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The Philosophy of Life
by Swami Krishnananda


Chapter 1: The Definition of Philosophy

The Fundamental Science

Philosophy is a well coordinated and systematised attempt at evaluating life and the universe as a whole, with reference to first principles that underlie all things as their causes and are implicit in all experience. It is an impartial approach to all problems and aspects of life and existence, and its studies are not devoted merely to the empirical world, as in the case of the physical and biological sciences; not restricted to the provinces of faith and authority or to the questions of the other world, as is the case with theological disquisitions; not confined to investigation of the mind and its behaviour, as in psychology; not given over merely to casuistry and ethology, as in the normative science of morality and ethics; not taken up with the consideration of civic duties and problems of administration and constitution, as in the case of politics; not concerned with the solution of problems and techniques of adjusting and ordering and discovering the origin and organisation and development of human society, like economics and sociology; but are adapted for an exhaustive treatment of the basic presuppositions of each and every one of these, as also of what is other than and beyond all these, that on which all these are ultimately founded and which is the ground of all knowledge and experience in general. Philosophy investigates the very possibility and conditions of knowledge, its extent, nature and value. It bases itself on facts already known and rises above them to absolute verities, on which all phenomena depend and by which alone they can be rationally explained. It is not circumscribed by the limitations of the past, present and future, by the laws of this place or that country, but refers to all times, places and conditions. Philosophy is the most inclusive of all branches of learning, and acts as a touchstone to all other aspects of human knowledge.

Philosophy is a rational enquiry into the forms, contents and implications of experience. It is an attempt at a complete knowledge of being in all the phases of its manifestation in the various processes of consciousness. The discovery of the ultimate meaning and essence of existence is the central purpose of philosophy. It is the art of the perfect life, the science of reality, the foundation of the practice of righteousness, the law of the attainment of freedom and bliss, and provides a key to the meaning and appreciation of beauty. Swami Sivananda holds philosophy to be the Vedanta or the consummation of knowledge, Brahmavidya, or the sacred lore of the Eternal, which is inseparable from Yogasastra, or the methodology of the ascent of the finite to the infinite. It is the way to the knowledge of being as such, of that which is. “Philosophy is love of wisdom, or striving for wisdom. It is a moral and intellectual science which tries to explain the reality behind appearances by reducing the phenomena of the universe to ultimate causes, through the application of reason and law” (Questions and Answers, p.94). Philosophy has its goal in the highest generalisation conceivable, and this consists in the final grasping of the deepest meaning of existence taken as a whole. Philosophy is no doubt the grand artistic edifice constructed by the higher purified intellect of man, but to Swami Sivananda, it is not merely this, for, according to him, it is based on intuition and is meant to justify rationally one's faith in Truth. Philosophical knowledge in the true sense of the term cannot be had through sense-experience, for, the latter is confined to appearances. Thus, many of the schools of Western philosophy would be excluded from Swami Sivananda's definition of philosophy. The architect of the monumental mansions of philosophy is not merely the abstract and unaided intellect, but the intellect free from all desires, purged of all prejudices, and based on immediate intuition. Hegel says in his Philosophy of Religion: “Philosophy is not a wisdom of the world, but is knowledge of what is not of the world; it is not knowledge which concerns external mass or empirical existence and life, but is knowledge of that which is eternal, of what God is, and what flows out of His nature.”

Swami Sivananda would agree with Hegel in holding that the supreme purpose of philosophy is not circumscribed by the contents of empirical experience but extends to the final and uncontradicted attainment of the Absolute. “Philosophy is the expression of the inner urge to know the Atman. It is the science of principles. It is the way, not simply of explaining what ought to be, but of directly experiencing that which eternally exists” (Voice of Sivananda, pp.2,3). Philosophy never rests contented until the permanent acquisition of non-stultified knowledge. The test of reality is non-contradiction, and philosophy is the pursuit of reality. It is spiritual realisation expressed in logical language, while passing through the mill of reason. Reason in the philosophy of Swami Sivananda is only a handmaid to the higher intuition, made use of to proclaim the truth and value of intuition in the world of sense-perception. It means that a purely intellectual philosophy can never discover reality, for, this discovery is possible only through super-sensory intuition or Sakshatkara. It is never possible to produce a perfect philosophy through the instrumentality of reason alone, for, unbridled reason can easily carry consciousness away from Truth. Reason rests on the awareness of duality, on the concept of the dichotomy of existence, and Truth is non-duality. Thus, there is no similarity between the characteristics of reason and the nature of Reality. Philosophy does not pretend to give us Truth as it is, but is capable of intimating to us the existence of a super-sensible being which presses itself forward in each and every one of our experiences as their sole value, essence and justification, as the highest consummation and beatitude of all individuals in the universe. John Dewey almost hits the mark when he holds that a catholic and far-sighted theory of the adjustment of the conflicting factors of life is philosophy.

Philosophy is a necessary means for the possession of the higher knowledge of the Self. But, if it is defined as process of the function of the intellect, we have to note that it is not a always the sole means; for philosophy in Swami Sivananda, as in Plato, Plotinus and Spinoza, makes its appeal not merely to the intellect of man, but to the heart and the feeling as well. It is not enough to understand the teachings of philosophy, it is necessary also to feel them in the depths of one's heart. Feeling, at least in certain respects, surpasses understanding, albeit that feeling is often strengthened by understanding. Philosophy is an intensely practical science. “Philosophy has its roots in the practical needs of man. Man wants to know about transcendental matters when he is in a reflective state. There is an urge within him to know about the secret of death, the secret of immortality, the nature of the soul, the creator and the world.” “Philosophy is the self-expression of the growing spirit in man. Philosophers are its voice” (Philosophy and Teachings, p.1). The Vedanta is the general term applied in India to such a philosophy of wise adjustment of value based on an undeluded perception of Reality. “One must be a practical Vedantin. Mere theorising and lecturing is only intellectual gymnastics. This will not suffice. If the Vedanta, is not practicable, no theory is of any value. One must put the Vedanta into daily practice, in every action that one does. The Vedanta teaches the oneness or unity of the Self. One must radiate love to one and all. The spirit of the Vedanta must be ingrained in one's cells or tissues, veins, nerves and bones. It must become part and parcel of one's nature. One must think of unity, speak of unity, and act in unity” (Lectures on Yoga and Vedanta p.134). Philosophy in this sense ought to become the principal occupation of enlightened life. All other pursuits of man should stem from the force of this essential vocation of human intelligence.

Philosophy is a general exposition of the ultimate concepts, meanings and values of the things of the universe, by a resort to their final causes which range beyond the reach of the senses. It becomes possible for philosophy to concern itself with metaphysical essences by resting on the strong foundation of the testimony given by sages to deep meditation and realisation. Hence the source as well as the aim of philosophy is direct experience, non-mediate, supersensory and super-logical. All knowledge that we ordinarily obtain in this world is mediate, for it requires the operation of the triune process of the knower, knowledge and the known. By this method of knowing it is not possible for us to acquire an unshakable knowledge of reality, for mediacy in knowledge does not enjoy the characteristics of permanency. The transitory nature of mediate knowledge affects the whole world of science, for this latter is sense-bound. There are certain hypothetical conceptions and principles which are absolutely necessary for obtaining scientific knowledge, using the word science in the sense in which it is understood by scientists today, and these are the notions and concepts of the existence of an extended space, of a flowing time and of the presence of material objects outside consciousness. In other words, science is a coordinated and systematised knowledge of the contents of the world as it is observed through the physical senses of man. We need not point out here that science lays too much trust in the validity of sense-perception and thus gets vitiated by the gross limitations to which the senses are obviously subject.

Philosophy soars above empiricality, though it takes the help of empirical concepts and categories for the sake of proclaiming to the world the truths declared by intuition. It speaks to the world in the language of the world, for the language of intuition is unintelligible to the world of experience. The form and shape of philosophy has necessarily to depend on the stuff out of which the world of experience is made, on account of its having to perform the function of transmitting the knowledge of the super-mundane ideal to the realm of mundane values. It has always within itself a living undercurrent of significance and implication which gives a vivid picture of the nature of the ultimate end to the understanding mind. Philosophy stands on the shoulders of the senses, but looks beyond them. Intuition is the soul of philosophy, and reason its body. By intuition, again, we do not mean the sensory intuition of certain Western philosophers, but the integral intuition of Consciousness, which is non-different from the Absolute. The world is based on the Absolute; it is a manifestation of the Absolute. It is the Absolute flowing and moving that appears to the senses as the world. Philosophy gives us a promise of such a majestic vision. Hence we can say, with Aristotle, it is the Fundamental Science.

The Metaphysics of Reality

Swami Sivananda differs from Hegel's conception of philosophy as the work of the unifying Reason. Though Hegel's Reason has its function in the unification of the categories, its goal is abstract, an Idea. To Swami Sivananda knowledge of Reality is not an Idea, but an immediate realisation of the Eternal Presence, which is consciousness and bliss in one. The Absolute is necessary for the world, but the world is not necessary for the Absolute. Undifferentiatedness and transcendence of qualities do not in any way mean reducing Reality to non-being. Here is the gulf between Hegel and Swami Sivananda. Though what is true in the world is the Absolute alone, the names and the forms of the world are not in the latter. Swami Sivananda carefully distinguishes between the gross concept of the world that the common man has in his mind and the true concept of it that the purified, analytic mind of an aspirant after Truth ought to have. The world, in his philosophy, is only a conglomeration of isolated and abstract names and forms, which, when they are thus isolated, lose all reality. The ordinary untrained mind confuses what is the permanent element in what we call the world with the abstract appearances, which are merely accidental to it. This confusion is to be found even in Hegel who, not carefully distinguishing between the eternal and the transitory characters present in the world, thinks that the existence of the world is necessary for the perfection of the Absolute. In Swami Sivananda's philosophy, the world consists of merely the names and forms of experience and not what puts on these names and forms. It is wrong to think that the world is concrete and the Absolute abstract. The truth is that the reverse is the case. The difficulty arises due to a false appreciation of the true relation of Reality to appearance. “A clear understanding of man's relation to God is a matter of momentous importance to students of philosophy and to all aspirants” (Philosophy and Teachings, p.2). In the Absolute, all the physical, mental, moral, aesthetic and spiritual aspirations of individuals find their true consummation, and hence it cannot be an abstract Idea. The world is relative to perception and its goal is the Absolute. What the senses perceive is but the outer changing mode of the fact of the relativity of experience. On a careful analysis of the nature of the world it is found to fade away into nothingness until only consciousness remains. Eddington, the well-known scientist, remarks that the scientists have chased the solid substance from the continuous liquid to the atom, from the atom to the electron, and there they have lost it.

Matter has now ceased to be what it was to man half a century ago, and today it is more like a myth, a fable or a fancy than reality. But in spite of the repudiation of the solid reality and sensibility of the material world by the discoveries of modern science, an irrefutable and persistent feeling of reality lingers in the mind of everyone. What science has abrogated is not reality but appearance, and after everything is said, there remains the irreducible minimum of the consciousness of the Self. The Self, however, is beyond the province of science, and the scientist who has reached the boundaries of his knowledge and discovered the limitations of reason and observation is likely to be forced to accept its reality. This is actually what has happened, and great scientists like Max Planck, Einstein, James Jeans and Eddington have given intimations of that something that science is not able to say anything about. Physics is perforce landed in metaphysics. Here we become alive to the supreme function of philosophy, which declares that the super-sensuous basis of matter and energy, space, time and gravitation is the secondless Absolute.

The Concept of Intuitional Basis

Swami Sivananda accepts that our perceptions and percepts are governed by the characters of our sensibility and understanding. What we are greatly affects our ways of knowing. But on this ground he would not agree with Kant that philosophical pursuits should be given up altogether as specimens of a vain enterprise on the part of man. Kant, concerning himself too much with the individual powers of knowledge, dispenses with the metaphysics of an ultimate reality as something totally impossible. Kant's contention is that, as knowledge is limited to the perceptual categories of the sensibility and the conceptual categories of the understanding, even our knowledge of God as such, for example, is not a possibility. Yes, we cannot have a satisfactory metaphysics of reality if reason is our sole aid, for, it is true that all our knowledge is empirical and limited, being confined to the categories of the sensibility and understanding, from which no one, ordinarily, can extricate himself. But this problem does not arise in the philosophy of Swami Sivananda, for, to him, philosophy is but the embodiment in reason of the intuitional wisdom of Truth as it is. The Absolute is not the one that is coloured by the functions of the senses and the understanding, but the very presupposition of the senses, understanding and reason. It has to be emphasised again that philosophy is not the achievement of the unaided reason walking independently of the non-dualistic intuition, but is only the rational articulation of the super-rational realised in integral intuition. God, freedom and immortality are not objects of the reason, which reason has to establish independently, but represent the highest goal which reason has to justify, basing itself on the Anubhava or experience of the sages, such as those of the Upanishads. To Kant, metaphysical realities are only regulative principles or ideals of reason that have to be postulated, but cannot be justified by reason. To Swami Sivananda, this is so only when Reality is bifurcated into the objects of reason and of intuition and not taken as one whole. When reason draws inspiration from non-sensory experience and breathes the air of intuition, what it declares is not merely a regulative principle but the representation of what is real in the highest sense.

The Reality that is established in philosophy is to be experienced in the state of deep meditation. Here consciousness and being become one. There is no way of entering into communion with it except by being it. There is no such thing as subject-object relationship in regard to the consciousness of what is universal. Either one knows it fully in non-dualistic communion or does not know it at all. The senses, the understanding and the reason are powerless instruments in one's attempt at perfectly comprehending its nature or realising it in experience. In the realisation of the Supreme Being the mind of the individual is completely transcended, together with all its dualistic categories. The mind does not partake of the characteristics of Reality. It is not conscious and also not universal in nature. The mind is a feeble objective insentient evolute acting as the individual's instrument in the perception of the external world, which is physical in nature. By its very nature it knows only what is outside it and cannot know what is above it or what is presupposed by it. Hence nothing that is known to the human being in this empirical world can be of any use in the realm of the trans-empirical Consciousness. The objects of the senses get fused, as it were, in the constitutive essence of the Absolute. Space, time and causation, matter, energy and objects vanish in the menstruum of its stupendous existence. The Absolute of philosophy is not an object of consciousness, but is what consciousness itself is in its real and essential nature. Thus philosophy is the pathway to the realisation of the Absolute Consciousness through the ladder of the different stages of the relative consciousness.

Rational Presentation of Experience

Philosophy is not to be confused with intuition, with mystic or religious experience, though it is a very powerful aid in achieving this end. Philosophy in India is based on the revelations of the sages and provides the necessary strength to the future generation of mankind for realising this goal. In mystic or religious experience the intellect and the reason are completely transcended, while philosophy is all intellect and reason, though it is grounded ultimately in deep religious experience. While the intuitional truths are rationally explained by philosophy, it does not pretend to prove the nature of these truths through intellectual or scientific categories. Philosophy has a purely negative value—of offering an exhaustive criticism of sense-experience and logical thought and indirectly arriving at the concept of Reality by demonstrating the limitations and inadequacies of the former. All philosophy really springs from an inward dissatisfaction with immediate empirical experience consequent upon the perception of the inadequacies inherent in its very nature. This leads to a critical examination of the constituents of empirical experience and a profound study of its hidden implications. This is philosophy. A justification of the super-mental and non-temporal Absolute is attempted through a searching analysis and understanding of sense-experience and rational judgment, while the defects and implications of the latter are fully disclosed. Truly speaking, philosophy can neither be purely subjective in its approach, nor purely objective in the sense of an alienation from the perceiving subject. It will be seen in the course of the study of the principles constituting the universe that what is implied within in experience is also implied outside in the contents of experience and in the objects and the conditions that are necessary for bringing about this experience. Thus philosophy becomes a universal approach to Truth made by the subject and the object simultaneously with equal authority, meaning and strength, making no difference in value between themselves. The movement of thought is from the physical to the biological, from the biological to the logical, and from the logical to the spiritual. Philosophy should, therefore, constitute a comprehensive analysis and study of the whole of experience. It has no partialities, no prejudices, no preconceptions, no likes, no dislikes. It marches bold like a heroic warrior with truth, justice and wisdom as its supreme aims. It makes ample use of all the powers that the human individual is endowed with and reaches the farthest limit of these powers, where what it observes and studies is not that which is immediately experienced, but what is inferred from and logically implied in the facts it envisages directly in that borderland between understanding and reason. Man possesses nothing superior to reason, and so philosophy cannot go beyond it. In a way philosophy is a rational criticism of reason itself, when we take reason to mean not merely an isolated abstract power of intelligence, but also all the objective factors and conditions that are necessary to make it what it is. When reason rationally knows its own limitations and also the reason why it is limited, it knows Reality in a negative way. This negative knowledge becomes the starting point of the effort towards its positive realisation in meditation and communion.

Philosophy has no quarrel with science; it concedes that science is necessary and useful in reinforcing its own conclusions, but it strictly warns science that it is limited to physical phenomena. We study the physical, chemical and biological laws in science, the logical and metaphysical principles in philosophy and the moral and the spiritual verities in religion and the higher mysticism. The senses, reason and intuition are our ways of knowledge in the progressive unfoldment of our nature. Science, philosophy and mysticism are true and useful in their own places and together constitute the highroad to a knowledge of life as a whole. Intuition, however, has the special advantage of being able to unfold all that the senses and reason can, and, in addition, also that which these cannot hope to know with all their power. The philosophy of Swami Sivananda is not any partial approach to Truth; it is that grand integral method which combines in itself the principles and laws discovered and established by science, metaphysics and the higher religion and which embraces in its vast bosom whatever is true, good or beautiful in the universe. What he says of the Vedanta is true of all genuine philosophy aiming at the salvation of the human soul: “Vedanta is that bold philosophy which teaches the unity of life or the oneness of consciousness.” “It is that sublime philosophy which elevates the mind at once to the magnificent heights of Brahman-hood, divine splendour and glory, which makes man absolutely fearless, which destroys all barriers that separate man from man and which brings concord, unruffled peace and harmony to suffering humanity.” “It is the only philosophy that, when properly understood and practised, can put a definite stop to world wars and all dissensions, splits and skirmishes that exist in different nations and communities.” “Vedanta is a magnetic healing balm for the wounded and the afflicted in the dreadful battlefield of this dire mundane existence. Vedanta is the divine collyrium which removes the cataract of ignorance and gives a new inner eye of intuition or wisdom.” “It gives real inner spiritual strength. It inspires, renovates, vivifies, invigorates and puts a stop to the never-ending wheel of birth and death and confers immortality, infinite knowledge and bliss” (Vedanta in Daily Life, pp.3-4). To Plato, philosophy is the dear delight, and the philosopher is the spectator of all time and all existence, and is one who sets his affections on that which really exists. For Spinoza, it is the perception of things sub specie eternitatis.

Classification of Themes

Philosophy conceived as metaphysics deals with an extensive reasoned discussion of the natures and the relations of God, world and the individual soul. The latter two are either identical in essence with God, or are attributes or parts of God, or are different from God. The ultimate Reality is either God, or the world of perception alone, or only the individual mind. God either exists or not, and is necessary or unnecessary for an explanation of experience. The world is either material or mental in nature; and consciousness is independent of or is dependent on matter. The world is either pluralistic or a single whole; and is real, ideal or unreal, empirical, pragmatic or rational. The individual is either free or bound. Questions of this nature are usually discussed under metaphysics. It also delineates the process of cosmogony and cosmology, the concepts of space, time and causation, creation, evolution and involution, as well as the presuppositions of eschatology or the discourse on the nature of life after death. The philosophical basis of modern physics and biology also can be comprised under metaphysics. Under epistemology the various theories and processes of the acquisition of right knowledge, as well as the nature and possibility of wrong knowledge, are discussed in detail. Sensation, perception, inference, comparison, verbal testimony, presumption, non-apprehension and non-relational intuition are the various phases of the ways of right knowledge. Intuition, however, is not to be classed as one of the ways of knowing, for it is the one supreme way of right knowledge, transcending all other empirical means. Knowledge is said to be erroneous when one thing is mistaken for another, whatever the reason be for this error. The several causes of error in perception are also discussed under epistemology. Under aesthetics the significance and the nature of beauty are discussed in philosophy. Beauty is either subjective or objective or relative to the subject and the object. It, again, is either real, ideal or unreal. As ethics philosophy engages itself in the ascertainment of the nature of right and wrong, good and bad. It deals with the nature of moral standards and moral judgments, the rights and the duties of the individual, the society and the state, the national and international good, the nature and function of conscience, and the like. Ethics is either naturalistic, hedonistic or metaphysical. Under psychology the constitution, function and behaviour of the mind is discussed in philosophy. Psychology, apart from its dealing with general topics, such as the springs of action, thought, intelligence, emotion, will, feeling, the relation of mind and body, the nature of internal conflict, the mechanism of sense-knowledge, etc., may be distinguished as individual, social, educational, religious, analytic and group psychology. There has been a tendency in recent times to segregate psychology, as a purely objective science, from philosophical studies that are not confined merely to the region of observation. Under axiology philosophy establishes the nature of values in the different stages and views of life, such as physical values, aesthetic values, moral values, religious values, etc. Mysticism is in a way the most magnificent part of philosophical studies, though certain rationalist philosophers, in their enthusiasm to save themselves from falling into irrationalism of any kind, commit the error of not knowing that true mysticism deals with truths that range beyond and determine all rational processes of knowledge. Mysticism mostly concerns itself with the inner relation of the individual to the Eternal Being and with the various techniques of the ascent of the soul in the fulfilment of its religious and spiritual aspirations, with the picturesque experiences it undergoes and the dangers and the difficulties it has to encounter on the way, with the psychology of the phenomenon of religious consciousness and the philosophical foundations and implications of the inner path of the Spirit, and also the meditations which the seeker of Truth has to practise for the ultimate attainment. The Vedanta and the Yoga are perfected and finished systems which comprise all these branches of study, and so deserve in every sense of the term the designation of philosophy. Swami Sivananda has recorded in his works his unequivocal conclusions on these wondrous themes, which point in the end to the self-realisation of consciousness in the Absolute.

Though philosophy, in the system of Swami Sivananda, is mostly understood in the sense of metaphysics, ethics and mysticism, its other phases also receive in his writings due consideration, and are placed in a respectable position as honourable scions of the majestic metaphysics of his Vedanta. For him the basis of all knowledge is the existence of the Absolute Self, and perception and the other ways of knowing are meaningful on account of their being illumined by the light of this Self. Epistemological problems are, therefore, in the end, problems of the nature and the manner of the manifestation of the Absolute through the psycho-physical organism. Beauty is the vision of the Absolute through the senses and the understanding. The main material of beauty is symmetry, rhythm, harmony, equilibrium, unity, manifest in consciousness. The perception of these characteristics is the neutralisation of want and one-sidedness in consciousness, the fulfilment of personality, the completion of being, and hence a manifestation of the Absolute, in some degree, in one's consciousness. The aesthetic consciousness is thus the result of a partial expression of the universal in conscious experience. The good is that which, directly or indirectly, leads the individual to the experience of the Absolute, which is the ultimate good. Primary virtues are those which are directly concerned with the conscious movement of the finite to the Infinite, and the secondary ones are those indirectly responsible for this attainment. The way of the good is the direction of the right. Ethics is the science of the inner conduct that is good and right. The psychological principles, to Swami Sivananda, are but certain of the several stages and functional points of the appearance of the Absolute in the evolutionary process of the external subtle universe existing behind the gross mass of the five elements. Psychology is thus one of the most interesting and essential of sciences, inasmuch as it investigates and studies the nature of the operations and behaviour of the mind, which is the medium, in the realm of relativity, of the perception of the Absolute. All values, intrinsic or extrinsic, are rooted in the judgment of the supreme value of the realisation of the Absolute, which is the eternal home of all other values and in which all other values find their fulfilment. Axiology has to be referred back to metaphysical studies. Mysticism, for Swami Sivananda, is the path of the practical knowledge and experience of the great truths of metaphysics, the disclosure of the realities of God, the world and the individual, the recognition, in direct intuition, of their true relations, the grand rising of the soul from the slumber of ignorance and its realisation of the beatitude of the Absolute. The several techniques of Yoga and Jnana are comprehended in mysticism of the right type, and it sums up what is usually known as the spiritual path or the way to the Life Divine. Philosophy is a term generally applied to a study of all these aspects of life's meaning, and so it forms the most attractive pursuit of the human being in general.