Excerpted from the essay
Is the Eternal Everlasting?
The eternal cannot be approached except by sacrificing the wish for the everlasting. When I wish to have a life without end, it is in fact a wish for a continuity of my personal identity, my own ego-self, throughout time. This wish arises out of a fear of the loss of my ego. It is difficult for me to imagine life, or the cosmos, without my ego being present. Because I am self-occupied, I regard myself as the centre of the universe and, in my ego-centred imagination, I believe that the whole universe would collapse if I were to cease existing in the form I know. I project my fear of the loss of the known onto the unknown and I devise whole systems of consolation which would vouchsafe an everlasting life for me.
The wish for continuity, the tendency to repeat myself and the inertia of a psychological momentum prevent my transformation –being born of the Spirit. This feature of the mind is what is called abhinivesha by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras (2:9). The usual interpretation of this notion is that this is 'a wish for continuation of life,' which in turn is often interpreted as 'a fear of death.' However, abhinivesha is any desire for the continuation of the status quo which results in a fear of change. The wish for everlasting life is a consequence of abhinivesha and it stands in the way of the spiritual transformation necessary to find eternal life. The spiritual masters have said –see for example Matthew 10:39, Luke 11:33, John 12:25 – that only the person who is willing to sacrifice the superficial life (or self, or ego, or samsara) can find Life (or Self, or God, or Nirvana).
The Eternal: Transcending Time
If the everlasting continuity of personal identity is not what the spiritual seeker wishes, what is aspired for? There is an ancient Vedic prayer, quoted in the Brihadaranyak Upanishad (I.3.28), which says:
From the unreal lead me to the Real
From darkness lead me to Light
From death lead me to Life.
This state of Non-death, of Life (amrita), presumably is not the state in which one is born again and again, endlessly, for this requires no effort and is guaranteed to all. Such a state cannot be the goal of spiritual life, any more than death can be such an aim, for the simple reason that everyone will undergo this fate in any case. On the contrary, the desired end is a state of being which does not come about automatically; it requires strenuous effort and discipline, a yoga, from below and grace from Above.
A spiritual seeker wishes for a transformation of being so that the quality of the relationship with higher energies and levels could be radically altered. This transformation results in a life which is not ego-centred but is rather centred in God, who because of his omnipresence lives in the deepest recesses of the seeker's heart as well as in every other person and in every other thing. A mark of this inner re-orientation in the aspirant is a shift from being in a state of occupation with acquisition and self-advancement to one of love for others and of wishing to be of service.1
The highest form of sacrifice is the renunciation of the ego-self. Our one individual and personal possession is the sense of 'I'; all other possessions are accidental and subject to external loss. This self which is occupied with itself is what the spiritual aspirant undertakes to surrender. The saints achieve only this: they succeed in doing nothing. Nothing, that is, which is their own. They have no project, no point of view, no ambition of their own; they do what they must under the guidance of the will of God, as a service and as an offering. "In truth, in very truth I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he does only what he sees the Father doing: what the Father does, the Son does... The teaching that I give is not my own; it is the teaching of him who sent me. Anyone whose teaching is only his own is bent on self-glorification" (John 5:19; 7:16,17). And St. Paul said, "I live, yet no longer I, but Christ liveth in me" (Galatians 2:20).
The greatest fear of the saints is that of dying without being self-annihilated, without having died to their ego-selves. Without this death they would be condemned to the prison of their own egos. As the Theologia Germanica (Chapter 34) says, "Nothing burneth in hell except self-will." The sage strives for a discontinuity of the ego-self in time and not for its everlasting perpetuation. Very different sorts of questions about life after death arise for those who wish to be free of their own self-will than for those who fear the extinction of their egos.2 The sage fears dying without the extinction of the ego, without self-naughting, without having entered into the state of Eternal Life, of Nirvana.
“The style of the author is disarming and easy and, even while stating profound ideas, there is a simplicity of form that is appealing. In many essays the author goes beyond the superficial word meanings and touches the wisdom of the sages at its deepest levels. The author exhibits great versatility in being able to convey the significance of the use of words such as asmita, buddhiyoga, yajña, yoga, dharma, etc., in the Indian tradition. His 20-year conversation with J. Krishnamurti is a delightful essay and captures the personality of this great thinker of the 20th century.” Reviewed by T. S. Rukmani, Professor of Hindu Studies in Concordia University, Montreal, in Religious Studies.