Concerning the nature of the soul
The universal real Soul, within the heart and in the world
1. Om / [The teacher should say:] “Now, what is here in this city of Brahma, is an abode, a small lotus-flower. Within that is a small space. What is within that, should be searched out; that, assuredly, is what one should desire to understand.”
2. If they [i.e. the pupils] should say to him: “This abode, the small lotus-flower that is here in this city of Brahma, and the small space within that—what is there, there, which should be searched out, which assuredly one should desire to understand?”
3. he should say: “As far, verily, as this world-space (ayam akasa) extends, so far extends the space within the heart. Within it, indeed, are contained both heaven and earth, both fire and wind, both sun and moon, lightning and the stars, both what one possesses here and what one does not possess; everything here is contained within it.”
4. If they should say to him : 'If within this city of Brahma is contained everything here, all beings as well as all desires, when old age overtakes it or it perishes, what is left over there-from?”
5. he should say, “That does not grow old with one’s old age ; it is not slain with one's murder. That is the real city of Brahma. In it desires are contained. That is the Soul (Atman), free from evil, ageless, deathless, sorrowless, hunger-less, thirstless, whose desire is the Real, whose conception is the Real.”
“For, just as here on earth human beings follow along in subjection to command ; of whatever object they are desirous, whether a realm or a part of a field, upon that they live dependent—
6. “As here on earth the world which is won by work (karma-fita loka) becomes destroyed, even so there the world which is won by merit (punya-jita loka] becomes destroyed.” Those who go hence without here having found the Soul (Atman) and those real desires (satya kdma} —for them in all the worlds there is no freedom. But those who go hence having found here the Soul and those real desires—for them in all worlds there is freedom.”
Excerpt From: Robert Ernest Hume, “The Thirteen Principal Upanishads.” Pages 262-63
It’s said that the kingdom of heaven is within. In order to understand this, it’s important to remember that the kingdom is composed not just of a single entity, but many different places, vast lands that have cities in them. And just as the outer is a reflection of the inner condition of mankind, and actually not a real entity but just the reflection — that is, the inner gives birth to the outer, and not the other way around — the inner kingdom of heaven is constructed much like the outer world appears to us. The difference is that although we see the outer world is real and the kingdom of heaven as an imaginary or abstract construction, in fact it is the other way around. It’s necessary to reverse this understanding within Being in order to begin to understand the kingdom of heaven as an experience rather than an idea.
The kingdom of heaven has a representative city within each person, which is the City of God. This is a very ancient understanding, as its presence in the Upanishads shows. But the understanding need not be distant. It is available today within us, under the right conditions. You can verify it.
The city of God is located in the heart of each human being. It is an actual city that exists on a different level in us.
This miraculous City is a hidden, and in many senses forbidden location; generally speaking, the city of God is closed. It is the entryway to our portion, or residency, in the kingdom of heaven; yet we are not really ready to live in the kingdom of heaven. We were born and designed to live here on earth, which is a place of exile in which we undergo trials. So every time we attempt to escape life with practices that bring us to inner states of “nothingness” or “bliss,”—each time we seek the void— we’re attempting to escape the very conditions that are most essential for the growth of the soul. It does not mean we have no entitlement whatsoever to immersion in nothingness and bliss — in fact, nothingness is not nothingness, and bliss is not bliss, and both of them are permitted as experiences to mankind — but attempting to transform our outward or inward spiritual life into a perpetual state of this kind would avoid the kind of trouble, difficulty, chaos and conflict needed for the soul to grow in its humility and devotion to God.
As the narrator in the Upanishads explains, In it desires are contained. That is the Soul (Atman), free from evil, ageless, deathless, sorrowless, hunger-less, thirstless, whose desire is the Real, whose conception is the Real.
This particular place in the heart is the exact place that is opened by God during religious ecstasy; and it releases all of a human being's true inner wish, the divine wish, which is both of the kernel of being and its essence, the alpha and omega of existence which is hidden from us. The reason it opens so rarely is that the experience is, for the most part, overwhelming. Yet it can open in a small way and feed life; that is to say, allegorically speaking, if we make a good in our effort and align ourselves in humility with God, we are able to establish an encampment outside the city where we can await the arrival of the master, which only happens if the gates are opened. Living in this encampment requires great patience.
One should not try to open the heart, the city of God, on one’s own. Certainly there are exercises that can do this, but there are reasons mankind is not supposed to open the inner flowers or the city of God on its own. To hope for God to open these places through prayer, supplication, and devotion is fully permitted, since to God all things are allowable; but to force them open using “skillful” means is forbidden.
Now, because there are ways and means of constructing our spiritual life, both outwardly and inwardly, and we create forms of both kinds, we begin to see ourselves as architects. Indeed, born into life, the ego sees itself as an architect from the beginning, somehow crafting its own life and being. Yet we never craft anything that has anything to do with being; being emanates from God, and will never be subject to our own construction. We mistakenly think, because our ego runs everything, that we are the architects of life, and that the structure we inhabit — the building of our being — is both something that we understand, control, and have power over. This entire idea is so profoundly mistaken it’s difficult to convey it; we don’t see how thoroughly this idea of ourselves as architects penetrates every crevice of our life and every action that we take. Even if we adopt a spiritual stance that insists we don’t see ourselves this way, that itself is often part of our architecture, what we think we have built. When we deny our view of ourselves as architects, we do so as sly and clever human beings who have simply added another wing to the building.
Consider, if you will, a different view of ourselves in life: that is, as residents. The resident does not own the building or the apartment, but leases it; he or she is an itinerant, only therefore the length of the lease. During the tenancy, the resident has a responsibility to keep the apartment clean; to maintain good relationships with the other renters, to be respectful to the landlord, to understand the privilege that comes with being able to rent. There are many other analogies to spiritual life; no need to list them all here. The point is that if we see ourselves as residents, we no longer run the show, but instead become individuals with the responsibility to help maintain the place where we live. This applies to both our inner and our outer life.
Lee van Laer is a Senior Editor at Parabola Magazine.