The Ascent of the Spirit
by Swami Krishnananda

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Chapter 14: The Aims of Human Existence - I

The problems of a seeker of Truth can be evaluated and an attempt be made to arrive at a satisfactory solution of the same, only if it can be possible to come to a definite conclusion as to their causes, even the remote ones which may not be immediately recognisable or discoverable, but which, perhaps, are the main reasons behind every form of human problem. Just as a good physician, while conducting a medical examination, does not immediately jump into a prescription for the disease merely on the observation of certain symptoms outside but would take care to see that the causes of the illness are properly investigated, in which case it is obvious that when the cause is treated, the effect is automatically dealt with in the manner required; even so is the case with the difficulties of human life and the various facets which they present to human observation as if they are independent difficulties, while they might be, for all purposes, only diversifications of a few, or even a single major problem.

If we are to apply this scientific method of inquiry of the causes of the problems of human life, we would naturally be led into an investigation, at the same time, of the various types of phenomena in Nature which form the atmosphere or environment of the human individual or even human society as a whole. Even as the prescription of a medical recipe is preceded by a careful conduct of an examination of a case in hand, and its investigation, again, is rooted in a thorough grasp of anatomy and physiology and the entire philosophy of medical science, an investigation into the nature of human problems and a finding out of the proper remedies for them would call for a deeper procedure of logical inquiry in a systematic manner; but this process would be guided by the principles of the philosophy of life itself. An inductive analysis of the whole of personal and natural phenomena leads us to the discovery of deeper and more inclusive principles rather than persons, objects or things, and we are led along the lines of the vision of a new world altogether, which could not be a conglomeration of isolated persons or objects but an interrelated play of powers, laws and forces which seem to come together into a fraternal embrace. This means to say that the object of investigation becomes not a single item, person or thing, or even a cluster of objects or events, but a sort of limitless expanse which may cover the entire universe itself.

But, how can all Nature be known, or anything be known at all, if there is not a witnessing or observing consciousness? How can there be anything known if there is not a knower of it? And it needs no mention that while it is possible that the known can be material or unconscious, the knower cannot be so. The knower should be conscious. Not only this; consciousness cannot be merely an attribute of the knower, but it must be the essence of the knower himself: else, consciousness would be an attribute of an unconscious base, a conclusion very absurd on the very face of it. It follows that the knower should be consciousness in substance and essence, and it is consciousness that knows phenomena.

But, again, what is the relation between consciousness and its object? The relation itself has to be conscious or be a mode of consciousness: else, the connection would be unconscious and there would be no possibility of anyone knowing anything at all. The accepted fact is that there is such a thing as knowledge, which should prove that not only is the knower a centre of consciousness but even the relation between the knower and the known has to be a process of consciousness. Further, as this relation between the knower and the known, namely, the process of knowing, has itself to be somehow connected with the object known, and its connection would be a second relation, which has now to be explained, the final conclusion would be that it is impossible to have a connection between the knower and the known unless the object also is a phenomenon of consciousness itself. Now, we come to a wonderful conclusion:—Consciousness knows consciousness through consciousness. All existence is consciousness, which is the meaning of the famous dictum of the Vedanta philosophy, that ‘sat’ is ‘chit’:—Existence is Consciousness. This is reality, the conclusion we arrive at by pure logical analysis.

This inductively obtained conclusion is corroborated by the Upanishads which speak of the Supreme Absolute, willing itself to become a subtle causal form of potential being. This original potential condition is termed, in the Vedanta, isvara, or the Supreme Creator. This latent potentiality of manifestation then gets accentuated into the faint outlines of the future contingence and form of the universe, and this state of universal manifested being is called hiranyagarbha. There is a further process of completion of the functioning of manifestation when the outlines drawn in the earlier stage become ways for the grosser visible shape of the universe known as virat. Here is the lowermost or the final form of universal manifestation, where the different formations, configurations or shapes do not constitute isolated or segregated points of self-affirmation or individuality but remain as the focusing points of the single Universal Being, the virat.

But, then, the work of ‘individuation’ commences when these focusing points begin to assert their independence, and then they are not mere points for focusing or concentration of the universal but absolutely different forms or bodies cut off from one another by space and time, with apparently no relationship among one another, because the work of space and time is precisely that of segregation or isolation of one part from the other or one form from another form. There is, then, a sudden catastrophe, as it were, befalling every such self-assertive individual centre, and each such centre feels within its total individual being a restlessness, as if death has overtaken it, and there is the fear of impending destruction threatening from all sides, for it is quite understandable that when the individual has severed itself from the universal reality which is its sustaining Power, it should naturally feel an agony and anguish that everything is in a state of chaos and fear yawning with open jaws from everywhere in the atmosphere. To obviate this fear and get rid of this calamitous state of affairs, the individual struggles to gain back what it has lost, which is possible only by a return to the universal form of unitedness, because the universal is inclusive of every individual in a total unity of singleness of being and the individual which has lost the consciousness of its inseparability from the universal attempts in an artificial manner to bring this universality into manifestation and active participation by struggling to come in contact with other forms or individuals. It wrongly feels that physical and psychological contact with other individuals would be a remedy to restore the lost universality and inclusiveness. For this purpose of a physical and psychological contact with every other individual, the consciousness within carefully projects the powers of sense, namely those of seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling and touching, together with the corresponding physical organs through which these powers are made to work for the purpose of the intended contact with other individuals. It also projects the psychological organs of the ego, of thinking, feeling and willing for the purpose of a psychological contact with other individuals. This method, it feels, will bring about the needed universality or unitedness with every individual or form, and with this conviction it rushes forward towards the other individuals with a vehemence and impetuosity of hope not only to contact the individuals outside but even absorb them into itself, so that there would be no externality or even existence of other individuals and there would be only a single universality of its own selfhood. This is the reason behind perception of objects, thought of objects and desire for objects through the senses and the mind: The intention of all these activities of the individual consciousness is to restore universality in its selfhood. But, alas, this is not to be; for universality cannot be restored by sense-contact with external objects or even thought of external objects, since externality which is the special feature of space and time prevents the merger of one individual with the other, nay, even an actual contact, possession or enjoyment of the object, except merely, in a stupid imagination which makes out that there is the joy of heaven prevailing even in the stink of hell.

Thus, is life. Thus is human experience and human nature. Thus is the meaning of all activity in life, whether social, personal, or psychological. This is the great sorrow of the individual, and the only panacea for this malady is to find ways and means of restoring the true universality independent of space and time with their concomitant externality and exclusiveness of things and of all existence—all objects, all persons, all things and all events. Universality is reached not by sense-contact but by an identification of consciousness with the selfhood of all things and the being of all things with the selfhood of consciousness. This is the great philosophy of yoga, the foundation of its psychology as well as the principle of its practice.

And how is all this done? What is the actual method of redeeming humanity from this grievous state of life on earth, which has come about in the manner described? The method is precisely the simple one of the reversal of the process of manifestation, the recession of the effects to their causes, step by step, and very gradually—without missing even a single link in the chain of this return process of consciousness to its ultimate universality. For this purpose, it is essential for every person to carefully scrutinise and investigate into the causes of every experience which one passes through in one’s life, and trace the effects of these experiences to their causes. The recognition of the causes will enable one to merge the effects in the causes, so that the effects cease to be and the cause alone exists. In the end, there would be no effects at all but only the final cause, namely, the Absolute Universal, the realisation of which is the Goal of life.

At the very outset, it is to be pointed out that one should learn the art of the discovery of an aim in one’s life—in all activities and motives. Most people in the world live without an aim or purpose in life and drift helplessly hither and thither driven by the wind of circumstances and impelled by the stimulant of pleasure temporarily appearing to manifest itself when there is a titillation of the senses and the nerves, when the ego is scratched or the senses are stirred into stimulation. This is, truly, a pitiable state of affairs, and this condition of human life, which man regards as the height of civilisation and culture, is really the pit of downfall. Strange; man wants to rule even in hell rather than serve in heaven, but is it not high time that mankind ought to realise its mistakes, both in thought and action, and gird up its loins to find out the only remedy for the illness of mortal existence, the travail of temporal life?

Personal and social relationships are only the projection of the human mind by externalisation in space and time in respect of persons and things whom it is obliged to regard as distinct or separate from itself. The modern scientist is prone to get convinced that there is an advancement in the process of evolution from matter to life, from life to mind and from mind to intellect. This is, indeed, an advancement, but in the same way as there is an advancement from plus one to minus one, from minus one to minus two, from minus two to minus three and from minus three to minus four, etc. Truly, minus four is far superior to plus one, richer indeed, because the figure four is there, looking bigger than one! But this gross error in the evaluation of life is not detected by the human mind and it hurries headlong into the pit of doom and suffering, not knowing that its pursuit of what is good, meaningful and valuable is really its pursuit of the ways of its own final destruction. It is surprising that even in this age of the astounding discoveries of the Theory of Relativity and its breathtaking conclusions, man should continue to be so ignorant of the nature of the physical world, of human relations and of life in general, and take appearance for reality. If, according to the findings of modern physics, the three-dimensional phenomenon of a world is an erroneous abstraction, falsely made, by the defect-ridden mind from an integrated four-dimensional or, perhaps, a multidimensional organism of the cosmos, how would it stand to reason that there can be desire for objects of sense or even any sort of dependence on the so-called external objects of the three-dimensional world of space and time, while there is only a space-time-continuum, in which no individual can ever exist as isolated from other individuals, in any manner whatsoever?

Here we are in a strange and unexpected commingling of science and metaphysics. Knowledge, after all, seems to have once again found its way to an integral intuition that it really is, rather than sensory perception or mental cognition of a spatio-temporal externality of persons and things and relations. The seeker of Truth has to reverse his process of learning, knowing and experiencing from the effects to their respective causes, in an ascending order of graduated movement.

What is the Aim of Life? It should be obvious that the answer is, now, clear. The Aim, then, is a rising of consciousness from the external to the internal, and from the internal to the Universal. First of all, it would be necessary to withdraw consciousness from ‘externality’ and any kind of ‘relationship’ with externals, with the power of that understanding that recognises once, for all, that an externalised relation is impossible in a world where a three-dimensional depth or distance cannot be a reality. From this stage of the withdrawal of consciousness from the feigned externality of relations, the next step is to go deeper into the essential necessities—not luxuries—of one’s life, and live in an atmosphere and condition of the minimum necessities of life, without adding to them even a single extra item, because that extra item would not be a necessity but a luxury. While Nature would permit a necessity, it would not tolerate luxuries even in the smallest percentage. Nature provides necessities but not luxuries, and luxury is nothing but an exploitation of circumstances in which the individual ego wrongly indulges at the expense of other such egos in the world around it. The minimum needs of human nature, in the form of food, clothing, shelter and education, as well as contact with persons and things in the world around, should be well calculated and assessed, and one should try to live only in those disciplined conditions of minimum necessity in the maintenance of the body-mind complex and human relations. This is, perhaps, the most difficult thing for anyone to do, for man is not accustomed to think logically, he always works on the basis of sentiments and emotions, the spur of feelings and the incitations of the senses. Now the time has come to turn the tables round and lead an absolutely new way of life with a thoroughly reoriented system of intellectual, moral, social and spiritual education.

There would be little need to expatiate on the further processes of the ascent of consciousness, for the whole thing would be clear from an understanding of the process of evolution described above. What is called for is merely a retracing of the steps of consciousness backwards from effects to causes, stage by stage, without missing even a single rung in the ladder of the ascent. From social relations, one comes to personal needs and from personal needs to an adjustment of one’s individuality with the laws of the universe. These laws, known as ‘rita’ in the Vedas, are nothing but the operational procedures and the working methodology of the Supreme Universal. The aim of life may look manifold, and it may really be so for the purpose of practical action at the lower levels, but its forms are all organically related to the Central System of the Supreme Integration that is the Absolute. Every thought, every speech, every action and every way of relationship with persons and things in life has, thus, to be judged and worked out in the light of this constitution of the Great Reality.