by Swami Krishnananda
You must have already gathered, to some extent, the structure of the whole approach to the project of study and training. At the very outset, it is necessary for every one of you to undergo what is usually called a deconditioning of the mind by freeing yourself from all earlier prepossessions of thought, predilections and conceived notions of life, whether they have been introduced into your mind by family circumstances, by the cultural pattern of your country, by political atmospheres, or whatever the reason be. Therefore, do not listen to these instructions and undergo these studies with preconceived notions. Inasmuch as it is a process of learning, receiving and imbibing what may be considered entirely new to many of you, it is important to keep your mind as a clean slate. This is because there would be no necessity to undergo any training or do any study of this type whatsoever if things were already clear to your mind.
You are all fairly grown-up persons with some sort of an understanding of what life is, and yet you must have felt that this understanding is inadequate and it was not able to serve your purpose. Whatever be the education that you have undergone and the social position that you may occupy, you must have felt that there is something more than all these things, and there is something dissatisfying, or rather distressing, which is keeping you uneasy. This problem or knot in the psyche of your personality has to be broken through, and the fortress of this ignorance has to be broken open, for which a new type of adventure has to be embarked upon.
The reason why we do not seem to be satisfied with our studies or learning, or with our possessions or with our social position is that we have a horrible misconception about all these things. We have never understood things in their proper spirit, and never seen things as they really are in themselves. We have always a blinkered vision of things, obstructed or narrowed down and limited to the conditions of our own present state of personality, and we have never a broad vision which is applicable for the generality of thought proper.
Every human being has many layers of impulse, and these layers or strata of personality are arranged in such a manner that a human being may be said to be more of a composite admixture of elements, factors and categories rather than an indivisible substance. Though we may appear to be solid bodies, impregnable substances, we are not so. Neither chemically, physiologically, biologically or even psychologically are we indivisible, impregnable substances. This so-called personality of ours is a combination of various features, factors, conditions, presuppositions, impulses, urges, longings, frustrations, etc., such that it will be difficult for us in sober moments even to believe that there is anything real and substantial in us at all. We seem to be floating bubbles appearing to be robust, but there is a hollowness inside; and this emptiness or vacuum that sometimes manifests itself outside is the reason for our restlessness in life.
Mostly we consider ourselves to be adequate, or not inadequate in any manner, but the truth of the matter comes out occasionally when we realise that we are not as important as we imagine ourselves to be. There are powers in the world which can foil us in one second, and there are energies which cannot be controlled by us. There are conditions of life on which we hang abjectly, and which have such a clutch over us that it is very difficult to believe what amount of independence we have in this world.
These are facts that will come to the surface of your consciousness only if you analyse yourself and study yourself deeply like a good psychologist or scientist, not like a housewife or an officer or a father or mother, or a rich man, businessman, industrialist as this is not the way in which you have to look upon yourself. You are an entity which has to be studied dispassionately in a psychoanalytical manner and diagnosed in a medical fashion, as it were. When you conduct this search within your own self, you will be flabbergasted to know that you are quite different altogether from what normal mankind would imagine itself to be.
Thus, there seems to be a good reason why we keep ourselves unhappy throughout our life. When we look at the world, we take for granted that everything is fine, but everything is not fine. There is some mystery behind the world, the very world that we see with our eyes. Some secret operation is going on behind the screen of the world, as it were, which is the reason for the vicissitudes of human life and the turmoil of political existence, and anything that takes place in human history. There seems to be something behind the visible phenomena of nature, controlling all things, due to which nobody in this world seems to have any say in any matter whatsoever. Everybody seems to be a dancing puppet. Even emperors danced to the tune of these inscrutable voices operating behind the screen of the world, and they have gone to kingdom come. Empires and emperors, men and women, rich and poor, good and bad, necessary and unnecessary everything has gone to a no-man’s land.
This is the vista before us, which can not only frighten us, but can stimulate a sense of wonder and inquisitiveness in regard to the very atmosphere in which we are living. This sort of enquiry, this way of questioning, this method of doubting and wondering is what we may call the beginning of philosophy. It is in the nature of the very core of the human being to go into the roots of these problems in life, when there is a dissatisfaction with the normal demands of human nature. We do not become philosophers as long as the world satisfies us, but a time must come and a time will come when things cannot satisfy us. They will appear as meaningless presentations before us, tantalising us, deceiving us, tricking us and hoodwinking us into certain temptations and beliefs over which for the time being we may have no control and into which we have no insight.
We cannot be deceived for all times, though we can be deceived for some time. A day may come when the world cannot any more deceive us. We begin to detect some mischief that is working behind the scenes and distracting us from our intentions and keeping us under a subjection of illusion, and then it is that we become dissatisfied with everything. We cannot be satisfied with either our learning, or our wealth, our friends or with anything that is seen in this world. We begin to suspect there is something wrong in this world. A dissatisfaction creeps into the very vitals of our personality, and we do not want to speak any more. We begin to believe that we have been deceived throughout our life by the phenomena of the world political, social, economic, personal, everything put together.
Here begins the philosopher’s task. An enquiry into the true reason of things is philosophy. Philosophy does not mean a system of thinking like that of Kant or Hegel, Plato or Aristotle, or Nyaya or Vaisheshika, so these names may be brushed aside for the time being. Though there is a lot to learn from all these systems of thinking, we need not go into the jargon and labels of philosophic thinking. We are more concerned with the vitality of our own personal life what is most practical and immediately useful and do not merely go after academic knowledge of either ancient or mediaeval times.
‘Philosophy’ is a word that we use to comprehend that system of operation of our mind or consciousness by which, it being not satisfied by anything that is visible or tangible, finds a necessity to probe into the structure or the reality that is behind what is visible and tangible. A philosophy is, therefore, a system of the operation of our deepest consciousness, by which we try to contact the very substance of the universe. We are now catching phantoms, and are running after the shadows of the originals. The originals are not visible to us. When we see a cinematic projection on a screen, it is merely shadows dancing on the screen that we enjoy; the originals are not there. Nevertheless, the shadows carry a semblance of the original, due to which it is that we seem to enjoy even the dancing shadows on the screen.
The world seems to be satisfying on account of a peculiar characteristic of it being a reflection or a shadow of an original. The fact of its being a shadow of the original which is really there is the reason why there is a semblance of satisfaction in this world. But there is a great misconstruing of the modus operandi of these satisfactions, and we have literally put the cart before the horse and are seeing everything topsy-turvy, upside down, and not as the world really is.
If I do not see you as you really are, you will not be satisfied with me, and if you do not see me as I am, but interpret me from your own peculiar narrowed vision of things, I will not be satisfied with you. Thus is the relation obtaining between us and the world. The world will not be pleased with us if we misconstrue its operations, read wrong meanings into its workings, and try to exploit our vision of the world for our own individual purposes. In a similar manner, we too will not be satisfied with the world. Neither is the world going to take care of us, protect us or even mind our existence, nor are we going to be satisfied. There is a mutual tug-of-war going on between man and the universe, and it is continuing even today. Neither has there been an indication that the world is satisfied with us, nor is there any indication that we are going to be satisfied with the world. There seems to be a total chaos of presentation of values in the world.
Here is the drama of human sorrow. We are not born into sorrow in the world; we are born as small babies, laughing, smiling, crawling, and seeing the world as an arena of a sort of personal and social satisfaction. It is only when time passes that nature begins to unleash her forces and show her teeth. We have often been told by poets that nature can be red in tooth and claw, if the time for it comes. Nature is not always red; she hides her teeth and claws. Even a tiger’s claws are not always visible, and are projected only when they are necessary. Nature has unleashed these weapons like an army, and devastated empires and foiled the efforts of man. Not even the best of men have succeeded in this world. They have been taken into the limbo, thrown into the dust and covered up, and no one knows where what has gone.
This is distressing information that we gather by studying our own experiences in this world. Dissatisfaction with the initial view of things is supposed to be the mother of all philosophy. A satisfied man cannot be a philosopher, because this satisfaction is make-believe. It is a whitewash; it is like a balloon, with no substance inside it.
The dissatisfaction with the surface view of things, which I said is the beginning of philosophical studies, is also, at the same time, a satisfaction, which is the other side of having discovered the causes of the sorrows of mankind. A physician is very happy if he finds that he has really gone deep and diagnosed the root of a chronic illness to which there had been no cure. "Oh, here is the matter! I have found out the cause." To discover a cause is itself a great joy. So on the one hand the philosopher is a dissatisfied person dissatisfied in the sense that nothing in the world can satisfy him. On the other hand, no true philosopher can be satisfied until he has grasped the very basic roots of the problems of life.
Hence, a philosopher lives in two worlds, the phenomenal and the noumenal, as they are generally called. A philosopher lives in this world. He can see you, he can speak to you, he can understand you, he can guide you, he can understand your difficulties, and he may suggest a panacea for your problems; yet, he does not belong to this world, having rooted himself in a substance which is not of this world. A good physician can know every aspect of an illness without actually suffering from it. A true philosopher is one who has a correct grasp of every operation in this world of phenomena, and yet stands above it as a spectator of time and existence. As the great Plato once said, a philosopher is a spectator of existence at all times, and is not involved in the activity of nature. He is like an umpire; he does not take part in the game, but he knows both sides very well.
I began by telling you that you must first decondition your minds and forget all that you have studied, because though you might have learnt something, it may not be sufficient for you. There is a necessity to conduct the thoughts in a new way altogether now, because philosophy is not merely subject matter to be swallowed by your mind but, more properly, it is an art of conducting the thought itself. It is not a substance that you eat, but a method that you adopt in the very operation of your thinking.
Philosophy, therefore, is an art of thinking, rather than a substance that goes into your psyche. It is not importing of some knowledge from outside; that is not the actual task. The knowledge is inside you already; we have only to remove the debris that covers it. Thus it is that you are straightened, aligned, made whole, properly adjusted in your personality, streamlined from every point of view by philosophical studies. You become wise, as it is usually said. The wisdom of life is the substance of philosophy. The wisdom of life is not learning what is in books, and it is not even academic information. It is a tremendous common sense that you exercise in the light of the insight that you have gained into the relationship that really obtains between you and the world outside.
Now, I have used the word 'world' several times, as if its meaning is very clear. You have heard this word uttered in many places, and you have some sort of idea what this world is, but this idea is not sufficient. This insufficient notion about the world is the cause of your insufficient satisfaction. It is not easy to know what this world is. Even a child will peep through the window and ask from where the world has come. How this world has come? From where has it come? This question of a baby is the beginning of philosophical enquiry. Do you not wonder what all this is? How have you grown into what you are today? How have things happened, and why should they happen at all? What is history? What is astronomy? What is human adventure? Why are you here at all? The final question raises its head as a tremendous apostrophe before you: Why are you in this world at all? What for? What would it be to the world if you were not to be? What would you gain and what would you lose by being or not being yourself?
The question of the very purpose and meaning of existence arises when we investigate into the composite structure of the world and ourselves, which involves the relation between ourselves and the world. There is not only a world in front of us, and it is not merely that we are here as observers of the world; there is also a sort of coordination between ourselves and the world. All the activities of humanity today, in the interest of social solidarity and political organisations, etc., are movements of humanity in the direction of establishing a proper relationship among people.
We do not know what sort of relationship is there between one and another, what to speak of the relationship between the whole of humanity and the world outside. There is a lot to know when we go deep into these difficult subjects. There is, first of all, a need to know the proper relation obtaining between the constituent parts of our own personality, physically as well as psychologically. There is then the necessity to know the relationship that obtains among people what sort of connection obtains among ourselves here. There is a third necessity, which is to know the relationship that is between the whole of living beings and the world of nature. These are startling questions, but unavoidable problems. No one can be at peace in this world without receiving some sort of a satisfactory answer to these great questions that must arise in the minds of everyone one day or the other. What am I? What are these people, and what is this world? This, in a broad outline, may be said to be the foundation of philosophical studies.
Right from ancient times, people have scratched their heads and wracked their brains trying to get an answer to these questions. But, from where will the answers come? Will they drop from the skies? The answers do not easily come because what we call the answer to these questions is a method of acquiring knowledge, the process of enlightenment into the structure or the reality of things. How do we gain knowledge of anything at all? This is the primary question that philosophical studies take upon themselves. The problem of knowledge is the initial problem of philosophical studies.
How do we know anything at all? Inasmuch as all our attempts are to know, we must first of all be aware of how we can know anything. What instruments have we? What apparatus are we wielding in ourselves? Are we competent to know anything at all? Knowledge is a process conducted by the knower yourself, myself, whoever it is in respect of that which is to be known. The object of knowledge has to be set in a particular relationship with the subject that knows, and this proper streamlining of the relationship between the object to be known and the subject that knows is the task of the whole knowing process.
We do not seem to be clearly acquainted with anything in this world. We have wrong notions of our friends, the people around us, our neighbours, our government, and things in general. We have some sort of glib information about the general structure of things, and most of it is incorrect. Even if we gaze directly into a thing, it cannot be said that we have understood that thing correctly. Even if we go on gazing at something for years together, we cannot know what it is made of because there seems to be a need to employ a newer technique of knowing. Mere gross sensory operation and the usual social etiquette do not seem to have succeeded in giving us a correct knowledge of things.
This is why we have, finally, a deep sorrow within ourselves. When we become elderly we begin to feel that we have done nothing worthwhile in this world, and we go to where we know not. We have known nothing about things, but somehow we have dragged this cart of our body through life and managed to pull through these exigencies of personal and social existence. Somehow we have got on; but getting on is not really living. We may somehow get on in life, but that is different from living a real life. An unsatisfied getting on, an anxiety-ridden living, a problem-laden existence is not life. It is a sort of wretchedness, which is the fate of most people in the world. We want to get over these forms of malady that seem to be descending upon us.
Thus we are here, seeking some avenue of approach to tear this cobweb of our ignorance, to know things as they really are, to grasp the destiny of our own souls, and to see what we can do in this world. God bless us with this knowledge.