The Struggle for Perfection
by Swami Krishnananda

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Introduction

Life is characterised by effort at existence. This inherent urge within every human being is a permanent feature observable through history. Effort and struggle are directed towards the achieving of an end which is realised as one's ideal and which mostly remains as a future to the reality of the present state of affairs. The all-round struggle of humanity through the passage of history for achievements of different kinds in the various fields of activity is an indication that life is involved in a restlessness of the human spirit which is eager to overcome its barriers of action and limitations of understanding.

Life's struggle has been, at least at its lowest level, for the overcoming of difficulties in the form of hunger and thirst, heat and cold and the fear of death, all which ever remain as the invariable concomitants of life in general. These features of life's limitations have been never known to change, and they have existed always. There is no hope that they will ever change or cease. Man has also been obsessed with a curiosity to know more and more of himself and the world outside, and this urge for knowledge, too, has not reached its limit as yet. The problems of history are the problems of life, and they are always the same, wherever one is, or whatever one be.

To avoid the turmoils incumbent upon these pressures which come upon him in spite of himself, man has been contemplating in various ways to find a solution and means of encountering them with proper method and technique. From birth to death, it is a long chain of unending effort to fight the difficulties which seem to be preventing him from being at peace with himself and living in ease, with freedom from fear. But these efforts of his have not been of avail in the ultimate sense, for the problems that were besetting him centuries ago are the same to him even today. By no herculean means has man succeeded in getting immune to the onslaughts and the urges of hunger and thirst, or heat and cold. He also lives in a perpetual state of anxiety and fear. The uncertainty concerning oneself comes from three sources: Nature; other living beings; and one's own self. One may within oneself develop complexes and diseases, and none can be completely free from this contingency. There are the fundamental facts of life weighing heavy on one's head, in spite of the limits of education that one might have reached. There is bound to be the dread of death which can unhinge a person at any moment. The fear of death can be occasioned by three factors; viz., errors committed by oneself; attacks from others outside; and calamities caused by the wrath of Nature itself. For all these things there is no remedy anywhere, though social laws and governmental systems based on ethical and political structures have been framed by the ingenuity of man. But man-made things have never lasted for long. That which had a beginning did also have an end. He who is born has to die.

This frightening atmosphere has not, however, deterred man from endeavouring to face oppositions at every stage they came. Though it would appear that all his attempts were almost akin to the effort at pushing the horizon beyond its boundaries, a futile adventure bringing no result whatsoever, the hopes of man have never ceased, and they will never cease. There is, at the background of his personality, an inkling of his being capable of breaking boundaries and overstepping limitations of understanding and gaining sway over all things. Though he has never done this in all history, the passage of history itself is a testimony of human aspiration to reach unlimited suzerainty over everything. It is not merely this much; human desire goes further into the deep longing to make the world one's own, nay, to enjoy it. This is a profound psychological secret behind effort and activity.

Man's longing to exercise power, possess things and enjoy pleasure is ostensibly the hidden aim behind every form of his effort both in his private and public life. But it is surprising that this goal is lost sight of in the process of the struggle, and the struggle itself is deified, in some way or other, the means getting confused with the end. This, obviously, is a travesty of affairs, for nothing can be worse than mistaking the toil of the journey for the delight of having reached the destination. Notwithstanding the cautious and investigative processes adopted by man with various techniques of working, he has not been able to avoid this common mistake of humanity in general – the mistake of taking the process for the goal. The reason for this persisting error in all activity is the inability on one's part to distinguish between the form and the content of experience. While the form is identical with the tedium and effort involved in any kind of adventure or activity, the content is the principle of satisfaction in the achievement, which is immanent, though invisible in the process. It is true that man struggles for bread and most of his life is spent in finding ways of earning it. Now, this need to earn one's bread is easily mistaken for the important end to be achieved in life. Unfortunately, the purpose behind earning of bread is quite different, it being a novel type of satisfaction of one's being able to keep one's body and soul together. This is the aim of the search for food, clothing and shelter and the various amenities of life that are regarded as unavoidable essentials to everyone. But, as long as the content is not discovered in the form, life in the world will ever remain a hopeless and unending conflict of conditions and vicissitudes. The significance of this curious difficulty does not come to the surface of man's consciousness, due to which he continues fighting against odds and suffering his life from inception to the grave. The seeking of the meaning implicit in life's processes is philosophy. The working out of philosophy in one's life is the practice of Yoga.