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IN the early days of Christianity, ere the mass of the unlearned had crushed out the Gnostic minority; ere the loss of the teaching of reincarnation had attached the everlasting fate of man to his conduct during a few brief years on earth; in those early days the word SALVATION had a grandiose meaning. It meant that the man who was saved possessed the knowledge of God which is Eternal Life; it meant that he had overcome death and achieved immortality; it meant that he had become a pillar in the temple of God, to go out into reincarnation no more.
Thus the salvation of the Christian was the same as the liberation of the Hindu and the Buddhist. Both implied that human evolution was accomplished, and the threshold of conscious divinity crossed; the man had realized
the Self, had consciously become one with the Supreme. The period of illusion was over. Clear vision was attained.
Nowadays alike for Hinduism and for Christianity these splendid words have been largely emptied of their rich content. The Christian regards salvation as escape from hell and entrance into heaven. The Hindu regards liberation as freedom from earth's sufferings, as a change of environment rather than as the realization of Self.
A Master once said, using the Samskrit word for liberation: "Moksa is not a change of conditions, but a change of condition.' The truth is there in a nutshell. Liberation is an inner change, not an outer circumstance.
It is not the striking off of outer fetters, but the illumination which reveals our essential freedom. A prisoner in a dungeon is liberated if he realizes the Self; an autocrat is in bondage if the not-Self holds the Self in blindness. Hence Sri Krishna in the Bhagavadgita says of the man who is wholly devoted to Him, that such a man 'liveth in me, whatever his mode of living. He may be king or peasant, rich or poor, priest or merchant, ascetic
or man of the world; all these are transitory conditions, of the earth, earthly. If he lives in the Self, he is free; if he knows not the Self, he is bound. The free man is established in the Eternal! The bondsman drifts amid the passing wreckage of Time.
Liberation is the state of the spirit when he realizes his own nature, his own eternity; when he knows himself as the reality, and not as one of the passing phenomena of the world in which he happens to be manifesting. For long he has been identifying himself with the fleeting shows of earth; he has seen his own reflection in the waters of matter, and enchanted with it, has cried out: 'It is I.'1 He has tasted of pleasure, and has bound himself to the objects that yielded it. He has drunk of joy, and has clung to the cup that carried it. Ambition has ruled him, passion has swayed him, wealth has chained him, beauty has fascinated him. In myriad shapes he has thought to clasp himself, and has ever found them but shadows, elusive and unsubstantial. He
]HPB trans.. The Voice of the Silence, (Madras 600 020 TPH Adyar, 1989), 14.
has wandered in darkness, and has groped in vain for a resting place. At last the Light has arisen, and as the shadows vanish he finds himself, is free.
Liberation, then, does not imply existence in any particular world, however refined; it is not living under any conditions of time, however prolonged; it is not looking outwards in any state of consciousness, however blissful. It is the drawing away from all forms of matter, from all states of changing consciousness, and then the realization of the Self. 'The kingdom of God is within you/ said the Christ.
The first step to the finding of the Self is, as the Upanishad declares, the 'ceasing from evil ways'. Until evil is deliberately put away by a full effort of the will and a resolute unwavering determination, the very beginning of the finding of the Self may not be. The feet which tread the miry ways of sin may not place themselves upon the path of Holiness. 'There is but one road to the Path... Beware lest thou shouldst set a foot
still soiled upon the ladder's lowest rung. Woe unto him who dares pollute one rung with miry feet.'1 Many a blunder may the seeker yet make; many a time may he falter, slip and fall. But his will must be resolutely set to purity. As the compass-needle points to the north, and shaken from its position ever returns thereto, so must the will of the seeker be ever set to good. Even the evil-doer is considered righteous if he has 'rightly resolved for what the man resolutely wills that he inevitably becomes. The 'evil ways' concern not only the body of flesh, but those also of desires and of thoughts. The thoughts must be turned away from evil, and never allowed to dwell for one moment consciously on the unclean; so many minds are like flies that prefer to settle on garbage rather than on roses. The source of evil ways will be stopped when the mind dwells ever on the pure. So also will evil desires cease, when no longer generated, stimulated and sustained by evil thoughts. The purified mind-body means the purified desire-body and the purified action-body. Thus
1 Ibid., p. 28. 29.
strenuously cleansing himself, shall the seeker cease from evil ways.
This step taken, he must become active in well-doing; no negative, goodness suffices for him who would be a knower of the Self. As ill-doing accents and strengthens the sense of separateness, so does well-doing accent and strengthen the sense of unity. All ill-doing has its root in hatred, and Hate divides; all well-doing has its root in loving, and Love unites. Only as the seeker engages in the service of others, seeks their good, considers their interests, yokes his strength to theirs, will there begin to dawn in him that right discrimination (viveka) which is the first qualification for those who enter the road which leads to the path. He seeks in all around him to distinguish the real from the unreal, the permanent from the transitory. As he learns to do this, there begins to arise within him a distaste for the unreal and the transitory; the foods which pleased him turn to ashes in his mouth; the objects he grasped crumble to pieces within his hold; the forms he clasped evaporate to nothingness in his embrace. This breeds in him disgust, which presently changes to calm and smiling dispassion (vairagya). He takes his
mind in hand, and learns to control it (sama); with the mind he reins in desire and activity, and bends them into obedience to his will (dama). As this goes on he catches, in the stillness he has created, a faint whisper of the Voice of the Silence, a fleeting glimpse of the glory of the Self. With that, an upbound of the life, a sense of bliss, of power, and for a moment he knows the truth of the Lord Buddha's words:
Ye are not bound! the Soul of Things is
sweet, The Heart of Being is celestial Rest;1
Then the clouds descend again, the Light is blotted out and darkness shrouds the world; yet, he has seen.
From that time onwards his path is easier, for he has glimpsed the majesty of the Self, and in that light all earthly things look grey and sordid; dispassion is now fixed on a sure foundation; it is no passing mood but a settled conviction. The seeker now builds into his character the tolerance
'Sir Edwin Arnold, The Light of Asia (Madras 600 020, TPH Adyar, 1989), 210.
(uparati) which helps but does not coerce, and the endurance (titiksha) which beareth all things. A sure faith in his own divinity gives him confidence (sraddha), and the certitude of this all-mastering power yields equilibrium (samadhana). His one desire is to become one with Deity (mumukshu), and he stands at the entrance of the path of Holiness. Beyond that portal lie the four stages which the Initiate travels through on his way to liberation, and he casts off the last ten fetters that bind him: the illusion of personality, doubt, superstition, desire, repulsion, wish for form-life, wish for formless-life, pride, wavering, ignorance. As the bandage of ignorance falls from his eyes, he knows himself to be free, knows that he ever has been free, that only delusion has bound him. As a hypnotized patient is unable to move because the idea has been impressed upon him that he cannot stir, so are we deluded through the whole of our human pilgrimage, hypnotized into the idea of bondage. There is no change in the condition of the subject save the removal of a hypnotic delusion, yet he who was paralysed is free; naught is wanted for liberation save the dropping of the bandage of avidya, ignorance; at once we see the Light, and
realize the inherent eternal liberty of the Self. We are free always; none can give us freedom, none can withhold it. But only long experience and effort can remove from us the delusion that we are bound. All the purification is but the cleaning of the lamp-glass which hides the Light; the purification does not light the lamp, it only permits the ever-burning light to send forth its rays. So effort does not give liberation; it only removes the delusion of bondage. Anywhere, at any stage, the Self may know and assert his freedom; steps are nothing, stages are nothing, time is nothing; the Self abides in eternity, the ever-free.
The word liberation, like its synonym salvation, is used in modern religions for changes of states, of places, of conditions. The Christian, secure of heaven, feels himself to be saved; the Hindu thinks liberation attainable by the slaying of desires. Both may reach regions of bliss, and enjoy them for unnumbered ages; but that is not salvation, that is not liberation. A man who has risen above desire for earthly delights, for astral joys, for heavenly pleasures, dies and passes through the regions beyond, uninclined to delay in any of them. He cares not for the
abounding life of the astral, he savours not the feasts of heaven. He casts aside his astral and mental bodies, as he had cast aside the physical, and passes out of touch with the worlds he has renounced. No bond of desire links him to any of these; they have naught to offer him and cannot lure him back. The Bird of Life has broken from the net of the fowler, and will not nest again in any one of the three worlds. So far is he free. He may dwell in the high heaven of abstract thought, the arupa world of the Theosophist, and may remain there for aeons in high meditation (Mahar- and Jana-loka). Yet in a future incalculably distant, that world also will pass away and its denizens fall asleep. He may be a devotee, dwelling in rapt ecstasy in worship of his Lord; yet shall his world also roll up as a scroll and vanish (Tapaloka). In all these cases, if the Self has not been realized, ultimate return to the life of flesh is inevitable in some world of matter. A man's consciousness can only be active in the kind of matter in which he can function, and when that kind of matter is disintegrated and only subtler forms remain, he must sink into unconsciousness, until some other world or universe offers him a suitable vehicle for his
functioning. Only when he knows himself as the Self has he truly consummated Self-Consciousness.
It may be that some, in reading this, will think that liberation is so far off that it does not concern them, and that such high thoughts cannot be the bread of daily life. Yet that is not so, for the simple reason that each one of us is essentially divine, in each of us the Self is living. Whenever we turn away from evil, we are taking the first step to the realization of the Self; we are cleaning the window that shuts out the Sun. When we gladly do a service to another, and deprive ourselves of enjoyment that another may be helped, we have come one .step nearer to feeling the oneness of the Self; for that thrill of joy which rewards the self-denial is a ray from the bliss of the Self. Every time that we choose a higher pleasure rather than a lower, or undergo difficulty for duty's sake where an easier path is open by neglect, we are practising right discrimination. Whenever we repress a spasm of discontent, and cheerfully smile in the face of disappointment, we are acquiring dispassion. When we fix our attention on what we are doing and refuse to be distracted, we are cultivating
control of mind; and when we check an angry word we are gaining control of action. Tolerance is developed as we stop our criticism of others, and endurance as we take cheerfully and gaily the small worries of life. Daily prayer or meditation will bring us a touch of the peace and strength that tell of the Inner God, and not a day passes in which we cannot find opportunities of practising the grace of serene equilibrium. These things are all around us every day, but we pass them by unheeding:
The trivial round, the common task, Will furnish all we ought to ask; Room to deny ourselves, a road To bring us daily nearer God.
In the business office, in the court of justice, in the market-place and on the wharf, by the bedside of the sick, by the cradle of the child, the Self may be found, liberation may be won. 'Ah! my master,' said that faithful servant of Gehazi, 'if the Prophet had bade thee do some great thing, wouldst thou not have done it?' Ah! my reader, the greatest things are the nearest, and common life is full of rarest opportunities. As the sunset is fairer than earth's fairest pageant, but is disregarded because so common, of everyday
occurrence, so is it with the Self and the way thereto.
Thou art the Way.' 'Look inward, thou art Buddha.' The Word is nigh thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart.' Open your eyes, my brother, and you shall see.