The Ways of the Illumined
Eko devah sarvabhuteshu gudhah
ceta kevalo nirgunashca.
one supreme Being is hidden in all beings. He penetrates
everything; He is the innermost Self of all creatures. He
distributes the fruits of actions. He is the one support
of everything, the Witness, the bestower of intelligence,
beyond all dualities and free from the gunas.
devatanam paramam ca daivatam;
patinam paramam parastat
know Him: the supreme Ruler of all rulers, the supreme Deity
of all deities, the supreme Master of all masters, the adorable
Lord of the universe.
are some who realize God at the time of death, and there are
other rare individuals who realize God while still living
in their bodies. How do these latter behave for the rest of
their lives? This is the point that we shall discuss now.
person can realize God clearly and distinctly. Just as this
manifoldness is perceived, in exactly the same manner God
can also be directly experienced. God is not simply a unity
of existence; He is the very perfection of being, who answers
to all our conceptions of the highest and the best. That supreme
Being is not just a subject of speculation. Just as this manifoldness,
these dualities of good and evil are a fact of experience,
even so is that unitary Existence, the one source and support
of all things and beings, a matter of experience. This has
been testified to by the great seers and sages. Many saints
and mystics—not only the founders of the great religions like
Christ, Buddha, Chaitanya and Ramakrishna - have said that
they had the direct experience of God. We find that Plotinus,
Pythagoras, Eckhart, the Sufi saint al-Ghazali and many more
have had this experience while they were living in the body.
of God Realization
see God in the particular form in which we worship or meditate
on Him. God, out of compassion, assumes form and appears to
His devotee. If the devotee approaches God with the attitude
of a son, he realizes God as his Father; if we meditate on
Him as Jesus Christ, then He assumes the form of Jesus Christ
and appears to us. So God can be experienced in the depth
of the heart as the innermost thought. However, even these
experiences are not considered to be of permanent value if
they do not completely remove the source of our troubles and
may be experienced not only as the inner Self, but also as
the all-pervading Self. A person does not realize God objectively.
The innermost being that becomes God is not apart from anything.
It is the one Essence of the universe. The essence of mind
and matter is identical. And that Reality, which is the innermost
Self of everything, cannot be objectified. An individual
realizes God by realizing his very being in the inmost depths
of his being. So God realization means realizing one’s own
essential unity. When a person realizes God, he becomes unified
with God. This unification or unitary experience is called
each and every kind of knowledge, there is always some distinction
between the knower and the known. It is only in the state
of samadhi that all distinctions between the knower and the
known are coalesced into the one Existence. It is only then
that the realization of God is possible. The God that is known
in this case is the innermost Being. And that is the kind
of realization that brings about complete freedom. That is
the illumination of the Chosen Ones. I am referring particularly
to those rare individuals who realize God as the innermost
Self untouched by the psychophysical system.
again, there are two kinds of samadhi: savikalpa and nirvikalpa.
I will not go into those differences right now, but when a
person realizes God as the one all-pervading Reality in the
state of samadhi, his mind becomes completely tranquil and
is suffused with the light of divine Consciousness. After
that realization, the person may come back from that august
state to the ordinary level. But though he may not look extraordinary
outwardly, he is no longer an ordinary person.
Does Such a Person Live?
illumined soul lives as a form of Consciousness - God is ever
showing through him. When he descends from samadhi, from that
mystic or superconscious experience, he continues to use his
sense organs just as everybody else does in this world of
multiplicity. But the jnani says there is but one reality.
As Krishna says in the Bhagavadgita, ‘Yo mam pashyati sarvatra
sarvam ca mayi pashyati; Tasyaham na pranashyami sa ca me
na pranashyati. He who sees Me everywhere and sees everything
in Me - he never loses sight of Me nor do I ever lose sight
of him.’ All is clearly manifest to such a person. Krishna
also says: ‘Ya nisha sarvabhutanam tasyam jagarti samyami;
Yasyam jagrati bhutani sa nisha pashyato muneh. What is
night to ordinary mortals is clear as day to the illumined
soul; and what is day to ordinary mortals is night to the
illumined soul.’ In broad daylight the illumined soul perceives
not light but darkness, and at midnight he perceives not darkness
but light! Living in the full brilliance of that luminous
Reality, they can perceive It, but it is all darkness to ordinary
mortals. In other words, what is as clear as daylight to illumined
souls is like night to ordinary mortals. And this multiplicity,
which is fully manifest to ordinary mortals, perishes into
insignificance in the sight of illumined souls. So what is
day to ordinary mortals is night to illumined souls. That
Light of all lights, the source of consciousness in all living
creatures, the supreme Reality, is ever manifest to them.
very highly advanced spiritual personalities become fully
free from all bondages. They live only for the good of the
world and have no selfish motives or objectives to gain. They
are personalities of the highest order. Generally speaking,
they live in three different states. Sometimes they live in
the superconscious state - wherein they do not sense the ‘now’
- when they experience God in samadhi. But that experience
is not often repeated in their lives. Plotinus experienced
that state four times. However, there are extraordinary personalities
who are messengers of God. They have the superconscious experience
more than just a few times. In the modern age, Chaitanya and
Ramakrishna used to experience this state very often. Both
of them would be found in the superconscious state not once
but almost every day - which is very rare in the history of
religious experience! In that state of samadhi, they would
not have any consciousness of the outer world. Then there
is another state, the state of ecstasy. While in that mood,
they are intoxicated, fully inebriated with divine knowledge
and divine love. This is the second state. The third state
is when they live in ordinary consciousness like the generality
of human beings. It is only in this state that they speak
and talk to people, or do good to the world. In the superconscious
state, they are unaware of the external world. In the state
of ecstasy, they are in a semiconscious condition, intoxicated,
as it were. Ramakrishna used to live in that state very often.
Once a person who saw him in that condition thought he was
drunk. But Ramakrishna was drunk with the nectar of the Divine
Mother’s bliss. Ordinary people cannot differentiate between
the intoxication of divine bliss and ordinary intoxication.
If they associate with these illumined people, then they can
understand the difference. In that state, sometimes they sing,
sometimes they weep, sometimes they dance in an ecstatic manner.
It is only when they descend to our level of consciousness
that they can talk with people.
is with regard to this state of spiritual consciousness that
Shankaracharya says, ‘There are illumined souls, calm and
magnanimous, who do good to others as spring does to nature.
Having themselves crossed the fateful ocean of life, they
help others also to cross it, without any motive whatsoever.’
It is in the very nature of great souls to try and remove
others’ troubles, even as the moon soothes the earth parched
by the flaming rays of the sun. It is quite evident that Shankaracharya
spoke those lines from his own experience.
souls are not all alike in their outward behaviour. There
is some individual character in each of them; each is in his
own way a solitary person. There are some who do not appear
dynamic, who do not move from place to place. Their sermon
is of a quiet nature. And yet seekers of Truth come to them.
As Ramakrishna says, a lotus may bloom in a sequestered place,
unknown to the world. Yet the bees come to it, uninvited,
to suck honey. Similarly, when the lotus of the heart blooms,
seekers of God come uninvited, for inspiration, for solace,
for guidance. These spiritual souls generally preach the highest
spiritual ideal: How can one be free from bondage and suffering?
How can man’s problems be permanently solved? So to seekers
of God realization they speak freely of devotion and knowledge,
renunciation and desirelessness.
are many aspirants who are inspired by these spiritual ideals,
but all cannot accept them in toto. The lives of the great
ones are an inspiration for all. Each and every individual
who comes within their ambit receives this inspiration for
a higher life. Due to their teachings, there is a great all-round
development, an uplift in moral and cultural life everywhere.
Even people who do not follow the spiritual life in the strictest
sense of the term indirectly accept God as the ideal, and
their inner tendencies manifest themselves as strivings after
cultural refinement or social work. So, either as a direct
result or as a side effect of the teachings of the great ones,
many social organizations come into being. Cultural activities
begin to flourish, and not only a tidal wave of spiritual
development, but waves of social development also begin to
rise in the world.
great spiritual personalities have been worshipped in the
world not only for their spirituality, but also for the inspiration
and uplift the world gets from them. Why do spiritual personalities
receive the highest homage in the world? No scientist, no
philosopher, no politician is worshipped in the way great
spiritual teachers are worshipped. Why? Because their lives
are a blessing to the world.
is evident to each and every one of us that our material life
is not safe without moral teachings, and our moral life is
not safe without a spiritual basis. There cannot be a sound
ethical life without a spiritual foundation. In order to be
secure, our lives must be based on the consciousness of the
spiritual relationship that exists between human beings. Those
great spiritual leaders see God in all. It does not mean that
they do not make any distinction between a sage and a sinner.
But they know that the distinctions are only with regard to
psychophysical constitutions; so far as the essential human
nature is concerned, there is no difference. Since they see
the innate Spirit in all, surface distinctions do not count
for much in their eyes.
feelings are never embittered even when there is a provocation.
In the life of Ramakrishna we find that once a priest kicked
him. He was at that time a guest in the house where the priest
was officiating. But Ramakrishna did not speak about it to
anyone. Again, we find in the life of Pavhari Baba that once
a thief entered his cell and was about to take away the few
belongings he had. Pavhari Baba became aware of this, and
when the thief came to know that Pavhari Baba was awake, he
took to his heels. Pavhari Baba ran after him and said, ‘All
these belong to you.’ The thief was overwhelmed and his life
changed completely. It is also said that Pavhari Baba was
once bitten by a snake. For some hours the pain was severe,
but he did not complain. Later, when he was asked how he felt,
he said, ‘It was a messenger from my Beloved.’ We all know
another story told by Ramakrishna, that of a holy man beaten
unconscious by an angry landlord. Somebody reported it to
the monastery. The monks ran to the place and brought their
wounded brother back to the monastery. When milk was poured
into his mouth he started regaining consciousness. One of
the monks asked him, ‘Who is giving you milk?’ He answered,
‘The same person who beat me.’ Vivekananda was often mistaken
for a Negro and refused admission into some American hotels.
But he did not protest. When others came to know about it,
they asked him, ‘Why did you not protest? Why did you not
say that you are from India?’ ‘What! To rise at the cost of
another!’ replied Swamiji. He never did that. These illumined
souls do not have the ego idea. Apparently they may say, ‘I’,
‘I’, but their ‘I’-consciousness is completely suffused with
divine Consciousness, the ‘I’ of Knowledge or Devotion, as
Ramakrishna used to say. That ‘I’ cannot create any bondage,
for it is always submerged in God consciousness, always identified
with the universal ‘I’. And illumined souls know that God
is the one source of all strength, wisdom, joy and love.
was once requested to pay more attention to his body, because
he was suffering at that time. He asked the Divine Mother
to make it possible for him to swallow some more food. At
once it was shown to him that he was eating through many other
mouths; what did it matter if he was unable to eat through
his own mouth? That is to say, the one and the same all-pervading
Self dwells in each and every individual. So these great souls
do not have the body idea, that is, they cannot think of themselves
as physical or psychophysical beings. Having realized the
free and immortal spiritual element behind their body and
mind, they are ever united with the supreme Spirit.
do not think themselves superior. We see in Ramakrishna’s
life that sometimes even the loincloth he wore slipped off
from his body. He was just like a child. We see his profound
wisdom, but outwardly he was like a child, without any sex
consciousness. We are told that there was a great sage in
India, Shukadeva. He was born free. Even at the age of sixteen,
he did not know how to clothe himself. His father Veda Vyasa,
one of the greatest literary figures of ancient India, is
universally acknowledged as the author of the Mahabharata
and the major Puranas. One day Shukadeva renounced home and
was going away. Vyasa followed his son, who passed by a lake,
where young women were bathing. The women did not feel shy
when the son went by, but when the father came near the lake
they became bashful and began to look for their clothes. Vyasa
thought, ‘What is this! My young son, completely naked, passed
this way, and they were continuing their bath, but they became
bashful when they saw me, an old man! What could be the reason?’
Then it was revealed to him that his son, though young, was
completely free from the body idea; just like a child, he
had no consciousness of the body. And like a child, he also
enjoyed a spontaneous spiritual joy that wells up from within.
This is supreme perfection.
Karma and Suffering
these highly evolved souls too pass through the experiences
of this world. If they have any ailment, it does not go unnoticed.
But when a person realizes God, he is freed from the hold
of past karma. All the latent impressions of past deeds and
experiences are wiped out, and he is free from all sense of
egoism. The work that such people do cannot create any bondage,
cannot create those samskaras that generate and fortify good
and evil actions in the future. In their case the deposit
of karma, past and present, is eliminated. So whatever they
do, be it teaching or helping, karma cannot bind them.
then causes them to undergo the different experiences of life?
It is the ‘remnant’ of that karma that has brought about their
present life. Their present psyches and physical constitutions
are a result of the fruition of this remnant karma, and so
they continue to exist. When a potter makes a pot, he turns
the wheel with a stick. The wheel continues to move even after
the stick is taken away because of its momentum. Similarly,
that past karma which has brought about the present life continues
to provide momentum to it, and as long as this momentum remains,
their life remains. They do not have any desire to live, nor
do they think that they should die. They are free from all
desires, free from all undertakings, free from their own will
too, because they have surrendered their will to God. So it
is this remnant of past deeds that is the cause of the illumined
soul’s life and experience.
mentioned before, sometimes these illumined souls do experience
pain, say physical pain. But they are, as Ramakrishna expresses
it, like dry coconuts, that is, their ‘I’-ness or ego is completely
disengaged from the psychophysical constitution. So even though
they apparently suffer from ailments, they do not actually
suffer. They can hold themselves aloof from the psychophysical
system. I have seen this in the life of Swami Turiyananda.
Once he had to undergo a painful operation. Dr Sarvadhikari
wanted to give him anaesthesia, but the swami said, ‘No, I
hold consciousness to be the highest treasure in life. I shall
not allow myself to be unconscious.’ The doctor said the swami
might not be able to bear the pain as it was a major operation.
But the swami said, ‘Just let me draw myself in a little bit.’
Saying this, Turiyanandaji withdrew his mind and Dr. Sarvadhikari
performed the operation. Turiyanandaji’s personal attendant
stood behind, ready. But the swami did not make a single noise
throughout the operation. The doctor was surprised. How could
such a thing be possible? Turiyanandaji explained: ‘I have
practised this all my life, and I am trying to realize my
own spirit as distinct from the body-mind complex. And if
you try that, you too will be able to realize yourself as
pure, luminous Spirit.’ So, a person can remain detached even
while living in the body - like the kernel of a dry coconut
separated from the shell. The separation is so complete that
when the coconut is shaken, you hear the kernel moving inside
the shell. This is how illumined souls live.
had the blessed privilege of meeting another disciple of Ramakrishna.
His name was Swami Subodhananda. He was the youngest of the
group of Ramakrishna’s monastic disciples. I used to go to
him every morning at that time, as I was living in Belur Math.
One day Subodhanandaji had some fever. I went to him and enquired
how he was. He said, ‘I am feeling very well. I feel that
I am quite distinct from the body.’ I said it was no great
wonder that somebody who was a disciple of Ramakrishna should
feel so. He replied, ‘I know that, but I have never felt it
this way. I think I am dwelling in a house and the feeling
has become very intense. That is one great benefit I have
derived from my sickness.’ He told me he felt that distinctly.
It is not like our knowledge. All of us read scriptural texts,
but intellectual knowledge is one thing and spiritual perception
is another. Realization is entirely different. Illumined souls
realize that the conscious Spirit is distinct not only from
the body but also from the mind. They realize that and live
accordingly. Having transcended relativity, they go beyond
all laws and regulations. No prescriptions or prohibitions
bind them. ‘Nistraigunye pathi vicaratam ko vidhih ko nishedhah;
Persons who walk on the transcendental path - what direction
or what prohibition can there be for them?’
subnormal person, who is below the average level, violates
moral principles; his tendency is to go against rules and
regulations. Normal persons observe moral principles with
difficulty. A supernormal person, however, does not pay any
attention to these things. But his life is so attuned to the
highest Reality that anything he does is naturally right and
good. As Ramakrishna says, an expert dancer never takes a
false step. All his movements, whether conscious or unconscious,
are harmonious. His inner consciousness is filled with divine
Consciousness, the purest and holiest of all. Naturally, all
his movements, physical or mental, become pure.
personalities, when they leave the body, generally leave in
full consciousness. We have observed it in their eyes and
looks. Generally speaking, their eyes are fully open. Because
they have realized their identity with the supreme Reality
even in their lifetime, they have nothing else left to achieve,
no place to reach. So when the body drops, their individualized
consciousness becomes identified with the supreme Consciousness,
which is the underlying Reality, and becomes merged in It.
So there is no ‘individual’ who would go anywhere. The all-prevading
Spirit cannot go anywhere.
who retain their individuality experience God in His personal
aspect. The distinction between the worshipper and the worshipped
is retained. This comes from savikalpa samadhi. When the
body drops, such a soul goes out of the body. Only the body
falls, but the mind is still there. In the case of ordinary
individuals, death means just the fall of the physical body
and nothing more. The mind with all its contents goes with
the departing spirit. When spiritually advanced souls leave
the body, they generally leave through the eyes. We have noticed
in the case of some of the great ones that when they left
the body their eyes were open. We cannot see how the spirit
passes through this aperture, but we have seen that their
eyes were wide open. It was particularly so in Swami Adbhutananda’s
case. And the face beams. So their death shows that there
is some distinctiveness in these personalities. They always
live in God consciousness, wherever it be. And at the death
of the body, they pass on to Brahmaloka, the Kingdom of God,
never again to return to the mortal world to suffer birth,
growth, decay and death.
there are some very special souls who are, so to say, saved
by God for the welfare of humanity. Generally, they come to
Earth as Incarnations or their apostles. In Vedanta they are
called adhikarika purushas, persons who have the special
capacity to move the world, who are commissioned by God, as
it were, to guide the course of humanity. Such souls, after
realizing God, may not return to this world at all. If they
do come back, they do so at the will of that supreme God.
And there are certain rare illumined souls who do not achieve
complete liberation, that is, they never become merged in
supreme Consciousness. They are called ever-free souls. They
come back repeatedly as the saviours of the world.
there are different types of illumined souls, always free
from egoism, always living in God consciousness, and seeing
God in all beings. They all dedicate their lives to the good
of humanity, and because of their blessings human beings are
uplifted in all spheres of life.
anecdote about Swami Subodhananda is also available in Swami
Satprakashananda’s Vedanta for All (Chennai: Ramakrishna
Math, 2001, pp. 265-7). The person referred to therein,
however, is Swami Akhandananda. - Editor]