by Swami Krishnananda
The exuberant growth of the plant of Brahmacharya into the strong tree of the life of the Grihastha is intended to yield the ripe fruits of Vanaprastha and Sannyasa. The energies seeking expression get subdued gradually by progression and retrogression, by steps taken forward as well as backward. The intention achieved is as in a long journey – many a hill and dale to cross, ups and downs, ascents and descents – yet indicating an onward movement in the journey.
The growth of the energies of the human being is in this sense a very complex movement, extending in almost every direction. The growth of the human system into a state of perfection that it aspires for is not a march in the sense of walking in one direction along a road to a fixed destination, but a different type of movement altogether. It is impossible to compare the way in which it grows or expresses itself internally. It is a simultaneous expansion in every direction, touching every point of the compass and taking into consideration every aspect of existence. In this sense, it is different from the ordinary movements of physical bodies. The movement of vital forces, the movement of consciousness, is impossible of judgement through logical categories. We cannot know how we proceed in the path of evolution. Our intellectual powers are not equipped to measure the extent of the inner response of the individual consciousness to the call of the Universal Spirit.
I began by saying there is a kind of inner relationship of the four Ashramas or stages of life with the four Purusharthas – dharma, artha, kama and moksha. These are indicative of destinies the human soul reaches, and the ways of pursuit, which are quite different in structure and content from anything we can understand in this world.
The most difficult of all things is to understand one’s self because the self of ours, the self of any individual, is inextricably involved in all the processes of creation. When we touch our self, we seem to be touching all the vital strings in creation. The difficulty in understanding one’s own mind lies in the fact that we made a very sharp distinction between our own self and our environment.
Our intellectual powers are unsuited to understanding the soul because the soul is organically related to the structural reality of the whole creation, whereas the intellect is so made, fortunately or unfortunately, that it can bifurcate the characteristic of objects from the objects themselves whenever it tries to understand them. This logic of bifurcation of the objects from its adjectives and predicates is applied by the intellect in the understanding of the Self, God, the Absolute, etc.
We are often told that intellectual logic is no help in understanding Reality. The reason is that the Real is the soul of the cosmos in some sense, as we have a soul in our own body. When we talk of a soul, we do not mean a single unit, a point in space, etc., though this would be the usual notion of the soul. When we talk of the soul of a body and when we speak of the souls of things metaphorically, we cannot help imagining a centre in space – enlightening and luminous though it may be. But the soul is not a shining centre, like a spark of fire. This conception of the soul is again due to a false application of intellectual logic to Reality.
This has become the reason for even our localising the concept of God to space. Everything for us is in space. We are in space, our soul is in space, God is in space. Nothing can be external to space. This difficulty has arisen on account of the fundamental error of our subjugating ourselves to the limitations of intellectual things; and so organically are we involved in this process of thinking that, for us, rationality is the soul. There were philosophers, in the West especially, who thought that the soul is a rational being; hence, rationality is the soul of man. Not so. The soul is super-rational. If at all you can associate the word ‘rational’ with the soul, it is super-rational in the sense that it includes within itself everything and anything that rationality can comprehend.
But it has in itself something unique which the intellect cannot comprehend, unique in the sense that the perception of the soul is not understanding, but a vision which is superior to understanding. This vision is, again to reiterate, what is known as intuition. We have heard so much about intuition, the correct grasp of Truth as it is. This intuition is the vision of the soul – the soul seeing directly, independent of the instruments of the senses, the mind, and the understanding. This direct apprehension of the soul by the soul is called intuition; therefore, the movement of the soul towards this destination in the process of evolution cannot be comprehended by intellectual sciences. Quite obvious is the reason behind it: Who can know the presupposition of the rational function of the intellect? It is faulty to imagine the soul to be a unit like a particle of dust or a spark of fire, or anything else that may be located in space and time.
The soul thus represents the transempirical reality. It is the Eternal that is shining through us. The soul is only a name that we give to the manner in which the Eternal expresses itself in the temporal. It is the Supreme Being that is speaking in a language unique to itself through the mortal coil. How can we restrict the soul to a concept or an object that is a part of creation? The soul is not a created object. Inasmuch as it is not a part of creation, the evolutionary part does not touch it vitally, and so it transcends human understanding.
Anything that is worthwhile, anything that is of momentous consequence in our life is not an intellectual affair. We know this only in the deepest recesses of our heart. It is something which we cannot express through language because it is the ‘I’ in us. We love it so much. So substantial it is that everything seems to evaporate into airy nothing before it. The language of the airy nothing is not spoken through our tongues, and so it is often said in the scriptures that the soul of the cosmos – the Reality behind all things – is beyond logic and intellectuality.
Hence it is that the path of the soul to its destiny is so secretly guarded by mysteries. This knowledge is the Upanishads – not in the sense of a written text, but in the sense of a secret apprehension of Truth, a knowledge which is identical with its Being. A soul’s revelation to itself is the Upanishads. When we speak of the soul’s evolution to its Self-realisation, we speak of something we cannot understand. Often we do not know what we are saying about the matter. It is because of these difficulties in associating the soul with anything that happens in the universe that we feel it hard to associate social life with spirituality. We are bound by social restrictions. Our bodily relations are socially tethered to rules and laws of many kinds, but we have a soul which refuses to be a social unit, which asserts itself as something absolutely independent of all social laws, and we often feel things have a Reality whose meaning social laws cannot explain.
We cannot bind the soul with any kind of law. Therefore, it is above all law, and all laws are made for its sake. Even the law of evolution, the highest of laws, is intended for explaining the meaning of the soul’s expressing itself into its own pristine nature. The march of the soul is thus not a movement in space. Universal movement is not spatial movement. And inasmuch as spiritual life is connected with the soul’s movement, spiritual life is independent of scientific formulations, social regulations and intellectual logic. Thus, spiritual life is peculiar to itself – explicable only through itself, and not by any other means.
The spirit can explain itself only through itself. It is intuition growing and expressing itself in the form of the progress of the movement of the world we call evolution. On account of this mystery hidden behind the cosmic evolution in which every one of us seems to be involved, the life of the individual becomes difficult to understand. Many a time we are face to face with problems which we cannot answer because they are not created by people, by things, or by laws and regulations. They arise simultaneously with our nature, which is bound up by the nature of the world.
Our nature is intrinsic to us, and an answer of a spiritual character can only come from within, not from without. All spiritual growth is an inner growth, like the growth of a tree. It is purely internal, though in its internal growth it draws sustenance from external forces. The individual centre, which is a unit of force, seeks expression and gathers within itself a momentum, like a river that flows into the ocean. The human individual’s evolutionary act may, to some extent, be compared to a river flowing to the ocean. In the beginning it is a droplet like the Ganga at Gangotri or Gomukh, and we cannot even see it, so insignificant it is in the beginning. But though it is small rivulets, yet even at the very beginning it has a tendency to move towards its destination. Though this tendency is not visible outside, it is inherent within, and it gains momentum by moving further. It gathers its tributaries into itself and gains more strength; and in this gaining of strength, it also gains further momentum to rush through the plains, inundating villages, sometimes destroying things, caring not what it confronts in its way. Somehow it finds its way to its home in the ocean, where it shall gain peace forever. When the river reaches the ocean, it rushes no more. It wants nothing further, for its purpose is served.
Likewise, human energies are forces that cannot rest quiet until they reach their consummation in the sea of forces. Though the waters of the river are akin to the waters of the ocean in substance, the manner of their working is different. While the ocean is calm, subdued and magnificent in its profundity, the river is restless and cannot find peace anywhere. It is universal force in comparison with individual force. As a river seeks its peace in the vast expanse of the ocean, the forces that constitute the unit of individuality rush towards the sea of force in the cosmos. All our hectic activity throughout the day is an attempt of the segregated units of energy to find their attunement in the ocean of energy. We have been isolated from home, and we ask for an attunement with it. Now in this process of the reuniting of the individual with the cosmic, many a mistake may happen, as in the rivers trying to find their way to the ocean. The river may have to face mountains obstructing its path, due to which it may have to run in a thousand directions, splashing its waters hither and thither and wasting itself in the effort to confront the barrier, overcome it, and find its way to the ocean.
The human individual may have to face the same situation. It is not that the human energies flow calmly, majestically into the ocean of universal force. We are obstructed by circular motions of force – whirls and coils of energies which may catch us on the way and suck us into themselves, wherein we may either get caught up or lose consciousness of our destination. This happens when the ultimate purpose of the movement of the universal force, manifest as an individual, is coupled somehow or other with personal desire.
I mentioned earlier that we have two kinds of energies, the Deva and the Asuric, the higher and the lower, one pulling us up to our universal home and the other tethering us down to the universal campus. The forces that tie us to the body are called desires; the forces that try to escape the limitations of the body and seek their expansion in the ocean of force are the aspirations for freedom. The Ashramas of life – the stages of Brahmacharya, Grihastha, Vanaprashtha and Sannyasa – are intended to sublimate this riotous force in our personality, riotous because it can get involved in desires of the body.
The onward journey of righteousness, therefore, oftentimes gets smothered by the downward pull of desire. To obviate this, the ancient seers have instituted this life of the Ashramas, where all stages are equally important. The Ashramas are inter-related, one sustaining the other, one having meaning in the other, one fulfilling the other, as also holds true for the Purusharthas. The stage of the Brahmacharin is the time intended for gathering momentum, gaining strength for further fulfilment. The Grihastha-dharma is an obstacle on the way that has to be confronted and overcome. In this confrontation of the mountain in front of the rushing river, it may waste some of its water breaking through the dams; it may even destroy things, but it shall fulfil its need. So the Grihastha-dharma is a kind of dam that is faced by the movement of this force. Necessary or unnecessary, it is something that it faces.
The Grihastha-dharma is not merely a social institution. The stages of life – Brahmacharya, Grihastha, Vanaprastha and Sannyasa – are not social institutions created by man for his own whim and fancy. They are external names of forms taken by certain psychological necessities, and they have a tremendous reality behind them. They may take an external form in society for the internal training of the individual.
The whole purpose of the four stages is a gradual release of the energy that is in an incipient stage at the birth of a child. A child is born with desires of various types, of which it can have no knowledge on account of its immature mind. As it grows, the Ashramas act as an educative process for the child. They tend, protect and enable the incipient budding energies to grow with a purpose rather than wildly like trees in a forest.
Hence, the Ashramas are a process of education of the soul. The soul is something transempirical, as I mentioned already, unconnected with intellectual processes and sciences. Inasmuch as this process of education is so intricate and internal, it becomes difficult for us to understand what it is. We mistake it for the arts and sciences that teach us how to get on well in life. This is quite different. The education of the soul, which is the purpose of the Ashramas, is an inner process not merely in a scientific psychological sense, but in a more profound sense – so profound that it is inseparable from our own self.
We look at even our own self as we look at others, because we still have the habit of conceiving things in the form of objects. Even the soul is an object for us. It is really a non-objective principle, incapable of objectification. We cannot analyse or understand it with our intellect; it is ourselves. Who is to understand his own self? We are the understander. How can we know the soul, and where can there be a definition? Who is to define the soul when the definer himself is the soul? Such being the complexity of the soul, such being the difficulty of apprehending it in its pristine purity, so difficult also is the education of it. Therefore, a unique type of education called the Gurukula system was instituted.