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Studies In Comparative Philosophy
by Swami Krishnananda

Philosophy and Life

The aim of philosophy is right living. Genuine, real philosophy, worth its name, is expected to enable one to live the truest life possible—a life of wisdom, free from the imperfections by which ordinary unphilosophical life is characterised. Philosophy is neither an intellectual diversion nor an academic pedantry overlooking the facts of experience in the world; neither a feat of empty scholarship nor a mere hobby of the care-free mind; but the intelligent analysis of the immediate facts of life as a whole, an examination of the implications of experience, and a scientific theory evolved out from such wise meditations for the purpose of regulating the functions which are responsible for the various phenomena of the individual's consciousness. Philosophy is, therefore, the great art of the perfect life, a life where the common notion of it is transcended, and the Supreme Being, which is identical with existence itself, is realised.

In Swami Sivananda we find a powerful exponent of such a philosophy, the grand philosophy of the Vedanta, and we also find in him an ideal personage rooted in the experience of the Goal taught about by the Vedanta. His life and teachings are aglow with the beautiful synthesis of the different aspects which make up life in its integrity. The Vedanta of Sivananda is neither a dreamy, subjective, world-negating doctrine of illusion, nor a crude, sense-bound, world-affirming theory of societarianism. His philosophy is the one of the divinity of the universe, the immortality of the soul of man, which is identical with the Absolute Self, the essential unity of everything in the universe with this Reality. Towards this end, he steered the course of the lives of people, bearing in mind the various degrees of Reality in which human life is wound up from beginning to end.

The most unique and impelling feature in his teaching, which he always exemplified through his daily life, is that no part of life's experience is neglected or turned a deaf ear to by his philosophy. A philosophy which overlooks some aspect or aspects is subject to the charge of being partial and incomplete and therefore not worthy of being regarded as a science of life. Swami Sivananda exhorts the aspirants after the highest end of life not to fight shy of the objective realities which stare at the face of even the majestic idealist. Every degree of Reality has to be paid its due; else it would rebel against the proud aspirant who has trodden over it with his eyes turned upwards. Swami Sivananda is the meeting point of the Upanishad wisdom with the practical man of the workaday world. The Vedanta does not shut its eyes to the heart-rending conditions filling earthly life, nor does it pass uncircumspect about the body and the mind with their downward pulls towards empirical life, though the province of the Vedanta is supermundane. The Vedanta is supermundane, not because it looks down in any way on the dreary earth with a transcendental egoism, but because it transforms and then embraces its fallen brother, the mundane life, in its bosom of an all-inclusive knowledge and love. Only, it will not embrace the brother unless he is transfigured by the magical touch of Divine Life. The universe is included in Brahman, when it loses its limiting characters of being a universe.

Swami Sivananda, with the stupendous experience of one who has dived into the core of life, teaches that the one Brahman appears as the universe in all the planes or degrees of its manifestations, and, therefore, the Sadhaka has to pay his homage to the lower manifestation before he steps into the higher. Sound health, clear understanding, deep knowledge, powerful will and moral toughness, are all parts of the process of the realisation of the ideal preached by the Vedanta. The importance of this picturesque life is well brought out when the Swami insists on an all-round discipline of the lower self. He has a song of "a little," whereby he teaches that a simultaneous development of the diverse sides of human nature is imperative. His Vedanta is not in conflict with Yoga, Bhakti and Karma. All these are blended together in his philosophy, as elements constituting a whole, in the several states of its experience. "To adjust, adapt and accommodate", "to see good in everything", and to bring to effective use all the principles of Nature in the progress of the individual towards Self-realisation along the path of an integrated fusion of the human powers, are some of the main factors which go to build his philosophy of life. He was one of the most practical of persons that could ever be found, though he had his stand on the loftiest peak of absolutistic metaphysics. He was an idealist-realist, a philosopher-humanitarian, a strange mixture of contraries which seemed to find in him a loving mother who brings together her quarrelsome children. To love all, and to see God in all, to serve all, because God is all, to realise God as the identity of all in one fullness of perfection, are his main canons. His Vedanta is the culmination of wisdom, an expression of the realisation of Brahman attained through philosophical analysis which is made possible by the absence of the distractions of the mind, consequent upon devout worship of Ishvara. This devotion, again, is hard to attain without self-purification effected through the selfless performance of obligatory duties incumbent upon all persons without exception. He prescribes methods for overcoming and mastering the physical, vital, mental and intellectual planes of consciousness, in order to enable the aspirant to proceed with his sadhana, without impediments, towards his great spiritual destination, the realisation of the Absolute.

Swami Sivananda accepts the values of the different schools of philosophy as stages leading to and representing partial aspects of the philosophy of the non-dual Absolute. His philosophy is, therefore, realism: The physical universe is independent of individual minds; it appears material when viewed by the individuals, but is ultimately a mode of the spiritual Reality. It is idealism: The universe is an expression of the Cosmic Mind and the values of life are expressions of the individual minds. It is empiricism: The individuals receive sensations from the physical universe outside, which is independent of their thinking; God is above man and appears as the universe. It is rationalism: The forms of individual knowledge are constituted of the nature of the individual mind, and even the whole universe is determined by the nature of the necessary and universal laws of the Cosmic Mind. It is voluntarism: The urges of the will dominate the individual nature and subject it to suffering; the cravings of the will in man restrict the functions of his intellect and make him rationalise the wishes buried in the unconscious bottom of his psychological consciousness, though the will can be overcome by the higher reason and discrimination. It is dualism: There is, as far as human life in the world is concerned, a difference between the sensible and the intelligible, matter and mind, individual and God, the actual and the possible, appearance and Reality, and one has therefore to follow the laws of the Universal which is above phenomena. Only in Self-realisation is this distinction abolished. It is realistic idealism: Nothing that is existent can be essentially other than Pure Consciousness. All existents are subordinate to it. The universe is dependent on the Real. God is the dynamic cause of the universe. It is pragmatism: the true has also a practical value. The world of sense is a practical reality (vyavaharika-satta), because it leads to successful action. The existence of Ishvara or the Overlord of the universe has to be admitted, and this hypothesis is indispensable to account for life. It is indeterminism: Man's essential nature is spiritual consciousness which is free and is above all determinations in the universe. It is determinism: The relative individual is limited to mind and body which are subject to the operation of universal laws. It is evolutionism: All things are products of development and tend to unfold themselves through several forward and backward movements in their final ascent to the Absolute. It is phenomenalism: The sense-universe is a realm of changing appearances or phenomena of the Real, and human knowledge is limited to these phenomena. It is transcendentalism: The Absolute is above the categories of the universe. It is immanentism: Ishvara is the indwelling and animating principle of the universe. It is agnosticism: Reality is inaccessible to mere human thinking. It is mysticism: The Absolute is directly realised in spiritual intuition and being. It is pantheism: The stuff of the universe is not outside Ishvara. It is theism: Ishvara is the cause of the manifestation of the universe and rules it as its Lord. It is Absolutism: The Absolute is the only reality, and its essence is Consciousness. The universe and the individuals are its manifestations or appearances. It is mechanistic: Events follow the laws of space-time in the world of sense-perception and understanding. It is teleological: All motion and activity is directed by Ishvara, the final cause, who determines the universe by the law of His being to which the universe with its contents is organically related.

The Vedanta of Swami Sivananda accepts all philosophical theories, but with reservations, as different sides of truth, and not the whole truth. His Vedanta is a synthesis of all philosophies as well as a transcendence of them in a philosophy of the non-dual Consciousness which sublimates all existences in its supreme essence. True religion is the practice of this philosophy, and Sivananda's religion is a religion of the universe, applicable to all human beings, relative to their positions in the scale of the development of their consciousness. Faith, reason and experience, theory and practice, art and religion, service, love and charity, purification, reflection, meditation and realisation, go hand in hand in the philosophy and teachings of Swami Sivananda.

The Vedanta philosophy which the saint Sivananda propounds is a practical, living one, and not simply a 'theory' of the universe. It is not a theory, but the exposition of the nature of one's practical life. We find this kind of spiritual life brought to its ideal perfection in the life of Sri Krishna, and explained in the Bhagavad-Gita. Swami Sivananda is an example of this type, a type of exalted beings, to whom the Vedanta is a commentary on life, far from those who think that philosophy is divorced from life, that the Vedanta is unconnected with the concerns of existence in the world. The Vedanta of Swami Sivananda is the science which opens up for one the true meaning and value of human endeavour, the significance of embodied existence in the realm of the experience, and enables one to lead a worthy and glorious life here for the purpose of rising to the blissful Absolute, in which the universe is realised as identical with one's Self, to which nothing other than the Self does ever exist, and as the result of which realisation the sage becomes the saviour of all beings.