by Swami Krishnananda
The self-affirmative urge in the individual is too crafty to be contented merely with a simple act of affirmation itself. It manipulates itself and works its ways through a personal concrescence of form as well as a social relationship of attitude. The self-affirmative urge, usually called the ego, can assume demoniacal shapes when it gets into a frenzy of passion for ulfilling its cravings to affirm itself as vehemently as possible, in its own person as well as through its social relationships. People can become very indecent even in human society when it comes to a question of what they call their prestige or status, which is another name for the demand for recognition of oneself by others. When this recognition is not forthcoming, there is a violent reaction either by way of condemnation of others’ virtue and reputation or by a loud proclamation of one’s achievement and importance. Criticism of others is obviously a form of self-affirmation, a kind of worship of oneself as an individual segregated from others. To this fire fuel is added when one positively praises oneself and announces one’s position and importance in the face of the existence of other individuals like one’s own self. The love of name and fame, status and prestige, adulation and worship, is a devilish passion which can become more virulent than the sex-urge when it is given a long rope. But social ethics, a convenient creation of man by which he condemns what can be conveniently avoided and sanctions what he cannot avoid, naming it the code of morality and giving it even a touch of the divine ordinance of the Creator Himself, seems to have permitted the rapacious movements of the forms of self-adoration which, as has been pointed out, has the two sides of justifying oneself and condemning others. Self-justification and belittling others need not always take that open shape of any visible act of the individual; it works better by subtle inner attitudes which have become socially permissible as tact in dealing, etiquette of society, shrewdness of conduct and culture of behaviour. The devil becomes all the more powerful when it puts on the attire of a god, for here it is mistaken for what it is not. The extent of the immortality that is behind self-assertion of any kind, though it may not be visible to the eyes of the credulous populace, can be imagined by the intensity of the nature of the alienation of oneself from the Infinite that this attitude implies.
The self-affirmative urge originates in the causal body of the individual, operates through the subtle body and manifests itself through the gross body, so that the urge is a finished product of expert intelligence. This complex self-affirmation which is the psycho-physical individuality of the human being is not a simple isolated unit, merrily affirming itself in seclusion, in the closed room of self-complacency. Self-affirmation is vitally connected with the social instinct of the desire to receive approbation from outside, so that the act of self-affirmation is the immediate effect of a double productive process of personal aggrandisement of both the mind and the body to the greatest extent possible and at the same time a compulsive demand to receive confirmation of this assumed self-grandeur from other people in society. It has again many forms: to think that one’s thoughts, feelings and decisions are right and cannot be wrong; that those who contradict these thoughts, feelings and decisions are in the wrong; that the lofty feelings one has of one’s own self are logically justifiable and socially necessary; that one’s requirement of recognition from others is an obligatory act of justice due to oneself from society; that the various forms that self-affirmation may put on are really not acts of egoistic self-affirmation but virtuous activities contributory to one’s spiritual progress and to the unselfish service of others from oneself; and that the world has totally mistaken oneself and judged oneself wrongly in its disapproval of one’s conduct and action. How mysterious is human personality!
The Upanishad tells us that the immediate consequence of a fall from the Infinite is the finite feeling and the intense hunger within itself due to which it is said to have cried loudly that it needs sustenance. This hunger is nothing but that wondrously elusive instinct of ‘self-preservation’. The process of self-preservation does not simply mean an asking for physical food to appease the appetite of the stomach or water to quench the thirst of the throat: the urge for self-preservation is the asking for all the facilities necessary to maintain the psycho-physical organism, which includes the body, the mind and the ego. We have already considered adequately some of the characteristics of the human ego, especially. This is the function of the psychic part of the organism. The physical part asks for material food and drink. But the intention of it all is obviously a seeking for contributory factors to the sustenance of the individuality as a whole—in traditional language, of the entire complex of the panchakosas or the five vestures of the individuality, namely, the causal, intellectual, mental, vital and physical. This ‘total urge’ towards self-preservation is the cry of the individual for making good the loss that it has incurred in cutting itself off from the vital energy of the Infinite Substance. It struggles, weeps and tries to find ways and means of freedom from this unexpected agony that has befallen it suddenly as it were as a bolt from the blue. What can it do? It cannot return to the Infinite, though it is its deep and intense desire. It cannot so return, because this fall from the Infinite is supposed to be preceded by an ignorance of what has actually happened. Hence there is no chance of knowing the way back to that from which one has fallen. Else, there would have been a right-about-turn of the finite to the Infinite. This is made impossible by the ignorance that is mysteriously antecedent to all conscious effort. Hence the finite cannot return to the Infinite. It cannot, however, return to the true Infinite; it therefore finds a way to identify itself with a false infinite which it creates out of its own miscalculation and erroneous judgment. This false infinite is the asking for the largest magnitude of material possessions and for self-perpetuation in an infinite variety of efforts.
To clinch the whole position: the history of man’s fall is contained microscopically in the deep-rooted urge for hunger, self-assertion and sex. The first two are only phases of a single posture adopted towards self-preservation, the third one being an independent twist given to self-preservation through posterity by perpetuation of one’s species. As we have already noted above, the sex-urge is really a misnomer for what is really a super-individualistic pressure felt by the split parts of a single cell towards unification and self-perpetuation. Perhaps there is something still deeper in all this. The individual regards the whole universe as its object in a general way and, hence, it is quite understandable that the universe exerts a tremendous pressure on the individual calling for a unification of the universe and the individual. But this pressure is misunderstood and misinterpreted. It is regarded as a spatio-temporal intention to perpetuate the psycho-physical individuality, for it is easy to mistake this self-perpetuating urge for an achievement of objective immortality of the continuance of oneself through eternity. The eternal or the immortal is the same as consciousness, for consciousness alone can be such; it recovers itself now and then into a blinded feeling towards the necessity for manifesting eternity in its life and this blinded urge is what is known as sex-urge. The eternal which is the infinitude of existence inseparable from the infinitude of consciousness gets distorted through the individual which seeks an infinitude of one’s own forms through the procreation of children and a perpetuation of oneself through the false eternity of time by this very act. The hunger-urge, the self-affirmative urge and the sex-urge are the three ostensible fierce forms of an obstinate clinging to empirical life, for which the individual involved in empiricality cannot find a solution. The love of sex is not really a love between male and female, as it is usually supposed to be, but a camouflage of the urge for parenthood which necessitates self-expression through union of sexes.