by Swami Krishnananda
Our reactions to objects of perception are the primary consideration in any of our enterprises in the world. It is not so important what things are as our reactions and attitude towards them and the extent to which we can understand them. Ultimately, the concern is not of things, but of ourselves. Whatever be the primary substances we encounter in our daily life, and whatever be the truth about them, we seem to be concerned with the manner with which we respond to these things in the different degrees of manifestation.
What we are really concerned with in life is the manner with which we are concerned with things. This is very difficult to understand because mostly we mix up attitudes with things on a daily basis. Our attitudes to things are mixed up with the things themselves, which causes all the pleasures and pains of the world. It is difficult to distinguish between the things themselves and these psychological factors involved in the perception of them.
No ordinary human mind can make this distinction. Things get reflected in the mind and the mind pervades them, so that we do not know where the boundary is between the inner and the outer worlds. We often see ourselves in things, and we cannot know that it is we that see and ourselves that are seen: we are seeing ourselves. The identification of the perceiving mind is so intense and is worked in so effectively that we cannot know what we are seeing. We take our projected psychological conditions for realities and then we work upon things of the world so as to improve them, to manoeuvre or direct them in certain ways. In truth, what happens is that we try to bring about a reconditioning of our own attitudes in respect of things of the world.
No man has seen the world as it is, and no one can see it, as long as we have eyes with which we have to see, and a mind with which we have to think. The mind conditions all perceptions, as the eyes condition the visualisation of all objects. Hence, the ancient seers to whom our scriptures were revealed, in their deepest intuition of things, discovered practical ways of approach to the problems and questions of the world – the way to freedom, which is the subject we have been discussing all these days. The way to freedom means the way to freedom from something. From what is it that we want freedom?
To ask for freedom is to say that something is limiting us: something does not allow our freedom. Who is it that does not allow our freedom? To free ourselves from that factor would be freedom. If somebody is catching hold of our neck, freedom would be to free ourselves from the clutches of that person.
Generally when we think of freedom, we imply thereby a consciousness of something which denies us freedom. Just as it is difficult to be aware of the borderland between the inner world and the external world, where one meets the other, and just as it is difficult enough that our minds and visions condition things of the world to a large extent, so also it is difficult to know what it is that makes us ask for freedom.
To ask for freedom is to accept that we are bound, we are limited, and we are aggrieved; this is the reason why we are asking for freedom. But what is our bondage? The nature of bondage again is the nature of the manner in which the mind reacts to things of the world. My bondage is different from your bondage. My difficulties may not be your difficulties. It is not that everyone is in the same kind of bondage. Types of bondage differ from person to person, from condition to condition, and in accordance with various other factors. Taking into consideration all this complexity of our situation, it appears that freedom is called for.
It seems difficult to know the way of freedom. We cannot easily say from whom or from what are we to be free. Do we want freedom from the world? Then why do we run after the world, if it is freedom from the world that we want? Nobody who asks for freedom really wants freedom from the world, because everyone sees some value and significance, some meaning in the world. He who wants freedom from the world will not run after it.
There are rare occasions when we seem to be fed up with the world. When we become old and have seen enough of things, and have a good understanding of persons and things of the world, often we feel in our private life that we have had enough. This means to say that we will not again run after things; but yet, hard is this attachment. Whatever be the maturity of our understanding of the world, we cannot free ourselves from persons, from things, and from our reactions to things. Wherever there is a perception, there is also a reaction. We cannot merely see things and keep quiet, because seeing is a reaction.
Reaction is a very peculiar and unintelligible condition which takes place in our own personality. It is the way in which the mind answers or responds to the nature of things presented in front of it. In some way it is a kind of judgement of things. We evaluate things, hold an opinion about things, and would like things to be a certain way. That is what is called reaction in regard to things.
Now, are we asking for freedom from our mental reaction to things, or freedom from the things themselves? If we push these questions very pertinently and pointedly to their logical limits, we will find that we cannot get an answer; we will be in a muddle of thought and will not know what we are asking for. We will be crying, not knowing for what.
In every set of circumstances there is a mix-up of factors. There is no single event or cause for anything in this world. Every occurrence, every situation is a conglomeration of many factors, just as no disease is caused by a single factor. Many cumulative factors combine to produce a single event or effect. This applies to everyone and everything in the world. There is a series of causes –‘A’ causing ‘B’, ‘B’ causing ‘C’, ‘C’ causing ‘D’, ‘D’ causing ‘E’, and ‘E’ being ourselves – so our circumstances have been caused by a multitude of factors preceding our present condition; therefore, we cannot say which is the cause for a particular effect.
This situation is also the explanation of any human being at any given condition. We seem to be very wise as long as questions are not pushed to their logical limits. Every question can be answered halfway, but ultimately no question can be answered fully because we cannot reach the ultimacy of anything in this world without also touching the bottom of our own being. When we attempt to touch the ultimate cause, the ultimate substantiality, the ultimacy of anything, it will appear to come back upon us as a boomerang because we are touching our own selves.
We seem to be involved in the ultimate consequences of everything in the world, but we do not seem to be so involved when we touch the border or the surface of things. We seem to be an independent person, unconcerned with others, judging all people with our own whims and fancies so long as we touch only the surface, but when we touch the bottom of things, we seem to be touching the bottom of our own self also. This is something very strange which comes up when we analyse the substance of things.
Even in ordinary parlance when we go into the analysis of the ultimate constituents of an object, we will realise that they are made of the very same constituents that we are made of, as scientists tell us. A table made of wood is made up of the same stuff as our body is made. Why is preference given to our own self in regard to the table? This is an example of the many incidents that crop up as answers to our multitudinous questions in regard to life.
But actually, in regard to life, there is only one question, not many questions. There may be many questions written in our diary, but all these are forms of this one question – one which we do not seem to know how to answer because we do not want to touch the ultimate stuff of anything. We do not want to go to the root of anything, and cannot go, because to touch its root would be to touch the root of the cosmos. This is the great problem that presents itself before everyone when seeking freedom in a life of this kind and a world of this character; and we are cornered from different sides with various queries, as we may be questioned from many sides by lawyers in a court proceeding, for example.
When complex situations arise in life, like questions that pose themselves from all corners, we do not know what to do. We do not know what the freedom we are asking for is, whether we are intelligent in asking at all, or if we are confused. In the beginning stages, spiritual seekers seem to be very clear in their thoughts, but after taking a few steps they are caught. In the initial stages everyone is in a state of enthusiasm, emotional ecstasy and immature feeling that everything is clear. Things are not really clear, but they think so. This is the immaturity of thought of an adolescent or a child. When we press the problem, we know where we are.
To answer the great query of life and to satisfy the fundamental inner demand of the human being, to take things in their practical relationship to people, the ancient seers formulated a system called the Purusharthas, a Sanskrit phrase which means the aims of human existence. When we have pursued these ultimate aims of existence, we are supposed to have pursued the ultimate values of all creation. The pursuit of the Purusharthas is nothing but a pursuit of freedom, but freedom from what?
The answer would be, “Freedom from anything and everything that restricts our consciousness of freedom.” Our consciousness of freedom must be the criterion of freedom. We must be conscious that we are free; then only we can be said to be free. Are we conscious that we are free? Anything that limits the consciousness of freedom is the cause of this bondage.
Freedom ultimately seems to imply freedom from any kind of false relationship to things of the world. Our relationship to things of the world determines whether we are bound or free. It is not the world that binds us, but the relationships that we have with the world. We may call them attachments or detachments, whatever they may be. The thread that connects us with the outer world will tell us whether we are free or bound.
The ancient seers’ technique is the Purusharthas, the four aims of human existence: dharma, artha, kama and moksha. These are terms with which we are familiar, but few have adequate knowledge of them. Dharma is translated in many ways, sometimes as law, order, system, harmony, method, etc. Perhaps it is all these, and none of these independently. Such is what is called dharma.
Artha is supposed to be the pursuit of material values; kama is the pursuit of desires; moksha is the pursuit of freedom as such. Now we will realise that moksha, which is one of the four aims of existence, is really not the fourth in the sense of the fourth leg of a cow, in which case the other three legs have no relation. It is not in this sense that moksha is the fourth. It is fourth in the sense of the fourth standard of education, where the three standards below are included. The fourth standard is not the fourth materially, but inclusively.
Likewise, the principle of dharma is not only one of the four, but the determining factor of all the aims of existence. It is the principle on which we take an action – a step. If we take a step on a principle that is going to make us free in a larger sense, that is dharma; but if we take a step in the direction which restricts our freedom, that is adharma. To move towards lesser freedom is adharma; to move towards larger freedom is dharma.
All this again is a very difficult thing to understand because most people mistake one thing for the other. We cannot know whether we are moving towards bondage or freedom because many times we mistake bondage for pleasure, and pleasure for the good, and the good for pleasure. While we pursue the pleasant, we may think it is the path of the good, and the path of slavery may seem to be the path of freedom.
The fourfold aim of existence is intended to touch the various ways in which we connect ourselves with things, and to achieve freedom. Whatever be the degree of freedom that we achieve, it should be a freedom which is complete, and not merely partial. It may be a lesser degree or a higher degree, but must be complete in its universe of discourse, as the logicians would say. In its own purview, in the ken of its own perception and activity, it should be complete.
If in a curriculum of studies we are reading in the first standard, the curriculum must be complete in itself, for the first standard. When we go to the second standard, again the curriculum should be complete, within the limits allowed by the system of education imparted in that level. So is the case with dharma, artha, kama and moksha. They are rungs of a ladder in evolution, and they are rungs in a very peculiar sense, one touching the other, one overlapping the other, one vitally connecting the other, and one being impossible without the other.
They are not four items of existence with which we have to be concerned at different times. They are simultaneous questions that arise before our minds to which simultaneous answers may have to be given. There are people called Ashtavadhanis who can attend to eight things at a time. Likewise, we have to attend to all these four aspects of life at the same time because tomorrow may never come, so it is not advisable to put something off for another day.
Whatever be the degree of the manifestation of the perfection, it should take into consideration all its aspects in its own level, and when we pursue these aims of life, or Purusharthas, we will realise that we are touching all the sides of our own personality. As a matter of fact, these Purusharthas are not outside in the world. They are not like things that can be purchased from a shop. They are values that can be recognised in everything, including ourselves.
We have various needs of our personal existence – the needs being a difficulty felt due to our being entangled in objects. This is the first difficulty. Everyone is entangled in something: in business, family, friends and enemies, in any blessed thing. Our body, as one of the things of the world, is somehow associated with the other things of the world. This is physical entanglement. The physical body has physical needs from physical objects and conditions. This is the condition of artha, one of the four Purusharthas. That which we call material value, economic value, practical value, pragmatic value and such other value is nothing but the outcome of our physical relationship with physical bodies. No one being conscious of physical bodies can escape this need. As long as we are lodged in a physical vesture, we are conscious of a physical world; and as long as we are in this condition, physical needs will be pressing, and the laws of the physical world will operate upon us. We cannot escape these relations as long as the consciousness is limited to the physical body. This is the need for artha, and no one can escape it. This is one of the urges that spontaneously arises on account of our being physically related to things. Therefore, everyone living in a physical body shall pursue artha.
Artha does not mean money or grain, food, building, etc., as most people imagine. It may include this, but it generally means any kind of urge for a physical necessity which can only be attained in a world of physical relationships.
Now, these are spontaneous outcomes of our physical connections with the world, and no one should imagine that he can escape this necessity. Just as animals stand on four legs, we seem to be pressed by the four arthas – aims, or objectives – one being the physical objective, the need to collaborate with other physical systems, accepting and cooperating with them in such a manner that one body does not collide with another. This is physical cooperation, we may say – cooperation with the physical laws, or natural laws, that operate in the world.