The true self is unseen
At a particular university, a very famous lawyer, he said to his students, “You’re only a lawyer if, when you’re walking on the street, there’s an accident.” It’s being looked after, you can’t help, but you’re only a lawyer if you immediately think, “Has there been contributory negligence?” and you’re only a doctor if you immediately think, “What’s the nature of the injuries?” You’re only a politician if you think, “What’s going to be the effect of these constant traffic accidents? Shall we have to…? Can our political party make something out of this, of government stupidity?”
Those remarks by him succeeded in putting off some of his students from studying the law afterwards. It meant to be totally swallowed up by your subject and to become nothing more than simply a carrier for that.
It can happen in all sorts of ways. In Singapore, if there’s a car accident, people will run up, but not to help. They want to get the number of the car, and then they bet on that number in the numbers game, lottery, which takes place two or three times a week.
The Chinese, they’re not… As one of their politicians proudly said, “In Singapore we don’t have monotheism. We have moneytheism,” but it is, in fact, a worship of a lot of superstitions. This is a typical sort of superstition. When something unexpected happens like that and there’s a number in it, that’s the one to bet on. These are chance things which seem to be real, and Shankara says, ‘This is how the world is supported.’
Behind all this mass of illusion, there is something real, but that is killed. Shankara explains this killing of the self by the fact the true self, in man and in others, is not seen. He says, ‘Of course, this true self, which is universal and is the Lord, can’t be actually killed, but by not seeing it, in effect, we are killing it in our own consciousness. To rouse it, to rouse the consciousness of it is to separate ourselves from the passing associations and to become aware of immortality within ourselves.’
Immortality is a very comforting doctrine, to think that death is not the end, but it’s only an idea, only a belief. Yoga is not simply a set of beliefs, even supported by analogies and arguments, illustrations and inferences, but it has to be a matter of actual experience.
If you’d like to, we can try something which our teacher occasionally gave: to sit still, reasonably upright, and then to become aware of our thought processes and our sensations – they’re all passing and dying – and to look calmly and carefully, and see whether there’s something which is not dying, which is not changing, which is not passing. As they pass away, there’s something. We can catch a glimpse of it, like a glimpse of the blue sky behind the passing clouds. If you’d like to try, the name of God is OM, and if I just repeat it: “OM.”
A famous Zen teacher had a disciple who was a very influential minister in Japan. He used to go to this teacher every two weeks, for two hours, into the country, and he sat. He would sit there in meditation. A reporter went to see the Zen master after this became known, and he said, “Is the Minister getting any benefit from this sitting?” The reporter – I read the article – he described ruefully how the teacher, sort of, blew him up: “He doesn’t come here to get a benefit as Minister. He comes here to realise what he is.”
“Among your other disciples, I hear there’s the wife of one of the tradesmen. You live in this rather remote area. Wouldn’t it be better if you brought your undoubted talents to the city? You could have more disciples like the Minister and not so much waste your time.”
This time he was really dynamite. The teacher shouted at him: “We teach shooting here, archery. He’s got to shoot himself out of being the Minister into what he really is, the Buddha nature that he really is, and she’s got to shoot herself out of being the tradesmen’s wife, into the Buddha nature which she really is.” Then he said, “And it may be that it’ll be easier for her to shoot herself out of being ‘I’m only the greengrocer’s wife’ than it will be for him to shoot himself out of his Excellency, the Minister.”
It is a process, the steps of which are known. It’s not like a scientific research, where the results are not known. It’s more like, perhaps, engineering, in which the result is known, but the skill and the methods have to be applied in order to bring about that result.
The results, experiments, confirmations, are quite different from theory. They may be quite different from theory in scientific advance. For instance, Hertz first demonstrated the radio in ‘93. It had been predicted, the possibility had been predicted by Clerk Maxwell long before that, but Clerk Maxwell never made any attempt to discover whether, in fact, the radio waves were propagated. They were. He predicted that they would be electromagnetic vibrations through the aether.
Now, in 1887, Michelson demonstrated that the aether did not exist. Therefore, the radio waves would be impossible because there’d be nothing to vibrate, but Hertz disregarded – and many others disregarded – this result. The radio waves were, in fact, discovered in practice, on the basis of an entirely false theory, but he said – and it’s in the preface to his book in ‘93 – ‘There can be no doubt that light and the radio waves are electromagnetic vibrations through the aether.’
He doesn’t say, ‘This is a postulate, a hypothesis.’ He said, ‘They can be no doubt out,’ this was a wrong theory, but it led to a positive result. Then the theory was modified.
This is not the same in Yoga. The steps, the theory, and the practice are known, and have been classified and set out before us, but they still have to be carried out. Hertz’s view was, “There must be the aether. Otherwise, how could it work?” but it did work. The whole theory of the aether had to be changed, and they returned to a much earlier theory of fields of force, deriving from Faraday.
© Trevor Leggett
Titles in this series are:
Part 1: Karma – Kill Not the Self
Part 2: Cohesion of the universe
Part 3: Within man there is the great Lord
Part 4: Kill Not the Self – Karma
Part 5: The true self is unseen
Part 6: Having a theory and confirming it