by Swami Krishnananda
Man’s life on earth is a continuous flow of events, and no event seems to be lasting. There is always a desire to grasp and hold something else, something different from and better than what is possessed at the present. This longing appears to have no end, and it does not seem to lead one to any definite goal. There are only anxiety, vexation, craving and dissatisfaction visible everywhere. Unrest and pain are seen riding over all things in the world. The drama of life is but a show of shifting scenes, and no amount of worldly satisfaction does appear to save one from this ceaseless anguish which follows every failure in the achievement of one’s desired end. Youth fades like the evening flower, strength vanishes like the rent cloud, and the beauty of the body quickly gives way to the ugliness of death. All things are certain to pass away either today or tomorrow. Nothing will live. The man of now is not seen in the next moment. The pleasure-centres of the human being mock at him for his folly, and he realises that all that he enjoys is not worth the striving. Earthly prosperity is not free from the tyranny of subsequent misery, and only after several kicks and blows is life learnt to be an essenceless desert where water is not to be found to quench one’s thirst. There are occasions when one feels that no increase in health or wealth, no gain and no profit here can be a reason for one to rejoice. In the sorrow of the quest for the transient joys of life, man seems to die every moment and quickly regain his identity now and then, only to repeat the unhappy process endlessly. He is whirled round in the storm of life’s turmoils, and tormented by the substanceless appearances of his erroneous perceptions. Tons of the loads of life seem to be weighing heavy upon his weak shoulders, and he sits forlorn contemplating his unknown future. He is gripped by fear, desire, worry and uneasiness continually. Everything hurries forward; now it is, now not.
The way out of this deplorable predicament is not clearly seen by man who has mistaken the love of the tantalising semblances of pleasure for the delights that he is seeking in his life’s endeavours, though the presence of such a way is implied in the griping dissatisfaction which he feels with whatever is presented to him in experience, and the consequent urge towards something more than all that he can ever hope to think. But is there any such way, really? Yes; it lies in the turning of the tables round, the directing of our search inwards, from things that pass away from the scene quickly, to that which promises greater permanency, wider freedom and deeper satisfaction. This inward quest for the permanent is the march of man towards Truth, which is changeless existence. “It is in the nature of man to strive for happiness, but all the happiness which he can gain by his actions is only of limited duration. The enjoyments of the senses are transient, and the senses themselves are worn out by too much enjoyment; further, sin generally accompanies these enjoyments and makes man unhappy beyond comparison. Even if the pleasures of the world are enjoyed as much as their nature permits, if they are as intense, as various and as uninterrupted as possible, yet old age approaches, and with it death. And the enjoyments of heaven are in reality not more enviable than these pleasures of the senses; they are of the same nature, although more unmixed and durable. Moreover, they come to an end; for they are gained by actions, and as these latter are finite, their effect must also be finite. In one word, there is necessarily an end to all those enjoyments and what avails us beyond the moment of enjoyment. It is therefore in the nature of man to look out for an unchangeable, infinite happiness which must come from a being in which there is no change—if such a being can be found, it is only from it that man attains an unalterable happiness, and if this be so, this being must become the sole object of all his aspiration and actions. This being is not very far. It resides in your heart” (Lectures on Yoga and Vedanta, p.97).
Human life is a process of knowledge. All knowledge implies a subject or a knower, whose relation to an object manifests knowledge. The existence of the knower in an act of knowledge cannot be doubted, for without a knower there is no knowledge, and without knowledge there is no experience. The whole of one’s life is constituted of various forms of experience, and all experience is attended with consciousness. Consciousness has always to be in relation with the subject or the knower. Without a knowing self there is no objective knowledge. The experience of a world outside would become impossible if it is not to be given to a knowing subject. The fact of the known implies the truth of a knower. Even thinking would lose its meaning without our tacitly admitting the existence of our own self. This self reveals itself as the centre of all the knowledge which illumines every form of human activity. “All activities can, ultimately, be reduced to a kind of knowledge. It is some form of knowledge that fulfils itself through external action. Knowledge determines the texture of action, the course of action and even the nature of the end aimed at by action. Knowledge, here, becomes a stimulus to action, a means to the achievement of a goal beyond, and so something not valuable in itself, but valuable in relation to some other thing which it subserves. Such is the character of human knowledge. And even in human knowledge there are degrees. Some possess more of it, some less. By knowledge we evidently mean here knowledge of something other than knowledge itself. When we have more knowledge about the nature of a thing, we have also more control over it; our activity in the form of the effort of conquering it is less encumbered and so less difficult; our relation to that thing is more intimate, i.e., the psychic distance between us and the thing becomes less; and we enjoy it more fully and really. We possess the thing securely, to some extent, and are free from all anxiety about the thing when the thing is nearest to us,—not merely physically but psychically, and this latter aspect is more important than the former; perhaps it is the only important factor,—and it is here that our knowledge of the thing is widest and deepest. Logically, we should have the greatest knowledge of and power over a thing when it is non-distinguished from our existence, and we enjoy it the best when we become it. The thing may be any particular entity—one thing, two things, a thousand things, or even the whole universe itself. Thingness is only a synecdochical expression for the entire mass of objective existence. Here the knowledge of the thing is really not of it, but is the knowledge of our own widened and expanded self. Our knowledge and our existence are one. Hence the highest knowledge of anything consists in Self-knowledge, in the knowledge of the Self which is higher than the natural and the narrow individual self. Knowledge is not a means to some other end, but it is the end itself. Knowing is being” (The Divine Life, Vol. XVI, p.148).
Human consciousness at once presupposes the authenticity of the existence of a personal being, which is the root of this consciousness. The very meaning of human consciousness is objectivity which sets in opposition the subject or the self against the non-subject or the not-self. The individuality of the subject and the object is the necessary condition of all forms of perception or knowledge in the world. Individual consciousness and individual existence are inseparable. The very first truism that the individual is faced with in experience is the awareness of the existence of something which it cannot consider as its own self. This is the starting point of active thinking and action.
The subject is confronted with an urgent need of developing a relationship with the universe which seems to stare at it as the not-self. This need marks the nature of the struggle of life as a whole,—its purpose, method and goal. The need for external relation, however, is the outcome of a practical want felt in oneself, a want of thoroughness and genuineness in one’s own being. This is the basic hypothesis upon which is constructed the edifice of philosophical speculation. Self-consciousness refuses to rest blind and idle. It stimulates mental and physical activity, a postulate which demands no reason. The value of life is determined by the characteristics of the effects of this activity. The sense of value is based on the extent, the depth and, consequently, the longevity of the experience of satisfaction in the self. The worth and the righteous nature of all activity is, therefore, dependent on how far it nears the supreme form of knowledge and happiness which is the standard set by the results of the computation of the degrees of perfection as determined by the urge for completeness felt within. The nature of this knowledge and happiness remains to be found out.
The acts of life show that the individual consciously and voluntarily acts because of the joys which are felt by the self as their consequence. An action is a transformation of a being from one condition to another, which, naturally, is the effect of the inability of the individual to rest perpetually in any given condition. It is observed that all actions, mental or physical, have a special nature of being directed to some one or the other of the forms in which the not-self appears. The impossibility to withhold conscious action leads us to the conclusion that there must be an intimate and permanent connection between the subjective conscious being and objective existence. The fact that the vaster the subjective form included in the self’s relations and the nearer it is to the self, the greater is the intensity of consciousness and happiness experienced by the self, points the way to the true nature of Reality. The highest knowledge and bliss must be thus the result of a self-merging of existence in consciousness. This is tantamount to a dissolution of the not-self in an all-comprehensive Self, the disappearance of objectivity in self-identical awareness (Vide, The Divine Life, Vol. XII, p.149). The Self is thus beyond all proof, it being the basis of proof. None can ever doubt its existence, for the acceptance of it is the foundation of all knowledge and action. The one who attempts to deny it asserts it unconsciously by the very act of such a denial, for it is the essence of the denier himself. The denier cannot deny himself, and the doubter cannot doubt his own existence. Thinking implies a thinker, doubting a doubter, and knowledge a knower.
The knower or the self cannot be a thing subject to development or process of evolution, as some thinkers opine, for development would mean the cessation of the self at some particular instant of time. Change means the ending of one condition and the beginning of another different from the previous one. If the self is to undergo change, it has to modify its essence in the course of time, so that there would be nothing like a permanently enduring subject of knowledge. That the essence of the self cannot be changed or developed becomes clear from the fact that even change or development would not be known without the assumption of a synthesising consciousness behind the process of change. If the self is to be accepted to be changeless and an ever-enduring being, it ought to mean naturally that it is different from process or development or evolution. The self is non-temporal, is not involved in the time-process, for time is an object of its knowledge.
The self is not a product of past development. The view of Prof. Taylor that the self has for its exclusive material our emotional interests and purposive attitudes towards the various constituents of our surroundings cannot be accepted for the reason that no kind of process can be admitted into the self. A purposive attitude is a psychical condition, changing, and so dying to itself, and not identical with the self. Even the continuity of a pervading purpose has to become the object of consciousness, for, otherwise, such a purpose cannot exist as a reality. We know of no reality which is unrelated to consciousness in some way or the other. There cannot be a process without something in which it appears or of which it is a temporal condition. A purpose or interest is a temporal flow which ought to become an object of knowledge. There is no flowing without something that flows, or without a ground on which there is a flow. There cannot be mere flying without something that flies. A sustained purpose or an interest is only the maintenance of a continuous psychic function animated by an underlying consciousness which is different from it. Else, when interests change, the self would also change. There would not be the continuity of the I-consciousness in a person, if a consciousness does not persist in all the changes that the personality undergoes in the course of life. The self is not a mere organisation of mental acts, or a bundle of feelings and volitions, but a consciousness that is indivisible. One cannot be aware of an organised system unless the elements or parts constituting it are brought together by a relation of consciousness which itself is not one of the elements forming the system. The self is, therefore, a transcendent consciousness bringing order to all relational phenomena, but itself remaining beyond all relations.
The view that the self is a monad, spiritual in nature but different from other monads forming the psycho-physical organism, does not stand scrutiny. If the self is a unit centralised among diverse psychic contents or the parts constituting the body, its relation to the latter becomes unintelligible. Is the spiritual monad identical with the contents of the organism, or different from them? If it is different from the organismic contents, it cannot be called the self of man, for then it would remain unrelated to the other parts which are equally essential to the personality of man. Moreover, one could not know that one has an individual organ, for it would lie outside the knowledge of the monad, it having been supposed that it has no relation to the outward organism. If the monad has a relation to the psychical and the physical contents, it would cease to be a simple monad, self-existing and unrelated, so that we would have to accept that the self pervades the entire organism, and that the latter has no existence independent of the former.