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.
The attempt at being spiritual is the effort of the deepest reality of our nature to come to manifestation, and to overcome this prejudice of our being in space, time, and causal relationship. That we are in space, time and cause is an error of thought. If that had been the ultimate truth of things, all the problems of life would have been finished in a minute – each one would have thought that anything can be done by anyone. There is no need for rule, law, regulation, government, or anything of the kind. Any kind of system, any kind of methodology or organisation is an indication that things are not really disconnected in space and time. Why do we want a government? Why do we want a system of working at all? Why should there be any kind of organisation if everything is disconnected? Organisation is the bringing together of factors which are apparently different; but if they are really different, we cannot bring them together, so all our effort will be a failure. Everything would be meaningless in this life. But that is not what our heart speaks. It says there is some unity among things; always we speak of organisation and methodology of working, of system, law and order, rule, and so on. Why are we speaking about these things if everything is disconnected?
Thus, the whole of human life is a drama of two scenes – being and doing. Being is what we are. Doing is what we try to manifest in order that this being may become more and more complete. Why do we do anything? Why do we act? Why do we work? Why do we perform any function? Why do we establish a relationship with anything in the world – people or other things? It is because our being is limited. There is a Prof. Jack 'being', and an Elizabeth 'being', and so on – small beings – and they feel so finite and miserable. We want to expand our being, which we are trying to do by connecting ourself with other beings – this being, that being, and hundreds of beings. If many beings join together, it looks as if the being has become very large. That is why we feel happy when we are in the midst of many friends and many well-wishers, so that if we have a world government without any army of nationals, we will be very happy, perhaps. We have a feeling like that. Why should there be many nations and many armies? Let there be only one government for the whole world. Then we feel more secure. Why do we feel like that? Because at that time we have a sensation of having united many beings into a larger unity, whereas now we feel we are limited beings.
Thus, even our doing or our action is only a need felt for expanding our being. Thus, ultimately, being is the truth, not doing, because our doing is only for the sake of being. Our present being is insufficient. It is limited. It is physical. It is only in one place, cut off from other people, other beings by space, time, etc. We want to expand that being, but we are doing it in an inadequate manner. Merely because we shake hands with people, simply because we take tea with people at the same table, merely because we speak to people in a conference, it does not mean that our being has become large. However much we may try to sit together with thousands of people and have a friendly attitude towards them, still they are they, and we are we. One day or other, we will fight. Why? This is an artificial method of bringing about the largeness of being, or the unity of people. How can we become one with that person? We can sit on his lap, we can sit on his head – even then, we are different from that person, isn't it?
That is why mere sociological, political, economic and external methods of unity have failed, right from historical times. All the great empires have fallen, including the Roman empire, the Grecian empire, Assyrian, Babylonian – everything has gone to dust because these were all erroneous methods attempted by people, with a pious motive no doubt, for bringing about a unity which cannot be brought about by merely piling up particulars.
The joining of people into a social unity is only a grouping of particulars into a heap, and that is not real unity. What we are trying is to have a single being, ultimately. All our beings should join together into a single being, like a single ocean having all the drops within it. We cannot see many drops in the ocean. Though there are many drops, they are all one only. The whole ocean is one drop only, ultimately – isn't it? It is a big drop, but it contains small drops. We cannot separate them. But, if we join many stones or sand particles together, we cannot call it a single unity. Each sand particle is different from other sand particles. So, our joining together socially, politically, economically, and externally is something like trying to join millions of sand particles together. They will never join. Sand particles are different from one another in spite of their being in one basket.
Therefore, spirituality – now I am coming to the original point – spirituality is not mere social relationship, though many people think it is also a part of spirituality. It can manifest itself as social relationship later on, but itself is not identical with it. Spirituality is the consciousness of being. In Sanskrit we call it sat; sat means Pure Being. It is not limited being, because anything that is limited is unhappy. That is why we want to become more rich and more powerful. How much richness do we want? We want the whole of Brazil; we want the whole of South America; we want the whole of both Americas. We want the whole world, sky, sun, moon, stars – and even then we are not happy. Why is it that we have such desires? We want to expand our power to unlimitedness; we want to expand out being to unlimitedness. Until that is achieved, we will not be happy. So, man is unhappy. Man is unhappy because of his limited being.
Spirituality, to again come to the point, is the expansion of being. And whatever we do as an action is also a part of being. It is meant for expanding being. That is why they say karma yoga is a yoga by itself for attaining God-realisation. You will be wondering what the connection between karma and God is. The connection is simple. Every kind of relationship with others is an attempt of the soul to come to a unity of being, in a largeness which expands to entire infinitude. This Supreme Being is called God. We call God Supreme Being because there is only one Being. And all beings put together, many people sitting together, is not one being – just as, in the analogy mentioned earlier, many sand particles put together do not make one sand particle. We merge in the Being of God, as all drops merge in the ocean.
Therefore, in our attempt at being a spiritual Being, we are not trying to establish an externalised relationship with things, because externality is abolished in the Infinite. In the Infinite, there is no externality. It is universality, so we must make a distinction between universality and externality. All our activities are externalised; therefore, whatever be the apparent success of our externalised actions, ultimately they are a failure unless they are charged with a spiritual consciousness which is the consciousness of a real unity of Being. It is a single Being that is working, ultimately. That is what our religions tell us. It is God working.
When we say God works, it does not mean that somebody else is working. We also have a wrong notion of God, that God means somebody else. We make a distinction between God, world, and man. That is again due to the prejudice of space, time, and cause. Why do we think that God is in the heavens and outside us? It is because of space. We bring a spatial distinction even between us and God. The concept of God transcends the idea of space, time, and cause. That is the real Being, inseparable from our being, and inseparable from the beings of other people also, so that there can be only one Being. This consciousness of the totality of Being – not merely an aggregate of particulars, but the real merger of Being – is the aim of spirituality. This consciousness has to be manifest in our action, even when there is activity.
Somebody asked me, "Are you not disturbed and distracted when you are working?" Two days back, some visitors came to me. "Swamiji, you are working so much. Are you not distracted in your meditations?"
I said, "I am not working. If I am working, I will be distracted." I asked him one question: "What do you see? This is a table. Is this a desk or is it wood? What is it?" I said.
He said, "It is a desk."
I said, "I say it is wood, because 'desk' is only a name that you give to a particular position of wood. The position of wood is not a thing by itself, so you cannot say that there is such a thing as a desk. Only wood is there; the wood placed in a particular context is called a desk. Can you call a context or a position as a thing by itself? No. I can place the same wood in another position and it becomes a cot. In a third position, it becomes a chair, doesn’t it? So there is no such thing as chair, no such thing as table, no such thing as desk, except the wood. I am also, in my own humble way, trying to see no such thing as work. It is only consciousness that exists, just as only wood exists behind the table."
He said, "It is very difficult to understand these things."
I said, "It is very difficult. What can I do? But once you become habituated to this way of thinking, all your activity becomes a manifestation of your being. You yourself are moving in your actions, like the ocean moving through the waves. So you are not doing something external to you and, therefore, karma cannot bind you. That karma which will not bind you is called karma yoga. When you yourself are the action, how can it bind you? You don't bind your own self. If you have so many confusions in the head – it is something outside you, proceeding from you through space and time, in respect of somebody else – then it will react upon you. That is called the nemesis of karma. That is binding karma."
It is very difficult, therefore, to even conceive what real spirituality is. I have only given an idea of it. It is impossible to maintain even a consciousness of what spirituality is. Even the idea of it is impossible to entertain in the mind, let alone practice it. It will not enter the heads of people. But once it becomes a part of our natural way of thinking, we become supermen from that very moment. This is the aim of our life.