by Swami Krishnananda
There has been through the history of times a visible irreconcilability, though looking apparent, between the values spiritual and the values temporal. This psychological gulf that has been persistently managing to interfere with the practical life of the individual has many forms which are partly personal and partly social. But, whatever be the nature of this insistent feeling subconsciously operating in the minds of people, it has, obviously, far-reaching consequences. The usual demarcation that is traditionally made between the life religious and the life secular is an outstanding example of the roots of this phenomenon which has manifested itself not only in the private lives of individuals but also in the social and political levels of life. It is this feature inextricably wound up in the thought of man that makes him feel occasionally the rise of a fervour of a renunciation of earthly values for those that are religious, or even spiritual in the sense that he is able to comprehend within the limitations of his own psychological being.
Not only this; the phenomenon mentioned has also its negative sides which have created a rift in the layers of personal feeling, as also in the mode of living necessitated by one’s relationship with the social structure in the external world. The result of this historical distinction that has been repeatedly made by everyone through the centuries cannot be regarded as ultimately healthy, because this result has always been equivalent with some sort of a discontent, an unhappiness which perforce attends upon such a necessity of thinking in human nature. We may take into consideration only one among the several forms in which this psychological phenomenon has created a tension in the individual and the society; and it is the comparative worth of emphasising and working upon the demands of the religious sense and those of the secular calls of practical life.
The call of renunciation and the call of work may be said to be the ostensible contours of this twofold pull exerted on human nature—the pressing urge of the cloister and the comforting warmth of the hearth. Some of the doubts that can insinuate themselves into the hearts of people are: Does religion enjoin renunciation of the pleasures of life, and, if this is true, will it not amount to a sadistic mandate for a torture of the otherwise healthy life of the individual? Does the insistence on religion imply a relinquishment of works, especially of what should be regarded as one’s inviolable duty such as service of the family, service of the country, service of humanity, service of the poor and the downtrodden? Is not the religious inclination a tendency towards self-centredness, a selfish callousness towards life’s realities, a running away from the hard facts of existence, a morbid antipathy towards a positive approach to life, apart from its being a culpable ego-centricity of attitude seeking one’s personal salvation from the pains of the world in a transcendent God, while the ignorant and hungry and poor brethren on this earth are suffering the agonies inflicted on them by a cruel fate?
Before we try to find an answer to these piercing doubts and incisive objections, we may do well to listen to the arguments of the defending counsel in his prefatory remarks to the nature of the whole case: Is it true entirely that the plea of the social sense is born of wholly pious motives right from the bottom? Will not a thoroughgoing psychoanalysis reveal a covert egoism behind even the irresistible sentiment to be of service to others? It is doubtful if totally unfavourable circumstances threatening to cause a damaging effect upon an individual whether by loss of material possessions, public opprobrium and open censure of hidden motive, or even the pain of death and destruction, would induce him to embark upon this dangerous adventure which is capable of producing such repercussions of a hurting nature. It is quite detectable that the whole of human nature does not rise to the field of action and those levels of the psychological personality which are deeper than the conscious and the external lie buried invisibly, so that it is impossible to conclude that the activities of the human individual are sprung into movement by the total individual, for the whole of the individual is not exhausted by the conscious level. The subconscious and the unconscious layers effectively tell upon the nature of conscious activity and inasmuch as all the logical pros and cons considered as well as the arguments adduced in favour of the justifiability of one’s thought, speech or action proceed from the conscious level alone, it is difficult to believe that the logic of human conduct usually projected as a defense of personal behaviour is ultimately tenable. The freedom of the individual and the alternative of choice in making a decision which is really the forte of all human effort is thus founded on quicksand.
The social consciousness is an interesting feature for study and observation, for it is the peculiar turn which the individual consciousness takes in the assessment of values by an extension of itself into a field which cannot be really regarded as its normal jurisdiction of operation. This is noticed by an observation of the intriguing phenomenon that, when an excessive pressure is exerted on the individual by social circumstances, the individual reverts to its original state and withdraws itself into the cocoon of those conscious and instinctive activities which are directly concerned with the fulfilment of the fundamental urges of its psycho-physical structure. But, then, if, a powerful psychoanalytical investigation applied to human nature reveals a basically individualistic inclination of action as the residual minimum of human nature to which one is obliged to resort in the end as the last refuge available and even conceivable, why is there such an insistent and wide-spread trend in everyone to embrace a social form of life, such as the family, the community, the nation, or mankind as a whole? The psychoanalyst answer is plain-spoken and calls a spade a spade, and according to it man is essentially selfish, and unselfishness is not his true nature. If there are seen such unselfish movements of the human mind as service of others and love of others than one’s own self, it is because social relationship and collaboration has always proved to be conducive to the enhancement of personal comfort by way of the fulfilment of one’s desires as well as to protection of oneself from possible attacks from outside. This social attitude, psychoanalysis says, cannot be regarded as genuinely unselfish, for though social relationship has the appearance of unselfishness by an exceeding of the limits of one’s individuality, its intention is really selfish, the motive not so pious as it is made to look from its outer cloak.
This analysis would no doubt be revolting to the social form which the individual mind takes in its daily life, a blasphemy and an outrage on the essential goodness behind the motive force of social relationship, altruistic conduct and philanthropic behaviour, but psychoanalysis would retort that this resentment of the scientific analysis of a patent fact would only be an added proof of the egoism of human nature.
Now, taking up the doubts and queries that the social mind is prone to raise against its elder brother, religion, we may tentatively concede that the formalistic religions of the world have always advocated an austerity of life, a subjugation of the senses and a renunciation of earthly joys. The reason behind this religious injunction seems to be that the eternal is regarded as different from the temporal, and the characteristic values of earthly life are held to have no relevance to the values attached to life eternal. As regards the question, whether religion is justified in enjoining an abandoning of all work and activity in preference to a life of inward contemplation or meditation on God, the answer is that this insistence of religion, at least its suggestion, is a natural outcome of the traditional distinction made between the temporal and the eternal. If the visible is the transient and the eternal is invisible, it becomes an automatic conclusion that every value that is worth the while in the realm of the transient has to be cast out with effort in order that the mind may fix itself on that which is true and permanent. A quick resort is found in such admonitions as the one we find in the Mahabharata: “For the good of the family, an individual may be abandoned; for the good of the village, a family may be abandoned; for the good of the country, a village may be abandoned; for the sake of the Universal Self, the world may be abandoned.”