Workshop on Spirituality - Part 2
Knowing that I've been sick,
people have been coming to me and asking me: "How are you?
Are you better? Are you feeling OK?" They mean: "How is
your body?" That is, the gross body. It is the densest of the
sheaths or bodies. This physical body is the food sheath.
The next sheath, finer than the previous one has
to do with vitality, breath, energy. It is intangible, and yet it
is still very perceptible by us. We can feel the energy. You know
when something is filled with energy, when something is vital. In
the work that I do as a homeopath, we are very keen to perceive
the vital force. We are not so much interested in the physical symptoms,
but we are very much interested to see if the vital force is strong.
A strong vital force can mean strong symptoms; it can create a lot
of suffering but it can also bring about a cure and a return to
health. Whereas with a low vital force there may not be many symptoms,
but the person is on his way out.
In English we speak of the astral or etheric body.
There are different terms used for this vital sheath. So this is
also a body that we have. It is bigger than this physical body.
It extends out. It has an aura. Those who can see auras will see
this body as the health aura. It is still quite dense. It is also
an illusory body.
The next sheath is the mental sheath. Now we are talking about something
that is much bigger and much finer than energy. We are now speaking
about information, about thought forms, about concepts and ideas.
This is something much more powerful than the grosser forms of energy
and matter, characterized by the previous two sheaths. That is the
mind sheath. We are also the mind. It is one of our bodies. It is
still in the realm of illusion.
The next sheath i
s the intuitive faculty which has to do with the
discriminating intelligence. In the Indian language it is called
buddhi. It is usually translated as intelligence, but buddhi is
not just intelligence, because it really doesn't have to do with
the faculty of thinking. It is something closer to the heart. It
has to do with intuitive perception, unmediated by memory and the
thinking mind. It is the faculty of discrimination, with the answer
given not by weighing alternatives but by immediate knowing. It
is tuning in to all the databanks of the universal consciousness.
It is that which knows why we have come, why we have incarnated.
8 The Two Paths
According to Western thought
we are on an evolutionary track. We are moving up from below. We see
ourselves as moving towards a goal. Swami will also speak to us of
that. The Western idea is that we have ascended from below. But there
is another idea, which is strictly Eastern, and which Swami frequently
speaks of, which is that we have descended from above. Recently, in
one of his discourses, he said: "You are all avatars, you are
all the divinity incarnated in human forms." He said the only
difference between this avatar (pointing to himself), and these avatars,
(pointing to the devotees) is a few extra powers.
Yesterday, when we were reading Swami's interview,
he was really giving us that point of view, the descent from above.
That is also in the Gita, and in the 34 discourses that Swami gave
in l984 on the Gita. At that time there was a great deal of political
disturbance in South India. People were being shot only five miles
from the ashram. It was a time of great turmoil and upheaval. The
ashram gates were locked and those of us who were there, were locked
in with Swami. Every evening in the temple, Swami gathered all the
students together and gave these discourses on the Gita.
In these discourses he chose to talk of two paths.
One path is the one coming up from below and the other is the one
coming down from above. And he showed us that we are on both paths.
We need two feet with which to walk, one is the worship of the form,
which speaks of the quest to reach the heights from below, and the
other is the identification with the formless, which speaks of the
boundless divinity which is our reality, and our descent into incarnation,
from above. This is a very powerful teaching. It is the essence of
all the teachings - the two paths, one from above and the other from
We are used to coming up from below. It is the Western
tradition. It is the idea of evolution which was propagated by Darwin
in the middle of the 19th century. Darwin's work was limited to living
organisms. But now, in the last thirty years or so, the evolutionary
theory has been expanded to include just about everything that science
knows. The big bang was the first evolutionary production.
First there was energy and then the simplest forms of matter, the
subatomic particles. They formed simple hydrogen and simple helium.
From these all the other chemical elements arose, as matter formed
into stars and galaxies; finally the solar system with its 92 odd
elements came into being. We're speaking here of the Western idea
of the elements. There is no conflict between this Western idea and
the Indian idea of the five elements. The five Indian elements refer
not to the chemical composition of matter but to the five states of
matter: space is the vacuum, air is the gaseous state, fire is the
plasma state, water is the liquid state, and earth is the solid state.
These are all the states that we find in the universe.
In the Wetern idea we have the chemical elements.
All of these had to be produced in stars and then exploded out into
space, where some would eventually be gathered up to form the solar
system, including the earth. And then on the earth, in time, life
came in very simple forms: first, as simple one-celled organisms,
as bacteria, and then as simple plants. Finally, animals came along.
We have been talking of these sheaths. The food sheath is the mineral
or chemical stage. Later evolved the first life and the plant stage,
the vital sheath. When evolution went on to the animal stage, when
a nervous system developed, then we had the mental sheath. Later came
man. Man is associated with the intuitive, or higher mental sheath
associated with the buddhi.
Finally, there is the realized sage who abides primarily
in the fifth sheath, the bliss sheath. In this finest sheath there
are no objects or energies or thoughts or concepts or intuitive flashes.
There is only the pure experience of joy. You are free of everything,
including world and body and mind. There is only the intensely delightful
feeling of bliss. It is purely subjective.
9 Cosmic Bodies
When we think of bodies, we
think of living organisms, not of the universe. But these individual
sheaths heave their equivalence in the universal or cosmic bodies.
The macrocosmic parallels the microcosmic. The physical universe is
the first sheath of the cosmic universe. The second sheath of the
cosmic universe has to do with the primeval energy which fills the
whole physical universe and extends beyond it. From it all forms of
matter arise. Then there is the subtle universe of the cosmic mind.
Swami has also spoken of this as the mind space. From here on, the
distinction between the macrocosmic and the microcosmic becomes fuzzy;
the infinitesmal and the infinite merge into one.
The subtle universe beyond the gross or physical
and interpenetrating it, is the cosmic sheath or universe of the mind.
All these sheaths are spaces or worlds. That's why we speak of many
worlds, not just the one world. We create new worlds every night in
our dreams. They make up the mental universe. Finally, there is the
greatest of all the universes; it is the subtlest and finest of all,
and also the most extensive and powerful. This is the causal universe,
the potential, the archetypal memory bank from which all forms and
worlds arise. This is the world of the creative principle. It is the
biggest, and inexplicably, it is also the smallest. It is the sacred
space of the heart. It is made of bliss, and so, it is related to
the bliss sheath, that we spoke of earlier.
You see, ultimately, in this strange play of creation, the whole of
it can just be reduced to eternal delight. Everything we can call
universe turns out to be totally subjective; there is nothing objective.
It is consciousness only, knowing itself as 'I'. Only when it has
become gross and densified into physical energy and things, does it
appear to be something objective. But ultimately everything is subjective.
The path then is to move our center of gravity,
so to speak, from the physical to the vital to the mental to the intuitive
on to the bliss sheath. Swami, as an embodied human being, lives mostly
in the bliss sheath. He is always in bliss. An ordinary person on
the street exists primarily in the gross sheath, the physical. When
we are young and have lots of energy as vigorous youth, then we will
live primarily in the vital sheath. Then as we develop our minds,
we abide more and more in the mental sheath. But, you see, this is
still only the animal level. Eventually, as we begin to incorporate
some of these higher values, as we begin to know something of why
we are here, we become established in the intuitive sheath, in our
buddhi, our discriminating intelligence. And we become worthy of calling
ourselves human beings.
But, Swami says, ultimately, calling yourself
man must mean: (m)aya or illusion removed, (a)tma or the supreme self
realized, (n)irvana or liberation attained. So, what we have been
speaking of as a human being, even one who lives a righteous life,
is still only a transitional stage. It is not our true state, for
truth is that which never changes, which is neither born nor dies.
All that changes is illusion. So, we have to keep moving, drop off
this illusion of a separate individual and move onto the stage of
a sage, to spend most of our time in the equanimous state of bliss.
But even that is still illusion, although it is the finest and thinnest
veil. The seed of illusion is still present and the potential for
returning to denser levels remains. A faint shadow of the individual
still lingers on, which could sprout again. We must go totally beyond
illusion, beyond all phenomena, to be established in who we really
are, the absolute, the immortal self.