Rishi literally means one who sees the Truth, or the Absolute Reality.
For seeing the Truth, or rather experiencing it, eyes are neither necessary nor sufficient. It needs the divine vision (divya chakshu) of the type that Lord Krishna gave to Arjuna. With the grace of the Divine, the divine vision may be developed through appropriate physical and mental discipline. The seeker aspiring to become a rishi is so strongly motivated by the desire to ‘see’ God, or the Truth, that he ends up neglecting all his superfluous needs. His lifestyle thus becomes very simple, and all his time and energy are focused on his quest. However, although the seeker’s lifestyle is simple, he does not have to starve himself or neglect his body. On the contrary, he should take special care to keep his body healthy so that it can endure the long journey that he has embarked upon.While on the journey, the seeker may in fact stumble upon some of the secrets of good health and the strategies that aid mental concentration.
That is possibly how the yogic postures and meditative techniques were discovered. Long before the journey is complete, the seeker also starts becoming more loving, caring and compassionate. The altered behaviour also aids his quest, and as he advances in his quest, his behaviour is further transformed in the same direction. His efforts, and Divine Grace, may eventually lead him to the experience of the Truth in its entirety, and the seeker now becomes a rishi. The rishi can now lead the rest of his life with constant awareness of two levels of reality. One is the superficial reality based on sensory perception. That is the reality seen by all. That is the reality which is perishable and inconstant.
The other is the deeper Reality which most of us do not see most of the time. The deeper Reality is imperishable and constant. Thus the rishi has a sort of double awareness. He is aware of what is generally considered real; but behind, within, above and beyond this reality he is aware of a deeper Reality. Thus, the rishi’s consciousness is much wider, higher and deeper than the ordinary consciousness. In simple terms, what the rishi sees is the all-pervasive presence of the Creator in all its creation, animate and inanimate.
The first casualty of this deeper vision is the ego that creates the ‘me-versus-the-rest divide’. Therefore, when the rishi organizes his life around this vision, his life becomes full of universal love and compassion. The rishi does not just know the Truth at the mental level, but has experienced it. That is why it is said that the rishi has attained realization; or in other words, the Truth has become real to him. Only what we have experienced becomes real to us. What we have just understood at the mental level does not come anywhere near what we have experienced.
Realized souls in the Hindu tradition are called rishis, but realized souls are not confined to the Hindu tradition. Seekers across geographical and religious boundaries have realized the same Truth through similar methods. There have been several realized souls among the mystics of the Judaic and Christian traditions, and the Sufis of the Islamic tradition. That they have all experienced the same Truth is suggested by the remarkable similarity in the way they have described their experiences. Several comparable descriptions from different traditions have been brought together at one place by Aldous Huxley in his book, The Perennial Philosophy.
Sri Aurobindo reached Pondicherry (now Puducherry) on 4 April 1910. Here are a few lines on the rishi’s consciousness from his epic, Savitri:
A Voice profound in the ecstasy and the hush
They heard, beheld an all-revealing Light.
All time-made difference they overcame;
The world was fibred with their own heart-strings;
Close-drawn to the heart that beats in every breast,
They reached the one self in all through boundless love.
(Savitri, Book 4, Canto 4, p. 381)
By: Ramesh Bijlani