by Swami Krishnananda
The vision of life entertained in India has been called Darshana or perception of Truth, whose moods and manifestations have been adopted according to the various degrees and requisitions of people's practical existence. Nothing in the world has been more misunderstood than religion, because whatever be the hectic effort of the human mind to consider religious values as permanent, they have somehow managed to escape the grasp of the practical evaluations of life, and remain an isolated and future achievement which has segregated the secular from the spiritual. Even in the parliament of Britain there is the Lords Spiritual and Lords Temporal, the upper house and the lower house, the upper one consisting of spiritual leaders and the lower one consisting of temporal or secular leaders. It is difficult, usually, to bring about a rapprochement between vision and life; and if India has struggled to achieve anything worth the while, it is nothing but this harmony between vision and living. Conceptual perception and inward realisation have been recognised as the essential determinants of the daily routines of life.
Now, the way in which the spirit, or the religious value, shows its impact upon practical life depends upon the manner in which life itself is revealed before our eyes. What is life? If we can know what life actually means, we can also have an idea as to the way in which the spirit has to enliven it. If life is a pursuit of the spirit, naturally every routine of life is that. Every vocation is supposed to lead to this recognition of the spirit in the forms of life and, therefore, every form of life becomes a vehicle or a temple in which is enshrined this deity of the spirit.
The cultural values of this country are commensurate with the visions of all mystics the world over. This lofty vision was not the prerogative of the people in India of ancient times, because great men do not belong either to the East or the West; they are a category by themselves. They form a fraternity in their own way, and they live in a realm of eternity, as it were. People who are acquainted with the cultural values of the world, who have made a deep study of world history—especially cultural history—would also be aware of the similarity that exists, and must exist, among lofty thinkers of all times and climes. Whether it was Socrates, Plato, Plotinus or Meister Eckhart in the West, or Acharya Shankara, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Ramana Maharishi or Sri Aurobindo in the East, it makes no difference. They saw the same thing with their eyes, which were internal, indrawn, and far above the limitations of the visions of our fleshy eyeballs.
The manifestations of life are the vehicles through which the spirit has to manifest itself. This was the first recognition of the culture of India, and the recognition of any truly worthwhile, abiding culture. Where the spirit is absent, there is only a corpse. This does not require much of an explanation. If there is any branch of our life which is bereft of the spirit, it remains a corpse; and it will decay, decompose, perish into debris, and become only a matter of memory. Every limb of the body is charged with the prana shakti in us, which is the vitality; therefore, there is no lifeless part in our body because the spirit is permeating and pervading every part of it. Likewise, if life is to be permeated with the spirit of the aspiration of man in general, it has to be a harmonious completeness. The great masters of yore in India—the subject which we are dilating upon here—contemplated the various manifestations and ramifications of human life, and girt up their loins to see that the flow of the spirit through the channels of life is maintained perennially, so that Bharatiya samskriti becomes sanatana samskriti.
What are the avenues through which we see life manifesting itself? Our needs are the pointers to these various branches of human life. Life manifests itself in various branches because of the needs felt by man, and the conduct of the human being in the various directions of his desires and aspirations may be said to be the various facets of his life. We have a necessity for security—a desire, we may say, which arises on account of our placement as physical finitudes, a fact which an investigative understanding did not forget to notice. The lofty aspiration for contact with the Supreme Being did not ignore the shambles in which human nature is engrossed and the weaknesses to which human nature is generally subject—the needs which the various aspects of the human personality cannot ignore. Thus, it was the wisdom of the masters that felt the need for classifying human life into the various fields of activity through which the needs of the human being can be fulfilled in the requisite proportion.
We have the need for protection and sustenance. This need arises on account of our being among many individuals; we are a society of people. This was the first and foremost vision that could be available to any prosaic perception, and inasmuch as there are individuals with similar aspirations and weaknesses scattered in different directions, there arises a necessity to bring about a harmonious coordination among the internal urges of the different types of individualities. What is individuality but the affirmation of an ego—an assertion of one's own self? The affirmation of oneself naturally conflicts with the similar affirmations of other selves, because it is impossible to live in the world with a total self-affirmative spirit which has no concern with other similar affirming centres.
Students and historians of political science have held the opinion that originally people lived in a state of nature—like wild animals, as it were. There was no security for any individual, as there is no security for animals in the forest. What security, what protection, what safeguard is there for a poor deer in the jungle? At any time it can be pounced upon by a wild beast. Which creature, which crawling insect, can regard itself as safe? Such was the pitiable state of man once upon a time, says the school of political science led by Thomas Hobbes, a great political thinker of Britain. There must be some great truth in what he says, and he propounds this doctrine to tell us how governments originated. An opinion of this kind is also promulgated—somewhat similarly, though not identically—by Bhishma in the Raja-dharma section of the Santi Parva of the Mahabharata. The necessity for rule, administration or government arose on account of a need felt by people for mutual security.
But the theology of Hindus—the religious vision of India, we may say—has something different to say in the light of the cycles of time, which it regards as very powerfully determining the conditions of living. We are told about the four yugas—Krita Yuga, Treta Yuga, Dvapara Yuga, Kali Yuga. The age of truth, satya or perfection is called Krita Yuga or Satya Yuga. It is the millennium, the golden age of utter harmony and supreme peace. Bhishma said there was no government in Krita Yuga, and perhaps this is also mentioned by Sri Krishna in the Eleventh Skanda of the Srimad Bhagavata. There were no scriptures, and there were no teachers of religion. There was no administration because each individual was a crystal, as it were, which reflected every other crystal of individuality so that everything was reflected in everything else. There was no hardboiled isolation of our physical encasement that we see today. People were like mirrors, as it were—clean glass, crystal—who could feel their presence in everything in their proximity. This state of life, naturally, did not require any external control or mandates.
A necessity for external control arises when that which requires to be controlled does not know the way in which it has to conduct itself in relation to others. When any particular individual or group of individuals loses sight of the goal towards which total humanity is moving, a need arises for regulating the movement of this aberrant section of mankind, and then comes the need for a system of government. The epics and the Puranas tell us that this was the beginning of Treta Yuga.
In some Puranas, such as the Vayu Purana, we are told such fantastic things about the conditions that prevailed in Krita Yuga, or Satya Yuga, that we would wonder whether such things could be possible at all. Tilling land was not necessary, as the harvest seemed to grow automatically of its own accord. People did not die prematurely. There were no courts of legal jurisdiction because there were no quarrels and no differences of opinion among people; there were no courts of justice, no advocates of law, no legal enactments, no system of ethics or morality. All these were out of point in a kingdom of values where everything was perfect to the core. The sun shone as it ought to shine, and rain fell as it ought to fall. Such enrapturing visions are given to us in some sections of these Puranas.
There was a deterioration of things, and then people required a ruler. The beginning of the system of administration is a story which is told by various people in different ways. The great metaphysicians of the West, such as Hegel, are of the opinion that the need for harmony by way of political administration arises on account of the reflection of the Absolute in the particulars. This is a highly philosophical reading of the working of political governments in one's life, and there is also great truth in this opinion. The need for harmony is the need for a government, because every individual resents a chaotic state of existence, a life which is bereft of any kind of relation with others. If anyone loves anything in life, it is harmony and orderliness. The philosopher's opinion is that the need for orderliness in life is the reflection of God in individuals.
God is Perfection, the Absolute, the highest harmony that one can imagine. Inasmuch as it is an Eternal presence, it is also present in the scattered particulars, even in the farthest aberrant movements of the physical individualities of human beings. Even in the widest departures of the human individual from the centre of Truth, Truth does not leave the individual; it pursues him wherever he goes. God is present even in the vilest of individuals, and the Absolute moves with its affirmations even in the farthest corners of human departure. This is the philosophical explanation given by Hegel and others for the need people feel for political security. And it may be true, at the same time, that in spite of this philosophical background of the need felt by people for administrative systems, the empirical beginning of administrative circles might have been as described by Hobbes. People sat together and conferred that it is pointless to fight among themselves, and so they needed a kind of order and system in their existence. They appointed an authority, which we may call the monarch or any type of administrative head, who is supposed to work in collaboration with the machinery that is set up to implement the ideals and ideologies that are the aspirations of man and any group of individuals.
This prosaic and perhaps grossest form of human need was not ignored. The Artha Shastras of ancient India are regarded as equally important as the Moksha Shastras or the other sciences, because while moksha is the liberation of the spirit, it was borne in mind by the wise men of yore that this liberation is effected gradually by untying the knots, one by one, from the lowest to the highest. This was really a penetrating vision which went to the very core of the problems of life and could not afford to ignore anything that is relevant to this freedom of the spirit, which is the ultimate aim.
But with the degeneration of time the vision gradually blurred and, unfortunately, became adulterated with the sensory and egoistic affirmations of the body. Life in the spirit became somehow identified with a vision of the future, and practical life became a matter of the present. Though it has been told again and again that the aim of life is an eternal presence and not a futurity of achievement, whatever be the number of times we may be told this truth, it is easy to forget the vital relationship that exists between practical involvement and ideal aspiration.