One day, a man who had been following his own spiritual path for twenty years had a grave doubt: he wondered whether the direction he had been going in for so long was the right one. He heard of a sage living on a rock by the river. He went to him, and said, “Master, I’ve been following my own spiritual path for many years, but now I’m not sure I’ve been going in the right direction. Please give me some guidance.”
“Go and sit by the river,” replied the sage, “and tell it to flow in the opposite direction. If it does, you’ll know you’ve been following the right path. If it continues to flow in the same direction, your practices have been in vain.”
The man went and sat on the riverbank. Staring intently at the water and concentrating with all his might, he repeated, “River, change direction; river, change your flow.” He kept this up all day but by nightfall the river had not changed course. The man returned to the sage and said, “Master, it didn’t work. The river is still flowing in the same direction. What should I do?”
“You foolish man,” replied the sage, “haven’t you understood that the river in question is the river of your thoughts? You’ve been following your own spiritual path for many years, don’t you know that your thoughts should flow toward the Infinite and not toward the external world? Your mind is a current of life, it doesn’t matter which method you use, it must change direction; it must turn within and go back to its source, back to the Infinite. If you’d been following the instructions of a teacher all these years and had told your mind to change direction, it would have obeyed in the blink of an eye.”
This story illustrates the attitude that should form the basis of all our actions, and it is the one advocated by the sages of ancient and present-day India. Avidya maya, the current of life that flows toward the external world, is made up of thoughts, sensory impressions, emotions, and memories, and is sustained by the powerful, impersonal drive, “I want.” This drive lies at the origin of creation and is what enables us to create our own individual world. “I want” is there at every step, at every instant, and it is what keeps human beings trapped in the cosmic dream.
Once we realize that avidya maya takes us away from the source, we must consciously and decisively change direction and follow the other current, vidya maya, which connects us to our inner self, to interiority, and leads us to the Infinite. In vidya maya the mind is anchored in the knowledge that true joy and fulfillment can only be found in the divine. A wise person lives according to this belief and makes room in his or her life for interiority.
The essence of every name and form, the concept at the origin of all concepts, is “I Am.” It is the state of the world before creation, before the Big Bang, before even time and space. “I Am” is the essence of the universe, just as water is the essence of a wave. Nothing can be separate from “I Am,” any more than a wave can be separate from water. The principle “I Am” is life. It is a river, a current, which by its very nature flows to the Infinite Being. Only those who make room in their life for Life are truly living; those who live for the external world are not. Only those who are truly living are released from the bonds of karma and return to where they are one with the Almighty, where bliss is absolute. Then the cosmic dream in which they have been trapped for so long draws to an end.
(from “Awakening to the Infinite” by Swami Muktananda of Rishikesh