by Swami Krishnananda
When we look at the world, we have what may be called a first view of things, and dissatisfaction with the first view of things is supposed to be the mother of all philosophical thinking. If we are satisfied with things, there is nothing more for us to search for in this world. Any kind of search, quest, enterprise, or desire to seek implies that we are not satisfied with the existing condition of things. And, we are quite aware that nobody in this world can be said to be totally satisfied with the prevailing conditions of things – neither in one's own self, nor in one's family, nor in the society outside, nor in anything, for the matter of that. There is always a tendency in the human mind to discover a lacuna in things: "It should not be like this. It should have been in some other way." This is a distinction that we draw between the 'is' and the 'ought'. We may say "something is like this"; but instead, what we express is "something ought to have been like this" or "something ought to be like this". The 'ought' is something that we are expecting in this world; the 'is' is what we are actually facing in this world. There is always this distinction, drawn in ourselves, between the 'is' and the 'ought'. We will not find any circumstance in life where we will not be searching for an 'ought' and be dissatisfied with what 'is'. This tendency in the mind – this peculiar predilection of the human psyche to search for what is not visible, perceptible, tangible or recognisable – is the seed sown for philosophical thinking.
Philosophy is the search for the higher values of life – not the values of the world as they are available to us. This world of perception is also filled with several values. We have social values, economic values, educational values, artistic and aesthetic values, and what not. None of these values can satisfy us for a long time. For a short period, everything seems to be fine; for a protracted period, nothing is fine. Everything looks stale, insipid, worn out and good for nothing after some time. We get fatigued and tired of things. We search for something else.
This 'else' that we bring into the picture of our consciousness is the urge of the philosophical impetus. There is a necessity felt within each person to search for and recognise something which is not clear to the mind as yet; still, it is something which summons with a force that is irresistible. The irresistibility of this call seems to be so very compulsive and compelling that it keeps us restless always. We will find that every one of us, all people anywhere, have a little restlessness in the mind. Neither we eat with satisfaction, nor we sleep with satisfaction, nor are we secure when we speak to people. There is always a difficulty in our adjustment with the conditions prevailing in society and with people, and even with nature itself.
This kind of adventure of the Spirit, we may say, was at the back of the ancients in India who are supposed to be the promulgators of the great Scriptures called the Vedas, especially what are known as the Veda Samhitas. The mantras, the poems or the large poetry of the Veda Samhitas are an exuberant outpouring of the spirit of man in respect of something which is not adequately recognisable to sense perception or even to mental cognition, but which summons the spirit of man somehow or the other.
We begin to feel there must be something above this world. This was what the great poets and the sages of the Vedas felt. Everything seems to be transitory, moving, and in a state of flux. There is change in nature, change in human history, change in our own mental and biological constitution, change in even the solar system, the astronomical setup of things. Everything is changing. The perception of change is something very important for us to consider. How do we know that things are changing, that things are moving or are transitory? There is a logical peculiarity, a significance and a subtlety at the back of this ability on our part to perceive change and transition in things. A thing that changes cannot perceive change by itself. Change cannot know change. Only that which does not change can know that there is change.
This is a very important point at the rock bottom of our thinking that we have to recognise. If everything is changing, who is it that is telling us that everything is changing? Are we also changing with the things that change? If that is the case, how do we come to know that all things are changing? Logical analysis of this peculiar analytical circumstance tells us that there is something in us which does not change; otherwise, we would not know that things are changing.
Now, if oneself – this person or that person – seems to be obliged to recognise something in one's own self that does not seem to be changing because one perceives change in general, we also have to be charitable enough to accept that everyone in the world has this something which does not change. I have something in me which does not change, and you also have something in you that does not change. If this is the case, it seems to be everywhere. It does not mean that this unchanging so-called thing is only in one person, as all persons have an equal prerogative to conclude that something unchanging seems to be there, speaking in a language which is not subject to connection with changeable objects.
The Veda Samhitas to which I have made reference – which are the outpourings of spiritual seekers, sages and masters of advanced religious thought and spiritual perfection – felt the presence everywhere of something that does not change. All things seem to be embedded with something that cannot change. This is due to a logical conclusion to which we are led – namely, that the perception of change would not be possible if everything, including oneself, including even the perceiver of change, also changes. Therefore, transitoriness implies a non-transitory background of things.
The whole universe of perception, the entire creation, may be said to be involved basically, at the root, in something which cannot be said to change. This is an adorable and most praiseworthy conclusion, and anything that is adorable is a worshipful something. These masters of the Vedas Samhitas, therefore, recognised a divinity in all things. There is a god behind every phenomenon, which is another way of saying there is an imperishable background behind every perishable phenomenon. The sun rises in the east, the sun sets in the west; clouds gather, pour rain and then go; seasons change; something comes, something goes; we are born, we become old and we also go. Everything is changing, everywhere, even in the vast universe of astronomical calculation.
But all this is only an indication, a pointer to an unrecognised fact of there being something which is an adorable background of the cosmos itself. And wonderfully, majestically and touchingly, we may say, these sages of the Veda Samhitas began to see a god everywhere. There is no 'ungod' in this world, because every phenomenon must be conditioned, or determined, by something which is not a phenomenon itself. Even the sun cannot rise and move, as it were, and the earth cannot rotate or revolve unless there is a motive force behind it. That motive force, the impetus for the rotation or revolution of the earth or the stellar system, cannot itself be revolving or rotating. So, there is a god behind the sunrise, behind the moonrise, behind the visibility of the stars, behind the seasons, behind even birth, death, aging and all transitions in human life.
The reality of things is what we are after; unrealities do not attract us. That which perpetually changes and escapes the grasp of our comprehension cannot be considered as real because of the fact of its passing constantly into something else. When we say that things are changing, we actually mean that one condition is passing into something else; one situation gives way to another situation. Why should this be at all? Where is the necessity for things to change and transform themselves? There is also a dissatisfaction with everything in its own self. We would like to transform ourselves into something else. It is not that things are changing only outwardly; we are changing inwardly. There is psychological change, together with physical and natural change. So, the transitoriness of things – the changeful character of everything in the world, including our own selves as perceivers of change – suggests the fact that we seem to be moving towards something which is not available at the present moment.
Movement is always in some direction, and there is no movement without a purpose. So there must be a purpose in the movement of nature, in even the historical transformations that take place in human society and in the world as a whole. There must be a destination behind this movement. If we move, we are moving in some direction, towards some destination. There must be some destination towards which the whole cosmos is moving in the process of evolution.
We are all well acquainted with the doctrine known as the evolutionary process, which is highlighted these days in the modern world. We have heard that there is a gradual rise of the organisms of life from the material state of inanimate existence to the plant or the vegetable state, to the animal condition of instinct and to the human level. If evolution has stopped with man, there would be no asking by man for anything further. We would be totally satisfied as human beings.
Man is not the perfection of things. Though many a time it is said that we have reached the apex of evolution, we have not reached that state. As there was dissatisfaction with the lower stages – such as the animal, etc., which gave rise to the upper level of human psyche, human understanding – there also seems to be a higher state than the human level, but for which nobody would be dissatisfied in this world. Everything is fine in this world. As I began by saying, there is a dissatisfaction with everything at the human level. That means we are also growing towards a higher state.
Where is it that we are going to? Man has to become superman. Animal man has become Homo sapiens; humanity is rising up. Animals mind their own business; they do not care for the world. They need only their grub, and the survival instinct is predominant in them. But the human being has reached a state today where he has animal instincts of survival – intense selfishness – but he also has a cognition of a new value emergent in life, which is consideration for the world outside also. Animals do not care for the world outside, but man has risen to a level where he feels it is necessary to care for the welfare of people outside, of the world as a whole. Even then it is not satisfying, because one day humanity itself will be shaken from its very roots if nature is against the continuance of human existence. There can be an epidemic, there can be a cataclysm, there can be an earthquake, there can be a war, there can be anything; it will break down everything. The earth can even be struck by a meteor. What will happen to our humanitarian outlook? No guarantee is given to us by the planets that they will maintain their position. That is to say, there is something which is pulling the entire cosmos towards itself. Animal becomes man, man becomes superman, superman becomes Godman, and even Godman is not the final stage because, after all, there is manhood, humanity, individuality and isolation persistent even in what we may call a Godman.
The recognition of a spiritual background behind the transitory phenomena of life is actually the object of worship. This is known as the divinities, or gods, who are adumbrated in the Veda Samhitas. Everywhere there are gods. We can worship a tree, we can worship a stone, we can worship a river, we can worship a mountain, we can worship the sun, the moon, the stars. Anything is okay as an object of worship because behind this emblem of an outward form of things in this world, there is a divinity masquerading as these forms.
This is the highlighting principle of the Veda Samhitas. If we read the Vedas, we will find that every mantra, every verse, is a prayer to some divinity above, designated by various names: Indra, Mitra, Varuna, Agni, etc. We may give them any other name, according to our own language, style or cultural background. The point is not what name we give, but that there is something behind visible phenomena. Our heart throbs in a state of satisfaction of the fact that there is something above us. Religion, spirituality or philosophy, in the true sense of the term, is the recognition of something above oneself and a simultaneous recognition of the finitude of one's personality.
We are finite individuals in every way. Financially we are finite, geographically we are located in one place only and, therefore, we are finite; socially we are finite, historically we are finite, politically we are finite; even in the eyes of nature we are finite. Thus, the same argument can apply here: as change could not be perceived without the presence of something that is not changing in ourselves, the finitude of our existence also could not be known unless there is something in us which is not finite.
The non-finite is what we call the Infinite. The Infinite is masquerading in us, which is another way of saying that the Unchanging is present in us. The Infinite is summoning every finite individual. The Unchanging is calling us moment to moment: "Don't sleep, get up!" One of the passages of the Katha Upanishad is uttisthata jagrata prapya varan nibodhata (Katha 1.3.14): "Wake up. Sleeping mankind, stand up!" Are we slumbering? Are we seeing only what we are able to cognise through the sense organs or are we also aware of something that is deeply rooted in our own self? Prapya varan: "Go to the Masters." Go to the wise ones in this world – masters and teachers and guiding lights of mankind – and nibodhata: "know the secret". The Bhagavadgita also has this great teaching for us: tad viddhi pranipatena pariprasnena sevaya (Gita 4.34): "Go to the Masters." How do we gain knowledge? Pranipatena: "Go and prostrate yourself before the great Masters." Pariprasnena: "and question them". "Great Master, this is the problem before me. I am not able to understand the solution for this. Please condescend to come down to my level and satisfy my inquisitiveness." Serve that great Master; prostrate yourself; question the Master. These three things are mentioned in the Gita. So says the Upanishad: uttisthata jagrata prapya varan nibodhata.
There is an Infinite at the back of all the sensations of finitude of our personality which is calling us, and an unchanging timeless and spaceless Eternity is summoning us. We may put a question to our own selves: "Why are we unhappy in this world?" What is it that is dissatisfying? It is that which is in space, that which is in time, that which is causally connected as a couple of terms of relation between cause and effect, and the insecurity that we feel in the presence of things outside.