Find out what you really worship

9 Worship

The first thing for a student of yoga is to find out what he really worships. There are people who claim to worship nothing, to be sceptical; and they say that all worship is a trammelling of the human spirit and intellect, and that it has done far more harm than good. They believe, or claim to believe, that they them-selves are able to face unflinchingly the fact that man is a tiny spark of intelligence, born of chance in a vast uncaring and unconscious universe. They say that they do not worship because worship is simply a projection into adult life of the dependence of the infant.

But worship, as the Gita points out, is of various kinds. A worship in the form of tamas or darkness is a worship of some unknown but menacing power. Two prominent sceptics, who both made furious attacks on Christianity in its organized form, were H. G. Wells and Bertrand Russell. If we look at a book which Wells wrote towards the end of his life, we find that he had an awareness, which he believed was justified by philosophical inquiry, of something which he called the Antagonist. In Mind at the End of its Tether (Heinemann, London, 1945) he wrote:

Our universe is the utmost compass of our minds. It is a closed space-time continuum which ends with the same urge to exist with which it began, now that the unknown power that evoked it has at last turned against it. Tower’, the writer has written, because it is difficult to express this unknowable that has, so to speak, set its face against us.

But we cannot deny this menace of the darkness.

Tower’ is unsatisfactory. We need to express something entirely outside our ‘universe’, and Tower’ suggests something within that universe and fighting against us.

The present writer has experimented with a number of words and phrases and rejected each in turn, ‘x’ is attractive until one reflects that this implies an equation capable of solution in terms of finite being. ‘Cosmic process’, ‘the Beyond’, ‘the Unknown’, ‘the Unknowable’, all carry unsound implications. ‘The Antagonism’ by itself over stresses the idea of positive enmity. But if we fall back on the structure of the Greek tragic drama and think of life as the Protagonist trailing with it the presence of an indifferent chorus and the possibility of fluctuations in its role, we get something to meet our need. ‘The Antagonist’, then, in that qualified sense, is the term the present writer will employ to express the unknown implacable which has endured life for so long by our reckoning and has now turned against it so implacably to wipe it out. . . .

The searching scepticism of the writer’s philosophical analysis has established this Antagonist as invincible reality for him, but, all over the earth and from dates immemorial, introspective minds, minds of the quality of the brooding Shakespeare, have conceived a disgust of the stresses, vexations and petty indignities of life and taken refuge from its apprehension of a conclusive end to things, in mystical withdrawal. On the whole mankind has shown itself tolerant, sympathetic and respectful to such retreats. That is the peculiar human element in this matter; the recurrent refusal to be satisfied with the normal real world. The question ‘Is this all?’ has troubled countless unsatisfied minds throughout the ages, and, at the end of our tether, as it seems, here it is, still baffling but persistent. . . .

Hitherto, recurrence has seemed a primary law of life. Night has followed day and day night. But in this strange new phase of existence into which our universe is passing, it becomes evident that events no longer recur. They go on and on to an impenetrable mystery, into a voiceless limitless darkness, against which this obstinate urgency of our dissatisfied minds may struggle, but will struggle only until it is altogether overcome. . . .

Mind near exhaustion still makes its final futile movement towards that ‘way out or round or through the impasse’.

That is the utmost now that mind can do. And this, its last expiring thrust, is to demonstrate that the door closes upon us for evermore.

There is no way out or round or through. . . .

Our doomed formicary is helpless as the implacable Antagonist kicks or tramples our world to pieces.

This passage has been quoted at length because it gives a good idea of unconscious worship – admittedly a worship of fear and despair – which claims to derive from clear inquiry, but clearly does not do so. If the future is dark and the adversary unknow¬able, how can it be known that ‘the door closes on us for ever¬more’? The supposed Antagonist cannot be implacably opposed to life, or it would never have been permitted to arise in the first place. This is a vision, not a rational conclusion. It is a vision of part of the cosmic process, and it is described vividly in the Eleventh Chapter of the Gita, where the Antagonist is met face to face. But it is only a part, and the same Chapter shows him as the Protagonist himself, the very life of the universe, upholding and sustaining it.

In one of the letters of the collection Dear Bertrand Russell (Allen & Unwin, London, 1969) Russell has this:

October 5, 1961

… As for the strange sympathy between Conrad and myself, I cannot pretend that I have ever quite understood it. I think I have always felt that there were two levels, one that of science and common sense, and another, terrifying, subterranean and periodic, which in some sense held more truth than the everyday view. You might describe this as a Satānic mysticism. I have never been convinced of its truth, but in moments of intense emotion it overwhelms me. It is capable of being defended on the most pure intellectual grounds – for example, by Eddington’s contention that the laws of physics only seem to be true because of the things that we choose to notice. I suppose that the feeling I had for Conrad depended upon his combination of passion and pessimism – but that perhaps is a simplification.

These experiences are not unusual among those who regard themselves as sceptical. What is unusual is the frankness with which they are expressed by Wells and Russell. All this is worship; emotional and intellectual energy goes out to something which is hardly to be described, except that it is threatening; and in return the object of worship overwhelms the worshipper at times of deep emotion, as Russell says. The Gita calls it worship of the destructive power which is responsible for the breaking-down processes of the universe, but which is only a fragment of the great vision of the Lord.

Anything can become an object of worship, invested with a mysterious awe, which is never analysed but which demands concentration and service. The many legends of the dragon guarding a treasure – typified by Fafner in Wagner’s Ring – are examples of worship. Why does the dragon guard the treasure? It is no use to him. Fafner is originally a giant, a master builder, but he becomes enslaved by a treasure, and in the end is simply a watchman, transformed into a dragon sleeping on it. The money is never spent or used; to the dragon its mere existence as a heap is enough. This is worship.

Karl Marx was rather reluctant to describe the consummation which he hoped for; he does say, however, that the organized state will wither away, leaving men to an Arcadian life. It is rather like the Garden of Eden, or certain passages of Taoist sages of China, and was clearly a vision which he worshipped.

But yoga tells us that these objects of worship have not been looked at steadily. If man analyses what he hopes for to the very end, he will find that he must become a god. All his formulations rest on unspoken assumptions – if he thinks money will satisfy him, he is always implicitly assuming that his health will hold up, that his friends will not be consumed with envy, that he will receive love, that no foreign invasion will come.

The yogi must penetrate through his assumptions and find something more real.

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