Essays in Life and Eternity
by Swami Krishnananda


This is an attempt to present in a sequential order certain ideas that may be said to appertain to an outlook of life which would adequately comprehend within itself the process of the envisagement of values that are supposed to form the structure of the general pattern of our existence. It is fairly obvious that we do not start thinking without a basis on which it has to found itself, an acceptance of what may be called indubitable and certain for all practical purposes. Usually, such a sheet-anchor of human enterprise goes by the name of a philosophy of life, a general concept of what things are, or what they ought to be, in the scheme of the universe. Not only do we not think in a vacuum and do have some substantiating factor remaining always there at the back of thoughts and actions, but also we conduct our life processes from what is considered as more primary and unavoidable to what is secondary or what follows from the original requirement as a corollary from a theorem. Effects follow causes, even as causes precede effects. While the effects are important enough to require necessary consideration, the causes have a precedence and determine all such considerations. The effects are often the visible and tangible things; the causes are not always direct objects of perception.

It is common knowledge that we occupy ourselves principally with visible phenomena, inasmuch as the immediate impact of the world is on our sensations, and even our thoughts seem to become operative after the senses receive impressions of things outside as cast in the moulds of their own individual areas of organisation. Rarely do we think before we see or hear; we seem to be mentally active after sensations stimulate psychic functions. This is an aspect of our life which has been excessively taken advantage of by the empiricist schools of philosophy, psychology, sociology, economics and politics, though it, indeed, remains as a valid segment of the way in which we acquire knowledge. There is, however, the other side of the story, namely, that knowledge is not a mere unsolicited import from a foreign land, and that there is an inner need that decides the nature of the product arising as the outcome of sense impressions. But the vehemence of sensory activity is often so impetuous and aggressive that there is mostly an acquiescence on the part of everyone in the belief that events take place only in the 'outer' world and human history is caused by the behaviour of 'other' people. That there has been latterly a gradual trend of thought along these lines in modern times does not need an explanation. Only it would show that humanity is drifting downwards into the more exteriorised, mechanised and devitalised forms of existence than what should be expected from an essentially self-conscious human individual whose very self cannot be other than an indivisible consciousness, a fact which all types of empiricism seem to be ignoring entirely. The rationalist emphasis, too, may not always be able to avoid the erroneous judgment of confining consciousness merely to intellectual activity, not paying sufficient attention to the nature of reality which sweeps over a much larger area than logic and reason.

The arrangement of thought in these essays can be viewed either from the point of view of the cause manifesting itself as its natural effects, or the effect evolving gradually into the substance of the cause. Perhaps the former impression may be created in the mind of a reader when the book is studied from the beginning to the end in the order of succession, and it may have the feature of the latter if the chapters are read in the reverse order especially from Chapter XVIII backwards, concluding with the themes of the initial chapters. Though the presentation has endeavoured to touch the furthermost and a kind of superlative externalisation of aims and values as one could see in the present-day world, such as the thoroughgoing artificial organisations of life as pure political expediency and involvement in a thoroughgoing visage of man's dependence on material and economic phenomena, the thesis, in its vision of the origin of things, does not start with any difficult assumptions such as what may be regarded as the logical grounding of the very way of thinking and the rationalistic foundation of any view of life, notwithstanding that a view of life which should reasonably be considered as acceptable on universal foundations has been portrayed in the essays in as much clarity and detail as could be possible. The position adopted is somewhat like the epic style of introducing the mind to what it may be able to receive even at the outset as something not only interesting but even exciting.

The wonder of creation is what generally stimulates the highest possible reaches of thought and feeling. The 'objective' universe, remaining, nevertheless, as a universal inclusiveness, encounters us as an intelligent and purposive operation motivated by a central aim arising from the very heart of all things. Such a fundamental essence has been called God in theological terms, as the Absolute in philosophy, as the very Substance that transcends even space and time. The manner in which the universal scheme presents itself to human understanding is the cosmology of creation, through which process the One becomes the many, and the indivisible reveals itself as the manifold variety. Yet, in all this multifariousness, there is the undying immanence of that unitary principle which holds together the infinite parts of creation in a single grasp of eternal cohesiveness. This pervading influence through the manifold is the manifestation of the well-known gods of religion, the divinities in heaven, the angels that see things from the high skies. The space-time complex, the electromagnetic background of matter, and the very substance of physicality are the components of creation.

The dramatic picture of life rises into the perceptive process when perception itself is not accountable without the perceiver being in a way segregated from the perceived world. The entire astronomical universe as viewed by the astronomer looks like an outside something, though the astronomer himself could not exist without his being substantially involved in the organism of the universe. The structure of the psyche in the individual of any species seems to be so oriented that the individualised mind in any of its stages of development cannot but assume the externality of the world and arrogate to its own self a subjectivity and conscious independence which it denies to the world of perception. Here commences the psychology of individual nature to which the world of physics, sociology and religion and everything of kindred nature, the world as a whole, stands apart as the obvious field of Nature and humanity, all which the mind attempts to study in a purely empirical fashion. It is here that the vitals of life seem to be rent asunder, and man lives in the world more like a moving corpse than anything that is vitally connected with the world. All things that proceed further, all activities of humanity, education, culture, politics, and every blessed thing, remain like ghosts presenting their last dance before they collapse dead, bereft of a living relation with the universal principle.

The centrality of the human consciousness as deciding everything that it knows or even what it feels it cannot know suggests an implication within itself that, when we find it impossible to avoid the conclusion of an absolute state of things, it is itself an indication of the Absolute. The nature of the world as it appears to the senses of perception and as it is cognised by the mind, has always been, invariably, taken to be the manner in which it has managed to present itself to human understanding. One of the features in which the world presents itself to conscious appreciation is the scheme of the degrees of manifestation, or the evolution of forms in levels of density, concretisation and expression. The only way in which this phenomenon can be explained is to follow the lead of reason in the manifestation of name and form.

Since whatever is the Absolute would not permit of even such basic essentials of creation as space and time to interfere with its indivisibility, the space-time complex which is the foundation for the very meaning of creation is necessarily forced into the process of knowledge. Space-time also becomes the field of vibration, motion and force, which is how the ancient teachers describe the coming of the temporal world from Eternal Being. A ubiquitous action of force is supposed to take place to evolve the potentials of forthcoming forms, the quantum of energy necessary to manifest the type of world that it is. The field of gases, liquids and solids, of light and heat, is the obvious form capable of sense contact arisen out of the supersensible potentials of force existing as the background of all sense data.

It is never possible to ignore the element of consciousness in any enthusiasm over the complexity of the world and the variegatedness of forms. There is, consequently, the indwelling presence of this consciousness in the variety. The different forms in which this consciousness is so manifest are actually the denizens of heaven, which religions adore, the gods whom devotees worship in ritual and prayer. The manyness of the gods is explained by the manifold way in which the universal consciousness is revealed through the degrees of reality. The One appears as the many, itself indwelling in everyone of them.

The cosmic structure is all great and grand. But the factor of there being an observer of the cosmos reduces this secure magnificence to an insecure bifurcation of the observer and the observed, the seer and the seen, the knower and the known. Who is it that knows the existence of a world outside? The answer implies the existence of something which is not itself the world of observation. It also suggests that the term does not include everything that exists, since the inclusiveness of the world would include also the knower thereof, in which latter case there would be no knower 'of' the world. The very fact of perception seems to involve a falsification of values, the creation of a situation which cannot be logically accounted for, and which cannot be regarded, in the end, as a tenable position. Yet, the world goes on in this way, and we seem to be living in such a world, in such a manner.

The subjective side which is the inscrutable unavoidable in all acts of knowledge is for all practical purposes of study the human individual. It is this location of the subjectivity of perspective that is the seat of psychological operations and psychoanalytical investigations. The subject's isolation from the world of perception is indeed a strange occurrence, since such a thing is not either permissible or feasible in a world whose structure cannot exclude that of its so-called perceiver, not even the existence of such a thing. The persistence of an apparently self-contradictory position assumed by the subject in its attempt to contact a world that is outside may well be a proof of the futility of human effort towards a knowledge of reality. Nevertheless, a phenomenal reality of a 'perceived' world is presented before the individualised consciousness which takes such a world as this to be a world of true values, precipitating finally to a negation in consciousness of there being anything at all beyond possible empirical perception. The worlds of science and psychology are such a relative construct obtaining between a reaction produced by the real world so wrongly externalised and the individual perceiving subject whose very existence is worse than precariously relative. Thus far is the field of what we may, with our available knowledge, designate as the world of 'existence'.

But we have also a world of 'values' which we with this conditioned knowledge visualise as objective reality construed in such a way, values which mostly get identified with what are today known as the 'humanities'. The values include the concept of the aim of existence as the very foundation of any further thought along this line. To the materialistic eye value might centre round physical existence, physical comfort and physical security, with a daub of psychic needs reluctantly conceded as an upstart in a mechanistic set-up, in a soulless world of computations and measurements, at best. To the pragmatic utilitarian, we live in a world with which we have to get on, getting on being the end-result of every impulse towards thought and action. If the present condition of things corresponds to the present condition of the mind, and vice-versa, the world should be considered as good enough; but if any one of these two sides tilts heavily on one side of the balance, either the world would appear heartless, even meaningless, or man may look unfitted to live in the world in which he finds himself. But the world has also seen people who could see it with the eye that has also a simultaneous vision of a transcendent element pervading it, who it is that have assured us all value being an offshoot of the eternal longing of the human spirit for utter freedom in a grasp of the Infinite, which factor it is that has to determine and condition the other values such as the material, the emotional, the aesthetic and the religious. Divested of this inner aspiration life's values pale into insignificance, however lofty one may consider them to be. The consistent determination of the eternal value in respect of every earthly value is the law of righteousness and justice, goodness and charitableness. There is, thus, a wholesomeness at the back of even a multiplicity of values conceived by the mind, hinting evidently at the truth that the world has only one value before its eye – its purposiveness and evolution. Truth, goodness and beauty are the logical, ethical and aesthetic values that the mind recognises when it beholds the world through a set of differing faculties such as reason, volition and feeling. Values, then, may, at least to some extent, appear as a necessary reaction set up by the world of reality in respect of the available faculties of human knowledge, which would only mean that our concepts of truth, morality and beauty are relative to the position we occupy in the environment of the world.

Justice would consist not only in conformity to the way the world is made but also the manner in which the deepest self within one would endeavour to recognise itself in other persons also in the requisite degree. Ethical goodness and social harmony are based on this necessary perspective which everyone has to entertain if one is to be regarded as truly educated or cultured. Culture is the refinement of personality consequent upon a vision of the permanent values of life. Education is the progressive development of the human individual through the material, vital, mental, intellectual and social levels to the apprehension of the spiritual reality of life. Civic duty is to love one's neighbour as one's own self, with a proper understanding of who one's neighbour is. 'To do unto others as one would be done by' may well be a standard that we may adopt for the welfare of all. To share with others what we have, as we would wish others to share with us what they have, in the necessary quantity and quality, would be a safe guiding principle. Simple living and high thinking is the motto of the wise one. Here is also the foundation for a proper economy of life. The administration of the political organisation is based on the justice of the law and not merely in its legality. The constitution of the government is actually the voice of the needs of people not only for their material welfare but also for their spiritual progress. The administrator, as the head making decisions, has to stand above himself in decision-making and identify himself with the spirit of the whole nation, and the welfare of all humanity. History is not merely the doings of people but the workings of Nature as a whole whose instruments people are and which in itself is a visible form of the system and action of the eternal order of existence.

Dissatisfaction with the existing condition of things is the beginning of philosophical investigation. On a careful scrutiny it could be observed that nothing can satisfy as long as man's relation to the universe remains a mystery and there is a paltry understanding of the nature and purpose of life. Life is an adjustment of personality with the environment and can assume a meaning only when there is a conscious appreciation of what kind of adjustment it is that is required in order that one may live a meaningful life. It would be seen, as in the case of a definition attempted of one's true brother or neighbour, the environment around one's existence recedes as the horizon when its boundaries are sought to be fixed. The atmosphere in which man lives is actually the endless universe whose features demand a variety of adaptation of personality on the part of man. As the universe is an all-round existence, the required adjustment, too, is an all-round one. The world is neither fractional nor partial, it is a living wholesome entity, one's reaction to which has to be exactly similar in order that one may find oneself in a friendly environment.

Philosophy is the rational foundation of religion, and religion is the practice of philosophy. The development of the religious consciousness in the human individual is the enhancement of dimension in experience achieved through the series of the degrees in which man adjusts himself with the universe. The centrality of this consciousness which occupies the position of the Soul of the Universe may be said to be a reasonable concept of the Almighty God. One's most intense longing, when it reaches its maximum, may well also be regarded as a symptom of God calling through one of His operations in creation. The universe is a total action, and entirely individual actions may not fit into its structure. Here is evidently the central message of the Bhagavad Gita.

The way to salvation is proclaimed as a fourfold endeavour through work, devotion, concentration and knowledge – cognition, emotion, volition and reason, which are the principal operating faculties of human nature, corresponding to the manner in which religious exercise and spiritual practice in a sense of man's endeavouring to rise above himself towards Godhead takes place. Spiritual life is not, as wrongly supposed, different from secular life, nor are the so-called secular needs divested of their spiritual meaning. The well-known classification of life's aims into Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha, that is to say, the ordering and regularisation of the material and emotional needs of the person in the light of the ultimate freedom to be attained in eternal life, is the first statement of insight which ancient sages made of the blend of spiritual aspiration and secular demand. As the body and the spirit in the human individual are not isolated departments of activity but are a fusion of physical need with that of one's spiritual aim, the world and God are not contradictory phases but constitute the Form and the Spirit of the Universe.

The outward cooperation and harmony in social life made secure by the institutions of a blending classification of the human community into the directing and the guiding (Brahmana), the administrative and the military or defending (Kshatriya), the trading and the commercial (Vaisya), and the manual and working (Sudra), has been the ancient wisdom behind the survival and stability of the social structure, so that everything is what it is and is not other than what it is. But the further progress towards the real from matter to life, mind, reason and spirit is ensured through the inner transformation of personality by the ascending stages of discipline, study and education (Brahmacharya), keeping oneself abreast with the hard facts of life in their various phases (Garhasthya), non-attachment to things which are not commensurate with an internal progress of the spirit (Vanaprastha), and a total dedication of oneself to the affirmation of the Absolute (Samnyasa). Man rises from his physical individuality to family, community, nation, world and a universal perspective by stages of cultural advancement.

The book is rounded up with the eternal import of the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita presented interpretatively in an intelligible form.