The Turn in the Road
Let’s pause a moment.
We’ve reached a point in our understanding of the purpose of life that might have been unattainable a few centuries ago. And simply by attaining this insight, a new resolve might be born in us. As the twentieth-century guru, Sri Yukteswar Giri, says:
“When man understands even by way of inference the true nature of this creation, the true relation existing between this creation and himself; and when he further understands that he is completely blinded by the influence of Darkness, Maya, and that it is the bondage of Darkness alone which makes him forget his real Self and brings about all his sufferings, he naturally wishes to be relieved from all these evils. This relief from evil, or liberation from the bondage of Maya, becomes the prime object of his life.” (1)
I’m not suggesting that most of us will form a single-minded determination to end the bondage of Maya. Most of the readers of this book will be Western householders, many with families. Most of us aren’t going to drop our responsibilities. That’s not our destiny. But we can know our situation and strengthen our resolve to move gradually in a wise direction.
We find now that there is one indispensable move we must make if we’re to make enlightenment our target: that move is to turn from the world to God.
According to Paramahansa Yogananda, Sri Yukteswar’s pupil, as long as we simply abandon ourselves to the worldly life, we remain lost souls who “greedily indulge in the pleasures of the senses of touch, smell, taste, sound, and sight.” (2) Our pursuits are ultimately futile, as Milarepa reminds us.
“All worldly pursuits have but the one unavoidable end, which is sorrow: acquisitions end in dispersion; buildings, in destruction; meetings, in separation; births, in death. Knowing this, one should renounce acquisition and heaping up, and building, and meeting; and, faithful to the commands of an eminent Guru, set about realizing the Truth.” (3)
And, even if we set about seeking the Truth by looking outwards for it, we condemn ourselves, as Ammachi one put it, to the futility of “trying to catch fish by emptying the ocean.” (4) We “ignorant ones who are drowning [ourselves] in worldliness would never know the Truth” that way. (5) Having determined to find the Truth, we must seek another way than looking outwards.
Many of us who are still lost in the world of matter, trapped in animal behaviour, grazing on sense objects and experiences, don’t realize our situation. As a race, we’ve evolved past the animal kingdom, but as individuals we may drag along with us many animal responses.
One new potentiality, which has been added to us as life forms, combines with the persistent longing for liberation to make our search for God more pressing. God has now bestowed on us self-consciousness by which we’re enabled to know ourselves as separate beings.
Our newly-evolved self-consciousness allows us to make an object of ourselves – and of God. This is a vital step on the way to realizing Him. Our next step is to exhaust our useless efforts to know Him objectively, after which we drop object-consciousness and realize Him as the only Subject of every action. This involves a turning away from the outward and objective to the inward and subjective.
On turning inward, the masters are agreed.
“The Self-Existent made the senses turn outward. Accordingly, man looks toward what is without, and sees not what is within. Rare is he who, longing for immortality, shuts his eyes to what is without and beholds the Self.” (6)
“When objects of sense experience are all ignored, then the transcendental brightness of Intuition will shine forth mysteriously, and you will have found the true source of cognition and tranquillity.” (7)
“Neither shall they say, Lo here! Or, lo there! for behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” (8)
Ch’an Master Lin-Chi (Rinzai)
“If you want to attain Buddhahood, don’t chase around after the ten thousand things.” (9)
“Fellow believers, I tell you there is no Dharma to be found outside.” (10)
“If you want to be no different from the patriarchs and the buddhas, then never look for something outside yourselves. The clean pure light in a moment of your mind — that is the Essence-body of the Buddha lodged in you. … And simply because you do not rush around seeking anything outside yourselves, you can command these fine faculties.” (11)
Blessed Henry Suso
“Live inwardly, die in blessedness.” (12)
“The real Christ and Buddha are in us.” (13)
“God dwells within us. If one knows that, one feels like giving up all activities and praying to God with a yearning soul.” (14)
“Regard most earnestly your own heart. … For through your own heart comes the one light which can illuminate life and make it clear to your eyes.” (15)
Spirit Guide Silver Birch
“You have the greatest riches within yourselves. You are part of the Great Spirit. There are no riches or fortunes in your world that can be compared with that. We seek to teach you to explore your own gold mines, to reveal the diamonds of the spirit that are within the clay of your own natures.” (16)
“I can only teach you the laws. You were told many years ago that the kingdom of heaven is within. It is not without. It is not to be found in the rush of the world of matter. It is to be found within the soul.” (17)
“There will be no sorrow if and when the sense organs are withdrawn from sense objects.” (18)
Whether we speak of the world of the senses, the ten thousand things, or the things of Casear, we are counseled that we can’t find God there. If we wish to know God, we must shut our eyes to that which is outside, relinquish the evidence of our senses, and turn our attention within.
In a sense, God has created a universal masked ball, a cosmic game of hide and seek. He Himself (or She or It) has agreed to pose as all the dancers, donning a mask, in order to hide Himself so that He can be found. But this is a masked ball with a twist. It is not the outer mask that must be discarded but a mystical inner mask.
We work our way through doffing the outer masks and not finding Him and then begin the more subtle work of identifying and removing the inner masks. The more absorbed we become in seeking Him inwardly, the more subtle the requirements of this mystical masquerade become. To end the game, we must detach the senses from their objects, still the mind, and find God in His hiddenness within.
The ultimate twist in the game comes when, the mind stilled, we see that God cannot be found for our looking. Then, even looking falls away.
Weak longing for God
As long as we are separate selves turned to the world, we’ll find that we cannot fan our longing for God into a deep and constant yearning. Other things compete for our attention. Our philandering awareness is what calls forth mystical Old-Testament teachings like:
“I the Lord thy God am a jealous God.” (19)
“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” (20)
The Lord will not reveal Himself to us as long as we prefer “other gods,” other desires, before Him. The anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing explains our situation and what we must do about it.
“A word of warning: [God] is a jealous lover, and will brook no rival; he will not work in your will if he has not sole charge; he does not ask for help, he asks for you. His will is that you should look at him, and let him have his way.” (21)
Apparently God so designed life that only He could be lawfully desired. Sri Krishna tells us that:
“I [God] am all that a man may desire
“Without transgressing the law of his nature.” (22)
Thus it’s not desire itself that must be killed off, at least in the beginning stages of spiritual practice. It’s the desire for anything else but God or that which God is – such as love, wisdom, and bliss. The desire for God – to know Him, to approach Him, to love Him, to serve Him – is the one desire that doesn’t harm us and will in fact carry us swiftly on our journey. Whatever other desires we have, if our duty enjoins them on us, must be divinized or spiritualized.
To the degree that we can as householders, we must “become introverted.” (23) We must shift our attention from worldly matters such as a concern for security, love of drama, fascination with gadgets, thirst for sexual pleasures, and so on, to a curiosity about our own inner nature, a desire to quiet our minds, a willingness to complete our inner “unfinished business,” and a yearning to know God.
The proper degree of divine restlessness will only come, Sri Ramakrishna reminds us, “when [our] heart becomes pure and [our] mind free from attachment to the things of the world.” (24)
The second difficulty we encounter by remaining turned to the world has to do with vision. As long as we look outwardly and see the world, we see with dualistic or subject/object vision. Again this vision has allowed us to develop our individuality and survive until now in the world as God designed it. Our stage of evolution demanded dualistic vision of us then.
Dualistic vision may be a Design Feature for a phase of life, but it’s insufficient to allow us to see God. The shift from dualistic (or natural) to unitive (or supernatural) vision happens with the flowering of spiritual faculties within us, in the course of our spiritual practice. While I’m not sure if it’s always the case, the opening of the Third Eye, in the centre of the forehead, is one entrance to spiritual vision that masters of all ages draw our attention to. Seeing with dualistic vision causes subject and object, the world of names and forms, to arise. Seeing with unitive vision causes these to disappear, revealing the underlying essence to us.
Jesus is undoubtedly describing this moment of seeing with unitive vision when he teaches that “if … thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.” (25) When we experience superconscious vision, we’re filled with light. But so long as our two physical eyes operate, looking outwards, we’re filled with darkness.
Many of the masters tell us that we’ll see God when our eye is single. In superconscious vision, the outside world will disappear, they say, and the Transcendental will be revealed.
“This Effulgent Self is to be realized within the lotus of the heart by continence, by steadfastness in truth, by meditation, and by superconscious vision.” (26)
“The cosmic intelligence in which the universe, as it were, ceases to be, is the Lord. In him the subject-object relationship appears to have ceased, as such. He is the void in which the universe appears to exist. In him even cosmic consciousness stands still like a mountain. …
“Only when the creation is known to be utterly non-existent is the Lord realized.” (27)
“As long as one is conscious of the body, one is also conscious of objects. Form, taste, smell, sound and touch — these are the objects. It is extremely difficult to get rid of the consciousness of objects and one cannot realize ‘I am He’ as long as one is aware of objects.” (28)
“As long as a man remains conscious of the body, he is conscious of duality. … Man dwells in the realm of Maya. Maya does not permit him to see God. [Here is an intimation that dualistic vision is a Design Feature of material life.] It has made him a victim of ignorance.” (29)
“Pure mind sees God and ordinary mind does not function.” (30)
“When there is awareness of the world there is no awareness of the Self. When there is awareness of the Self, awareness of the world is not there either.” (31)
In relation to God, our physical vision is blindness itself. Ibn Arabi exhorts us to develop ourselves spiritually so that we may open our superconscious vision:
“Advance, find an eye [i.e., the Third Eye].
“Remedy by it.
“And now, look from Him to Him.” (32)
It is God that “gives [the] man of knowledge a Divine sight,” Ibn Arabi says. (33) In the Bhagavad-Gita, we see the embodied God, Sri Krishna, bestowing superconscious vision on Arjuna so that he can behold Him in His universal form.
“This very day you shall behold the whole universe with all things animate and inert made one within this body of mine. And whatever else you desire to see, that shall you see also.
“But you cannot see me thus with those human eyes. Therefore, I give you divine sight. Behold — this is my yoga power.” (34)
Undoubtedly Sri Krishna bestows this gift on Arjuna because the son of Pandu already has a mind purified from a lifetime of following the dharma.
What does “turning from the world” mean?
When I say “turn from the world,” I mean the phrase generically. Some will use other words: settle into being; sink into the heart; fill oneself with love; meditate; get present; serve humanity humbly; enquire into the Self. All of these words point in some way to a similar inward movement or to a relinquishing of something outward. If you prefer another phrase instead of “turning from the world,” by all means please use that.
Turning from the world need not be done physically, but emotionally and spiritually. It need not to be done forever, but only until realization of our true nature is achieved. As Franklin Merrell-Wolff explains:
“In principle there is no need of denying any phase of external action, save as a temporary discipline, so that the necessary inward concentration may be effected. The Man who has made the Ineffable Transition is Free. Outwardly He lives the life that He chooses.” (35)
Merrell-Wolff was working as a geological explorer at the time that he had his major enlightenment breakthrough. He was a married man with responsibilities and yet, by the end of his life, he had travelled a very great distance down the road of enlightenment.
Every plant shall be rooted up
We must not be deluded about the degree of effort that’s required to know God. The masters emphasize that we cannot see Him as long as the least trace of worldliness remains in us. We may be able to see the Child or the Mother in lesser moments of enlightenment, but not the Father. Let’s listen to them on the need for a purified mind.
“Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up.” (36)
St. John of the Cross
“The soul … will not be transformed in God if it has only one imperfection.” (37)
“Can one not see God as formless Reality? Of course one can. But not if one has the slightest trace of worldliness.” (38)
“Match-sticks, if damp, won’t strike fire though you rub a thousand of them against the match-box. You only waste a heap of sticks. The mind soaked in worldliness is such a damp match-stick. (39)
[God] is constantly attracting us, as a magnet attracts iron. But the iron cannot come to the magnet if it is covered with dirt. When the dirt is washed away, the iron is instantly drawn to the magnet. Weep for God and the tears will wash away the dirt from your mind.” (40)
“The truth is that you cannot attain God if you have even a trace of [worldly] desire. Subtle is the way of dharma. If you are trying to thread a needle, you will not succeed if the thread has even a slight fibre sticking out.” (41)
Now Jesus’ teaching makes perfect sense: “Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.” (42) Of course we must. That’s the very task that God has assigned us.
This total love for God, this complete absorption in Him, can arise in one perfect moment, by any genuine spiritual practice, but arise it must.
Must we cover the entire ground in just one lifetime? If the desire for enlightenment grows slowly within us and the purification of our minds takes time, how can we hope to accomplish the spiritual journey in one incarnation?
(1) HS, 45.
(2) SCC, 1, 86.
(3) ZTG, 65.
(4) Mata Amritanandamayi (Ammachi), AC, I, 45.
(5) Ibid., 48-9.
(6) UPAN, 20.
(7) BB, 209
(8) Jesus, Luke 17:21.
(9) ZTML, 72.
(10) Ibid., 57.
(11) Ibid., 24.
(12) SUSO, 57.
(13) LSR, 47.
(14) GSR, 112.
(15) LOP, 27-8.
(16) SBA, 12.
(17) Ibid., 16.
(18) AC, 1, 24.
(19) Exodus, 20:5; cf. Deuteronomy 5:9.
(20) Exodus 20:3.
(21) CU, 52.
(22) BG, 71.
(23) Ammachi, AC., 45.
(24) GSR, 375.
(25) Matthew 6:22.
(26) UPAN, 47.
(27) CYV, 43-4.
(28) GSR, 181.
(29) Ibid., 269.
(30) Ibid., 687.
(31) AC, 1, 39. Cf. Sri Ramana Mahrshi: “When the mind, which is the cause of all cognitions and of all actions, becomes quiescent, the world will disappear.” (WHO, 12.)
(32) KK, 33.
(33) Ibid., 35.
(34) BG, 91.
(35) PTS, 21.
(36) Matthew 15:13.
(37) CWSJC, 98.
(38) GSR, 213.
(39) Ibid., 173.
(40) Ibid., 1024.
(41) Ibid., 769.
(42) Mark 12:30.