The Philosophy of Life
by Swami Krishnananda


It was my feeling that a proper approach to the subject of the higher analysis of life in the language of the modern mind is long overdue, and this work has to be undertaken earlier or later. Though a response to such a need has been attempted by many scholars, the result in most cases was such that it evoked either the intellectual or emotional side independently, and man was not touched in his being. One has to address human nature in its completeness and not merely a side of it. Physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, metaphysics and mysticism developed a tendency to specialisation and became almost water-tight compartments. This was indeed not a desirable state of affairs, for it encouraged a false division in what in fact is an indivisible unity. We cannot amputate the limb of a living body and then succeed by its study in an understanding of the true nature of the organism. A study of life is at once many-sided and, though a conclusive rational knowledge of it involves a study of things by their ultimate causes ranging beyond empirical observation, the purely logical method of philosophy, or the way of feeling which certain religious schools advocate, cannot be said independently to satisfy human aspiration, which always rises as a whole in its structure and not a part separated from its associates. To follow a system of thinking to its final limits would land one in a necessity to pay due attention to the laws of several strata and aspects of life. The seeker of Truth has a difficult task to perform, for he cannot affiliate himself to any particular branch of learning, while he cannot also ignore the manifold character of knowledge. With this end in view, this adventure of presenting a treatise on the essential Philosophy of Life was undertaken.

The study in this volume has been comparative wherever necessary, and the thesis put forth is that in the teachings of Swami Sivananda a synthesis of the approach to life can be found, with a blending of the best in the different sections of life and pointing to a perfection which is integral. All quotations cited in this work are, unless otherwise stated, references from the writings of His Holiness Sri Swami Sivananda, intended either for comparison or substantiation of a thesis enunciated. After a statement on the meaning, value and methods of philosophy, and the need for it in human life, the work endeavours to make out that, though a scientific spirit is necessary in any study of philosophy, science cannot satisfy the vital urges in man. The main problem commences with the study of man himself, and in searching for the true man, we find the Atman, the highest principle of existence. While envisaging man as an individual, the problem of perception, or knowledge of the external world, comes out as a natural corollary. Right perception is a correct comprehension of fact. The composition of the universe which presents itself before perception becomes thereafter the subject of analysis. It has to be decided whether the universe is real in the same sense as it appears, or it has any other meaning. A recognition of the inadequacy of empirical experience in its various forms takes us to the heart of the study, viz., the nature of the Absolute,—Brahman. But the Supreme Reality eludes the grasp of the individual and compels attention as the universal Deity of creation,—God, or Isvara.

The existence of Isvara implies at the same time the presence of Jivas who are subservient as His integral parts, though internally related in His self-identical universal consciousness. The question of the mutual relation of God, the world and the individual, is ultimately an empirical one and is overcome in the unitariness of the Absolute. Here we have a vision of perfection in its various phases. Spiritual life is meditation on Reality.

As it has been rather customary nowadays to entertain a comparative outlook in philosophy, the views of several Western thinkers are also taken into consideration in our judgment of values. The work presents a critical estimate of some of the prominent modern philosophers of the West, pointing out how the universal philosophy of India agrees or disagrees with them, and how this philosophy is a union of reason and intuition. The vocation of philosophy has been said to trace the presence and the organic movement or process of Reason in Nature, in the human mind, in all social institutions, in the history of nations, and in the progressive advancement of the world. This would mean that philosophy is the rationality behind science, psychology, sociology, ethics, politics, law and world-history, in addition to its function of determining the significance of art and religion. A comprehensive philosophy should therefore be able to explain the ultimate rationale of these branches of knowledge having sway over the different fields of life. Hegel in the West tried to exalt philosophy to this status and to view life as a movement of Reason. This is indeed a praiseworthy attempt of a pioneer, but it had its defects characteristic of inadequate information and a meagre sense of the implications of a universal approach to the problems of life. He lacked the insight which discovered that Truth cannot be encountered in one form alone, for it has at least three degrees of manifestation—the absolute, the empirical and the apparent. The various questions may have to be answered from these different levels of judgement; else, the square rod might find itself in a round hole.

A philosophy of life has naturally to be inseparable from universality of vision. It has therefore to start from a study of the most basic fact of human perception, viz. Nature in all its externality. The astronomical universe, with its mathematical laws, may be regarded as the extreme content of the extroverted consciousness. Things hang loosely in this scheme with apparently no connection with one another, except perhaps the pull of gravitation and a distant influence characteristic of physical bodies. It is physics which goes deeper into the structure and content of this diversified universe and discovers electro-magnetic fields determining the nature and function of bodies and a close relation among them than crass perception would permit. The physical laws working behind the universe seem to be uniform and the substance of things is seen ultimately to consist not of scattered particulars but a single force or energy permeating and constituting everything. The ‘locality’ of bodies fades and they coalesce and fuse into one another in an underlying universal continuum. Chemistry busies itself with the reactions that substances set up in their combinations as elements capable of mutual relationship in their physical ambit.

But life is not explained either by mathematics, physics or chemistry. Living beings are different from mere bodies or substances even intimately related. The life-principle is not easily capable of definition and eludes determination in physical terms. Growth and evolution and, above all, a kind of self-competency which asserts itself in every living body are specialities by themselves. Organic life raises quite a different question from the principles governing inorganic things. Biology is the study of life and points to the existence of a thinking faculty in certain living beings, which lies beyond its scope and concerns the science of psychology. The Behaviourist, Gestalt, Hormic and other theories of the psyche are only attempts at understanding that peculiar expression of consciousness which ramifies itself into what are familiarly known as thought, feeling, volition, discrimination, memory, self-affirmation, etc. A classification made among these faculties has differentiated man from animal, the former being endowed with the power of logical decision which is wanting in the lower stages. The functional modes of the human psyche are various and have led to the studies made in the field of psycho-analysis, which analyses the urges, needs and aspirations of the psychological constitution both in its progressive and retrogressive processes of activity.

Man’s relation to other men occasions the study known as sociology. Human relationships and their requirements form an important branch of investigation, which may also go into the details of anthropology. This situation leads to the more complex relations of political institutions necessitated by the circumstances of group living and the interests of communities into which people form themselves. Human conduct, which has to be regulated by mutual consent, outer pressure or a moral sense predominant in some, gives rise to the system of ethics. The ethical and political rules of groups of mankind crystallise into the laws of countries or nations. The legal codes have also to consider the implications of the march of world-history which exhibits a logical trend in all its indeterminable movements, hinting at the operation of the universal laws transcending humanity and yet immanent in it at all times.

It is with this preamble that philosophy has to commence the working out of its purpose. Human enterprises do not generally extend to the universal; they have always parochial objectives and even philosophy has latterly been forced to narrow itself to the confines of psychological urges and social exigencies. There have been many ‘philosophies’ of subjects or approaches rather than a true philosophy wide enough to embrace the living principles animating all branches of human knowledge. Humanity’s longing has been not so much for the branches of learning or the constitution of social institutions as for an inner peace and a satisfaction that the goal has been reached. The meanderings of the mind in the fields of external research have not brought the desired result, and man is today almost what he was centuries before. The reason is an obvious misapprehension of what is good and an application of the wrong means in the attempt at gaining the end. A mere study of the philosophical thoughts of the great thinkers in the manner of a history will not suffice. Philosophy in its core is not simply the teachings of the many schools, but a vital content of consciousness in its generality.

In the exposition, I have always attempted a middle course between looseness and terseness of expression, bearing in mind that the presentation has to be precise and yet not involve too difficult a reading. The conciseness ventured has necessitated packing of several thoughts into a lesser number of suggestive sentences than would be expected by a student. Though the work demands some previous acquaintance with philosophical thinking, there should be no doubt that the sincere aspirant will be immensely benefited thereby to not a small extent.