by Swami Krishnananda
A dissatisfaction with prevailing conditions arises by a comparison and contrast with an ideal which is supposed to be promising full satisfaction. This principle, this finding, may be regarded as the origin of what we may call the religious consciousness.
We have to draw a distinction between religion and religious consciousness. To give a popular, homely example, electricity is a common operative force which can heat, which can freeze, which can cause motion and perform several functions. The variegated differences in these technological operations do not make electricity itself a multiplicity in its constitution. The electric power is a compact, integrated operation which can act in many ways according to the medium through which it is made to express itself. So is the case with religion and what I would like to call the religious consciousness.
There are many religions in this world. All of you must be knowing the nomenclature of these religions. The differences that we observe among the various religions of the world arise due to factors such as the geographical, cultural, ethnic, and anthropological backgrounds of people in whose proximity these performances, gestures and activities called religion originate. Religions are conditioned forms of the religious consciousness, just as the technological activities of an electric current are conditioned operations of an otherwise single force called power.
We have to deeply consider what all this means, finally, in our life. What are we asking for? This question cannot be fully answered by any person. Ask anyone, “What do you want? What are you seeking? What is it that you need?” Though everyone knows that there is a want, a requirement, and a need, no one can explicitly describe the nature of this requirement fully. No one can answer the question, “What do you want?”
It is surprising that while we know there are various needs felt in our life, we cannot name them. We just nod our heads a hundred times and cannot say anything about our actual requirements, because these requirements are like chameleons, changing their colours and contours under different conditions that we pass through in the historical process of time. It is not that we want anything in particular always, but we need everything at one time or the other. We do not want anything particularly at all times, but we require everything under different conditions in the process of history.
This is the reason why we are unable to give a compact and concentrated answer to the question of what do we want. However, if we go into the psychology of this phenomenon of a dissatisfaction with things in general, we will realise that it arises because of the perception of something beyond us and above us. It is only when we recognise the presence of something that is more than what we are that we are dissatisfied with the present condition of existence.
There is something above us, more than us, transcending us, and which has a larger dimension than our present personality. The presence of such a thing, vaguely felt in the mind, disturbs everyone’s heart because the feelings describe this condition as a contrast between what is and what ought to be. The ‘ought’ is a disturbing factor. The ‘must’ and the ‘must be’ are always interfering with what is and what we are experiencing. How does this ‘ought’ arise in the consciousness of a person? Why should we say, “it ought to have been like this”, “it must be like this”, or “it should be like this”? Why do such ideas arise in our minds? Why are we not content with whatever is the present state of affairs?
There is a double personality in each individual. This is not known to any person. Each one of us belongs to two different realms of existence, as it were. On the one hand, we seem to be inhabitants of this world, conditioned and constrained by the laws operating here, which compel us to behave and act in a particular prescribed manner. But anything that conditions is detested. No one likes to be restrained by any kind of regulation, because that regulating principle stands above the one who is restrained and conditioned. What we cannot tolerate is the presence of something above which conditions us, commands us, and obliges us. We do not like to be obliged. These words are painful. Why should I be obliged to anybody? That makes me a dependent on someone else. Dependence is death, virtually; independence is life. Sarvaṁ paravaśaṁ duḥkhaṁ sarvam ātmavaśaṁ sukham, says the Manusmriti: Self-dependence is freedom and happiness, and dependence on somebody else is veritable hell. Under no circumstance would we like to subject ourselves to the commands of another, because that would not be freedom.
There is, for instance, legal freedom granted to us by the nation to which we belong. If we obey the laws of the constitution of a particular nation we are given a freedom, but it is a freedom conditioned by the obligation on the part of the individual to obey these restraints prescribed by the constitution. So there is, even in the granting of freedom, a conditioning factor. There is an ‘if’ or a ‘whereas’ that is behind even the freedom granted. We can walk on the road freely. Nobody objects to that, but there is an if and a condition even in using the road. There is even a rule how to walk on the road. We are free, but not entirely free. We are told, “It must be like this.” We are told that we must speak only in this way. It does not mean that we can say anything to people. We have to do things in this manner only. We have the freedom to do, and to act; in that sense we are liberated individuals. But the freedom is conditioned by a law that it is possible only under these circumstances.
Every individual is free. Put a question to your own self: Is it possible for every person to be wholly free? For all people in the world to be entirely free would be like asking for an infinitude in each person. The whole is the infinite. Would you like to be infinitely free or finitely free? You do not like the word ‘finite’. You would like to be unbounded in your freedom. But the very existence of another person beside you limits your existence.
Thus, the freedom that we can have, and are supposed to be enjoying, is to the extent that we are able to give this freedom to another also; so the obligation on our part to give freedom to another limits our freedom, so we are not entirely free. The asking for perfect freedom is a chimera; it is a hobgoblin; it does not exist. Life looks wretched, if this is the state of affairs. We can never have real freedom. Politically, socially, in every manner, we are restrained, with the camouflage of a satisfaction that under these obligations we are free.
People have no time to think along these lines. We have to get on somehow. “Chalta hai” [so it goes], we say. We are actually dragging on our life every day, and not really living it. We are getting on, as they say. Getting on in life is somehow a kind of satisfaction. “I’m getting on.” But we cannot really be happy with simply getting on. We should not be vegetating. Trees and plants also exist; they grow, they multiply. We do not want to live like that. We want a sensible, meaningful life. Here, another question arises: What is the meaning of “a sensible and meaningful life”? Are we now living a meaningless life? Here is the philosophical profundity and the in-depth secret of our personality coming up to the surface of our awareness, telling us that human beings are really wiseacres. Vainglorious, egoist consciousness prevails in their minds. Each one pats himself or herself on the back: “Things are getting on all right.” But, it is not going on all right.
When a pain is removed by a particular treatment, that treatment may cause another pain, for which we may require a second treatment. Philosophy is the capacity of a person to investigate into the deepest roots of nature and the in-depth constitution of existence itself. The ultimate cause, which is the determining factor of all effects and phenomena in life, has to be probed into. Philosophy is the search for the ultimate causes of everything, not the tentative causes. Why does it rain? It has a cause. The heat of the Sun converts the sea water into vapour, and the wind blows in some particular direction, converting the vapour into water particles, and then due to ecological laws, rain falls. This is a tentative answer as to the cause of rainfall. By why should the Sun be so interested in vapourising the water of the ocean? Why should the wind cooperate in this work? Why should the water particles collide and create lightning and thunder? What is the meaning of all this? This requires a further probe into the causes behind these apparently clear causes.
There is a cause behind every cause. There is a concatenation of causal factors, one behind the other. We cannot even know who is the origin of our parentage. Who are your parents? So-and-so. Who are the parents of these people? Somebody. Who are their parents? Go on like that. Let us find out from where this heritage starts—who was the first parent, from whom the lineage began—until we reach our immediately visible parents, through whom we appear to have been born into this world. Even here there is failure. We cannot even know the origin of our parentage.
We cannot even know why our name is what it is. Who told us that our name is what it is? We cannot give a clear answer. “My name is this.” But how do we know that? Here again, we are caught in a dilemma. Somebody in our childhood pumped some sound into our ears: “Your name is this, your name is this.” The child goes on hearing this again and again, and accepts that the name is this. So, the name that we are associated with comes from an action that is outside ourselves; therefore, the name cannot be our intrinsic quality. Likewise are the difficulties in finding out the causes of things.
We generally wonder at the phenomena of nature. We can explain nothing. Why does the Sun rise in a particular direction? Why do the planets revolve around the Sun? What are the stars? How far away are they from us? What is the role that the Earth plays in this family of the revolving planets? Why does one planet not fall on another planet? Why does the Sun not fall on our head? We do not know. We cannot say. We do not speak about these things.