The Ascent of the Spirit
by Swami Krishnananda

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Chapter 22: Human Nature and Its Components

The life of an individual passes through various stages. And, the formation of individuality is nothing but a concrescence of the forces of the thoughts, feelings and actions entertained and implemented in execution in the several previous lives through which one has passed. A particular group of these psycho-physical forces, allocated out of a vast reservoir of them existing as the potential background of all individualised manifestations, becomes the efficient as well as the material cause of the birth of the body-mind complex, the individuality, of the person.

The individuality of a person precisely consists of tendencies and of urges which are the manifestations of forces engendered in previous incarnations. The ways in which the urges express themselves spontaneously, without being tutored by any external influence, may be called the instincts of the individual, and the conglomeration of these spontaneous urges, which either remain latent due to the presence of conditions not favourable for their expression or elbow themselves into action for the purpose of the fulfilment of their motives when conditions for the same are favourable, is what is known as the instinctive nature of the individual. These instincts are manifold in their character, the principal among them being the self-preservative instinct, the possessive instinct, the self-regarding instinct, the self-reproductive instinct and the curiosity instinct, the last in this list being an incipient stage of the instinct for knowing more and more of things, i.e., the aspiration for knowledge.

At the very birth of the individual, as a child, it shows very little indication of the multiple character of the instincts of which it is constituted. There is then, merely, the predominance of the self-preservative instinct which begins to act first as the sensation of hunger and thirst and heat and cold, as well as sleep. Psychoanalysts tell us that a thorough deductive investigation of the behaviour of the child would reveal even then the rudimentary forms of the other instincts which have not yet fully matured into their natural activity. The child grows into a budding adolescent, and with the forceful opening of the energies of the system which have been, kept bottled up, up to this time, they endeavour to rush out into the arena of public life in the form of a vehement inclination and inducement to game and play as well as those social forms of relationship with the neighbouring individuals of the same age, which may safely be regarded as the innocuous moorings of those subtle instincts within, which are yet to flame forth in the future as the oppressive powers of self-manifestation in the form of one’s very outlook of life as a whole, upon which are based the various enterprises of one’s life. The desire to eat, to play and to sleep are the grossest forms of the medium. and manner in which the basic instincts allot to themselves their present function under those given conditions of childhood and adolescence. The instincts of hunger and sleep are, however, those features which persist till the end of one’s life and do not brook any intervention with them or permit of any modification in their modus operandi. The senses being the most powerful in their expression, at the very outset, in the life of the individual, and the ego-principle being equally dominant over every other urge even in the earliest stages of human development, the longings which spring forth initially at these moments of the dawn of one’s life are mostly sensory and self-assertive. There are what the society considers as the natural desires of the human being, namely, to eat and drink dainties, clothe oneself well and appear as one invested with a sort of intrinsic importance in the midst of human society. There is simultaneously the working of the possessive instinct which keeps on egging one to accumulate for oneself the good things of life, the beautiful things, the valuable things and the rare things, the loss of which would be indeed a great sorrow to the possessor. But more things are yet to come, and they are the principal soldiers in the battle of phenomenal existence, and they will come to the forefront a little later.

And what are these? They are nothing but the emissaries or ambassadors sent by the ruling law of life, which itself is a reflection of the Nature of the Great Reality of the universe. As the Prime Minister of a State is said to be the President-in-motion, the law of the universe may equally be regarded as the Supreme Reality in operation. The characters of Reality are eternity and infinity, and it is these features that are supposed to be worked out through the law of the universe which compels the individuals in it to conform to its requirements and mandates.

The process of nutrition by means of the double activity of anabolism and catabolism is the tendency of the growth of the body as the vehicle of the mind in and through the mutations, permutations and combinations known as life’s purpose. The seeking for food, clothing and shelter, the need felt for recreation and amusement and a natural inclination to a sociable nature of oneself are all the empirical formations of these sprouting stages in the life of an individual. Up to this level of expression, the conduct of one’s life is usually regarded as the normal way of living, but, unfortunately, this so-called normalcy of behaviour is not easily detected in its true colours. Its intention is something quite different, for it acts as a dynamo to produce the necessary power to drive the instincts into action. The individualistic urges are ultimately irrational cravings to perpetuate the individuality, which manifest themselves as self-assertion on the one hand and as self-expression on the other. The self-assertive instinct is the ego. Preservation of the integrity of the psycho-physical organism, compensation for inferiority feeling in society, an assertion of thwarted sense of power, status and distinction are the motives behind the activity of the building up of one’s ego by adding to it qualifications from outside. The desire for name and fame, will-to-power, exaltations of the ego, self-conceit, vanity, pride, jealousy and personal ambition are the tongues of the fire of egoism.

The self-expressive urge is the force behind the self-reproductive urge, which really disintegrates the constitution of the psycho-physical organism in the process of its work towards production of a new individual of its own species. In this sense it may safely be held that the reproductive urge is katabolic, self-destructive, for it destroys the individual by depleting its energy in the direction of the production of the individual whose birth is its aim. This force initially operates as mere self-love and then passes through the stages of love of parents, love of inanimate beings and beings who may even be sub-human, love of the best suited individuals of one’s own age group and species, and finally love of those individuals who can best act as cooperative mediums in the fulfilment of this self-expressive urge. The love of progeny or one’s own children is obviously a biological attraction one feels towards one’s own alter-ego seen in the individual born of one’s own blood and essence. This also explains one’s affiliation to those related by blood or otherwise indirectly related to oneself. When this self-expressive urge finds not its proper correlative object at any particular level of its expression, it seeks to fulfil itself at the next lower level by way of regression to an earlier stage of its expression.

Any opposition effectively directed against the urges as self-preservation, self-assertion or self-expression may lead to the projection of the psychic defense mechanisms known in the fields of psycho-analysis as identification, projection, interjection, rationalisation, compensation, fantasy, repression, regression, symbolism, dissociation, condensation, displacement, conversion, testing out, dreams, etc. Fear, hatred, anger and violence of any kind, kleptomania, truancy, wandering, sleepiness, gluttony, talkativeness, excessive physical activity and sportiveness may also turn out to be, the consequences of such opposition, all which, come out for the purpose of finding an outlet for their movement in order to relieve oneself of nervous tension and mental stress caused by factors hostile to the natural functions of the system. In fact, a behaviour or action may be covered by the following factors: (1) physical constitution, (2) internal changes, chemical or mental, (3) suppressed or opposed instincts clamouring for expression, (4) dominance of urges, unconscious or rational, (5) compensation for defect in any part of the organism, (6) company of others, (7) study of books, and the like. Psychological conditions may be brought about by physical factors, and vice versa. Chemical changes going on in the body may stir up an instinct or some instincts. Psychological states, such as joy or grief, or a state of repressed feelings or other internal forces may bring about changes in bodily conditions.

The urges of the human individual which have obvious objectives before them can, when they are not allowed free expression in the direction of their choice, divert themselves to substitutes for their main intentions. Such are, for instance, the satisfactions derived by instincts through innocuous channels. These are what go by the name of social work, political activity, vocational pursuits, philanthropic deeds, acts of service to others or any such physical or mental engagements by which the unconscious urges of one’s energy are drained off. The pursuit of aesthetics along the lines of literature, music, dance, drawing, painting, sculpture, architecture and gardening may act as good substitutes providing a wide range for the roving of the instincts along channels of joy, personal or social.

The rational urges are of quite a different nature and they move in the direction of the pursuit of science and philosophy. Study of mathematics, physics, chemistry, technology, astronomy, geology, geography, biology, psychology, axiology, sociology, logic, epistemology, metaphysics and ethics are the major branches of rational learning. These subjects draw the attention of one’s mind as aims in themselves, as independent values of life, though it is not difficult to discover that they are certainly means to the fulfilment of the vital needs of the individual, which work either as the calls of its physical side or the aspirations of the mental and intellectual faculties, which intend, in the end, to contribute the requisites necessary for the growth of the body or the mind in the social context of its existence.

The experience of happiness is the outcome of one’s affiliation to the objects to which one is attached, whether they be animate, such as wife, children, etc., or inanimate like house, property, etc., or any other objects of gratification which are supposed to bring satisfaction by contact of the senses therewith or even contemplated by the mind merely, such as name, fame, power, authority, prestige and the like. When, through gratification of the thirst for objects by means of contactual union, the senses and the mind are calmed down and, therefore, at that particular moment of time, do not go back to the objects—that flash of a moment of cessation of sensory and mental activity attended with consciousness is the experience of happiness; while desire and restlessness are due to the thirst for such enjoyment and it is these that cause unhappiness, for the alienation of the mind and the senses from the consciousness of Selfhood by means of their movement towards an external object is what wrenches them from establishment in the consciousness of Selfhood, which is another name for the experience of happiness. Thus, indulgence in the enjoyment of objects through the senses and the mind cannot bring about a cessation of thirst for objects, for the passion for objects increases by the application of the senses to enjoyment, and further, the impetuousness of the senses in search of such gratification gets intensified. Ignorance of the fact of happiness being the same as the experience of Selfhood is the cause of the objectification of pleasure, and beauty is nothing but pleasure objectified in an external content of sense-perception. Inasmuch as a basic error in the very conception of happiness is involved in its experience through the senses and the mind, it is indubitably concluded that the experience of pleasure or happiness by contact of any kind is another name for working in the darkness of ignorance for the purpose of a satisfaction which it cannot bring.

The perception of an object is really a simultaneous forgetfulness of the Self, for what is known as the object is nothing but a screen that covers a part of the consciousness of the Self, so that the Self which is inclusive of all being, seems to miss the presence of that particular feature in itself which is screened by the object-consciousness, just as a particular geometrical shape of a part of the sun may be obscured from one’s vision if one looks at the sun by means of a glass part of which is stained with a touch of pitch or some dark substance, and the pattern of the obscuration of the sun will be the same as that of the darkening element in the glass. This implies that the consciousness runs towards a particular object due to a loss of consciousness of a particular aspect of its being, and its running towards the external object of a corresponding character or feature is only another name for its attempt at coming in union with that part of itself which it appears to have lost due to loss of consciousness thereof. Thus, every act of object-perception is an endeavour on the part of the Self to unite itself externally with those features or aspects in itself which are obscured by non-awareness.

Thus, loss of consciousness of a particular feature or aspect of oneself, motivating object-perception of a respective character, is brought about by the predominance of certain forces of one’s past karmas, which, due to their insistent pressure upon the self to limit its consciousness to the aperture provided by the forms of their manifestation, obscure the possibility of the self’s knowing that it has also other aspects than what are permitted by the pressure of these forces of karma. Here is, perhaps, the anatomy of desire, sense-perception, and the experience of what is known as pleasure in this world.

Also the perception of the features of any particular object is an abstraction by consciousness of certain groups of characters from the infinite resources of Nature, by limiting the consciousness to motivation in respect of these given features alone, a process that takes place under similar conditions and caused by the same factor as in the case of the perception of an object and desire for the purpose of contactual pleasure. To cite an instance, the perception of blue colour is an abstraction from the resources of sun-light which are far wider than mere blueness. This abstraction gets compelled upon the visual sense due to the limiting character of the structure of that basic substance which is supposed to be blue in colour, that is, the structure which absorbs by abstraction that feature called blueness and excludes every other colour or property belonging to the infinite richness of sun-light. So is every kind of object-perception an abstraction by consciousness, from the infinite resources of the Absolute, of only those characters, which go by the name of objects, due to the obscuration of aspects of consciousness brought about by the peculiar structural finitude of an individual by the forces of karma of the past as described above.