The Philosophy of Religion
by Swami Krishnananda


Chapter 1: Introduction

The Seed of Philosophy

When anyone decides to make a trip to a holy place or visit a saint, he must be having a feeling within him of some sort of an inadequacy about the place where he is living and the circumstances under which he is working. This perception, which makes one take this decision, may be said to constitute the beginning of what people call philosophy. It is a faint recognition, though impalpable, indistinct, and not always conscious, of the presence of a value, a state of life, a condition of living, which is different from the one in which one is situated. A dissatisfaction of some sort subtly felt from within, though not clearly expressed consciously, is the incentive behind every effort, every activity, every enterprise, anything that man does in any way. If everything is all right, there would be no incentive to work. Something is wrong somewhere, and something has to be done about it. This necessity felt from within man, to do something, because something is not well, is the seed of philosophy that man sows in his life.

The Dissatisfaction of Man

No one in the world can be said to be fully satisfied with things. In whatever condition one may be placed, there is a kind of dissatisfaction. Nothing is complete in life anywhere. There are some complaints to make against everything. Nothing can satisfy anybody. The reason why, cannot be easily understood, though. One is likely to imagine that all the difficulties are socially constructed. Man looks around and sees people, and is thoroughly dissatisfied with the way in which they are behaving. "What a wretched society it is!"-often he complains under the impression that society is the source of the evil that he sees in life. He believes his sorrows are caused by other people. It is the cussedness of man's nature that is the source of his sorrows. Man is not behaving as man. "What man has made of man," says the poet. Society is not directing itself in the way it ought to. There is something dead wrong in the structure of human society. So, one looks up to the skies and exclaims, "What can I do?"

Government as a Solution to Man's Problems

Historians and students of political science tell us that originally people lived in a natural state. There was no society at all. There were only individuals scattered helter-skelter. There can be no organisation among people when they are in such a state of nature. This means that there was no regulation of any kind once upon a time. This appears to be a state of absolute freedom. Utopia indeed! But no. Historians, especially the philosophers of political science, tell us that this was a time when human beings lived like animals, and what law operated or prevailed at that time cannot be easily known at present. There was insecurity prevailing everywhere on account of the impossibility of discovering the attitude of another in regard to oneself. If we do not know what others are thinking about us, or what the other is trying to do in respect of us, the problem is obvious. When man cannot know his future, he is in a state of insecurity; he is restless inwardly.

The discovery that historians of political science have made is that man invented a mechanism called government to free himself from this sense of insecurity, which was rampant in a state of affairs where individuals had no rule or law among themselves. This is called the Social Contract Theory in politics. Man has manufactured a system of regulations, rules, etc., which he called government. People themselves have created it. They sat together, discussed among themselves as to what would be the best method according to which they should conduct themselves in society, and they thought there should be an agreement among themselves. This agreement among the people is called the law of the government. They imagined that they would then be secure and no trouble will come to them afterwards from any source, if there was a law which prevented them from being subjected to the onslaughts of uncanny forces and to the discomfort of an unknown future.

But man was not satisfied. We have governments, but we are still crying, weeping, cursing, and worrying within ourselves that things are as bad as they were, and are, perhaps, even worse. This mechanism, this structure of governmental control or regulation, has not helped man in freeing himself from sorrow, which was there at the origin of things, and which is there even now. In some other form, may be, but it is still appearing and showing its face. It has taken a different contour, but it is still there. Man is the same old man, worrying as he was worrying many centuries back. He has the same problems.

Ethics as a Solution to Man's Problems

There is the science of Ethics, often called morality, on which people hang very much for a safe conduct of human life. This is another of man's attempts at trying to tackle his feeling of inadequacy, insecurity, and bondage. A standard or a norm is framed for the behaviour of people, and, if the norm is broken, that behaviour is called unethical, immoral, and so on. Thus, the religions of the world today, especially those which have leant too much on these norms of ethics and morality, have turned out to be nothing but mechanisms of do's and don'ts, a different set of mandates that compel men to behave in a particular manner. While man is forced to behave in a particular manner only, willy-nilly, by the regulations of the government, the mandates of ethics and morality compel him in another way and force him to behave in a standardised manner, whether he wants it or not. So, again, he is in a state of bondage. Not even a ray of freedom can be seen in life. There are always compulsions from every side. Religion compels everyone to say, do, and think in this manner or that manner; society forces in its own way; and so do political governments.

Basic Urge of Man Is for Freedom, not Bondage

It appears that man is a bound soul pressed into a concentration camp, and it further appears that he just cannot hope to discover what he is internally aspiring for. The world does not seem to have the capacity to deliver the goods. There is no freedom in this world. It cannot be seen anywhere. Everybody is tied down by the shackles of some system, regulation, law, ethics, morality – whatever they may be.

Governmental laws are external mandates which force man to behave in a given manner. But man cannot be forced like that. Nobody wishes to be compelled to do, or even to think, something by force. There is a spontaneity in man. Every single individual asks for freedom and not bondage, be it of any kind whatsoever. Even to be subjected to the law of a government is a bondage, and to think what man aspired for was freedom! So, when men asked for freedom, they got bondage! From one kind of bondage they have entered into another kind; in the bargain, no freedom has come. Man, now, has a fear of a different type. While he was afraid of one individual or one group of individuals then, now he is afraid of a larger spectre that is before him, which he has himself created, and he does not seem to be any the better for it. The problem of man is inside man only. This is a very strange feature that thoughtful analysis of the human situation reveals. Adepts in this field have tried their very best to go deep into this tangle.

How is it that man is asking and searching for a thing which he cannot find in life? This again is a mystery. If freedom were unknown in this world, and if everybody were bound in some way or the other, or by something, it would be futile to seek it here. But man seeks nothing other than that. Is this not an irony? Is this not a contradiction? What can be a greater irony in life than to seek a thing in a place where it is not to be found? The human mind has tried its best to probe into these difficulties, and has invented various systems of living by which it may attain this freedom.

These daily activities of man, from morning to evening, are nothing but his attempts to achieve freedom. He is restless for one reason or the other, and the struggle to obviate the causes of restlessness takes the form of activity. Man is experimenting with the various phases of life by what is called activity, duty, and the like. Anything that he does, in any way whatsoever, is an expression of the energy within trying to break its bounds. But he has never succeeded in breaking through them. He has spent all his life in experimenting with things but has achieved nothing. So, a state of despair and a dissatisfaction with everything is the result. Then he sits quiet looking up, thinking that it is all a hopeless affair. Often people have to come to the conclusion that life is just not worth living. One does not see any meaning or any significance in anything, anywhere. Everything seems stupid; everything is nonsense! This is the first vision of life that one has before him. And, it is said that it is a good sign. It is an indication that the eyes are opening. Dissatisfaction with the first view of things is supposed to be the mother of all philosophies. When man casts an eye around, things do not satisfy him. It is in fact dangerous to be satisfied immediately, because things are alluring, tantalising, and facts are well camouflaged. If a camouflage or a make-belief can satisfy one, it is a sign of danger, because, 'things are not what they seem'. They are something, and they behave in a different way. The word "they" that is used here applies to everything, human and non-human. No person is what he appears outside, and no thing in the world is what it appears externally. Everything is different on the outside to the perception, to the vision. But man cannot easily believe that his knowledge is superficial only. That is why he is caught from every side.

Problems of Man

What are man's problems? What does he lack finally? It is an ocean of problems, and no one can easily give an answer offhand indicating the source of these difficulties. Man is apparently buffeted from every side. Man has problems within his own self, problems from outside society, and problems and unknown difficulties descending from the heavens like natural cataclysms, catastrophes, etc. In Indian philosophical terminology, these difficulties arising from the three sources are called tapatraya, a problem which is threefold in its nature. Inwardly there is some problem, outwardly there is some, and from above there is something else altogether.

The fear that man has from things outside him, from men and things, etc., is the external problem. One cannot trust things fully. There is an anxiety about everything. This is the difficulty that he faces from the phenomena outside.

There are also fears of a different type whose causes are unknown, which are capable of descending on man from above, like floods, droughts, earthquakes, cyclones, tempests and thunderstorms, and other such natural calamities.

But over and above these, there are inward difficulties of one's own. Man is a psychological derelict in himself. There is a conflict in his own personality. Nobody can be sure even of his own self, what to speak of other people. We may not be able to trust others fully, but can we even trust our own selves? We cannot say what we will think the next day. Something seems to be working like a machine from inside us, and we seem to be untrustworthy to our own selves. Perhaps, this is the greatest danger in life, about which one has to exercise a greater concern than in respect of other things.

The difficulties that man has to face from outside and from above are not so acute as the ones that he has to face from within his own self. There are layers of man's internal personality which are at war with one another. Psychological problems are the greatest problems of life. The political, the social, and the economic problems, etc., are but secondary compared to these psychological ones. The greatest difficulty is psychological. Man lives or dies only by his mind.

There are students of life who contend that the difficulties of human life are not outside in the political field, the aesthetic field, the moral or the ethical field, but are ingrained in the structure of man. These people are the psychologists or the psycho-analysts. According to them, it is futile to study things which are external as they are not the sources of human difficulties. Man himself is the source of his own problems. The source of man's sorrow is a lack of inward adaptation. The study of the individual has been recognised as something which is precedent or antecedent to social studies or the studies which are called the humanities. The study of man is the primary study, not the study of society or nature outside, because there is no society without the individual, and Nature as such is not the source of the problems.

Futility of Man's Attempts

Thus, the cultures and the civilisations of nations are studied with a hope of finding a solution to human problems. Students of history have busied themselves in such themes as anthropology and the descent of man from his origin. Various civilisations have been probed into, only with one intention: to come to some sort of a conclusion about man's present difficulties. People have studied various types of political governmental systems and evolved numerous methods of self government. These have ended in nothing substantial, finally. The ethical sciences and moral codes have not really helped anyone. Many a time the discerning mind is inclined to believe that they are but man-made shackles. The norms of goodness and morality have not actually satisfied the soul of man. They have become annoying sources of a new type of bondage. People have taken to aesthetics, painting, drawing, music, literature, architecture, sculpture, and what not, with a view to find an avenue of escape from the turmoil of life as a whole, and these then become the vocations they are pursuing. All these things have satisfied none. Man is, today, individually and personally, no better off than his ancestors as a human being. The various forms in which man's external pursuits present themselves, aesthetics, axiology (the study of the values of life), ethics and morality, sociology, civics, economics, political science, history, civilization and culture, which go by the name of "the humanities", all these are studied by people who think that they can probe deep into the mystery of things, but nothing has been found yet. They have only dug up thorns and pebbles, but not the gold or the treasures that they expected there. People are disappointed. They have struggled and struggled, and found nothing. Thus having come to no conclusion whatsoever in finding an answer, they lament, "We are helpless. We can say nothing except that we are helpless."

Here is a step taken as an advance in the field of philosophical analysis. The recognition of the total helplessness of the human individual is a sign of wisdom. The pride of man has to subside. The ego which struts around as an all-knowing entity begins to feel the pulse within. That is the beginning of true philosophy. When people refer to philosophical studies in their conversations, it may give the impression that they are thinking of some intricate academic matters. It is nothing of the kind. On the contrary, philosophy is a state of mind in which one finds oneself perpetually. Everyone is a philosopher in the sense that everyone recognises the indistinct presence and beckoning of 'a something'. That something is felt as a presence by a faculty which is not the eyes nor the ears nor any other sense organ, but a superior principle present in everyone. That superior light is the faculty of supernormal recognition.