by Swami Krishnananda
Many a time we feel happy, and also unhappy, without knowing the reason behind it. An intelligent person should know the causes of these occurrences in one's person; only then, they will be really beneficial and lasting. An unconsciously performed virtue cannot be regarded as a real virtue. It becomes meaningful only when it is consciously done. Just as an unconscious error cannot be regarded as a deliberate commission, so also, an unconscious virtue is no virtue. In the same way, a happiness whose nature and cause is not known will be of no avail, finally. It will be like children feeling satisfied and jumping here and there in the state of some kind of satisfaction, of which they have no knowledge at all.
That is to say, knowledge is essential. There is nothing in the world equal to, or superior to, knowledge. It is actually the purpose of what is called education, the acquisition of more and more information and insight into everything that constitutes life. An ignorant man cannot be regarded as a happy man. An ignorant wealthy person cannot enjoy his wealth. Knowledge is primary.
It is necessary that we should also have knowledge of our own existence. Unconsciously existing, like a stone, is not actually a way of living. Existence is one thing, and living is a little different. When we speak of this intriguing phenomenon called living, or life, we are face to face with a widespread area of investigation, into which we may have to enter as if in a laboratory. In one way, we may say, this world is a laboratory where we enter into an activity of a search for newer and newer meaning. We have some meaning, but that may not be complete meaning. The significance that we read in the phenomena of life varies from time to time, from age to age, and from condition to condition. That is what is known as apara vidya, or lower knowledge.
We do not want a passing kind of knowledge. It should be with us forever. That which will leave us one day, and has come to us only due to certain prevailing conditions, is not worth the while. We cannot live in this world without knowing where we are living. Otherwise, it would be a kind of inert existence, which is totally different from enlightened living.
When we open our eyes, we see something; but rarely do we question ourselves as to what we are seeing, and how we are seeing. Just because it is clear, as it were, that there is such a thing as seeing, it does not mean that everything about it is clear. “What do you mean by seeing?” is the primary question. The second question is, “Who is seeing?” The third question is, “What is it that is seen?” The fourth question is, “What is the relationship between the one that sees and the thing that is seen?” Further questions are, “Why is it necessary to see anything?” “What is the obligation behind this perpetual activity of seeing things day in and day out?” “Who is compelling us to see anything at all?”
Things appear to be attractive, compelling us to see them, look at them, and do something with them. Another question is, “Why do things look attractive; why do certain things appear beautiful and others repulsive?” Is there some explanation for this phenomenon?
We want to live. “Why do we want to live?” is also an important question that we must put to our own selves. Who is telling us that we should live? Does a book say that, or has some teacher told that we must live? We do not require to be told by anyone that we should live. We seem to be quite certain that it is necessary to live.
A further question, away from this and arising from it, is, “What kind of life do you wish to live?” We have a vague notion of the type of life that we would like to live. It is vague indeed, because a complete knowledge of what it is about will not be easily available.
Then, what is that which we are finally aiming at, with all this inquisitive and investigative knowledge? Is there a purpose in things, or is life purposeless, just existing without any meaning or purposiveness? If there is a purpose in life, whatever be the nature of that life, it would imply that life, as it is now at present confronting us, is a process rather than a culmination. Life seems to be advancing in some direction of progress, people generally say – culturally, economically, socially, politically, educationally, in every way – but advancing in what direction, and towards what end?
There are others who speak of what is known as evolution. There is the natural activity seen everywhere, by which old things are cast off and new things are created. The new thing that is created is again cast off after some time and another, newer thing is created. This seems to be a process going on everywhere in the world, in all nature. Why should it happen?
With all this series of questions, there is also, side by side, a sense of unknown finitude and insecurity in the mind of every person. There are means adopted in various ways to guard oneself from the feeling of this finitude and insecurity in the world. Every kind of thing is an insecure something, as we can see with our eyes. We build a house and wish to live inside the house, and would not like to be outside it. The house also gives some sort of security, clothing gives security, the food that we eat is a security, and there are other appurtenances that we have manufactured and discovered or invented, contributing to a sense of greater and greater security.
But insecurity will persist with every protection the world can provide, because the sense of insecurity is not entirely due to absence of external appurtenances. Even a king is insecure, with everything he can have to guard himself from the sense of finitude and insecurity. A king has a large empire; he has an infinite existence, as it were, in society, but he is a poor individual with an inner gnawing sorrow of an unknown type of insecurity. If an emperor is not secure, who else can be secure in this world? The reason is that security, or freedom from this agonising sense of finitude, can be achieved by some other means than acquiring the material goods and comforts of the world and having many things with us.
One may have an army of requirements. They are of no utility, finally. We have the instance of the Pandava and Kaurava brothers. Duryodhana had the largest protective army, and the Pandavas also had something of that kind, but both parties were insecure because the multitude of possession is found finally to be an unreliable belonging. The emperor cannot fully trust even his own bodyguards. That is the greatness of an emperor.
So, where is security, without which life has no sense? To exist continuously with a feeling of sorrow that something is dead wrong, and at sixes and sevens, would not be meaningful living. Therefore, to search for this mysterious element in life which is lacking in public performances outside in the world, people come to institutions of this kind, attend their programs, and participate in them. They go with a sense of relief.
What is it that gives relief? I began by saying that the first phenomenon that faces us is the fact of seeing something. Unless we know what ‘seeing’ actually means – the procedure that is there as an undercurrent behind this activity – it will be like a helpless person being driven in some direction by a force other than oneself. We have to know, and also know that we know; we have to see, and also be aware that we see. Seeing is not a blank look; it is not just opening the eyes and allowing light to fall on the retina. It is also clubbed with an awareness that seeing is taking place.
Here is something very interesting which we generally miss in our observations, and it is this: Seeing is an activity, a process of becoming. Awareness of this fact cannot be identical with the activity of seeing, because awareness cannot be regarded as an activity. Knowledge is not work. It is another element altogether.
The fact that awareness of the act of seeing seems to be different from the act of seeing makes us go further into this phenomenon of a mysterious something before us. Who is seeing? “I am seeing.” This is a glib statement of an untutored mind. “I am coming,” “I am seeing you,” and so on – these statements have no real profound meaning. Taken to its depths, this fact of awareness of seeing being not the same as the act of seeing, because awareness is not an activity, what is the relationship between seeing as such and the awareness of the fact of seeing? Where is this awareness located, which makes us feel that we are seeing?
Commonly, an immediate answer to this query would be, “The awareness is me. I am aware that I am seeing.” When we say, “I am aware that I am seeing,” we are mixing two things together, while they are really two different things. We cannot see and also be aware of seeing, unless we are both things at the same time. How is it possible for us to be acting, and also be a judge behind the process of acting, as an element of awareness? This means to say that a dual realm of being is operating in us.
Philosophers say the phenomenal and the noumenal elements are involved in every human being. The phenomenality is symbolised here in this instance by an activity called perception of things. The noumenal aspect in us is symbolised in our being aware that there is such a thing called seeing. The words used are significant enough. One aspect is phenomenal because it is passing, it is moving, and it is not stable. All such things are called phenomenal. There is another thing which is not unstable. It is perpetually there, and it cannot leave us at any time – namely, awareness of our being, and awareness of anything that we do.
We belong to two worlds at the same time, we may say, the mortal and the immortal. The mortal side is the physical side of things – the processional character of nature, and the activity of people. The immortal side is an irrefutable affirmation taking place in us every moment of time that we are perfectly stable, and we are not changing. Even though we grow from childhood to adult, we have not changed; we are the same person. Anything may change, but the continuity of the awareness of this change is a permanent background of it.
Because of the fact that we seem to belong to two realms of being, we are unhappy and happy at the same time. The phenomenal side keeps us perpetually engaged in some labour or work of some kind or the other. The noumenal side keeps us asking for more and more, and does not allow us to be satisfied with anything. The world says in its phenomenality, “I have everything for you.” But the noumenal side says, “I cannot be satisfied with anything that the world can give. I seem to be something like a large sea into which anything from the world can be thrown and swallowed, but it cannot satisfy the engulfing character of this vast sea.”