by Swami Krishnananda
Spirituality is not a way of living in the sense of conducting oneself outwardly in relationship to other people, but it is a state of being – a word with which everyone is familiar, but the meaning of which is not clear to most people. Everybody has heard the words ‘being’ and ‘doing’; and merely because we are familiar with the words ‘God’, ‘freedom’, ‘immortality’, etc., it does not mean that the meaning of these words is clear.
Spirituality is a state of being. But a doubt will arise in the mind: Is it not also doing something? Is it only being? We have heard from many people that spirituality also implies intense unselfish activity; and the more we become spiritual, the more is our capacity to work, the more we become capable of doing unselfish service, so that spirituality is also doing instead of merely being. Such doubt can come in the minds of people. Hence, how do we say that spirituality is a state of being, rather than doing?
This doubt arises because one is not clear as to the real meaning of ‘being’ or ‘doing’. We are brought up from our very childhood in an atmosphere of social relationships, and we cannot get out of this prejudice. ‘Prejudice’ means a state of attitude which has entered into our very blood, and which influences every thought of ours – every feeling, and everything that we do in life. It is at the background of everything that we think and feel and act; that is called prejudice. It has no logical basis. A prejudiced person cannot be logically converted into a new line of thinking because already there is a predisposition to a particular way of thinking, on account of the atmosphere in which one has been brought up.
Now, when I say prejudice, I do not mean merely the conditions in which we have been brought up in this particular life, because we had many lives in previous incarnations. We must have taken thousands of births, and all the impressions of our thoughts, feelings and actions of millions and millions of births that we have taken add to the prejudice of our thinking, so that what we are thinking today is a cumulative effect of all that we have thought and felt and done in many, many births through which we have passed. But, this prejudice has become a part of our nature. It is not merely a psychological function in the ordinary sense of the term. It is something that cannot be separated from our own skin. Our very existence is a prejudice.
This peculiar trait of ours has a meaning which is deeper than ordinary human conduct. The basis of this externalised, socialised attitude is the primary prejudice of the mind which is called the concept of space, time and cause; this is our main prejudice. “I am an Indian,” “I am a German,” “I am a man,” “I am a woman” – this is a minor prejudice. But the major prejudice is: “I am in space and in time, and I am in a system of causal relation”. This is a higher prejudice, and nobody can get out of it.
Whatever be the extent of our knowledge, whatever be the depth of our genius, we cannot get out of the idea that we are in space, and we are in time, and things are connected in some sort of a causal relation. Not only that – that things are outside us.
Now, I am again coming to the point of the difference between being and doing. Why has this peculiar notion of the distinction between being and doing arisen? It is because you have a distinction between yourself and other people in the world. There is a distinction drawn between yourself and others. You are not I, and I am not you. This is something very simple to understand. Inasmuch as my existence – which is called ‘my being’ – is different from the being of other people, I have a necessity to develop a relationship with other people. This is called ‘doing’. So, the necessity of doing arises on account of my not being one with others, and others not being one with me. If I am they, and they are I, the question of doing does not arise because there is nothing to be done.
But, this is not true. I am not they, and they are not I. You are different people, and I am a different person. You have a being of your own; you exist. And I have a being of my own; I exist. But my being is different from your being, isn’t it? So, what is the connection between my being and your being? That connection is called action. That is why you do something, and I do something. So, we have the original doubt in the mind of there being a fundamental difference between being and doing. As long as we are different from one another, there shall be a difference between being and doing. We cannot get out of this emotion.
This is also the reason for the philosophical distinction that people make between knowledge and activity – or in Indian Sanskrit parlance, jnana and karma. There is a tremendous philosophical fight about whether knowledge is superior, or action is superior. All these difficulties have arisen on account of a fundamental error in understanding the human situation itself. The question of whether knowledge is superior or action is superior arises from another question: whether I am one with you, or I am different from you. If I am different from you, really speaking, then action cannot be avoided; it is superior in its own way. But if there is some sort of a connection between you and me, what is that connection?
Now, you are sitting there, so many yards away from me. Do you see any connection between you and me? I can see no connection. There is no wire connecting you to me – no thread. Nothing is there. Absolutely, we are different from one another. Absolutely – even a little connection is not there between you and me.
If that is the case, it would be very difficult to live in this world because, on one side, we have a compulsive feeling that there is some connection between ourselves and others. On the other side, we cannot see any connection visibly. That is why we are fighting with people. Every day you can fight with me, and I can fight with you. I disagree with you, and you disagree with me. I do not like you, and you do not like me. Why does this situation arise? It is because you cannot see any connection with me, and I cannot see any connection with you. It cannot be seen. Well, it is a very practical truth. What is the connection? He is sitting there. What link is there between you and me? Absolutely nothing! So, I can do anything to you, and you can do anything to me. This is called war, battle, social tension. And this cannot stop as long as we have a feeling that we are not connected among ourselves.
But there is another peculiar trait in us which makes us feel that it cannot be like that. Why do I feel sympathy for him? Why do I feel pity for him? Why do I feel like speaking to him? Why do I feel like helping him? Why do I feel like having some kind of social relationship with him if absolutely there is no connection between him and me? Do you understand me? Anything that is not really connected with another thing cannot have sympathy for that thing. Sympathy means connection. It is not merely a psychological word; it is also a philosophical word. Sympathy means relationship, en rapport, some kind of invisible connection. Even if you are far, far away – one thousand miles away from me – you can have a relationship with me. You can think of me; and sometimes thoughts establish a greater relation than even physical relations.
So, on one side we have got a feeling that without some sort of relationship with others, we cannot exist. On another side we have a feeling: “What connections do you have with me? I am an independent person. I will go anywhere I like.” Sometimes people speak like that. “What have I to do with you? What do you think I am?” This is the quarrelsome attitude of people. When you are angry, you speak like that, isn’t it? “What do you think I am? I will do this and that. I’ll go from this place!” You say anything that you like. This is the outcome of the other side of your nature, which makes you wrongly think that you have no connection with people. If you have real connection with people, you will not speak like that. “What do you think I am?” You will never say that if there is a real connection; but sometimes you have a feeling that there is no connection.
On the other side, you feel miserable when you are absolutely alone. If I lock you up in a room for three years where you cannot see any human face, you will feel very unhappy. “I have no friends. I cannot see anybody. It is as if I am in a jail.” Why do you feel like that? If you have absolutely no connection with people, you must be happy when you are absolutely alone. But that is not true; you will feel miserable. You go to the shop; you go to the market; you go to the cinema; you go to all sorts of people to establish relationships, making it appear that you cannot exist without relationships.
So, human life is a tension between two aspects which pull us from two different directions. On one side we feel that we are an independent people, and that is the reason why we sometimes become selfish. Selfishness is due to the occasional feeling that we are independent, with no connection to other people, so we can exploit others. We can even destroy them. “I am independent. Why should I not destroy other people? I have no connection.” But sometimes we feel that is very wrong. “I should not do that.” We have a humanitarian feeling, a feeling of brotherhood and unity with people. This double attitude of our nature is the cause of our sorrow.
Why is it that we have a double attitude? Sometimes we feel that we are different, and therefore we can get angry. Sometimes we feel we are one, and therefore we feel a sense of affection. The reason is simple. Again I am coming to the original point of the distinction between being and doing, which has arisen out of the central natural prejudice of our being in space, time, and a causal relationship of things. Are we in space? Are we in time? If we are in space, it means that we are disconnected from others, because space is nothing but a way of disconnecting one thing from another thing. It is because of space that you appear to be different from me. Otherwise, what is the distinction? If there is no space between us, we will merge into one, isn’t it? But that space prevents us from merging. So space is the primary devil, we can say, which has created this distinction of thought, feeling, action, etc.