All Improvement is False

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Evolution is inherent in creation. All manifestations in this universe, living or nonliving, show an innate tendency to change. Change is often considered synonymous with progress. And who does not want progress? The one thing that is strongly impressed upon the mind of a child is the need for excellence, the need for being ahead of others. To be sure of excellence, to be sure of getting ahead, it is necessary that one knows of one’s present status. To understand one’s present status and to measure the possibility of excellence, one has to be aware of the improvement one has made so far.

We would be looking at improvement from the spiritual standpoint. Paradoxically, it is the urge to improve that often comes in the way of improvement! A Formula One driver would do a great job without bothering about the competitors than when worrying about whether one has been overtaken. The fundamental question would be: can there really be any improvement? Is it even possible to improve? If one were to think deeply, one would immediately realise that all claims of improvement are just claims of having created an alternative possibility. For example, if a person tries to improve the speed of a car, such an improvement would only be a copy of the innumerable ranges of speeds that already exist in Nature. In short, there can never be a speed that does not already exist. What would happen is that human beings would find newer ways of tapping the resources already found in Nature.

But, the student would be able to perform only to the extent it was possible even when that student was not performing well. For instance, if this particular student had a permanent disability, that student could never improve the performance irrespective of the efforts of the teachers, parents, classmates, and friends.

Let us take another example. Suppose a student is unable to perform on a par with the other students in the class, the teachers and parents would naturally get concerned and help the student to increase the performance.

Similar is the case with changes in the properties of objects. A particular property of an object cannot change unless the object itself is changed in some manner. Every time we attempt to bring about an improvement, we are essentially trying to change the very nature of that which we are trying to improve. For example, if an engine can produce ‘x’ amount of energy, one can at best make the engine perform to its utmost capacity but can never make the engine produce an energy level which is more than ‘x’. So, in the context of an engine, an improvement in performance only means an increased success in attaining the optimum level of performance.

Considering the supreme Truth that there is only one reality, Brahman, all ideas of improvement are well within the realm of ignorance. As we have seen earlier, to measure improvement, one has to know one’s present status. And if It one’s real status is beyond time, space, and causation, then there is nothing to improve. In all improvements of space, time, and causation, what is perceived as improvement is only a shift in different points from locations, time periods, or cause and effect. If our true nature is beyond space, time, and causation, or in other words, if our true nature encompasses all notions of space, time, and causation, how could we shift from one point to another? For example, if a person was unaware of a necklace one was wearing, and suddenly became aware of it; can such a flash of awareness be called an improvement? Nothing actually changed apart from the awareness of the necklace.

Reality is like the above mentioned necklace problem. Now, let us see how it affects spiritual aspirants. Spiritual practices are attempts to bring about a clarity of the mind. No improvement of reality or truth is possible, but only one’s awareness of the reality or truth can be brought about. So, spiritual practices are attempts to bring awareness. As far as awareness is concerned, there can only be two situations: either one can have awareness or not have awareness. An improvement in awareness is impossible. In our necklace example, one can be either aware of the necklace or not be aware of the necklace; there cannot be an improvement in the knowledge of the necklace! But, there could be an improvement in one’s eyesight or in one’s sense of touch. These two aspects, like many other aspects of this universe, are very much within the realm of ignorance. But, even in these two aspects, improvement is nothing but attaining or progressing towards the optimal output. A damaged eye or a dead skin would be unable to perceive anything, no matter how sincere the effort might be.

Swami Vivekananda used to say that any individual can accomplish anything that one wants. This idea has been preached before and after Swamiji. How is it possible that any individual can accomplish anything that that person desires? Desire is thought. Thoughts are created by desires and desires are further created by thoughts. If someone has thought something, that particular thing is possible. What we generally call improvement is the achievement of the manifestation of this thought. That is why science fiction eventually turns into scientific reality. When a person has envisioned the realisation of the ever­ free Atman ­Brahman, it is indeed possible. We are unable to achieve it because we are obsessed with our present status and the perception of others about our status. For instance, before the aeroplane was invented, everyone believed that it was impossible to fly. Same is true with the spaceship and numerous other inventions. However, these inventions became possible because of some people, who refused to concur with the limitation of their present status that others were imposing on them. These inventors did not invent or improve anything. They just showed another level of excellence that could have been attained by anyone, any time before them.

In spiritual life, the quest of the spiritual aspirant should not be to achieve improvement but to arrive at a clarity of what is the truth, that is, what is possible, and get established in that truth with a strong and unshakeable conviction. Even if one does not visit the moon, it is impossible to remove our conviction that the moon exists. Similarly, more than the realisation of the truth itself, it is very much important that one is convinced without even a miniscule iota of doubt that this apparent universe is false and that the body ­mind conglomerate is false. With this conviction in place, one cannot get deviated from the path of spirituality, though one may experience ebbs and tides.

 

Author: is Editor, Prabuddha Bharata, monthly magazine of the Ramakrishna Order.

 

This article was first published in the November 2017 issue of the Prabuddha Bharata, monthly journal of The Ramakrishna Order started by Swami Vivekananda in 1896. This article is courtesy and copyright Prabuddha Bharata I have been reading the Prabuddha Bharata for years and found it enlightening. Cost is Rs 180/ for one year, Rs 475/ for three years, Rs 2100/ for twenty years. To subscribe online http://advaitaashrama.org/pbSubscription