As long as those roots keep on drinking and sucking in the juice of life-energy, the highest spiritual element goes on expanding, and we feel we are living. Our thoughts are like our leaves, our desires are like our branches, and our ego is born out of the union of these leaves and branches. This is a very small part of our existence. Our most important part, our basic essence, is hidden underground; it is called atman by the Upanishad, meaning the highest spiritual element. It is that which we can forget, but without which we cannot live. It is that without which we cannot achieve anything. But it is so deep underground, in such a depth of existence, that we can afford to forget it. The highest spiritual element is forgotten; we lose sight of it.
It is interesting to observe that the thing without which we can still exist is not very deep, it is well above the surface, visible, and can be easily caught hold of, so when we try to catch hold of ourselves, it is our profusion of thoughts that we think of as “I.” We think that the mind is “I.” But mind – the mental element – is only our mass of leaves. The highest spiritual element is our roots. And bear in mind, one whose understanding does not reach to the very roots can never know that source from which the roots drink. Roots are the atman, and one who reaches to his roots will soon discover the earth that feeds the roots.
One who has come to know the highest spiritual element will also be able to know the supreme element – paramatman – God. But we live in leaves and think that mass of leaves is “I.” So when a small leaf withers away and falls down, we think we are dead, we are gone, we are lost. And when all leaves wither away, we think life itself is extinguished. We do not know what life is. We live in the belief that the outer covering of life is “I.”
The Upanishad says that one who lives in this outer covering is a killer of the self. He is the knower of the self who goes deep within the covering, down to the very roots, to where existence makes its original springhead; there he discovers the source of life. The knower of this is the knower of the self. Only he who knows this finds the light; he achieves life. He achieves the essence of life.
Three things are mentioned about this highest spiritual element. The first is that it is always still, while all around it a great network of transformation is going on. It is of great importance to know the secret of stillness at the center. Wherever transformation is happening, the center will be inevitably still, just as the axle remains stationary when the wheel of a carriage is moving. The wheel can move because the axle is still. The secret of the moving wheel is in the stillness of the axle. If the axle begins to move, the wheel will not move. Then the carriage will be overturned and destroyed. The revolving of the wheel depends upon the immobility of the axle.
How many miles has the axle traveled when the wheel has journeyed hundred of miles? The axle remains steady in its place. It is very interesting to see that the moving wheel needs the help of a motionless axle. The wheel of change moves on that which is unchangeable. So the first thing to remember is that everything in life changes; the leaves will be coming and going as long as transformation is there. They will sprout this spring and will fall next autumn. Nothing remains static even for a second. But there is some unknown element deep, deep somewhere within, which runs through the center of all things and carries the transformation around its own stillness.