Resurgent Culture
by Swami Krishnananda

Discourse 2: The Psychology of the Inner Man

Relativity of Perception

We noticed that our essential Self is the highest reality. Even doubt and denial of it really affirm it. In our ordinary external life we are prone to believe that our eyes are the seers of objects. This is the uncritical opinion of the common man. But it is not difficult to perceive that the eyes by themselves have not the power to know things independently. The matter comes into high relief in the states of dream and deep sleep, when, even if the eyes be kept open, nothing external can be seen or observed. No sense-organ seems to function in these states. The ears, even if they are kept open, cannot hear sounds. If we place a few particles of sugar on the tongue of a sleeping man, he will produce no reaction and have no taste of it. The very existence of a body is then, for all practical purposes, negatived. The reason, as you will immediately understand it, is that the mind in these two states is withdrawn from the body and maintains no contact with the senses of knowledge. When the mind pervades and activates the senses, they seem to work as intelligent agents of knowledge. But then they are deprived of relation with the mind, they lose all their value. The mind is the real perceiver, and to it even the sense organs, such as the eyes, stand in the position of objects.

But deeper analysis has shown us that even the mind has an objective character, inasmuch as it is seen to be deprived of all life in the states of swoon and deep sleep. It is intelligent when it is awake but non-intelligent when it is made to wind up and adjourn its activities. A consciousness higher than the mind enlivens it and gives it meaning. The mind is a psychological organ, not a metaphysical principle. It is on account of the relative activities of the mind that we have a diversity of experience in the world. It is the mind that creates a gulf between the objects and our reactions to them, between existence and value. This distinction is made not only in respect of the things of the outside world but also the different aspects of our own personality, viz., the physical body made up of the five gross elements—earth, water, fire, air and ether-; the vital body consisting of the vital forces and the organs of motor activity; the mental body consisting of the faculties of understanding, feeling, willing, memory and the like, together with the five senses of perception; and a primal causal element which is experienced by us in the state of deep sleep. For purpose of simplicity we may use the term mind to designate all the psychological functions together. The manner in which the external world is felt by the mind is very much dependent on the latter's constitution and inherent shortcomings.

The above thesis is amply demonstrated in the several experiences of our daily life. Take for example a mother's attitude to her son. It appears that the son of an old mother had to go abroad on military service and did not return home for several years. A rumour seems to have been spread that the son passed away in a foreign land, and the shocking news broke the heart of the mother. The fact, however, was that the news was unfounded and the son was alive. Just imagine the situation wherein the condition of the son is the cause of psychological experience by the mother. It is not that the health and the life of the son is the cause of the happiness of the mother, for, if that were so, the mother, in the instance cited, ought to have been happy, because nothing untoward had actually happened to the son. Nor can it be said that the sorrow of the son, or even his death, is the cause of the sorrow of the mother, for the mother would have been quite happy even if the son were dead, if only that news would not reach her. What, then, is the central pivot of a conscious experience? Not so much an external object or an event as an internal feeling and a reaction. 

Life a Process and Activity

The philosophy of the Vedanta makes a distinction between existence as such and the experience of any type of existence. We may say, if we would like, that a fact or an existence is absolute so far as it goes, and a subjective experience of it is relative. Human life is a psychological process, and not an Immutable existence. A knowledge of the functions of the mind is essential to understand life in its fullness. In the observation of the mind we can have no instrument, such as the ones we use in observing, measuring, examining or cleaning outward things. The mind is the student as well as the object of study, when life as a whole is the theme that we wish to investigate and comprehend. In a famous image given in the Kathopanishad, the inner self of man is compared to a lord seated in a chariot, the body to the chariot, the intellect to the charioteer, the mind to the reins, the senses to the horses pulling the chariot, and the objects of the senses to the roads along which the chariot is driven. The Upanishad gives a caution that the supreme state can be reached only by him who has as his charioteer a powerfully discriminative intellect which directs the restive horses of the senses with the aid of the reins of the mind, and not by any one else who may have a bad charioteer. The meaning of this analogy is that the human individuality and personality are outer forms and instruments to be properly used by the inner directive intelligence towards the great destination of life, and not be taken as ends in themselves or mistaken for reality as such.

Not only the body and the senses but even the self conceived as a limited individual centre of consciousness is a process of intense activity, moving, changing and evolving incessantly. The individual self is the basis of knowledge as well as action. Due to confinement to a spatial existence the individual self is dominated over and harassed by certain urges, felt within itself, pointing to certain external objects and states. The desire for food, clothing and shelter, for name, fame, power, sleep, and sex, often appears in the human individual as a violent force which cannot be easily subdued or even intelligently controlled. These deep-rooted urges are an immediate consequence of the self's restriction to a dualistic perception of the world and an arrogation of ultimate selfhood to itself, while the truth is otherwise. The individual has a morbid habit of unconsciously asserting itself as the centre of experience and considering the other contents of the universe as adjectives or subsidiary elements meant to bring satisfaction to it in some way or the other. In this respect, we should say that all forms of human knowledge are different types of activity to achieve certain ends other than themselves. Man never is, he is always to be. This predicament is, as it would be clear, a corollary of the feeling that we are localised entities forming a mechanical whole, which we call the universe, of which it seems that we can never have a simultaneous knowledge. Our perceptions are always in a series, we know things one after another, and not at one stroke. We never see one and the same picture at two given moments in a cinematographic projection, but yet we seem to see a continuity of the existence of forms on account of a very quick succession and motion of the pictures. Strictly speaking, we never see one and the same thing in a particular act of perception, but the rapidity of the psychoses is so tremendous that there is an illusion of the perception of a static existence. And above all, there is that absolute Self behind all mental functions, from which these draw sustenance, and borrow existence as well, as light. 

Metaphysics of Thought and Its Functions

Every action, viewed in this light, becomes a symptom of the restlessness of the relative consciousness in any of the human sheaths in which it is enclosed. There is an unceasing attempt on its part to break boundaries, to overcome all limitations and to transcend itself at every step. The environment called life in which it finds itself is only an opportunity provided to it to seek and find what it wishes to have in order to exceed itself in experience in the different stages of evolution. The universe is a vast field of psychological experience of multitudinous centres of individuality for working out their deserts by way of objective experience. The universe is another name for experience by a cosmic mind, of which the relative minds are refractive aspects and parts. The desirable and the undesirable in life are nothing but certain consequences which logically follow the whimsical and unmethodical desires of the ignorant individuals who know not their own ultimate destination. What is desirable today need not be so tomorrow, and today's painful experience may be a blessing for the future. It does not mean that all that we want is always the good. We often grope in darkness and find a cup of poison which we avidly drink, while we are really in search of some soothing food to appease our hunger. There is no error in the world or the objects; it is in the painful fact that we have no knowledge of what is really good for us. It is not enough if a physician knows merely that a particular drug has the power to suppress a particular ailment, he has also to know what other reactions the drug will produce in the living organism. In our life, the mind has to act as its own physician, and in this work it has to exercise great vigilance born of right perception. No thought, feeling or willing can be said to be healthy when it is not in consonance with the health and peace of the universe as a whole. That we are members of a single undivided family demands that we have to be mutually co-operative, and think and act in terms of mutual welfare, which, in the end, is the welfare of the whole. When this knowledge is not given to the mind, it acts blindly and errs with the idea that what appears to bring a temporary sensation of pleasure to it is the true and the good. When it does not learn the lesson of life by enlightened reason, it has to learn it by pain.

The mind, in the Vedanta philosophy, is conceived not as any independent entity opposed to matter, as is the case in several systems of Western philosophy, but is understood to be an aspect of the material principle itself appearing in a more rarefied form. The psychology of the Vedanta is a highly scientific methodology evolved out of the fundamental concept that the supreme reality is Absolute Consciousness and anything that may seem to be opposed to it can only be a phase of itself. The fivefold base of objective perception, viz., sound, touch, form, taste and smell, is found to be inseparable from and reciprocally related to the senses of knowledge working under the direction of the mind. The theory of the Vedanta is that the mind, constituting mainly the functions of understanding, thinking, feeling, remembering and willing, is the resultant of the collective totality of the purified forms of the essences of the five substrata of sensations enumerated above. The sympathy that is observed between sensations and their objects is thus explained by the fact that the cause of the appearances of the two are essentially the same. Not only this. There is the presupposition of the greater truth that at the background of the mind, the senses and their objects, there is the Absolute itself as their very reality. The Vedanta psychology is a direct consequence of its basic metaphysics which lays down that existence is non-dual. It is on this foundation of the ultimate inseparability of the knower and the known that we have to envisage the law governing the universe and regulating individual and social life.

The highest law is accordingly conceived as Dharma based on Rita and Satya. Rita and Satya are two terms that occur originally in the Vedas, signifying the eternal cosmic order and the same as manifest in the diversified world. Dharma is nothing but one's duty as an individual stationed in the cosmos, as its integral part. This at once explains by implication one's duty as an individual stationed in the cosmos, as its integral part. This at once explains by implication one's duty towards family, society, the nation and the world at large. The fulfilment of this Dharma is expected to be achieved not in a slipshod way or by leaps and bounds, but in a gradual manner following closely the evolutionary process of the cosmos. Material welfare, the enjoyment of desires and relations to society are given due consideration and are equally regulated by Dharma which, at the same time, works with Moksha or the ultimate realisation of the infinite as its aim. Dharma is the ethical value, Artha the material and the economic value, Kama the vital value and Moksha the infinite value of life. As the infinite included all the finites, the aspiration for Moksha naturally implies the fulfilment of the ends of the other desires and the execution of all other duties in life. This sublime aspiration arises in the mind when it has an inherent feeling of 'enough' with the things of the world. This is the 'divine discontent' which acts as a forerunner of the struggle of the spirit to grasp and know itself in the Absolute. It is here that true knowledge dawns.

Ordinary psychological experience is usually marked off from a life of spiritual insight. The path of the pleasant is differentiated from the way of the good. What the senses report to us need not necessarily be the true or the good. Often they give us false intimations and involve us in tantalising mirages which recede from us as we try to approach them. It is because of this unfortunate predicament that we go on experimenting with one object after another, seeking final satisfaction, but do not find it anywhere. This fruitless pursuit continues until thinking of benefit in terms of separateness discovers until its own futility and gives way to a search for peace in terms of more and more integrated realms of being. The individual expands to the family, the family to the community, the community to a wider society or the nation, the nation to the whole world, and the world to the cosmos, wherein the process of expansion finds its limit and begins to turn inward into the centre of experience which, in the end, is recognised to be identical with the Supreme Being. Bearing this in mind, the sage of the Upanishad warns us with the great rule of life that everything shall desert us if we consider it to be different from our own essential self. As we have already noticed, nothing in this world can be considered to be merely a means to the satisfaction of another, for in this mutually-determined whole there are only ends, not means. The Bhagavad-Gita states that all pleasures that are born of the contact of the mind and the senses with the external are wombs of pain, for outward contact is not the way of contacting reality. The dissatisfying consequence of sense-gratifications, the fear that usually attends upon them, the chances of getting addicted to the habits and impressions produced by such pleasures, and the inevitability of the rise of further desires and greater distractions, in addition to the wearing out of the senses, should rouse in the man of discrimination a consciousness of the higher life.

Secret of Right Action

No action is seen to fully bring to us the intended result, because it is bound up with several factors not under the control of the actor. It is meaningless to think that a divine way of living is not the usual way and that it is some mystic segregation and introversion not normally connected with life. This misconception arises on account of a misunderstanding of what spiritual life is and the aim of life should mean to us. When every type of action is visualised as a process of the universal activity of God, or the Absolute, individual and personal agency drops out from the scene altogether. Behold the soul-stirring dictum of the Bhagavad-Gita, that the wise one should always maintain the feeling that the agent, the process and the result of action are only modes in the universal design. Here becomes explicit the truth of the saying that we are to regard ourselves as only instruments and not the real doers of any action. This is Karma-Yoga, that master technique of converting every work into duty and a veritable self-sacrifice, self-dedication and self-consecration in the beatitude of God. And Karma-Yoga is said to be based on Buddhi-Yoga or the art of right understanding, the understanding that man is ever in a state of attunement with God. Even the springs of instinctive action are found ultimately to be rooted in a distortion of the desire for self-possession in the completeness of the Divine. Only, instinctive action suffers and labours under the ignorance that the body and the mind have an existence isolated from other bodies and minds. This misery is Samsara, the aberration of the soul from itself, and the searching for itself in the not-self, the phantom and the imagination.

The reason why we think and feel as we do or act as we are accustomed to, lies in the why and how of individual existence itself. The body and the mind receive a universal sustenance, they are not only maintained but even constituted by an ocean of force which appears to manifest itself in spatio-temporal configurations. Our central urge is to overcome spatial limitations and temporal restrictions in an experience which is self-dependent, self-determined and perfect in itself. This state is referred to in the Upanishad as the Plenum of Felicity, where one sees nothing else, hears nothing else and understands nothing else. It is also said that should be considered transient and paltry in which one sees something else, hears something else and understands something else than the Self. Under these circumstances it would be mere vanity and a futile attempt to try to arrogate reality to any personality or individuality. This self-arrogation is termed selfishness, and is a folly.

In this mysterious cosmos, which is more like a reverberating chamber where every little sound is loudly heard everywhere and in which there can be no such thing as privacy, every thought, however feeble it may be, announces itself spontaneously and gets recorded in the subtle realms, never gets destroyed, and is repaid in a befitting manner. Every thought is a tiny ripple, a wave in the sea of existence, and has a claim to exist and be evaluated as any other thing existent or conceivable. Everyone of us, therefore, has at his background infinite support, infinite help, infinite sympathy, if only we would be careful enough to evoke it, by being aware of it. The unity of religions, the concord of philosophical thought, the meaning of universal brotherhood and the necessity for universal love in life is here explained, and we are now able to recognise it not as a fancy, a dogma, a creed or a tenet, but as the one law of life, the rule of individual and social survival, the principle and significance of our very existence.

Every bit of thing in the world, from the lowest to the highest, every little thought, feeling and action has to be viewed, judged and evaluated in the light of the unitary law that we have thus discovered as relentlessly operating within us and also outside us. True morality is the determination of the lower by the higher, the envisaging of every step that we take as a necessary precondition of the next step. Life in the world is a means which, when it evolves itself completely, takes the shape of the end, and the end is already present at every stage of the developing process of the means. The world is thus teleological and not mechanical. We, individuals inhabiting this universe, are held together not as pebbles or stones forming a heap but as organic parts which are inseparably related to a living whole that cannot be cut or divided without being mutilated and destroyed. Our social relations, which have a deeper meaning than is seen on the surface, should apprise us of the existence of a universal Self, and of our duty to it in all the strata of life. In our perceptions we perceive it, in our feelings we feel it, and in our actions we stumble upon it every moment, though we, at the present state of ours, are not endowed with an adequate knowledge of it. Human psychology is a study of the mental behaviour of the human individuality, and this individuality is, as we have observed above, a conglomeration of certain involuntary urges that seek satisfaction in things they know not. The only saving factor is the higher reason which sometimes points to a higher life above them. We cannot be profound psychologists possessed of an understanding of the hidden implications of our behavior unless we have patience enough to listen attentively to and intelligently sympathise with the clamouring cries that are heard from within ourselves. We cannot cure our illness without knowing why we have fallen ill, and psychology as it is understood in the present Western sense of the term has not the requisite apparatus to fathom the depths of the human personality, it being confined to observed phenomena that are presented to the intellect which often merely plays second fiddle to the ignorant senses. Reason should also be able to know its limitations, and also the reason why it should be so limited. Our present-day psychological analyses cannot be the last word in the field of inner research, for we have other means of knowledge than mere sensation. The mind, when it is disturbed by the revolting noise of the senses, cannot properly reflect in itself the true state of affairs. When the five senses of knowledge stand fixed together with the understanding and the faculty of thinking, and the intellect does not oscillate, that, they say, is the supreme state, declares the Kathopanishad. That, again, is called the condition of Yoga wherein the consciousness does not get objectified through the avenues of the senses, and the mind rests in itself. Yoga is at-one-ment with the Infinite. No science of the mind or study of the inner behaviour of the human being can be exact and meaningful when this mighty truth is lost sight of, and the endeavours at right knowledge are confined to the belief that what we see with our eyes is the all. Far from this is the goal we are seeking, and we require an altogether different education to be able to appreciate this point of view.