by Swami Krishnananda
Our learning and our wisdom have not helped us very much. It is something we learn too late in our lives. When we are young, we are very enthusiastic and bubbling with feelings of hope and positivity of achievement, all of which begin to show a tendency to turn into dust when our hair becomes gray and the world begins to present a picture of disillusionment, as if we have lived for no purpose. This psychological state through which all have passed, right from prehistoric times, is very, very unfortunate; and it may appear that no one has escaped this predicament.
Our life is not physical or social, though it appears to be such. Our life is mainly psychological. We may be politically important persons, socially very busy people, and individuals of importance and respectability, all which are a camouflage of what we are inside because the outer activities and relationships, whatever be the name that we give to them, are the efforts of what we really are within ourselves.
Our search for whatever be the aim of our life, and our joys and sorrows, are neither physical features nor social or political phenomena. Our joys and sorrows and are not political and social; they are purely personal, inward, psychological. They are projected outside, and they become problems and matters for considerationpolitically, socially, and so on.
We have heard it said, perhaps one thousand times, that it is essential to know ones own self. This has become a sort of shibboleth which has lost all its meaning. Everyone knows this old, old saying, from the Oracle of Delphi right down to the present day: One has to know oneself. The number of times that we have heard it is such that, actually, this oracle has no sense for us. A thing with which we are too familiar loses its significance to some extent.
Thus, we seem to be aware as to what is our objective, but this awareness is not adequate to the purpose. We are in a muddle of thinking and, oftentimes, we find ourselves dashed by strong waves and currents of emotions, moods of depression and elation, like a person sinking into the ocean and rising up to show his head for a few moments only to sink down again in utter desperation. There is something very peculiar about all of us, and this peculiarity is what keeps us moving and getting on in lifeand yet, we are terribly dislocated within ourselves. Do we not think that we all have so little time to be our own selves that we are practically not our own selves, that we are somebody else?
This is a peculiar trick the world is playing with us so that we may be defeated in our aims; and those who have left this world have been people who have been completely thrown out of gear. History stands as a great demonstration before us of human defeat and of the inscrutable circumstance into which one feels he is thrown at the last moment of time. Present-day life, especially, is an utter travestypsychologically, and in every blessed waybecause our minds are drawn outside and are urged externally to things which pull us with such vehemence that we live not in ourselves, but in something else.
We are terribly conscious of other things, and there is a total oblivion of the fact that we also exist in this world. This is a difficult thing to understand, notwithstanding the fact that we cannot forget our existence. It would be meaningless to say that one can forget ones own self. We are all here, and we know that we are here; how can we forget that we are here? But, nevertheless, the objectivity of the mind and the impulse of the psyche towards external affairs is so uncontrollable, morbidly vehement and impetuous that we seem to be ashamed to be conscious of our own selves and feel proud of being conscious of other people and the affairs of life.
The more we are immersed in the affairs of life, the more important we appear to be. The greatest men in the world are those who are conscious, totally, of what is outside them, imbued in the affairs of political existence and social problems. We have social workers and political geniuses trying to attack each other with weapons of warfare, in order to make themselves very prominent. Our prominence increases, like the rise in a thermometer, in proportion to the extent that we are immersed in what is totally outside us.
This is the reason why it is said that this is a world of death. Mrityurloka is a word that is common in India. This world is called Mrityurloka, the world of death, and not the world of life. Nobody lives in oneself; and what can be worse than not being able to live in ones own self? The fact that we are forced by circumstances to live in that which is not our own selves is the proof of this world being a world of death, and not of life. Here is the foundation of our sorrows, the root of our difficulties, and the impossibility to get out of the clutches of this condition which refuses to be understood by anyone. The grip that the world has upon our minds is so strong, like a crocodiles grip, that we are not permitted even to think. Even the mind is caught.
When I say that the person is involved in the affairs of that which he is not, I do not mean that only our bodies are involved. Everything that we are is totally caught hold ofour reason, our will, our feeling, our emotion, even our values of lifeso that we value life in terms of what we are conscious of outwardly, and not in terms of what we are inwardly. A rich man is a valuable man, a powerful person is a valuable person, and a name that appears in the headlines of newspapers is very prominent. An unknown person, living in a corner of the world, is not so worthwhile. Hence, the quantum of external involvement has become the thermometer for reading the greatness and value of a person, and of anything else in this world.
This is a serious subject in psychological studies. I began by saying that we are minds more than bodies, and all our involvements are inwardly oriented though the involvement appears to be wholly external. It is essential for each one of us to find a little time to discover the manner in which the mind is operating. This is not an easy affair, because we are not separable from the mind. A policeman who has become involved with a gang of dacoits becomes a dacoit himself and, therefore, there is no question of discovering the dacoity or the activities of these people.
How can we observe the method, the modus operandi of our minds when we, ourselves, are the mind? Who is going to study the mind, as if we are standing outside the mind and looking at it through a microscope? We can imagine where we are standing. To some extent, we can know why it is that we are so very grieved inwardly in a manner we ourselves cannot express outwardly in any language. Our sorrows are our private property which nobody can look into, and which we cannot explain, express or state in any adequate language. The privacy of our sorrows and problems is so intense that it defies illustration, explanation and descriptionlogically, or in any language. Anything that is purely personal defies description, and we are, therefore, in an indescribable predicament of involvement. It is like an awfully sick person not knowing what sort of sickness he is involved in.
Swami Sivananda, the great saint and sage who was the seed of The Divine Life Society, was one of the many stalwarts who became conscious of this peculiar structure of the world. I do not say he was the only person to achieve this consciousness; there were many like him, but he was one among the many incomparable geniuses who plumbed the depths of this problem of man: Who is man himself? The problem of man is man; it is not somebody else. So, we are our own problem, not anybody else.
This requires tremendous patience, as would be required by a physician who is treating a very complicated illness. It may require days and days of diagnosis. Complicated diseases require an all-round consideration, and cannot just suddenly become objects of prescription, of treatment. We are not involved in a linear fashion. We are involved in a circular, zigzag and abysmal way, so that a straight-line approach is not the way of studying the human mind. It is clear like a mirror that is shining before us.
There has not been one person who could give a universal prescription for this difficulty because, while the difficulty is common in its generality, it is personal and has its own details specific to an individual. We all have a common problem as human beings in this world; this, of course, is true. But each one of us has, also, a peculiar personal problem which is not common to all of us. So we have to be treated from two different angles of vision, two standpoints altogether: the general aspect of it, and also the special aspect of it. Our condition is really awful because we are attacked from two sides: on one side by problems which are generally common to all human beings, and on the other side by problems which are privately inherited by us through our race, through our speciesone may say, by our karmas.
There is, according to modern psychoanalysts, a personal unconscious and, also, a species unconscious. This is the reason why we think only as human beings; we cannot think like snakes, scorpions, or in any fashion other than human. Is it a great wisdom to be able to think only in terms of human beings, to evaluate things only from a human point of view, and to be overly anxious about the welfare of human beings while not bothering at all about anything else in the world, though we know very well that our life is decided by factors most of which are superhuman?
The breath that we breathe, for instance, to take a very gross example, is not under our control. It is not a purely human affair. Even our heartbeat is not under our control. These are things which are important enough, and yet, of which we are totally ignorant and about which we wish to think nothing. We will be terrified out of our wits if we begin to probe into the mystery of even the heartbeatwhich is our master, and not our servant. We take for granted things which are most important, and busy ourselves with things which are silly and secondary.
The outlook of life with which we, as human beings, are concerned at present is the projection of our secondary characters, whereas the primary characters are deeply rooted within us and do not actually come to the surface. This is to explain in another way what psychology has spoken of as the conscious levelas distinguished from the very depth of humanity and human nature, which will not come to the surface as it is not necessary for it to come to the surface.