Karma yoga slowly unknots the tangle of identifications
The aim was to free the seemingly individualized consciousness completely from limitations of any particular body and mind in which it found itself encased.
In the end there were two final stages:
(1) conscious awareness of being an immortal unwavering witness-self (pratyag-atman), observing but untouched by body or mind, and then
(2) being universal Self, the Lord who creates, maintains and withdraws the universe, according to a plan, by an illusory projection like a magic show. Before the final absorption, or expansion-to-infinity (both terms were used) of the individual self, it would become relatively free while still in the body. There would remain a theoretical difference from the universal Self; that remnant is inspired by Him till the body drops.
The universal Self projected the universe and entered into it as the individual selves, voluntarily putting aside His sovereignty. The spark of universal Self in each impels them, obscurely, to seek freedom. The cosmic purpose is to help them; it is done by the Self acting through the more advanced selves, and partly by the universal Self directly, when prayed to, served, and meditated upon as the Lord.
There are special methods, discovered and verified by the free selves in their human experience, which facilitate the process: these methods are called yoga. Yoga methods are hinted at in all the traditional religious revelations. A full account (so far as words can go) is given in the Upanishads of India, and their rendering into verse called the Bhagavad Gita. Some Upanishads themselves show that a great deal can be done by practising along the lines of the texts. But as with all fine skills, a teacher is normally necessary in the final stages.
Since the tangle of individuality and personality which separate off the local self is only an illusion, in theory a few words or other signs should be enough for liberation. But in practice this is not so. The illusion is dynamic and self-perpetuating. So there is usually a gradual pacification and purification. The mind itself, made up of the illusion, can hardly see clearly enough to follow out the programme unaided: hence the need for texts and teacher. The teacher must be one who has verified the truth of the texts in his own experience, at least partially.
Even so, the bare abstractions (as they seem to one caught up in the world-illusion) may not arouse enough energy. Students cannot in fact believe in the unity of individual self with the universal Self. So there is a preliminary yoga, called Karma yoga, or yoga of action. Here, the separation of the individual self is accepted for the moment. The universal Self is accepted as a separate entity, now called God. He is worshipped as Creator, served by trying to follow the cosmic plan revealed in scripture, saluted as the latent Self in others, and meditated upon as the projecting essence of the universe. By this programme, the Lord begins to reveal himself in external events and circumstances; he also begins to stir in the practising yogin himself, giving living inspiration in place of following the letter of texts.
Karma yoga slowly unknots the tangle of identifications – with body (I am well, I am ill), with status (I am a woman, I am British), with situations (I am rich, I am hated), with mind (I don’t like this, I don’t see that), and finally with the unconscious or semi-conscious impulses in the dynamic seed-bed below the mind (I don’t know why I did this, I just can’t do that). Loosening of the knots is reflected in gradual dropping away of enslavement to the passing illusory hopes and ambitions and fears of the world. There are also positive signs: increasing awareness of the cosmic purpose, and more energy and daring to co-operate in it.
There are perceptions of the Lord outside, and flashes of light from the Lord within. The first culminate in visitations by the Lord in radiant forms, at first subjective and then objective; such are granted to everyone who practises with intensity. The second culminate in awareness of the Lord as the true self, first as a witness Self in each body-mind complex, and then this witness Self is found to be the universal Self. The yoga is not a creation, but dropping of illusory entanglements. In theory it could be completed in an instant. But in practice the illusions are not given up so easily. In both phases of the yoga, the crucial final discipline is profound meditation: in Karma yoga on the Lord regarded as separate, and in Knowledge yoga on the Self. This last is needed in most cases to dissolve surviving mental memories and habits, known to be false but nevertheless persistent.
The Self is free from all attributes, including mind. For instance, it does not think, because it is knowledge absolute. Thinking brings out relations previously unknown, but in Self everything is already known. In fact, it is all, and there is no second thing for it to know. The magic projection of Maya is not a second thing, but Self itself. Words, with their presumed hard edges, dissolve in these regions. Dr. Shastri repeatedly emphasized: ‘Do not imagine you can finally grasp it intellectually. Grasp the Self by realizing it.’
© Trevor Leggett