The flow of thought was steady in my head. In a few moments my sexagenarian life was in the vortex of a dichotomy. But not for long. As I consciously agreed with the new import, all the notions that I steadfastly clung to all my life about my existence stood nullified. The new impression imprinted itself dominantly, and changed me totally. In the wide memory-canvas I had etched many an episode of life spent in virtual futility; but now I am convinced that I am indeed a champ of some sort. And as the misty veil gradually lifted itself, I found myself swathed in a bliss I had never experienced before.
This was the day before I was to enter a hospital for a hip-joint replacement surgery, one of a series of complications that necessitated a major surgical intervention. “Entering the twilight zone,” was how I had always believed these to be, for even the attending medical personnel always avoided looking into my eyes while palpably lying about guaranteed favourable outcome, the understandable falsity somehow never creating a chasm in our relationship.
Would I see another sun rise? Was I leaving anything undone for my family? Would I like to see somebody for the last time? Immediately so many images surfaced, my mind automatically shuffling them into a panoramic collage, that I had to make an effort to pacify my thought processes, control myself.
And then it happened. As I closed my eyes in hopeless languor, the figure stood before me, but at a distance, against a backdrop of diffused light. I felt more than I convincingly saw that I was looking at a miniature version of myself, a midget of my own self, that appeared to be missing the outer covering of layers of skin. It was all muscles and veins and sinews, seemingly stark and supple at the same time.
In a moment I knew. That was the finer body inside my physical body. I remembered the Shastric dictum : the physical body – sthula sharira - is made up of gross elements; there is a finer body inside – sukshma sharira – made up of very fine invisible elements, tanmaatra(s). Seeing it is a rarest of rare experience.
Aghast, I looked on. Then there was that surge of strange new thought wave, impelling but soothing, domineering but convincing; the inundation so complete that I ceased to be an existence on the surface of the ocean of life, but down under, groping but finding footholds everywhere.
Normalcy returned a while later. The first conscious thought that hit my head like a streak of lightning was that I was no longer standing on a quicksand in this world, I was on solid ground. The next moment an inquiry cropped up in my mind. The whole process was bereft of any assurance on whether I would survive the impending hospitalisation.
It is apt that I introduce myself properly. My name hardly matters. What matters most is how this existence has been tempered by the vicissitudes of cosmic interference time and again. I suffered bone fractures in both the legs at one go when I was about 10 years old, had shoulder bone dislocations 13 times between 14 and 50 years of age, underwent spinal surgery to extract a loose disc at age 20, and suffered a wrist fracture at age 53. Then came the time for hip joint replacement surgery at age 58. Subsequently, I underwent two hernia operations when I was 62 years old.
These earned me a rather dubious distinction in the form of a longish sobriquet in my friends' circle – 'Here is a man who breaks his bones on request'. They even wrote an epitaph – 'Here lies a Doctor's Delight.'
They have valid reasons too. For I also have a disease that chokes the nasal passages – vasomotor rhinitis – a name that one could almost fall in love with. I have pharyngitis in my throat, a heart palpitation causing tachycardia in the chest, a permanent and incurable cold and cough triggering allergy and I suffer from muscle cramps on and often, each time it seems that a tiger or a lion has an inexorable grip on me.
I consider myself to be an expert on pain management, but it has now become doubly difficult with osteoarthritis attacking both the thumbs, and that or something else choosing the neck and the elbows.
All the surgical interventions left me less and less competent than normal people. I am a lame person owing to leg fractures, a person with inadequate back strength due to spinal injury, diminished shoulder strength because of frequent dislocations. Inappropriate uses of anesthetics and sedatives and pain killers filled me up with kinds of problems that doctors have conveniently grouped under Allergy, nondescript ones.
With these damaged resources I was determined to live as normal a life as was foreordained for me. It was a normalcy minus visiting temples or offering pujas or accepting prasada or read the scriptures. “Oh, the kind of stuff that happened to you; God saved your life,” elders sometimes uttered the heedless refrains. And I would retort back saying, “Yeah, He left me breathing and took the life away,” causing consternation for the intended blasphemy. There was no end of raving and ranting out.
And then came the liberating influence of the Power within. As if a knowledge bank had exploded inside enabling me to view things differently, obdurateness as the intractable fort had crumpled, the threshold for understanding and acceptance raising itself on its on volition. The only aberration related to the unyielding inquiry – would I survive the next day.
It is needless to say that I did, but not without a sacrifice. The medical staff responsible for on- surgery care forgot to artificially water my eyes that was a must due to prolonged detention under anesthesia. The inevitable result was fissures on the walls of the retina that caused partial blindness in both eyes.
Medical dereliction in fact had led to my lameness and my having collapsed during spinal surgery, and now partial blindness that the doctors explained away as old-age-degeneration; a degeneration that occurred overnight!! The hernia operations three years later maintained the dereliction record. Of the two hernias required to be tackled, the doctors forgot all about one. When it was detected a day after surgery, they carted me back to the operation theatre nonchalantly and repeated all the procedures to take care of the other, leaving a painful hardness in my stomach.
I have no rancour left in me now to keep condemning those responsible. Medical dereliction does occur; but how could it happen to me each and every time I was in the hospital? Was there a method in this madness? Or, a self-repeating design of the genius? I had to find an answer. I assigned myself the task particularly, now that I was heading for retirement from professional life. The Power within had successfully planted a seed that required careful nourishing. I knew I did not have much time left in this world for the task.
So, for the first time in years, I uttered a silent prayer – Lord, whether you are the ash smeared, trident carrying controller of the universe, the loving universal flute player, merciful Mother Shakti, benevolent preserver and protector of divine creation, please do not let me die an ignorant man.
A friend had gifted the first four volumes of Swami Vivekananda's 'Complete Works' (now available in 9 volumes) that mainly enumerates explanation and analysis of the Vedanta (Upanishads), both of his own and by other scholars. It is an attempt to introduce ways of practical application of the Vedanta in every day life; the ideas that took the world by storm towards the end of the 19th century, the rumblings of which is heard even today.
With a life burdened with excruciating physical pain and mental agony I could never hitherto devote myself to reading those books. Impatience rooted in an innate revolt against anything believed to be holy and divine stood on the way of even casually reading, not to talk of assimilating the complicated details, anything even remotely connected with the Shastras.
Now I sat back and took a deep breath. What happened thereafter was a be-seizure by a force to reckon with. I had never found reading so beautiful, explanations of complicated aphorisms appearing with utmost clarity. Life was a play of gay abandon, of making constant adjustments between lower necessities and higher call, of an unceasing endeavour to mould oneself into more and more perfect instrument to emerge into one's own divinity.
What has that got to do with getting physically battered into a virtual pulp-mass? Battering has to be accepted with equanimity for I must be held responsible for the accumulated consequences of my own Karma. Birth after birth I need to work that out. Its a constant debit-credit account. Besides, without endowing reward and punishment, this world will face a veritable chaos. Even I will not like to see my family, friends – near and dear ones – living in a disorderly world ruled by the tyrant's muscle power. That will tantamount to passing from the frying pan to fire.
There is a way out. Swami Vivekananda's prescription may appear tough and impracticable; but it is not when one has thought out the entire gamut of the issue. He wants us to plan the next life as we plan the next day, or the next week.
Sri Aurobindo of Pondichery fame describes me most aptly in his legendary work – Synthesis of Yoga – when he outlines the profile of an average man: “To the ordinary man who lives upon his own waking surface, ignorant of the self's depths and vastnesses behind the veil, his psychological existence is fairly simple. A small but clamorous company of desires, some imperative intellectual and aesthetic cravings, some tastes, a few ruling or prominent ideas amid a great current of unconnected or ill-connected and mostly trivial thoughts, a number of more or less imperative vital needs, alternations of physical health and disease, a scattered and inconsequent succession of joys and griefs, frequent minor disturbances and vicissitudes and rarer strong searchings and upheavals of mind and body, and through it all Nature, partly with the aid of his thought and will, partly without or in spite of it, arranging these things in some rough practical fashion, some tolerable disorderly order, - this is the material of his existence. The average human being even now is in his inward existence as crude and undeveloped as was the bygone primitive man in his outward life.”
The two most damning stumbling blocks that the average man encounters from the first cry to the last whimper in this world are 'Ego and Desire'. Together they nastily pack a mean punch to create division and dissension among soul-mates. All beings and things are manifestations of That Illimitable One. We are the sparks of one Cosmic Soul, one Cosmic Consciousness. Whether we want it or not, whether we like it or not, we are all inexorably moving towards That Absolute Knowledge, That Absolute Existence, That Absolute Bliss - The Sachchidananda.
But what about the average man's mind? What about the feeling of pain and suffering, of being unhappy and miserable, of happiness and ecstasy, of a sense of belonging and rejection, of attraction and repulsion? The answer was simple.
The average man, being ignorant, equipped with a mind that reduced divine infinity into worldly finiteness in order to understand it with the help of his limited intelligence, mistakes the body carrying a name and a form as himself. He is in fact the Spirit, the Self, the Soul, with an outer covering of the body. This costly mistake gives vent to a splurge of ego and desire. If you are the Soul, ego and desire cease to have any impact on you.
But why should my average mind accept this as true? This is what Sri Aurobindo says on the subject: “Nothing can be taught to the mind which is not already concealed as potential knowledge in the unfolding soul of the creature. So also all perfection of which the outer man is capable, is only a realizing of the eternal perfection of the spirit within him. We know the Divine to become the Divine, because we are That already in our secret nature. All teaching is a revealing, all becoming is an unfolding. Self-attainment is the secret; self-knowledge and an increasing consciousness are the means and the process.” It amounts to saying that the mind, on which we have no control, already knows this. And as soon as it feels that the man has stumbled upon the fact, it both acknowledges the fact and keeps on resisting it. That is precisely what has happened to me.
Isn't it somewhat difficult to believe that the Lord is waiting for the average man's yoga, his offering of union with Him, stationed as He is believed to be beyond in some unfathomable distance away?
Sri Aurobindo : “Life, not a remote silent high-uplifted ecstatic Beyond-Life alone, is the field of our yoga. The transformation of our superficial, narrow and fragmentary human way of thinking, seeing, feeling, and being into a deep wide spiritual consciousness and an integrated inner and outer existence and of our ordinary human living into the divine way of life must be its central purpose. The means towards this supreme end is a self-giving of all our nature to the Divine.”
Where to start?
Sri Aurobindo : “All must be done as a sacrifice, all activities must have the One Divine for their object and the heart of their meaning .. to express that One Divine in ideal forms, the One Divine in principles and forces, the One Divine in gods and men and creatures and objects.
“All life is consciously or subconsciously a yoga. Yoga is a methodised effort towards self-perfection by the expression of the secret potentialities latent in the being and – highest condition of victory in that effort – a union of the human individual with the universal and transcendent Existence we see partially expressed in man and in the Cosmos. All life is also a vast Yoga of Nature who attempts in the conscious and the subconscious to realise her perfection in an ever-increasing expression of her yet unrealised potentialities and to unite herself with her own divine reality. In man, her thinker, she for the first time upon this Earth devises self-conscious means and willed arrangements of activity by which this great purpose may be more swiftly and puissantly attained. Yoga, as Swami Vivekananda has said, may be regarded as a means of compressing one's evolution into a single life or a few years or even a few months of bodily existence.
“This is life's true object: growth, but a growth of the spirit in Nature, affirming and developing itself in mind, life and body; possession, but a possession by the Divine of the Divine in all things, and not of things for their own sake by the desire of the ego; enjoyment, but an enjoyment of the Divine Ananda in the universe; battle and conquest and empire in the shape of a victorious conflict with the Powers of Darkness, an entire spiritual self-rule, and mastery over inward and outward Nature, a conquest by Knowledge, Love and Divine will over the domains of the Ignorance.”
Once taken in all seriousness the average man's Soul, known as the Annamoy Purusa (food sheathe), starts a ascending journey and emerges as Pranamoy Purusa (vital sheathe or mental soul) when he undergoes a sea change in his attitude to life. The next station for the Soul to conquer is the domain of Jnanamoy Purusha (knowledge soul), and then to Vijnanamoy Purusa and then to Anandamoy Purusa, the domain of the blissful Brahman, the Satchchidananda. On reaching this stage a soul finds itself as the Lord of the universe, not a spark or a part, but the whole of it.
It is said that a protoplasm takes eight to 11 million years of its soul's evolutionary process to emerge as a human being. There is no fixed time limit for humans to hit the divine high. If Swami Vivekananda's words are any pointer, it could take a life time, or a few years, or a few months, with the help of yoga.
Yoga has exacting rules which my battered body can no longer be subjected to. Still I am on to it as far as practicable under the circumstances. May be a few life times more for me. But I am on my way. Thank God for the battering on my body which gave me this unique turn towards liberation. Every time I am required to be sent back to this world, to the lap of Mother Shakti, God, batter my body harsher than before, but, pray, every time I must emerge as a more perfect instrument to “unveil the Godhead here, ihaiva,” as the Upanishad insists.
Written by Tapas Mukherjee