Go to "Table of Contents"


Chapter 22


The Three Worlds - The Gross, the Subtle and the Causal


All the myriad objects you see in the world are just combinations of the five elements. Everything, without exception, is made up of the five elements and only the five elements. There is no sixth element to be found anywhere.


Embodiments of Love,


There are three types of spaces which can also be considered as universes or worlds. They are the gross physical universe, the subtle universe of the mind, and the subtlest and most pervasive of all three, referred to as the causal universe. Beyond these and serving as the basis for all three of them is the transcendental, the divine principle, the atma, the supreme self.


The Five Elements, Gross and Subtle


A devotee who is anxious to know the divine principle and merge with it should have an understanding of these three universes. The first of these, the gross physical universe, is made up of the five great elements, that is, ether, air, fire, water and earth. Ether, which is also called space, is the first of the five elements it is all-pervasive and very subtle. It does not have any specific attributes except sound. After that comes air. Air can be felt but it cannot be seen. It has only two attributes, sound and touch. Next is fire. Fire can be seen. It is denser than air. It has three attributes, namely, sound, touch and form. Following fire there is water. Water is still more dense, and like fire it can be seen by the naked eye. It can also be tasted. Water has 4 attributes, namely, sound, touch, form and taste. Earth, the last and densest of all the elements, has five attributes, namely, sound, touch, form, taste and smell. You can see that the last three elements, fire, water and earth, have form. The first two, ether and air have other qualities but no form.


All things found in the physical world, are impermanent and subject to continuous change. In time, all objects undergo complete modification from one name and form to another, and then to still another, and so on. In the physical universe, everything is in constant motion. Let us inquire deeper into the nature of physical objects made up of these five elements. Consider the various atoms which exist in a given place and a given time. They will comprise the various objects which appear there at that moment. As the atoms move and change their position, the forms they make up also change. The atoms in all the objects undergo such rapid change in position, that it is hard to say when a particular change has taken place in an object. There is an ongoing process of change. All the objects made up of these changing atoms will be changing their forms continuously with time.


The atoms which make up the human body, like the atoms in any other form, change every moment, causing the body to undergo modification. All these different changes are very much like waves, such as the waves you find in the ocean. For the waves in the ocean there is no beginning or end. The drops of water in one wave get merged into the next wave. The waves in which those drops have been merged again get merged into other waves, and so on. This process of forms changing and merging goes on continuously. This is the very nature of the physical universe.


Life is a Series of Waves


Humanity can also be described as a series of waves; and other living beings such as animals and birds can be thought of as other waves. Plants can also be thought of as waves, as can the insects and crawling things. The demonic forces can be described as still other waves, and the divine forces are yet other waves. In nature, it is impossible to say what aspect of any wave will merge with any other wave. Therefore, just as drops of one wave in the ocean will mingle with and get merged into another wave, so also you may find that a wave containing human characteristics may merge into another wave containing characteristics of other living things. It is one continuous process of change and modification. In this way, life itself can be described as a series of waves.


In the same way that the body undergoes change, the mind also undergoes change. Human nature is associated with the thinking process, which is the result of a continuous string of thoughts. These thought processes are all impermanent. They constantly undergo change. We see that everything comprising human life is undergoing change. Unless you are able to recognize the six principal types of changes which occur in life, namely, birth, growth, maturity, decline, degeneration and death, you will be deluded into thinking that life is permanent. The root cause of such lack of understanding is ignorance, which gives rise to the ego and egoistic feelings of self-delusion.


The physical universe contains billions of suns, each with its own world. There are countless planets, big and small and innumerable beings. In this entire vast universe, the earth is smaller than even a tiny drop. On this earth, India is just a little country. In this little country there is a small state. In this small state is a very little district. In this little district there is just a minor village. In this village there is an insignificant little house. And in this little house there sits a very small body. Isn't it ludicrous to think that such a small body could ever feel egoistic and blown-up with self-importance, considering its minute size in this huge universe? When you think of this world and your own place in it, you can see that physically you are the merest speck in that vast totality. Can such a tiny speck ever hope to understand the totality? Can a mere little ant ever hope to measure the whole ocean? And yet, this ocean is itself constantly undergoing change... and so does the whole earth... and so does everything else in the physical universe.


The world in which you are living is completely temporary and transient. How can an insignificant, temporary thing living in a transitory world try to understand the infinite, limitless, permanent entity? To understand the permanent entity you must occupy a permanent place within that permanent entity. Body, personality and individuality are all temporary. They can be compared to a mirage. Man is trying to quench his thirst from a mirage. A mirage appears to be made up of water, but there is no real water there. No cloth can be wetted from a mirage; no bucket can be filled there. You can never slake your thirst there. In the same way, your body and your individual nature can never satisfy your thirst for the true joy that you are seeking.


But For the Divine Principle, The World is Totally Inert


The whole vast physical world is something like an atom in the mental world, just as your body is like a infinitesimal atom in the universe. But this incredibly huge mental world is itself only the size of a mere atom in the causal world. The physical world, being made up of the five gross elements, can be apprehended by the five senses of perception. But since everything in the physical world is made up of the five elements and only the five elements, this world is totally inert and insentient. Yet, the divine principle is inherent in it. This divine principle is also to be found in the mental world. Since the mental world is made up of the same five elements (in their subtle aspects), this world is also inert and insentient. But just as the divine principle, as indweller, is inherent in the inert body, activating it, and is inherent in the inert mind, vitalizing it, so also it is inherent in these inert physical and mental worlds, energizing and vitalizing them.


This divine principle which brings energy and vitality to the physical and mental worlds, shines forth most splendidly from the causal world, the subtlest of these vast universes. To understand this process consider the reflections in a mirror. The image or reflection has no independent existence of its own. It can shine and be seen only when the object which is being reflected is luminous, and it can move only when this same object being reflected, moves. All the apparent luster of the things making up the world arises from the causal world, and is then reflected by the mental and physical worlds, which act as mirrors. Just as the effulgence of the sun gets reflected by the moon, the effulgence present in the causal state gets reflected in the subtle mental state and the gross physical state.


Now suppose you wanted to decorate the reflection which you see of yourself in a mirror. Could you do it so that it would remain there permanently? When you see your face in the mirror, could you paint a dot on the forehead of your image in the mirror and keep it there? No, it would be a futile effort. If you were to paint a dot on the mirror where the center of your forehead is on your image, then as soon as you move, the image would also move, and the dot which was formerly in the center of your forehead would now be over your ear. Whenever you moved to one side, the image would also move to one side and the dot would no longer be in the center of the image. Then, is there any way that you can put a dot on your forehead of your image in the mirror so that it will remain there, no matter what happens? Yes. You must put the dot on you, the object which is being reflected. Then you can move in any direction, or even turn the mirror to one side or the other, and the dot would not move on your image. Here is a small story which will illustrate this principle.


The Artist Who tried to Capture the Image of the Lord


There was once a world-famous artist. He had an extraordinary talent for figure and portrait painting. He came to Krishna, in his capital city of Dvaraka, and wanted to paint Krishna's portrait. With a beaming smile Krishna said, "Well, if you want to paint my image you can certainly do so. Tell me what I should do." The artist requested, "Swami, if you would kindly just sit still for an hour in the same place, I will draw an outline, and then later on I will fill in the details." Krishna sat down on for the artist and remained without moving. The artist made some preliminary sketches. After a while, he prostrated at Krishna's feet and said, "Swami, I am done now." Smiling, Krishna asked, "When are you going to show the picture?" The artist answered, "Swami, by tomorrow at this time I should have completed it."


Throughout the night, he worked untiringly on this difficult task of accurately painting a likeness of the Lord on canvas. When the picture was done the next morning, the artist was extremely pleased with his work. He covered the painting with a beautiful cloth and brought it to Krishna. But when the cloth was removed, it was seen that in the intervening 24 hours the form of Krishna had undergone a remarkable change. The artist put the portrait directly alongside Krishna. He looked at the picture and then looked at Krishna. He realized that there was very little resemblance between the two. Krishna also looked at the painting and pointed out, "My dear fellow, there seem to be a number of defects." The artist said, "Please forgive me, Swami. Please give me another chance. Let me try again and I will do better." It went on like this for ten days.


Each day the artist did his work over again, but it was impossible to get a proper picture. Now the artist began to feel ashamed. He decided it would be best if he just disappeared from there, and so he hurriedly left the city. On the way, sage Narada happened to meet the artist departing from the city. Narada asked the artist, "You seem quite disturbed. Tell me what is making you so unhappy." The artist explained to him all that had happened. Narada told the artist, "Well, Krishna is a master actor and a master director. He is enacting this whole drama. Using your methods you will never be able to get a true likeness of him. But if you really want to succeed then listen to my words and follow them implicitly.


The artist agreed to do exactly as Narada instructed. He returned to Dvaraka, and the very next day went to Krishna, carrying with him a picture covered with a fine cloth. He told Krishna, "Swami, I have finally been able to bring you your exact picture. Please have a look. This will always give the correct likeness of you. Whatever changes come into your expression and form, the image that is seen here will show all these changes faithfully." Then he got ready to remove the covering cloth and said, "Please accept this as my best picture of you." When the cloth came away, it revealed a clean mirror.


If you want to paint a portrait of the Lord who is permanent with temporary materials like brushes, paint, etc., you will not be able to succeed. In the physical universe everything is temporary. All forms are constantly undergoing change. Such transient forms cannot give a proper vision of the permanent Lord. If you want to have a clean and unchanging vision of the Lord, you will be able to obtain it only in the clean mirror, which is your own purified heart.


To Reach the Permanent, Go Beyond the Impermanent


Trying to know the Lord through the changing forms found in the gross physical universe, is a type of delusion. The permanent unchanging entity cannot be known through impermanent, changing forms. Whatever knowledge you get this way will be impermanent. Whatever joy you may derive from trying to know him in this way will only be temporary. The basic nature of these five elements is that they are constantly undergoing change. To reach the state of the permanent, you have to go beyond these five elements and their changing forms.


Suppose you go on a pilgrimage to a temple to have a vision of the Lord. Coming there, you may have had to undergo a great many difficulties. Then, when you finally arrive there and have a chance to go into the temple, you stand before the likeness of the Lord with your heart filled with yearning. You look at the sacred image, but immediately you find yourself closing your eyes as you experience the intense feelings of being in the divine presence. Spontaneously, you close your eyes and turn your vision inwards. Having gone to so much trouble to get there to have a look at the holy image, why, once you are there, do you close your eyes and look within yourself? What is the inner significance of this? You turn your sight inward because you realize that in order for you to get a permanent and true vision of the Lord, you have to look inside your heart. You know intuitively that the pictures taken in through your eyes will remain fleeting impressions, superimposed on impermanent thoughts. After having registered these visual images in the thoughts, they must be fixed so that they can become unchanging impressions in the heart.


Although you cannot get a direct experience of the divinity in the physical universe, the indirect vision of the divinity that you can get there will give you some sacred experiences. Just because the physical world is transient and changing you should not renounce these feelings of connectedness with the divinity, even though they may be short-lived. These feelings will give you some temporary joy. First, you will have to secure this temporary joy and then slowly and gradually make the journey towards permanent joy. This journey will take you through the three worlds, the physical, the mental and the causal, going from the grossest to the most subtle. It is only in the causal that you will find the image of real truth. The causal arises from the transcendental state, which interpenetrates these three worlds, and is beyond them. That transcendental source which illuminates the causal is the unchanging light of the atma.


You Are Not Just One But Three


You can get some understanding of all this by contemplating the statement that Swami has often made, 'You are not one person but three... the one you think you are, the one that others think you are and the one you really are.' The one you think you are, the body, is ephemeral and untrue. Whatever life you are living today, whatever experiences you are having today, they are all transient. Both the body and its activities, are temporary and associated with the physical world. Now, when others think of you, they do so not only in terms of your physical makeup but also in terms of your personality and character traits. Theirs is a more mentalized image of you. Therefore, the one that others think you are, relates to the mind and the mental world, which is also changing and untrue. But, the one you really are, is the atma, the unchanging truth, shining in the causal state.


A piece of ice in your hand will start melting until it becomes water again. Why is this so? Because melting is the very nature of ice. Similarly, changeability or transitoriness is the very nature of everything that appears in the physical world. Even while you are trying to understand the gross physical universe, you have to think of the finer, subtler inner worlds. The physical world is at the gross level. You experience it during the waking-state. The same thing in a subtle form is associated with the mental world, which you experience in the dream-state. In the waking state, you are able to see objects because of the light emanating from the sun and the moon. But the sun and the moon of your waking state are not present in the dream-state. It is only the light which emanates from the mental world which helps you to see the objects of that world.


The moment you push aside the gross, the subtle light becomes evident inside. During the day you are not able to see the stars. But just because you cannot see them does not mean that they are not there. Stars continue to shine even in the daytime, and yet because the sun's effulgence is so great, you cannot see them. As the light of the sun becomes dim at dusk, you begin to see the shining stars.


Behind the Gross the Subtle, Behind the Subtle the Causal


Behind the outer, grosser experience lies the subtler, finer experience, from which the outer has sprung. And within the subtle can be found the template for the gross. Even in the childhood of a great spiritual teacher, you can see the mark of one whose mission it is to bring light to mankind. And when you apprehend this underlying subtle quality of that being, you clearly see how it has shaped every aspect of that life through all its outer manifestations and through every major period of life.


There is another state that transcends both the gross and the subtle. That is the causal. The causal state does not have any movement; it does not undergo any change. Within it is to be found the self-effulgent light of the atma. It is because of this all-pervasive light of the atma shining in and through the causal state that you are able to experience the mental and the physical worlds. If there were no subtle mental world there could be no gross physical world for you. But, if there were no causal, there would be neither subtle mental nor gross physical worlds for you. To realize your divine state, your journey has to take you from the physical through the mental to the causal. Your truth is rooted in the causal. You must use the physical to reach the mental and the mental to reach the causal.


Ultimately, it is the light of the atma, the indweller, which activates and vitalizes all of these states of experience. The atma is the source and the substratum of all three worlds. In the ocean you will find waves and swells and foam on the surface, large-scale currents below the surface and the stillness of the deep ocean regions, far below. The waves and foam, the currents, and the deep ocean waters are not different. Water is the common element which interpenetrates all of them. But, it appears as if the waves, the currents and the deep ocean are different.


In the phenomenal world also, you have to discover the common element that underlies all experience and unifies the physical, the mental and the causal worlds. You can associate these three universes with the three states of consciousness. You can think of the waking state as the physical, the dream-state as the mental, and the deep-sleep state as the causal. Beyond these three states, interpenetrating them and common to all of them, is a fourth state. That is the superconscious state, the transcendental state. The unconscious state of deep-sleep is associated with the causal. It has a very profound quality of peace. But by itself, the deep-sleep state will not provide you with a permanent experience of real bliss. The bliss is there but you are not conscious of it. It is only after you come back to the waking-state from deep sleep that you remember the serene feeling of total rest you were enjoying. However, in the super conscious state, you will be able to enjoy eternal peace and bliss, and be fully conscious of it always.


Samadhi is Equal-Mindedness


The experience of that bliss has been referred to as the state of samadhi. What is the meaning of samadhi? Samadhi is ordinarily mistaken to be an emotional state in which a person acts abnormally, as if in a state of high excitement or trance. You may think that samadhi is something different from the waking, dream or deep-sleep states. But, truly, samadhi is something common to all three states. The meaning of samadhi is inherent in the word itself. Its root syllables sama or equal, and dhi or mind, together mean equal-mindedness. To be equal-minded in cold or in heat, in profit or in loss, in praise or in censure... that is samadhi. Therefore, a person who is immersed in samadhi, whose mind is in equanimity, will always be in a state of bliss, whether he is in the waking state immersed in his every-day life, or whether he is in the dream-state or in the deep-sleep state. Everyone yearns for such a beatific state. To attain it, a great deal of spiritual practice is necessary. You also have to earn the grace of the Lord by living a life replete with the virtuous qualities that are pleasing to him.


After describing the noble characteristics of a truly wise man, Krishna told Arjuna, "Arjuna, there is no value whatsoever in your basing your actions only on considerations involving the body. Follow my commands! Discharge your duties while all the time thinking of me. Then you will be able to experience and enjoy the divinity that is everywhere. This divinity is the unity which underlies all the diversity in the world. Base your actions on that. Constantly concentrate on that divinity. I am that divinity and you are very dear to me. When you concentrate on me, then I will be fully concentrated on you." For a wise man, whatever be the state he is in, his thoughts and feelings will not undergo any change. He will have developed an unwavering attitude, being focused at all times on the divine principle within.


Who will be surprised to hear that fire is accompanied by heat? Burning is the natural state of fire, just as cold is the natural state of ice. So also, everyone who is born will die. This should be considered as totally natural. Anyone who recognizes this truth will not be subjected to sorrow. In all places and in all circumstances, develop an equal-mindedness. Whatever happens, always keep your mind firmly fixed on the divinity, which is your true self. In order to develop this ability to think of the atma, your divine nature, in all places and at all times, you will have to gain a deep understanding of the characteristics of the three worlds, the physical, the mental and the causal.


In the evening you take your food and shortly afterwards you go to bed. Soon after that you are asleep and get a number of dreams. Many things happen to you in your dreams but after getting up nothing remains of the dream state. In the waking state you engage in many different activities and have numerous experiences, but then later on, when you go back to sleep again all these activities of the waking state are superseded by the events in the dream state. We see that so many changes come about in just 24 hours.


You Alone Are True


There are a number of striking differences in your experiences of the dream-state and those of the waking-state. Considering this, what should you believe and what should you not believe? You may ask, 'Which is true, which is not true? Am I the one who experiences all these various happenings in the waking state, or am I the one who experiences all those other happenings in the dream-state?' The wisdom teachings give the answer, 'You are neither this nor that. You are not the one experiencing the waking-state, nor are you the one experiencing the dream-state, nor are you the one asleep in the deep-sleep state. You transcend all these. You are the transcendental reality itself.'


That which you think exists really does not exist. That which you do not believe exists really exists. When you acquire wisdom you realize that there is only the One which really exists and is eternally true. That is the atma, the transcendental principle. But this principle of atma is not easily accessible to ordinary people. All that you read, listen to and experience are merely attributes of the physical state. Starting with this you have to reach out and try to achieve your goal. From the form you have to progress to the formless, from the changeable you have to progress to the changeless, from the attributeful you have to progress to the attributeless. Beyond all these, transcending all attributes and going even beyond the attributeless and formless, is the unchanging and unwavering superconscious state. This is the goal of all spiritual aspirants. One who has become immersed in this state is described as a wise sage. You may wonder if Arjuna achieved this state. Yes, Krishna himself conferred this state on Arjuna. Krishna transformed Arjuna into an instrument of the divine and thereby turned him into a truly wise being.


If a wise man does not engage in activities he will not be able to set a good example to the common people. In schools you will find a director of physical education and a drill master. The drill master takes his orders from the director. During the calisthenics drill, the director will keep quiet, but the drill master will call out, '1..2..3..!' and perform all the drill movements. He has to set the example. Only then can the others be expected to follow him. Similarly, the wise man, while taking his orders from the inner director, sets an example so ordinary people will be able to follow.


When Krishna gave Arjuna the Gita he transformed him into an ideal man. Krishna told him, "I will turn you into my instrument to do my work, so that you will be an example to all of humanity." What is the deeper meaning of Krishna doing all this for Arjuna? Arjuna means the one with a pure heart. Arjuna was always living in Krishna. A number of times Krishna referred to Arjuna as 'the one who lives in the effulgence of God'. All the deeper aspects of the relationship of Krishna and Arjuna can be gleaned from the names that Krishna gave to Arjuna. Arjuna's only duty was to implicitly follow Krishna's commands.


The Qualities of the Truly Wise


Arjuna said, "Swami, I will obey your commands, whatever they may be. Whatever you ask of me I will do. I will not undertake anything on my own, anything that is outside of your directions." This is the true attitude of a sage. He will not have the feeling of I and mine. He will not have any egoism or attachments. His every action will destroy any traces of ego or possessiveness. He will accept and follow only the commands of the Lord, who is no different than his own inner director. Because these noble qualities are so important for spiritual unfoldment, the characteristics of a wise man are explained at great length in the second chapter of the Gita.


But, just describing the qualities of a wise sage would not have been of much use, so Krishna began by explaining the qualities of the three states and the different aspects of the three worlds. Arjuna had the intellectual capacity to grasp the true significance of this. After being given the vision of the cosmic form of the Lord, he immediately understood its deeper meaning. He realized that it meant the union between the physical, the mental and the causal. After having had the vision of the cosmic form, whenever Arjuna closed his eyes thereafter, he would continuously see Krishna as an indelible impression on his heart. He realized that what he had seen with his eyes wide open was in the physical plane. Then, after closing his eyes, whatever still registered in his mind and was being seen by him internally, was in the mental plane. The indelible impression of this vision that remained in his heart was in the causal plane. It is something like print on paper. Once a picture is printed, it is impossible to separate it again from the paper. In this way, the cosmic form of Krishna became a permanent impression in Arjuna's heart.


Arjuna was the ideal man. Yet, in order to serve as an example for all of humanity, he undertook all kinds of common activities just like an ordinary person. Inside, within himself, he always kept his mind firmly fixed on Lord Krishna, who was the formful expression of his own true self, the atma. Arjuna knew that this physical body was for the sole purpose of obeying the commands of the inner director, manifested for him in the divine form of Krishna. In the Gita, Krishna held out this quality of inner surrender as the ideal mark of a truly wise man.


   *   *   *


Go To Next Chapter


Go to "Table of Contents"