by Swami Krishnananda
In its search of fulfilment and perfection, the mind rises stage by stage to the higher levels of consciousness, but it is only in the human level that it consciously expresses itself in its relation to a society of kindred elements. There is no consciousness of society in the plant world or even perspicuously in the animal world because there is no rational understanding. It is only in the human stage of understanding that it can be said to have developed into a consciously understood structure: we know what society is, what we expect from it, and what society expects from us.
Now, here in this sense of the mind’s affirmations as a society rather than an individual, we may say that we have made a great advance over the lower levels, but we have also committed a blunder. The good point is what generally goes by the name of humanitarianism, goodness, servicefulness, charitableness, etc.; the bad point is called samsara. While we have a good opportunity to express ourselves in society, we also have a highway constructed before us so that we may fall into the pits. Therefore, human society has a passage to freedom as well as a bondage manifestly expressed before us. We are in a state of perpetual suffering in society on account of the negative aspect of it, which we cannot easily distinguish from the positive side.
What do we mean by samsara, from which we try to rise? If the whole world, the entire human society, is a wholesale blunder, a delirium of spirit, a madness of consciousness from which we have to free ourselves wholly and solely, then there would be nothing for us to do in regard to it. We would only have to flee from it, as if from a ghost or a devil. From one side, we are told that we have to be kind and charitable, good and compassionate, serviceful and considerate to people. On the other side, we are told that it is all a mesh of bondage, that we have to run away from it. Both these things are told to us by the scriptures, by masters and saints. Consciously distinguishing between these two aspects is called viveka. When we mix both these aspects together we are in a state of aviveka or non-discrimination.
Most people are not in a position to make this distinction between the positive, diviner element in society and the negative, baser element. The mind mostly seeks fulfilment of its desires, rather than opportunities for service and self-expansion. The mind seeks self-expansion in a very literal sense, not in the spiritual sense. Literally it wants to expand itself, as a dictator would want to expand his sway over people. This is also a kind of self-expansion, but it is the negative side of the matter. The world has been created in such a way that we have to find gold together with base metal.
The eyes see the world through the instinctive mind mostly. The motive force behind the perception of the eyes is the instinctive reaction of the mind for personal desires. Usually when we look at the world, we look at it with an eye of desire. Mostly, there is no other motive force in perception. The desire for the world has a principle psychological significance, a fix: “What does the world mean to me? What does it pay?” If we are asked to do anything, generally we think: “What does it bring me? Why should I do it?” This is the great question that the mind raises whenever it perceives things of the world through the eyes: If it means something positive for me, I long for it, run after it, and try to possess it and enjoy it. If it does not have anything to do with me, I shall ignore it and have nothing to do with it. But if it is something deleterious to the fulfilment of my desires, I shall fight with it, take up cudgels against it and see that it is wiped out of existence.”
This is samsara, a beautiful Sanskrit word commonly known especially in India. “Oh, we are sunk in samsara,” they say. Many people say so, without even thinking as to what they are saying. Sometimes they even say, “I have brought my samsara,” when they have brought their wives! Samsara gets restricted to a wife. Well, they have their own reason for it. What they really mean is that they have got an appendage – something hanging round their neck, a kind of weight that they have to carry. That is why it has taken that connotation.
Samsara literally means a kind of aberration of the mind, a movement of the mind away from the centre, in which sense we can say that the dream condition of the mind is also an aberration. In dream the mind moves away from the centre of its true state into a reality constructed through its own imagination for the sake of finding satisfaction: “When I cannot find things to satisfy my desires, I shall create them with my mind. If nobody wants to look at me, I shall then create friends through my mind and have plenty of people who will like me. If the external world denies me something, I shall discover it in my internal world.” This is what the mind does in dream. It achieves in the dream state whatever it cannot achieve in waking. So from the physical outer world, the mind withdraws itself into its own created subjective world.
As this is not a fact, and as it is not true that the mind really sees existent objects, we may call it a kind of samsara of the mind. Some such thing happens when the mind moves outside into societies of persons or things. We have slowly come to the realisation that the mind is evolving stage by stage from the lower levels of matter, life, etc., into the human consciousness; but now we realise that it is meandering horizontally also, not merely rising vertically. It is like a spring of water that may jet forth from the bosom of the Earth to the surface, and then spread itself everywhere outwardly on the surface.
The mind at the stage of the human being has not only reached a vertical ascent, but also finds an opportunity to move horizontally in search of pleasures. It deliberately becomes conscious of the existence of things which can satisfy its desires, and of persons who are akin to its nature. You may say that the animal also sees it, but it has a lesser understanding, while man has a more rarefied understanding. The pleasure centres are before the eyes of humans and animals, but the animal is cruder in its way of thinking; hence, it is satisfied with merely a reaction to a stimulus. It is the human being who tries to take the fullest advantage of the environment in which he is placed – fullest advantage in the sense of exploiting the situation and making use of, utilising or harnessing for his own purposes every blessed thing in the world – men, or animals, or even things. “The world should be mine,” is the desire of every person.
The tendency to rule, to exercise authority and to wield power is the instinct of the human mind, rationalised at the human level. This is the great stigma on human reason. While it is supposed to investigate into the nature of Truth hidden in human experience, it ramifies itself into channels of sensory satisfaction, becomes a handmaid in the functions of the ego, and utilises its powers not for a further ascent as it ought to, but for a horizontal movement for the sake of external satisfaction through the senses. “Why does it seek satisfaction?” is a pertinent question. “Why should there be seeking for pleasure at all? Why not go without it? How is it that everyone seems to be running after it?”
The reason is the great reason of creation itself. It is not pleasure that we seek, to clinch the whole matter with which I concluded the previous discourse; it is freedom that we are seeking. It is not things of pleasure that we seek, but freedom and happiness, and now it looks that happiness is only a form of freedom. Ultimately, it is only freedom that we are seeking. In our movements through the objects of sense, what we seek is a kind of freedom. We do not want the objects. As a matter of fact, when we have done with them we throw them away like tools that we have no further use for. Persons and things from whom we have extracted enough, who have done us enough service, are no more wanted because it is not the persons or things that we want. We wanted something through them and that we have got, and so we do not want the instruments any more. After we have climbed up to the terrace, we no longer want the ladder.
The search for pleasure is a search for freedom. The Spirit asks for further expansion. “I have become more free at the human level, more free than I was in the plant and animal levels, and I want to be even more free,” is the Spirit’s asking. The Spirit is our innermost consciousness, and anything connected with our Spirit is called spiritual. What we call a spiritual life is nothing but a life which is in consonance with the nature of the Spirit. So the Spirit within us which is deep, so deep that we cannot fathom it through the mind and the senses, asks for a further expansion: “I want my freedom, and I shall not be satisfied with anything less.” The Spirit asks for a further ascent.
But there is a mistake committed by the mind at this level in not knowing that freedom is in an ascent, and falsely thinking that freedom consists in the possession of objects. Here aviveka creeps in. Man alone can be avivekan – non-discriminating. Instead of pursuing the right path, we pursue the wrong path. It is man alone who can rise and fall at the same time. Man has the power to stand on his own legs, and at the same time has the power to fall down and break his legs. He has the power to go upwards or to fall downwards. He has freedom, and no one else has it.
This freedom is like a double-edged sword; it can cut both ways. We are free to pursue the right course, and also the wrong course. This is the beauty of our freedom – most fortunate and also unfortunate.
But the reason of the human being plays second fiddle to the senses and works in accordance with them, which is nothing but the instinctive mind working. The reason works for what the senses report, rather than what it should independently do. The judge in a court, for example, has to take knowledge from the evidence given to him. He cannot depend entirely on the evidence alone; he has to use his reason also. He has to sift the evidence, take the cream out of it, judge it properly, and then pass a resolution of his own. But if he merely hears everything that people say, contradictory though the reports may be, he would not be able to pass any judgement. He will only be in a state of quandary and confusion. If we would like to listen to many people and would like to fulfil the advice of all, then there would be no conclusion at all, no judgement made. We have to take the advice of many, but will have to pass our own judgement on the basis of our understanding.
This is what the reason is supposed to do after it receives the report of the senses. But what does it do? It merely receives these reports and wants to follow the course of these reports, never wanting to pass any independent judgement of its own upon them. The reason becomes a failure when it becomes a tool in the hands of the senses. We live in a sense world, not in a reasonable or rational world. Philosophically we may be living in a rational world, but practically we are in a sense world, bound to the core.
We have even gone to the extent of the rationalisation of sense experience. It is this rationalisation of sense experience that today goes by the name of scepticism, agnosticism, materialism, and so on. It is finding bad reasons for what we believe through instinct, as a philosopher said. We try to find bad reasons to support what we instinctively believe in, and this is our philosophy. But philosophy cannot be this. It should be independently thorough. It is the work of the pure reason, unadulterated by the reports of the senses. All people cannot be philosophical, therefore, because they cannot but think in terms of the senses. When we think, we think in terms those things which the eyes have seen or the ears have heard. We cannot think independently of these. We may take the evidence of the senses, as I mentioned in the analogy, as a judge may take evidence from people. It is good and it must be done; but what is the conclusion? The reason, when it takes the reports of the senses, obtains some knowledge of the world, as a judge obtains some knowledge of a case before him, but what is the knowledge that we obtain? What is the sort of situation that we are in? What is this case before us?
The case is this: the senses tell us that all things are transitory. They do not say to run after the objects, possess them and enjoy them. This is not the advice of the senses. Like messengers, they come with reports of the phenomenality of things. When we open our eyes, what do we see? We see destruction, change, impermanence, and one thing transforming itself into another. We see, even with a telescope or a microscope, nothing but the transformation of things – oceans drying up and becoming deserts, deserts becoming oceans, today’s millionaire becoming tomorrow’s pauper, a young man dying instantaneously without any apparent cause, sudden upheavals of nature, sudden outbursts, revolutions and evolutions. What else do we see in this world? This is what the eyes tell us, but they also bring with them another kind of subtle report which is misleading. Together with the knowledge of the transitoriness of things which is obtained scientifically by perception, we seem to be subtly, through our reason, perceiving something which the reason longs for.
In the Puranas there is a story to explain our condition. When Garuda ran away from the heavens with the pot of nectar, he kept it in different places, and finally in a forest of dharba grass – a grass which is sharp and cutting. It is considered very sacred and is used by Hindus in all ceremonies even today, because it has been purified by its contact with Garuda’s nectar pot. The snakes went after the nectar, thinking that it had been spilt on the dharba grass, and started licking the grass, cutting their tongues. The Puranas say that snakes have a split tongue due to licking the dharba grass. They did not get the nectar. They were suffering, and no nectar was found. This applies to our minds. Like a snake running after the nectar placed on the dharba grass, the mind runs after the objects on which the pot of the nectar is kept. Well, it is true that the pot is kept there, but we will not find the nectar, only the empty pot.
There is something which attracts us, just as the snakes were attracted by something which they thought was there. There is some Truth in the mind running after the senses, but it is mistaken in seeking what it wants. The pot of nectar which the mind instinctively sees behind the objects of sense is the essence of Truth manifest in all things. It is the beauty that stares at our face. In all the manifestations of the world, God’s face shines through, it is true. This face of God that beautifully shines and smiles through the objects is the pot of nectar. It is in contact with the objects, in the same way as the pot was in contact with the grass. The instinctive mind cannot make this distinction. What is it that it sees there? And why is it that it will not get it, even if it sees something there? This is the way the mind sees objects and gets entangled in them. It seeks a perfection which is not there, yet which promises satisfaction, perfection and beauty.
When we see our own face in the mirror, can we grasp it? No, we cannot, because it is really not there. So it is possible to see certain things that are not there. Philosophers, saints and sages have given analogies and examples of various kinds to explain this situation. Some say the mind’s seeing pleasure in the objects is something like a person running after his own image in a mirror; some say it is a thorough misconception, like seeing a snake in a winding rope; some say it is like seeing water in a mirage; some say it is like seeing silver in mother-of-pearl. All these analogies convey a single purpose, that while we see something, it is not really there. And yet we run after it because we see something. It is not necessary that the things should be there. It is enough if we see it. What we want is perception, not substantiality.
Why does the mind in dream run after the pleasure centres? Don’t you have a good dinner in dream and quench your dream thirst with dream water? Are you not satisfied with a bandara in dream? Don’t you feel happy if you become a dream emperor? Why should non-existent things not satisfy you? Satisfaction can be had even if the counterpart is not there, if only the mind can imagine that the thing is there. The mind is the creator of freedom as well as bondage. Mana eva manushyanam karanam bandha-mokshayoh: The mind can free you and bind you. It can do both.