally known, eternally worshipped.” Swami Vivekananda tells us.
This is a very practical thing, a very practical form of worship, we can all practice. If we can just try to always remember the good thing another has done, instead of dwelling on the fault, we will ourselves become peaceful. If we look at the fault we are only making ourselves and others miserable because as soon as we dwell on a fault, we bring it into our own mind. Holy Mother says we cannot see a fault in another unless we have the fault in our own mind.
“We have to give up the world, and when the world is given up, what remains? God. So in everything, open your eyes and see Him”, Swamiji tells us. Swami Ashokananda called this spiritualizing everyday life.
Doing good to others is the one great, universal religion. It is said “Do good and be good.” This is how one should live in this world.
The Bhagavad Gita also tells us how one should work in this world:
Chapter 5 verses 7–11
7. With the mind purified by devotion to performance of action, and the body conquered, and senses subdued, one who realizes one’s self, as the self in all beings, though acting, is not tainted.
8-9. The knower of Truth, being centered in the Self should think, ‘I do nothing at all’ – though seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, eating, going, sleeping, breathing, speaking, letting go, holding, opening, and closing the eyes – convinced that it is the senses that move among sense objects.
What is the meaning of good character? We have been talking about changing the impressions in our minds and transforming our characters as it were, in order to ultimately attain to freedom
Not too long ago a Swami spoke in Hollywood. During the course of his talk he asked a very pertinent question. What do we mean when we say something is good? Most people want to be good, but they do not know what it means. He summed up goodness as:
(1) Truthfulness, (2) Purity, (3) Faith, and (4) Prayer.
There is beautiful statement that Duryodhana gives in the Mahabharata. He says he wants to do good yet he is impelled to do evil deeds. He is a victim of his own inner tendencies. All of us are a mixture of good and bad traits, of ignorance and knowledge. Anything that binds us, deludes us, is evil; and anything that takes us toward God, frees us is good.
What is truthfulness? One place defines it as speaking the truth but never a harsh truth. Another says it is being in harmony with what is conducive to the welfare of the whole world. Jagat hitya cha, as the last half of our motto of the Ramakrishna Order goes. This is not always easy to practice in our daily lives. Ramakrishna stressed the virtue of Truthfulness above all other. He prayed to the Divine Mother,
“Oh Mother here is Thy knowledge and here is Thy ignorance, take them both Mother and give me pure love for Thee. Here is Thy holiness and here is Thy unholiness, take them both and give me pure love for Thee. I even said here is Thy good here is Thy evil, take them both Mother and give me pure love for Thee. I said here is Thy righteousness and here is Thy unrighteousness. But I could not say here is Thy Truthfulness and here is Thy falsehood take them both. I gave up everything at Her feet, but I could not bring myself to give up Truth. He says “even those engaged in worldly activities, such as office work or business, should hold to the truth. Truthfulness alone is the spiritual discipline in the Kaliyuga. It is difficult to practice other disciples in this time. If a man holds on to Truth he will surely realize God.”
It is said that if a man practices real Truthfulness for 12 years, everything he says will become Truth. He will be unable to speak an untruth. And what is Truth. Ramakrishna tells us it is “God Alone is Real, everything else is unreal.” This is the real truth about ourselves and about everyone else.
What about Purity: The Truth is realized in the pure heart. When we are pure our ignorance is removed and Truth shines in us.
“Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God”.
The Upanishads tell us: “He is understood in the pure and subtle intellect which is seated in the heart.” Thus purity is necessary. Ramakrishna says: “God cannot be realized if there is the slightest attachment to the things of the world. A thread cannot pass through the eye of a needle if the tiniest fiber sticks out. God is realized as soon as the mind becomes free from attachment. Whatever appears in the Pure Mind is the voice of God. That which is Pure Mind is also Pure Buddhi; that, again is Pure Atman, because there is nothing pure but God.”
And prayer? Can a person transform his or her character through prayer? The answer is yes, but we must pray with whole-hearted devotion and one-pointed concentration.
The higher forms of struggle take place in the depths of the heart. Prayer also can awaken this center. The center of the heart awakens and takes control of the vital life of the person. With the awakening of the higher center of consciousness one’s thoughts get drawn inward and the mind itself becomes interior, and the psychic energy flows freely towards a spiritual center. We become aware of the self, and self-remembrance becomes spontaneous, continuous.
We can listen internally and talk to God. Ramakrishna talked to the Divine Mother, and she answered him. God hears the prayer of the heart and he answers.
One Christian mystic says we should pray without ceasing. That is we should always dwell in the thought of God, practice the presence of God. Ramakrishna says: The prayer must be sincere and one-pointed. He tells us to pray with tears in our eyes. Cry to your Mother Shyama with a real cry O mind! This purifies the heart. This prayer from the heart, this yearning, clears away all obstacles.
“And faith is the root of all”. Sri Ramakrishna tells us “ If a man has faith in God he will surely be saved.” One should have faith in the guru’s words, faith in the holy name given by the guru and with it practice spiritual disciple. There is a story of a man who wanted to cross the ocean. His teacher said come with me and took him to the edge of the ocean. He tied something in the corner of his cloth and said, “Now go you can walk on the water”. The man set out and sure enough he could walk on the water. After sometime he thought “What is this wonderful thing he has given me” and he caught up the edge of his cloth and untied the corner and found within a leaf with the name of Rama written on it. He thought “Oh it is only the name of Rama”, and immediately he sank. One must have childlike faith and the intense yearning that a child has for his Mother.
The human personality contains 5 planes or koshas according to the Taittirya Upanishad. The physical (annamaya kosha), the vital, (pranamaya kosha), the mental (manomayakosha), the intuitional (vijnanamayakosha), and the blissful (anandamaya kosha).
The true Self or Atman is beyond any planes, yet it permeates all levels of Consciousness because it is consciousness itself. But in ordinary life it gets identified with one of these planes. Evolution of consciousness then requires a shift to higher levels. The first three sheaths, that is annamaya kosha, pranamaya kosha, and manomayakosa, together constitute the ego or the lower self and the remaining two, the vijnanamaya kosa and anandamayakosa, form the higher self. The attitude, moods, behavior and even the appearance of a person depend upon which of these selves he identifies himself with, where his center of consciousness is. When the bodily needs are being attended to, the center remains in the physical plane; when a person is overcome by strong passions like anger and greed, the center moves to the vital plane; when he is engage in thinking or studies, the center moves to the mental plane. This shifting of the center among the three lower planes is mostly an unconscious process, and is going on continually in day-to-day life. But shifting the center to the plane of spiritual intuition needs a fully conscious and disciplined effort and a thorough transformation of consciousness itself. The disciplines by which consciousness is transformed are known as Yoga or Sadhana.
It’s important to note that if an individual has spiritual experiences but his consciousness has only developed to the lower levels of the mind for instance, if his ego is not ripe, then he won’t be able to understand that spiritual experience in a broad way, and won’t be able to integrate it. On the contrary he is more likely to distort the experience, for people tend to interpret their religious/spiritual experience according to the level of mental development where they are resting. Swami Vivekananda once said “Whenever a prophet got into the super-conscious state by heightening his emotional nature, he brought away from it not only some truths, but some fanaticism also, some superstition which injured the world.” Even though a person has spiritual experiences, if he has not transcended his ego then his connection with the Divine will be distorted and filtered through his immature mind, and this can lead to messiah complexes or people being unable to integrate their experiences. An undisciplined life makes the mind restless and dissipates its powers. It is important for a super-conscious spiritual experience to be supported by a corresponding heightened psychological development. Material knowledge without spiritual growth can be counterproductive as there is something crucial missing in human awareness that causes us to fall victim to all sorts of delusions and distortions. (Swami Ashokananda, one of the early Swamis in America during the hippy era, commented that Berkeley was such a good place to live. “There is an incarnation on every corner!”) The Vedas refers to this as ‘avidya’—ignorance—and they explain how we need to reach a certain stage in consciousness for this avidya to dissolve.
Even the disciples of Sri Ramakrishna did tapasya and practiced after the Passing of the Master. When someone asked why they, who had already realized God, needed to practice, Swami Brahmananda said that the realizations that Ramakrishna gave to them were like a gift, but in order to teach others the disciples had to practice, to make these experiences their own.
Yoga involves two basic processes: purification and concentration. All yogas aim at one thing – the transformation of consciousness. This is something every person has to do himself. Every person has his own yoga, his own combination of the four yogas. As I said before, at first this process of transformation is restricted to certain limited parts of the personality and certain times of the day. But through practice the transformation involves the whole personality and goes on all the time. The spiritual and secular are no longer separated. This is the spiritual solution to the problems of life and it is done through self-effort and faith in one’s own higher self, and ultimately the grace of God or of our higher minds. Thus the transformation of character and consciousness is absolutely necessary for us in any path we follow toward God realization
The subconscious, conscious, and superconscious states of mind have been discussed in both science and psychology. When we first ask who am I? and sit down to meditate we begin to see into ourselves. Many things which have been hidden as it were in your subconscious mind may come up to the conscious level. You may begin to react to them again, but this need not be. You can be the witness, look at them and understand what they are. These are just stored impressions. By bringing them up to the light of your conscious mind you can offer them up to God, look at them and allow them to pass away. These are not real experiences now. It is only a layer of the subconscious exposing itself to your inner vision, indicating that you now can reprogram them into high thoughts through practice and meditation. The subconscious can be made peaceful through a contemplative life style. The devotee can sit quietly and allow lower thoughts to pass and higher knowledge to be focused on, in his mind. He gains a certain stability of mind. One is able to sit quietly and observe the many thoughts of mind without being affected by them. The intuitive knowledge that we are pure consciousness gives a stability that allows the person to move from concentration into deeper meditation. The feeling of the eternity of the moment is experienced and the subconscious becomes quiescent and purified. In the end we know that we are not just an instinctive being, or an intellectual being, driven by the impulses of the five senses. There is a totality of Being, a Divine Being, a Divine Light within us. One knows that there is no past or future and the only reality is the eternity of the moment.
When the mind is purified and concentrated, its movements become harmonious, and centralized. There is only one indivisible, all-pervading and immanent reality (Brahman), Vedic metaphysics makes it clear that it is only at the stage of “Turiya”, the highest level of superconsciousness, that a person experientially discerns and understands this One Supreme Reality (God) in all its magnitude and the effect of Maya -the cosmic illusion then dissolves. Thus the whole consciousness is lifted to a higher level.
The poet Rumi says:
O man go, die before thou diest,
So that thou shalt not have to suffer death when thou shalt die.
Such a death that thou wilst enter unto Light.
Not a death through which thou wilst enter unto the grave.
It is in the superconscious state that intuitive flashes of knowledge are known. All mystical knowledge and deeper spiritual knowledge comes through this state of mind. Beyond is the mind of light, beautiful, pure and vast. Beyond the mind itself is the Atman, the blissful reality full and pure , the Light that illumines all. Ramakrishna said pure mind and Brahma are one.
According to Sankara the light of the Atman is reflected through the buddhi ,the manas, the senses and the body. In ordinary life this inner light is all projected outward. It is with this light, the light of clear consciousness, that we see the objects of the external world. If we want to realize the Atman or God, we must turn this light inward. First the senses are to be turned inward. Then the manas, mind, has to be turned inward by focusing it on the heart. When the heart holds the mind steady, the image of the deity becomes living and other thoughts are stilled. When the buddhi, the will, is focused inward, the door of the inner heart opens and the Light of the Atman shines through in all its glory and the character and consciousness of a person becomes transformed.