The Nature of the Individual
by Swami Krishnananda


When the universal presence of the Self is recognised in anything, that particular thing ceases to be a thing or an object because the Self cannot be an object. The impossibility to recognise one’s true Self in anything that appears to be outside is the reason why we regard all things as objects which cause either attraction or repulsion. There is a contradiction involved in this perception because the recognition of the presence of objects outside as solidly real goes against the other acceptance of the omnipresence of the Self, which is true Consciousness. The two aspects cannot go together. That which is universal, that which pervades all things, that which is itself and cannot become other than what it is will not permit the existence of an object external to it.

The question will arise before the student of yoga, “How does this contradiction arise?” Actually, this is the question of the basic principles of Sankhya philosophy, which posits consciousness universal on one side, known as purusha, and material ubiquitous existence known as prakriti in the Sanskrit language. It appears that the Sankhya is telling us something very valid indeed, and acceptable even to reason; but this acceptance is tentative. The higher reason will detect a flaw in this argument that consciousness and matter can join together and produce the phenomenon of perception. The objectivity so-called, the location of things external, is supposed to be an activity of the universal matter known as prakriti, which can never become a Self. It always remains as a non-Self; but the purusha, Pure Consciousness, which can never become an external object, contradicts the very process of perception of anything. For this purpose an analogous argument is projected by the Sankhya doctrine, which is finally very untenable. A person who has legs but cannot see can combine himself, join himself, with another person who can see but has no legs, and continue to move in any direction. The blind person with legs can walk, and the person with eyes but no legs can direct the way of movement. This analogy appears to be very humorous because purusha is not legless and prakriti is not as the Sankhya depicts it. Even then, that the two persons are entirely different is a point missed here. The two, one sitting on the shoulder of the other, do not merge into one able-legged, perceiving individual. Therefore the Sankhya, though it has paved the way for further philosophical, metaphysical speculations, has not bridged the gulf between consciousness and object.

Well, I shall not proceed in the direction of Sankhya at present. I am mentioning it as an example of the irreconcilability that pervades all phenomena of life, the reason being the cause of our difficulties in life. We can never solve any problem, finally. Though we appear to be tackling every issue and looking for a result that is permanent, there is no permanent result following from any kind of effort in this world because there is a contradiction on the one hand between the Universal Self and the externalising force of prakriti; and on the other hand there is another conflict, subjectively, between mind and body. Even as we are unable to reconcile the relationship of the universal consciousness with the all-pervading material phenomena, we also cannot reconcile the mind and the body because we do not know whether the mind is produced by the body or the body is produced by the mind, or they run parallelly like two rails of a railway track, all which example does not seem to be satisfying. We are in a big muddle of psychological confusion, and this must be cleared before we take to any step in the direction of yoga.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali has many things to tell us in regard to this problem before us. He begins with a statement regarding the very basis of perception and decision. There are two kinds of perception: the general, acceptable, common to all, and the other, which is abnormal. The process of perception generally is, for instance, our looking at a tree and enjoying the beautiful nature in front, the sun, the moon and the stars, and anything in the world, as it is a general perception which has no particular connotation or meaning. We do not perceive a tree with any kind of meaning that we want to recognise behind it. It is there, and it has an impression upon the mind, and we see it. But there is another kind of perception, which is abnormal. The previous one, the process of general perception and inference, is the subject of what is known as general psychology. The other thing that I am going to tell you now is the subject of abnormal psychology.

A human being has a normal character and also an abnormal character simultaneously operating and creating the mischief of unhappiness wherever one goes. Let us not think of the general perceptions now. We are not bothered about the existence of objects outside like the sun, the moon and the stars, or the public in a railway train, bus stand and so on. This is not going to affect us, though later on we have to understand this also in the sense that we should be aware of how we come in contact with an object that is outside, such as a mountain, though it is not touching our eyes. This is a major problem that we have to tackle later on. How does the mountain sit inside our eyes and make us feel that it exists? Let us not touch that subject now.

The other is the abnormality of certain things. When we see a tree in a large forest, we just see it, and there is no reaction produced in our mind by this perception. But suppose we see a fruit tree in our own garden. We have another feeling towards that tree, not similar to the casual perception of a tree that is in the wild forest. We do not say it is our tree when we perceive a tree in the forest. The idea itself will not arise. But we feel, “It is in my garden, it is my property. I am vitally involved in this tree, and I would not like anyone to interfere with it.” Let somebody cut a tree in the forest; we are not bothered about it. But if somebody cuts or attempts to do this kind of thing with our tree in the garden, we will yell out. This is one example.

Emotional reaction, working simultaneously with the perception of an object, makes this perception abnormal. Merely looking at a thing impersonally without any kind of emotional reaction, like a judge in a court looking at the clients on both sides with no emotion in his mind, is one thing. As both these characteristics are operating in our mind, which one are we going to tackle – the general perception of the world as a whole or the abnormal difficulties that arise on account of emotional reactions? In medical science, general diseases do not receive preference when there is an acute disease. Suppose a person has an ache in the body which requires treatment, but at the same time the person has a high temperature. This second item, temperature, is an acute problem which has to be taken care of first, and the other difficulty of ache in the body is afterwards.

So our problem here is to see how we are suffering every moment of time. We have love and hatred, attraction and repulsion. The moment emotion ceases to agree with the convictions of reason, there is an internal conflict. No one, when perceiving a tree in one’s own garden, concludes that this is just one tree among many other trees in the forest. Is there not a difference between my son and somebody else’s son? Let somebody else’s son walk about; what does it matter? If my son is wandering, I will call him because there is a vital connection of oneself with something outside.

Patanjali makes out that emotions of this kind arise on account of a basic ignorance of the true nature of things. It is called avidya. Absence of true knowledge is called avidya. Vidya is knowledge, avidya means non-knowledge. What is this non-knowledge? It is the recognition of a particular thing as existent and operative, independent of the real fact behind it: This particular object that is so recognised is just a pressure point, as it were, of the universal prakriti, and the prakriti, the whole material matrix that is in front of us, is not made of one object only. Prakriti does not produce only my object. All the objects are manifestations of this all-pervading prakriti, just as all the waves in the ocean are the ocean only. We cannot hug one wave as ours and another wave as somebody else’s because of the vital interconnection between one thing and another thing in this world. The world is made up of interconnected forces.

Prakriti is actually not a substance. We are likely to think that it is a solid, brick-like material against which we can strike our head. No such thing exists. It is a force like electricity, to give an example, which may look like a very adamant, objective substance in front of us. In the same way as this body of ours, looking like a solid entity, is constituted of minute operative energy principles, it is an apparent solidity assumed by congealed forces, energy quantum, which constitutes the substance and the basis of everything else in the world.

The subject, which is the psychophysical individual, and the object, which is the so-called thing in front, are both constituted of a similar pressure in particular directions, as little bubbles and tiny waves in the ocean are certain differentiated pressures exerted by the operation of the bowels of the ocean. The impossibility to recognise this fact is avidya. You can never accept the fact that your existence is not in any way different in its potentiality and value from the existence of anything that you can see outside. If you know that the personality of yours is made up of sugar, that it is a sugar doll, and what you see outside is another sugar doll, you will know that one sugar doll need not get attracted to another because this one is as important, as valuable, as meaningful and significant as the other. But this does not happen. It is impossible to conceive that the things appearing outside are made up of the same substance as one’s own body and mind. The impossibility to recognise this truth is avidya.

Then, what happens afterwards? This avidya, this ignorance, causes further difficulties. If one evil or defect is allowed, many other troubles get piled up, one over the other. The consciousness that has got involved in the intricate difficulty of the impossibility of knowing the all-pervading existence of materiality within oneself as well as outside creates a mixed-up consciousness in oneself, namely, the affirmation of bodily individuality as one’s own self. “I am here,” says a person. Now, who is actually speaking when such assertions are made? Is it purusha, the universal consciousness, speaking? The universal consciousness will not say, “I am here in one place.” Is it prakriti, the all-pervading nature, that is asserting so? That also we cannot say so because it is not ‘here’ or ‘me’. There is no ‘me’ for the all-pervading matter, and there is no ‘me’ for the all-pervading consciousness.

Now, who is it that is saying, “I am here, I am coming”? This is a mix-up of a peculiar nature caused by the ignorance that was mentioned earlier, namely, the locality of the body getting mixed up with the universality of consciousness so that the consciousness itself looks localised. Finished! The tragedy has started. Then it goes on affirming itself again and again, again and again: “I am everything. Who are you? Don’t talk to me. What do you think of me?” and all sort of jargon starts because “I am here only. I cannot be anywhere else.” The body says “I am here. I cannot be anywhere else. I cannot be you or somebody else.” The body may be a concentrated appearance looking like it is existing here, but it cannot make any assertion unless it is attended with consciousness. Consciousness is not in one place, but it gets mixed up with the location of the body and imagines in a mysterious way that it is itself this body. The consciousness, which is Universality, is dead completely. The idea that there is a pervading potentiality in us is totally abrogated, wiped out, by the pressure exerted by bodily constituents.

This non-recognition of the Universal principle causes this assertion of individuality, known as asmita in Sanskrit – the feeling of ‘I am’. This assertion of ‘I am’ involves at the same time the recognition of ‘you are’ and ‘that is’, ‘it is there’ – the ‘I’, ‘you’, ‘that’ – and it begins to dance in the theatre of this ignorant assertion of a particular individual as all-in-all. Is there not a basic instinct in every person to rule over the whole world, if possible? “All others must be subjects. I must be emperor of the whole Earth.” How is it possible for one located individual to make an assertion that he or she is the owner of the entire structure of the universe which is constituted of other individuals of the same nature? So this boast of owning the property of the universe as an emperor is vitiated immediately by the icy hands of death, and the king perishes, and the universe continues.

Ahankara, as it is called – egoism, as it is commonly known – is not the pride of the ordinary person in the world; it is a subtle operative psychological principle of self-assertion itself. This is a deep secret which is to be studied by every person. Non-recognition of the universality of consciousness and matter engenders the foolish affirmation of one’s own self as ‘I am’.

Then what happens? Another difficulty starts, as a third principle. What is that difficulty? There is an agony felt by this individuality by a subtle feeling that it is actually limited in its nature. The so-called emperor who imagines that he is pervading the whole country knows basically he is subject to destruction and death. He is a weak individual. He requires bodyguards to protect himself. The whole country is himself; it cannot protect him. He keeps army, military, police, etc. behind him, which an artificial contrivance created by the frightened ego to guard itself by existent things totally external, so that the agony of location in one place is removed as much as possible by the accretion of other finitudes – large property, so much money, so many relations, and power, name, authority. These are external phenomena which are wrongly associated with one’s own self under the impression that the existence of these associated finites outside expand the finitude so that he becomes a temporary infinite.

But many finites do not make the infinite. Many fools joined together do not become one wise man. This is very important. But this is the tragedy of life. By accumulating many finitudes in any form whatsoever, a foolishness asserts itself again and again that the agonising feeling of limitedness of personality is abolished by the expansion of itself, as it were, through the expanded artificial arena created by considering certain finitudes as one’s own self.

It is not possible for a finite individual to expand to such an extent as to include all the finitudes in the world. Then there will be no perception of finitude itself. Only certain groups of individuals, one particular thing, is considered as necessary for filling the gap of the sorrow of the location of oneself, and it very vehemently rejects any other individual as unconnected with one’s own self. The attraction felt, the necessity to feel oneself in certain bodies of finitudes, causes love. You love only certain parts of the world. The entire world cannot be loved by you. You love only certain people. You cannot love the whole of humanity. And that which is not loved becomes the object of hatred because those things which are not loved may attack by way of a repercussion and a vengeance because of their non-recognition in the dimension of inclusiveness of finitudes. So there is a necessity to guard oneself from the possibility of attack from other finitudes, other people, and there is a distinction between ‘my people’ and ‘other people’.

But this solution is worse than the disease. The finitude thought that it is going to be very majestically happy because of the artificial accumulation of particulars around it, looking like a large expanded person. It has not expanded; it has only fooled itself by imagining that it has become big. But it has not become big. It is only perceptually recognised in the presence of other people by an emotional involvement which makes it appear that this also belongs to you. Nothing can belong to you. Each one is totally independent. There is no such thing as property, possession, etc. Everywhere there is bereavement.

So love and hatred – raga and dvesha, as it is called – follow one after the other from the original ignorance of the true fact of things, followed by self-assertion – asmita or ahankara – again following further into the difficulty of the clash between the wanted and the unwanted. This struggle continues throughout one’s life. This is the battlefield of life – the great Mahabharata in psychological existence, we may say.

Then what happens further? The trouble is not going to leave you so easily. There is a fear that all these things will perish one day. “I will go, and all those accumulated things also will go.” The phenomenal side in us warns us that we cannot perpetually exist in this world. It again wants that all those things you considered as yourself should also vanish along with yourself. The fear of death catches hold of a person. “Oh, one day I will go. One day I will lose all things.” But who can live with such a fear? Existence itself is impossible with a fright of this nature.

There is another attempt made to get out of this clutch of the fear of death by artificially trying to perpetuate oneself in some way or the other. How would you perpetuate yourself when you are going to be doomed by the icy hands of death? Some artificial methods are conceived by the cunning mind. “I shall physically go, but my name will continue.” It clings to a name of oneself, finally, because “I am identical with my own name. When I wish to continue, it is my name that is to be continued, not somebody else’s name associated with this body.” People struggle hard to perpetuate their names in various ways, as it is well known to everybody. They fix up a pillar and write their name: “Here such and such a person lived,” or put up a marble slab somewhere: “This is owned by so-and-so.” There is a feeling that even after the body goes, that name will continue.

How does this idea arise? Is there a memory in the afterlife of there being a name of the previous existence? Does any one of you know what you were in the previous life? The whole thing is wiped out from the person’s memory. Do you know that you were a very important person in the previous life? You had nameplates everywhere. Do you remember that? You were a wealthy man. All those artificial attempts at perpetuating yourself have been defeated totally by the operative forces of nature. In the same way as you do not know anything of your previous life, you will know nothing in the next life of what you are here. So the attempt of transferring yourself with the same glory to the next life is idle. It won’t work.

People try still another method, namely, “Let me have a son. That son will perpetuate my existence. He will be alive, and he will say my father existed.” This biological impulse of somehow or other perpetuating one’s psychophysical existence causes the pressure to have children, and one cannot be happy without them. Actually, nobody wants children. They are a botheration. But they look like great, pleasant surprises. Nature is so clever in implanting in the mind a false notion that children are also one’s own self. How much love you have when the child is born, and how much sorrow when the child dies! So you want a perpetual generation of yourself to continue. Though you have vanished completely from the surface of the earth, you imagine that you will continue existing through your children.

On one side there is the effect of time which defies the very possibility of continuance for all time, and on the other hand there is the individual’s attempt to defy time itself by wanting to perpetuate one’s name and body both. The body is perpetuated through the children. The name is perpetuated by announcements or any other method. Neither of them will work because this perpetuation – biological and psychological – is again individualistic. But that is not sufficient. What is the use of perpetuating an individual locality? There is a fear. “I want a perpetuation of my width also. I must die as a king and not like a beggar, as a wealthy man and not as a poor fellow.” So the limitation caused by space compels a person to see to it that this limitation is removed by the physical artificial expansion of oneself by gathering immense wealth, land, money, relations, etc. The individual sorrow of a possibility of destruction of oneself is attempted to be defeated by this technique of psychological perpetuation and biological perpetuation. These are all foolish dramas played by the individual, which is actually a meaningless child produced by utter ignorance of the true nature of things.