This Book is written by Arthur Osborne.
Of course, the book was not ended, because the quest still continued. Progress was still in waves. They were more
visible now and followed one another more closely, while the troughs between them were shorter and less deep and gloomy. Nevertheless, any trough at all had become intolerable. Even a day or a part of a day deprived of the current of awareness was like being thrust down into an underground cell with no sunlight or fresh air, no freedom of movement. The time had come when the very concept of any other mode of life was unthinkable.
After about three years a series of great waves started, each one beginning at the crest and gradually subsiding into a level stretch, when it was necessary to cling to it tenaciously till the next wave arose. Each constituted a new mode of approach, one might almost say a new revelation, not to be lost in the end but rather absorbed as another strand in the totality of meditation. Such stages are not merely successive but can be progressive also.
The account that follows was written piece by piece, like a diary, and therefore the perspective changes to some extent as the path ascends higher up the mountainside.
First came a wave of concentration on pure being. Bhagavan had said that what is necessary is not to be conscious of being a man or woman or a father or son or a businessman or office-goer, but simply to BE; and now, like floodgates opened over arid land, it was suddenly easy. It happened naturally, without effort. How can there be effort to be oneself? One cannot do other than slipping off unobserved into thought or bringing up some urgent problem which would not be in the least urgent if one had a visitor to talk to or a book to read, or simply feeling sleepy. The only way is to persevere.
With persistence the mind can be both strengthened and disciplined in this way and its intuitive powers developed.
This practise of self-awareness is close to the Buddhist practise of mindfulness. Whatever you are doing, be mindful of doing it. When you shave, shave: don’t speculate what letters will come with the morning post. When you eat, eat; don’t read the paper or chatter while doing so.
These two exercises are not alternatives to Self-enquiry but can supplement it. If Self-enquiry is a concentrated effort when you are alone, morning and evening, these can be practised unobserved at any time.
To return to my story: some weeks later, when the power of this meditation had waned, I woke up slowly one morning; to be more precise, consciousness returned without being focused at once on the ‘I’-thought. The dream-sequence just left behind was seen on one side and the waking sequence soon to come on the other.
One cannot be other than oneself. Only one’s restless thoughts entangle being in a cocoon of multiform anxiety. Now, quite suddenly, but with gradually diminishing force and clarity over the ensuing weeks, it was possible to feel the simple being, the simple I-am-ness. There was no need to sit in a fixed posture for it; it could be evoked, or came spontaneously without evocation, at any time, while sitting, walking, even talking, while getting breakfast in the morning or tea in the afternoon (because I took over these lighter chores). My day began with meditation from five to six in the morning, and then I got up, had my bath, pottered about the garden till seven and then got breakfast. From eight till nearly nine I sat in meditation at the ashram during the chanting of the Vedas, then waited there for the post, which came between nine and half past.
As explained in chapter ten, man has three states or functions — action, thought and being; and of these being is obviously the essential, since he cannot act or think unless he first is, whereas he always is whether he thinks and acts or not — for instance, in deep sleep. And yet thought and action so cover over being that he is usually unaware of it.
Let me add here, in parenthesis, that awareness of being is a very useful spiritual exercise that can be practised daily. Sitting in your armchair or on a bus seat, or standing in a queue, just be aware of yourself. There is no need to close your eyes, because the environment also can be noticed, no need for strain or tension; indeed, it is an exercise rather in relaxation than concentration. There is only one condition: that the mind should not be allowed to wander away from this awareness into any train of thought. For instance, you can see the clock on the shelf and hear it ticking, but not think that you paid too much for it or wonder whether Aunt Jane will like it or whether you forgot to wind it up. If some more definite focus for the attention is needed, the most suitable is your own breathing; not trying to regulate it or force it into any pattern, just watching it.
Simple as this exercise is, it may not be easy at first, because the mind is as restless as a monkey and resists quiet in every way it can, like floating on the surface of consciousness without affecting it. Bhagavan had said that the state to be aimed at is a sort of waking sleep; also that it can be experienced at the moment between waking and sleeping. I prolonged the state as long as possible. During the weeks that followed, this formed my mode of meditation: particularly, of course, while waking from sleep (while falling asleep I found it more difficult) but also throughout the day — retiring into impersonal consciousness, seeing the flow of events drift past on its surface. Paradoxically, this state of ‘sleep’ is also the true waking state — ‘sleep’ because untroubled by differentiation (although in consciousness, not, like physical sleep, in darkness); ‘waking’ because truly aware, despite the twofold veil of illusion, that of dreams of night and that of apparent waking world by day.
Some weeks later, this meditation also had lost its vigour and one morning, soon after waking, an old vasana asserted itself. It is said that the last to go is the sexual urge. Angry and disappointed at this resurgence of a vasana, I turned to Self- enquiry: “There can’t be a vasana unless there is some one to
have it. Who is it that has this vasana? Who am I?”
This time, however, the use of Self-enquiry as a weapon proved unnecessary. When at 8 o’clock that morning I sat down as usual before the tomb of Bhagavan at the ashram to meditate during the chanting of the Vedas, the thought came: “Why occupy your mind with physical union when you can turn it to the universal spiritual union?” Therewith a flood of Grace swept over me, setting up a meditation on all things going out from the One, as a man’s breath spreads out when he exhales in frosty air, and at the same time yearning back towards unity in the One.
Thought? Meditation? What word can one find to describe an inner certitude which is not clearly defined like a theory and which is so far from being merely mental that it carries with it a wave of joy and a tingling of the body reaching to the very toes and fingertips? Not ‘realization’, because it seems best to reserve that for the supreme state of realized unity. When modern philosophers pride themselves on having progressed beyond the saints and philosophers of earlier times who put faith above reason, they are misunderstanding the meaning of the word ‘faith’. They regard it as simply believing something is true because one has been told so, whereas, at least in some cases, it must be referring to an inner certitude such as I am trying to describe, which really is beyond reason.
Even as this meditation started I appreciated, despite its magnificence, that it was on a lower level than Self-enquiry or the two previous approaches, since it presumed the existence of ‘all this’. Nevertheless, I told myself, it was useful because it supplied the element of prem (love) and ananda (bliss), which had hitherto been rather lacking in my sadhana. Also it served the immediate purpose of dissolving the sexual urge. Just as, at an earlier stage of sadhana, the desire to smoke had vanished as soon as the true substitute for it appeared, so now with this.
If any one should ask why this meditation on unity should be presumed ‘right’ and dwelling on physical union ‘wrong’, the answer is simple: on the spiritual path whatever hardens and exaggerates the illusion of a separate individual being is harmful, whatever weakens or dissolves it is beneficial.
The second great command of Judaeism and Christianity — to love your neighbour as yourself — is a corollary of the first — to love God wholeheartedly; because it is only when you yearn towards the One and see all beings equally as emanations from or manifestations of the One that equal love flows out to them.
There is tremendous wealth and power in the meditation on unity. All the events of your life, and those still to be enacted, all the people you have known, yourself among them, all the epochs of history, the eons of the geologist, the inscrutable worlds of the astronomer, all expanding from the focal point within you. And all this is no dull, earthy union but an incandescent white flame. Powers and experiences could probably be achieved this way; to one in whose nature it was they might come unsought. It is better to avoid them.
This continued to be my sadhana for some weeks, and then towards morning one night I repeatedly woke or half woke from sleep, reminding myself that I must pull my mind away from the current of dreams it was pursuing and fix it in meditation. On finally awakening, I saw that the same applied to the daytime sequence of events also. All this, including thinking about it, writing about it, trying to awake from it, is a current of dreams. One has to renounce it and fix the mind in meditation. This now became my mode of approach.
It is a wonderful weapon against distracting thoughts and against any regret or desire — not wanting to change the course of the dream but simply to wake up from it.
The Self which I am is dreaming me — the individual me — and all this world, as well as other individuals and their worlds. (That is the meaning of the story of Krishna embracing at the same time every one of his 16,000 wives, each in her own room of the palace.) Therefore what has to be done is to submit, take life as it comes, let things happen, while at the same time striving to wake up from it all. As long as it is taken to be real, the dream cannot be recognized as one and therefore there is no awakening.
In fact the one thing necessary is to eliminate by any and every means the sense of being an individual entity. Gradually over the course of two days the attempt to wake up changed this. There is consciousness but not a me who is conscious; there is action but no one who acts.
The mind is like a mill grinding the thoughts that we constantly feed into it in an unbroken though ever-changing flow, like the stream-of-consciousness type of novel that James Joyce originated. It doesn’t care whether grave or trivial so long as it is kept constantly supplied. And at night, in dreams, it chews over the cud of what was supplied to it by day. Nearly all this activity is wasted energy. It prevents concentration and does not really clarify one’s mind. And all of it is based on the very assumption one is trying to destroy, of an individual being who decides and acts. So I began instead to suspend thought, refusing to feed anything into the mill, retaining only pure consciousness — and, of course, observation of things happening. The mind was allowed to deal with anything requiring thought as and when it arose, but not to prefigure it before it arose or re-enact it after it was finished. I was surprised how simple and what a relief this was and wondered why I had not started doing it systematically long before; and then it occurred to me that without a good deal of previous meditation it would not have been feasible. Until it has been brought well under control the mind abhors a vacuum. Even now this practise proved far from easy once the surge of Grace that always accompanied a new approach had passed. On the other hand, it began to occur spontaneously without effort.
And the result? Not boredom, as some might suppose. Boredom is in the mind, in fact is the mind’s defence against anything approaching a vacuum. Rather there was an immense euphoria. Not any sort of vision or experience, for that would imply the duality of knower and known, or, more correctly, the triplicity of seer, sight and seen, whereas pure consciousness is the unity beyond this. The flow of idle, ceaseless thoughts is as much a hindrance to meditation as are attachments; in this way it is stilled.
The mind by nature is feminine, that is, passive and receptive; instead it makes itself masculine, imagining itself to be originating and creating. In doing so it postulates a fictitious ego. It becomes so busy and so persistently turned out towards its imaginary creations that it makes itself oblivious to the higher perceptions it should receive. The task is to turn it right again, from creating a mirage, to receiving impressions of reality.
It is very hard for the mind to understand that it has to do nothing to attain Realization; in fact it is itself the hindrance and has only to stop interfering. That is why Bhagavan said that you have only to disrealize unreality and Reality will be realized. It is the mind that creates the unreality. The Quran repeatedly enjoins not to make mischief in the land, and the Tao Te Ching says that the less the emperor governs, the happier and more prosperous the people are. The meaning is the same: the mind is the emperor or the mischief-maker; it has only to keep quiet and one’s nature, the empire, will develop in all its pristine purity.
The purpose of meditation is to steady the mind and prevent it jumping and chattering like a monkey by holding it to one thought. If you suspend its activity without the one thought that is still better. If it becomes too restive the best way of controlling it is either by an act of Self-enquiry, turning steadily to see whether it really exists or not, and what it is that exists, or by an act of faith and submission, resigning yourself to keep still and let the Unknown take charge. That is what Christ meant by laying down one’s life for His sake. He who lays down his conscious mind for Christ’s sake, for the Spirit, the Unknown, will find it; but also he who clings to it, seeking to preserve it, will lose it.
This approach continued for over eight weeks and was then replaced by humdrum, pedestrian, but very necessary technique introduced not by a new surge of Grace, as previous ones had been, but by a dream.
I dreamed that Bhagavan came to the house for me, but as I was leaving with him I saw a low fire burning on the drive outside and understood that I must first put it out for fear that the strong wind that was blowing might carry sparks to the house and start a conflagration. The fire, of course, was the ego, made up of vasanas — desires, interests, attachments. The dream might be called satisfactory insofar as it was only embers, not a blaze, and not in the house but outside; however I felt it dismal that there should still be a fire to put out at all.
Thereupon I started a straight fight with vasanas, or, I hoped, a mopping-up operation — hunting them out of their hide-outs and setting on them — any desires or attractions, any thoughts, however slight, of what would happen (since the future exists as definitely as the past), any dwelling on books I had read — a state of constant vigilance. The heathen were weak and scattered when the Israelites conquered the Holy Land, but they should have been exterminated; because they were not they grew strong and became a menace later — an excellent allegory of the remaining vasanas; they were the embers which might spark a fire.
This was in November 1961. The previous winter I had suffered from a severe bronchial infection leading to suffusion of the lungs and suffocating attacks, and for a while recovery was considered doubtful. It was cured through my wife’s homoeopathic treatment but there was continued shortness of breath and liability to a relapse. At this time a relapse did occur — perhaps due to my carelessness in continuing to sleep with open windows once the cool night winds had set in. Anyway, giving no thought to the outcome was a good opportunity for the attack on vasanas.
From renunciation of vasanas to abnegation of the ego that has them. Then what remains? Only the experience of being, with the mind as a servant registering impressions, not an independent being reliving the past or anticipating the future. But it required continuous effort and alertness to retain this state. Particularly was this so now, because there was no new surging of Grace, while the vitality was lowered by sickness and the whole day was free for the task — no books came for review, no work of any kind, and I was not well enough to lend a hand in the house or garden. For three days old vasanas rose up again, such as I had believed long dead — even regret for my youthful folly and for the loss of an Oxford career.
The next day I was able to go to the ashram again for the first time since my illness. Entering the old hall, where I had sat so often before Bhagavan, I sat down in the same place before his couch, on which his full length portrait now rested, and waited for an answer, puzzled and dejected by this new counter- attack but determined not to give in to it. The thought arose in my mind as an answer: “This is like the assault of the old vasanas upon Buddha during his night of vigil under the bodhi-tree before his final Awakening.”
With some clear understanding of the meaning I felt better. Physically my cough was clearing out old deposits from the lungs; spiritually old vasanas were being cleared out from the mind.
I found that it was equally possible to maintain impersonal awareness or to let the mind display its magic box of tricks. There was attraction both ways, but it was possible to choose awareness and hold it.
No new approach came. None was needed now that simple being, impersonal awareness, was possible. It became a straight fight with thoughts. Some, the powerful, emotion-laden ones, would crash through the hedge and have to be met head-on and driven back; others, more subtle, would wriggle in like serpents and get a grip before they could be observed. It was a ding-dong battle. Day and night it went on. At night the defences are weakened, and I would wake up and catch the mind rambling through a useless sequence of dreams — there is the clear, vivid, symbolical dream that can be a useful indicator of one’s state, but there is also the endless, worthless, confused dream sequence which merely picturises the daytime thoughts and impulses. It was this that I was at war with. I would wake up and pull the mind back to quiet. It might be necessary to sit up in meditation for awhile to clear out the rubbish. With effort, control was established and the dream rambling stopped. By daytime also the revolt of the vasanas died down.
Sat-Chit-Ananda the true state is called — Being-Consciousness- Bliss. Ultimately they fuse into One; in fact they are three aspects of the same. There was already the experience of being and the impersonal awareness, but not the bliss which should draw the mind of its own volition to this state and make it abide there effortlessly, over-riding any counter-attraction that might seek to draw it outwards.
There are cases, on a devotional and ecstatic path, where the aspect of bliss develops first. Despite the intense joy, this is more dangerous and less satisfactory. The times of joy are interspersed with periods of black misery when the Face of the Beloved is veiled; moreover the violent alternation and passionate longing may induce irrational behaviour or even over-balance the mind. Therefore, for instance, it is a dictum of the Sufi masters that the path of sobriety is preferable to that of inebriation. Even so powerful a master as Ramakrishna was thought mad when he first became immersed in ecstasy.
At this stage I had a sudden impulse to be afraid and draw back. This is a temptation which must be unhesitatingly cast aside or it may vitiate a lifetime’s striving. It is as though a man were to toil through dense forest and craggy mountain, in hardship and frequent danger, seeking the heavenly city, and then, when its outer ramparts at last loom up, separated from him only by a narrow chasm, were to turn aside, fearing to jump. Henceforth he sits listlessly by the wayside or wanders without aim, unable to return to the state of spiritual ignorance from which he started but without initiative to press forward. There are many such derelicts.
There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea we are now afloat;
And we must take the current when it serves, Or lose our venture.
— Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, act 4, scene 3
However, it should be added that this depressing prospect (like I said twice before in this book about the many who are called but not chosen) is depressing only from the narrow viewpoint of this lifetime. Actually, a man’s whole course or life-sequence is a journey leading through however many twists and turns, ravines and bare hillsides, marshy jungles and thirsty plains, to the goal of supreme bliss that is his true nature. It is a pilgrimage lasting many days, each day being one lifetime. A whole day may be wasted; a man may scramble down the hillside after gleaming berries that turn out sour or poisonous when plucked, or he may play around and reach no shelter by nightfall. But the path remains, ineluctable. He has only made the next day’s journey more arduous.
The discovery that life is a pilgrimage, that it has a goal and therefore a meaning, is an immense blessing, but it does not necessarily mean that the goal will be attained in this lifetime. The number of days still required would depend partly on the distance from the goal, partly on the energy with which the pilgrim presses forward. Such advance as he does make is not wasted, even though he grows tired and relaxes his efforts before the end of the day. He will wake up so much further forward for the next day’s journey. This is expressly guaranteed in the Bhagavad Gita: “He who fell from yoga is born (again) in a pure and fortunate house. Or he even comes into a family of wise yogis, though a birth such as this is very hard to obtain in this world. There he obtains the buddhic attainments of his previous incarnations, and thence he again strives for full accomplishment” (Ch. 6, v. 40-43, trans. Ernest Wood).
But what of the objections of Christian and Muslim readers who say they do not believe in reincarnation but in an afterlife of heaven or hell? ‘Believe in’ is such an unsatisfactory term; it is better to understand. There is indeed an afterlife of heaven or hell, on the relative plane, as Buddhism and Hinduism also teach. All this is as real as you are to yourself, Bhagavan said in reply to a question. This is the state in which the soul reaps the good or evil karma which it has laid up for itself in the life on earth. But after this has been exhausted it comes back to continue its course, to make new karma, good or bad, in a new life, starting at the level to which it had arisen or sunk in its previous life.
For one who has intuitively understood the ultimate truth of Oneness it is not a matter of belief or even argument; it follows naturally that the ultimate and eternal state cannot be a state of multiplicity and diversity. ‘In the beginning there was God alone.’ On that they agree. That is the eternal reality. Apart from that, whatever is called into being had a beginning and is therefore not eternal. Whatever had a beginning must have an end, be it heaven, earth or hell. It is that end, attained consciously and therefore in pure Beatitude, which is the goal towards which the pilgrim strives. If any say that they do not want to attain it because it means giving up their individuality, they have Christ’s blunt reply; that he who clings to his life will lose it. And in any case, what they are clinging to is an illusion, and an illusion is not eternal. Sooner or later, if not in this lifetime, they will understand. But they may create much suffering for themselves on the way. Modern Christian writers have argued a lot from an anthropomorphic level about what they call ‘the question of suffering’. It is indeed unanswerable from this level, where a venerable old man called God is supposed to send his children out on to earth for a few years, for no apparent purpose, and then call them back and reward or punish them endlessly, century after century, millennium after millennium, aeon after aeon, through and beyond all recordable time, for the way they behaved there. At least, one would say, he might let them be happy during their brief moment of fate-creating life. But from a higher viewpoint the question fades out and ceases to exist. Since life has a purpose, the attainment of the supreme goal, the measuring rod is not the amount of enjoyment obtained or of pain avoided but the distance travelled towards the goal or away from it, that is to say the development of favourable or unfavourable latent qualities, leaving man in a better or worse state than before. The real gauge of success or failure in life is the state in which a man is when his time comes to leave it. Obviously, going against the purpose of life, which means against one’s own true nature, causes suffering. Following it removes suffering. One does not find the saints in any religion complaining of suffering; in fact their most obvious common characteristic is happiness and contentment, even though afflicted by sickness or poverty or other apparent ills. Nor is the egoist truly happy, though his circumstances may appear fortunate. The four basic truths on which Buddhism is based go straight to the heart of the matter. There is suffering (the state of spiritual ignorance). There is a cause for suffering (clinging to ephemeral and apparent reality and ignoring the purpose of life). There is relief from suffering (by relinquishing the unreal and turning to the Real). And there is a way to attain this relief (the Quest).
One last explanation to remove another barrier that theorists unnecessarily raise up against one another. How does this doctrine of a path trod over many lifetimes accord with the Buddhist doctrine of anatta, that there is no ego to experience heaven or hell or to be reborn or tread the path? Hindu teachers say the same. When Bhagavan was asked about rebirth he would be quite likely to answer: “First find out whether you are born now.” The whole point of Self-enquiry is to break through the apparent reality of the ego to its true unreality. ‘There is no existence of the unreal and no non-existence of the Real.’ Therefore the realized man does not go to heaven at death and is reborn on earth; he just is. However, for one who has not realized the Self an illusory ego appears to exist in this life and therefore appears to survive it and follow stage after stage of the path. It may be good to remember in theory that this is only an appearance, but what is needed is to realize it.
And now to return to my story. In order to safeguard against any traces of hesitance, I began to practise dying — that is being in readiness to lay down life or the mind completely. There must be no stipulation that perception of a body and world should be restored again after dying, because that would be bargaining, not surrender. If they are restored, all right; if not, all right. You are not ready to wake up from a dream if you stipulate that you should still watch its course, like a cinema, after waking; if you do, all right; if it vanishes into wakefulness, all right.
Also the readiness to die must not be because life is sour or oppressive or futile. That — the suicide’s attitude — carries with it the obverse, that if conditions were changed and made attractive you would cling to life. That is not surrender but rebellious rejection of the terms of life offered to you.
I had the feeling: “I am ready to give up my life but it is not accepted. What am I to do now?” The whole day it continued, and so poignant that the thought kept coming: “This is a theme for a poem. What a pity I’m not a poet.” The next day too the same feeling continued, and the same thought about the poem. In the evening I was compelled to write it and found to my surprise that it was a poem. Indeed, the second verse was so poignant that I could not read it through without tears coming.
From then on the book continued in the form of poems. I never knew in advance what they would be about. Indeed, I sometimes prepared a list of themes that I wanted to write about, but when a poem came it might be on something quite different. Nevertheless, they continued, though in an indirect way, to be a record of the quest and therefore, although each one is a separate poem and can be read by itself, if read together it should be consecutively — for instance, it would not make sense to read the first after the second, or either of them after the third. The third is an example of an important phenomenon — that some of them described a state not yet permanently mastered. I felt some hesitation at first as to whether it was sincere to write such poems, but they came and demanded to be written; and later on fragments of them would constantly recur to me, like a mantram, and were a means of help on the path. Perhaps they will be to others also.
I never knew when they would come and in what form. It was quite irregular. For instance, ‘Waking and Sleeping’ took about two weeks to write; a fragment, perhaps no more than a line and a half, coming one day and then, after several days’ interval, another fragment. On the other hand, ‘The Expanse’ and ‘Be Still’ were both written the same day.
After the first few poems, I found that they tended to be either blank verse or regular rhymed lyrics, the more philosophical being blank verse and the more intuitive lyrics. The outer difference between poetry and prose being that poetry is formal and disciplined language and prose comparatively informal and undisciplined, it seems to me unnatural to write formless poetry. If it is not going to conform to the discipline of verse, let it be prose.