The Cause of the Restlessness of the Human Personality
by Swami Krishnananda


(Spoken on April 23, 1972)

Salutations to the Almighty, the Supreme Being, whose presence is felt within as well as without, above as well as below, in the form of this mystery of creation, the miracle of the daily routine of the world at large, the wonder that we call life, and the supreme satisfaction which existence itself is. “May the grace of this Mighty Eternity be upon all mankind and all created beings” is the humble prayer perennially flowing from our heart to all everywhere, and at all times.

The contemplation on the Supreme Being is the apex and the culmination of the whole activity of the world. Every effort, every action, every thought and feeling is systematically projected towards the achievement of this goal of the life of that which is within and that which is without, that which is invisible and that which is visible, with different persons, objects and things moving towards it in different ways, with different grades of intensity and different velocity of space.

The nearer beings approach to this mighty centre of the cosmos, the greater is the sense of protection, and the higher is the freedom and the sense of relief that each one feels, as we feel relieved when the balmy rays of the sun fall on our bodies. As creepers, plants and trees wind their way upward to the sky to catch a glimpse of the light of the sun, in such a way our souls, through all the apparatus of their activity, namely the mind, the senses and the body, wind their paths towards this mighty ocean of existence. As the various droplets of the ocean have found their way somehow or other from the small moving puddles nearby, which find their way to the streams, passing themselves on to the rivers and finding their way ultimately to the ocean which is their father and mother, so do all beings move towards this destination perennially, perpetually, nonstop, without a single moment of cessation of this activity.

Never does creation rest in peace. Never can you be in peace. Never can I be in peace. Never can anything, not even an atom of dust in this world, rest in a particular position until it seeks its centre. All beings tend towards their centre, gravitate towards the point which is their soul. The force of gravitation of planetary bodies like the Earth is such that it pulls us towards the centre of its body. We find it difficult to climb a hill and are susceptible to fall, all due to the work of the force of gravitation.

Centres of bodies pull towards themselves the particles of matter which lie on their periphery. It is this central force of gravitation in the astronomical cosmos that is responsible even for the revolution, the rotation of the galaxies in space. These are outer, physical, visible manifestations of the work of this centre of creation which beckons the bodies outer to it to tend towards it so that they may unite with itself. Gravitation is not merely physical, chemical, or biological. It is a universal law. The word ‘universal’ means that it is applicable to all bodies in the entirety of their constitution.

Just as there is physical gravitation, there is psychological gravitation. Minds tend towards their centres, just as bodies fall to the centre of the Earth. However be the intensity of the force with which we throw a stone into space, it falls to the centre of the Earth, parallel to the radius of the globe of the Earth. Likewise, there is mental gravitation. Minds are like particles of matter. Just as matter tends towards the centre of the body of which it is a part, minds tend towards the centre of which they too are a part. We are not merely bodies, as you know very well. We are also minds, thinking principles, and as bodies gravitate towards physical centres, minds tend towards psychological centres. This is why while bodies cannot be at rest, minds also cannot be at rest. So we are restless both in body and mind.

It is not merely human beings that are restless. All creation is in a state of agony, as it were, on account of having lost its centre. When we lose our centre, we are out of gear, and naturally we do not know where we tend. The whole structure of an entity moves towards its centre.

For the time being, we may be contented with an analysis of merely the human personality. As human beings, we are obviously concerned with humanity more than other parts of creation, though it is not true that the world consists merely of mankind. Creation is vaster than what man can think of, and there are treasures and wonders more unfathomable than what man’s mind is able to dream. Nevertheless, for the purpose of analysis we can tentatively take the structure of the human personality, which is its centre. What is the reason for the restlessness of the human personality? The body is restless, the mind is restless, the intellect is restless, the feelings are restless. The reason is that they are out of centre. Just as a physical aspect may tend towards a physical centre, the psychological aspect also tends towards the psychological centre.

We have also a deeper essence, namely, the spiritual centre. Body, mind and soul combined make the human personality. Ātmendriya-mano-yuktam bhoktety āhur manīṣiṇaḥ (Katha Up. 1.3.4), says the Katha Upanishad. We are not only the body, we are not only the mind, and we are also not only the soul. Mr. so-and-so is not only the soul, not merely the mind, not only the body. It is a combination blended together of body-mind-soul complex that is personality. It is the complex of human personality that tends towards its centre. This personality is a totality. It is a complete complex by itself. And so while our bodies are subject to the physical gravitational force, on account of which we fall from trees, find it difficult to climb, and so on, demonstrating every minute of our life that there is also physical gravitation, we are also daily demonstrating the fact that there is such a thing as psychological gravitation. There is attraction and repulsion, as in the case with electrical forces or physical bodies. Love and hatred, to take one instance, is an outstanding illustration of psychological gravitation working. Attraction of psychological centres is raga, and repulsion is dvesha. The gravitation works in two ways. It can be centripetal or centrifugal, but it is nevertheless an attempt at integration of forces.

Why should there be such centripetal and centrifugal forces? Who created them, and why are they working? The reason is that from different sides and aspects, or parts of the structure of a being, it tries to gain its centre. The centripetal force is the tendency to go inward. The centrifugal is the tendency to go outward. We seek reality both within and without. We are not contented merely with what is inside our bodies. We are not also contented merely with what is outside in the world. We want both things, and in our pursuit of both aspects of our life, the within and the without, we seem to have lost both sides. There is neither acquisition of pleasant things outside, nor is there peace from within because we have not been able to integrate our personality; we have only been working in terms of the bifurcation of personality as the within and the without.

That minds are restless is an indication that they tend towards something. Towards what do they tend? What is the intention of the mind in being restless? The intention is to catch something, to go towards something, to acquire, possess and enjoy something. But why is it? Why should it be so? Why should the mind be made in such a way that it should be restless without an object from outside? It has lost its centre, and is seeking it. But is the centre in the object? Does it mean that because the mind moves towards objects that the centre of the mind is in objects? Yes, in one way it is. No, in another sense, it is not. You can say “yes” and “no” both.

But the character of a centre is lost sight of by the mind which seeks it in objects of sense. It is true that the centre is everywhere, as great saints have declared, but it is as if it is nowhere because while the centre is observed or seen or visualised by observation, it is not recognised. It is not merely enough if we see things; we must also recognise them. We know very well the importance of recognition. We can look at a person, we can see a person, but the meaning changes when we recognise a person. We see the centre everywhere, but we are unable to recognise it; therefore, the mind, in spite of its being in an ocean of centres, is restless. It has not recognised the fact of there being a centre. As the Upanishad puts it in an analogy, it is like a person walking over a treasure every day, not knowing that it is buried under his own feet.

The centre, towards which the mind tends, is everywhere, and therefore, there is a tendency of the mind to move to every object. But it does not recognise the centre, and so it gets repelled from the object. Hence it is that there is bereavement. While there is a tentative or a temporary possession, there is also bereavement that follows. So what we gain, we also lose. The world is made in such a way that there cannot be merely gains. There are also losses.

Now, this is on account of the fact that while the centres are calling the mind towards themselves, when the mind really moves towards the centre, it is repelled by the centre. This is a very strange contradiction in life, that we are attracted and repelled at the same time. It is something like being called by a good friend and then being given a kick when we actually go there. This is exactly what happens to us when we go towards objects. They are calling us good friends, but when we go there they give us a kick and so we come back shamefaced, as if nothing has been obtained. But again the call is there: “Come.” And when we go there, we get the same response again. Daily this is the fate of our mind. We cannot live without objects, and yet we also cannot live with them. Some people live in miserable families. They cannot be out of the family, but they also cannot be in the family. Their life is miserable.

Likewise, it appears to us that we cannot be in the world, and yet we also cannot be out of the world, because we are in the world but do not recognise its character. When we are in a family, we must recognise it as a family. Then only we can be a member of the family. To live in a family is not merely to live in the midst of a few people. A few people sitting together do not constitute a family. ‘Family’ does not mean merely persons; it is an attitude, a recognition of values, that constitutes a family. When there is no recognition of a particular value for the family, it ceases to be a family even if the people are living in the same house. That is why families are occasionally unhappy. The values are lost; the persons are still there, but the meaning is absent. Some such thing has happened to us in this world. We are living in a world of tremendous meaning, significance and value, which is why it attracts us every moment. We cannot live without it, as it were, yet it gives us a kick because the meaning of it is not recognised.

When the mind moves towards an object, the movement is honest and piously directed; the intention is good. The intention is good in the sense that the mind which has lost its centre wants to seek it, to find it, and enter into it. Jñātuṁ draṣṭuṁ ca tattvena praveṣṭuṁ ca (Gita 11.54), as the Bhagavadgita puts it: To see it, to behold it, and to enter into it, is the intention of the mind when it is attracted towards objects of sense. But why is it that the objects give a kick or repel us? The reason is that while the mind falls upon the centres, it refuses to recognise them as centres. Then the centres give a kick of repulsion.

Now, you may be wondering as to what all this means. What does it mean when we say that the centre is not recognised, while it is actually seen with the eyes? You know the difference between seeing and recognising. A gold necklace can be seen even by a monkey, but it cannot recognise its meaning. The value is not there for the monkey. So there is a difference between simply seeing and recognising. We see the object, but we do not recognise it.

What is it to recognise an object? To recognise it is to take it for what it is and to accept it as that for which the mind has actually gone there. The mind has gone to the object not to accept it as an object, but to make it a part of itself. That is the meaning of the centre. The centre has no externality. Centres have no externality because that is the very definition of a centre. A centre is a point, geometrically speaking, and sometimes it is said that a point has no measuring capacity. It cannot measure itself, and it cannot be measured. It is a peculiar geometrical unit which has no dimension but when joined together it can make a line with dimension. Many points make a line, as geometricians tell us, but the point itself has no dimension. How can a non-dimensional unit create a dimensional line? This is something very mysterious. It is something like God creating the world. A four-dimensional being creates a three-dimensional world. A dimensionless point creates a line with dimensions, but the point by itself has no dimension.

Now, can you conceive of a vast expanse of such centres which have no dimension? That would be God Himself, a dimensionless centre, but existing everywhere. That is why we say God as a centre is everywhere but His circumference is nowhere – a centre which is everywhere with circumference nowhere. This is a peculiar geometrical figure. God is such a being. He is a centre who is everywhere without any circumference, which means He has no limitations. Nothing can bind Him.

But why do we call Him a centre? This is our subject, as to what a centre is, and why the mind travels to objects, and why it is restless. God is regarded as a centre because He has no externality. In spiritual or philosophical language, especially in Sanskrit, we call this the Atman, or the Self. The centre and the Self mean one and the same thing. It is the point. It is the point without dimensions, and it is this that the mind wishes to recognise in objects of sense. But when it goes to the object, it sees dimensions. Every object has a dimension – length, breadth, height – and so the mind gets deluded into the notion that the centre is full of dimensions; therefore, mistaking a dimensionless centre for a body of dimensions, it gets attached to the object.

We cannot get attached to that which has no dimensions. We know very well that it is impossible. Our attachment is towards bodies which have a dimension, and we also get repelled from them. But that which has no dimension cannot attract us and cannot also repel us. So when we speak of God, we are not interested. The mind does not go towards it because God neither attracts nor repels in the usual or ordinary sense of the term. He calls us in a different way altogether, making us restless throughout life.

God calls us as objects of sense call our mind. Just as the minds become restless when they do not possess their objects, our whole personality is restless until we reach God, Who is the Absolute centre of the cosmos. But when I say ‘centre’, I do not mean a particular point of space, because it is a centre which is everywhere. Don’t forget this: A point in space cannot be said to be everywhere, but that which is everywhere is also a point. We call it a point just to make it clear to the mind that it is not an object because the moment we say it is not a point, we will think it is with dimensions. Difficult it is for the mind to grasp the concept of God because He is an eluding presupposition of our mental activities and to conceive Him is like trying to stand on our own shoulders or seeing our own eyes. This is a practical impossibility.

So the restlessness of our personality, physically, mentally and spiritually, remains ever the same in spite of our activity, in spite of our effort to put an end to it. It does not come to an end because while the mind’s intention is to move towards the centre, it actually moves towards an imagined circumference. While we wish to go to Badrinath, towards the north, we actually go south towards Delhi and complain, “I have not reached Badrinath,” because we have moved in the opposite direction.

The restlessness of the mind, of bodies and of the spirit cannot cease until they find their centre within as well as without. The centre is not merely within; it is not merely without. It is everywhere. This is a point to be reiterated and never to be forgotten.

When we limit God to outer forms, we make one mistake. When we limit Him to a light within, like a jyoti in the heart, we make another mistake. So both ways we are helpless and driven into a corner in our efforts at catching Him, because He has to be seen and recognised as He really is. Astīty evopalabdhavyas tattva-bhāvena cobhayoḥ (2.3.13), says the Katha Upanishad. We have to recognise Him as He is. You know how displeased you would be if I do not recognise you as you really are. If a man comes and I call him a woman, or if a very respectable dignitary comes and I call him a peon, he will not be pleased. He will say, “You do not recognise me at all.” But if I duly recognise your worth and take you for what you really are, or what you think you are, then how elated you feel! Then you are in my pocket. I can do anything with you. Otherwise, you are repelled.

This is the nature of everything in the world, even with God Himself. If you recognise Him as He is, He is in your pocket. He will do anything that you ask Him to do. He will even wash your clothes. But you cannot recognise Him as He is. He is a very shrewd person. He always comes in a guise to terrify you. Sometimes mothers wish to terrify small children. They cover their face with their sari and then make a ‘boo’ sound, and the child runs away in fear that a devil has come. But when the mother lifts her sari, “Oh, it is my mother!” The child comes running once again.

God has been masquerading in this world in the guise of objects of sense to terrify us, to repel us, and to put us off. He is there in the very same object which repels us, attracts us, tempts us, and kicks us back. But He has not lifted the screen which He has put on His face, for reasons He alone knows. When the screen is lifted, we will see Him as He is, and we will run to Him as a calf would run to its mother.

Then why do we feel restless in the world? This is the answer. We have missed our centre, which is everywhere, so we run hither and thither seeking for it, searching for it. We go to America, but we will not see it even if we go to the moon, to Jupiter or even to the centre of the solar system. Speed, activity, distance does not mean gaining the centre that has been lost because the centre is not at a distance, so why go to the moon for it? It is in us, and it is everywhere, but to recognise the centre is to adopt a new attitude of consciousness not to run hither and thither with our feet or to be busy sweating with our arms and hands.

Hence the life spiritual, the life of contemplation, godly life, is not an ordinary kind of activity like social work or political activity, but a right-about turn of our consciousness. It is an activity, no doubt, but an activity of consciousness, not an activity of a person. Spirituality is a tremendous activity, yes, accepted, but it is not an activity of people. It is an activity of that which constitutes the worth and the significance of people, the meaning that is in people. Spirituality is the activity of the quintessence that is in all persons and things. It is not the activity of the senses and the feet, the legs or the arms. Whatever is of greatest significance and meaning in our personality, the activity of that is spirituality. Why do we call it spirituality? They say that what is our true worth is the spirit. ‘The spirit’ is an English term that we use to signify the essence of a thing, the quintessence of a thing. The deepest meaning or value of a thing is called the spirit. We make generally a distinction between the letter and the spirit. The letter is the form; the spirit is the essence behind it, as they say, the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. They are a little different.

Likewise, there is a spirit of our being. It is defined in various ways and is proclaimed in majestic terms in the scriptures, but all these proclamations have meant nothing to us because all these proclamations are only the letter. They are not the spirit, again. The spirit can be seen only by the spirit. It cannot be seen with the eyes and cannot be logically deduced by the understanding because of this tremendous difficulty in recognising what the spirit, the centre or the meaning of an object or the world as such is. Because of this immense hardship involved in the very recognition of the meaning of life, it has been decided and laid down that a Guru is necessary, that a Master or a guide is essential. How can you see that which the eyes cannot see? Who can point out to you where it is? Who can teach you the lesson of the training of your consciousness? You have been training your mind through the processes of education, but the spirit has not been trained yet. It is revolting, and will revolt as long as its centre has been lost and has not been found. [Swamiji continued the discourse in Hindi for those devotees who did not understand English.]