Chapter 21: The World's Movement from Materiality to Spirituality
Visitor: It seems that the world is moving away from spirituality, towards materialism. Do you think we will be able to reverse that trend?
SWAMIJI: What are the causative factors? Why has it become like that? Unless you know the cause of this situation, you would not be able to handle it. You said something which requires proper handling. But why did it happen at all? Is it due to historical reasons, or ethnic, anthropological, educational, or geographical problems? Something is there at the back which has brought about this condition, and which has to be set right.
If you have thought over this matter, and if the cause is clear to the mind, the treatment also will be easy. It is like diagnosing a case, like a medical operation. Diagnose the case first, and then you see what you can do. What you have pointed out is a disease, and there is a diagnosis. Why do you think this has happened?
Visitor: It has happened because people both in the West and the East have looked in other directions besides spirit.
SWAMIJI: Why should they look in another direction beside the spirit? Why do they feel the need for such a behaviour?
Visitor: I think maya is very attractive.
SWAMIJI: No, that is not a good answer. The answer should be scientific and precise. Maya is a word which finally has no meaning. Forget that. You should not use such words. Something is happening to their minds that has propelled them to move in that direction. What has happened to them? This question has arisen in the minds of many people in India also, but very few people have given thought to it. The answer is not a palatable one, so they don't want to give the answer at all.
The need for material prosperity and acquisition, when it is overemphasised, takes a person in the direction that we have been mentioning just now. Does it mean then, at least from the point of view of these people who are in this condition, that working for material comfort and acquisition is more important than working for the spirit? If anyone thinks like that, then there is something basically wrong in the very outlook of that person. His illness is deep-rooted. He is totally misconstruing the very structure of life. To put it shortly, he requires a fresh education altogether. So you mean to say that people require new education? I am not against that project. Let them all be newly educated. Now, who will bell the cat? Who will start this work?
Visitor: That is something that has been started by people like Swami Sivananda and Swami Chinmayananda.
SWAMIJI: Yes, they have helped, and many other great souls like Sri Aurobindo, also. Sri Aurobindo was positively engaged in the resuscitation of the original values of the country which he emphasised in all his writings. He has written a book called Foundations of Indian Culture, a treatise every person should read. His understanding of India is superb – a mighty appreciation it is.
India has the blessing of God, somehow. It has not died like other nations, and it does not appear that it is going to die easily. India has suffered due to one mistake that it has committed. It lost its independence for some centuries because it discredited the value of earthly existence, and gave too much credit to a transcendental existence. That is, your love for God was not equally commensurate with your duty to the world. This is what he says, and so the worldly forces attacked, and God did not come to help because people segmented God Himself into two parts – the Creator and the created. The country suffered economically, militarily, and even in its concept of spirituality. Yet, in its aspiration for the transcendent, though it was not conceived properly in an integral fashion (it was segmented because it was separated from world's existence), the intensity of the longing for the transcendent was such that its soul is still surviving, though economically, and from the point of view of defense forces, it is not possessed of much that can be admired.
Most of the religious people in India asserted the importance of the transcendent Creator, and it was not so easy to bring together into a state of harmony the world and God. The two always appeared to be different things, and, they will appear to be so always, as long as the mortal brain thinks in a mortal manner. The total thought of the integration of Being, wherein the Creator and the created become one – that was the true spirituality of the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. But nobody in India lives in the spirit of the Upanishads or the Bhagavad Gita. People have only rituals and some gods of their own which they have imbibed from the Puranas, the Epics, the Agamas and Tantras.
Who lives like the Bhagavad Gita in India? Who lives like the Upanishads? Who lives like the Vedas? All that you call Hinduism today is conditioned by the dictates of the Puranas and the Epics, with a lot of ritual and mythology. The One God has become the many gods, and we worship all the gods, not necessarily knowing that all these gods are aspects of the One God. The concept of the One Absolute cannot easily enter the mind of the human being because of the dichotomy created in the mind between man and the world, and between world and God.
Now, the tables have turned. Economically, India is strong. Militarily, also, it is very strong. But, something is missing still. A very strong body we have, and a lot of wealth too we have, but we seem to be slowly losing the soul. At one time, only the extra-cosmic Soul was emphasised, and the body was neglected. Now, we are taking care of the body very well. We have all the requirements for it. But, the soul is perhaps going under the cloud, which we hope will not be for all time to come. We are passing through a temporary period of transition. We are barely fifty years old. Fifty years is a small thing in the history of the universe. A day will come when the world will see India rising up with its might and main.
There is a belief also that culture moves from the East to the West. China and India were highly cultured nations once upon a time. Then, slowly, culture moved to Greece, then to Rome, then to Europe and England. They became mightier than the East. Then it went to America, which is now supposed to be the strongest country. Now, further, it is moving the other way to Japan, which is coming up mightily. And then, the Sun will come back to the East, and India will again have the same status as during the time of the Vedas and the Upanishads. The cycle will be then complete. So, we are hoping for the very good day to dawn with all its brightness and glory. "God is in heaven, and all is well with the world," thus may we sing with the poet.
Visitor: What is the unique contribution that the Divine Life Society is making to bringing the spirit more alive – to bringing people more alive to the spiritual side?
SWAMIJI: Swami Sivananda's dream was the integration of the human personality for the purpose of social integration, and finally, what you may regard as cosmic integration – which is virtually the realisation of God Almighty. From a lower level, the human personality has to be taken up to the higher level, and then the highest integration, which is universal. He worked for that, and the entire mission of the Divine Life Society is centred in that noble objective.
Visitor: For people in India who have mistakenly chased western material values...
SWAMIJI: I do not say that every Indian does like that. Mostly, people who are not properly oriented are enamuored of the external facilities available by contact with a Western way of thinking. This overemphasis that they are laying in their life is due to a misconstruing of the nature of the aim of life which should not happen, especially in an Indian, who is supposed to be living in the cradle of ancient culture.
Externals cannot make a human being. It is the total that makes you what you are. I do not say that external facilities and comforts are unnecessary, but you are not made up of mere externals. Though externals are necessary, they are only an appendage to your total personality. Emphasis excessively laid on one aspect of the personality alone will be like thinking of one side of human nature and completely ignoring the other side.
You are a physical body, a social unit, a political individual, a biological structure, a psychic entity, an intellect, a reason, a spirit. All these aspects of the human personality have to be fed properly with their own required diet by what we call real education. Any aspect which is ignored will set up a reaction and make life miserable.
Education, which is actually the way in which you live in this world, should be the procedure that you adopt every day, every minute, every moment of time, taking into consideration every aspect of your relationship to the world. This is to see that you are integrally growing from the lower level of your personality to the higher dimensions of it, until you reach the highest dimension of your being, which is Universal Existence. This is my concept of real education, and of the aim of all life.
Visitor: So, at a human practical level, how do you go about educating people at all these levels at once?
SWAMIJI: That is the technology of education, which has to be properly tabulated by a competent teacher. Just as you have educational institutions, schools and colleges, we have Ashrams where there are mentors, guides, teachers. Sometimes they are called gurus. The study of life along these lines is to be carried on under a competent master in an institution something like the Divine Life Society. It is purely a personal matter. If a student goes to a professor in a college, he must follow the curriculum set forth for the purpose of this kind of education, attend the classes, and be with the teacher throughout the career of the education.
So, we have a syllabus of the very process of thinking itself, into which the student is introduced gradually, by practical guidance in his day-to-day life. This is what is propagated by Swami Sivananda by his personal example of living, much more than by what he spoke and wrote in his books. Example, they say, is better than precept. The life of the teacher, the manner in which he lives, his personal outlook of the structure of existence, will be an object of observation and study more beneficial to the student than the books that he wrote or the words that he uttered. This is the method we are adopting here in this little closed Ashram called the Divine Life Society. There are many other such Ashrams also in India. I am just mentioning this as one example.
Visitor: What message would you give to someone in the West about what they can do in their life to become closer to the spirit, and to make spirit more alive in the world around them?
SWAMIJI: They have to learn the art of thinking in a holistic manner. That is the first thing that one has to do. You have to know how to think in a manner which is complete, not fractional. Holistic thinking is thinking of everything at the same time.
The art of thinking in a holistic manner means thinking in terms of the spirit of the cosmos. That is holistic thinking, which includes every aspect of life, because spirit includes all things. The total comprehensiveness of the structure of existence is the object of this holistic thinking. This is Yoga, finally. This is spirituality, this is real religion, and this is the duty of every person in one's day-to-day existence. This is what we practise and teach, to the extent possible for us, under the conditions prevailing.
Visitor: What are the steps by which an individual can learn to think holistically?
SWAMIJI: You have to take a person from the lowest to the highest, gradually. The involvements of a person have to be understood first. There are political involvements, social, financial, biological, family involvements. These have to be taken care of first. You should not speak anything other than these things in the earlier stages. People are worried about these things very much, and other things do not so much carry weight. When these things are cleared, you can take up the question of the psychological involvements – how the mind, emotions, intellect, prana, and body are working. From outward considerations, you come to the inward ones, which are psychoanalytical and psychological.
Then, the third stage would be to set the personality in tune with Nature as a whole, the entire cosmos of astronomy, as you may say, with which also you have to be in harmony. You cannot be at loggerheads with the sun, the moon, the stars, and the planets. They also determine your life in some way. When that also is taken care of adequately, you centre your soul in the Spirit of the cosmos, which is God Almighty. Thus, from outside, you have come inside. From inside, you have gone to the whole of Nature, which is all creation; then, you have embraced the Absolute. This is how you proceed slowly from the lower wholes to the higher wholes, the highest one being the Absolute, God.