The Upanishads say: “Man becomes true if in this life he
can apprehend God; if not, it is the greatest calamity for him.”
But what is the nature of this attainment of God? It is quite
evident that the infinite is not like one object among many, to
be definitely classified and kept among our possessions, to be
used as an ally specially favouring us in our politics, warfare,
money-making, or in social competitions. We cannot put our God
in the same list with our summer-houses, motor-cars, or our
credit at the bank, as so many people seem to want to do.
We must try to understand the true character of the desire that a
man has when his soul longs for his God. Does it consist of his
wish to make an addition, however valuable, to his belongings?
Emphatically no! It is an endlessly wearisome task, this
continual adding to our stores. In fact, when the soul seeks
God she seeks her final escape from this incessant gathering and
heaping and never coming to an end. It is not an additional
object the she seeks, but it is the _nityo ‘nityanam_, the
permanent in all that is impermanent, the _rasanam rasatamah_,
the highest abiding joy unifying all enjoyments. Therefore when
the Upanishads teach us to realise everything in Brahma, it is
not to seek something extra, not to manufacture something new.
_Know everything that there is in the universe as enveloped by
God._ [Footnote: Ichavasyamdiam sarvam yat kincha
jagatyanjagat.] _Enjoy whatever is given by him and harbour not
in your mind the greed for wealth which is not your own._
[Footnoe: Tena tyaktena bhunjitha ma gridhah kasyasviddhanam.]
When you know that whatever there is is filled by him and
whatever you have is his gift, then you realise the infinite in
the finite, and the giver in the gifts. Then you know that all
the facts of the reality have their only meaning in the
manifestation of the one truth, and all your possessions have
their only significance for you, not in themselves but in the
relation they establish with the infinite.
So it cannot be said that we can find Brahma as we find other
objects; there is no question of searching from him in one thing
in preference to another, in one place instead of somewhere else.
We do not have to run to the grocer’s shop for our morning light;
we open our eyes and there it is; so we need only give ourselves
up to find that Brahma is everywhere.
This is the reason why Buddha admonished us to free ourselves
from the confinement of the life of the self. If there were
nothing else to take its place more positively perfect and
satisfying, then such admonition would be absolutely unmeaning.
No man can seriously consider the advice, much less have any
enthusiasm for it, of surrendering everything one has for gaining
So our daily worship of God is not really the process of gradual
acquisition of him, but the daily process of surrendering
ourselves, removing all obstacles to union and extending our
consciousness of him in devotion and service, in goodness and in
The Upanishads say: _Be lost altogether in Brahma like an arrow
that has completely penetrated its target._ Thus to be conscious
of being absolutely enveloped by Brahma is not an act of mere
concentration of mind. It must be the aim of the whole of our
life. In all our thoughts and deeds we must be conscious of the
infinite. Let the realisation of this truth become easier every
day of our life, that _none could live or move if the energy of
the all-pervading joy did not fill the sky._ [Footnote: Ko
hyevanyat kah pranyat yadesha akacha anando na syat.] In all our
actions let us feel that impetus of the infinite energy and be
It may be said that the infinite is beyond our attainment, so it
is for us as if it were naught. Yes, if the word attainment
implies any idea of possession, then it must be admitted that the
infinite is unattainable. But we must keep in mind that the
highest enjoyment of man is not in the having but in a getting,
which is at the same time not getting. Our physical pleasures
leave no margin for the unrealised. They, like the dead
satellite of the earth, have but little atmosphere around them.
When we take food and satisfy our hunger it is a complete act of
possession. So long as the hunger is not satisfied it is a
pleasure to eat. For then our enjoyment of eating touches at
every point the infinite. But, when it attains completion, or in
other words, when our desire for eating reaches the end of the
stage of its non-realisation, it reaches the end of its pleasure.
In all our intellectual pleasures the margin is broader, the
limit is far off. In all our deeper love getting and non-getting
run ever parallel. In one of our Vaishnava lyrics the lover says
to his beloved: “I feel as if I have gazed upon the beauty of thy
face from my birth, yet my eyes are hungry still: as if I have
kept thee pressed to my heart for millions of years, yet my heart
is not satisfied.”
This makes it clear that it is really the infinite whom we seek
in our pleasures. Our desire for being wealthy is not a desire
for a particular sum of money but it is indefinite, and the most
fleeting of our enjoyments are but the momentary touches of the
eternal. The tragedy of human life consists in our vain attempts
to stretch the limits of things which can never become
unlimited,–to reach the infinite by absurdly adding to the rungs
of the ladder of the finite.
It is evident from this that the real desire of our soul is to
get beyond all our possessions. Surrounded by things she can
touch and feel, she cries, “I am weary of getting; ah, where is
he who is never to be got?”
We see everywhere in the history of man that the spirit of
renunciation is the deepest reality of the human soul. When the
soul says of anything, “I do not want it, for I am above it,” she
gives utterance to the highest truth that is in her. When a
girl’s life outgrows her doll, when she realises that in every
respect she is more than her doll is, then she throws it away.
By the very act of possession we know that we are greater than
the things we possess. It is a perfect misery to be kept bound
up with things lesser than ourselves. This it is that Maitreyi
felt when her husband gave her his property on the eve of leaving
home. She asked him, “Would these material things help one to
attain the highest?”–or, in other words, “Are they more than my
soul to me?” When her husband answered, “They will make you rich
in worldly possessions,” she said at once, “then what am I to do
with these?” It is only when a man truly realises what his
possessions are that he has no more illusions about them; then he
knows his soul is far above these things and he becomes free from
their bondage. Thus man truly realises his soul by outgrowing
his possessions, and man’s progress in the path of eternal life
is through a series of renunciations.
That we cannot absolutely possess the infinite being is not a
mere intellectual proposition. It has to be experienced, and
this experience is bliss. The bird, while taking its flight in
the sky, experiences at every beat of its wings that the sky is
boundless, that its wings can never carry it beyond. Therein
lies its joy. In the cage the sky is limited; it may be quite
enough for all the purposes of the bird’s life, only it is not
more than is necessary. The bird cannot rejoice within the
limits of the necessary. It must feel that what it has is
immeasurably more than it ever can want or comprehend, and then
only can it be glad.
Thus our soul must soar in the infinite, and she must feel every
moment that in the sense of not being able to come to the end of
her attainment is her supreme joy, her final freedom.
Man’s abiding happiness is not in getting anything but in giving
himself up to what is greater than himself, to ideas which are
larger than his individual life, the idea of his country, of
humanity, of God. They make it easier for him to part with all
that he has, not expecting his life. His existence is miserable
and sordid till he finds some great idea which can truly claim
his all, which can release him from all attachment to his
belongings. Buddha and Jesus, and all our great prophets,
represent such great ideas. They hold before us opportunities
for surrendering our all. When they bring forth their divine
alms-bowl we feel we cannot help giving, and we find that in
giving is our truest joy and liberation, for it is uniting
ourselves to that extent with the infinite.
Man is not complete; he is yet to be. In what he _is_ he is
small, and if we could conceive him stopping there for eternity
we should have an idea of the most awful hell that man can
imagine. In his _to be_ he is infinite, there is his heaven,
his deliverance. His _is_ is occupied every moment with what it
can get and have done with; his _to be_ is hungering for
something which is more than can be got, which he never can lose
because he never has possessed.
The finite pole of our existence has its place in the world of
necessity. There man goes about searching for food to live,
clothing to get warmth. In this region–the region of nature–it
is his function to get things. The natural man is occupied with
enlarging his possessions.
But this act of getting is partial. It is limited to man’s
necessities. We can have a thing only to the extent of our
requirements, just as a vessel can contain water only to the
extent of its emptiness. Our relation to food is only in
feeding, our relation to a house is only in habitation. We call
it a benefit when a thing is fitted only to some particular want
of ours. Thus to get is always to get partially, and it never
can be otherwise. So this craving for acquisition belongs to our
But that side of our existence whose direction is towards the
infinite seeks not wealth, but freedom and joy. There the reign
of necessity ceases, and there our function is not to get but to
be. To be what? To be one with Brahma. For the region of the
infinite is the region of unity. Therefore the Upanishads say:
_If man apprehends God he becomes true._ Here it is becoming,
it is not having more. Words do no gather bulk when you know
their meaning; they become true by being one with the idea.
Though the West has accepted as its teacher him who boldly
proclaimed his oneness with his Father, and who exhorted his
followers to be perfect as God, it has never been reconciled to
this idea of our unity with the infinite being. It condemns, as
a piece of blasphemy, any implication of man’s becoming God.
This is certainly not the idea that Christ preached, nor perhaps
the idea of the Christian mystics, but this seems to be the idea
that has become popular in the Christian west.
But the highest wisdom in the East holds that it is not the
function of our soul to _gain_ God, to utilise him for any
special material purpose. All that we can ever aspire to is to
become more and more one with God. In the region of nature,
which is the region of diversity, we grow by acquisition; in the
spiritual world, which is the region of unity, we grow by losing
ourselves, by uniting. Gaining a thing, as we have said, is by
its nature partial, it is limited only to a particular want; but
_being_ is complete, it belongs to our wholeness, it springs not
from any necessity but from our affinity with the infinite, which
is the principle of perfection that we have in our soul.
Yes, we must become Brahma. We must not shrink to avow this.
Our existence is meaningless if we never can expect to realise
the highest perfection that there is. If we have an aim and yet
can never reach it, then it is no aim at all.
But can it then be said that there is no difference between
Brahma and our individual soul? Of course the difference is
obvious. Call it illusion or ignorance, or whatever name you may
give it, it is there. You can offer explanations but you cannot
explain it away. Even illusion is true an illusion.
Brahma is Brahma, he is the infinite ideal of perfection. But we
are not what we truly are; we are ever to become true, ever to
become Brahma. There is the eternal play of love in the relation
between this being and the becoming; and in the depth of this
mystery is the source of all truth and beauty that sustains the
endless march of creation.
In the music of the rushing stream sounds the joyful assurance,
“I shall become the sea.” It is not a vain assumption; it is
true humility, for it is the truth. The river has no other
alternative. On both sides of its banks it has numerous fields
and forests, villages and towns; it can serve them in various
ways, cleanse them and feed them, carry their produce from place
to place. But it can have only partial relations with these, and
however long it may linger among them it remains separate; it
never can become a town or a forest.
But it can and does become the sea. The lesser moving water has
its affinity with the great motionless water of the ocean. It
moves through the thousand objects on its onward course, and its
motion finds its finality when it reaches the sea.
The river can become the sea, but she can never make the sea part
and parcel of herself. If, by some chance, she has encircled
some broad sheet of water and pretends that she has made the sea
a part of herself, we at once know that it is not so, that her
current is still seeking rest in the great ocean to which it can
never set boundaries.
In the same manner, our soul can only become Brahma as the river
can become the sea. Everything else she touches at one of her
points, then leaves and moves on, but she never can leave Brahma
and move beyond him. Once our soul realises her ultimate object
of repose in Brahma, all her movements acquire a purpose. It is
this ocean of infinite rest which gives significance to endless
activities. It is this perfectness of being that lends to the
imperfection of becoming that quality of beauty which finds its
expression in all poetry, drama and art.
There must be a complete idea that animates a poem. Every
sentence of the poem touches that idea. When the reader realises
that pervading idea, as he reads on, then the reading of the poem
is full of joy to him. Then every part of the poem becomes
radiantly significant by the light of the whole. But if the poem
goes on interminably, never expressing the idea of the whole,
only throwing off disconnected images, however beautiful, it
becomes wearisome and unprofitable in the extreme. The progress
of our soul is like a perfect poem. It has an infinite idea
which once realised makes all movements full of meaning and joy.
But if we detach its movements from that ultimate idea, if we do
not see the infinite rest and only see the infinite motion, then
existence appears to us a monstrous evil, impetuously rushing
towards an unending aimlessness.
I remember in our childhood we had a teacher who used to make us
learn by heart the whole book of Sanskrit grammer, which is
written in symbols, without explaining their meaning to us. Day
after day we went toiling on, but on towards what, we had not the
least notion. So, as regards our lessons, we were in the
position of the pessimist who only counts the breathless
activities of the world, but cannot see the infinite repose of
the perfection whence these activities are gaining their
equilibrium every moment in absolute fitness and harmony. We
lose all joy in thus contemplating existence, because we miss the
truth. We see the gesticulations of the dancer, and we imagine
these are directed by a ruthless tyranny of chance, while we are
deaf to the eternal music which makes every one of these gestures
inevitably spontaneous and beautiful. These motions are ever
growing into that music of perfection, becoming one with it,
dedicating to that melody at every step the multitudinous forms
they go on creating.
And this is the truth of our soul, and this is her joy, that she
must ever be growing into Brahma, that all her movements should
be modulated by this ultimate idea, and all her creations should
be given as offerings to the supreme spirit of perfection.
There is a remarkable saying in the Upanishads: _I think not that
I know him well, or that I know him, or even that I know him not._
[Footnote: Naham manye suvedeti no na vedeti vedacha.]
By the process of knowledge we can never know the infinite being.
But if he is altogether beyond our reach, then he is absolutely
nothing to us. The truth is that we know him not, yet we know
This has been explained in another saying of the Upanishads:
_From Brahma words come back baffled, as well as the mind, but he
who knows him by the joy of him is free from all fears._
[Footnote: Yato vacho nivartante aprapya manasa saha anandam
brahmano vidvan na vibheti kutacchana.]
Knowledge is partial, because our intellect is an instrument, it
is only a part of us, it can give us information about things
which can be divided and analysed, and whose properties can be
classified part by part. But Brahma is perfect, and knowledge
which is partial can never be a knowledge of him.
But he can be known by joy, by love. For joy is knowledge in its
completeness, it is knowing by our whole being. Intellect sets
us apart from the things to be known, but love knows its object
by fusion. Such knowledge is immediate and admits no doubt. It
is the same as knowing our own selves, only more so.
Therefore, as the Upanishads say, mind can never know Brahma,
words can never describe him; he can only be known by our soul,
by her joy in him, by her love. Or, in other words, we can only
come into relation with him by union–union of our whole being.
We must be one with our Father, we must be perfect as he is.
But how can that be? There can be no grade in infinite
perfection. We cannot grow more and more into Brahma. He is the
absolute one, and there can be no more or less in him.
Indeed, the realisation of the _paramatman_, the supreme soul,
within our _antaratman_, our inner individual soul, is in a
state of absolute completion. We cannot think of it as non-
existent and depending on our limited powers for its gradual
construction. If our relation with the divine were all a thing
of our own making, how should we rely on it as true, and how
should it lend us support?
Yes, we must know that within us we have that where space and
time cease to rule and where the links of evolution are merged in
unity. In that everlasting abode of the _ataman_, the soul, the
revelation of the _paramatman_, the supreme soul, is already
complete. Therefore the Upanishads say: _He who knows Brahman,
the true, the all-conscious, and the infinite as hidden in the
depths of the soul, which is the supreme sky (the inner sky of
consciousness), enjoys all objects of desire in union with the
all-knowing Brahman._ [Footnote: Satyam jnanam anantam brahma yo
veda nihitam guhayam paramo vyoman so’cnute sarvan kaman saha
The union is already accomplished. The _paramatman_, the supreme
soul, has himself chosen this soul of ours as his bride and the
marriage has been completed. The solemn _mantram_ has been
uttered: _Let thy heart be even as my heart is._ [Footnote:
Yadetat hridayam mama tadastu hridayan tava.] There is no room
in this marriage for evolution to act the part of the master of
ceremonies. The _eshah_, who cannot otherwise be described than
as _This_, the nameless immediate presence, is ever here in our
innermost being. “This _eshah_, or _This_, is the supreme end of
the other this”; [Footnote: Eshasya parama gatih] “this _This_ is
the supreme treasure of the other this”; [Footnote: Eshasya parama
sampat.] “this _This_ is the supreme dwelling of the other this”;
[Footnote: Eshasya paramo lokah] “this _This_ is the supreme joy
of the other this.” [Footnote: Eshasya parama anandah] Because
the marriage of supreme love has been accomplished in timeless
time. And now goes on the endless _lila_, the play of love. He
who has been gained in eternity is now being pursued in time and
space, in joys and sorrows, in this world and in the worlds beyond.
When the soul-bride understands this well, her heart is blissful
and at rest. She knows that she, like a river, has attained the
ocean of her fulfilment at one end of her being, and at the other
end she is ever attaining it; at one end it is eternal rest and
completion, at the other it is incessant movement and change.
When she knows both ends as inseparably connected, then she knows
the world as her own household by the right of knowing the master
of the world as her own lord. Then all her services becomes
services of love, all the troubles and tribulations of life come
to her as trials triumphantly borne to prove the strength of her
love, smilingly to win the wager from her lover. But so long as
she remains obstinately in the dark, lifts not her veil, does not
recognise her lover, and only knows the world dissociated from
him, she serves as a handmaid here, where by right she might
reign as a queen; she sways in doubt, and weeps in sorrow and
dejection. _She passes from starvation to starvation, from
trouble to trouble, and from fear to fear._ [Footnote:
Daurbhikshat yati daurbhiksham klecat klecam bhayat bhayam.]
I can never forget that scrap of a song I once heard in the early
dawn in the midst of the din of the crowd that had collected for
a festival the night before: “Ferryman, take me across to the
In the bustle of all our work there comes out this cry, “Take me
across.” The carter in India sings while driving his cart, “Take
me across.” The itinerant grocer deals out his goods to his
customers and sings, “Take me across”.
What is the meaning of this cry? We feel we have not reached our
goal; and we know with all our striving and toiling we do not
come to the end, we do not attain our object. Like a child
dissatisfied with its dolls, our heart cries, “Not this, not
this.” But what is that other? Where is the further shore?
Is it something else than what we have? Is it somewhere else
than where we are? Is it to take rest from all our works, to be
relieved from all the responsibilities of life?
No, in the very heart of our activities we are seeking for our
end. We are crying for the across, even where we stand. So,
while our lips utter their prayer to be carried away, our busy
hands are never idle.
In truth, thou ocean of joy, this shore and the other shore are
one and the same in thee. When I call this my own, the other
lies estranged; and missing the sense of that completeness which
is in me, my heart incessantly cries out for the other. All my
this, and that other, are waiting to be completely reconciled in
This “I” of mine toils hard, day and night, for a home which it
knows as its own. Alas, there will be no end of its sufferings
so long as it is not able to call this home thine. Till then it
will struggle on, and its heart will ever cry, “Ferryman, lead me
across.” When this home of mine is made thine, that very moment
is it taken across, even while its old walls enclose it. This
“I” is restless. It is working for a gain which can never be
assimilated with its spirit, which it never can hold and retain.
In its efforts to clasp in its own arms that which is for all, it
hurts others and is hurt in its turn, and cries, “Lead me across”.
But as soon as it is able to say, “All my work is thine,” everything
remains the same, only it is taken across.
Where can I meet thee unless in this mine home made thine? Where
can I join thee unless in this my work transformed into thy work?
If I leave my home I shall not reach thy home; if I cease my work
I can never join thee in thy work. For thou dwellest in me and I
in thee. Thou without me or I without thee are nothing.
Therefore, in the midst of our home and our work, the prayer
rises, “Lead me across!” For here rolls the sea, and even here
lies the other shore waiting to be reached–yes, here is this
everlasting present, not distant, not anywhere else.