The Struggle for Perfection
by Swami Krishnananda

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Chapter 4: The Bearing of Knowledge on Social Life

The properties of the creative force (Prakriti) – Sattva, Rajas and Tamas – work, in various proportions, not only in the individual, but also in society. They work not only in particular bodies, but also in groups of bodies or social formations. In society these properties work as public relations, while in the individual they operate as psychological incentives, motive power and conditions of experience. Society is primarily a set-up of relations established among individuals. Even these relations connecting individuals in a social bond are constituted of the properties. Everything perceptible or conceivable, whether on earth or in heaven, is under the clutches of the properties (XVIII. 40). The multitudinous variety that we see in creation is the work of the properties, which are the basic building bricks of the cosmos. Human society is made up of a community of individuals who come together for a purpose they have in view. The attitudes people develop towards one another are in accordance with the operation of the properties. An attitude may be characterised by Sattva, Rajas or Tamas – calm, disturbing or violent – in various proportions. The properties dash upon the properties in perception as well as activity. It is not the subject perceiving the object, rather it is the properties beholding themselves externally in space-time.

Any definite manifestation of knowledge, capacity or conduct in life is an expression of the preponderance of a particular property of Prakriti. It is this predominance of the properties that is responsible for the formation of groups, communities and even nations. Individuals form themselves into societies to fulfil a particular aim or interest. Birds of the same feather flock together. No one is born as a social being, for at birth no one belongs to anyone else. The relationships start later on due to the working of the properties through the bodies, senses and mind, in an active manner. The inborn inadequacies and weaknesses of the human individual make it impossible to live without cooperation from others. The primary weakness of human nature is selfishness, which takes many forms such as desire to subjugate others, exploiting others, dishonest behaviour with others and, in the end, battle with others. Conflict is essentially born out of non-regard for the value and existence of other persons and things. Even when groups of individuals join together in a large proportion for a common purpose, the selfish root of individuality does not get obviated; it only gets strengthened by association with sympathetic yearnings. This is especially the case with groups formed mainly for political purposes and practical convenience of interested communities. But the higher purpose of the grouping of human beings into social categories is different: it is to check one another in the expression of selfish attitudes and thereby cooperate with and help one another for a purpose beyond the form either of the individual or group.

The capacity for such cooperation depends upon one's knowledge and power to execute action. This consideration of human characteristics coagulates into the system known as Varnashrama-Dharma or the righteousness underlying the logical gradation of the categories of people socially as well as individually. The social categorisation of people into spiritual power, political power, economic power and man-power is what is known as Varna-Dharma. The gradation of individual duties in relation to one's internal development and growth in the process of evolution through the stages of a life of continence, normal fulfilment of desires, non-attachment and spiritual integration, is Ashrama-Dharma. These principles operate for the reconstruction of society. Man-power provides the necessary material for an enterprise. Economic power provides the means of work and of the utilisation of man-power. Political power provides the organisational structure to protect and stabilise the value that is produced through economic power and man-power. Such protection includes not only defence against outside attacks but also internal security and promoting of cultural growth in its various levels. All this is the function of the administrative, governmental or political constitutions. And yet, with all these, there can be a serious handicap if there is no restraint exercised over the methodical operation of the systems of administration, material economy and the working forces. This restraining power and directive intelligence is provided by the spiritual regeneration and knowledge with which people are endowed. It is clear that these four classes of human understanding and effort are really the four facets of the single crystal of organic functioning in consolidated human society (41-46).

The concept of society in this context should not get restricted merely to the notion of mankind we have usually in our minds. Creation as a whole is a single society, and our duties, according to Varna and Ashrama, have reference not only to the things of this earth but of the whole universe. In the light of this vision, the necessity for the performance of each one's duty to the best of one's knowledge and capacity, for the highest good of the whole, directed through stages, and the mutual obligation that should obtain among one another in this vast set-up of the universal environment, is obvious. It is by this vision of universal action that the Supreme Being is adored in one's life (46). The perfection attained is, thus, to be manifested in social life. In this magnificent concept of social duty, the individual, community, nation, world and the entire universe get integrated in the Absolute which is seen in and through all these degrees of reality. This is the performance of the cosmic sacrifice in its supreme inter-relatedness; which is duty par excellence, in its comprehensiveness (III. 9-16).

In the eighteenth chapter of the Bhagavadgita, which is its final teaching, there is a summation of the individual's duties (XVIII. 5, 14, 20, 30, 33, 37), social duties (41-46, 78), the constitution of Nature (40) and the spiritual discipline necessary for God-realisation (49-55, 61, 62). Thus, the synthesis of the approach to life hinted herein points to the vast gospel of the subject of Yoga in eighteen steps of the movement of consciousness to perfection. The call for renunciation of all relativistic duties in one's resort to the supreme duty of attaining universal integration (66), and the beautiful blend of the characters of the universal and the individual in the daily life of the world (78), bring into relief the high water-mark of this stupendous teaching. As the relinquishment of every function, relationship and value of dream in the waking awareness is only a growth into a higher reality and not an abandonment of anything substantial or meaningful, the surrender of empirical values, connections and duties in a transcendent universality of attitude is an entry into reality rather than the forsaking of what is true and is of any significance. This core of man's supreme heritage, duty and goal in life is the eternal message of the 66th verse of the last chapter. And the divine gospel concludes with its parting advice, which shines as a pendant in the garland of the Lord's Song, that, wherever is a conscious and voluntary confluence of the Absolute and the relative, knowledge and action, grace and effort, there do excel in their glorious ascension, without doubt, all values of life – prosperity, victory, happiness and established polity.