by Swami Krishnananda
We are here on this occasion to focus our attention on what, perhaps, we are seeking in this life. This is the theme of this session today: What is it that we are seeking in this life? What is it that anyone is searching for through the vicissitudes, the works and enterprises in the various walks of life? The turmoil and tumult of human endeavour is dinning such a clamour into our ears from moment to moment that we hear only the noise of human activity and desire, and a moment required for considering the motive behind human enterprise does not seem to be available.
Now, these two questions will perhaps form a sort of introduction to the theme we are to discuss. That we cannot find time to pay due attention to the purpose for which we are living and working will be an answer to the manner in which we are living in this world. A machine works very hard and continuously in a very systematic, precise, mathematically operated manner, but the machine does not know that it is working in that way. So there can be a precise and scientific movement for the purpose of an output, as in a mill or a factory, without the movement being conscious as to the very nature of the output. Some sort of stuff is ejected out of the machine, and it is as unconscious of itself as is the operating mechanism behind it.
Today we—men and women, humanity in general—have become accustomed to believe the great ideology that a machine is an indispensable appurtenance of human life. We cannot do anything without the assistance of a machine. This shows the subsidiary character of man in comparison with the gigantic operative mechanisms that he has considered necessary not only for his satisfaction, but even for his existence. He manufactures arms, not perhaps obviously for an immediate satisfaction, but for a security in regard to his own existence. Even his existence is controlled by a machine. He cannot be sure that he will be here for a few minutes unless a machine operates around him; and a machine need not necessarily be a typewriter, a printing machine, a motorcar or an airplane.
I am now trying to bring our minds to the very concept of mechanism, which is a way of thinking, rather than an object visualised with our eyes. There is a philosophy which sometimes goes by the name of ‘mechanism’. We know very well that a philosophy cannot be a machine which we can obtain from a market. It is not a thing, it is not a substance, and it is not anything that is tangible. It is a conceptualisation and a certain outlook of the psyche of the human being—we may say the outlook as a whole of a particular set of people. This is called a mechanistic philosophy, and it has its roots in that which goes by the name of a scientific evaluation of things. In some way, classical science is mechanistic, though I do not say that every science is so. Today the discoveries of science have awakened the scientist himself to a novel presentation by nature—that it is perhaps not working on mechanistic lines, though scientists such as Newton, etc., thought that there is nothing but mathematics working in the universe. Maybe mathematics is working even now, but it is working only at a certain level of human life. We need machines only under certain circumstances of life, and it is not true that we need mechanisms always, under every circumstance. That this is a truth may not occur to our minds, since we have not found time to think of conditions of living where machines may not be of any utility to us, or even help to save us. There is something in us which cannot be amenable to the operation of a machine. None of us would believe that we are only machines, though from the point of view of a behavioural psychologist, or a pure atomist, or a physiologist, we may be appearing to work like stereotyped machines, measurable by the rods of medical science and intelligible from the philosophy that is behind this approach.
Today we are speaking on a very well-known but intriguing theme: man in relation to his soul. Here we are likely to commit an error at the very outset when we utter the words ‘man’ and ‘soul’. Though we may be well-educated and mature persons, it may not be true that we have a correct understanding of what man is in relation to what we hear of as a soul. With all our age and experience and learning, we cannot escape the childish notion into which we have been born that the soul is something that is residing in this body.
Now, does such a thing called the soul exist, or does it not exist? If we feel that there is a soul independent of the body and yet existing within the body, illuminating, vitalising, energising this body which we sometimes mistake for what we really are—if this is our understanding of a so-called existence called a ‘soul’ and a mystery called ‘man’, then we would not be able to answer this great query that is raised by the very theme of the discussion. What is happening to man today, and what he is today, is perhaps a necessary background on which we have to base our further considerations in the direction of a solution to this great question, or ask, “Is man searching for a soul, or is he searching for anything at all?”
A machine has not a soul, we know very well, and when we say that a machine has not a soul, we know what we mean. Everyone knows what is meant when a statement is made that a motorcar has not a soul, an airplane has not a soul, a robot has not a soul, or any mechanism has not a soul. When we say this, what do we mean? We are making a statement without being clear as to what we are saying. We have a vague notion of the necessity of the presence of something which will permit our acceptance that there is a soul. Naturally when we say that the machine has no soul, we do not mean something moving inside it like a light, in the sense that we understand a soul to be operating within ourselves. We speak of a soul, and use that word oftentimes. “The whole activity has been without a soul.” “The entire enterprise lost its soul.” “The whole project has no soul in it.” Do we not make statements like this? “The whole performance was minus a soul.” When we say that an important theme that we expected in a large gathering or conference was absent, we say, “Oh, the soul was absent.” We expected a very powerful dignitary who would give a tremendous influential power to the whole organisation by his very presence, but he was not there. It might be a great genius of a scientist, or a great philosopher, or a great politician, or it might be anything—something uplifting was absent, and we say the soul was missing in spite of all the din and noise and activity there.
What do we mean by saying that the soul is missing? If one person in an audience is missing, how can we say that the soul is missing? Every person has a soul. If some important person whom we regard as very valuable, more worth the while than anybody else, and who has a pervasive influence over everyone else is missing and, therefore, the soul is missing, we do not mean that other people have no souls. Just imagine what ideas we are perforce entertaining in our minds when we are thinking of a soul. We are not thinking of some little thing inside the body of a person when we conceive of a soul; otherwise, if a crucial person is missing from an audience, we will not say that the soul is missing. It would mean to say that other people have no souls and only that person has a soul, which is not a fact; others also have souls. So what makes us say that the soul is missing? “The entire show was without a soul.” Why?
This is an occasion for us to dive into the mysteries of what a soul is, and then we can know whether we have missed the soul, or whether we are in search of a soul for modern man or ancient man or any man—particularly modern man, as the word has been used for a specific reason. I will touch upon that theme shortly.
We have missed something in our lives, and if I use the word ‘soul’ it may be so enigmatic and intriguing and eluding to our understanding that I prefer not to use this word frequently, though it cannot be escaped. It has to come, one day or the other, in a new light altogether—which I tried to introduce by bringing these illustrations of there being a soul which is not necessarily identical with the souls of all these people, though everyone has a soul.
What man misses in life seems to be something which keeps him in unison, in harmony, and in a state of cohesion. A dismembered society, a dismembered political organisation, a dismembered bodily organism, a dismembered psyche of man is something like a machine without a soul. So a soul is that which prevents the dismembering of organisations, whatever be the nature of that organisation. It may be a little body; it may be the body of an ant. It may be my body, your body, or the body of a family. There is a soul in a family. Though every member of the family has a soul, one may miss the soul of the family. If the chief organising, influencing, potent force in the family is missing, we will say that the soul of the family is gone. Yet the members of the family are there, and they also have souls. Listen to me very carefully, because these are very subtle analyses.
Likewise, when we speak of any type of living arrangement or organisation, the word ‘organisation’ also has to be understood in its true spirit. An organisation is a coming together of various parts, and parts cannot come together unless there is something which brings the parts together. We do not see the wheels of a vehicle automatically joining together and making a motorcar. Nothing happens automatically. No part of a machine will join with another part unless there is a cohesive, pervasive and immanent force which envisages the arrangement or the pattern that is to be projected in the form of a machine, and that may be considered as something independent of the machine, though it cannot be totally isolated from the machine.
‘Organisation’ is a very subtle, eluding word. This body also is an organisation. It is made up of various parts which work in collaboration; it is a machine. The body is a machine in the sense that it is made up of various parts, nuts and bolts, and there is a dynamo, and a pulley, and every blessed thing; but nothing will work unless there is a system introduced into this mechanically placed multifaceted arrangement which we call an organisation. There is no organisation without something which organises these parts of the organisation. We have to consider what that something is.
There may be a leader of a huge organisation, and his presence, his influence, his activity brings all the people together, though they may be millions in number. We may be wonderstruck as to how one person can bring together thousands of people, because thousands are larger in number than this one single person. Now again I am coming to a sort of answer to this query raised by this theme. If we can find some answer within ourselves as to the circumstances under which one person can rule millions of people or how one field marshal can command a whole battalion of men, none of whom are physically, mechanically, or intellectually inferior to him, then there is also a possibility of lifting our minds to an area of consideration which is not necessarily mechanistic, physical, or purely visible to the eyes. There is some invisible thing which seems to be an unavoidable and inviolable presence everywhere, without which the organisation cannot function.
Take this example of a huge army being commanded by one man. What strength has this man got over these people? Mechanistically, physically, materially, economically considered, he has no strength whatsoever; yet he has strength. That strength is that which pervades everyone in the whole army which is constituted of individuals like him. This is something very surprising—thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of persons like him are organised into a single focus of consideration and attention and action by the presence of one individual who is also like them. We have to think deeply here, and this type of thinking is called philosophical thinking. This is not scientific thinking, because science cannot recognise what it cannot observe and experiment upon, and if we observe an army, experiment upon an army and see the army though a microscope or even a telescope, we will see nothing except a huge mass of people. But it is not a mass of people; there is something else in it, which is the reason why we do not call it a huge heap of people, but an army.
It is organisation and a unified force. What makes us feel that a large organisation, such as a parliament, a political system, an army, or any such thing, forms one single organisation, notwithstanding the fact that we cannot see any organisation there? We see only different heads and different legs moving about in different ways. This eluding, mysterious yet impossible-to-avoid thing is the soul. We cannot say that it is inside the body, because the body of a person who organises a large gathering is like the body of anybody else, and if we say that his soul controls everybody, well, our consideration that the soul is inside the body rules out that argument. We cannot expect one man’s soul to jump on somebody else’s soul and then organise everybody. What is it that is intriguing us and stirring us and stimulating us, keeping us restless in spite of all our estimations, properties and social securities? We have missed something.