The Reason for Our Dissatisfied Spirit
by Swami Krishnananda

(Spoken on September 18, 1983)

There is a general tendency to overemphasise the values of life in the world on account of a mysterious involvement of man in the world structure. The peculiarity of the very process of mentation is that it establishes as the sole reality possible anything that becomes an object of its cognition under a given condition.

Under a given condition’ is something to be underlined because the world is never in a perpetually uniform condition at any time. The world is caught up in an undulating process so that while many men of insight have regarded the world as a movement or a process like the flowing of the waters of the river, others have held that it has no substantiality at all because that which is characterised by perpetual motion, movement or transitoriness cannot be regarded as a substance by itself. What we call substance or anything that can be considered as substantial – to wit, real – has to maintain itself in a position. The real is that which maintains a position, and the maintenance of a position is what we call the reality of that thing. If a thing does not maintain a position, it has also no substantiality in itself.

Now, “Has the world any substance in it?” is a question which has been answered in multifarious ways. The tendency of nature outside as well as living beings within it has always demonstrated that the character of the whole of what we may call life – natural, biological or psychological – is never in a static condition. Human aspiration, the way of human thinking and the various modes of human activity, or rather human history, stand before us as examples of our life being a need for a continuous vicissitude, a movement from one position to another position. Whether we call it growth, advance, movement, or whatever be the name by which we designate it, it goes without saying that neither human history nor nature’s phenomena seem to have the stability capable of maintaining their position even for a moment.

It is this feature of life outside as well as inside, in nature as well as in our own minds, that has prompted men of insight to conclude that the world is in flames. A Greek philosopher Heraclitus held the opinion that the whole world is a conflagration of fire. The Buddha explained it a little differently, which can have several interpretations from the point of view of the different facets of this flaming process. The idea that the world is like a flame or a moving mass of fire seems to imply that it is rushing and urging itself onward and forward like a flame, which can never be considered as a solid substance. Fire is not a solidity. It is a movement, a process, and it is such a rapid process that it looks like a continuously maintained position.

We have examples before us in daily life of moving pictures whose rapidity of motion gives the illusion of stability and position. A rapidly moving electric fan looks as if it is not moving at all. Intense velocity beyond the capacity of sensory perception looks like stability, solidity, substantiality and position.

It is, therefore, a matter of deep consideration whether the world is a substance and, therefore, the values that we attach to the world are substantial, or whether they are visions that are cast on our eyes that cannot catch up with the velocity of the movement of the inner constituents of the world, which in itself is basically a movement.

It is difficult to conceive what a movement is. Sometimes it appears that there cannot be a movement unless something moves. There must be something that moves in order that there may be movement. Here is a very difficult position before us because something that moves cannot be identified with the movement, and if that thing which moves also is part of the movement itself, we would not be able to think what movement can be because the human mind, which is accustomed to logical thinking, always expects an effect to follow from a cause, and there cannot be only a procession of effects without a substantial, valid motive force at the back of the movement which itself should not be involved in the process we call movement. This is the beginning of philosophical thinking. The nature of the world seems to present before our eyes a twofold picture of a terrible movement, a process which cannot be caught up by the vision with which man is endowed; and, on the other side, it is difficult to understand how anything can be a process if there is nothing which is involved in that process.

For instance, when we say that a river flows, there is something that flows. The flowing itself is not the substance or the thing that is involved in the movement, though because of the continuity of the process of movement it does not appear that there is anything perpetually hanging there at any given moment of time. The continuity which is maintained with a tremendous velocity gives us the impression of a stability of substance. This is what seems to be the central doctrine of teachers like Buddha. There is no world except a transitory process. Here Buddha and Heraclitus agree a hundred percent.

But there is something deeply caught up in a state of anguish in human nature, which is always intent on probing into secrets and diving into mysteries which are not available on the surface of human perception. When we say the world is a process, it implies that we are also a part of that, inasmuch as every one of us is included in this vista or vision called the world. The whole world evolves. The scientists, the philosophers and the psychologists say that there is a natural evolution. There is such an evolution even in the social history of mankind, as philosophers of history would indicate. This would also suggest at the same time, as a concomitance thereof, that human nature, human individuality, the human personality, is of a similar character. Whatever the world is, that man also has to be. He is a chip off the block of the universe. If it is obligatory on the part of human perception to consider the world as a process of some kind, it becomes equally contingent to accept that human nature also is a process.

But here a great question poses itself before us. Man has never at any time felt that he is a process. You and I have always felt that we are single identities right from childhood up to this time. We are not discontinuous links of process changing every moment so that there is no person at all, no human being, and no substance. This would mean that neither you are there, nor I can be there; nothing can be there because for anything to be there it has to persist for a moment at least, and philosophical and scientific analysis seems to demonstrate that nothing maintains a position even for a moment. This has brought us to the impasse of accepting that we, being part of the world, seem to be of a similar nature. Vanishing is the nature of man. Man vanishes. As the river flows and not for a single moment can we touch the same water in the river, we cannot touch the same man in two consecutive seconds.

Are we different people at different moments? Am I the same person today that I was yesterday, or have I been modifying myself every moment into a different thing altogether like a chameleon? If it is true that the world is a process and man is a part of that process, there is perhaps a truth that every moment we are different and there is no identity within us. But we persistently maintain a self-identity: I am today what I was yesterday. Not merely that, we also seem to have an inkling and a hope that we shall continue to be the same thing tomorrow that we are today. Though we may not be able to properly or scientifically explain the validity of this hope of our being the same thing tomorrow as we are today, and we cannot prove that it can be and it has to be, still there is a super-logical, as it were, hope within us which confirms that we cannot be anything else tomorrow than what we are today. We will not be a sheep or a tiger tomorrow; we are the same person, and not merely the same person as a species of humanity; we are self-identical in every respect, and there is an unbroken maintenance of a position and continuity to the self-identical existence in what we call ‘I am I’. A is A. Such thought of self-identity is maintained in man’s consciousness, which cannot brook entry into its realm of any conviction or conclusion that the world is a process, notwithstanding the fact that it is human consciousness that comes to this conclusion.

We have, therefore, in the history of human thinking and philosophical investigation a twofold picture presented before us by placing different types of emphasis due to varieties of investigations. The values of life – political, economic, social, material – seem to be the be-all and end-all of the man of the world today. He has neither any concern with whether the world is a process or a movement or a transiency, nor has he any concern with this peculiar dilemma of finding out whether he is the same man today that he was yesterday, or whether he is going to continue to be tomorrow what he has been today. These things do not enter his mind, and they do not seem to be his concern.

What is man’s concern? His concern is a material association of his material existence with all that his senses can interpret as materially significant and meaningful. A substantial matter has to be grabbed by the materially involved consciousness of human nature, and in the sense that everybody hangs on material values, we may say there is materialism reigning supreme in the world. Materialism is not to be identified merely with the doctrines that go by that name in schools of thought or histories of philosophy. Materialism is a subtle thinking characteristic of human nature by which we feel that life is impossible without dependence on externals, and to that extent we are agreeable to affiliate ourselves to this doctrine that life is impossible without hanging on something that is external to or other than what we are. A very important note is to be struck here. There is something very real which is other than what we are, and we are not the only thing that is important. As long as this conviction is inviolably driven into our minds, we are naturally inveterate believers in the doctrine of materialism because the belief in the existence of an external something is nothing but the belief in the existence of matter. Anything that is posed before consciousness is non-consciousness, and what we call matter is nothing but that which is contained in consciousness as something other than itself. So the desirability of hanging or sticking on our consciousness something other than itself is the desire to drive consciousness from matter so that the belief in the total and the finally valid existence of a non-conscious substance is indicated once and for all.

Now here is not only a question which is philosophical but also a problem of daily life. It is the a non-investigative human nature that hurriedly jumps on external values and imagines that all the joys of life are embedded in material things only, and all satisfaction is nothing but the contact of mind with matter. What else is this if not the doctrine of materialism, a satisfaction that has to be obtained only from that which is material, not merely conceptual, or ideological?

But man is a totally dissatisfied individual. No material accompaniment can satisfy human nature. Even if all the world is there as a boon to a person, it cannot satisfy that person because as illusory as the perceptions of sense obviously are, they very cleverly keep aside from human perception the deeper longings of human nature while they insist on material satisfaction. Even a person who is totally materialistic and who clings only to material joys in the world is a dissatisfied person finally. All the material of the world cannot satisfy that person, even if the whole world is to be given to that person, because there is this illusory longing for one’s contact with a large dimension of material existence. We would like to be the kings of the whole world, if possible, but kings are not happy because their senses get deceived by the elusive presentation which they originally considered as real. If we want to know the deceptive character of a thing, we must possess it and have it for ourselves. As long as we do not possess it, it is attractive, beautiful, and worth having. A thing that is completely under our control and is ours indubitably loses all attraction, and it shall not be any more the object of our desire. It cannot be the object of our desire because we have already fulfilled the desire of having it; therefore, once again there cannot be desire for that object. So the desire moves to another particular location of things because there is a basic impulse at the root of man which arises from a source that cannot be satisfied by any kind of contact with even all the multitude of objective realities.

Man is caught between the devil and the deep sea, as it were, between the longings of sense and the impulses of the deepest spirit within him. The longings of sense compel him to jump from object to object and experiment upon various possibilities of material satisfaction so that man dies with a hope for larger and larger acquisitions of material property and means of enjoyment. Thus he quits the world feeling a total despair that he has not obtained what he wished for. The despair arises not because of the activity of the senses but because of the dissatisfaction of what he himself really is. Man is not a bundle of the senses, a conglomeration of sense activities; therefore, whatever is presented to these conglomerations, these senses, cannot be a presentation to man himself. Man’s essential longing does not arise from the senses. It arises from another realm altogether which is deeper than even the mind and the reason though it gets deflected into various channels of movement through the sense organs when it passes through the apertures of what we call the eyes, the ears, etc. It this deflection of consciousness through the mentation and the sensory operations that misconstrue the original intention of these longings and imagine that they are intent upon certain external objects, while the internals demand something else altogether.

There is an infinite background behind human nature because, as we discussed at the outset, if man is a part of nature he is as infinite and as unlimited as nature itself. The integral association of the human individual with natural forces would imply that man cannot maintain an isolated individuality of his own. The five elements constitute the five elements in the body also. There is nothing to distinguish between nature and man’s physical nature. He moves with nature as a passenger moves with a train in which he is seated. He cannot escape this movement because he is inside the railway train that is moving. So on the one hand, he is sensorily conditioned because of the pressure of consciousness through the diversified sense organs, and the senses which are constituted of material forces impinge on material objects correspondingly. Guṇā guṇeṣu vartanta (Gita 3.28), says the Bhagavadgita: The material energy within us, the tanmatrasshabda, sparsha, rupa, rasa, gandha – which are the building bricks of our sensations, project themselves for the purpose of communion with their own brethren outside in space and time in the form of the fivefold sense objects. So nature communes with nature when the senses come in contact with the world. But the spirit remains dissatisfied.

The contact of consciousness with this involvement in space and time becomes the experience we call world existence. The projection of consciousness externally through the impulse of space and time is what conditions us to an externally limited world, and also compels us to seek joy in external contact only. But the fact of our involvement in something that cannot be our real nature does not disprove or invalidate what we are really in ourselves. We may be mistakenly identified with a large group of powers and forces which are totally alien, and this involvement may make us think in a different way altogether for the time being. A shepherd bleats like a sheep when he is in the midst of sheep; he cannot sing like a Tansen. He always makes the sound of a sheep, and cannot make any other sound. But the shepherd is not a sheep; everyone knows that. His constant association with a particular atmosphere or situation makes him put on the appearance of that situation, and similarly, we look like space-time constituents. We are embodied, localised objects in space and time caught up in causation. We are time-bound, and therefore, liable to destruction in the process of time. We are born, and we have to die. But that aspect of us which is born and that which dies is the aspect of involvement. It is the sheepness in the shephard that is born and that dies. The shepherd himself is not born, and he does not die.

So there is a sheep-like nature in us, which means to say a kind of involvement in a mysterious method or arrangement which cannot itself be known because the knowing process itself is involved in this network. So to again come to the analogy of the shepherd, he can think only like the sheep and cannot think in any other manner, but he is not the sheep. This is also an important point to remember: He can be extricated with effort from that sheepy involvement. Likewise, man has been involved in the space-time-causal network; therefore, he is involved in a process because space-time-causation is nothing but a process, and what we call evolution is nothing but this space-time complex rising from lower degrees of involvement to higher degrees.

But with all that, it is obvious to any thinking mind that there is something in us which observes this position. The conclusion that there is an involvement is arrived at by something which is incapable of such involvement. The higher reason in human nature visualises the fact of there being a lower region in which it is involved, so there is a philosopher behind us. There is the saint and a sage, and that awakened individual is conscious of the fact of such an involvement.

Scriptural gospels and philosophic doctrines and teachings are expressions of insight born of the operation of a higher reason and a higher consciousness which rises above the involvement of the lower mind and the lower reason, while mostly the higher reason in man does not operate. In rare individuals only does it wake up into action. Most of us are in the lower level, so we have a confident attitude in respect of the total reality and substantiality of the world of material things. We have no doubt about it. We are sitting on solid earth, the objects that are present are solid substances, and the enjoyments of material possessions are also solidly valid. Who can doubt that it can be anything else? To the extent we are convinced in this manner, our higher reason does not operate.

Therefore, we are opposed to the dictates of the higher reason. The self is opposed to the self, says the Bhagavadgita. The self is the friend of the self: ātmaiva hyātmano bandhur ātmaiva ripur ātmanaḥ (Gita 6.5): The self is the friend of the self and the self is the opponent of the self. Now, we do not apparently seem to be friends of the self. We are fighting a battle against the requisitions of the higher self, as it were, when we demand a substantial long life in a material existence and unremittingly ask for joys of this world only, as if there is nothing else. But the higher reason is not spiritually dead even in the most illiterate person. Even in a spiritually bankrupt person, the higher reason is not dead though it is not active; therefore, it is simmering inside even in the lowest category of mankind, keeping that status of a totally dissatisfied category.

Thus, no human being can be fully satisfied with all the longings apparently fulfilled, the reason being that the universal longing occasionally shows itself as alive even in the deepest levels of man’s nature, though that nature may be the lowest conceivable.

What is the task before man, then? Is it his duty to grab more and more of the illusory joys of life, not knowing the reason behind these apparent joys? Even when there seems to be a tentative presentation of satisfaction by contact of the mind with objects, there is a terrible mistake and blunder committed, and that does not become an object of our investigation. A sweetened potion may be given to us to drink and we may gulp it because it is delicious, but a little bit of the deadly canker of destructibility of everything is added to it. Those who heavily smoke to their own self-destruction and drink to their own ruin ask for satisfaction, no doubt – a satisfaction that pulls them down until they go to the grave.

Naturally, nobody would be expected to ask for such a satisfaction. We are not here to reign over a kingdom that shall lead us to ashes in the end. The music of the world is beautiful, but these musical notes, charming as they are, that come from the world of objects are analogically presented to us in Homer’s great epic Odyssey. Odysseus, or Ulysses, was to pass through a narrow strait of ocean where two mysterious songstresses were enchanting everyone who passed, converting even the wisest of them into swine. No wisdom would work there, and anyone who listened to that music was charmed to such an extent that he halted his ship and listened to it, to his ruin. He was converted into a pig immediately by the charm of that music and was no more a human being. Odysseus was warned to plug his ears with thick cotton or wax, and tie himself with ropes to the boat so that he would not be pulled by the attraction of the music; such was the force of this extraordinary music.

Human consciousness has been enchanted by this music of the world, and these two songstresses are nothing but space and time before us. They sing beautiful songs, and we have not plugged our ears like Ulysses, nor have we tied ourselves to the rock bottom of our boat, which is the universal that is at our root. We have jumped out of ourselves, as many others did and became swine. We have become today what we are not; we, the Self, have become the non-Self. The person who heard the music became a pig, and we have become pigs, and we are seated here.

Thus is a poignant question before mankind if we are not to move headlong from one state of ruin to another under the impression that it is an advance in culture and technology. It is an advance, no doubt; we can advance even to hell and we may think it is an advance. No one knows where the ships are driven. They are driven by the butcher, and they cannot easily know in what direction they are driven.

It is up to mankind’s common sense, to say the least, to enlarge the scope of action of this little spark of the spirit. The higher reason takes possession of us and directs our life in the world, which means to say, the universal values of life become the determining factors of all particular engagements in our day-to-day existence. Our particular engagements are many. We have umpteen occupations in life – office work, factory work, and so on. But these are the particularised involvements of human nature. They can be sensible and meaningful, and can be regarded as having any worth at all only if the deepest sense that is in man, the universal longing, which can never be satisfied with any involvement in these particulars, becomes the power of determination and the value-giver to the particular elements in life.

Everything in life has to be judged only from the point of view of that which is universally speaking within us. This is what we call the moral sense or ethical living, the judgment of all lower or individual particular engagements in terms of higher values until they reach universal validity. This would perhaps be the same as karma yoga, the performance of action in relation to the various occupations in life and involvements in circumstances in the light of the basic requirements of what man essentially is, namely, unlimited universality.

Such a meditation has to guide us in our daily action. Meditation and action have to go together, not as two different things but as two inseparables, two aspects of a single adventure, as if they are two sides of the same coin. Such a meditation is called for at this moment in human history, and mere activity will not be enough. Any amount of work done, any amount of humdrum and activity will be beating tinsels which will produce no music or rhythm, but they will become a tremendous rhythm and a meaningful involvement when the Universal touches us, when Arjuna is guided by Sri Krishna, when man receives commands from God. When everything which is particular and occupational in the world gets charged with it, the magnetic touch of that which is universal alone can be real.

Thus, the world has to get transformed into a meaningful area of significant existence by drawing sustenance from the great God within us, Who speaks always as a dissatisfied longing, a longing that can never be satisfied until the Universal is reached. This is why we say the goal of life is God-realisation.