by Swami Krishnananda
An element in a well-ordered life is to have a stable background of thought. Most of us suffer due to an absence of this stability in our inner life; we depend mostly on conditions prevailing outside, and we may be said to be living more an outward life than an inward one. The outer conditions of life seem to be determining our personality to such an extent that whatever happens outside seems to have a direct bearing on our personal life. Like the winds that blow in different directions according to the vicissitude of seasons, our personality seems to shift its scene of activity and experience on account of a precarious dependence on outer circumstances.
We are always in a state of mood, as we call it, either elated or depressed, on account of getting influenced by factors beyond our control. It is something like floating on the surface of the ocean and being tossed up and down, hither and thither by the violent waves, having nothing to say in the matter. This sort of life cannot be regarded as satisfying, because to be entirely in the hands of fate and chance occurrences would be a perpetual dying rather than a real living.
Most of us are in such a helpless condition, as it were, that we have to take into account everything that takes place outside without having any say in the matter. This is the life of slavery. A slave is one who has no personal say in anything. Whatever he is ordered to do, he has to do, and his life depends not on himself but on something else. Whatever changes may take place in that ‘something else’ will also be the corresponding change that takes place in one’s own self. This is not a life of freedom, and therefore, it cannot be a life of happiness and peace.
We are unhappy for one reason or the other. Though the cause of the unhappiness may vary from one person to another, the consequence is the same. People may die for various reasons, but the result is that all die. The consequence is uniform: no one is happy, whatever be the cause behind it and whatever be the ultimate reference we make as to the originating factor of it. We cannot be slavish in our conduct of life and at the same time expect to be happy. A slave cannot be happy because slavery is selling oneself out to something other than what one is. We have sold ourselves, as it were, entirely into the hands of factors which we regard as more real than what we are endowed with in our own selves. This is a life of dependence, not a life of independence.
Sarvam paravasam dukham: Whatever is dependent is a source of misery. Whatever be the extent of understanding of this situation of ours, it is not enough to solve the problem in which we have been involved. Our dependence is manifold. So complicated is this dependence that we have not found any time to bestow a thought upon it. People who have been born as slaves regard that slavish life itself as a kind of freedom. They have never enjoyed freedom in their life, never had good health, never heard a good word from people. That has become a normalcy for their life.
Some sort of situation of this character seems to be supervening in our personal lives – one and all, without distinction – so that we have mistaken this life of bondage for a life of freedom. Inasmuch as we have been born into bondage, we have never seen freedom, and do not know what it is. We mistake bondage itself for a sort of freedom and so we try to make the best of it, try to grab a jot of satisfaction or pleasure or happiness from this servitude in which we have been crushed by circumstance.
If we cannot be free, we regard our bondage itself as a kind of freedom. Submission is freedom. We go on submitting ourselves to any kind of thing that takes place, anything that is told and anything that happens, and that submission itself gives us a kind of vicarious satisfaction. This stupidity in which the human mind is involved, and out of which it tries to extract a little happiness, is what traditionally goes by the name of samsara, or earthly entanglement. We are somehow able to get on in life, though we are miserable. Notwithstanding the fact that we have not a ray of hope of achieving ultimate freedom in our life, we try to find some profit in this subjection to circumstance.
All this is because we have no background in our lives. We are drifting like a straw in a violent wind. A dry leaf that is tossed hither and thither by the gale of wind outside has nothing to say about itself. Wherever we are tossed, we move in that direction. Because we are in this condition, we do not know what will happen to us tomorrow – what change will take place in our own lives tomorrow, or even after a few hours. Because of this difficulty, we are in a perpetual state of anxiety. Anxiety gnaws into our hearts on account of not being certain as to what would be our fate the next moment of our life. I do not necessarily refer to death, which is our very fierce guest that may confront us at any moment; but even not taking into consideration this ultimate difficulty of death, there are other circumstances which are also wholly unpredictable.
We cannot say what tomorrow’s political condition will be. We cannot say what the attitude of our friend in regard to us will be tomorrow. We cannot say what would be the state of our health tomorrow. These are all smaller things than death, almost virtually equal to a destruction of our personal independence and freedom. Inasmuch as we are subconsciously in a state of insecurity, we are entirely unhappy in our personality. It is a disturbance that has taken place from within ourselves on account of an unconscious feeling of insecurity, unpredictability, and an unconscious yielding to whatever might happen. A word that is uttered, a behaviour that is confronted, a remark that is made, a little change in the weather – a small thing, a little occurrence or event can completely put us out of gear. Such is the independence that we enjoy in our life.
But the world is the world. The world cannot be anything other than what the world is. King Canute tried to stop the ocean waves. He ordered the waves to stop: “I am the king, the emperor. Stop, O waves.” But the waves said, “You mind your business. We are waves, and we have our own duty.” Canute’s orders were not obeyed by the waves of the ocean, though he was king. Thus, we cannot order the events of life, inasmuch as these events and occurrences seem to be beyond the operation of our capacity or power.
Then what is our fate? We know what has happened to us. As I said, we try to make the best out of the circumstances. There is an old proverb: If you go to a land where people eat snakes, you try to eat the centre of the snake. It means to say, you become better, even there. Don’t eat the tail of it. This is what we call somehow or other dragging through life, and it cannot be called living life. Inwardly we are in turmoil. Outwardly we seem to be trying to adjust ourselves to this turmoil, so we are perpetually in a mood of adjustment to conditions or circumstances that are not under our control. Thus, from birth to death it is a life of suffering and subjection to an unpredictable future.
But a yearning of the soul, a longing that is trying to speak in a language other than linguistic, tells us that we have a sort of future which cannot and need not be a total violation of freedom, or a negation of the fulfilment of the longing. This hope is an insignia that has been implanted in us by providence, pointing to our ultimate destiny. A comprehension of this ultimate possible destiny should be the centre of our life and the background of our thoughts, emotions and actions.
Generally, an example of a tortoise is given to tell us how we have to conduct ourselves under pressing conditions of life. The tortoise thrusts its head outside and moves forward in any direction it likes, but whenever there is a sensation of danger or even a slight movement of anything outside, it has a background of its own. It withdraws itself into its shell, and it seems to be safe there. The shell cannot be pierced or attacked. Whenever there is fear of any kind, the child runs back to its mother and sits on her lap. It is safe there because the ultimate protecting factor is taken as the refuge, which is the solution for all anxieties, for all fear, and for all unhappiness.
Have we in our life any such background of thought? If we are tormented because we cannot understand the processes of life outside, what are we supposed to do? Where are we to withdraw ourselves? We have not found such a centre of our life. We have lost our centre; we have been thrown out of the moorings of our life, and therefore, we drift from centre to centre in order to find solace and refuge. As the centre has been lost, we are still moving on the periphery, the circumference, searching for the centre alone.
Now, no man can be said to have fully discovered this centre of life because the proof is in the eating of the pudding, as they say. We have the demonstration of the futility of human effort in the unhappiness of mankind as a whole. You are not happy, I am not happy, and no one is happy, for a common cause – namely, that we have not yet been able to find a centre for our thoughts. If the thought of our mind could find a centre to rest which it can take as stable enough to protect it from all danger, then that would be a source of happiness for the mind and for the thought. But we are still searching. For ages we have been searching, but the centre has not yet been found. How is it that for centuries people search and cannot find it? It is because of a wrong methodology employed in this search, an erroneous procedure that has been adopted, and a misconception that has been entertained in our hearts from the beginning, right from childhood, in regard to the characteristic of this centre.
In India’s ancient culture there are two prominent terms which speak a word of wisdom on the entire range of human aspiration and enterprise. Satya and Dharma, truth and law – these two terms, which occur originally in the Vedas and in almost all the scriptures of India, tell us what our centre is about, and what also is the possible character or nature of our duty in regard to this Satya, or truth. The centre which we are searching for or seeking is what we call Satya, truth. The truth of things is the centre of things. Our centre is the truth behind us. Our personality is not our truth. We have, most of us, put on a personality which is a camouflage that we are masquerading with for the sake of getting on with the uncontrollable laws that operate outside us.
The centre of our own selves is our deepest resource, which can come to our aid when we are almost alone in the world, unbefriended and unsupported. That is our truth; that is our substance. Who will help us when we have no friends anywhere, when we have nothing to eat and nothing to clad ourselves with? When the winds of the world seem to be blowing everywhere, counter to our wishes, when we have lost the very ground under our feet, who will help us? Who will be our support? What will be the sheet anchor for our life at that moment? That is the truth of our nature, which we have not yet discovered because we have been searching for it elsewhere on account of its uncomfortable character.
The truth of our nature is not always very pleasant. The unpleasant nature of truth is unveiled before the senses and our mind; we dread its perception, and even its thought. Would we like to know what we really are? We would not like to know it because if we are opened threadbare and exposed to the world in our utter simplicity and substantiality, we would be quite a different person from what we appear in society.
There is an accretion of psychological growth which we have regarded as our personality and which we hug with great devotion and affection. The social personality, the egoistic personality, the desireful personality, the greed personality, the anger personality, the vindictive personality and many other personalities have grown over us, over the truth of our nature, like moss. When these personalities have grown for years, they become so hardened that the core over which they have grown gets completely submerged. We are only the moss that has grown over, and the inner core has been completely lost sight of.
We dread truth both outwardly and inwardly. Though we say truth triumphs, we are afraid of truth for the reason that the law of truth, the Dharma of Satya, is not always in conformity with the call of our senses and the desireful mind. Dharma and Satya go together like the light of the sun and the orb of the sun. If the orb of the sun is Satya, or truth, the radiance of the sun is Dharma, or law. Law is nothing but truth manifesting itself; and truth, if it manifests itself in life, becomes a restraining principle. Dharmaraja is also called Yamaraja. The king of righteousness or justice, who dispenses justice to people, is called Yama in Indian mythological parlance. Yama is one who restrains, controls, subjugates, and sees that people abide by the law. One who sees to it that the law is not violated is Dharmaraja. The principle behind Dharma is that truth should not be violated because Dharma and Satya, law and truth, are the obverse and the reverse of the same coin. We cannot be happy in life when we completely ignore the call of Dharma and Satya.
We have our own definition of Dharma and our own definition of Satya, no doubt. We have various degrees of righteousness and truth – the Vyavaharika and the Pratibasika. The apparent and the practical aspects are what mostly attract our attention. Utility is regarded by us as the test of truth. This is the pragmatic criterion that we generally employ in judging things by collecting evidence, weighing the evidence on a balance, and seeing how far it conforms to accepted major premises in the argument of justice and law. But people even today have never been able to find out to their fullest satisfaction what this ultimate law or ultimate righteousness is, because that which varies from person to person or from condition to condition cannot be called a perpetual source of Dharma.
We make a distinction between what are known as Samanya Dharma and Visesha Dharma, the general principle of righteousness and the modified form of it to suit particular instances. We are mostly concerned with particular instances, and have forgotten the principle of law behind it which will operate for all times. We call it the philosophy of law, and not merely the application of it. Its philosophy is a consonance with truth in general, and so long as our mind is in consonance with this ultimate regulative principle, naturally the mind draws sustenance and satisfaction from it.
Dharmo rakshati rakshitaha: When you protect Dharma, they say, Dharma protects you. When we abide by law, law protects us or takes care of us. This is because it is a call of the centre of life. The righteous conduct is an external demonstration of the inward call of truth with which our actions, thoughts and feelings have to be consonant. Whenever we are tossed by the winds of life, what are we supposed to do? We should withdraw ourselves to this ultimate background. The moment we withdraw ourselves to this background, as we go home after our office work, we are safe from the worries of day-to-day life.
If we are to be happy, we have to find the centre of our being and a background for our thought by detecting or discovering this centre in the place where it is, and not in the place where it would appear to be. Generally, we try to discover this centre in outward circumstances and objects of sense. That is the reason why we are very busy from morning to evening throughout the day and pass our lives in this manner by judging ourselves in terms of objects and outer conditions, thus not discovering a perpetual common denomination of happiness. Though by a difficult adjustment that we make in our conscious life we seem to be satisfied, inwardly we are shaken and feel very miserable. When the wind blows, the branches of the tree shake violently but the root is not shaken; but if an earthquake takes place and there is a complete shaking of the root itself, then the tree will not survive. The outer circumstances may be like shaking leaves, but the inward part of our life should be like a stable root. If we are to be satisfied with ourselves, we should have a centre in ourselves, and not seek it elsewhere under conditions which are not under our control.
To seek this centre, to find this centre, to enter into this centre, has been our perennial effort throughout the day and night, and when it is discovered, it comes like a startling revelation. It rises before us like the bright sun coming from the horizon; and like the mist vanishing before the rising sun, our difficulties vanish before the revelation of this truth. To find the centre in ourselves would be to seek the truth of our nature, which would be ultimately the truth of the nature of all people; and to be in consonance with the nature of this centre in our self is the Dharma of our life. Our duty is our Dharma, and our duty is in consonance with our real nature.
We have been defining Dharma, or duty, by transferring the character of this centre of ourselves to other aspects of our life which are workable and necessary and yet do not exhaust the nature of truth. We have various kinds of duty such as social duty, duty to others, duty to Nature, duty to the Creator, and so on, which are extensions of the application of this law of our centre in terms of the nature of our perceptions, cognitions and appreciations in the world, while really it is a consonance of our conduct with our own nature.
We will realise on a careful analysis that the truth or the centre of our life is an indivisible unit, and not a ramified or distracted conglomeration or a composite. We are not divided in our own being. You know very well that you are an undivided centre in yourself. You cannot be divided or cut into parts because even if you are to be divided, your awareness of the division is undivided. You cannot be divided because it is the basic fundamental. If that can be divided, it cannot be the fundamental; there must be something behind it yet. To be in harmony with an indivisible centre or a unit of being would be also to conduct oneself in such a manner that it is not in any way dissonant with the centres of a similar nature discoverable in other persons and other things. This is a very difficult concept to swallow because the relationship between two centres, two substantialities of two persons between or among themselves, is difficult for the mind to understand inasmuch as the centre of another person or another thing is mistakenly regarded as an object of perception.
Well, it is not so. Just as the centre of your being is not an object of your perception – it is an intuitionally accepted fact in your own nature – so also the centre or the ultimate substance of any person and anything in the world is such an intuited non-objective something which has to be appreciated by everyone in a manner suitable to its nature.
We find it hard to observe the law of Dharma and to proclaim the nature of truth in the world because we cannot appreciate the truth or the centre of other things and other persons, except in an objective manner. When we do not objectify our centre and our substantiality – we regard it as a pure subject which has an intrinsic worth of its own – how is it that we externalise that very same centre and substance in other persons and things? This is the error of thought, a mistake in our thinking. A centre is that particular something which cannot be externalised. The moment it is externalised, it ceases to be a centre. It becomes a radius, a circumference, a periphery, a boundary, an object, and so on.