A Tale of Two Worlds - Conquering the World Within
Are you ever separate from the world? By simply turning your attention away from the world or escaping into a secluded place, do you think you can really escape from it? A few thousand years ago it was probably possible for monks and ascetics to escape from the world and retire into a forest where they had fewer distractions. Today, it is difficult to stay free from the civilization. Most of the ancient primal forests have disappeared as they have been cleared for agricultural lands or human settlements. Whatever few that are left are either hazardous for human habitation or subject to frequent human interference.
The world has changed greatly since ancient times. It is the nature of the world to change. As it changes, so do we because it is difficult to stay free from the influence of the world, just as it is difficult for the fish in the water to be free from it. If the world becomes impure, our minds and bodies also become impure. Hence, our scriptures suggest that if you want to be virtuous and free from evil influences, either you have to shun the world or you have to perform your obligatory duties and fulfill your responsibilities without expectations to ensure its order and regularity.
It is not easy for anyone to be spiritual in a materialistic world. As the world becomes increasingly materialistic, it becomes increasingly challenging for people to remain spiritual or practice spirituality. A few thousand years ago it was easier for the students and adults alike to practice celibacy (brahmacharya) as part of their education or self-purification. Today, you cannot easily do it because your mind is constantly bombarded with numerous sensuous images that keep your mind and senses in a state of agitation. In the legendary times, Indra had to send the celestial nymphs to disturb the minds of meditating sages. Nowadays, Indra’s task is made much easier by the movies and television.
When you live in such a distracting world, how can you practice spirituality? Where should you begin your self-transformation? You cannot transform the world. It is true. The world will go through its own cycles of change and transformation as ordained by the principles of creation. As an individual, you cannot change the progression of the world, except in a limited way. However, what you can do is you can change your equation with the world. You can change your thinking and attitude and your relationship with it, so that you can tolerate the world with equanimity and stay free from its influence and impurities.
When we say,"the world," what does it mean? It is not just the physical world that you see in a map or on a globe or around you, the people you meet, or the places you visit. It is more complex than you think. The world exists not only outside you but also in you as your very consciousness. A part of it also percolates into your dream consciousness and subjects you to modifications. Your world is the sum of your thoughts, perceptions, memories, relationships, likes and dislikes, etc. They arise from your interaction with the world and form part of your consciousness and self-image. You are never separate from it.
That world in you is deeply connected through your mind and senses to the world outside. Hence, you cannot easily isolate yourself from the external world. Even if you try to renounce it, it keeps resurfacing in your consciousness as your thoughts, memories, reflections, desires, attraction and aversion. The world grows in you and develops roots according to your involvement with it. As you encroach upon the world, the world encroaches upon you. As you extend yourself into it, it extends itself into you. As you become bound and rooted to it, it becomes bound to you and grows its roots in you.
The world in you is more complex than the world outside. For example, the external world is always in the present. Physically you can neither go back into the world of the past nor go forward into the world of future. You have to deal with what exists now. It is bound not only to time but also to the place where you are. However, it is not the same with the world that exists in you. Indeed, it is not one world, but a universe of numerous worlds, and they are bound neither to time nor to any place. It is made up of innumerable worlds, as many as there are moments in your life. Some of them are from your previous lives, and some you create with your imagination or delusion. Further, they keep changing with time as your mind receives new information and as old memories are either lost, suppressed, or rewritten.
Thus, the world in you is very different from the world outside. By merely closing your eyes, you cannot escape from it. When you close your eyes, the world in you becomes alive and involves you with its distractions, memories, impressions, images, and emotions. Some people become stuck in them and do not move forward. In today’s world it is even more difficult to escape from it. If you are one of those who want to bring your spirituality into worldly life or protect your peace and stability, you have to know how to deal with the world in you and silence it.
The world in you is predominantly responsible for your karma and rebirth. As you interact with the external world, each interaction leaves an impression in your mind. Repeated interactions of the same kind leave much stronger and deeper impressions, which transform into latent impressions (Samskaras) and determine your future births. They constitute the embryonic world that resides in your casual mind (karana chitta). You have to be careful about how you shape that world through your actions, predominant desires, and habitual thought pattern because it is the primal world which you cannot easily shake off.
Our scriptures say that the world in which you live is an illusion because it is a projection of the Self. If it is so, the world in you is an illusion within an illusion. It is also a projection of yourself, and more difficult to transcend because it is an inseparable part of your consciousness. It is also your very beingness. You cannot get rid of it, without silencing your whole being. Even if you escape from the outer illusion, you still have to deal with the inner one.
The Vedas compare the world in you to the world outside, and suggest meditation and austerities (tapas) to cleanse it. The purpose of the Tantras is also the same, to harmonize that world with your spiritual goals so that you can transcend it and enter the hidden world of the Self. If you want to be free from the outer world, you cannot do so by simply withdrawing from it. You must cleanse your inner world and silence it through self-transformation by practicing rules and restraints (yamas and niyamas) and cultivating virtues. You must get rid of the impurities which the external world deposits in you through the five senses.
When you silence the inner world, the impressions from the outer word do not register in your mind and do not leave their traces. With increase peace and stability and the absorption of the mind in the Self, you will not only arrest the formation of Samskaras and the continuation of karma but also burn the existing ones in the fire of renunciation. The mind becomes silent with the suppression of the modifications that arise from your interaction with the external world.
When both the worlds become silent, you will experience the state of perfection (siddhi). Beneath the conscious world that you experience in your wakeful state, there are numerous other subtle worlds. You have to transcend them too to reach the innermost world of pure consciousness or the world of Supreme Brahman.
Thus, the practice of detachment and renunciation must first begin from within. You must start with your mind and body and stabilize them, so that when you withdraw your senses and practice meditation, the world outside is completely shut down and your mind becomes stabilized in the contemplation of the Self. From there, you gradually move deeper and deeper through the dream worlds and subtle worlds into your inmost consciousness, the state of Turiya.
Suggestions for Further Reading
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- The Basis For Spiritual Life
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- Relevance of Scriptures in Modern Life
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- Materialism and Spirituality, The Two Paths of Life
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- The Origin of The Sanskrit Language
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