What is the heart of the spiritual problem of the individual soul upon this earth plane, who is in a state of bondage to a limited individual consciousness? It is important to try to understand or to get to the essence of this metaphysical problem of the soul imprisoned in a structure made of flesh and bones, caught in a net of constant, unceasing thoughts. These constitute an inner mesh in which we are caught and held firmly, for the identification with the psychophysical dimensions of our personality is so total, that it has become normal. It has become the one and only consciousness that we know. It has become our natural condition, although Vedantic psychology would describe it as abnormal. It is an aberration.
Swami Vivekananda, trying to make his Western audience understand this subtle metaphysical point a hundred years ago, used the term "de-hypnotise." When they suggested that Vedantic affirmations such as "I am Atman, I am immortal, I am without name and form," were only a form of self-hypnosis, he replied: "On the contrary, you have been hypnotised into thinking, 'I am the body, I am a human being, I am so and so, I belong to this family and country.' What Vedanta wants to do is to de-hypnotise you from the hypnotised condition you have fallen into through birth after birth of wrong thinking."
Thus it is that we have to go through a process of trying to discover what it is into which we have landed through ages of wrong thinking. Vedanta pinpoints this condition as a state of identification with that which we are not, a total moving away from the centre of our real, natural awareness of what we are. Moving away, completely forgetting and becoming disconnected, as it were, from the awareness of what we really are, we have entered into a state of consciousness identifying ourselves and thinking ourselves to be something which we are not. We are immortal Spirit, but we think we are people subject to birth and death, a beginning and an end. So, Vedanta precisely pinpoints our situation as this state of forgetfulness of our real nature and being totally caught up by identification with a personality consciousness that is not our real consciousness.
Out of this wrong identification has arisen a false ego-sense, and we are held in bondage to this wrong consciousness dominated by ego and totally pervaded by selfishness, which lead to a self-centred life. This is the present malady, and this condition seems to be our natural condition, but in fact it is a diseased one. It is the disease of transmigration. The bondage of earth life is not outside you. It is not made up of anything other than your own self. It is not the outer world perceived by the five senses that constitutes samsara. It is this inner state of becoming completely deprived of our true awareness and becoming enslaved by a wrong consciousness dominated by a false ego. It is further complicated by selfishness that is the natural outcome of attachments to so many things.
It is this wrong awareness of ourselves, this self-centred life that is the root cause of all clash and conflict with others, disharmony, discord, suspicion and anger. Everything negative stems from this basic state which binds, not from any outside factors-but from within. Therefore, the first process is to somehow clearly perceive this, because as long as you do not clearly perceive this and honestly accept this state of yours, liberation is far, far away. It is only so much fancy-a vapour of imagination. We must clearly perceive this state, and we must be honest enough to admit this very painful truth about the actual inner state of our consciousness. It is not flattering, but unless there is honesty about oneself we cannot step into spiritual life even if we know all about Vedanta, for the spiritual life has two dimensions: one is the Vedanta doctrine of the ultimate experience, but the other is worldly activity. Unless Vedanta is brought over into worldly activity, it is only a burden to us.
Philosophy is useless unless it is brought down to the level of practice, and takes the form of sadhana in daily living-in your everyday activity, thinking and feeling, reaction to things around you, and your relationship with others with whom you have to live. God Himself has provided these so that the doctrine can be applied, so that one may begin to move towards Truth-experience. Unless we understand our position in samsara to be thus, unless we see it as a gymnasium in which we exercise and strengthen our inner spiritual muscles, we are the losers. We shall ever be in a wonderful field, yet we will not be able to take advantage of it, because we will be thinking that sadhana is somewhere in a forest or inside a cave. It is inside a cave, but that cave is inside us! We must see very clearly that it is here; it is in the way that we have to evolve. If we fail to recognise this opportunity and miss what God has given, then we are losers. Every moment, every day that dawns is a great chance and an opportunity given. The field is immediately reopened afresh for you to exercise practical Vedanta, for you to put philosophy into practice. This constitutes practical spiritual life. It is the practical aspect of yoga and Vedanta.