“I Am Spirit”
Yet hard the wise Mahatma is to find,
That man who sayeth, “All is Vasudev!”(1)
This passage from Sir Edwin Arnold’s translation of the Bhagavad Gita was often quoted by Master as an expression of the supreme truth that God alone exists.
A beautiful story on this subject was told me in 1960 by Yogi Ramiah, the saint of whom Master had said that, had he spent another half hour in the yogi’s company, he would not have been able to leave India again:
Namdev [said Yogi Ramiah], a famous saint of Maharashtra, used to worship Krishna in his local temple with so much devotion that the Lord often appeared to him in vision. Namdev was revered by many devotees, who came from great distances to sit at his feet.
In his village there was also another saint, a potter by profession. Like Namdev, this potter was widely reputed to have seen God. One day a large crowd assembled in the temple to celebrate an annual spiritual festival. Many of those present were devotees of Namdev. Partway through the proceedings, the potter, acting on some divine whim, decided to test the spiritual caliber of each of the assembled worshipers.
A potter tests the soundness of his wares by rapping on them with his knuckles. From the sound emitted he can tell whether or not a pot is cracked. With this practice in mind, Namdev’s fellow saint went about, slapping the assembled devotees. Because they held him in high esteem, no one complained; it was assumed that this peculiar behavior was intended as some sort of spiritual lesson. When the potter-saint slapped Namdev, however, Namdev was incensed. Wasn’t he this man’s spiritual equal?
“Why did you hit me?” he demanded indignantly.
Calmly the potter stood up and announced, “There seems to be a crack in this pot!”
Everyone laughed. Later, Namdev, stung to the quick, went into the temple and prayed, “Lord, You know I love You. Why did You allow me to be so humiliated before my own devotees?”
“But what can I do, Namdev,” said the Lord, appearing to him. “There is a crack in that pot!”
“Lord!” cried Namdev, prostrating himself full-length on the floor before the image, “I want to be worthy of You. Won’t You show me the way to perfection?”
“For that you need a guru, Namdev.”
“But I behold You, the Lord of the universe! Of what use would a guru be to me?”
“I can inspire you through visions,” the Lord replied. “I can even instruct you. But I can’t lead you out of delusion except through the medium of one who knows Me, for such is My law.”
“Lord, won’t You then at least tell me who my guru is?”
The Lord gave Namdev the name of a certain saint, and that of the village in which he lived. “He will be your guru,” the Lord said. He added with a smile, “but don’t be surprised if he seems a bit peculiar. That is just his way.”
Namdev went to the village named by Krishna, and made inquiries as to the saint’s whereabouts.
“That lunatic?” laughed the villagers. “Who would want anything to do with him?” It is a practice of some saints, you see, to protect themselves from curiosity seekers by strange behavior. But when Namdev pressed the villagers further, they replied offhandedly, “Oh, you’ll probably find him somewhere around the temple. He usually spends his time there.”
Namdev went to the temple. No one was in the courtyard, but when he entered the temple he found a wild-looking, disheveled old man carelessly sprawled on the floor. “Surely this can’t be my guru,” he thought anxiously.
A moment later, the question faded from his mind. For to his horror he noticed that the old man’s feet were resting on a Shiva Linga.(2) Furious at this act of desecration, he strode over and ordered the man at once to shift his feet.
The old man opened his eyes drowsily. “You see, my son,” he replied, “my difficulty is that I’m old. This body is no longer so easy for me to move. Would you do me the favor of moving my feet to some spot where there is no Linga?”
Namdev hastened to oblige. He was about to set the old man’s feet down in a new spot, when he saw directly underneath them another Shiva Linga! He shifted them again; a third Linga appeared. Yet again: a fourth Linga. Suddenly, understanding dawned: This man was indeed his guru! Prostrating himself humbly before him, Namdev prayed for forgiveness.
With calm majesty then, the old man rose to his feet. “God is everywhere, Namdev,” he said. “Realize Him in yourself, and with transformed vision behold Him residing in all things!” The Guru struck Namdev gently on the chest over the heart. Breath left the disciple’s body. Rooted to the temple floor, Namdev stood as if transfixed, unable to move a muscle. His consciousness, like rising waters in a lake, burst the frail dam of his body. In fluid light it streamed outward in all directions, embracing temple precincts, the village, the whole of India! Nations, continents, oceans became absorbed by his expanding bliss. At last it included the entire world, solar systems, galaxies! In every speck of space he saw God alone: unending light, bliss infinite! Too deeply absorbed for mere amazement, he realized that all this was He!
From that day onward Namdev lived immersed in the divine consciousness. He wandered about the countryside, intoxicated day and night with fathomless bliss.
One day, many months later, he happened to be in the vicinity of his old village. Passing the temple where he had first worshiped God, he entered and sat for meditation. Again the Lord appeared to him as of old, in the form of Krishna.
“My child,” said Krishna, “for so many months you have neglected Me — you, who never failed to worship here a single day! I have missed you. Where have you been?”
“My Beloved,” cried Namdev, smiling happily at the Lord’s playfulness, “how could I think of coming here to see You, when everywhere I gaze I behold Your formless presence!”
Blissfully, then, the Lord replied, “Now there are no cracks in that pot!”
The “crack” in Namdev’s “pot” had been his awareness of himself as a separate ego, distinct from all others. In cosmic fact, our egos are nothing but vortices of conscious energy that, within the vast ocean of consciousness, take on the appearance of having a separate reality of their own, like the eddies of water in a brook.
Before this world was formed, when its atoms were drifting about in infinite space, there were no distinctions of the forms and substances that man has come to look upon as reality. There were no trees, mountains, or rivers, no animals, no people — only nebulous gasses. Someday, so astronomers tell us, the material forms we know will once again become gasses. Considering their amorphous past and future, material forms are clearly not real in any fundamental sense. They exist, yes, but their reality is not what it seems.
In the last analysis, as unreal as are all these forms we see around us, so also are our egos. Spiritual evolution reaches its culmination when our separate vortices of ego in the greater stream of consciousness merge at last into Infinity.
If human consciousness were a substance, with weight, shape, and texture — in other words, if it were the product of a mere coalescence of atoms — then consciousness would certainly be as impermanent as those objects are, and would cease to exist after the body’s dissolution. Matter itself, however, so modern physics tells us, is insubstantial; it is produced by a subtler reality, energy. This being the case, the progression from subtler to grosser suggests that consciousness, which is the subtlest reality of all, cannot be the outgrowth of the grossest: matter. Yogis nowadays find support for their teachings from a growing number of physicists who also endorse this natural progression; physicists state that, as matter is a manifestation of energy, so energy must in its turn be a manifestation of consciousness.
To our limited minds, the definitions of things and the things themselves seem almost interchangeable. In fact, however, definitions only place limits on our understanding. Infinite consciousness is a state of being in which all definitions cease to exist. Indeed, nothing is left to be defined! Self-definitions, too, are dissolved. As the eddy, when a stream absorbs it, continues to exist as flowing water, so the vortex of emotions and self-definitions simply enters the great flow of consciousness. Self-awareness expands to infinity.
If our egos were dissolved (we ask ourselves) and if our little awareness merged into cosmic consciousness, wouldn’t this loss of self-awareness spell the death of all awareness, at least as far as we ourselves were concerned?
How cumbersome are the ways of logic! The answer, of course, is, Yes, the loss of self-awareness does spell the death of awareness as far as we ourselves are concerned. For there remains no “we ourselves” to be concerned! But loss of egoic self-awareness in no way spells for us the loss of awareness itself.
Alfred Lord Tennyson, the great English poet, wrote in his Memoirs: “A kind of waking trance — this for lack of a better word — I have frequently had, quite up from boyhood, when I have been all alone. This has come upon me through repeating my own name to myself silently, till all at once, as it were out of the intensity of the consciousness of individuality, individuality itself seemed to dissolve and fade away into boundless being, and this not a confused state but the clearest, the surest of the surest, utterly beyond words — where death was an almost laughable impossibility — the loss of personality (if so it were) seeming no extinction, but the only true life.” On another occasion he added, “It is no nebulous ecstasy, but a state of transcendent wonder, associated with absolute clearness of mind.”
Great yogis aver that with the complete loss of self-awareness, the seeker’s consciousness merges with the ocean of infinite consciousness; self-consciousness itself becomes infinite. Physical death alone cannot bring us this state, for at death we shed only the physical body, but keep the astral body and, with it, egoic awareness. Only by meditation and self-transcendence in the vastness of superconsciousness can we win final release from the limitations we impose on ourselves by our egos. In cosmic consciousness we discover that our true Self is infinite. This, and this only, is the real meaning of that expression, so much abused nowadays: Self-realization.
One day at Twenty-Nine Palms, while Master was revising his Bhagavad Gita commentaries, he asked Dorothy Taylor to read sections of it to a group of monks who had come from Mt. Washington. During her reading, Miss Taylor came to a passage that described the state of oneness with God. Once the devotee attains this divine state, Master had said, he realizes that the Ocean of Spirit alone is real. God took on the appearance of the little ego and then, after some time, withdrew that wave into Himself again. In effect, the dream-child wakes up in cosmic consciousness to find himself God once more.
However, Master went on to explain, the enlightened being, after attaining that consciousness, never says, “I am God,” for he sees it was the vast Ocean which became his little wave of ego. The wave, in other words, when referring to its little self, would never claim to be the Ocean.
At this juncture Debi, who was present, cried excitedly, “But Sir, if you are one with that Ocean, that means you are God!”
“Why I?” Master asked. “Say ‘He.’ He is God.”
“But still, Sir, you are one with Him, and He is the only reality. That means you, too, are God.”
“But this body isn’t God!”
“You aren’t identified with your body, Sir, so one may still say that you are God.”
“Well, in that case why do you say, ‘You’? You, too, are that! In a discussion of this sort, it is less confusing if we say, ‘He.’”
“But what’s the difference?”
“The scriptures say…” Master began.
“It’s only your humility, Sir,” Debi broke in, “that makes you distinguish between yourself and Him.”
“Well, how can there be humility when there is no consciousness of ego?”
Triumphantly Debi cried, “But if you have no ego left, that means you are God!”
Master laughingly continued the earlier statement, which Debi had interrupted: “The scriptures say, ‘He who knows Brahma becomes Brahma.’”(4)
“There!” cried Debi. “You said it yourself!”
Master rejoined, still laughingly, “I didn’t say it. It’s the scriptures that say so.” Master, that is to say, would not identify those words with the human body that was speaking them. It was in his overarching spirit that he saw himself one with the Infinite. But Debi was unable to make this mental leap from a pure expression of Infinity to Infinity Itself.
“You quoted those scriptures, Sir,” he reminded Master relentlessly. “That means you agree with them!”
Recognizing that the distinction was, perhaps, too subtle to be easily grasped, Master concluded, “Well, he who says he is God, isn’t God. And,” he added with a smile, “he who says he isn’t, isn’t!”
And there the subject rested, amid general laughter.
Liberation from ego does not come with the first glimpses of cosmic consciousness. Present, at first, even in an expanded state of awareness, is the subtle memory: “I, the formless but nevertheless still real John Smith, am enjoying this expanded state of consciousness.” The body is immobile in this trance state; one’s absorption in God, at this point, is called sabikalpa samadhi, or qualified absorption, a condition still subject to change, for on one’s return from this lower samadhi one assumes once again the limitations of ego.
By repeated absorption in the trance state, however, the ego’s hold on all its self-definitions is gradually broken, and finally the realization dawns: “There is no John Smith to go back to. I am Spirit!” This is the supreme state: nirbikalpa samadhi, or unqualified absorption — a condition changeless and eternal. If from this state one returns to body-consciousness, he does so no longer with the consciousness of being separate or different from the ocean of Spirit. John Smith no longer exists: It is the eternal Spirit, now, which animates his body, eats through it, teaches through it, and carries on all the normal functions of a human being. This outward direction of energy on the part of one who has attained nirbikalpa samadhi is sometimes known also as sahaja, or effortless, samadhi.
Divine freedom comes only with the attainment of nirbikalpa samadhi. Until that stage, the ego can still — and alas, sometimes does — draw the mind back down into delusion again. Only with nirbikalpa samadhi does one become what is known as a jivan mukta, free even though living in a physical body.
A jivan mukta, however, unimaginably high though his state is, is not yet fully emancipated. The thought, “I am John Smith,” has been destroyed. He can acquire no new karma, since the post of ego to which his karma was tied has been destroyed forever. There remains even now, however, the memory of all those prior existences: John Smith in thousands, perhaps millions of incarnations — John Smith the onetime bandit, John Smith the disappointed musician, John Smith the betrayed lover, the beggar, the swaggering tyrant. All those old selves must be made over, their karma spiritualized and released into the Infinite.
“Very few saints on earth have achieved final liberation, becoming siddhas, or perfected beings,” Master told me one day.
I marveled. “What about all those great saints in your autobiography, Sir? Are they all dead, leaving none to replace them?”
“Great though many of them certainly were, very few had attained final liberation — only Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya, Sri Yukteswar, and a few others. Many, however, had attained nirbikalpa samadhi, the highest state of consciousness. They were true Christs. Two of Lahiri Mahasaya’s disciples attained full liberation: Swami Pranabananda (‘the saint with two bodies’) and Ram Gopal Muzumdar (‘the sleepless saint’).”
“What about Swami Keshabananda?”(5)
“Keshabananda was too much attached to miracles. Lahiri Mahasaya often scolded him for it.”
“What about your own father, Sir?”
“Oh, no! He was a great soul, but he was still attached to us as his sons.”
“And Therese Neumann?”
“She has attained a high state, but isn’t yet fully liberated.”
“Was Badhuri Mahasaya, ‘the levitating saint,’ liberated?”
“He was a true master, but no, not he either. It is very difficult to reach complete liberation.”
“And Trailanga Swami? I had the impression he was an avatar.”(6)
“No, an avatar comes with a special mission. Trailanga Swami was a jivan mukta — a great master, but not yet fully liberated.”
“What about Mataji, the sister of Babaji. She, surely, is liberated isn’t she? Yet you wrote that she was ‘almost’ as spiritually advanced as her brother.”
“Well then, that means she wasn’t yet fully liberated.” Master paused, then added, “But she must be liberated, by now.”
“Sir, why can’t a master simply dissolve all his karma the moment he attains oneness with God?”
“Well,” Master replied, “in that state you don’t really care whether you come back or not. It is just like a dream to you then. You are eternally awake, merely watching the dream. You may go on for incarnations that way, or you may say, ‘I am free,’ and be free right away. It’s all in the mind. As soon as you say you are free, then you’re free.”
Boone, who was present, had evidently missed the central point that the total freedom of which Master was speaking could be attained only after one had reached the highest samadhi. “But Sir,” he objected, “if I said I was free, I wouldn’t really be free, would I?”
“Oh, yes! That is, you would be if you said it in the consciousness of freedom. But you’ve answered your own question: You’ve said, ‘I wouldn’t be.’ The trouble is, the mind is already poisoned by the very delusions it is trying to dispel; it lacks force.” Master went on to tell a story to illustrate his point.
“A man who was being troubled by a demon searched the scriptures for a way to dispose of the evil entity. Finding the remedy, he recited certain words over a handful of powder, which he then threw onto the demon.
“‘It won’t work!’ the demon laughed. ‘Before you said your incantations over the powder, I got into it myself! How, then, could it affect me?’
“The mind, you see, is like that powder — already infected with the very ‘demon’ of ignorance it is trying to dispel.”
Another time, however, referring to that degree of mental freedom which is a prior condition for even a glimpse of samadhi, Master said, “It is only the thought that we are not free that keeps us from actually being free. Merely to break that thought would suffice to put us into samadhi! Samadhi is not something we have to acquire. We have it already!” Master added, “Dwell always on this thought: Eternally we have been with God. For a short time — for the fleeting breaths of a few incarnations — we are in delusion. Then again we are free in Him forever!”
When the soul attains final liberation, it becomes a siddha (“perfected being”), or param mukta (“supremely free soul”). Even in this state, individuality is not lost, but is retained in the memory of omniscience. The karma of John Smith’s many incarnations has been released into the Infinite, but the memory of all those lifetimes, now spiritualized, remains an eternal reality in divine memory. The soul, however, once it attains this state of supreme liberation, rarely reactivates its remembered individuality, and never does so except at the command of the Divine Will.(7) When such a supremely free soul returns to this world, it comes only for the sake of humanity. Such an incarnation is called an avatar, or “divine incarnation.”
Such, Master told us, was Babaji, the first of our direct line of gurus. Such also were Lahiri Mahasaya — yogavatar, Master called him, or “incarnation of yoga”—and Swami Sri Yukteswar, whom Master identified as India’s present-day gyanavatar, or “incarnation of wisdom.”
“Sir,” I asked Master one day at his desert retreat, “are you an avatar?”
With quiet simplicity he replied, “A work of this importance would have to have been started by such a one.”
An avatar, he told us, descends to worldly birth with a divine mission, often for the general upliftment of mankind as well as the particular salvation of a few disciples. The siddha’s effort, by contrast, has necessarily been to unite his own consciousness perfectly with God’s. God does not work through siddhas in the same way that He works through avatars. To avatars He gives the power to bring vast numbers of souls to freedom in God. Siddhas are given power only to liberate themselves and a few others.
“Master,” I said once, “if Yogi Ramiah was fully liberated, did he, like his well-known guru, Ramana Maharshi, have disciples?”
“Oh, yes,” Master answered. “He must have had. You must free others before you can become completely free yourself.”
When I met this yogi in 1960, and observed how very few disciples he had, I asked him why many more hadn’t come to absorb his divine wisdom. His reply was simple: “God has done what He wants to do with this body.”
The lowest number that each soul must free before it can itself be raised to the state of param mukta is, I believe Master said, six.
Paramhansa Yogananda indicated that he had been sent into the world at a time of extraordinary spiritual need on earth. Debi once told me of a young Hindu friend of his who had come for a year of study in America and who, on his way over by ship, had had a vision of Master. The young man had never heard of Yogananda before. Several months later, Debi brought him to a Sunday service at Hollywood Church. When his friend saw Master, who was lecturing that day, he recognized him immediately as the saint of his vision.
“Sir,” Debi inquired later, “my friend has his own guru in India. Why was he granted that vision of you?”
“Because,” Master replied, “this work is a special dispensation of God.”
An avatar, unlike most saints who are still engaged in winning their own final freedom from the coils of maya, may appear engagingly human and life-affirming. In his humanity, however, he offers mankind new insights into what it really means, in a spiritual sense, to be a human being. People commonly equate their humanity with weakness, not with strength. “I’m only human,” is a common excuse for failure. People don’t see that their humanity gives them the best possible reason for success! In the presence of a master, the term “human failing” translates itself to mean “the failure to be fully human.”
A great woman saint in Kashmir, who lived several centuries ago, had the practice, unusual especially for a woman, of wearing no clothes. “Why don’t you wear at least something?” demanded her scandalized countrymen. “Why should I?” she replied. “I don’t see any men around.” One day she learned that another saint, a man, was coming to see her. Hastily she sought clothes to don, for, at last now, a fully Self-realized human being, a true man, was coming to visit.
Though every great master is fully qualified to say with Jesus, “I and my Father are one,” many descend occasionally from that absolute state, as Jesus did also, to enjoy a loving “I-and-Thou” relationship with the Lord. The Indian scriptures state that God created the universe “in order that He might enjoy Himself through many.” The vast majority of His creatures, alas, have lost conscious touch with the infinite joy of their own being; can God, one asks, really enjoy Himself through their suffering? The saints alone, in their joyous romance with the Lord, fulfill this deep and abiding purpose of Creation by letting Him express His joy through their lives. The ending of every life’s journey is supernal bliss.
Avatars and other masters often go through years of sadhana (“spiritual practice”) during their youth, to set an example for others. If they didn’t, their disciples might claim that meditation and self-effort are not necessary for God-attainment, or perhaps simply that such practices are not “their path.”
“If you want God,” Master used to say, “go after Him. It takes great determination and steadfast, deep effort. And remember, the minutes are more important than the years.”
A great aid on the path, however, is the constant thought, “I am free already!”
“Memorize my poem ‘Samadhi,’” he once told us. “Repeat it daily. Visualize yourselves in that infinite state; identify yourselves with it. For that alone is what you really are!”
Vasudev: Krishna. In this context the reference is to God, the Supreme Spirit. (Bhagavad Gita VII:19)
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An emblem sacred to God in the aspect of Shiva, Destroyer of delusion. The Shiva Linga, usually considered an abstract representation of the male phallus, is never literally thought of that way by devout Hindus. Western scholars have erred in claiming that the Linga symbolizes male sexuality, and that its worship signifies the worship of sex. In fact, Shiva, in classical mythology, is depicted as the Supreme Renunciate. To Hindus, the Linga represents, rather, the universal masculine principle, which in human nature manifests through such qualities as strength, determination, and wisdom — as distinct from their feminine counterparts: tenderness, adaptability, and love.
On a more esoteric level, the Linga represents also the human spine, through which the life force (prana) must flow upward to the brain for the yogi to achieve the state of divine union. The Shiva Linga, in fact, depicts in stone a state of expanding awareness that occurs as, in meditation, the life force begins to withdraw from the senses into the spine.
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“Divine Guru,” a customary appellation of love and respect for his guru on the part of the disciple.
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An advanced disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya mentioned in Autobiography of a Yogi.
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A “divine incarnation.” The term is used to describe one who came into this birth already completely emancipated from all past karma.
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God never forces anyone to return. The Divine Will, in this case, operates through what Master described as the soul’s “desireless desire” to bring liberation to others.
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