The world is like a burning house that is forever being destroyed and forever being rebuilt.


 Ceaseless dissolution is a necessary condition of any world of manifestation, lest it be the only possible world and lest Time be a tyrant determining life arbitrarily and externally. Nitya pralaya means constant, continuous change, mostly imperceptible, taking place at the atomic level. Human beings, as ever-changing, anti-entropic beings, can take advantage of the cycles of constant change creatively, but this requires sacrifice. Nature's manifestation of ceaseless movement is, in its deepest sense, wholly invisible and inaudible. An ancient Rishi once compared eternal motion – the Great Breath – to an unconscious pulsation in the depths of the ocean. Rivers and streams empty themselves into the ocean, after passing through immense changes in their torrential rush, while turbulent storms brood over its surface. Yet beyond and beneath all this is undemonstrative, undisturbed, ever-continuous change. In relation to what is unmanifest or unconscious at the human level, every rhythm of change is creative. People find autumn beautiful, as the trees shed their leaves, because they resonate to what is hidden, and they can pass through the winter with a sense of what was before and what is to come.

 Individuals who yearn to live in harmony with the great patterns and processes of nature, soon discover that most of life consists of exaggerations. We have been trained to identify ourselves with a name, and to inflate our own importance. We are even tacitly required to pretend somehow that we are immortal on the physical plane – falsity lies at the very core of living as a personality. It is a yardstick of spiritual progress that we have today reached a point where some people think it is insufficient to go through school, get married, have children, and work at jobs. Others, going through similar experiences, may be intensely excited, irradiated, transformed. One person is decaying, while another experiences the thrill of coming to birth. One person is withdrawing and retreating, while another is coming forward with the joy of creativity, releasing what he or she has to give to the world. To honour the integrity of nature is to make each particular person and thing of name and form unimportant, but at the same time to recover a sense of excitement about the whole process, to say with Miranda, "O brave new world/That has such people in"t." None of us can readily make the whole world beautiful and exciting. There are so many human beings, so many pulsing hearts, so many struggling souls, so many people in search of knowledge and truth. Yet when we try to formulate and capture what is real, what is precious and meaningful, let alone what is sacred in our lives, we fail. These points of failure can be seen as necessary to growth and change in the ratio and relationship between the unmanifest and the manifest in our lives.

 Daytime is the time of manifestation. Even the most selfish human being, when fast asleep, shows an innocence and vulnerability, a return into a realm of pure potential. This makes one think not merely of what was or might have been, but even more, of what might be. It is during the period of non-manifestation that one prepares to make the period of manifestation creative. Creative attempts must have beginnings and ends, and any exaggerations in the middle engender frustration and disillusionment through their falsity. The process is sacrificial, engaged in for its own sake, without knowing how or even if it helps other human beings. We are often most helpful to each other when we least know it; our silences teach more than our speech, and when we speak it is what we do not say that may affect another human being for the good. Even when we show our worst side to another human being, that person, out of the simple need to live with self-respect, may see behind the tragic waste of potential good. This is an act of faith in the invisible.

 A person who starts to see life in this manner knows, as the great sages have taught, that beginnings and endings are unknown and only the middle is evident. Such a person attempts to live without grabbing at the answers of life or demanding that everything be instantly explained, for he sees each life as one night at the theatre. The chain of nights is a long pilgrimage with many roles ranging from Puck to Prospero. Do we need a rigid teleology fixed on some arbitrary sense of purpose? The moment we accept one, there is falsity. Purpose must be progressively self-discovered. No man can tell another, "This is the point of living for you." Sages do the opposite. They do not tell the secret a soul has to discover. From the standpoint of wise beings, the vast and ceaseless sacrifice of the whole of evolution for some ever-discovered, ever-created purpose, is never complete. The point of one's life might not be known except at the moment of death, but one can know if one has allowed the whole of one's life to prepare for that moment. For each human being it is true, "Your time has yet to come." There is no sense in trying, on the basis of ill-understood judgements in the past, on the assumption of one's separateness, entitativeness, or supposed physical immortality, to anticipate and capture in advance the moment of awakening that is yet to come. At the same time, one dare not shut the door simply by habit or inertia, by prejudice or obstinacy, by pride or perversity, to some great moment of satori, some peak experience. If all the flowers, trees and leaves of nature behaved in that way, we would not see the cycles of growth, change, decay and above all the majestic beauty of the silent night, when nothing seems to change and all is absorbed back into the abyss. To understand human lives in the same way, it is necessary to preserve a due reverence for the unseen, unmanifest and undiscovered, as well as for that which is waiting to be known, waiting to be loved – within oneself and resonant to that which is deep and hidden in the heart of another.

 Life is no cruel burden imposed upon human beings by some capricious external power, but rather a festival in which there is continual learning and living and loving. But these cannot occur without unlearning, unloving and undoing the excess and illusion of the past. It is a cleansing process of transmission and continuity; it is, ultimately, a great sacrifice. Instead of sacrificing ignorantly and impulsively, unwittingly and feebly, one can make everything one has to offer count in the larger context of the vast, ceaseless sacrifice. This can be known only in solitude, at dawn or sunset, in meditation or during deep sleep, wherever one draws within the very depths of one's inmost self and feels closer to the core of every being. It is known to Krishna and Buddha and all the Mahatmas of boundless compassion who are such magnificent evergreen examples of sacrifice, with both the great fruit of immense, painfully won experience, the wisdom born of suffering and struggle, and also with the eyes of a child capable of looking with wonder and freshness at every moment. Like the poet, "Look thy last on all things lovely." Look at every moment as if it will never come again. At the same time, do not live by breathless, feverish anticipation. Live at a distance from what men who hug this painted veil call life, and then one will discover that there is a deeper life. There are others who have gone before in that undiscovered country of the unmanifest. There are those who have kept the fires burning through the long night of history, through the cycles of rise and fall of cultures and civilizations, who have stood apart from Atlantis and Athens, from the great pyramids of Egypt and Central America, who have contemplated on the banks of the Ganges and watched over the temples and the pagodas of the East, because they knew that these were part of a larger sacred history which will unfold itself through millennia in the future.

 So great is the power of sacrifice when raised to this level of detachment, foresight and withdrawal, that the very thought of it makes everything beautiful. It makes all the small, fumbling attempts at sacrifice by awkward and ignorant human beings retain some echo of meaning, a saving grace, and points to a profounder meaning which when discovered cannot be told. When understood, it can be shared but cannot be spelt out. In learning of this universal sacrifice, it is natural to want to make a decisive change in our lives. We become disgusted with cowardly escapism, fearful of everything but always wanting to preach and dogmatize at others. We wish to start again. This is painful and poignant, but when we have been through it, we can sympathize with others who are also trying to create change within a social context where there is more abortion than creation. Because we remember our past selves and our protracted struggle, we can make our life meaningful to another person trying to do the same. Paradoxically, in highly complex social structures, there is more passivity than anywhere else in the world. This takes the form of endless fantasizing producing a compensatory life which is partly a dark secret, but also partly the only sense of subjective reality accessible. It involves endless hopings: suddenly a miracle will take place; suddenly everything will change; suddenly one will get a billion dollars; suddenly the most perfect woman or man will come and rescue one from the bottomless pit of self-hatred and usher one into the Garden of Eden; suddenly a perfect ruler will arrive upon the political scene and lead us all into a new age. Yet for all this, endless reinforcement is needed; we do not really believe in our own fantasizing. It is tiring; we feel guilty. So, Nature gently admonishes, "Now, go to sleep."

 Shakespeare described sleep as "Nature's second course". What we experience during the day is the first course. This is very suggestive, because our understanding depends upon our readiness. But the second course requires more than mere readiness. It requires forgetfulness. If we cannot do it naturally, Nature will compel us. Nature's second course is for those who are open to assimilation. To say, "I do not know the meaning of life. I do not understand everything which took place. I have tried to study my day; I have also tried to prepare myself for tomorrow. But, beyond a point, I must say, "Stop!" to the analytical mind, to give myself a chance to be rested, to be nourished within" – this is Nature's second course. If one has rushed through events during the day, to be in an eventless state of dreamless sleep is restful. If one has been too worldly and enmeshed in words during the day, to be in a wordless state of sleep is soothing. If one has been agitated and tense, over-active and energetic, or extremely drowsy, to fall into the rhythms of deep sleep is refreshing. What is Nature's third course? At the superficial level one might think it is like dessert. It is that happiness, sweetness and fulfilment which you somehow expect to complete the picture. One thinks one is entitled to it because one has a constitutional right, but, in fact, it is never what one hoped it might be, and one never knows whether someone else is getting a better serving. One is liable to be mistaken. If one merely tolerates the first course, keeping in mind that there is a second, and inwardly negates one's experience, cutting out the excess while at the same time, out of the chaos of impressions, trying to initiate a gentle, subtle change, then one will begin to make discoveries. One will discover eternity in time. One begins to discover how nitya pralaya works in the large and in the small, in the macrocosm and microcosm. One discovers that changes do not come in lumpy categories with labels. The profoundest changes are interstitial, imperceptible and subtle. There is no guarantee that a person involved in a series of events will be the best person to understand their significance. This is why it is difficult to initiate change, why people oscillate between abortive attempts at making real changes, only to repeatedly fall back into passivity while endlessly looking for external reinforcement. One becomes a fatigued machine. If one is extremely assertive and ruthless as well, one runs the risk of becoming soulless.

 The paradox is that only when a person can see through the maya of apparent changes to the ever changeless, can he initiate real change. If you suddenly found out from your doctor that you have three days to live, how would you initiate change? It would seem impossible to amend all the things that should have been put right long ago. But out of the very necessity, a person may, in a Kierkegaardian sense, will the good. He may single-mindedly do the one thing he was supposed to do and meant to do all along but which, for a multitude of reasons, he put off. This, of course, is an extreme example. The wise do not wait for the imminence of death to adopt this attitude. The supremely wise have overcome this a long time ago, and do not wait until Monday morning to begin the week, but by Friday evening have thought out their week from Saturday to Friday. They do not wait for next month or next year to think of what should be done then. The wise think now in terms of what should be done in the year 2000, within the limits of Karma, the circumference of all options of all human beings. This distance of vision and perspective is the gap separating Mahatmas from ordinary human beings. We allow ourselves to live with the gap every day, and yet we wonder why we are walking backwards, why we cannot hear the music of what is really happening in the contemporary historical moment, why we are left behind by the great initiative of our time. It is a terrible mistake to write daily one's obituary – and to do it badly. If people want to put themselves into perspective, make their own efforts, and accept their unimportance, they may be of service. The Mahatmas work at all times through all humanity. The question is not, "Can they use me?" but, "Am I open? Am I ready?" The greatest changes have precise timing and come when the ripeness is greatest. Because people in general do not know this, Hegel thought human beings as a rule were victims of illusions. Very few become true individuals, heroic pioneers and makers of the future. But all human beings can put themselves in line, out of the best and truest accessible in their lives, with those who are the great knowers and the great makers of the destinies of humanity.

 In a well-ordered society, with sages at the helm, the whole of life and education would be precisely structured in a way that nurtured this possibility for human beings. In the classical Hindu scheme, the first fourteen years of life are filled with so much to enrich, purify and sustain the imagination that before the libido is released, one is ready for it. One knows what to do with the vitality and the eros, the creative urge welling within, because one is not suddenly confronted with it, irrationally, impulsively, blindly and awkwardly. Between fourteen and twenty-one one develops the power of reason. Well before twenty-eight one has so sharpened the faculty of discrimination that one does not wait until growing old to be wise. If all of these are done, then in a Platonic sense one might hope that at thirty-five a person could have the synthesizing eye where there is a balancing of all the parts of one's nature, and where all the faculties are there for use in a certain correct relationship with each other. One can make sense of oneself and one's life only by making oneself a zero making oneself utterly unimportant wherever and whenever needed, in order to be an invisible, initiating helper of others. Well before thirty-five one knows that one cannot do everything.

 You can start with small beginnings. Tomorrow you have to see someone for some reason. Right now you could ask yourself, "What is the best that I can bring to that encounter?" You cannot answer this question without also asking, "Now, what is it like to be that other person? What is it like to have lived his life or her life?" Having posed these questions, you could then ask, "How could I best receive what that person has to bring to the occasion?" Finally you might say, "Well, I cannot think about this anymore; I must leave the rest to what happens." If you train yourself to do this, you reach a point where you can assimilate each experience ante rem, archetypally, in advance of that experience. This is not to say that you know everything that is going to happen or that everything moves like mechanical clockwork. Only the weaker side of a human being wants guarantees. There will always be the unpredictable, to be handled at the time in the context. In fact, very often we have the opposite experience. When we are told something in advance, we really do not know what we will do. Suddenly we are put in the situation and we have an idea. If we learn to assimilate in advance, our powers of absorption are strengthened. We can retain more, can select more constructively and creatively, and can carry through more effectively throughout the rest of life.

 This method is grounded in the nature of the cosmos. If there is entropy, man is not automatically anti-entropic. This is not true even at the level of physical survival and biological evolution. If we are to be anti-entropic, we must get to the very core of the laws that make entropy significant and constructive. Nitya pralaya cannot be separated from nitya sargha; continuous destruction is inseparable from continuous creation. But because we are spoilt as children and as adults by the tendency to want instant gratification, instant proof, instant everything – thus showing our infinite unimportance – so, too, we are victims caught in a bazaar of clamorous claims and counter-claims utterly irrelevant to true history. In certain arenas this cannot be done, such as war. There is an integrity that men in major theatres of war recognize, because there is no time there for pseudo-analysis or dithering. War is a shadowy reflection of the methods that characterize, at the highest level, cosmic evolution, the methods of the Army of the Voice, of the Brotherhood of Bodhisattvas. They act now in relation to hundreds of millennia from now. Those who think in this incredibly precise manner with so vast and impersonal a perspective know the tides of the times yet stand apart from them. They recognize great moments when they occur. This is the gulf between Divine Wisdom, Theosophia, and the ordinary person. It makes a huge difference if one trains oneself to assimilate in advance, but one equally needs to correct oneself. One needs to eschew over-anticipation, because if one is trapped in it, one is not ready to experience, still less to assimilate. If one does not get down to doing with natural simplicity the most elementary things that need to be done, one will never reach to the summits where the Brotherhood of Bodhisattvas stand, ideate and work. Although there can be no vicarious assimilation, there can be learning. But usually one is more interested in reinforcement and ego validation than in genuine learning.

 Can one sit before the Bhagavad Gita or any sacred text, thinking of Krishna, Buddha or Christ? Can one think of the sun in the morning and see behind and beyond the veil of the visible sun to the invisible sun, the ceaseless source of life, light and energy on all planes? Can one seek the heart of the One Ground which is beginningless and endless? The person who really does this assimilates the very core in a posture that is neither too high nor too low, reducing the muddle and clearing side issues out of the way. Such a person acts with authenticity, truth-value, relevance, and the capacity to connect what is to come with what went before.

 This represents a radical mode of thinking and living. It means living without regret or anticipation, neither in the past nor in the future. It is to live in the present, but because the present is ever elusive, it is to live in eternal duration. One is focussed upon the imminent present which looks towards the imminent future in terms of the boundless past and the endless future. Ultimately, this is to live in terms of that which cannot be categorized in terms of past, present and future. There are periods of richness, periods of withdrawal and periods of purging all that had to be experienced at the differentiated heterogeneous level of fragmented and divided space. They are all drawn back into homogeneous, unbroken, undivided space-time, a realm of consciousness which is the sole creative source, like sleep by night and the solitary watch during the long night of non-manifestation of universes. It is also like the period between incarnations when there is a return by the immortal soul to its divine primordial state. Those who make this state of pure awareness the basis for their daily meditation will see analogies at many levels between these great periods. They will become beings of true self-consciousness. Where others see obstacles, they see opportunities; where many see scarcity, they see plenitude; where many compete as if in overcrowded space, they see interstices, openings, room for many more. In time this becomes a way of breathing. The Mahatmas are ceaselessly in tune with the Great Breath. They are free from the tyranny of time, not only in regard to what we call day and night, life and death, or the huge expanses of manvantaras and pralayas, but free from every possible categorization of the process. They have become one with the One without a second, the One that never manifests, which is in every single atom, yet which is beyond all possible forms and is the great source of all beginnings, all endings, and all reachings by human beings for transcendence, all hungerings of the human heart for something authentic, and all attempts by human minds for more fundamental knowledge. This is the source of that forward impulse in the Self towards infinite expansion, towards ineffable transcendence, and also towards spiritual immortality in time and space, through becoming an embodiment of that which has no dissolution of any kind, while the atoms are ceaselessly involved in the permutations of pralaya. Svasamvedana, Self-knowing, is the sole basis for constant and serene attunement to Paramarthasatya, universal and unchanging Self-consciousness.

All is impermanent in man except the pure bright essence of Alaya. Man is its crystal ray; a beam of light immaculate within, a form of clay material upon the lower surface. That beam is thy life-guide and thy true Self, the Watcher and the silent Thinker, the victim of thy lower Self. Thy Soul cannot he hurt hut through thy erring body; control and master both, and thou art safe when crossing to the nearing "Gate of Balance".

The Voice of the Silence

Hermes, September 1977
by Raghavan Iyer