To reach the oneness with Absolute Existence is the end and aim of the teaching of the Vedanta. This Absolute Existence is called Brahman and of It we can only say: It is. The term often used in speaking of the Brahman is Sat-chit-ananda, meaning Existence-Knowledge-Bliss. This is not a trinity; but means that Existence Absolute is Knowledge Absolute, is Bliss Absolute, by its very nature. No qualities or attributes can be given to the Brahman, inasmuch as the Absolute transcends all relativity and is “one only without a second.”
All that we call the world is really Brahman, because nothing else exists; but we do not see it as it really is, on account of our ignorance. The world we know is not real, nor is it unreal. We may compare it to our view of the sun, as we see it from the earth. With a telescope we see it differently, yet it is the same sun. If we conceive ourselves as gradually traveling towards it, we shall see it apparently changing; until, when we reach it, we shall find it is as it really is, and undoubtedly totally unlike the sun it first appeared to be; yet all the time the sun must have remained unchanged and only our point of view has been the varying factor. So it is with this world of ours. Not two of us see it just alike, because of the difference in our point of view. In fact, we literally make our own world, each for himself or herself. The suggestion comes from outside, but that is not the world we see. All we know is the reaction from that suggestion, which we ourselves project and which forms the world for us. This statement, though possibly startling when first heard, can readily be verified if we take any object that we say is outside of us and carefully sift out what we really know about it. We shall soon find that all we are sure of in regard to it is our own impressions thereof, made into a whole on the background of our minds and then objectified and put before us, also by our own minds.
Because all knowledge is within us and not from without, all that any teacher can do for us is to offer the suggestion that will enable us to teach ourselves. The gardener cannot make the plant grow, he can only help it to develop its own nature. By care of the soil, by the proper supply of water and sunshine, and by removing obstructions, the gardener helps the plant to come to perfection. By improper treatment also he may dwarf and retard its growth. So it is with teachers, they too can obstruct, but can never destroy; and they are less likely to hinder development when they understand its nature and seek to draw out or educate, rather than to put in or teach. In seeking to aid spiritual development, the first necessity is to build up, not to destroy; to seek to increase and encourage the good in anyone, not to assail and drive out the evil. The method is not to sweep out the old first before the new can come in; but rather to let the new work its way in gradually, until the old and less desirable elements are replaced by better things. We do not kill the child to produce the man, but the child naturally disappears when the man is full grown.
The first necessity for spiritual progress is that we shall recognize its value and really desire it. This desire may possibly be awakened in us by the words of some particular person, but it is for us to cherish and increase it, until it becomes strong enough to rule our lives and make us struggle to realise our highest aspirations. It is an unfailing spiritual law that with the real desire to progress in the direction of higher things, there never fails to come the help we need, whether in the form of a visible teacher, or in the equally effective leading of an inner light. What we desire sufficiently we get. The reason why we often think we do not is two-fold. Either the desire is less strong than we imagine, or we look for the result too soon. We are so accustomed to regard this life as our only earthly chance that we have fallen into the habit of believing that what we have not now, we shall never have; and yet with a curious inconsistency we postpone all reward and punishment of the deeds done here to a future life, about which we know little or nothing.
The second necessity for spiritual progress is toleration. In looking round for the way best suited to our needs, we must ever bear in mind that the same rule applies to every man: each must find his own way and not be bound by the way of any other. We must not think, even in the privacy of our own hearts, that our way is better or wiser than that of our neighbor who chooses a different one. We must rid ourselves once and for all of any sense of superiority. Our work is to attend to our own actions and aspirations and stop criticizing what others do. Having then a great desire to get spiritual knowledge, and a loving, harmonious frame of mind in which to set out in quest of it, we must next search for suitable teaching; and finding it, we must first carefully listen to it, then think it out; and lastly, if we accept it, we must give ourselves up to diligently following its precepts. The whole secret of success lies in practicing.
Only what we earn really belongs to us. That is why success in reaching spiritual heights depends upon nothing so much as upon constant effort to learn and constant practice of what we already know. It can readily be seen that only when we have set out goal clearly before ourselves, can we make any intelligent effort to reach it. Before that, we are like men lost in thick woods or a trackless desert without a compass or a guiding star. We wander back and forth, often going over the same place, even in the same footsteps; but we make no progress. Let us all set before us our highest ideal and then earnestly persevere in the attempt to attain it. True, as we approach it, we shall find it ever losing itself in a still higher ideal; but at last we shall reach the end of all our struggles and realise our oneness with the Divine.
Consciously or unconsciously, the goal of the whole universe is freedom. Everything we know, from atom to man, is struggling towards freedom. The desire to be free is the real motive power of saint and sinner alike, and it forms the essence of all religion. Man instinctively feels that there is something beyond the little world he knows, to which he is in some way related, and that upon a harmonious relation with that unknown something depends his true well-being and happiness. Religion is therefore his unceasing effort to transcend his present limitations, to increase his knowledge and his experience until it includes the All. Like captive birds, we flutter and dash ourselves against our prison bars, often too eagerly desiring escape to note the open door to that freedom which we are so madly struggling to attain, an open door always within our reach and always available.
When we understand what freedom really means and that it is a necessity of our very nature, we can set ourselves to work to unclasp the fetters that now bind us: fetters which we ourselves have forged, and which we, in turn, by sheer hard work and strength of will must burst asunder. The various branches of Yoga practice given in the Vedanta are so many avenues of escape; so many implements in our hands to enable us to strike off the shackles that restrain us; so many open doors to that great Beyond, where we transcend the relative and its bondage and reach that Knowledge Absolute, which itself is Freedom Absolute. We can realise the Absolute in this life in what the Vedanta calls “Samadhi,” or the super-conscious state. It is true that while these bodies of ours last we must again return to consciousness, but the world will then be to us like the mirage to one who has ascertained what it is. He still continues to see it, but no longer can it deceive him.
The Message of the East, October, 1918,
Vol.VII, no. 8:179-183.