by Rayarama Das Brahmachary
We are conditioned beings. Our thinking and communicating are done by means of symbols, such as words and colors and forms. By the use of words we try to understand our position in existence. Furthermore, we try to communicate—to teach and learn—through words. Words are experiences, surely. But they are experiences intended to convey other experiences—they are meant to be indicators of reality, rather than reality itself. For example, one does not run; one performs a certain action which, for the benefit of communicating with someone else, we call running. This is certainly so on the material plane, where words and actions are divisible.
In this day and age those who seek to know the Truth Absolute must come to grips with the problem of words. Are words an aid to our understanding of ourselves, or do they constitute an impediment? If we examine this question, we can see that they are either: words are, in fact, neutral tools which can be used, misused, or neglected. The theory that all words are false is patently absurd. Like the statement “I am lying,” it must be untrue if it is true.
Although we may use the same words, we each have different meanings for them, therefore the argument is put forth that we cannot accurately communicate anything by the use of words. This is because our comprehension depends upon our conditioning, which is different with each of us. Because our conditioning is unique, the meanings we give our words must be unique. This is the problem of word communication.
Therefore, the conditioned being is bound to fail in his attempts to communicate his experience to others. His experience itself, to begin with, is perceived through imperfect senses. But there is One, of Whom it is said:
… He is the Absolute Truth, and the Primeval Cause of all causes of these manifested universes—in creation, sustenance, and destruction. Directly and indirectly He is conscious of all different manifestations, but He is independent of any cause beyond Himself. (Srimad Bhagwatam)
Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is not conditioned. As the Source and Controller of all that is, the Lord is not bound in any way. When He speaks, it is from the Absolute level. he is within the heart of the hearer, as well as in the words of the scripture which He has given us to be heard. In that position, His words cannot be considered false.
Why then do men disagree as to the meanings of the scriptures? It is because they lack the necessary qualifications for understanding what the Lord says. Those qualifications are given in the Bhagavad Gita:
This same ancient yoga
Has been today declared to thee by Me;
For thou art My devotee and My friend;
And this is the supreme secret. (Gita, 9.3)
The supreme secret is that we must devote ourselves to God and to the study of His words. The Vedas, the Koran, the Holy Bible—all the scriptures of the world are comprehensible on this devotional level, and on no other. Once we have come to this level, we can obtain the knowledge which is revealed to us by God. Nor is this only theoretical knowledge:
This is sovereign knowledge, sovereign secret,
Supreme sanctity, known by direct experience,
In accord with the law,
Easy to practice and imperishable. (Gita, 9.2)
So, using the sovereign knowledge of the Lord, let’s examine the problem of conditioning. Conditioning generally means that which has been acquired artificially, or that which is not natural and original with the being. The materialistic thinker assumes that consciousness is a bio-chemical process, and therefore limits his concept of conditioning to that which is intellectually impose or adopted following birth. Of course, from this standpoint, there really is no question of an unconditioned state. If consciousness is bio-chemical, it depends upon one chemical interaction or another—which is conditioning however you want to look at it. Therefore, in Bhagavad Gita, the Lord clearly states that birth itself is in fact a conditioning.
All beings are born to delusion, O Bharata,
Overcome by the dualities
Which arise from wish and hate,
O Conqueror of the foe. (Gita, 7.27)
Lord Krishna further points to the unconditioned state—or the natural state, the attainment of which is the sole purpose of all scriptures.
But he who knows the true character of the two distinctions (of the soul)
From the modes of nature and their works, O Mighty-armed,
Understanding that it is the modes which are
Acting on the modes
Does not get attached. (Gita, 3.8)
We are, then, not doers of actions. Embodied souls, we have erroneously identified ourselves with the activities of material nature. This is our conditioning. It is a result of attachment, and the process of this attachment is also to be found in Bhagavad Gita:
The soul devoted attains to peace well-founded,
By abandoning attachment to the fruits of works,
But he whose soul is not in union with the Divine
is impelled by desire,
And is attached to the fruit (of action) and is bound. (Gita, 5.12)
We are bound not merely by the intellectualizing of experience. We are bound by our very craving for experience on the material plane – of which the intellectual process is a part. Having given ourselves over to this material sphere of activities, we are subject to its specific laws, and these condition our every action, thought, word and deed—from long before conception in the womb, until far after death, as we continue to be reborn, reborn, reborn.
The soul in nature
Enjoys the modes born of nature.
Attachment to the modes is the cause
Of its births in good and evil wombs. (Gita, 8.21)
These modes by which nature manifests itself are not escapable as long as we remain on the material level—whether we anesthetize, intellectualize or sexualize. Four verses from the Gita will clarify and explain the conditions of material existence:
The three modes
Goodness, passion and dullness
Bind down in the body, O Mighty-armed,
The imperishable dweller in the body.
Of these, goodness, being pure,
Causes illumination and health.
It binds, O blameless one, by attachment to happiness,
And by attachment to knowledge.
Passion, know thou, is of the nature of attraction,
Springing from craving and attachment
It binds fast, O son of Kunti,
The embodied one by attachment to action.
But dullness, know thou, is born of ignorance,
And deludes all embodied beings.
It binds, O Bharata, by developing
The qualities of negligence, indolence and sleep. (Gita 9.5-8)
I’ve underlined the word “all” in the eighth verse, because it is ignorance even to be in the modes of goodness or passion. To be embodied, and to accept the bodily concept of life, is here said to be ignorance. Under that preliminary ignorance, we are subject to the modes of nature—immutable blind laws which take no account of our wishes, as the graveyards ultimately indicate.
This is the conditioned state—and this is our forlorn position, over which we have almost no control. Almost, but not quite exactly. We do have one choice which we can make: that is the choice to withdraw from attachment to material activities, once we understand that they are being artificially imposed upon us.
Whatever pleasures are born of contacts (with objects)
Are only sources of sorrow.
They have a beginning and an end, O son of Kunti,
No wise man delights in them. (Gita, 5.22)
What, exactly, doer the wise mad do? It is a current belief that enlightenment, of liberation—or, for our purposes, the unconditioned state—will come, just as death will come, more or less on its own, with no real need for effort. It is believed that the conditioned state cannot be altered by any endeavor of ours. The Lord Himself, however, says differently. In the concluding chapter of Bhagavad Gita, He says:
Thus has wisdom more secret than all secrets
Been declared to thee by. Me.
Having reflected on it fully,
Do as thou choosest. (Gita, 18.63)
Although Krishna has all power, and can direct any course of events whatever—quite above the controls of nature—He prefers that the embodied being choose for himself. What Krishna wants is our happiness, which can only really be attained in the unconditioned state. However, He gives us the knowledge and the choice to take or reject it. To further stress this freedom, He says elsewhere:
Let a man lift himself by himself;
Let him not degrade himself;
For the self alone is friend to the self,
And the self alone is enemy to the self. (Gita, 6.5)
The Lord is friend to all beings. He never wavers and He never turns from us. It remains only for us to befriend ourselves by accepting His help. This will free us from bondage to material nature.
We have now seen something of the conditioned status under which we labor, but what is this freedom to which we aspire? What is the unconditioned state? It is commonly described as Sat-Chit-Ananda: eternal knowledge and bliss. This is our constitutional spiritual nature, which, through some catastrophic ignorance, we have given up. In this bodily concept of life we are temporary, in ignorance, and rarely happy for longer than a moment’s time. The unconditioned state means that we reach a position of constitutional joy, which no thing can thereafter affect.
When the soul is no longer attached to external contacts,
One finds the happiness that is in the Self.
Such a one who is controlled in yoga on God
Enjoys undying bliss. (Gita, 5.21)
It is further stated:
He who is able to resist
The rush of desire and anger,
Even here before he gives up this body,
He is a yogi; he is a happy man. (Gita, 5.23)
The happiness attained in reaching the unconditioned position is full, not empty. It is simply empty of care, sorrow and bondage.
That, on gaining which he thinks
That there is no greater gain beyond it –
Wherein established he is not shaken
Even by the heaviest sorrow;
Let that be known by the name of yoga,
This disconnection from union with pain.
This yoga should be practiced with determination,
With heart undismayed. (Gita, 6.22-23)
For supreme happiness comes to the yogi
Whose mind is peaceful,
Whose passions are at rest, who is
Stainless, and has become one in interest with God.
Thus making the self ever harmonized,
The yogi, who has put away sin,
Experiences easily the infinite bliss
Of contact with the eternal. (Gita, 6.27-28)
This is the unconditioned state. This is freedom. It is a state of transcendental consciousness, free from all the designations and entanglements which are a part of material consciousness. No materialist philosopher can claim to reach—or even to comprehend—this sphere. This freedom from designation is made even more explicit elsewhere in the Gita:
Even here (on earth) the created (world) is overcome
By those whose mind is established in equality.
God is flawless and the same in all.
Therefore are these established in God. (Gita, 5.19)
This is not a state of consciousness into which one comes, and then again goes. It is bliss, it is ecstasy—which is never again lost. Having recovered our natural, constitutional position, the Lord guarantees that we will not fall again. Having revived our full consciousness, we then pass beyond the strict laws of nature, beyond the bewilderment of maya, beyond the clutches of death.
How to achieve this state of freedom should be our next concern, now that we’ve seen what it is. To help us to achieve it is the purpose of all the scriptures and transcendental philosophies of the world. The Lord Himself incarnates upon this earth to aid us in our plight. Without Him, we would assuredly be lost. Furthermore, even the attainment of wisdom is a gift from the Lord. It cannot be squeezed out of Him, nor can it be devised by us. In our conditional position, our own prescriptions are the very cause of our bondage. But Arjuna explains the way of liberation for us:
The supreme mystery,
The discourse concerning the self
Which Thou hast given out of grace for me—
By this my bewilderment is gone from me. (Gita, 11.1)
So our problem is how to obtain the Lord’s grace, without which no final conclusion to the problems of conditional existence can be reached. Arjuna was, we recall, Krishna’s friend and devotee. We must somehow elevate ourselves to that level—then we too can have the grace of God, and the joy of eternal association with Him in His Kingdom. This Kingdom is described by the Lord in these terms:
The sun does not illumine that,
Nor the moon, nor fire.
That is my supreme abode
From which those who reach it never return. (Gita, 15.6)
The Lord’s abode is not illuminated by external means because it is self-illuminated. This material universe is by nature dark, and is lighted by means of fire and sun. But the spiritual world is by nature light, and so it requires no illumination.
Now to the problem of reaching the state in which we will be free of material designations. We have already seen that this can be done by ingratiating ourselves to God. The practice of yoga is one of the more popular methods now in use for spiritual advancement, and we have seen that Krishna Himself approves of yoga practice. But just what is yoga? This is a question worth examining. The hatha, raja, and jnana systems are current, and are quite acceptable. However, regarding this question of methods, Krishna says:
And of all yogis,
He who full of faith worships Me,
With his inner self abiding in Me,
Him I hold to be most attuned. (Gita, 6.47)
This worship of the Lord is called Bhakti Yoga. It is the highest form of yoga. Its practice is outlined throughout the Bhagavad Gita:
Always glorifying Me,
Strenuous and steadfast in vows,
Bowing down to Me with devotion,
They worship Me, ever-disciplined. (Gita, 9.14)
Glorifying God can be done by hearing, reciting, remembering, serving, worshipping, chanting, following instructions, befriending and totally surrendering to the Lord. Any one of these methods—when perfectly carried out—will lead to full liberation, in that each contains all the others. The practice of bhakti is a practice of twenty-four hour meditation on the Lord, in the course of all activities. It requires no special time to be set aside. It requires that all one’s time be surrendered to the Supreme Reality:
Whatever thou doest, whatever thou eatest,
Whatever thou offerest, whatever thou givest away,
Whatever austerities thou dost practice
—Do that, O son of Kunti, as an offering to Me.
Thus shalt thou be freed
From the good and evil results which are the bonds of action.
With thy mind firmly set on the way of renunciation,
Thou shall become free, and attain to Me. (Gita, 9.27-28)
This is the practice of bhakti yoga—devotional service to the Lord. This is the means for qualifying ourselves to receive the Lord’s grace. Then, by the grace of Krishna, we may come to know Him.
Today the use of artificial aids to consciousness expansion is very popular—but no one can say that LSD, mescaline or marijuana have brought him to the platform where he can “experience easily the infinite bliss / Of contact with the Eternal.” The use of a drug or chemical substance is a method which is not prescribed by those who made a science of God-consciousness thousands of years ago. Depending on the use of an external object is the very conditioning we are seeking to transcend—and cannot be said to be an “easy” means of experiencing infinite bliss and contact with the Eternal. If one has been locked away in prison, or is confined by some disease to a hospital bed—or if one has no money, no friends or no underworld contacts—then this means is indeed difficult.
As to whether the use of external chemical substances can actually bring about the fully unconditioned state, we must recall that Arjuna was freed from the bewilderment of ignorance by God’s grace. There was no mention of drugs, Krishna did not need them; nor did Arjuna when he saw the truth. Krishna still doesn’t need any chemical substances, and neither do we. Rather, these things are to be avoided by one who is serious about spiritual life. These are the words of Lord Sri Krishna, which apply quite nicely to this question.
The gateway to this hell
Leading to the ruin of the soul is threefold:
Lust, anger and greed.
Therefore, these three one should abandon.
The man who is released from these,
The three gates to darkness, O son of Kunti,
Does what is good for his soul.
But he who discards the scriptural law
And acts as his desires prompt him,
He does not attain either perfection
Or happiness or the highest goal.
Therefore let the scripture be thy authority
For determining what should be done and what should not
Knowing what is declared by the rules of scripture,
Thou shouldst do thy work in this world. (Gita, 16.21-24)
The abandonment of scripture, then, is the abandonment of the means prescribed by God to facilitate the recovery of our natural status. He Whose knowledge is perfect has given us this way, for our ease and speedy advancement. To follow other paths is merely to waste our time, and to throw ourselves back into the entangling grip of the senses. Super-psychic sensuality is still sensuality, and will not lead one to freedom from the governance of the material world—nature and her three over-interacting, pitiless modes.
It is only by devotion to God that freedom can be achieved. If one is devoted to God, he manifests his devotion by following the laws of God, as they are revealed in scripture. Without making one’s devotion practical in this way, one cannot achieve practical results. Theoretical devotion may lead to theoretical liberation—but that is of no real value to us.
The unconditioned state—the consciousness of our real and eternal position in existence—must be known by direct experience, or it is uncertain and incomplete. The formula given by Krishna is very simple—and it can be practiced anywhere, under any circumstances.
Abandoning all duties,
Come to Me alone for shelter.
Be not grieved,
For I shall release thee from all evils. (Gita, 18.66)