by Swami Krishnananda
According to modern discoveries, everything is in a state of motion. It is not merely that the Earth is rotating on its axis and revolving around the Sun; all the planets are doing the same thing in this organisation called the Solar System, which in its totality is also supposed to be rushing forward, onward, in some direction, together with the Milky Way—in the direction of something which we cannot easily decipher.
There is some other pull causing this perpetual activity in the cosmos, in the astronomical universe. Some centre of gravity of the whole cosmos is compelling everything, right from the atom to the galaxies, to move in a particular manner. What is this compelling centre? People say it is a centre which is everywhere, whose circumference is nowhere. Every point is a centre of the universe. It is not far away, above us. The centre of a circle is a little away from the periphery or the circumference, but this centre is not away from the circumference. Every point in the circumference is also a centre. If we touch anything, we are touching the centre of the universe. Philosophically, this centre is designated as the Atman, or the soul of things. The soul is not somewhere, because it is the centre. The soul is not only in the human being; there is a soul in everything. Even the atomic structure, which integrates itself into an organisation, requires a pulling, pivotal centre, call it by any name. We may consider it as a soul.
Our personality, our physical body, is constituted of little pieces of physiological cells, one different from the other. We seem to be like a house constructed out of many bricks, but we do not feel that we are a house made with many bricks. We never feel that there are an infinite number of cells which constitute this totality of our individuality. The house does not know that its inner components are diversified items like bricks, cement, mortar, iron, etc.
If we can imagine that the house has a consciousness of its own, so is the case with our own selves. Why do we feel a unity and an integration in our personality, and never feel that we are made up of diversified elements? This is the centre which operates in every discreet particle, and obliges this so-called discreet particle to harmonise itself with the centre—which is everywhere, to repeat. Our soul does not sit somewhere, in some location within our body. It is an indescribable centripetal force that compels every organ and every cell to subject itself to its centre, so that the whole body is a centre only.
We are not made up of particles; we are made up of a totality of centres. As we cannot conceive a totality of centres because centres cannot be more than one, we are flabbergasted even by thinking that we are existing as a total, integrated human being. This is why we cannot understand what we are made of. There is a tremendous mystery operating in everything, even in a plant, a tree, a leaf, and in the formation of a fruit. Everything is a mystery.
It is said by historians of religion that early man wondered at creation. What is all this? Every day we see something. There is sunrise and sunset. I asked a little boy: “In the morning you see the Sun on this side, and in the evening it goes to that side and sinks somewhere. How does it suddenly come back to the east in the morning?” The boy naively replied, “When we are fast asleep, it must jump back to the east, so that without our knowledge, it finds itself in the east.” This is a very nice answer.
The wonderment of creation arose in the initial stages of the very birth of human individuality. Philosophy is supposed to originate in wonder or in doubt. In Greece, for instance, philosophy commenced with wonder. The wonder of creation evoked the minds of people into an investigation of the causes of these wonderful phenomena. There were so many Greek philosophers, and each one had something to say. All were right in their statements, but not entirely right. There was a gradual development of thought through the history of philosophy, yet it was not finally satisfying.
We may wonder at a thing and imagine that there must be a cause behind this wonderful phenomenon. The idea that there should be a cause behind every phenomenon is, again, some peculiar faculty ingrained in us. Why should there be a cause for anything? Cannot anything exist by itself? The mind will not permit this kind of thinking. Space, time, and cause is a threefold united activity ingrained in the mind itself, and it cannot free itself from the clutches of this threefold compelling factor. Everything must be somewhere, everything must be at some time, and everything must be caused by something else. This is how we think, generally. We cannot think in any other manner.
Why should we be able to think only in this way? Even those who went deep into these compelling psychological phenomena could not finally answer this question. They were satisfied by saying, “Our knowledge is limited to space, time, and cause.” The people who declared that our consciousness is limited to these factors of space, time, and cause did not go further into an investigation as to how anyone came to know that we are limited by the presence of space, time, and causation. A limited thing cannot know that it is limited. We call a particular thing a circumference or a barricade because there is something outside it. Therefore, it is no good merely saying that we are limited entirely to the compelling factors of space, time, and cause.
Who says this? Here is a moot question. There is something in us which is beyond space, time, and causation, which tells us in its own secret voice that we could not know that we are limited to space, time, and cause unless we are something more than space, time, and cause. This is the beginning of religion: the awe and the wonder that we feel at the explanation of anything in the world. Everything is awesome; everything frightens; everything compels us; everything dissatisfies.
These factors arising from the wonderment arising out of perception of phenomena created doubts: How is it possible for a limited individual to know that the individuality is limited? Here is a bottleneck before philosophers. Some tried to answer this with a fear that what they say may not be correct. Some had the courage to say that there are no such boundaries. The fact that there are boundaries cannot be gainsaid. We know that we are limited, but we also know that it is not possible to know that we are limited unless there is a call from an unlimited Being. This is the phenomenon of the religious consciousness. It is not religion as Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, etc. It is the power behind the process of thinking itself, from the deepest recesses of human individuality.
As every person is time-bound, culture-bound, language-bound, tradition-bound, and bound in many other ways, this consciousness got cast into the mould of these limiting factors of geographical, ethnical, and linguistic conditions, and we have many religions in different parts of the world. We have a set of religions called Semitic religions, which look up to the skies, to the high heavens, for discovering the ultimate cause of creation—a Transcendent Being. In the Eastern religions there is a mitigating factor of the discovery that a totally Transcendent Being cannot touch this world and, therefore, the world can have no relationship with that Transcendent Being. That which is disconnected above us cannot connect us with it. Therefore, the high aspirations for God for the attainment of ultimate perfection, if God is transcendent, will be unreachable because of the dichotomy between God’s location and the location of the world in which we are.
Thus, Eastern religions discovered this lacuna in holding on to mere transcendence, and declared that this Transcendent Being should also be immanent. It should be intrinsically present, and not merely extra-cosmically operative. This is the reason why we have many religions in this world. Knowing not the reason why there is such multiplicity of religions, to stick to the dogma of a particular fundamentalist attitude is foolhardy. That tragic condition should be obviated if humanity is to survive, and there ought to be a thing called human brotherhood and a cosmical society.
People go on saying they are Hindu, Christian, etc. That is a different thing altogether from the common denominator present in everyone at the back of these externalised forms—which is the aspiration of the soul to reach ultimate perfection. The longing of the finite for the Infinite is the religious consciousness. It may be through Islam, Hinduism or Buddhism; it does not matter. We can eat our meal on a plate or a leaf on the ground, or even from our hands, but a meal is a meal nevertheless. So, to emphasise too much the exterior factors of religion and become dogmatic and engage in warfare in the name of religion is only to concede that the barbaric instinct in the human being has not subsided completely. Man is still a wolf, as some political philosophers tell us. That wolf is still present in the camouflage of a cultured human being.
Religious consciousness is the divine element operating in us. It is not a social phenomenon. It is not something that we are asked to do by human society or the government. It is an inner compulsion, a morality and ethics which is based on God’s integral existence. It is a great marvel. Our existence is a marvel by itself. It is not merely that the world is a marvel; we ourselves are a marvel, as an inseparable part of this total marvel.
Every one of us is a wonder; every one of us has a tremendous meaning and glory imbedded in the deepest roots of our being. We are heirs apparent to the Kingdom of God, to put it properly. We are bound to achieve it, because our finitude cannot stand apart from the Infinite, to which it is organically related. Here is the beginning. Here is the brief picture and the design pattern of what I designated as religious consciousness, about which I will speak to you further.