by Swami Krishnananda
Philosophy is supposed to be the investigation into the causes of phenomena which are around us and in which we also are involved. We see things happening, events taking place, but mostly we do not know why they occur at all. We can observe winds blowing, rain falling, the sun getting hot, etc. as a routine affair in our daily life, but many of us will not be able to explain why the winds should blow. Why should it rain a particular time? Why is the sun hot or cold, as the case may be? Why are things what they are? Questions of this kind have often evinced or evoked no proper answer. We find ourselves many a time helpless in knowing what is happening at all in this world, and why we are what we are.
The only thing that seems to be impinging upon us and has a direct effect upon our life is a series of troubles, responsibilities, difficulties, problems and the like, which we confront every day. Even if we are daily confronting problems, responsibilities and troubles, many of us, educated though we may be, may not know what our problems are. People many a time complain of difficulties in life. If we ask them, “Give a list of all your difficulties,” they will not be able to make a list. There is a chaos even in thinking about one’s daily confrontations. “What are your problems, sir, about which you are daily complaining? Tell me all your problems. How many are they?” It will be very difficult to enumerate these problems. Even those problems which we are facing daily with open eyes do not seem to be very clear to our mind.
Our ancient seers and masters have boiled down all these problems or confrontations in life to three categories: troubles that arise from within our own selves, troubles that arise from people and living beings outside, and troubles that arise from sources that are usually called celestial in their nature, such as cataclysms, drought, earthquake and thunderstorms. By ‘celestial’ we do not actually mean coming from the gods in heaven, but from that which is above the earth, above our normal ken of operations.
If you would not mind me using one or two Sanskrit words, I may tell you how these ancient masters have designated these problems. Troubles that arise from within our own selves are called adhyatma. Here atma means one’s own self, whatever be the concept of our self. The so-called ‘me’ is called atma. We have problems arising from our own self. We have a headache, stomach trouble, indigestion, fatigue, fever; we have mental disturbance, are worried, have emotional tension and sleeplessness. All these may be considered as problems arising from one’s own self. They are called adhyatmika problems, or psychophysical problems. Adhyatmika may be translated as psychophysical—arising from the mind and body.
There is another major problem involved in our personal life—the death of this body, which we may not categorise with these well-known problems. This body has to be cast off one day. That is the greatest problem, we may say, among all others considered in total. The worst problem is the event of impending death in this world, which is unavoidable. Good man or bad man, high or low, rich or poor—everybody has to go. As the poet tells us, sceptre and crown shall tumble down; king and beggar will be razed to the ground. We will not know the difference between this and that when death takes place. And it can take place any day. This also is a very serious matter before us.
We have other problems, such as problems from people. We say, “Oh, what is this world! See how people are behaving!” There is political tension, social tension, communal tension, animosity, hatred, quarrelling, war. These troubles that arise from outside are called adhibhautika—socio-physical, we may say. The first one was psychophysical; this is socio-physical. Here the word ‘physical’ may include political, communal, and so on. And the third variety of trouble is what I mentioned earlier. We do not know when it will rain; and when it rains, it may come with an unexpected force. Or rain may not come. We complain of drought, famine, and so on. Everything in the world—all events in the world—have been classified into this threefold enumeration of human confrontation.
In this predicament of our having to face a threefold responsibility, what are we going to do? If we just casually look at this situation with our mental eye, we will find that we will not be able to take even one step forward. There is nothing that we can do. “I feel totally helpless in this matter,” is what we may feel. But, we also have something in us which tells us oftentimes that things are not as bad as they appear. If everything is utterly meaningless, chaotic and helpless, we will not be able to lift a finger and will not have any impulse to do anything in this world. If everything is a chaos, what can we do?
Together with this particular level of our psyche which tells us that things are almost beyond our control, there is another element in us—a part of our psyche itself, we may say—which tells us there is always a hope for the future. Among many other types of hope that we entertain in this world, one of the most intriguing hopes is that we are not going to die tomorrow, though there is no saying as to why we feel like that. Who told us that tomorrow is not the last day? But, let anybody say anything, “I know very well it cannot be tomorrow.” Who is telling us that it cannot be tomorrow? This is the higher aspect of our personality, which lifts us above the involved consciousness—the mind that is involved in phenomena, to which I made a reference briefly. We have, as they say, a lower nature and also a higher nature. The lower nature makes us feel that we are puppets among people. “What can I do in this vast sea of humanity? I am one among many; I can do nothing. Problems are manifold, and I am single.” This is the lower nature speaking. The frailty of the physical body, the ignorance of the mind, and the finitude of individuality itself in the midst of a large society of people—this consciousness of ours is actually our lower nature saying that we are just small units in this world of humanity, of nature as a whole.
Do we not we feel very helpless and little before this vast astronomical universe? Look at the sun and the moon and the stars; look at this vast sky. No one knows where it ends, where it begins. Modern science and physics sometimes tell us that the stars are receding and the universe is expanding, and they rush into outer space with speed incalculable, and with distance between them which is measured in what are called light years. The speed of light is 186,000 miles per second, and the distance light travels with this speed for one year is a light year. And millions of light years—enough to make us feel giddy even by thinking about this—such is the distance, they say, that obtains among the stars which seem to be studded in the sky like diamonds before our naked eye. What are we before these things? We are very small creatures crawling on the surface of the Earth, and the Earth is considered to be a very tiny dot in the galaxy—even among the planets in the solar system. Everywhere we seem to be cornered from all sides, and we seem to be nothing before the might of the astronomical universe and the sea of humanity around us. Is this our fate, finally? Sometimes we feel that it is. Nothing can be done before this mighty universe. It is beyond us; all things are above us and beyond us. Uncontrollable is this whole situation, astronomical as well as social.
But there is, as I mentioned, a higher nature in us which tells us that we can conquer nature. We want to probe into the mystery of existence; we want to control mankind; we would even like to become the emperor of the whole earth, if we can. Practically, it seems not to be a possibility. But there is a feeling inside that it can happen. “I can rule this whole world, under given conditions. I can control the phenomena of nature by certain operations, by investigations, by experiments and observations. I can overcome the world, control it, master it, use it and harness it.” Such desires are also in our mind. So we seem to be double personalities—sinking, as it were, on one side, and raising ourselves to incredible heights on the other side. We are small and big at the same time. We are finite; we are also infinite.
This is an introductory presentation of the circumstances of life in which you seem to be involved. All this has to be probed into very, very thoroughly. The structure of these situations, as well as their causes, must be studied. This investigative process, this in-depth analysis of human situation, is called philosophical study. Philosophy does not mean any particular doctrine or school of thought, as you may imagine or might have been told. Philosophy is not a school of thought of a particular historical occasion or time. It is the attempt of the mind to probe into the causes of events in the world, circumstances of every kind. This is the attitude of philosophy.
The ancient masters have taken time to go deep into this circumstance of life and took the initial step with what one can consider as the immediate fact of life. You have heard that there is a thing called yoga. Yoga actually means union with the fact of life. Without going into technological jargon, briefly and simply we may define yoga as union with the fact of life. Now, what that fact of life is, it is up to you to find out. Or we may say, union with Reality in every degree of its manifestation is yoga. You have to be in union with every fact of life and every degree of Reality, if possible at all times, at every time. This is the purpose of yoga.
Let us take into consideration the immediate fact of life, which seems to be before us as an indubitable presentation about which you have no doubt at all. I am taking you to a peculiar mental operation where you have to concentrate your mind carefully. When you say “a fact of life” or “a reality of life”, which meaning is etymologically, grammatically, clear before you, what do you actually mean? A thing about which you have no doubt at all may be regarded as a fact. If something is dubious and uncertain, that cannot be categorised as a fact—because it may not be a fact, inasmuch as you have a doubt about it. Is there anything at all in this world about which you have no doubt? People say this world exists; some people say this world does not exist as it appears before our eyes. People say that things are very bad; some people say, no, they appear to be bad but there is something else behind it. All kinds of things are told historically, economically, geographically, geologically, astronomically, whatever it is. As science advances, the previous discoveries are cast out as not facts. Centuries of scientific advancement are before us, and we will find that even great scientists such as Newton are considered as not having touched the vitality of life.
Every day we discard the previous discoveries we considered as facts, and add another fact. A fact that can be cast away as not a fact cannot be regarded as fact at all. A transitory fact is no fact. It must be permanent. It should always be there, and we can never raise a question about it. Only then can it be considered as a fact. Such a fact—what is it? The entire world, which is moving in the process of evolution, casting away earlier shapes of its circumstance for the sake of a newer one, cannot itself be considered as a fact—because it moves. Anything that is in transition cannot be regarded as an ultimate fact. So is human history, which is a river moving forward, as it were. History moves onward and forward with all its ups and downs and vicissitudes. These are all enigmas before you. But there is something about which you seem to be very clear, and you do not have any doubt: Do you exist, or have you any doubt about your existence also? Let the world be there, let the world not be there; let people be there or not. Do you exist? Yes.
There are some people who call themselves sceptics; they doubt everything. A question was raised in philosophical circles: Can the doubter doubt that he exists? I met a Buddhist theologian who said, “Yes, I even doubt that I exist. I am not even sure that I exist.” He carried his scepticism to the breaking point. Then a question again arises: Do you doubt that you have a doubt about your existence? There the questioner has to close his mouth. You cannot doubt that you are doubting your existence—then the doubt gets cancelled, and the sceptic cuts the ground from under his own feet. So, there is something about which you are not in doubt. The point is that you certainly exist and, as I mentioned, you cannot doubt that fact because if you doubt it, you are doubting the very fact of doubt itself. Hence, accept that you exist.
In this matter, there is no doubt: I do exist. Now, what kind of ‘I’ is it that exists? When you say, “I exist,” what kind of ‘I’ is this? Mr. So-and-so, Mrs. So-and-so, this brother, this sister, this boss, this subordinate, this rich, this poor—is this the ‘I’ to which you are making reference when you say “I do exist”? When a merchant says “I exist”, he does not mean that his richness exists, because richness may not exist always. And also are other associations with oneself. You cannot define yourself in terms of associations and qualifications, because they may be there or may not be there. Minus all associations and relations, you can be. If everything goes—lock, stock and barrel, nothing exists—you will be there. What kind of ‘you’ is this? The immediate prosaic answer would be: “This me, this ‘I’ that seems to be there undoubtedly, is this five or six-foot-tall, two-foot-wide physical personality. This is what I can consider as me, for all practical purposes: this ‘me’ which I can see with my own eyes, which you can also see with your eyes. This physical body of mine which has dimension and weight, this material substance which I can touch and sense, is what I can call myself. What else can I say about myself?”