prakṛtiṁ puruṣaṁ caiva viddhy anādī ubhāv api
vikārāṁśca gunāṁś caiva viddhi prakṛtisaṁbhavān
kārya karana kartṛtve hetuḥ prkṛtir ucyate
puruṣaḥ sukhaduḥkhānāṁ bhoktṛtve hetur ucyate
Know that both the material Nature and the Spiritual Being are beginningless. All manifestations and three dispositions of mind and matter, called modes or Gunas, are born of material Nature. Material Nature is said to be the cause of production of the physical body and organs of perception and action. Spirit (or Consciousness) in the individual soul is said to be the cause of experiencing pleasure and pain. Trans. Prasad (13.19-20)
The soul does not do anything at all in any traditional sense of the word. It comes into contact with the body, but not in any causal way. For this reason, it remains unaffected by anything that occurs in the field of interactions with the world (prakriti). Matter, the soul, and Brahman remain and continue despite the many alterations that may occur. On the surface things may seem to change, but beneath the surface, the beginning-less condition remains in place. Identification with any passing modification stems from ignorance of this underlying reality and causes suffering, while knowledge of the basic condition leads to liberation.
Engaging in what we might call, from a human point of view, good or bad actions, righteous or sinful actions, does not actually touch the soul or pollute the soul, which is eternal. Nothing any person can do can ever affect this basic reality: the soul has always been and always will be. We can change what happens in the material field, but it will affect only the material field, which is impermanent from moment to moment and yet also without beginning. In a real sense, there is nothing to be done in order to achieve liberation. No austerity or renunciation changes the soul’s basic nature, or what is called the Atman-Brahman relationship. We may debate about the various philosophies of this relationship, but it is clear that tapping into this ultimate reality, understanding ultimate reality, is what leads to release.
The good practices, sadhana and seva, are necessary insofar as they lead to this ultimate knowledge. We must learn to detach from the thoughts that arise in the mind, seeing these fluctuations as part of what occurs in the material field. “Mind” and “soul” are not to be equated. We must seek that hidden refuge which remains unaffected by sadness, craving, pain, etc., and learn to dwell ever more in that quiet center. It is only then that the turbulence will begin to subside. The world will no longer annoy the yogi who remains unperturbed by it, who remains in the citadel of the Atman or the soul. We imitate the enjoyer (purusha) and gradually identify with that divine enjoyer. We observe until we become one with the Observer.
Only by stepping out of that citadel and into the reactive portion of the mind does suffering or afflictive emotion resume. All of the practices are designed to facilitate the process of dis-identification with the reactive part of the mind and increase the contact with the silent center. The mantras are divine weapons designed to kill the demons, that is, to purify the mind of its obsession with its lesser nature and get it to turn towards the divine. This process can be very difficult, but many saints and sages have trodden the path ahead of us, and they leave clues as to how to get there. Swamiji says that we must insert a pause between the event that might be bothersome and the response that we give to it. By inserting this pause, we take time to remember who we really are and the journey in which we are engaged. That way, we can respond in the most efficient way possible, creating as little disturbance in the field as possible.
If you are trying to see through the water in a pond, it would not be productive to stir up the mud on the bottom with a stick. But if the mud has already been disturbed, you must quietly wait for it to settle. Then you can see clearly what lies at the bottom of the pond. The skillful yogi, the efficient or proficient one, creates little disturbance and so begins to see clearly. This might not happen as fast as we might wish, but then impatience is just another disturbance to be released. If we really want to get the job done quickly, we have to use the skillful means taught by Shri Krishna and by our gurus. We must pause to remember who we are and where we are going. Of course, we aren’t really going anywhere or changing into anything, but the path metaphor can be helpful.
To use another metaphor, suppose you are trying to make your way through a dark house. You keep bumping into things and can hurt yourself if you are not careful. If you panic, you only make the situation worse. But if you pause and wait for your eyes to adjust to the darkness, you begin to see the faintest outlines of things as your pupils dilate to let in more light. In the same way, the reactive mind stumbles as it encounters the world. It thinks that it sees things clearly, but it does not. Every decision, every thought is always tainted by a skewed, selfish view of the world. If the reactive mind can be slowed, if some space can be inserted into its frantic activity, the whole tenor of its operations becomes more sattvic. That is what we hope to do with meditation, japa, seva, and all of the dharmic practices.
I once heard someone say, “I have been meditating for twenty years, for an hour a day, and nothing is happening. I am tempted to give up the practice.” It is difficult to say with certainty what, if anything, was going wrong in this case. It may be that the guru-disciple relationship needed to be strengthened. It may be that the particular form of meditation was not suited to this person’s disposition. It may be that this person had a lot of karma to be overcome. What should be noticed above all is that we don’t know what this person would have been like without meditation. The person that I mention was a college professor, a classical musician on the side, and a very sensitive and caring person. I dare say that the meditation was working! Of course, we can’t see the meditation working, but it’s not really up to us to judge the efficacy.