Unknown India, Rider 1952
My Friend Sadananda
When I prayed to God for a guru, one was already very near. One day there stood a newcomer outside the kitchen barrack, where a hungry crowd had gathered and the birds of prey circled overhead in eager swarms. He was tall and slender, and his head was shaved. He wore the Indian monk gown, although he was a European. His name was Sadananda. I spoke to him, and he answered in a matter-of-fact way with monosyllables. Our first real conversation took place at night on the football field. There he told me about an antique Greek vase he had once seen. The decoration on it was a wheel with sixteen spokes, and around the wheel were pictures from the ancient Greek mysteries and the inscription: “I have jumped off the wheel of Ixion.”
According to the conception of the ancient Greeks, Ixion was a man loaded with misdeeds, who was bound after death for all eternity to a wheel that turned incessantly – I remembered that much. But I had not grasped the fact that the Greek mysteries refer to our world as the place of misery, where every living being is bound without knowing it to a turning wheel, the wheel of repeated existences on earth.
I happened to think of a wheel in an old abandoned mill, which I used to stare at for hours at a time in my childhood. Its spokes were covered with grey moss. It turned round in a dark crevice whose walls were black with age, and cast up the water of the stream in cascades, which immediately fell and dispersed again: gain and loss, honour and ignominy, victory and defeat, joy and sorrow, health and illness, meeting and parting, withering, death and rebirth. The force of personal desire was the water of the stream, which endlessly drives the wheel in the world of change. All the wisdom of India strives to free mankind from this wheel of Ixion. Shri, too, considered this delivery to be the highest goal.
“Delivery from the fire of suffering in the world of change is not the highest goal,” said my companion. “That delivery is only the first step on the infinite path that leads into God’s forgotten world, the path on which the guru who loves God leads his disciple.”
“What kind of a path is that? What is the goal?” I asked expectantly.
“The path is love, the goal is love, ever greater, ever more heartfelt love of God. Just as it is the nature of fire to burn, so it is the nature of the human soul to love God. Just as a spark is evidence of a fire, because it is burning, the soul is evidence of a God, because it loves. The spark is the single soul, the great fire of love is God. The spark is little and insignificant as compared with the fire from which it emanates. But its infinite insignificance only concerns its outward form. The soul is hidden, and knows nothing of its real nature, but when it awakes and begins to love again and is filled with an inexpressible longing to return to God, then it partakes of His nature, His fullness, pureness, freedom and eternity. Then he is stripped of all selfishness, and strives for nothing but giving joy to God. Then, in devoted service, he can become a part of the divine inner life.”
“Is not the highest goal knowing the truth? My guru taught me so.”
“Wisdom is not attained by wanting to know, but by devoted service alone. Only wanting to know is still selfishness and a desire to satisfy egoism.”
“Is not Shanti, divine peace, the highest?” I asked. “Think of the Buddhistic sculptures. Think of the inexpressible peace in the calm smile of the meditating Buddha’s countenance. Are not all the religions of the world united in their prayer for the blessing of peace? ‘May the Lord bless thee and preserve thee; may He turn His countenance to thee and give thee peace.’ ”
“Yes, religions are united in praying for peace, since they are still in a preparatory state and are like lessons for obstinate children. They think the only important thing is the washing away of the filth of the earth, and of the world’s struggle. Observe the various religious devotees,” continued Sadananda distressedly, “all of them want something of God. As if God were a shopkeeper. One demands power. Another prays for riches. A third wants a beautiful young woman. A fourth prays for a son. A fifth, health and a long life. A sixth prays for victory for his side and miserable defeat for the opponent. The Christian asks to enter heaven and enjoy eternal blessedness there. The Hindu wishes to be freed from samsara, the burning wheel of the world of change, and then safely sink into rapture for eternity. The Buddhist wishes to enter nirvana. All want the same thing, an assurance of peace, security, freedom from suffering. The case is the same with the followers of Shankaracharya. They want to become a part of Brahman, sink into the formless divine light, where all dissension vanishes. Or they even desire to become like God. You, too, Walther Eidlitz, are among these. Did you not sing as you wandered in Himalaya: ‘Aham Brahmasmi ... I am Brahman’? Moreover, you have thoroughly misunderstood this sentence from the Upanishads. It means: In my innermost soul I am of the nature of Brahman, just as the spark is of the same nature as fire.”
Sadananda stopped speaking. In silence we walked up and down the length of the barbed-wire fence. Round about the camp the jackals were shrieking, withdrawing gradually deeper into the forest.
“Shri never insisted that peace was the highest aim. He said rather: ‘For the time being, I shall grant you only peace’,” I resumed after a while. “And I did not even succeed in attaining peace.”
Sadananda laid his hand gently on my shoulder. “Do not grieve, Vamandas, because you are crushed and believe you have lost everything. Krishna is sometimes called Anathabandhu, the Friend of the lordless, the lord over those who no longer own anything but their destitution and their longing for Him. Believe me, Krishna rejoices more over one who, in spite of a thousand obstructions, longs to love and serve Him, in the crowds and the dirt of the barracks within this barbed wire, than over one who meditates in the shelter and quiet of a clean, calm forest, or a room behind padded doors. You belong to Krishna. And your meditation, your success and failure, and even your illnesses are His. But whoever dares completely to subject himself to God on His terms instead of his own? Many have tried to follow the example of a divine saviour, and say like him: ‘Thy will be done, not mine.’ But when matters become serious, when the will of God overcomes one, then fear creeps in and one whispers in secret: ‘No, I meant not thus – so far, but no farther.’ No one wants to believe that God can at times make His appearance in the form of a catastrophe, a complete breakdown. But believe me, if one can prevail upon oneself in the hands of God, then he need never worry. God takes over the responsibility for him, for all his actions. Then it is of no consequence whether he happens to be in an abyss in the world of change, or in the kingdom of heaven, for he is always in God’s kingdom of love, playing a part in the drama of God and His eternal followers, of which the world knows nothing.
Peace, Nirvana, longed for by so many, is only an intermediary state on the path to God’s real kingdom. To be sure, many remain forever in this wonderful ante-room. But he who dares to penetrate farther, with a desire to devote himself to God yet more, does not lose peace thereby. True peace is not only the becoming free from stress. The freedom from passion, so highly valued by the Indian yogi, is very much overestimated. True peace means preserving the certainty that in the depth of one’s being one is ever inseparably united with God, in all situations and through all suffering.”
Once more we walked silently for a while, “Svamiji,” I asked quietly, “what has your guru told you about his understanding of why we live? Why do we have these earthly bodies?”
Sadananda became ardent. “My guru said: ‘We have been given this sluggish body in order to let the fire of every breath we take consume it in our devotion to God.’ But I do not expect you to understand this as yet, Vamandas. You do not even know yet who God, who Krishna, is ...”
“Oh, how I wish I could behold God,” I said.
“It is not a question of your beholding God,” my companion corrected me severely. “It is much more a question of God seeing you, that He may be drawn to you by the beauty and purity in your longing for affectionate devotion. When a person wants to see God, this wish is often a desire for self-advancement. Just as humans degrade all earthly phenomena in their selfishness, by transforming them to objects, relating them to themselves, and enjoying them so do some of them try to enjoy God.”
“How can I free myself from such egoism?” I asked.
“One should not ask such questions, either,” answered Sadananda harshly. “Even this question arises out of egoism. Pray to Krishna, the Unknown, the Hidden, to give you the strength sometime in the future honestly to beg to serve Him truly, and learn to love Him ... It is late. We must sleep. Good night, Vamandas.”