It is not possible to change ones own nature through instructions. Water although it is heated, becomes cold once again. - Traditional Saying













PRABUDDHA BHARATAThe Ways of the Illumined| Swami Satprakashananda  





            The Ways of the Illumined




Swami Satprakashananda




     Om. Eko devah sarvabhuteshu gudhah
          sarvavyapi sarvabhutantaratma;
     Karmadhyakshah sarvabhutadhivasah
          sakshi ceta kevalo nirgunashca.




     The one supreme Being is hidden in all beings. He penetrates everything; He is the innermost Self of all creatures. He distributes the fruits of actions. He is the one support of everything, the Witness, the bestower of intelligence, beyond all dualities and free from the gunas.




     Tamishvaranam paramam maheshvaram
          tam devatanam paramam ca daivatam;
     Patim patinam paramam parastat
          vidama devam bhuvaneshamidyam.




     We know Him: the supreme Ruler of all rulers, the supreme Deity of all deities, the supreme Master of all masters, the adorable Lord of the universe.


     There are some who realize God at the time of death, and there are other rare individuals who realize God while still living in their bodies. How do these latter behave for the rest of their lives? This is the point that we shall discuss now.


     A person can realize God clearly and distinctly. Just as this manifoldness is perceived, in exactly the same manner God can also be directly experienced. God is not simply a unity of existence; He is the very perfection of being, who answers to all our conceptions of the highest and the best. That supreme Being is not just a subject of speculation. Just as this manifoldness, these dualities of good and evil are a fact of experience, even so is that unitary Existence, the one source and support of all things and beings, a matter of experience. This has been testified to by the great seers and sages. Many saints and mysticsnot only the founders of the great religions like Christ, Buddha, Chaitanya and Ramakrishna - have said that they had the direct experience of God. We find that Plotinus, Pythagoras, Eckhart, the Sufi saint al-Ghazali and many more have had this experience while they were living in the body.




     Grades of God Realization




     We see God in the particular form in which we worship or meditate on Him. God, out of compassion, assumes form and appears to His devotee. If the devotee approaches God with the attitude of a son, he realizes God as his Father; if we meditate on Him as Jesus Christ, then He assumes the form of Jesus Christ and appears to us. So God can be experienced in the depth of the heart as the innermost thought. However, even these experiences are not considered to be of permanent value if they do not completely remove the source of our troubles and bondages.


     God may be experienced not only as the inner Self, but also as the all-pervading Self. A person does not realize God objectively. The innermost being that becomes God is not apart from anything. It is the one Essence of the universe. The essence of mind and matter is identical. And that Reality, which is the innermost Self of everything, cannot be objectified. An individual realizes God by realizing his very being in the inmost depths of his being. So God realization means realizing ones own essential unity. When a person realizes God, he becomes unified with God. This unification or unitary experience is called samadhi.


     In each and every kind of knowledge, there is always some distinction between the knower and the known. It is only in the state of samadhi that all distinctions between the knower and the known are coalesced into the one Existence. It is only then that the realization of God is possible. The God that is known in this case is the innermost Being. And that is the kind of realization that brings about complete freedom. That is the illumination of the Chosen Ones. I am referring particularly to those rare individuals who realize God as the innermost Self untouched by the psychophysical system.


     Then again, there are two kinds of samadhi: savikalpa and nirvikalpa. I will not go into those differences right now, but when a person realizes God as the one all-pervading Reality in the state of samadhi, his mind becomes completely tranquil and is suffused with the light of divine Consciousness. After that realization, the person may come back from that august state to the ordinary level. But though he may not look extraordinary outwardly, he is no longer an ordinary person.




     How Does Such a Person Live?




     The illumined soul lives as a form of Consciousness - God is ever showing through him. When he descends from samadhi, from that mystic or superconscious experience, he continues to use his sense organs just as everybody else does in this world of multiplicity. But the jnani says there is but one reality. As Krishna says in the Bhagavadgita, Yo mam pashyati sarvatra sarvam ca mayi pashyati; Tasyaham na pranashyami sa ca me na pranashyati. He who sees Me everywhere and sees everything in Me - he never loses sight of Me nor do I ever lose sight of him. All is clearly manifest to such a person. Krishna also says: Ya nisha sarvabhutanam tasyam jagarti samyami; Yasyam jagrati bhutani sa nisha pashyato muneh. What is night to ordinary mortals is clear as day to the illumined soul; and what is day to ordinary mortals is night to the illumined soul. In broad daylight the illumined soul perceives not light but darkness, and at midnight he perceives not darkness but light! Living in the full brilliance of that luminous Reality, they can perceive It, but it is all darkness to ordinary mortals. In other words, what is as clear as daylight to illumined souls is like night to ordinary mortals. And this multiplicity, which is fully manifest to ordinary mortals, perishes into insignificance in the sight of illumined souls. So what is day to ordinary mortals is night to illumined souls. That Light of all lights, the source of consciousness in all living creatures, the supreme Reality, is ever manifest to them.


     These very highly advanced spiritual personalities become fully free from all bondages. They live only for the good of the world and have no selfish motives or objectives to gain. They are personalities of the highest order. Generally speaking, they live in three different states. Sometimes they live in the superconscious state - wherein they do not sense the now - when they experience God in samadhi. But that experience is not often repeated in their lives. Plotinus experienced that state four times. However, there are extraordinary personalities who are messengers of God. They have the superconscious experience more than just a few times. In the modern age, Chaitanya and Ramakrishna used to experience this state very often. Both of them would be found in the superconscious state not once but almost every day - which is very rare in the history of religious experience! In that state of samadhi, they would not have any consciousness of the outer world. Then there is another state, the state of ecstasy. While in that mood, they are intoxicated, fully inebriated with divine knowledge and divine love. This is the second state. The third state is when they live in ordinary consciousness like the generality of human beings. It is only in this state that they speak and talk to people, or do good to the world. In the superconscious state, they are unaware of the external world. In the state of ecstasy, they are in a semiconscious condition, intoxicated, as it were. Ramakrishna used to live in that state very often. Once a person who saw him in that condition thought he was drunk. But Ramakrishna was drunk with the nectar of the Divine Mothers bliss. Ordinary people cannot differentiate between the intoxication of divine bliss and ordinary intoxication. If they associate with these illumined people, then they can understand the difference. In that state, sometimes they sing, sometimes they weep, sometimes they dance in an ecstatic manner. It is only when they descend to our level of consciousness that they can talk with people.




     Helping and Inspiring




     It is with regard to this state of spiritual consciousness that Shankaracharya says, There are illumined souls, calm and magnanimous, who do good to others as spring does to nature. Having themselves crossed the fateful ocean of life, they help others also to cross it, without any motive whatsoever. It is in the very nature of great souls to try and remove others troubles, even as the moon soothes the earth parched by the flaming rays of the sun. It is quite evident that Shankaracharya spoke those lines from his own experience.


     Illumined souls are not all alike in their outward behaviour. There is some individual character in each of them; each is in his own way a solitary person. There are some who do not appear dynamic, who do not move from place to place. Their sermon is of a quiet nature. And yet seekers of Truth come to them. As Ramakrishna says, a lotus may bloom in a sequestered place, unknown to the world. Yet the bees come to it, uninvited, to suck honey. Similarly, when the lotus of the heart blooms, seekers of God come uninvited, for inspiration, for solace, for guidance. These spiritual souls generally preach the highest spiritual ideal: How can one be free from bondage and suffering? How can mans problems be permanently solved? So to seekers of God realization they speak freely of devotion and knowledge, renunciation and desirelessness.


     There are many aspirants who are inspired by these spiritual ideals, but all cannot accept them in toto. The lives of the great ones are an inspiration for all. Each and every individual who comes within their ambit receives this inspiration for a higher life. Due to their teachings, there is a great all-round development, an uplift in moral and cultural life everywhere. Even people who do not follow the spiritual life in the strictest sense of the term indirectly accept God as the ideal, and their inner tendencies manifest themselves as strivings after cultural refinement or social work. So, either as a direct result or as a side effect of the teachings of the great ones, many social organizations come into being. Cultural activities begin to flourish, and not only a tidal wave of spiritual development, but waves of social development also begin to rise in the world.


     These great spiritual personalities have been worshipped in the world not only for their spirituality, but also for the inspiration and uplift the world gets from them. Why do spiritual personalities receive the highest homage in the world? No scientist, no philosopher, no politician is worshipped in the way great spiritual teachers are worshipped. Why? Because their lives are a blessing to the world.


     It is evident to each and every one of us that our material life is not safe without moral teachings, and our moral life is not safe without a spiritual basis. There cannot be a sound ethical life without a spiritual foundation. In order to be secure, our lives must be based on the consciousness of the spiritual relationship that exists between human beings. Those great spiritual leaders see God in all. It does not mean that they do not make any distinction between a sage and a sinner. But they know that the distinctions are only with regard to psychophysical constitutions; so far as the essential human nature is concerned, there is no difference. Since they see the innate Spirit in all, surface distinctions do not count for much in their eyes.




     Absence of Egoism




     Their feelings are never embittered even when there is a provocation. In the life of Ramakrishna we find that once a priest kicked him. He was at that time a guest in the house where the priest was officiating. But Ramakrishna did not speak about it to anyone. Again, we find in the life of Pavhari Baba that once a thief entered his cell and was about to take away the few belongings he had. Pavhari Baba became aware of this, and when the thief came to know that Pavhari Baba was awake, he took to his heels. Pavhari Baba ran after him and said, All these belong to you. The thief was overwhelmed and his life changed completely. It is also said that Pavhari Baba was once bitten by a snake. For some hours the pain was severe, but he did not complain. Later, when he was asked how he felt, he said, It was a messenger from my Beloved. We all know another story told by Ramakrishna, that of a holy man beaten unconscious by an angry landlord. Somebody reported it to the monastery. The monks ran to the place and brought their wounded brother back to the monastery. When milk was poured into his mouth he started regaining consciousness. One of the monks asked him, Who is giving you milk? He answered, The same person who beat me. Vivekananda was often mistaken for a Negro and refused admission into some American hotels. But he did not protest. When others came to know about it, they asked him, Why did you not protest? Why did you not say that you are from India? What! To rise at the cost of another! replied Swamiji. He never did that. These illumined souls do not have the ego idea. Apparently they may say, I, I, but their I-consciousness is completely suffused with divine Consciousness, the I of Knowledge or Devotion, as Ramakrishna used to say. That I cannot create any bondage, for it is always submerged in God consciousness, always identified with the universal I. And illumined souls know that God is the one source of all strength, wisdom, joy and love.




     Absence of Body-consciousness




     Ramakrishna was once requested to pay more attention to his body, because he was suffering at that time. He asked the Divine Mother to make it possible for him to swallow some more food. At once it was shown to him that he was eating through many other mouths; what did it matter if he was unable to eat through his own mouth? That is to say, the one and the same all-pervading Self dwells in each and every individual. So these great souls do not have the body idea, that is, they cannot think of themselves as physical or psychophysical beings. Having realized the free and immortal spiritual element behind their body and mind, they are ever united with the supreme Spirit.


     They do not think themselves superior. We see in Ramakrishnas life that sometimes even the loincloth he wore slipped off from his body. He was just like a child. We see his profound wisdom, but outwardly he was like a child, without any sex consciousness. We are told that there was a great sage in India, Shukadeva. He was born free. Even at the age of sixteen, he did not know how to clothe himself. His father Veda Vyasa, one of the greatest literary figures of ancient India, is universally acknowledged as the author of the Mahabharata and the major Puranas. One day Shukadeva renounced home and was going away. Vyasa followed his son, who passed by a lake, where young women were bathing. The women did not feel shy when the son went by, but when the father came near the lake they became bashful and began to look for their clothes. Vyasa thought, What is this! My young son, completely naked, passed this way, and they were continuing their bath, but they became bashful when they saw me, an old man! What could be the reason? Then it was revealed to him that his son, though young, was completely free from the body idea; just like a child, he had no consciousness of the body. And like a child, he also enjoyed a spontaneous spiritual joy that wells up from within. This is supreme perfection.




     Beyond Karma and Suffering




     However, these highly evolved souls too pass through the experiences of this world. If they have any ailment, it does not go unnoticed. But when a person realizes God, he is freed from the hold of past karma. All the latent impressions of past deeds and experiences are wiped out, and he is free from all sense of egoism. The work that such people do cannot create any bondage, cannot create those samskaras that generate and fortify good and evil actions in the future. In their case the deposit of karma, past and present, is eliminated. So whatever they do, be it teaching or helping, karma cannot bind them.


     What then causes them to undergo the different experiences of life? It is the remnant of that karma that has brought about their present life. Their present psyches and physical constitutions are a result of the fruition of this remnant karma, and so they continue to exist. When a potter makes a pot, he turns the wheel with a stick. The wheel continues to move even after the stick is taken away because of its momentum. Similarly, that past karma which has brought about the present life continues to provide momentum to it, and as long as this momentum remains, their life remains. They do not have any desire to live, nor do they think that they should die. They are free from all desires, free from all undertakings, free from their own will too, because they have surrendered their will to God. So it is this remnant of past deeds that is the cause of the illumined souls life and experience.


     As mentioned before, sometimes these illumined souls do experience pain, say physical pain. But they are, as Ramakrishna expresses it, like dry coconuts, that is, their I-ness or ego is completely disengaged from the psychophysical constitution. So even though they apparently suffer from ailments, they do not actually suffer. They can hold themselves aloof from the psychophysical system. I have seen this in the life of Swami Turiyananda. Once he had to undergo a painful operation. Dr Sarvadhikari wanted to give him anaesthesia, but the swami said, No, I hold consciousness to be the highest treasure in life. I shall not allow myself to be unconscious. The doctor said the swami might not be able to bear the pain as it was a major operation. But the swami said, Just let me draw myself in a little bit. Saying this, Turiyanandaji withdrew his mind and Dr. Sarvadhikari performed the operation. Turiyanandajis personal attendant stood behind, ready. But the swami did not make a single noise throughout the operation. The doctor was surprised. How could such a thing be possible? Turiyanandaji explained: I have practised this all my life, and I am trying to realize my own spirit as distinct from the body-mind complex. And if you try that, you too will be able to realize yourself as pure, luminous Spirit. So, a person can remain detached even while living in the body - like the kernel of a dry coconut separated from the shell. The separation is so complete that when the coconut is shaken, you hear the kernel moving inside the shell. This is how illumined souls live.


     I had the blessed privilege of meeting another disciple of Ramakrishna. His name was Swami Subodhananda. He was the youngest of the group of Ramakrishnas monastic disciples. I used to go to him every morning at that time, as I was living in Belur Math. One day Subodhanandaji had some fever. I went to him and enquired how he was. He said, I am feeling very well. I feel that I am quite distinct from the body. I said it was no great wonder that somebody who was a disciple of Ramakrishna should feel so. He replied, I know that, but I have never felt it this way. I think I am dwelling in a house and the feeling has become very intense. That is one great benefit I have derived from my sickness. He told me he felt that distinctly. It is not like our knowledge. All of us read scriptural texts, but intellectual knowledge is one thing and spiritual perception is another. Realization is entirely different. Illumined souls realize that the conscious Spirit is distinct not only from the body but also from the mind. They realize that and live accordingly. Having transcended relativity, they go beyond all laws and regulations. No prescriptions or prohibitions bind them. Nistraigunye pathi vicaratam ko vidhih ko nishedhah; Persons who walk on the transcendental path - what direction or what prohibition can there be for them?


     A subnormal person, who is below the average level, violates moral principles; his tendency is to go against rules and regulations. Normal persons observe moral principles with difficulty. A supernormal person, however, does not pay any attention to these things. But his life is so attuned to the highest Reality that anything he does is naturally right and good. As Ramakrishna says, an expert dancer never takes a false step. All his movements, whether conscious or unconscious, are harmonious. His inner consciousness is filled with divine Consciousness, the purest and holiest of all. Naturally, all his movements, physical or mental, become pure.




     Beyond Death




     These personalities, when they leave the body, generally leave in full consciousness. We have observed it in their eyes and looks. Generally speaking, their eyes are fully open. Because they have realized their identity with the supreme Reality even in their lifetime, they have nothing else left to achieve, no place to reach. So when the body drops, their individualized consciousness becomes identified with the supreme Consciousness, which is the underlying Reality, and becomes merged in It. So there is no individual who would go anywhere. The all-prevading Spirit cannot go anywhere.


     Those who retain their individuality experience God in His personal aspect. The distinction between the worshipper and the worshipped is retained. This comes from savikalpa samadhi. When the body drops, such a soul goes out of the body. Only the body falls, but the mind is still there. In the case of ordinary individuals, death means just the fall of the physical body and nothing more. The mind with all its contents goes with the departing spirit. When spiritually advanced souls leave the body, they generally leave through the eyes. We have noticed in the case of some of the great ones that when they left the body their eyes were open. We cannot see how the spirit passes through this aperture, but we have seen that their eyes were wide open. It was particularly so in Swami Adbhutanandas case. And the face beams. So their death shows that there is some distinctiveness in these personalities. They always live in God consciousness, wherever it be. And at the death of the body, they pass on to Brahmaloka, the Kingdom of God, never again to return to the mortal world to suffer birth, growth, decay and death.


     But there are some very special souls who are, so to say, saved by God for the welfare of humanity. Generally, they come to Earth as Incarnations or their apostles. In Vedanta they are called adhikarika purushas, persons who have the special capacity to move the world, who are commissioned by God, as it were, to guide the course of humanity. Such souls, after realizing God, may not return to this world at all. If they do come back, they do so at the will of that supreme God. And there are certain rare illumined souls who do not achieve complete liberation, that is, they never become merged in supreme Consciousness. They are called ever-free souls. They come back repeatedly as the saviours of the world.


     So there are different types of illumined souls, always free from egoism, always living in God consciousness, and seeing God in all beings. They all dedicate their lives to the good of humanity, and because of their blessings human beings are uplifted in all spheres of life.


     [The anecdote about Swami Subodhananda is also available in Swami Satprakashanandas Vedanta for All (Chennai: Ramakrishna Math, 2001, pp. 265-7). The person referred to therein, however, is Swami Akhandananda. - Editor]



International Yoga Day 21 June 2015
International Yoga Day 21 June 2015








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