without shape or form

finding out who we are beyond identity and image

photo courtesy yasodhara ashram

Princess Mira lived in the sixteenth century and meditated on the image of Lord Krisna, which is a common one in India. Krisna is a blue god shown in a bent position, playing the flute and looking very appealing. By his bent position he is saying to the worshiper, “I am lenient with your frailties.” He is beautifully dressed, bedecked in jewels and decorated with peacock feathers—symbolizing that through Lord Krisna one can achieve a Liberation that is much more beautiful than any jewellery the world can give. By identifying with Lord Krisna, Mira achieved what she considered samadhi.

Then one day, while she was meditating, Lord Krisna appeared to her and told her to go to a village some miles away where his beloved devotee, her Guru, lived. He told her to study and learn from him, by meditating under his guidance.

Mira, in complete astonishment, asked Krisna, “Now that I have a constant vision of you, who could teach me anything?”

 “Have you really seen me?” the Lord replied. “There is something more you have yet to see, which is the Lord in the Guru.”

Another way of stating Lord Krisna’s truth is to say that the image a person has of the Divine is the very rival that stands in the way of truly knowing the Divine. In the same way, the ideas we have of each other are the rivals for knowing each other truly. When we identify with anyone, we identify with our image of that person, which cannot be accurate since it is coloured by our perceptions and interpretations of the mind.

Princess Mira went in search of her Guru. She stayed with him until he helped her find the true state of cosmic consciousness, which is beyond name, shape and form. To understand what this means, try to think of yourself without your human shape and without the familiar name that has been given to you. If we want to know ourselves, it means finding out who we are beyond name and form. As long as we identify with any name or form, even a name like Krisna or Jesus or Buddha, we are still like children who identify with their parents. The little girl plays mommy and the little boy plays daddy, which is permissible for children. However, just as we expect children to grow up, the spiritual child in us is expected to grow up, too.

Even to have Divine visions or to hear the voice of the Lord, as Princess Mira did, is not sufficient. You can be in heaven, but even from heaven, the gods must be reborn again. We have to go beyond heaven to that state referred to as satcitananda, which is pure being, pure knowledge, pure bliss.

Enlightenment is the process of detachment. We have to detach ourselves as much as possible from our ideas and images in order to proceed with our own development. It is not required that we live in pain or suffering. Neither must we renounce fulfilling our daily needs, including companionship. It is only our possessiveness and our attachments that must be relinquished. By being detached, we can truly appreciate what freedom and joy there is in life. Then life and death can be equally accepted. We do not want to develop an uncaring indifference, but a nonattachment that comes from knowing that only the physical body dies. Not even the mind dies because consciousness is energy, and energy does not die.

With what do you want to identify? That choice has to be made very carefully. Mark Twain wrote: “God created us in his image and we have repaid that complement ever since.” This indicates that we cannot think of God without the creation of an image for the mind to hold on to. It is obvious that during different stages of development, different images are but a substitution for each other. However, in the process of substitution of images, they become refined and serve as a focal point for the untrained and restless mind. Eventually the mind is trained and becomes capable of directing itself to movement of breath and image of Light.

The symbol of light has the most subtle shape and form. The mind can use it as a transition in moving toward the formless, while expressing symbolically the most beautiful, the most perfect, the most high. We can all meet in the Light, which will bring us together and hold us together.

Each of us has the chance to develop in the course of a lifetime according to our determination to follow our goals and our vision. But not until the mind’s selfish desires are burned away will we realize the Divine. At that point, the Divine is realized not as a supreme being with shape and form, but as vibration, as energy, as power.

Either you are the master of your life and decide where you are going, or you are controlled by your emotions and the whole range of personality aspects, each with its own ego. Only you can make that decision. When you rise above selfishness and attachment to any of life’s experiences, then the mystical union can take place and you will enter the state of satcitananda pure being, pure knowledge, pure bliss.
A pioneer in bringing yoga to the West, Swami Sivananda Radha is the author of 10 classic books on yoga, including Kundalini Yoga for the West and Hatha Yoga: The Hidden Language. Her teachings focus on developing awareness and quality in life.

  read more of swami radha's past columns

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