Shanti Sadan and Self-Knowledge name
Vol.68 No.3 Summer 2017

Your Real Nature is Perfection

That is perfection, this is perfection.
Out of perfection comes forth perfection.
When perfection is removed from perfection
Perfection alone remains.

This verse comes from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. It was revealed by an enlightened seer of Truth. These words indicate non-duality—the direct experience of ultimate reality. This experience is not something that comes and goes. Once realised it is everlasting and never separate from one’s own Self.

This is one view of the meaning of perfection, but we may well feel it should be challenged because it is so abstract and unconventional. Is this really the truth about human nature? In fact, when we look at human nature as it is and how it manifests in this world, we may be tempted to believe the words of Edgar Allan Poe, who said:

I have no faith in human perfectibility. I think that human exertion will have no appreciable effect upon humanity. Man is now only more active—not more happy nor more wise—than he was 6000 years ago.

There is a subtle point at issue here. If we look at the human body and the human mind—what we generally think ourselves to be—it is clear that there is no enduring perfection in this world of change, simply because it is ever changing. Shakespeare was surely right when he wrote in his fifteenth sonnet:

When I consider everything that grows
Holds in perfection but a little moment,
That this huge stage presenteth naught but shows
Whereon the stars in secret influence comment...

The idea that Shakespeare is expressing is that there are moments of perfection, when things in nature and even in human activities seem to touch a height of beauty or mastery, such as the perfect rose, the sublime piece of music which absorbs our attention so completely that we forget the passing time, the flawless sporting manoeuvre. But these are all transient experiences. They pass. We may have a desire to say to the passing moment: ‘Stay, you are so wonderful’, but the moment does not stay, and we find ourselves again in this world of imperfection, incertitude and struggle.

Yet we all have an affinity with perfection, and it pervades our outlook. It comes through in our fussiness about the way we like things to be—and we all have our deeply personal ideas about what is right for us. There is a real sense in which we feel that we are greater than we seem to be. None of us likes to be personally criticised. We may apparently welcome and make a constructive use of the criticisms that inevitably meet us as we develop skills in the world. But our deepest hope is that we shall find ourselves in a position that is totally beyond criticism.

Why is this so? From the highest standpoint, our true nature—the real Self or Spirit of man—is beyond praise and blame, and transcends completely the oscillations of the mind. The mistake we make is that we attribute the perfection of the Self to the body and the mind. It is as if a light bulb came to believe that it itself is the generator and source of the electricity that makes it shine.

This is not the only trait of human character that suggests that our real being is rooted in a realm that is beyond the faults and imperfections of life. Our sense of perfection is implicit in all our desires. For whenever we strongly desire something, we automatically in our imagination blot out any idea of defect, imperfection or impermanence, and see only positive qualities that we feel will satisfy our desire. In other words, we construct in our mind an idealised picture of the thing we want, and which we feel will give us bliss and expansion. This idealised picture may have little correspondence with the nature of the object we are thirsting for.

But why do we form this perfect picture in advance, when experience often forces us to see things in a different light? This tendency to idealise the object of our desire springs from something deep within us. We have an innate sense of perfection, and this is because our true self is perfection. Even the bliss we experience when a desire is fulfilled springs from our own being and not from any quality in the object of our desires.

One may say: ‘How can this possibly be so?’ Let us analyse what happens within us whenever a desire is fulfilled. Our mind experiences a degree of peace. Why? Because at that moment there is relief from the inner agitation of desire and restless thought that preceded its fulfilment. The yogic analysis is that in that brief interval of mental quiescence, our mind becomes momentarily still and clear. It then receives an internal impression of the bliss and perfection that has its source in the innermost Self. It is like a reflection in the mind-mirror, which becomes briefly receptive while free from the tension of desire. But this bliss is not felt by us to have an inward source; it is invariably associated with the object of the desire, and so our ‘fulfilment’ is mixed with anxiety, effort, fear of loss, and the whole range of factors that escape our control. Hence our times of joy are usually swiftly overtaken by new anxieties which transform themselves into new desires.

The only way out of the vicious circle is to seek to realise the source of bliss, which is our innermost Self, underlying the operations of the mind but transcending them, and which is infinite and immortal. The fount and origin of perfection is the innermost Self and this immutable essence is also the hidden source of our worldly joys. It is for this reason that the Self is spoken of in the Upanishads as the dearest element in all experience and that Self-knowledge or Self-realisation is the supreme value of life and its ultimate purpose.

This Self is dearer than a son, dearer than wealth, dearer than everything else. Should a person (holding the self as dear) say to one calling anything else dearer than the self: ‘What you hold dear will die’, he is certainly competent to say so. It will indeed come true. One should meditate upon the Self alone as dear.
Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, 1:4:8

This view of human happiness has been expressed in a direct and challenging way. Can anyone possibly live up to it, and, if so, how?

It is primarily through meditation that we learn to turn within, in order to discover the perfection at the core of our being. In this way we discover that this is the real location of the true object of our love. It can never be taken away from us because it is our true Self. As such, it is ever achieved. We have to awaken to this inner treasury and realise that it really is the true nature of our Self.

We may say: ‘I have tried this turning within many times, but I cannot say that I have had any glimpse of this inner joy you are referring to.’ And the conclusion we may draw is that the teaching of the joy and perfection of the Self simply is not true.

But a fact or a proposition may indeed be true, though there may be obstacles—limitations—to our understanding which prevent us from seeing this truth clearly. And as regards the nature of the Self, if we have the slightest doubt or question about this, and the slightest sense of being ignorant and lacking knowledge or fulfilment, there is something obstructing our vision and keeping our true Self apparently unrealised. When this is so, and this is, more or less, the universal condition of mankind, we have to work in order to remove the apparent internal obstacles to realisation. Meditation does not bring to birth in us anything that is not already present. Our true nature is perfection, and it is revealed when the obstacles apparently hiding it are removed.

The endeavour to reveal this higher nature has been compared to sculpture or wood-carving. Unlike the painter, who adds the picture to the canvas, the sculptor or woodcarver’s focus is to uncover the perfect form that he or she knows lies hidden in the marble shell or uncarved block. Always keeping that form in mind, the artist chips and chisels until its contour gradually appears, removing from the mass all that is not essential, and then refining the form until it is revealed in its perfection. There are no short cuts, and the work has to be done with loving care. What is significant in this operation is that the perfected work of art is visualised as already present, but unrevealed.

The possibilities of transforming materials like stone or wood remain limited, but the human mind is a most sophisticated and refined medium and its potentialities are almost infinite. For what is hidden in human nature is far greater than any work of art. It is the revelation of the perfection of our true being. And this revelation confirms that the Self is never under any illusion or covering of imperfection, that all along it was, is and shall be ever complete, perfect and fulfilled as the only authentic reality.

This teaching of eternal perfection or enlightenment finds expression in the Song of Meditation by the Zen master, Hakuen.

All beings are from the very beginning buddhas.
It is like water and ice:
Apart from water, no ice,
Outside living beings no buddhas.
Not knowing it is near, they seek it afar. What a pity!
It is like one in the water who cries out for thirst.
It is like the child of a rich house who has strayed away among the poor.

Our true home and support is the ground of pure consciousness and being that upholds and illumines the mind from within, and which is the inner ruler of all. This ground of our being is ever contented, ever fulfilled, the home of perfection. To stray among the poor means to make our inner home in the region of anxieties, desires, fears, anger, tension, and so on. We are not made for this bondage, and we can bring it to an end if we so choose, by following an authentic path to self-knowledge.

Human life is based on a kind of forgetfulness of our true nature, and this is sometimes called ignorance—not knowing our ultimate identity and believing that we are simply the body and the mind. Swami Rama Tirtha has these lines about man’s predicament:

What you thought to be your home,
Was the cause of your forgetting your real home.
Oblivious of your spiritual home
You made your home in illusion.
What wonder that you lost your sovereignty.

This loss of sovereignty is only apparent. When the time is ripe, the obstacles to self-realisation will be negated, since their ‘authority’ is based on what the philosopher Sureshvara calls ‘not being awake to the true nature of the Self’.

Our innate self-sovereignty is comparable to that of a young king, constrained by selfish guardians, who try to hide from him the full extent of his power. Sooner or later, perhaps aided by a loyal and truthful counsellor, the true knowledge of his kingship will dawn, and those who sought to mislead him will be removed from office. The selfish guardians are the long-established ideas based on false identification with the body and mind; the loyal adviser is the illumined teacher; and the dawning of the knowledge of kingship comes when the seeker realises that the great affirmations of the freedom of the true ‘I’ are not just traditional formulae but apply to him or her personally. Are we talking about some remote possibility that may come about in a special and dedicated individual, but has no relevance for ordinary people?

This dimension of experience is not only that which is nearest and dearest to us. It is our very consciousness, the inner conscious light behind all experience. It is conscious of the change and multiplicity registered on the mind, but is not involved in the flux and never reacts to it. We cannot ‘see’ this consciousness, since it never appears as an object. Qualities, limits and defects are observable in the realm of the senses and the mind. But our conscious Self, their ‘witness’, never passes into the objective and observable field of experience. Hence no quality, limit or defect can be ascribed to it. It is infinite, eternal perfection, the undivided present equally in all.

The non-dual teachings have the ultimate purpose of removing the apparent ignorance that keeps the Self, in all its glory, infinity, immortality and absoluteness, unknown to us. To awaken fully to this living and ever present reality, we need to hear about our true Self and the fullness of the power and perfection that lies hidden behind our mortal mind. Hearing about the Truth, pondering its significance, and applying it to our self is the first crucial step to Self-discovery.

There has to be something more than ‘hearing about’. The teachings about the true Self have an awakening power if they are received in the right spirit. The window, so to say, of our intellect needs to be opened wide in receptivity, and the curtain of doubt has to be drawn aside. Then the Self-experience that is transmitted through the teachings may penetrate to the inmost Self of the hearer, and cause the recovery of our true identity. Our training is pre-eminently the process of drawing aside the inner curtains, and expanding the intellect out of its narrow channels so that it can receive and identify with universal Truth.

It is a message of great hope to learn that ultimate bliss and happiness are within our grasp, and that our self-development is not confined to the tracks laid down by convention, nor need we be overawed by the opinions and wishes of those around us. We are fundamentally free to assume our real nature, and all of us are qualified to take up the course of self-development that leads to its realisation.

At one level of our being, every person feels a sense of imperfection and that something fundamental is missing from life. This sense of imperfection is acceptable as far as it goes, and it certainly applies to the limited and transient aspects of our being, namely the body and the mind. But we are more than this. Man is a triple alliance of body, mind and the ultimate ‘I’, which knows no limit or defect. Our restlessness and urge to strive for a better life experience is a sign that deep down we do have some sense of our innate perfection. Our happiness and sense of freedom depend on the depth our Self-knowledge.

If we are convinced that we are only the body and the mind, then our experience is bound to be finite and full of suffering. But when we strive to make our mind serene, and probe deeply into this crucial question: ‘What am I?’, the truth about the innermost Self will begin to reveal itself. It is now that the body and the mind are realised as different from our true being. They are like clothes, or rather, sophisticated instruments which are meant to function at our service, and are themselves revealed by a changeless inner light that is free and unlimited. This ultimate light is the Self and it is universal and the only substantial reality.

Let us, through our study, our meditation and self-affirmation, learn to withdraw our sense of identity from this body and mind. For we all have the power and the right to associate our sense of self, of I-ness, with the reality. This is the path that leads to liberation.

By contrast, if we affirm our imperfections, we are sustaining an illusory self. This amounts to a denial of our higher nature. There is no justification to sustain negative self-affirmations. With humility and reverence, wishing the best for all, let us feed our mind with those affirmations which remind us of our true nature, the Self behind the illusory veils. This true nature is to be understood as our own here and now.

We are not mere mortals destined to remain in the dark about the transcendent and infinite reality. For That we verily are, and this is the core teaching that is transmitted through the great affirmations given by the enlightened knowers of Truth. By this we mean such affirmations as:

OM Self is one, indivisible, pure consciousness and I am That! I am That! I am That! OM

OM The state of eternal peace, the higher transcendental truth, space-like, am I. OM

It would be a mistake to think that these insights are the province of high mystics or specially gifted souls only. The perfection of Self is the underlying reality in all human beings: the saint, the sinner, the learned, the ignorant, the rich, the poor, the young, the old. The imperfections that seem to greet us at every turn in our daily life exist within the realm of appearances and they do not touch the deeper reality. The wise never lose sight of that deeper and perfect reality even as they apparently live and move within the realm of appearances. Here are some lines by the Sufi poet, Dard:

All those who are of inmost Self aware
Never look at appearances here.
The fire of love is present even in stone.
It’s not the heart that burns with it alone.
Glowing in every rock you’ll find this fire.

Hidden behind each weakness lies the strong,
In each defect perfection all along.
For no one in the world is bad or faulty.
Each has goodness, virtue, piety.
The fault lies in concealing virtue here.

Distance makes no difference, far or near.
Be not overwhelmed with despair.
All this is no more than the mirror of fancy.
Out of the eye see as the eye should see.
You travel only to your own self here.

We all have a choice in life. Most people do not realise that their choices in life include the option of evolving to our full status as enlightened beings, and this is the most important choice we can make. Only our endeavours for Self-realisation will lead us beyond sorrow and into the limitless freedom.

Let us end with a short poem by the Japanese master of the haiku style, Matsuo Basho:

A white chrysanthemum.
No matter how intently I look
Not a speck of dust.