The Nature of Reality

Yoga is a process aiming at a clear-cut realisation of reality through the instruments of precision above the mind. The technique is to bring the mind under control by discipline and restraint, then to make an intellectual analysis as far as the intellect will go, then to go beyond the intellect by what is called meditation. The methods of discipline and restraint are given in full in the Gita.  The intellectual analysis can be made from various standpoints. One way is to take a tentative description of reality as given by the scriptures, and analyse that. One such description is the phrase Sat-Chit-Ananda, or existence-consciousness-bliss. This has the seal of approval of many famous Mahatmas, who confirmed it in their own experiences.     

It can be partially verified by the intellect, but the full verification comes through the yogic practices.

The first word of the phrase is Sat, existence. It is a matter of universal experience that whatever is experienced is experienced as existent. Existence is found to be the universal element involved in the conception of all subjects and objects of knowledge.   Among all changing objects existence is experienced as the universal element, which is neither changed nor modified nor limited.          

The particular things change, but not existence itself. When all the changing particular features are eliminated then one unlimited, formless, changeless, attributeless existence remains as the substratum of all finite objects. Such is the thread of the argument. There are objections which can be raised to it and replies to those objections, but even to mention them leads far afield. And even when the thesis is completely demonstrated to the intellect, we are not necessarily much further.

It is one thing to be convinced of a thing intellectually, and quite another to experience it. The intellectual analysis is to be made, but the full conviction comes through deep meditation.

Here are a few quotations which describe reality as Existence.

The Gita says : ” One who knows sees the same reality in a Brahmin, a cow, an elephant, a dog and an outcaste.
” The Sufi mystic, Bayazid was asked : ” If God created the world, there must have been a time when there was nothing but God alone ?
” He replied : ” It is the same now.”     

Swami Rama Tirtha :
” When you see a person you at once attach to him a sense of personality ; so, on looking at anything, you should perceive and see immediately the real support, God.”
” They that see the real in the midst of the unreal, they that know the One in all the changing manifoldness of this universe, unto them belongs eternal peace-unto none else, unto none else.”
” Damn not yourself and the things also ; see beyond name and form, tear the veil of appearance, look through, see Him.”

Even now it can be said that these too are intellectual utterances, convincing enough if collected together in sufficient numbers, but vanishing like smoke at some violent irruption of the outer world into our philosophic calm. Does not the sage run from the tiger like any other man, forced into a belated acknowledgement of duality ? Yoga teaches that intellectual conviction is not enough ; the truth of the one existence pervading all beings must be realised in practice through deep meditation. For a long time the yogi will sometimes be disturbed by the outer world, but he brings back his contemplation again and again to truth, and finally realisation dawns-it is never again shaken.

Swami Rama Tirtha was a great modern yogi of the Adhyatma yoga tradition, who had fully realised the truth. He passed the last years of his life as a total renunciate in the state of Tihri, which is entirely in the Himalayan ranges. Swami Rama lived in caves or woodmen’s shacks, in forests thickly peopled by beasts of prey, and with no regular food supply and no proper clothing against the cold. His note-books were written on paper brought to him occasionally, and in them he speaks of his own experiences.

” Is it not a diseased brain that makes you afraid of the walls and curtains and lamps ? ”
” When you are in the arms of the bear, look him in the face and laugh, and all the time see God.”
” God must be at least as real as persons.”
” Why have you let yourself be deceived by names and forms ? Not till you have laid aside the garb of names and forms can you see the God hidden therein.”
” To feel individualities and personalities to be real and to look up to them with love or hope is idolatry, and de-servedly invites the wrath of the Reality behind the masks.”
” Let Truth gain such immense proportions for you that before its magnitude all appearances vanish. And when your identification with Truth is intense enough, the rhinoceros shall find no point wherein to drive his horn, the tiger no room to fix his claws, and the sword no place to thrust at.”

The second word of the phrase Sat-Chit-Ananda is Chit, consciousness. The states of experience can be roughly classified as : waking, dreaming, and dreamless sleep. These states are the objects of universal experience. The fact that we can experience them one after another and remember them (even of deep sleep we have the memory when we wake) can be accounted for only by the admission that there is one consciousness pervading all these states. If there were more than. one consciousness there would be no continuity.

That one consciousness is the witnessing subject. Furthermore, as it is the subject always, and cannot be the object, it must always and everywhere be a unity.
Though minds and egos may be many, consciousness is simple. Perhaps Kant also suggests this when he hints that the transcendental Self in all is the same. The whole of experience is thus superimposed on one consciousness which does not change. Existence (Sat) is nothing but this consciousness (Chit), the Self.

We give a few texts where the Yogi sees the universe, not only as Existence, but as Consciousness, as Self Chandogya Upanishad: ” When the Self is known, all this becomes known.”
Bhagavad Gita : ” He sees the Self in all and all beings in the Self.” Another sentence copied by Beethoven : ” I am all that is, that was and that shall be.”

Swami Rama Tirtha : ” Looking straight means looking at persons as we look at trees and rivers, projecting no personality into them, as a child does ; seeing one’s own Self, and no stranger.”

” The beautiful horns of the Antelope terrify you, lest your bowels be torn. You cannot see the beauty of the snake’s skin for always thinking of its poison. You always dread the lion’s roar but never hear and enjoy the wild music of his thunder.”

Reality is postulated as Existence and Consciousness, and intellect gives some support to this description, because it is partially supported by analysis of our experience. The third word by which Yoga points to reality is Ananda, bliss. The thesis that Reality is bliss cuts right across our experience, which is always ultimately sorrowful, if only because of its passing character.

They asked the prophet Mohammed ” What hast thou to say of the things of this world ? ” He replied : ” What can I say of them ? Things which are acquired with hard labour, preserved with perpetual anxiety, and left with regret.” By subtle psychological reasoning it can be shown that Existence and Consciousness are also Bliss but in this case most of all, the unsatisfactory nature of merely theoretical knowledge is clear. Here more than ever the dictum is acceptable only as a working hypothesis to guide the yogic practices which lead to full practical experience.

We perceive through the mind alone, through a medium which distorts reality. The nature of this distortion is hinted at in the following ancient verse

” In Him, We, peering through this veil of darkness, Imagine that we see the universe brought forth, Even as, in darkness, Men think a rope a snake.”

Through the yogic meditations and discipline, the medium of darkness is removed, and Reality is known directly. It can never be fully described in words which themselves belong to the veiling medium but it is provisionally hinted at as Sat-Chit-Ananda, existence-consciousness-bliss.     

The great Mahatmas of both ancient and modern times have spoken of this realisation, and if their words seem convincing, we can ourselves follow the same path, studying as they did under a teacher.

Perhaps it seems too great a jump, so opposed to ordinary experience that there is no way to approach it. But it is not so. The writer once saw a man who had complete control over all the muscles of his body, not only the little superficial muscles of the surface, but also the involuntary muscles of the digestive organs and so on. He had spent many years acquiring this, and by giving public performances he made enough to live on. He admitted that he had no cultural, intellectual or spiritual interests, so this was the sum of his achievement. However there was one good lesson to be learned from his technique. He said that if one wished to learn to control the digestive tract, for instance, it was no use trying to move it directly. The thing was to begin on the muscles involved in swallowing, over which one had some slight control. Those should be brought completely under control, and then it would be found that there would have developed a slight control of the muscles further down. In this way, by practice, little by little, the conscious control could be made complete. There was, he added, grave risk of causing gastric disturbance unless the process was directed by a guru or teacher.

There is a faint analogy with the yoga technique here. The yogi cannot plunge straight into the Absolute, as the Gita clearly warns us. But he goes to a teacher who shows him how to use and develop the highest things of which he is as yet conscious ; controlling his thoughts, turning them to worship, devotion, service and then to meditation on concrete things, then on symbols and on abstract ideas. In this way, slowly and surely the consciousness is completely revealed.

The goal is experienced by the Mahatmas as Existence, Consciousness and Bliss-Bliss (as Shankaracharya says) undisturbed by any pain or sorrow whatsoever. The full realization is depicted in the poems of Swami Rama Tirtha in clear and direct terms, without any ambiguity whatever. The poems show in life and direct experience what has here been only theoretically sketched in. If any one wants to know what -is the experience of the Mahatmas, let him read the testimony of one of the greatest of them, which is embodied in the following poem.

Poem by Swami Rama Tirtha

The breeze of Spring has turned the buds into blossoms ;
The clouds have passed by
Having sprinkled the earth with raindrops ;
The roses are caressed by the light of the moon.
A youthful woman, full of enchanting grace and joy
Meets me in the solitude
And approaches smiling, looking at me.
But the magic of beauty and youth
Make no impression on the Yogi

Who has burn up pleasure
-desires in one great thought.
How could she hold a candle to the sun ?

She withdrew covered with shame.
I am the life of all youth ;
I am the beauty of the sun and moon.

Thousands had come to worship and to serve,
The King was waving the fan over my head,
The Ministers lovingly washed my feet
Many adorers were there.
” You are the greatest incarnation,” they cried ;
I laughed at their adoration ;
” Not only great but small too am I,
I am all–do not limit me.”


They assail me with their pleasantries,
They hurl veiled invectives,
They throw stones at me.
My face bleeds, my head is wounded,
But still a smile plays on my lips;
For I am the life of this play,
I support this game as well.


Mid-night in January ; darkness everywhere ;
The Himalayan snows cover the land.
A fresh storm breaks-it ceases
And the strong, cold biting wind blows.
My body shakes like a willow,
But there is strength in my heart
and laughter in my eyes,
For I am the life of the cold,
I am the energy of the elements.


A lovely forest, full of wonders I
In search of food
I gaze around me, and to I
My eyes fall on a wandering lion ;
I look at him steadily-he turns quietly away.
Divinity expresses
Itself through the eye.
I am the energy of lions,
I am the life in all.


The boat is caught in a storm ;
The wind races with tremendous speed ;
Breakers crash to right and left,
and lightening strikes here and there.
I stand smiling, holding the mast like a flute,
courage ruling my heart,
I am the life of the storm ;
I am the foundation of the elements.


Dysentery and fever shake the body,
But like a rare wine the spiritual experience revives me.
I sing, defying illness,
The body is a line on water,
If it dies I am not affected,
Because I am the water.
I am the forms and figures of the world,
I am Rama, the life of all.

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