The Ascent of the Spirit
by Swami Krishnananda

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Chapter 11: A Study of the Logical Basis of Legal and Ethical Principles

An understanding of the foundational principle, behind different controlling systems of law would require an enquiry into the nature of that intriguing something, known as ‘relationship’ among things. In a way it can be said that the various philosophical systems of the world are only the laboured edifices raised by minds who have struggled hard to investigate into the true meaning of this apparently invisible but very substantially real permeating essence termed ‘relation’. We almost take it for granted that the relation of one thing to another is something very clear and so obvious that it is pointless to spend time in trying to understand what it is. But, on a careful study of the situation, it will be found that it is a hard nut to crack, and it has defied the grasp of even the best thinkers of all times. It is because of this difficulty that man simultaneously entertains a hope for a higher and higher type of unification and a greater bond of togetherness among people—he can never give up the expectation that such a thing is perhaps possible, and, at the same time, he has never achieved it up to this time—and is always in a state of unmanifest war with his brothers subtly lurking within himself, quite in contradistinction to the hope for a higher tie of oneness which he is longing for and which everyone seems to be working for everywhere in human society. This double-edged ambivalent attitude and disposition of man towards life has been his joy as well as his sorrow. Is this possibly the reason why life has managed to remain an unsolved mystery?

This enigmatic state of affairs is explicable only by the inscrutable nature of human ‘relationship’. This is also the reason why the basic principles of law and ethics are even today the subjects for newer and newer research, the end of which has not yet been reached. Human relationship is a tantalising necessity, a grandeur and beauty, due to which reason it has been always the theme of magnificent intellectual deliberations and conferences as well as the ever-beckoning objective, though one never realised fully, of philanthropists, social welfare circles and even religious idealists. At the same time, human relationship has also been an unclear spectre which keeps people perpetually in a state of insecurity due to the suspicious character of its essential nature and a doubt it often evokes in the minds of everyone that it is not always a trustworthy friend capable of being relied upon entirely on its face value. Thus it is that we have two kinds of geniuses in the world: one group which holds that life is a superb manifestation of universal harmony and a cosmic equality of everything with everything else in a profundity of love, sacrificing goodness and organic oneness towards which everyone and everything is tending and must tend; and the other which regards life as a scene of devastating suffering brought about by the irreconcilability of the psychological structures of different human individuals, holding, consequently, that social solidarity and perhaps individual satisfaction cannot be had unless there is the operation of the mighty machine of legalistic and moral control exercised upon individuals by a ruling authority, whether it be a single person or a body of persons, a Government or a Scripture. But, are we anywhere near the finale of human effort and aspiration if we remain content with a life of anxiety and tense nerves engendered by an eternal conflict of these two opposing camps of human idea and action?

We may try to go a little deeper. The crucial point seems to be a necessity to consider why there should have been these two viewpoints at all of life and its meaning. The reason appears to be that two constitutive factors have gone to make up what is known as human life: the factor of unity and the factor of diversity. Both seem to be playing a uniform role of equal intensity in the present state of human evolution, though it may be conceded that in a past or a future stage of evolution one or the other of these two factors may be predominant in varying proportions. Man is happy and unhappy at the same time, every day, indicating that he has within himself an irresistible urge for a realisation of oneness of himself with all creation and also a simultaneous pressure of his ego-ridden psycho-physical individuality which speaks in the language of selfishness and difference; physical pleasure and egoistic self-assertion which ceaselessly come in conflict with similar features characterising every other human being also. The world is both a dharmakshetra and a kurukshetra, a field of the righteousness emanating from the unitary Absolute existing as the only reality; and at once also a field of activity and struggle against the heavy odds that one has to confront daily in the teeth of heavy opposition from other people than one’s own self, each one of whom enshrines an unconquerable passion for affirming the satisfaction of the body and the pleasure of the ego.

But these are the two major acts in the drama of universal life, and unless we are able to witness the two scenes in their mutual connectedness aiming at presenting an ordered completeness of the total picture of the whole drama, we can neither live life nor have a moment’s peace of mind. And what is the solution? In the East, Acharya Sankara and Gautama the Buddha; and in the West, G.W.F Hegel and Arthur Schopenhauer tended to emphasise the unity-aspect and the diversity-aspect, respectively, in their own novel fashion of presenting the ultimate metaphysical and psychological aspects of life’s significance. There is, doubtless, a need to bring these two aspects together, which we may call the integration of life, a herculean task indeed.

Here, we also find the basic suggestiveness of social law and order, as well as of ethical and moral mandates. The political theory of Hobbes is perfectly consistent with the empirical, the psychological and the seamy-side of human relationship, but the other side, which is not in any way less important, is the ultimate ontological status of life, which was the particular specialisation of Hegel’s genius. The Social Contract Theory of human relationship and political organisation will call for a strict State-control by way of enforcement, legal legislation and imposition of external authority in order to prevent the extravagant behaviour of human selfishness which can go amuck with its predisposition to giving a long rope to its uncontrolled passions and prejudices. Without such a firm control, human society may easily turn out to be a painful scene of chaos and disaster which cannot be regarded as the honest intention or aim of any human heart. While this is perfectly true and entirely justifiable on the nature of the circumstances of the case and the prevailing conditions of things, an acceptance of this methodology of steering the course of human life as the whole truth and nothing but the truth would convert the human individual into a miserable puppet, crushed under the weight of an alien force, secretly sorrowing and dying with its hope for unrestricted freedom and joy hopelessly unrealised. But this seems to be at least fifty per cent of the truth of the human predicament; and why should it be so?

We may perhaps try to explain the human plight by a commonplace example. A magnetic field of compelling electrical force may hold thousands of minute iron filings in a powerful tie of unison so that as long as this magnetic force, though totally external to the internal structure of the filings, exerts its influence upon the filings, they cannot be scattered helter-skelter and are bound to keep to their positions in accordance with the determining force operating upon them from outside. But, notwithstanding the fact that they are so held together in a bond of inseparable relationship by the working of that power, they are essentially isolated individuals by themselves and cannot be said to have attained to a state of real unity among themselves, in the sense of a real merger of their individualities into a common existence. Likewise, while a political control of individuals by legal legislation may act as an apparent solvent of their private idiosyncrasies, personal greed and egoistic passions ready to pounce upon others’ liberty to manifest a similar freedom, and thus bring about a tentative state of peace among themselves by sheer subjection of their selfish tendencies to a proportionately equalising pressure exerted by social and political rule, the individuals cannot be said to have lost their individualities, or to have given up their selfish predilections in spite of the fact that they are held in check for a given period of time. Sleeping dogs and coiled-up snakes do not cease to be what they are merely because of their inactivity at that time. True happiness and real peace cannot be had by merely chaining the devil which is up in arms to devour us. This pious hope can become a practical realisation only when there is a sublimation of the individual’s prejudice and predilection into a more universal harmony of the nature of an indivisible compound and not merely an artificial complex of essentially differing characters. Legal legislations, therefore, have to be enlivened by the charge of the ultimate spiritual unity of existence. The absence of this essential knowledge in administrative fields of whatever nature has been the one cause of the downfall of empires, of the cracking of social structures, the failure of ethical rules in human society, and the perishing of the otherwise honest efforts of even great leaders of mankind.

The morals of human society have mostly been legalistic in their tone and so there has been a very understandable revolt against them from the deepest spirit in man which seeks untrammelled freedom. But man’s folly in assuring himself of this freedom he seeks has been his historical violence of the similar privilege which other individuals are also trying to exercise, very justifiably. Truly, man is God and brute crossed at one point. The divine spark in him urges him towards absolute freedom, but the devil that he is at the same time makes him come in conflict with his brother and wage a war with mankind, a task he perpetrates due to his ignorance of the fact that absolute freedom is impossible until and unless he takes into consideration, with due respect, the aspirations, the strengths as well as the weaknesses of others also around him in the vast atmosphere of humanity, because there cannot be a separate ‘absolute’ for each individual, and there can be only a single Absolute in which the existences and longings of all individuals are subsumed and transcended in an oceanic expanse of supreme perfection. Man, in order to have social and political peace, including the personal, may require a World-Government which will fuse into its administrative organisation the need for considering the conditions of raising human nature into its aspired goal of the Universal Absolute, which can only be an utter Spiritual Essence into which the matter of the universe melts in a Cosmic Subjectivity, and the necessity to render legal and legislative control of individual behaviour and action healthily contributory, by degrees of positive expansion and profundity, to this Great Goal of life. How grand! But, is this practicable?

Yes, is the answer. This is the golden picture of the Age of Truth, or the satya-yuga of noble Indian tradition, which is supposed to have materialised itself on the earth long, long ago, and which tradition expects to recur and repeat itself periodically after, or at the beginning of, every Age Cycle. This is the Destiny of Man for which he is striving through the glorious periods of constructive history as well as the ugly scenes of destructive warfare. May we call these the light of day and the night of darkness in the successive revolutions of the human cycle lit brilliantly by the Eternal Sun of the Almighty Absolute? There is no use merely shouting anthems of parochial nationalism or enforcing tyrannical pressure of legal commandments or even trying for social good and human peace if this ultimate and basic meaning of human nature and human history is lost sight of in the busy tension of life’s struggle caused by this inevitable friction between the downward and diversifying pull of man’s empirical personality and the upward and unifying urge of his higher spiritual nature. Thus, administrative genius is neither merely legal, ethical or secular, as divested of the spiritual significance of the structure of the universe, nor a mere religiosity or spiritualism of the formality-ridden, tradition-bound Pandit type or an asceticism-oriented attitude bereft of the realistic approach to life which demands a due consideration for a continuous need for law, morality and a humane regard towards all mankind. Unfortunately, man has been section-bound and has proved himself to be incapable of such comprehensive thinking and action, and that should explain why man is what he is and the world has been what it is seen to be.

The leadership of a tremendous genius and capacity for mustering in universal forces is called for. And these forces are neither material ones minus the spiritual nor the spiritual minus the material. Truth is a fusion of both spirit and matter, of divinity and humanity, of God and the world. Will man be able to awaken this vision of himself? Then, there is hope for him, and then there can be peace, not only on earth but also in heaven and everywhere. Else, the object sought for is far to seek, and difficult to find. The world needs the leadership of a Superman, whose eyes can see God and world at the same time, whose personality will be at once the sacred temple of the Almighty and the active thoroughfare of human business. The world did see the realisation of such an ideal in the personality of Sri Krishna, who was an outstanding specimen of the world’s greatest statesman in the sense we have defined above as an urgent need for the welfare of mankind. There have been also occasions for the manifestation of such Supermen in other periods of human history, which it is difficult for us to recount here in an essay. But this is the need of the hour, and here rests the ultimate hope for humanity, if hope at all it can ever cherish in its grief-stricken heart struggling to catch a straw in the rushing stream of the evolution of all creation to its awe-inspiring Destination.

Social security and friendship cannot be assured as long as social relationship remains merely an ‘external’ connection operating independent of the individuals so connected and not intrinsic to the nature of the individuals themselves. A relationship between two persons has to enter into the very substance of which the two persons are made; it is only then that the relationship between them becomes friendly, secure and permanent. But if this relationship is only a form taken by a pressure exerted by something else upon the individuals appearing to be related, then the individuals so related by an extrinsic power foreign to their own nature can fly at the throats of each other the moment this extrinsic pressure is lifted. This is what happens if the State enforcing the laws of the society is a machinery rather than an organism. With Hobbes we may think the State cannot be anything more than a machine externally operating upon the individual, whatever be the necessity felt to operate this machine. For Hegel, the State is an organism which reflects the law of the Absolute and is a vital principle wider and more real than the individual, not a ‘collective’ force but an ‘indivisible’ law ultimately inseparable from the internal wills of the individuals themselves. The much abused and distorted tradition of the divine descent or the divine right of the ruling authority so much respected in ancient times is perhaps explicable on the background of the Hegelian logic of the organic structure of the State as a temporal manifestation of the eternal law of the universe. But it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the common mind to understand the implications of Hegel’s philosophy of the State, a misunderstanding and a misconstruing of which has led to the economic philosophy of materialism which has appropriated into its doctrines Hegel’s dialectical logic of process, while missing its spiritual content. Greek Sparta and Nazi Germany have been examples of an apotheosis of the State-supremacy without its spiritual vitality and power, converting the State, thus, into a Titanic machine rolling heavily on the individuals like a bulldozer and crushing them under its weight. The political systems of ancient Athens and modern France gave an equal status to individual freedom and State machinery: The State was with them a machinery still, but not going to the extent of crushing individual freedom. It was England, however, which held the doctrine of individual freedom as superior to the structure of the State which exists for the good and growth of the individual and which has no other purpose to serve independent of the individual. The immediate reaction of a judicious observer of these three doctrines of the State would be that the first is wholly wrong and inconsistent with truth, the second is pragmatic and conciliatory with the empirical view of things, and the third is perhaps the best. But even this best cannot be regarded as really the best as long as it considers the individual and the State as exclusive of each other, one existing outside the other but mutually connected by an inscrutable link understandable neither to the individual nor to the State independently. Thus it is that no political system has been a complete success for all times or under all conditions. The systems have been changing now and then to suit changing circumstances outside and the needs of individuals with the march of time; but these changes, while they are logically sanctioned by the exigencies of conditions beyond human control, have not as yet come to discover a stabilising anchor to which the need for change may be referred as a permanent standard, for man does not seem to have found time to hit upon such a sheet-anchor as a standard of reference. God, the world, the individual and the society have been wrongly thought to be four distinct realities: unfortunately, they are not. They are the four facets of the shining crystal of a single Reality towards which everything gravitates, and for which realisation all things are tirelessly busy.