The Satyameva Dialogues


[The Satyameva Dialogues consist of a series of recorded and transcribed conversations between Sri Manu and Acharya Nirankar. Acharya Nirankar is a practitioner and teacher of Vedanta; Sri Manu likes to regard himself as a seeker of Truth and studies Vedanta.  

These conversations are spread over many months, reflecting many moods and thoughts. We have tried to retain, as far as editorially possible, the original bhava and flavor of the conversations. — Editors.]

Dialogue 2: Yajna

M: You had once said that there are two paths of ascension by which one can attain to the supreme Self — by jnana and by yajna. Jnana, as I understand, Acharyaji, is attained through a relentless pursuit of the highest truth, by intense and profound self-enquiry and contemplation, by constant and unbroken dwelling on Krishna as one’s inmost Self. As a student of Vedanta, I understand well the path of jnana. But what, indeed, is the path of yajna? Pray, elucidate, Acharyaji!

AN: Yajna, simply, is that by which the lower self is raised to the supreme Self, purushottama, and by which we grow into oneness with it. The idea of yajna runs deep through the Gita, and indeed, the whole of the Vedic dharma, and is regarded by many as the necessary adhara for the dharmic life. It is through sacrifice, the seers declare, that one attains to the nectar of Immortality. Sri Krishna himself declares to Arjuna — they who enjoy the nectar of immortality left over from the Sacrifice attain to the eternal Brahman. [1]

M: Is this yajna a symbolical offering of self to the Divine? A giving up of the lower life for the higher?

AN: Yajna is sacrifice in the sense of consecration, not giving up, renouncing – to make sacred, to dedicate to the highest within usBorn mortal, it is by yajna that we raise ourselves to godhead, to divinity — the rahasya guhyam of the Gita, the progressive transformation, and restoration, of the human to the divine through sacrifice and consecration. 

M: Restoration?

AN: Because this ‘transformation’ is not a change into something new or different but a restoration of the original, the true. Think of the metamorphosis of the caterpillar into a butterfly: it seems that the butterfly is very different from the caterpillar but it is not; the butterfly was always there, embedded, in the caterpillar’s DNA. Likewise, the divine is embedded in our human DNA. The yajna is the process through which the divine emerges from the human!

M: So, the outer ceremonial ‘sacrifice’ practiced in Hindu dharma symbolizes this inner process?  

AN: True. The external sacrifice is symbolical – the symbols reveal the inner or yogic process to the outer eye. To give you just one example, the ghee that one pours as oblation into the sacred fire represents the illumined mind, the power of Indra, so crucial to the process of transformation. So you see, without an understanding of the symbology, the external will have no real meaning and will look like mere ritualism and superstition. 

M: Which is how many of us so-called modern intellectuals see it!

AN: Which is unfortunate.

M: So, how does one begin this inner yajna Acharyaji?

AN: As Krishna himself says, with the offering of the self to the Self — the lower, mortal self gives itself up to the higher, immortal Self which is Ishwara, the true Purusha. It is only by ‘sacrificing’ the lower ego-self to the higher divine Self that one will attain to the status of the Divine.

M: What does this ‘lower’ and ‘higher’ exactly mean, Acharyaji? 

AN: When one’s consciousness is limited to the sense-mind and identified with the namarupa,[2] and when it is subject to the forces of nature, moved by the gunas of prakriti, then it is known as the lower self. And when the consciousness is liberated from its limitations, from the forces and the gunas of prakriti, when it is identified with the Purusha, or Ishvara, then it is known as the higher Self. Purushottama is the highest Self of all, and one can attain to that Purushottama when the consciousness is perfectly identified with the supreme Ishvara, Sri Krishna, seated in the psychic heart.

But for all this, a certain degree of purification is needed, a fundamental suddhi. One must first give up all that one considers or believes to be one’s own, all that one possesses. But then, that is the first ahuti [3] only. One quickly realizes that renouncing objects and relations that one possesses is pointless if one does not renounce possessiveness itself, that deep-seated idea of me and mine, mamatva. So the deeper ahuti that must follow is of possessiveness itself, of mamatva, of the me and mine. 

But how is one to purify oneself of possessiveness, of mine-ness, without first getting rid of the idea of ‘me’? And here is the crux of the matter: the sense of a personal self, a ‘Me’, an adamant and almost inherent sense of being somebody – this is the root of all sense of possessing and belonging. 

M: And this ‘sense of personal self’ is our identification with mind and body, is it not?

AN: Yes, that it is. 

M: And where is the source of the identification, Sir? 

AN: For me, it was in the prana – the feelings, the life force, the vital being. It is there that I found the most stubborn knots of personal identification and identity. It was in my deepest feelings and volition that I found the seat of my ahambhava[4]

M: And I always thought that the source of identity was in the mind, the buddhi!

AN: Maybe that’s true for some, but I speak here of my own experience. Even when I had largely managed to purify myself of the ego in the buddhi and the chitta, it remained stubbornly sticking to the feelings, refusing to budge. I discovered within myself that the essential ego-sense is almost inseparable from the prana and the feelings. Trying to get out of the ego in the prana was like trying to get out of my skin. 

M: You once spoke of detachment as the master key.

AN: Detachment, yes; but more than detachment, identification with Krishna seems to be the master key. You see, all our difficulties arise from identification with the mind-body-ego complex, the namarupa, and, therefore, it would seem that the master key would be to turn the identification around, from namarupa to that which is behind namarupa, and supporting all namarupa.

M: Ishvara?

AN: Exactly. Sri Krishna gives us two mahavakyas [5] in the Gita — ahamatma sarvabhutayeshayasthita:[6] which means that  I am the Self, atman, abiding within all beings; and ishvarah sarva-bhutanam hrid-desherjuna tishthati,[7] which means that Ishvara, Sri Krishna himself, resides in the hearts of all living beings. The import of these statements is perfectly clear: that Ishvara, Sri Krishna himself, resides in us as our inmost self, the atman, and thus, it is the atman that we must identify with, it is the atman that is our true self, the true person that we are. The external namarupa, the ego, is a shell – why identify with the shell when we can identify, and eventually unite, with the kernel, the true self?

M: In a practical sense, Acharyaji, how does one identify with Krishna? After all, the sense of being myself is not so easy to shake off, is it? 

AN: One has to understand this mystery of identification.

M: As Sri Ramana used to ask – who is identifying, and with whom? And who is questioning?

 AN: One has to enter deep into the phenomenon. It is not as difficult as it may seem. What is needed is the spirit of enquiry, atma vichara. Find out who is the one conscious in our consciousness, who is the knower, the experiencer? It’s all here, [Acharyaji points to his heart] the whole mystery is here, to be unravelled. All you need is silence of mind, na kinchidapi chintayet – no activity of mind, just awareness all the time, who’s thinking, who is aware?

 M: Easier said, Acharyaji! For this kind of deep atma vichara, one needs equally deep sraddha and samarpan. Yes, Krishna says that he is residing in us as our own inmost self, but how many of us worldly beings can live that as the truth of our existence?

AN: I agree: there is no point if one cannot live these things; mere theoretical knowledge is of no use.

M: How does one get the samarpan, Acharyaji?

AN: [After a long pause] Samarpan comes when the yogi sees through the mithya of the ego, when the yogi understands that the individual is non-real, that behind all seeming individuality is the oneness of Ishvara. Till then, samarpan, in its true sense, does not come. What one can have is a mental bhava of surrender but the real thing happens when the avidya of separative existence drops. 

M: There is no separative existence, no real ego?

AN: No, the ego or separative existence is mithya — that which appears to be there but is not really there, like a mirage.

M: And what produces this mithya?

AN: What produces a mirage?

M: It’s an optical illusion, Sir.

AN: So is mithya. Actually, an illusion of the outward-going senses. When one learns to draw the senses into the buddhi, and the buddhi into the chaitanya,[8] the mithya disappears, and one then sees the true as true, the appearance as appearance, the false as false – then there is no confusion, the whole thing becomes crystal clear in one’s antar drishti[9]

M: So, if I understand correctly, samarpan is possible only to the enlightened, one who has gotten rid of avidya?

AN: If all you know and live is the ego, why will you surrender? Some kind of working enlightenment is necessary, Sir: enough to know that the ego is mithya, and so is this world of namarupa.

M: But enlightenment is always of the higher buddhi in us, isn’t it, while samarpan can also be a bhava of the heart? 

AN: Certainly; but there is no real division between what you call the heart’s bhava and the buddhi’s understanding. The deeper and more long-lasting bhava always arises from the buddhi’s understanding. What the buddhi does not, or cannot, understand, the heart cannot live or follow. When the mind’s knowing and the heart’s bhava converge, you have something of the sraddha and samarpan that are needed – the psychic bhava in the heart and the psychic knowing in the buddhi.

M: Is there a process to speed up all this, Sir? The psychic seems too far for most of us.

AN: There is no single process – fortunately – and no hard and fast rules. Yoga is an inner unfolding, and much depends on your swabhava!

M: And swabhava is given to you, isn’t it?

AN: Given? By whom?

M: Divine dispensation? Karma? I’m not sure. All I know is that you are born with your swabhava. 

AN: What is swabhava? What do you think?

M: One’s innate nature?

AN: Which is what? The play of the gunas? Or something deeper than all that?

M: I would think something deeper, Acharyaji. I don’t think swabhava is acquired through karma or is subject to the play of the gunas. 

AN: Swabhava is our spiritual nature; as Sri Aurobindo says, it is the basic stuff of our existence, the spiritual Nature which has become these multiple personalities in the universe. [10]

M: But it is unique to each, is it not? I mean, it is not universal…

AN: This spiritual nature is one but expresses itself in prakriti variously, multiply, each expression a unique formulation of the Divine in the infinite namarupa of prakriti. It is this divine expression in us that we become, or manifest, as we pass through the experiences of lifetimes. In Sri Aurobindo’s words again, our swabhava is our truth of being which finds expression in our various becoming in the world.

M: But swabhava is also related to our outer nature, is it not? To the layers of conditionings, our basic tendencies and habits, we have acquired in this lifetime?

AN: The outer person, the namarupa, also has a swabhava: for sure! Everything has a swabhava, even birds and insects. The swabhava of a scorpion, for instance, is to bite. Remember the story?

M: Yes, Acharyaji — the scorpion and the sage.

AN: But the truth of our being is the swabhava unconditioned by outer forces and circumstances, the suddha swabhava, which is a portion of the Supreme, of Purushottama, Sri Krishna. This divine portion of the Supreme in us is the jivatma. It is in the jivatma that one finds the true swabhava. The namarupa, the outer conditioned personality, is only the shell. 

M: This jivatma is the psychic being, Acharyaji?

AN: When you are conscious of the psychic, you also become aware of the jivatma. The psychic, as Sri Aurobindo has often said, is the representative of the jivatma behind the outer mind, life and body, behind the namarupa. But these are matters of inner understanding and realization — academic definitions don’t help. 

M: So, as I can now see, the yajna of the Gita is our self-sacrifice, the sacrifice of the lower and the outer, to Sri Krishna, our supreme Self, so that all in us is progressively transformed into his consciousness, his divine swabhava.

AN: That, indeed, is the supreme purpose, param uddeshya, of our existence.

M: And what is the sign, Acharyaji, of the attainment of this param uddeshya? How does one know that one is doing the yajna in the right way, in the right spirit?

AN: There are definite inner signs of the fruition, Sir. More and more, one attains to an unshakeable poise of equanimity and equality — samabhava. Nothing within or without disturbs, one is no longer subject to the play of the gunas, of the dualities, the dwandvas. One becomes increasingly udasina — seated above the play of prakriti, above the play of people and personalities, of events and circumstances. One begins to see Sri Krishna’s hand behind all things, all events good or bad or evil, fortunate or unfortunate, pleasant or unpleasant. This whole universe becomes Sri Krishna’s playfield. We see everything as his will and play and we no longer desire this or that outcome, we no longer resist or anticipate: whatever comes, comes from Krishna, whatever goes from us, goes back to Krishna. Life becomes supremely easy, effortless. More and more, we grow desireless, nishkama. Not because desire is a bad thing but because desire is so unnecessary, so useless. We outgrow it, as we outgrow so many of our old human habits and tendencies. 

1यज्ञशिष्टामृतभुजो यान्ति ब्रह्म सनातनम् । The Gita, 4.31.

2In this context, the mind, life and body as a formation of prakriti or nature.

3Āhuti (आहुति),  Offering, oblation at one level; calling or invoking at another. Often used synonymously with sacrifice, ahuti is what one offers in the process of sacrifice.

4Literally, the I-sense: aham, I, bhava, sense, state of being, attitude, feeling, awareness.

5In this context, statements of great significance.

6The Gita, 10.20: अहमात्मा सर्वभूताशयस्थितः — I am the Self, which abides within all beings.

7The Gita, 18.61: ईश्वरः सर्वभूतानां हृद्देशेऽर्जुन तिष्ठति — O Arjuna, the Ishvara resides in the hearts of all living beings.

8Chaitanya (चैतन्य), conscious Self, in this context; can also mean intelligence or pure Consciousness

9Antar drishti is intuitive perception or inner seeing.

10The spiritual Nature which has become this multiple personality in the universe, …, is the basic stuff of our existence: all the rest is lower derivation and outer formation from a highest hidden activity of the spirit. And in Nature each of us has a principle and will of our own becoming; each soul is a force of self-consciousness that formulates an idea of the Divine in it and guides by that its action and evolution, its progressive self-finding, its constant varying self-expression, its apparently uncertain but secretly inevitable growth to fullness. That is our Swabhava, our own real nature; that is our truth of being which is finding now only a constant partial expression in our various becoming in the world. The law of action determined by this Swabhava is our right law of self-shaping, function, working, our Swadharma. — Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita.

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