knowing vs. believing

(waking up through careful investigation & personal experience)

Swami Radha at CBC-TV Edmonton, 1966. Courtesy Yasodhara Ashram

We have to clarify to ourselves what we believe versus what we really know. When we say, ďI believe,Ē we indicate that we donít know by personal experience. ďI believe that I will go to heaven if I donít smoke, if I donít eat meat, if I donít drink, if Iím loyal to my spouse, if I donít lie.Ē What Iím really saying is, ďI donít know but I hope so.Ē

Beliefs are usually based on the words of a person, or a scripture or school of thought that we consider an authority. We apply these words to ourselves because they appeal to us, and then we begin to believe they are true. We have no means of assuring ourselves of this truth, because, for example, the moment I go to heaven, I donít come back and tell you. Even if I found myself in heaven, how would I know whether it is a heaven I have dreamed up in my imagination? What do I know of heaven?

Every guru I met asked me to try, to test and to do. I was asked to suspend judgement only temporarily until I had my own experience, but I was never asked to simply believe. If you meet somebody who wants you to blindly accept their words as truth, I would be very careful.

You have a right to doubt, but doubt with discrimination, doubt with intelligence. Doubt must not become a back door for laziness Ė an excuse for not working on yourself. If you donít doubt, you may think you already know everything, erecting a wall of limitation that you then cannot go beyond. Always doubt that you have reached the ultimate goal, or the maximum development of your perceptions. We have to push out further and further beyond the current limits of our mental and perceptual powers.

Both my Tibetan teacher and my guru, Swami Sivananda, made it very clear to me to distinguish between beliefs and knowledge from personal experience. They showed me that I sometimes presented assumptions as facts. I may have some useful information, but it has to be tested to be turned into knowledge. Having a theoretical understanding and an ability to intellectualize very cleverly can deceive us into thinking that we have accomplished something.

Self-deception has to be carefully investigated. Ask yourself, Have I changed? Have I been able to get control of my mind? What have I accomplished in my attempt toward self-mastery?

You may think you are already advanced on the spiritual path if you have a moment of bliss in chanting or from doing a good deed. But that step may be very small and difficult to maintain. The spiritual path is walking the razorís edge. Whatever your achievements, donít make them bigger than they are through wishful thinking or even through the sincere desire to advance. The work that needs to be done is tremendous.

Observe how difficult it is to drop your grudges and to keep negative thoughts out of your mind. Wherever you are, you have to battle your own selfishness, your many personality aspects and your illusions. The spiritual path demands every bit of strength, energy and willpower we can muster in order to wake up from being a sleepwalker.

Discrimination and careful investigation are necessary. A believer is gullible. Something sounds good and the mind eats it up. The mind is like a ravenous beast constantly seeking new and exciting food. We are very careful about what we feed the body, checking to see if the food is good or bad. I can only assure you that it is of utmost importance to look at what you feed your mind. Give the mind the best food. Feed it the truth about yourself.

If you have grown in understanding and look at the past, you may be able to see how you have made yourself ill, how you have created your own pain, how you have created your own traps and disappointments, and how you have been lured into illusions and false beliefs by uncontrolled imagination. From the insights of the past, you can understand the present better. Then it is no miracle to anticipate the future, over which you gain some control.

Greater knowledge can best be achieved by increased concentration. The ability to keep the mental merry-go-round noises out and to become single-pointed of mind is the key to all powers. When this is understood within oneself rather than on an intellectual level, peace of mind will come.

Personal experience provides the needed evidence and encouragement to pursue knowledge of a higher nature. Insights come kindled by sincerity and devotion, humility and honesty. The Higher Self, which is a particular kind of intelligence and consciousness, will indeed try to give inspiration. If that same level of awareness with its accompanying characteristics can be maintained, the future will be a world of harmony and therefore happiness. Applying what has been learned in all situations is like a charm itself. Then awareness is not considered difficult, but rather takes on the soft gentle glow of the first glimpse of illumination. But donít listen to me, find out for yourself.
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.

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