Have you ever seen summer cyclones moving very fast through the atmosphere? Lifting a cloud of dust with it, the circular cyclone races up towards the sky. You will be very surprised to see the marks left by it in the dust on the ground. How fast it moves! At times it carries away fully grown people. You will marvel if you observe the marks made by it. There is a space the size of a pin, like the axle of a wheel, in the center of the cyclone. This space remains absolutely untouched. Even though the cyclone moves so violently there remains at its center a place which is untouched and undisturbed. An axis is produced there, and the entire cyclone revolves round that steady axis. As a matter of fact, nothing can revolve if there isn’t a still center to it.
Life moves very fast; thoughts revolve very rapidly, desires hover about us in quick succession, and passions swirl with great force. Life is a fast-moving wheel. The Upanishads say there is a motionless element in its center. We have to seek it. A cyclone as powerful as life cannot run without the help of that element. This cyclone works around the support of that unmoving element. That steady element is the atman. It is always still, it is immovable. It has never gone anywhere. It has never changed. Remember that we have not known what life is until we have encountered that unaltered and unalterable element. At present we know only those changes that occur on the outer circumference; we are not yet introduced to that highest spiritual element. Up to now we are familiar only with the spokes of the wheel; we have not yet seen the hub on which everything depends.
What does this phrase “in its stillness” mean? Whatever interpretation we may give it, there is a total possibility of making a mistake. Most of the commentators of the Upanishad have committed this mistake. The phrase does not mean stagnant; it does not mean that it is like a pond whose water does not flow. When we say the highest spiritual element is still, it does not mean it is stagnant. It is such a perfect element, it is so complete in all respects that there is no scope in it for any transformation. It is so overflowing, so great, so unconcerned, that there is absolutely no potential for any other change to take place in it.
That thing changes in which there is incompleteness – which is lacking in something. Transformation takes place where there is some scope for further adaptation, where there is some potential, some opportunity, to be something else. A child grows to be a young man, a young man grows to be an old man, because there is some room left for change; so change is continuously taking place. Leaves sprout, flowers bloom, they wither and fall, and new, fresh ones come again. The highest spiritual element is still. This means it is perfect, complete in all respects.