The Total Solution to the Total Problem
by Swami Krishnananda

(Spoken on September 26, 1983)

In a more important sense than the ordinary mind can comprehend, man is regarded as an image of God, and the sense in which this proclamation is to be appreciated is a little different from the way in which we may understand a reflection in common parlance. An object getting imaged through a particular medium and seen at a different location altogether, and sometimes even in a different context, is very often regarded as an image or a reflection in the ordinary sense.

There is no distance between man and God. “How could there be a reflection?” is, therefore, one of the questions that a philosophic position raises in the Brahma Sutra, for instance. Two things which are not separated by spatial distance cannot cast a reflection one upon the other, and the infinitude of God would prevent such a concept as we interpret, calling it a reflection or an image. Nevertheless, it is said that man is made in the image of God. The difficulty in grasping at this knotty point before us, a point which devolves upon the very relation between man and God, arises due to the peculiarity of this relation. The reflection of an original or a prototype is spatially and temporally conditioned, and such a condition in fact does not seem to obtain between man and God, merely because the supposition that God is a principle of omniscience and omnipresence means it cannot get reflected anywhere, because there is nowhere where it is not.

Hence, these common analogies of philosophic instructors, theologians or teachers have to be taken in their spirit, in what we may call the philosophic spirit rather than the common man’s spirit. Analogies cannot be stretched beyond a limit, to the breaking point. Analogies are very necessary to make people understand what an unknown thing can be or is, but a meaningless extension of the analogy would lose the very spirit of the analogy or the comparison made.

There is a humorous story which will illustrate how analogies can completely miss the point and would convey no meaning at all, or at least not the intended meaning. There was a person who was blind from birth. He had never seen colour, and did not know the colour of any object in this world. He had a small child. One day the child started crying. He asked his wife, “Why is the child crying?”

“I gave it a little milk which was too hot so it burnt its lips a little bit, and so the child is crying.”

“Milk? What is milk? How does it look?”

“Milk is a white liquid.”

“White? What is white?”

“You don’t know what is white? White is the colour of a swan.”

He said, “Swan? What is a swan?”

She got upset, thinking, “How long will I go on explaining to this man?” She twisted her hand like this. “Touch this. A swan is like this.” Then he touched her hand, which was bent like this.

“Oh, this is milk. This is why the child is crying. Such a crooked thing you are putting into the mouth of the child? Naturally, it has to cry. This is milk?” Well, you can imagine how far the understanding of this comparison in the mind of the blind man is from the intention of the one who brought this comparison to explain what milk is.

Likewise, man being what he is, and as he cannot be anything else than what he is, he would understand everything that is told him only in the way in which he would like to understand it and in the manner he can apprehend, the only manner in which he can grasp the meaning of anything. No man who has the slightest imagination of the extended vastness of space ranging to infinitude can appreciate the modern doctrine that space can be curved. How can space be curved? It is an absurd statement for any person with common sense that everything is curved in space. The great mathematician and physicist Newton advocated that all physical things are in space and in time, and therefore, every shape, every movement, every position and every relation has to be in space and in time. Therefore, space itself cannot be subjected to that characteristic either of location or shape. But when we are told that it is possible to subject space and time to the very features which characterise the so-called physical objects in the world, we do not know what the man is speaking.

In this way, we would find it very difficult to know how man can be an image of God. God does not seem to cast any reflection; therefore, there is no likelihood of there being an image of that which we say alone is. That which alone is, is a description of itself by itself, and it does not need a description by any kind of qualitative epitaph brought from an external source, because such a source does not exist in the kingdom of God.

In what sense is man related to God? This difficulty of positioning man’s personality in this creation we call God’s manifestation has become the background of the development of the various schools of philosophic thought and religious ideologies in the world. Any doctrine, whether it is scientific, sociological, political, philosophic or otherwise, any concept or any position that one maintains in any manner whatsoever, is an outcome of that person’s appreciation of the relation of man to the universe as a whole.

The culture of a nation is the outcome of that nation’s understanding of its relation to what it can consider as the reality of life, and so we have cultural and ideological differences, religious distinctions and philosophical dichotomies. All these arise on account of it being not possible for mankind to project a uniform notion about its relation to what it considers as the possible finality of creation. The religious man, the philosopher, the social worker, and anyone who places an ideal to be achieved before oneself, hold Reality as something to be achieved in the future. All expectations are nothing but conscious movements in the direction of an unachieved end, and all our activities, our workshops, our enterprises and our projects are standing demonstrations of our conceptual interpretation of the reality of life as a future possibility and not a present reality.

If that which we consider as the sum total of the values of life or the reality of existence is something that is present, there would be no incentive to do anything in the world. All impulse to action and incentive for what we consider as progressive evolution of humanity is an insignia of the notion of the futurity of an end that is yet to be achieved, and the history of mankind is again a vindication of this outlook of mankind as a whole.

Thus, our relation to reality seems to be a kind of relation between the present and the future. Here we are not in an easy position. Even if we scratch our head a thousand times, we would not be able to give a correct definition of the relation between the present and the future because of the difficulty in knowing where exactly the present passes into the future, where the future commences.

We do not actually know where we are in the process of time. Are we in the past or are we in the present or are we in the future? The moment a thought arises in this direction we will find that we cannot offer a definition because the moment we put forth a psychic effort in the direction of the solution of this problem, the present has become the past and the future has become the present. We are swimming in this current of a flowing river of time which hurries forward incessantly in a direction towards an end which is not, at the present moment, within the ken of human perception. This is a simple, homely analogy before us of a difficulty that is facing everyone.

We should not be under the impression that the problem of finding a solution to the relationship between man and God is something that concerns an academy or an educational institution or a theological seminary or a temple or an ashram or a monastery or a chapel or a church. That this is not the problem of man today may be the feeling of many in the world. In what way is man – prosaic man, crass man, concrete man, the realistic man of human society today – concerned with our question of the relationship between man and God? “Let there be any relation. What does it matter to me?”

It matters very much. That the so-called realistic, prosaic man of the hardboiled reality of social life does not feel the need to appreciate the value of this great problem is so much credit to his education indeed, because he does not know what exactly he is thinking when he says that this does not concern him.

It is immediately a concern of even the one who feels that it is not his concern, because the relationship between man and God is the relationship between the present and the future in one way, and in a more significant and vitally pressing way, it is the relationship between the means and the end, the effort and the fulfilment of the effort, the work that we do and the result that it produces.

The action that we perform and the consequence that follows from our action are not something with which we are unconcerned. All these varieties of issues that arise in our life, such as the relationship between the means and the end, the effort and its fulfilment, or the action and its reaction are all various ways of putting the very same problem: our relationship to the universe, man’s connection with the atmosphere, the human subject’s position in the face of the Almighty Omnipresence.

Here we find that the much-adumbrated secularism of thought in modern days is a totally misconstrued approach to life, because there is no such thing as seculiarity of thought if by that one thinks it is divested from another way of thinking which is called religious or spiritual. In this life, man is positioned in a single encounter with one problem only, and we may call it religious, we may call it political, we may call it social, we may call it personal. Secular, religious, spiritual – we may call it by any name we like, but the problem is an encounter of man with his atmosphere. What do we call this problem? Do we call it a political problem? Yes, naturally it is. Our encounter with the problems of life is a political problem in one sense, and it is another type of problem from another angle of vision. It is a philosophic problem; it is a problem that arises out of our location in this world itself, and the understanding of the nature of this location of man in the world is the point at which people are at loggerheads, calling themselves philosophers, calling themselves theologians, calling themselves priests and pundits, teachers, prophets, and social welfare workers. All these nomenclatures are the designations of the various dramatic personae in this tremendous enactment of the total picture of human encounter with nature in its completeness.

Therefore, the little services which we behold in the streets and the marketplaces arising out of definitions, wave formations and conceptual and ideological differences leave them. When in a sinking boat, all people have a similar problem. There is a single problem before anyone who is in a capsizing boat, and it is not a secular problem or a religious problem or a political problem. It is a total problem of an en mass starvation and an eventuality of destruction, if we would like to put it so. The armchair distinctions that we draw while teaching from pedestals and pulpits, politically manoeuvred or socially misconstrued, that there is a basket which contains religion and another basket which contains all our values of practical life – these notions are worse than childish, to say the least.

We have no such difficulties, actually. The difficulty is a single difficulty not merely before mankind as a whole, but of all living beings as a whole. The ant crawling with a little piece of grub in its mouth for surviving in the atmosphere in which it is placed and the animal finding a little shelter in the jungles with a tremendous effort, a bird building nests, and mankind engaged in its well-known activities basically do not differ in quality.

There is an instinctive pressure from within the core of all living centres to solve this problem of the relationship between our location and the location of all beings. The grabbing attitude of the rich man, the deceptive feeling engendered in the exploiting people, and the objective before the unjust militants and such types of people also can be clubbed within this peculiar problem of the inward position encountering an external and outward difficulty.

The whole world is a mass of difficulties. We have nothing else to say about the world. When we wake up in the morning and wipe our eyes of our sleep, we face an ogre, as it were, with which we have to grapple, and this grappling is manifest in our daily life right from the sweeping of the floor, the washing of our vessels, the ablutions that we perform, and our running to our offices and the various occupations in which we engage ourselves. These are the various avenues that we are seeking to use to escape from the clutches of this ogre that we call the problem of life. It is the problem not of any particular thing from the world outside you; it is the problem between this relation of you and what is outside you. You may call it society, you may call it your neighbour, you may call it nature, you may call it the Almighty; you may call it anything, but it is a single problem before you.

So what I am trying to drive into your minds is that this is not a conceptual difficulty that is before us; it is a down-to-earth, real problem before us. And all disappointments to which people are many a time subject in their struggles for existence and success in life are the stumblings which they suffer from due to not seeing the path to this relation clearly with open eyes. They slip and fall, and repent for the mistake they have committed.

The path to the reality of life is strewn over with umpteen difficulties. John Bunyan’s Pilgrims Progress is a great saga in which he describes the hurdles on the path of the spiritual seeker. St. Augustine’s Confessions constitutes a different saga altogether of the problems of man’s inward anguish, grappling with the realities of life and finding not where it is actually located. It is as if we are biting our cheeks and wrenching our fists to catch our enemy, but finding not where he is.

All our occupations in life, the whole activity of historical mankind, is a struggle with God, an encounter with nature, a fight with reality. This is the epic of the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, the Iliad, the Odyssey, whatever we may call it, before us. Thus, life is neither religious nor secular. It need not be called by these names that we have coined from our dictionaries. It is a total encounter of all these we call brethren in a single boat that is plying very precariously in this tumultuous ocean of samsara, as it is called in Sanskrit. The samsara is a world entanglement. It is sometimes compared to a vast sea with turbulent waves, and this journey is along that difficult path.

It is not merely this aspect of the difficulty that troubles us. There is a finer point about it. Extremely subtle is this relation between ourselves and God. Kṣurasya dhārā niśitā duratyayā (Katha 1.3.14) is something that is said about it in the Upanishads: Subtle as the invisible edge of a sword or a razor is the path to God. There cannot be a path to God because there is no distance between man and God. There is no problem before man except that he feels that there is a distance, while there is no distance. He feels a tremendous distance of millions of light years, as it were, and light years are a poor computational method here. Endless and incomprehensible is the distance between man and God in the highest heavens which the scriptures speak of, while really there is not one millimetre of distance between the two.

Hence, the immensity of the concept of the distance that man sees between himself and reality, and the total negation of its impact, is the problem. So the problem is where – in you, or in somebody else? You may give any answer to it from your own point of view. A total negation is the fact. A negation of whatever you think in your mind is the fact of life. Perhaps this is the reason why the Upanishad says neti neti: not, not. A negation only is the description of the nature of this situation, and we cannot explain it except by a negation. It is not anything that we can think of in our mind, and therefore, our notions of value in life are also negatived in the factualities of life.

But every problem is also a vehicle which carries its own solution. The idea that there is a problem cannot arise unless there is also in the background the idea that there is a solution. We cannot have only a problem minus a solution because if it is wholly a problem minus even the possibility of the notion of a solution of it, the idea of it being the problem will not arise in our mind. Hence, it is a question which has an answer implanted in the question itself. It is a mother that carries its child in its own bosom, and it is the very place where the treasure of the solution lies. Man is the source of the problem, and he is also the origin of the solution. The knowing of oneself, therefore, seems to be at the same time a knowing of everything that is connected with one’s own self.

This peculiar thing that I mentioned to you – the relationship between man and God – is not hanging in space. The word ‘relation’ signifies something which the mind cannot comprehend. The greatest problem of life is the problem of relation. This is the only thing that philosophers discuss. In all the doctrines and the elaborate teachings and dissertations of doctrinaires, we find only one question being tackled in a million ways: the relation between the way and the means, the relation between yourself and myself, the relation between anything and anything else, boiling down to the relation between you and the world, and it is tantamount to a relation between you and God.

This is a great difficulty, a great difficulty indeed. Any amount of learning in a schoolboy’s sense may not suffice here because all textbooks which we are pampered with in our academies and studies are descriptions, characterisations, informations of that which is in space and in time – call it biology, chemistry, physics or mathematics. What does it matter which name we call it? All the sciences and the arts of life are descriptive informations conveyed to the empirical mind of man of that which is contained in space and time. It is not a problem of space and time itself. Here, therefore, is the inadequacy of all our education. All our studies mean a naught when we face this tiger of this peculiar difficulty before us, which we do not know as to where it is placed.

How is the solution to be sought? Not by the jargons of religion or the shibboleths of the modern doctrinaires in society and political scenes. They will be crying in the wilderness. They go on crying, and nobody is going to listen to their cries. People cry in the universities, they cry in churches, they cry in temples, they cry in parliaments. Let them cry. Who is going to listen to them? This cry cannot touch the root of the problem, and therefore, it is not important. It does not attract attention.

When the proper means is employed, it may evoke a response from the corresponding objective towards which the means is directed. The end which is the goal of the means has a relationship to the means, and the end may be considered as the evolution of the means towards its fulfilment. Inasmuch as the basic facts of life do not seem to be in harmony with the usual notions of man, the ordinary methods employed in life for a successful existence may not serve the purpose here in this situation. There is a novel method altogether that perhaps has to be employed.

Self-control is the means, the method, the technique, the art, the science and the way. But man is accustomed to give a freelance expression to his emotions, feelings and passions in the world of objects of sense spread out in this world of space and time. Self-restraint is something unheard of in this world which longs for sensory joys, physical comforts, political authority, power and whatnot. Self-control, self-restraint and a withdrawal of the operation of the senses in terms of spatial and temporal relationships is the only way. This is not the only way merely of the so-called religious man, spiritual man or the yogin; it is the way of anyone who would like to succeed in life if he has to live a worthwhile life. A person who has abandoned himself totally to a life of sensual and physical comforts is not to expect final success in any field of life. All the great geniuses of the world were self-controlled people.

You may ask me, “Why comes this question of self-control in the attempt of man to solve this peculiar difficulty that you are proposing before us?” Self-control is also something not easy to understand. It is not easy to understand because one cannot easily know what the self is. What do we mean by self-control? Which self are we going to control? A hundred ideas are generally poured upon a poor student by a multitude of teachers as to what self-control means because there are a hundred notions of self, and therefore, there can be a hundred methods of self-control. While all these are praiseworthy and to be certified as perhaps necessary under certain given conditions, the final stamp of its veracity and validity can be had only when the vital spring of man’s existence is touched.

I am not here to discourse upon any philosophical theme as to the nature of the Self of man or the spiritual roots of mankind as a whole, but my intention in these few words is only to highlight the inviolable necessity on the part of anyone who would like to be a real human being to be restrained in his passions, by which I mean the vehement expressions of any one of the sense organs – more so, the impulses of the mind. Any impulse of the psyche or of the sense organs, any urge of the understanding or even the intellect which would defy there being such a thing called a harmonious relationship among the things in the world would be a counter-bolt dealt at the very root of a sincere attempt on the part of one who seeks a solution to the problems of life. One has to sit at the feet of a great Master for a few years even to understand what real self-control is. We sit at the feet of pundits and learned people, Sanskrit scholars, to study grammar and the grammatical meaning of the scriptures, the phonetic and the linguistic interpretation of the writings of the Masters. We have very learned people indeed. This will not suffice. The world has seen many learned people, but it is the same world even today. It is perhaps not showing any signs of being different. What is required of us today is, therefore, a sincerity in the eyes of reality, and not merely before one’s political or official boss. That will not suffice, though that also is a part of this higher obedience.

Self-control is that restraint of the movement of consciousness which insists that everything is different from everything else, that we are cut off from life, segregated from everybody else and isolated from nature and God himself. This violent asking of the aberrant consciousness has to be subdued with the stroke of an educational psychology that has to be inducted into its very bosom by the methods of yoga, which are practically the sum total of any method that anyone may employ in a successful career in any field of life.

Thus, yoga is a science of life, it is the science of human existence, it is the art of successful living and, as I have already mentioned to you, there is no distinction between the outer and the inner, the visible and the invisible, and the secular and the religious, as many people make out. It is a total problem before a total mankind arising from a single source and having only one solution finally.

Here is a great question mark which every one of you may try to scrutinise by oneself, and while I have not tried to give you an answer to these questions, I perhaps have given a hint as to the way by which you can tread for receiving a satisfactory answer.

This is a little stimulating pep talk which may make you think deeper and deeper in a more serious way, and not idle your life in vainglorious activities which are not pertinent to the basic values of your existence. Be honest to your deepest core so that you may be honest to the deepest core of everybody else also, which should be your honesty to God. That would certainly promise you whatever you seek in this world.