This Book is written by Arthur Osborne.
It was about 6 o’clock one June morning in 1956 that the first awakening to Reality occurred. I was alone in the room when I awoke and sat up in bed. My wife and Frania were sleeping in the next room, and Catherine had already married and left us. I just was — my Self, the beginningless, immutable Self. I had thought ‘nothing is changed’. In theory I already understood that it is not anything new; what is eternal cannot be new, what is new cannot be eternal. The only description is what Bhagavan has given: “It is as it is.” Only now I experienced it. There was no excitement, no joy or ecstasy, just an immeasurable contentment, the natural state, the wholeness of simple being. There was the thought: “It is impossible ever to be bored”. The mind seemed like a dark screen that had shut out true consciousness and was now rolled up and pushed away.
Of course, it is a paradox to speak of the mind being rolled up and at the same time of thoughts coming. Similarly, the mind of the realized man, such as Bhagavan, is said to be dead, but he has thoughts. It seems quite natural when it happens. Perhaps the best explanation would be that the mind as an active centre originating ideas, imagination, plans, worries, hopes and fears ceases to function, but the mind as a mirror condensing pure awareness into thoughts still works.
The thought or feeling that it is impossible ever to be bored may seem banal at such a time, but actually it was fundamental. It is the mind that craves activity and feels bored when it does not get it; the Self is untouched by activity and abides in its pristine state of simple happiness.
From my window at the corner of Park Street I saw the roofs of houses with crows wheeling between them. Again there was a paradox, the feeling that all this was at the same time both real and unreal. This is a paradox that has been much commented on, because it is stressed in Zen teachings. It is what Tennyson was trying to express in a line of ‘The Princess’ where he says:
“And all things were and were not.”
I do not know how long the experience lasted. In any case, while it lasted it was timeless and therefore eternal. Imperceptibly the mind closed over again, but less opaque, for a radiant happiness continued. I had my bath and shaved and dressed and then went into the sitting room, where I sat down and held the newspaper up in front of me as though I was reading it, so that no one would see the radiance. I was too vibrant with happiness really to read. The afterglow continued for several weeks, only gradually fading out. Why did I want to hide the radiance? Why did I not shout and dance with joy? I suppose because I have a dour Capricornian temperament beneath the surface exuberance of Sagittarius and am shy of exhibiting any feeling.
At about the same time my wife also had a glimpse of Realization. It was a great help and support to be together on the path and often our experiences tallied. Frania also had such a glimpse some eighteen months later. The birth anniversary of Bhagavan falls in late December or early January, varying with the phase of the moon. On this occasion a Tamil devotee living in Calcutta invited us to a celebration on the terraced roof of his house. There must have been about a hundred people gathered there. The previous day there had been a meeting in a public building and speeches had been made, but this evening there was only the singing of religious songs. I could see from the beauty and serenity of Frania’s face that she was enjoying exceptionally good meditation; later I learned that it was even more than that. What she described was transparently genuine; and indeed, so little theory did she know that she would have been incapable of expressing it had it not happened.
Afterwards she wrote it down. “I am not the mind nor the body — found myself in the heart; the me that lives after death. There was breath-taking joy in the feeling ‘I am’, the greatest possible joy, the full enjoyment of existence. No way to describe it — the difference between this joy and complete happiness of the mind is greater than between the blackest misery and the fullest elation of the mind. Gradually — rapidly — my body seemed to be expanding from the heart. It engulfed the whole universe. It didn’t feel any more. The only real thing was God (Bhagavan, Arunachala). I couldn’t identify myself as any speck in that vastness — nor other people — there was only God, nothing but God. The word ‘I’ had no meaning any more; it meant the whole universe — everything is God, the only reality.”
As this revelation of truth to one so young both in years and in meditation illustrates, a glimpse of Self-realization is not necessarily a token of progress made on the path, at any rate in this lifetime. If it seems bathos to assert that glimpses of the supreme state can occur to people who have no understanding of it and have never sought for it, the answer is that the supreme state is also the natural state, the true state of every man and woman born, if only they knew it; and therefore the wonder is not that it should be occasionally glimpsed but that it should be so widely ignored, that most people should be content, or only vaguely discontent, to go through life circumscribed by the evidence of the physical senses and the rational mind, believing that to be all there is, blind to Reality, blind to their own Self.
There are three possibilities. The first is the occurrence of glimpses of Self-realization to people who have no theoretical knowledge of what it means, that is of the Supreme Identity, who follow no spiritual path, and indeed do not even know that any path or goal exists. Tennyson, to whom I have already referred, was an example of this. He has described it vividly in a private letter: “¼ a kind of waking trance I have frequently had, right up from boyhood, when I have been all alone. This has generally come upon me through repeating my own name two or three times to myself, silently, till all at once, as it were out of the intensity of consciousness of individuality, the individuality itself seemed to dissolve and fade away into boundless being: and this is not a confused state, but the clearest of the clear, the surest of the sure, the weirdest of the weird, 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 life¼ I am ashamed of my feeble description. Have I not said the state is utterly beyond words?”
Actually, the term ‘waking trance’ is unfortunate because there is nothing trance-like about it. On the contrary it is “the clearest of the clear, the surest of the sure”, a realization of pure, indubitable Reality, of one’s own true state. Anthologies of such experiences have been published, and those who wish to can refer to them. It will seem, however, on studying them, that by no means all are glimpses of actual Self- realization. More common are experiences that may be termed intermediate, that is, of Divine Grace or of the supernal wonder of God’s creation when seen aright. There is a vast range of such experiences accessible to mystics and to wayfarers on the various paths. However, the traveller on the direct path does not seek them; he seeks only the Self that has the experiences.
The second possibility that I have in mind is the occurrence of a glimpse of Self-realization as an introduction to the path or an encouragement to set forth upon it, as happened with Frania. This also may occur to some one with no previous knowledge, so that the difference from the first possibility mentioned is rather dynamic or functional than static, rather in the effect of the experience than in the experience itself. The Following Feet by Ancilla (Longmans) is an account of a life shaped henceforth by such an experience.
The experience itself is admirably described:
“It was as if I had moved, in my mind, away from the central place, as if I had always sat on a throne in mid- consciousness, administrating my affairs, and had stepped down. It was positive, and I cannot, by taking thought, repeat. It had the stillness of humility shining with surprised joy. . .
“Then, precisely as if that moving off the centre of my own consciousness had set some machinery going, it happened. How can I explain? I can only use negatives.
“I saw nothing, not even light.
“I heard nothing, no voice, no music, nothing.
“Nothing touched me. Nor was I conscious of any Being, visible or invisible.
“But suddenly, simply, silently, I was not there. And I was there. It lasted for a moment, yet it was eternal, since there was no time.
“And I knew, as certainly as I know I am trying to write it down, as certainly as I know that I live and eat and walk and sleep, that this world, this universe, is precisely as we see it, hear it, know it, and is at the same time completely different. It is as we see it because we are of it; it is also and at the same time wholly other. . .
“But it was not an inkling, it was complete. Yet I do not know in what ways the earth appeared different. It was not different materially. It still had form, and colour, even good and evil, and animals and people, but it was conceived differently, as a whole, perhaps, as a spiritual entity. And it filled me with awe and grave joy and certainty, since I knew for always that it was and no other and that all was well; that it was the answer to all questions. I had no vision of God, or of any person, no vision of Christ, or of any spiritual being. Yet it was all that is, and there was no God, and equally no not-God. It was whole and of the spirit. No words can make it clear. All I can say is that the wholeness seemed akin to that part of me that I should call spirit, as if my spirit were part of it and could not be separated from it.
“How long the experience lasted I have no idea, but I think it was momentary. When it ceased I felt as though I had expended a great deal of time, and that, equally, there was no time in that moment. That timelessness was the clearest impression.” (pp. 20-21).
It is noteworthy that, as an after-effect of this experience, she felt precisely as I had when first reading Guenon: “So now I know, and it is all true, and I have always known it.” This feeling that one has always known it but did not know that one knew is an important symptom, showing that, even at the very beginning of the path, there is nothing new; the truth is not discovered but recognized.
In a case like this, what I said in an earlier chapter about the alternate manifestation of higher and lower tendencies is apt to apply with peculiar force. The introduction to the path, being so resplendent, is apt to call out all that is best in the person, making him radiant with a new beauty, but, since equipoise is a natural phenomenon, this may be followed by a correspondingly extreme upsurge of his lower tendencies, causing a period of great stress in himself and of distress to those connected with him, before a temporary equilibrium is reached and battle joined between the two forces in him.
The third possibility is that of the seeker in quest of Realization. It was in speaking of this that Bhagavan warned his followers not to expect Self-realization immediately to become permanent, explaining that time and effort are needed to stabilize it and to dissolve the vasanas or lower tendencies which drag one back from it even when momentary glimpses appear.
If it seems unjust to the wayfarer that others should receive in apparently unearned largesse that for which he has striven so long without avail, this also is an opportunity for Self-enquiry — who is it that strives unavailingly? Who am I? Despondency itself is an error and therefore an impediment to realization, as I have explained in chapter eight, since it means accepting as real the existence of the unreal, that is, of the apparently unsuccessful ego.
Even looked at from a lower, individual plane, there is no injustice, since no experience of realization can come to one who is not ripe for it, whether the ripeness has been attained in this lifetime or a previous one. When the sun rises, not all buds burst into flower but only those who are ready for flowering. It is no use accusing the sun of injustice. All that one has to concern oneself with is becoming fit and ready. In this, no less than in worldly matters, the injunction of the Gita is to be observed: to concern oneself with performing the right action, not with grasping at the reward of the action. Irrespective of visible results, this lifetime should be used for spiritual development, for ripening towards realization of that Ultimate Identity which eternally is, whether realized or not. Indeed, the only real tragedy is a lifetime wasted on meaningless living, not turned to spiritual effort.
A glimpse of Self-realization can be regarded as a breach in the prison-walls of the ego. Its occurrence does not rest with the aspirant; what rests with him is the steady work of erosion, wearing the walls away, until at last they become paper-thin and ready to collapse.
The mind must be completely saturated by understanding of non-duality — that there is only the One Self. It is not enough to hold this as a theory.
Even this mental permeation, however, is only a preliminary, preparing one for the constant practise of Self- enquiry, which will gradually set up the current of awareness. Even though the Sun of Truth has not yet risen, the state of such a man is very different from one who stumbles blindly through the dream of life, taking its appearances for reality, different even from one who awakens occasionally to glimpses of a Reality he does not understand; it is a fuller, more vital, more blessed state, where life, the whole of life, has beauty and significance, and yet, paradoxically, the deprivation of life would be no tragedy, since it is spiritual awareness, not physical life that is the reality. Indeed, that is why the question that any
religion teaches about the after-life is relatively unimportant and can interest only philosophers and theologians. Judaism and the original Taoism say nothing on the subject, while Buddha refused to answer questions about it; and therefore scholars gravely argue whether they believed in survival or not. From a spiritual viewpoint, death is not important. “There is no existence of the unreal and no non-existence of the Real”, either before death or after. If the ego does not exist now, it does not exist after death either; if an illusory ego seems to exist now it will seem to exist after death also. The thing to do is to strive to awaken to reality now, in this lifetime, and then, as Bhagavan said, death can make no difference; no further change is possible.