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2: Soul Consciousness

We have seen that it was the aspiration of ancient India to live
and move and have its joy in Brahma, the all-conscious and all-
pervading Spirit, by extending its field of consciousness over
all the world. But that, it may be urged, is an impossible task
for man to achieve. If this extension of consciousness be an
outward process, then it is endless; it is like attempting to
cross the ocean after ladling out its water. By beginning to try
to realise all, one has to end by realising nothing.

But, in reality, it is not so absurd as it sounds. Man has every
day to solve this problem of enlarging his region and adjusting
his burdens. His burdens are many, too numerous for him to
carry, but he knows that by adopting a system he can lighten the
weight of his load. Whenever they feel too complicated and
unwieldy, he knows it is because he has not been able to hit upon
the system which would have set everything in place and
distributed the weight evenly. This search for system is really
a search for unity, for synthesis; it is our attempt to harmonise
the heterogeneous complexity of outward materials by an inner
adjustment. In the search we gradually become aware that to find
out the One is to possess the All; that there, indeed, is our
last and highest privilege. It is based on the law of that unity
which is, if we only know it, our abiding strength. Its living
principle is the power that is in truth; the truth of that unity
which comprehends multiplicity. Facts are many, but the truth is
one. The animal intelligence knows facts, the human mind has
power to apprehend truth. The apple falls from the tree, the
rain descends upon the earth--you can go on burdening your memory
with such facts and never come to an end. But once you get hold
of the law of gravitation you can dispense with the necessity of
collecting facts _ad infinitum_. You have got at one truth
which governs numberless facts. This discovery of truth is pure
joy to man--it is a liberation of his mind. For, a mere fact is
like a blind lane, it leads only to itself--it has no beyond.
But a truth opens up a whole horizon, it leads us to the
infinite. That is the reason why, when a man like Darwin
discovers some simple general truth about Biology, it does not
stop there, but like a lamp shedding its light far beyond the
object for which it was lighted, it illumines the whole region of
human life and thought, transcending its original purpose. Thus
we find that truth, while investing all facts, is not a mere
aggregate of facts--it surpasses them on all sides and points to
the infinite reality.

As in the region of knowledge so in that of consciousness, man
must clearly realise some central truth which will give him an
outlook over the widest possible field. And that is the object
which the Upanishad has in view when it says, _Know thine own
Soul_. Or, in other words, realise the one great principal of
unity that there is in every man.

All our egoistic impulses, our selfish desires, obscure our true
vision of the soul. For they only indicate our own narrow self.
When we are conscious of our soul, we perceive the inner being
that transcends our ego and has its deeper affinity with the All.

Children, when they begin to learn each separate letter of the
alphabet, find no pleasure in it, because they miss the real
purpose of the lesson; in fact, while letters claim our attention
only in themselves and as isolated things, they fatigue us. They
become a source of joy to us only when they combine into words
and sentences and convey an idea.

Likewise, our soul when detached and imprisoned within the narrow
limits of a self loses its significance. For its very essence is
unity. It can only find out its truth by unifying itself with
others, and only then it has its joy. Man was troubled and he
lived in a state of fear so long as he had not discovered the
uniformity of law in nature; till then the world was alien to
him. The law that he discovered is nothing but the perception of
harmony that prevails between reason which is of the soul of man
and the workings of the world. This is the bond of union through
which man is related to the world in which he lives, and he feels
an exceeding joy when he finds this out, for then he realises
himself in his surroundings. To understand anything is to find
in it something which is our own, and it is the discovery of
ourselves outside us which makes us glad. This relation of
understanding is partial, but the relation of love is complete.
In love the sense of difference is obliterated and the human soul
fulfils its purpose in perfection, transcending the limits of
itself and reaching across the threshold of the infinite.
Therefore love is the highest bliss that man can attain to, for
through it alone he truly knows that he is more than himself, and
that he is at one with the All.

This principal of unity which man has in his soul is ever active,
establishing relations far and wide through literature, art, and
science, society, statecraft, and religion. Our great Revealers
are they who make manifest the true meaning of the soul by giving
up self for the love of mankind. They face calumny and
persecution, deprivation and death in their service of love.
They live the life of the soul, not of the self, and thus they
prove to us the ultimate truth of humanity. We call them
_Mahatmas,_ "the men of the great soul."

It is said in one of the Upanishads: _It is not that thou lovest
thy son because thou desirest him, but thou lovest thy son
because thou desirest thine own soul._ [Footnote: Na va are
putrasya kamaya putrah priyo bhavati, atmanastu kamaya putrah
priyo bhavati.] The meaning of this is, that whomsoever we love,
in him we find our own soul in the highest sense. The final
truth of our existence lies in this. _Paramatma_, the supreme
soul, is in me, as well as in my son, and my joy in my son is the
realisation of this truth. It has become quite a commonplace
fact, yet it is wonderful to think upon, that the joys and
sorrows of our loved ones are joys and sorrows to us--nay they
are more. Why so? Because in them we have grown larger, in
them we have touched that great truth which comprehends the whole
universe.

It very often happens that our love for our children, our
friends, or other loved ones, debars us from the further
realisation of our soul. It enlarges our scope of consciousness,
no doubt, yet it sets a limit to its freest expansion.
Nevertheless, it is the first step, and all the wonder lies in
this first step itself. It shows to us the true nature of our
soul. From it we know, for certain, that our highest joy is in
the losing of our egoistic self and in the uniting with others.
This love gives us a new power and insight and beauty of mind to
the extent of the limits we set around it, but ceases to do so if
those limits lose their elasticity, and militate against the
spirit of love altogether; then our friendships become exclusive,
our families selfish and inhospitable, our nations insular and
aggressively inimical to other races. It is like putting a
burning light within a sealed enclosure, which shines brightly
till the poisonous gases accumulate and smother the flame.
Nevertheless it has proved its truth before it dies, and made
known the joy of freedom from the grip of darkness, blind and
empty and cold.

According to the Upanishads, the key to cosmic consciousness, to
God-consciousness, is in the consciousness of the soul. To know
our soul apart from the self is the first step towards the
realisation of the supreme deliverance. We must know with
absolute certainty that essentially we are spirit. This we can
do by winning mastery over self, by rising above all pride and
greed and fear, by knowing that worldly losses and physical death
can take nothing away from the truth and the greatness of our
soul. The chick knows when it breaks through the self-centered
isolation of its egg that the hard shell which covered it so long
was not really a part of its life. That shell is a dead thing,
it has no growth, it affords no glimpse whatever of the vast
beyond that lies outside it. However pleasantly perfect and
rounded it may be, it must be given a blow to, it must be burst
through and thereby the freedom of light and air be won, and the
complete purpose of bird life be achieved. In Sanskrit, the bird
has been called the twice-born. So too the man who has gone
through the ceremony of the discipline of self-restraint and high
thinking for a period of at least twelve years; who has come out
simple in wants, pure in heart, and ready to take up all the
responsibilities of life in a disinterested largeness of spirit.
He is considered to have had his rebirth from the blind
envelopment of self to the freedom of soul life; to have come
into living relation with his surroundings; to have become at one
with the All.

I have already warned my hearers, and must once more warn them
against the idea that the teachers of India preached a
renunciation of the world and of self which leads only to the
blank emptiness of negation. Their aim was the realisation of
the soul, or, in other words, gaining the world in perfect truth.
When Jesus said, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit
the earth," he meant this. He proclaimed the truth that when man
gets rid of his pride of self then he comes into his true
inheritance. No more has he to fight his way into his position
in the world; it is secure for him everywhere by the immortal
right of his soul. Pride of self interferes with the proper
function of the soul which is to realise itself by perfecting its
union with the world and the world's God.

In his sermon to Sadhu Simha Buddha says, _It is true, Simha,
that I denounce activities, but only the activities that lead to
the evil in words, thoughts, or deeds. It is true, Simha, that I
preach extinction, but only the extinction of pride, lust, evil
thought, and ignorance, not that of forgiveness, love, charity,
and truth._

The doctrine of deliverance that Buddha preached was the freedom
from the thraldom of _Avidya_. _Avidya_ is the ignorance that
darkens our consciousness, and tends to limit it within the
boundaries of our personal self. It is this _Avidya_, this
ignorance, this limiting of consciousness that creates the hard
separateness of the ego, and thus becomes the source of all
pride and greed and cruelty incidental to self-seeking. When a
man sleeps he is shut up within the narrow activities of his
physical life. He lives, but he knows not the varied relations
of his life to his surroundings,--therefore he knows not
himself. So when a man lives the life of _Avidya_ he is
confined within his self. It is a spiritual sleep; his
consciousness is not fully awake to the highest reality that
surrounds him, therefore he knows not the reality of his own
soul. When he attains _Bodhi_, i.e. the awakenment from the
sleep of self to the perfection of consciousness, he becomes
Buddha.

Once I met two ascetics of a certain religious sect in a village
of Bengal. "Can you tell me," I asked them, "wherein lies the
special features of your religion?" One of them hesitated for a
moment and answered, "It is difficult to define that." The other
said, "No, it is quite simple. We hold that we have first of all
to know our own soul under the guidance of our spiritual teacher,
and when we have done that we can find him, who is the Supreme
Soul, within us." "Why don't you preach your doctrine to all the
people of the world?" I asked. "Whoever feels thirsty will of
himself come to the river," was his reply. "But then, do you
find it so? Are they coming?" The man gave a gentle smile, and
with an assurance which had not the least tinge of impatience or
anxiety, he said, "They must come, one and all."

Yes, he is right, this simple ascetic of rural Bengal. Man is
indeed abroad to satisfy needs which are more to him than food
and clothing. He is out to find himself. Man's history is the
history of his journey to the unknown in quest of the realisation
of his immortal self--his soul. Through the rise and fall of
empires; through the building up gigantic piles of wealth and the
ruthless scattering of them upon the dust; through the creation
of vast bodies of symbols that give shape to his dreams and
aspirations, and the casting of them away like the playthings of
an outworn infancy; through his forging of magic keys with which
to unlock the mysteries of creation, and through his throwing
away of this labour of ages to go back to his workshop and work
up afresh some new form; yes, through it all man is marching from
epoch to epoch towards the fullest realisation of his soul,--the
soul which is greater than the things man accumulates, the deeds
he accomplishes, the theories he builds; the soul whose onward
course is never checked by death or dissolution. Man's mistakes
and failures have by no means been trifling or small, they have
strewn his path with colossal ruins; his sufferings have been
immense, like birth-pangs for a giant child; they are the prelude
of a fulfilment whose scope is infinite. Man has gone through
and is still undergoing martyrdoms in various ways, and his
institutions are the altars he has built whereto he brings his
daily sacrifices, marvellous in kind and stupendous in quantity.
All this would be absolutely unmeaning and unbearable if all
along he did not feel that deepest joy of the soul within him,
which tries its divine strength by suffering and proves its
exhaustless riches by renunciation. Yes, they are coming, the
pilgrims, one and all--coming to their true inheritance of the
world; they are ever broadening their consciousness, ever seeking
a higher and higher unity, ever approaching nearer to the one
central Truth which is all-comprehensive.

Man's poverty is abysmal, his wants are endless till he becomes
truly conscious of his soul. Till then, the world to him is in a
state of continual flux-- a phantasm that is and is not. For a
man who has realised his soul there is a determinate centre of
the universe around which all else can find its proper place, and
from thence only can he draw and enjoy the blessedness of a
harmonious life.

There was a time when the earth was only a nebulous mass whose
particles were scattered far apart through the expanding force of
heat; when she had not yet attained her definiteness of form and
had neither beauty nor purpose, but only heat and motion.
Gradually, when her vapours were condensed into a unified rounded
whole through a force that strove to bring all straggling matters
under the control of a centre, she occupied her proper place
among the planets of the solar system, like an emerald pendant in
a necklace of diamonds. So with our soul. When the heat and
motion of blind impulses and passions distract it on all sides,
we can neither give nor receive anything truly. But when we find
our centre in our soul by the power of self-restraint, by the
force that harmonises all warring elements and unifies those that
are apart, then all our isolated impressions reduce themselves to
wisdom, and all our momentary impulses of heart find their
completion in love; then all the petty details of our life reveal
an infinite purpose, and all our thoughts and deeds unite
themselves inseparably in an internal harmony.

The Upanishads say with great emphasis, _Know thou the One, the
Soul._ [Footnote: Tamevaikam janatha atmanam.] _It is the bridge
leading to the immortal being._ [Footnote: Amritasyaisha setuh.]

This is the ultimate end of man, to find the _One_ which is in
him; which is his truth, which is his soul; the key with which he
opens the gate of the spiritual life, the heavenly kingdom. His
desires are many, and madly they run after the varied objects of
the world, for therein they have their life and fulfilment. But
that which is _one_ in him is ever seeking for unity--unity in
knowledge, unity in love, unity in purposes of will; its highest
joy is when it reaches the infinite one within its eternal unity.
Hence the saying of the Upanishad, _Only those of tranquil minds,
and none else, can attain abiding joy, by realising within their
souls the Being who manifests one essence in a multiplicity of
forms._ [Footnote: Ekam rupam bahudha yah karoti * * tam
atmastham ye anupacyanti dihrah, tesham sukham cacvatam
netaresham.]

[Transcriber's note: The above footnote contains the * mark in
the original printed version. This has been retained as is.]

Through all the diversities of the world the one in us is
threading its course towards the one in all; this is its nature
and this is its joy. But by that devious path it could never
reach its goal if it had not a light of its own by which it could
catch the sight of what it was seeking in a flash. The vision of
the Supreme One in our own soul is a direct and immediate
intuition, not based on any ratiocination or demonstration at
all. Our eyes naturally see an object as a whole, not by
breaking it up into parts, but by bringing all the parts together
into a unity with ourselves. So with the intuition of our Soul-
consciousness, which naturally and totally realises its unity in
the Supreme One.

Says the Upanishad: _This deity who is manifesting himself in the
activities of the universe always dwells in the heart of man as
the supreme soul. Those who realise him through the immediate
perception of the heart attain immortality._ [Footnote: Esha
devo vishvakarma mahatma sada jananam hridaye sannivishtah.
Hrida manisha manasabhiklripto ya etad viduramritaste bhavanti.]

He is _Vishvakarma_; that is, in a multiplicity of forms and
forces lies his outward manifestation in nature; but his inner
manifestation in our soul is that which exists in unity. Our
pursuit of truth in the domain of nature therefore is through
analysis and the gradual methods of science, but our apprehension
of truth in our soul is immediate and through direct intuition.
We cannot attain the supreme soul by successive additions of
knowledge acquired bit by bit even through all eternity, because
he is one, he is not made up of parts; we can only know him as
heart of our hearts and soul of our soul; we can only know him in
the love and joy we feel when we give up our self and stand
before him face to face.

The deepest and the most earnest prayer that has ever risen from
the human heart has been uttered in our ancient tongue: _O thou
self-revealing one, reveal thyself in me._ [Footnote:
Aviravirmayedhi.] We are in misery because we are creatures of
self--the self that is unyielding and narrow, that reflects no
light, that is blind to the infinite. Our self is loud with its
own discordant clamour--it is not the tuned harp whose chords
vibrate with the music of the eternal. Sighs of discontent and
weariness of failure, idle regrets for the past and anxieties for
the future are troubling our shallow hearts because we have not
found our souls, and the self-revealing spirit has not been
manifest within us. Hence our cry, _O thou awful one, save me
with thy smile of grace ever and evermore._ [Footnote: Rudra
yat te dakshinam mukham tena mam pahi nityam.] It is a stifling
shroud of death, this self-gratification, this insatiable greed,
this pride of possession, this insolent alienation of heart.
_Rudra, O thou awful one, rend this dark cover in twain and let
the saving beam of thy smile of grace strike through this night
of gloom and waken my soul._

_From unreality lead me to the real, from darkness to the light,
from death to immortality._ [Footnote: Asatoma sadgamaya,
tamasoma jyotirgamaya, mrityorma mritangamaya.] But how can one
hope to have this prayer granted? For infinite is the distance
that lies between truth and untruth, between death and
deathlessness. Yet this measureless gulf is bridged in a moment
when the self revealing one reveals himself in the soul. There
the miracle happens, for there is the meeting-ground of the
finite and infinite. _Father, completely sweep away all my
sins!_ [Footnote: Vishvanideva savitar duratani parasuva.] For
in sin man takes part with the finite against the infinite that
is in him. It is the defeat of his soul by his self. It is a
perilously losing game, in which man stakes his all to gain a
part. Sin is the blurring of truth which clouds the purity of
our consciousness. In sin we lust after pleasures, not because
they are truly desirable, but because the red light of our
passions makes them appear desirable; we long for things not
because they are great in themselves, but because our greed
exaggerates them and makes them appear great. These
exaggerations, these falsifications of the perspective of things,
break the harmony of our life at every step; we lose the true
standard of values and are distracted by the false claims of the
varied interests of life contending with one another. It is this
failure to bring all the elements of his nature under the unity
and control of the Supreme One that makes man feel the pang of
his separation from God and gives rise to the earnest prayer,
_O God, O Father, completely sweep away all our sins._
[Footnote: Vishvani deva savitar duritani parasuva.] _Give
unto us that which is good_ [Footnote: Yad bhadram tanna
asuva.], the good which is the daily bread of our souls. In our
pleasures we are confined to ourselves, in the good we are freed
and we belong to all. As the child in its mother's womb gets its
sustenance through the union of its life with the larger life of
its mother, so our soul is nourished only through the good which
is the recognition of its inner kinship, the channel of its
communication with the infinite by which it is surrounded and
fed. Hence it is said, "Blessed are they which do hunger and
thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled." For
righteousness is the divine food of the soul; nothing but this
can fill him, can make him live the life of the infinite, can
help him in his growth towards the eternal. _We bow to thee
from whom come the enjoyments of our life._ [Footnote: Namah
sambhavaya.] _We bow also to thee from whom comes the good of
our soul._ [Footnote: Namah cankarayacha.] _We bow to thee
who art good, the highest good [Footnote: Namah civayacha,
civataraya cha.], in whom we are united with everything, that is,
in peace and harmony, in goodness and love.

Man's cry is to reach his fullest expression. It is this desire
for self-expression that leads him to seek wealth and power. But
he has to discover that accumulation is not realisation. It is
the inner light that reveals him, not outer things. When this
light is lighted, then in a moment he knows that Man's highest
revelation is God's own revelation in him. And his cry is for
this--the manifestation of his soul, which is the manifestation
of God in his soul. Man becomes perfect man, he attains his
fullest expression, when his soul realises itself in the Infinite
being who is _Avih_ whose very essence is expression.

The real misery of man is in the fact that he has not fully come
out, that he is self-obscured, lost in the midst of his own
desires. He cannot feel himself beyond his personal
surroundings, his greater self is blotted out, his truth is
unrealised. The prayer that rises up from his whole being is
therefore, _Thou, who art the spirit of manifestation, manifest
thyself in me._ [Footnote: Aviravirmayedhi.] This longing for
the perfect expression of his self is more deeply inherent in
man than his hunger and thirst for bodily sustenance, his lust
for wealth and distinction. This prayer is not merely one born
individually of him; it is in depth of all things, it is the
ceaseless urging in him of the _Avih_, of the spirit of eternal
manifestation. The revealment of the infinite in the finite,
which is the motive of all creation, is not seen in its
perfection in the starry heavens, in the beauty of flowers. It
is in the soul of man. For there will seeks its manifestation in
will, and freedom turns to win its final prize in the freedom of
surrender.

Therefore, it is the self of man which the great King of the
universe has not shadowed with his throne--he has left it free.
In his physical and mental organism, where man is related with
nature, he has to acknowledge the rule of his King, but in his
self he is free to disown him. There our God must win his
entrance. There he comes as a guest, not as a king, and
therefore he has to wait till he is invited. It is the man's
self from which God has withdrawn his commands, for there he
comes to court our love. His armed force, the laws of nature,
stand outside its gate, and only beauty, the messenger of his
love, finds admission within its precincts.

It is only in this region of will that anarchy is permitted; only
in man's self that the discord of untruth and unrighteousness
hold its reign; and things can come to such a pass that we may
cry out in our anguish, "Such utter lawlessness could never
prevail if there were a God!" Indeed, God has stood aside from
our self, where his watchful patience knows no bounds, and where
he never forces open the doors if shut against him. For this
self of ours has to attain its ultimate meaning, which is the
soul, not through the compulsion of God's power but through love,
and thus become united with God in freedom.

He whose spirit has been made one with God stands before man as
the supreme flower of humanity. There man finds in truth what he
is; for there the _Avih_ is revealed to him in the soul of man as
the most perfect revelation for him of God; for there we see the
union of the supreme will with our will, our love with the love
everlasting.

Therefore, in our country he who truly loves God receives such
homage from men as would be considered almost sacrilegious in the
west. We see in him God's wish fulfilled, the most difficult of
all obstacles to his revealment removed, and God's own perfect
joy fully blossoming in humanity. Through him we find the whole
world of man overspread with a divine homeliness. His life,
burning with God's love, makes all our earthly love resplendent.
All the intimate associations of our life, all its experience of
pleasure and pain, group themselves around this display of the
divine love, and from the drama that we witness in him. The
touch of an infinite mystery passes over the trivial and the
familiar, making it break out into ineffable music. The trees
and the stars and the blue hills appear to us as symbols aching
with a meaning which can never be uttered in words. We seem to
watch the Master in the very act of creation of a new world when
a man's soul draws her heavy curtain of self aside, when her veil
is lifted and she is face to face with her eternal lover.

But what is this state? It is like a morning of spring, varied
in its life and beauty, yet one and entire. When a man's life
rescued from distractions finds its unity in the soul, then the
consciousness of the infinite becomes at once direct and natural
to it as the light is to the flame. All the conflicts and
contradictions of life are reconciled; knowledge, love and action
harmonized; pleasure and pain become one in beauty, enjoyment and
renunciation equal in goodness; the breach between the finite and
the infinite fills with love and overflows; every moment carries
its message of the eternal; the formless appears to us in the
form of the flower, of the fruit; the boundless takes us up in
his arms as a father and walks by our side as a friend. It is
only the soul, the One in man which by its very nature can
overcome all limits, and finds its affinity with the Supreme One.
While yet we have not attained the internal harmony, and the
wholeness of our being, our life remains a life of habits. The
world still appears to us as a machine, to be mastered where it
is useful, to be guarded against where it is dangerous, and never
to be known in its full fellowship with us, alike in its physical
nature and in its spiritual life and beauty.


Rabindranath Tagore

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