The Art of Total Thinking
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 1: The Arduous Task of Self-Analysis

During these days of Sadhana Week we are here especially to reinforce into our minds the ideas and values which are supposed to help us in living the life that we are expected to live in this world. The world blows like a wind, as a strong cyclone caring not for what it sweeps away by cutting the very ground from under people’s feet. That persons and things in the world are like wisps of straw driven by the power of the winds of the world is a truth which will not always occur to our mind as we get accustomed to be driven in this manner. A perpetual slave will not be aware that he is a slave, because he is used to that kind of living. We as human beings actually live the life of puppets, but inasmuch as we are used to this way of living right from our childhood, we may mistake this utter slavery to the subjection to the powers of nature for a sort of independence in our own selves. Hence, it becomes necessary that we take stock of our achievements and the expectations that we may hope for in our life by a sort of self-analysis, and also an analysis of the circumstances and conditions in which we are living here. The life that can be called intelligent should be capable of an assessment which is in conformity with the truths of life as they are.

What do we see in this world, and what is the kind of experience that we are passing through every day? We cannot see God anywhere here, and we also cannot see religion and spirituality. When you open your eyes, it is not religion that you are seeing. You are seeing something painful, something that takes you aback, that makes you shudder in your heart and keeps you in a state of anxiety even about the next day itself. It is an obvious truth open to the hearts of everyone that our lives are not as secure as they are made to appear on the surface. No one sleeps with a confident heart of the conditions of tomorrow in one’s life. Man suspects man and intrigues against his own brother and, with a smile on his lips, secretly manoeuvres to cut the throat of even his own neighbour. Man has turned out to be a shrewd politician and a ruthless, selfish individual. Whatever be the number of times he may frequent the church or the temple, whatever be the scriptures that he may read and the number of times he may roll the beads, he has not ceased to be what he is. He shows his true colours when the time for it comes.

Man has not succeeded in demonstrating his humanity in his outward life, because inwardly he has not been a human being. Anthropologically and sociologically he has been a human being, no doubt, but psychologically he has been a cutthroat at the root. When a man is cornered from all sides and is not allowed any avenue of self-expression, when he has blocked all channels of action and thinking from every side, he demonstrates his essential nature, which is not humanity but brutality. He chose the beast that he is while proclaiming to be a humanitarian genius, a religious devotee, a spiritual hero. It all goes to dust and wind in one second when he is tested with the touchstone of the trouble through which the world passes and to which he himself is subject. Let each man touch his own heart and look within himself. Is he a religious man? Is he a devotee of God? Is he a lover of his own brother in his own family, really speaking? Can each member of the family say that he is really a friend of his own brother ultimately, to the point of doom, under every circumstance? Can any person be a friend of any other under all circumstances, unconditionally, without any limitation whatsoever? Can you sincerely, honestly feel that you can be a friend of another unconditionally? You should be careful in giving the answer. You would not be able to find many who have been unconditional friends. Conditionally we are sons of fathers, obedient to parents; conditionally we have been disciples of Gurus; conditionally we have been well-wishers of mankind and lovers of our own neighbour; and under conditions we have also been devotees of God. Everything has been conditioned. Very pitiable is our fate.

It is no use floating on the surface of a self-complacency, vanity and egoism that parades as devotion in these few days of Sadhana Week because each one of us knows how we behave in the railway station, in the taxi stand, in the vegetable market, in the court and the police station, in the parliament and in the meeting of the directors of a company. How we behave with one another is a thing which does not require any commentary. Are we religious and spiritual? Are we devotees? We are everything but that.

So when we undertake this arduous task of self-analysis, we are undertaking an analysis of the whole circumstance of life in which we are involved. And if God is omnipresent according to the proclamations of the scriptures and according to what you have heard from people, an analysis of the values that are spiritual would be an all-comprehensive analysis of life’s circumstances. We are knit into the web of life warp and woof so that everything that we touch happens to be a world circumstance. And a self-analysis is a world analysis, simultaneously. We should not be carried away by the motion of the people around us who have only observation of the appearances that we put on and the adjustments that we make in our life, but cannot see our heart, feelings tensions and proclivities.  

The whole of man’s life happens to be, unfortunately, a series of inward adjustments that he makes for outward collaboration and coordination with people around for struggling to exist. And, as I mentioned to you a few minutes before, the winds of the world carry us in the direction they blow, not caring for our private fancies. To the extent we affirm our personalities and individualities and keep our eyes closed to the direction in which the winds of the world blow, we shall live a helpless life of subjection and slavery to circumstances.

Spiritual life, the so-called religious aspiration, is a gradual tending of one’s soul to the freedom of the spirit. Religion is freedom; spirituality is that. But we are not free in any sense of the term. We are not free either physically, physiologically or psychologically. Physiologically we are utter subjects to the workings of the heart, the brain, the nervous system, the circulatory organs, etc., over which functions we have absolutely no control. We have no power even over our own bodies. We also have no power over the social circumstances of life, though we apparently seem to be exerting some sort of an influence on our atmosphere. The world has a plan of its own, and to the extent we are unable to understand this plan or the purpose of the world, to the very same extent we shall also be failures in our life. Success is not a consequence of self-affirmation, but a result of participation in the purposes of the world, the intentions of nature as a whole.

The more you affirm yourself individually and throw your opinions on others, compelling others to accept your opinions, the more is the setback and the retaliation that will bounce back upon you on account of a larger power which has its say in every matter of life in the world. Lastly, we leave this world in utter humiliation, defeated root and branch, and seeing that not one of our personal intentions has succeeded in life. Everything has been a frustration. Everyone has to leave this world with a yawning mouth, with a blank look and with a hopeless sense of utter defeatism.

But the arguments of religions and the requirements of spiritual life have been admonishing us that we are not destined to go from this world with such a sort of defeat inflicted upon us, but with a little bit of satisfaction that we have contributed a modicum of might to the progress of the purpose of the world, the intentions of nature, the law of the universe. An awakening into the status of spirituality or religion is a degree of participation that we effect in the purposes of the world because we belong to the world. The world does not belong to us to such an extent. It is a larger whole to which we organically belong as parts, and it is unwise on the part of a fraction to expect the cooperation of the whole to which we belong, as a limb of our body should not expect a complete transformation of the purposes of the entire body to accede to the requests or demands of a particular limb. The part always obeys the whole in every level of life.

So when we think we are religious seekers, spiritual aspirants, disciples of Gurus, we have to be very realistic in our approach and be able to recognise facts in their face, not camouflaging them with the veneer of an idealism which bears no real connection with the experiences through which we pass and to which we are subjected willy-nilly. We do not live in a world of spirituality today. This is something to be accepted by every one of us. We do not see spirituality anywhere. We see only quarrelsome people and shrewd politicians, selfish businessmen, and we do not see anything else anywhere. Yet we are aspiring for a life in the spirit and hope to live a life of religion, and expect to be devotees of God if possible – a noble endeavour, a noble intention, and a very praiseworthy ideal before us indeed. But we are living in a world which looks like a wilderness rather than a temple of God. There are thorns and thistles and viperous elements threatening us from all corners. We do not seem to be living in a world of friends, ultimately. We shall be left to the devil when the time for it comes, and we do not hope to see that day when the devil will pursue us and friends will desert us. We shall see through things rather than see things merely on their outer form.

This circumstance which I am placing before you is the field on which you have to conduct self-analysis. This is the battlefield in which you are placed, where you are certainly in a very unenviable position. We should be more cautious than be happy within ourselves. The state when we can be really happy has not come yet. We are in a state where we have to be cautious, vigilant, circumspect, and be aware of every little bit of the situation – social as well as psychological – every moment of time.

The capacity to understand is the greatest of virtues that we can expect in this world. Mostly we are likely to be carried away by sentiments, emotions, and a sudden burst of feeling which may be roused by external conditions tentatively operating but not capable of persisting always. When there is a large maha sankirtan we dance and fall in a swoon, but we will not always be in that swoon, you know very well. We will rise up in our true colours after a few minutes. And we are also likely to be carried away by such feelings of that kind when loud bells ring in a temple or a church and a very solemn ritual is performed as a worship. We are also likely to be carried away by a sudden gust of feeling when a powerful speech is delivered by a religious master or a spiritual healer. Everything is possible. It only tells us that there is perhaps some good element also in every one of us.

But we cannot always plant ourselves in these feelings which sometimes rise in us under these circumstances which are forced into us due to the events that take place outside, because these events will not always be taking place. Every day somebody will not be telling us something good. Every day there will not be a kirtan or bhajan, and every moment of time we will not be witnessing a solemn divine worship in a temple or a sermon being delivered to us. We will be mostly in the midst of hard staring realities of life where we have to sweat in the hot sun and be agonised inside due to a frustrated feeling injected into us due to some reason or the other – a family circumstance, a tension in the office, peculiar difficulties, physical ill-health, and harassments of all kinds. These are our realities, and not religion and spirituality.

In this world we have to live. This is a terrific world indeed. That is why it is often said that we are living in a world similar to the field of the Mahabharata battle where everything is tense and the bow may twang and the machine gun may fire at any moment. It is not for nothing that the world is compared to a field of battle. It is veritably that. It is not a temple, it is not a church, it is not a heaven; it is something quite different, a thing that you are able to see every day as the reality of life, quite different from what you hear from the scriptures or listen to from masters and others. In this world you have to live, and you cannot expect to live in a different world. You have been born into this world somehow, and what can you do but to make the best of the circumstances of this life itself? You cannot say you shall go to another world and start practising spirituality. That shall not be, because the world that I refer to is not merely this little Earth planet which is a vast manifestation called creation. I use the word ‘nature’ to designate a larger reality than this little Earth on which we are living or the world of which we are citizens. The whole world is a powerful surge of movement towards some destination of which we are not always conscious and into whose mysteries we cannot easily enter. It is a forbidden area. So even if you leave this world and go to another realm, you will find yourself in similar circumstances because the world as far as you are concerned is not the earth, water, fire, air, ether, the mountains and the rivers, etc. This is not the world. The world is an internal relationship that obtains between you and the circumstance outside. The world is more a kind of relationship rather than a physical object, and this relationship will persist wherever you go, even if you go to another region in the scheme of creation. The irreconcilability that is there between yourself and what you call the world outside is your world. It is, therefore, a psychological world rather than a physical world. This is the reason why great thinkers have drawn a distinction between what they call ishwara-shristi and jiva-shristi – the world created by Ishwara, God, and the world created by you. The world of God is not your problem. The mountains do not trouble you, the rivers are not your problem, and the very Earth is not your sorrow. Your difficulty is something different.

Your grief is a conflict, an irreconcilability, an incapacity of adjustment, and an inability on your part to acquiesce in the conditions prevailing in the world, so it is wholly a psychological world in which you are living which is tormenting you. This shall go with you wherever you go because your psyche is your property, and if you go to the other world, you carry your own psyche with you, not this body. When you leave this world and go to another world, the body is not taken with you; your subtle psychological essence goes with you. You are verily that.

Hence, we come to the point of self-analysis, which is world analysis, wherein you start with what you call religion or spirituality, or whatever it is. We have intense hunger, intense thirst, we feel heat, we feel cold, and we are unable to resist the temptation of sleep. And we have what is called the element of self-respect. We cannot get over even that. Even the poorest man and humblest of creatures has self-respect. You would not like being called names even by a beggar on the street. We love ourselves very much, and perhaps we do not love anything else as much. That is why we cannot brook a word that goes contrary to the opinion that we have of our own selves. Our judgment of ourselves is the correct judgment, and nobody else should pass another judgment on us; that becomes an insult, something intolerable. So our judgment of ourselves is the only judgment possible and there cannot be any other judgment. And each one holds this judgment about one’s own self, so each one is a world by himself and herself. How can there be any coordination? How can we be friends? How can we speak to one another if each one is a world in his own self because he has a respect for his own opinions and would not like the opinions of anybody else when it comes to brass tacks?

Thus we are here in a world of realities which are more than the physical appearance of the phenomena of life, and we are seeking God in this world. We try to live a life of religion and spirituality in a world of this nature. We want to offer a worship to God the Almighty in the battlefield of the Mahabharata where each one is putting on armour and is wielding a weapon which is fatal and lethal. In this world we are trying to perform a worship of God. Is it possible? Can we contemplate and enter into a state of deep meditation on the creator of the cosmos in this field of ruthless violence, of battle, warfare and incompatibility of individuals? In this world of these hard facts, can we be a religious person? Can we live a life of the spirit? Can we believe that God exists in this terrific atmosphere of irreconcilabilities, conflicts, selfishness, and a wolfish attitude of individuals in respect of others? Is there a God at all? Does He really exist? Can we believe from the bottom of our hearts that a God really exists in a world of this kind? Or are we wool-gathering? Are we being hypnotised into an ideology which is not a real one? Are we sleeping? Are we somnambulists? Are we utterly mistaken? Are we fools ultimately to believe that there is such a thing called God, that spirituality is possible in a world of this kind which we are seeing every day with our eyes, where we cannot smile even once from the bottom of our hearts? We are only crying, weeping, and agony stricken.

Here, therefore, in these words I have placed before you is a very unpleasant picture which is the so-called pleasant world of yours, and you will see what I say is right; a day will come for you to see it. Everyone has to pass through this phase. No one can be exempted – not I, not you, not even a hundred Buddhas. You will see this nature of the world one day. Many have seen it, an account of which you read in human history; many are seeing it today, and you will see it tomorrow. Be prepared for it.

In such a world you have to summon God, the great succour of mankind. This is your sadhana, and this is the week for gathering your thoughts and ideas for considering the possibility of living a life spiritual, which means to say a life in the Almighty in this world of realities. Can you bring down the ideal of the omnipresent Almighty to this real world of tensions, problems, difficulties, sickness and death? If this could be possible, spirituality would be possible in this world. Otherwise, you have to bid goodbye to it forever.

But you have concluded that it is possible and it should be possible; otherwise, you would not be here today in this hall. Something or someone tells you that it is somehow practicable, and if it is not practicable it has to be made practicable, for which purpose you are here to conduct an analysis and a deliberation with the cooperation of other seekers and friends. If it could be possible, what is the way out? This way out is the so-called sadhana which you are expected to practise to the extent possible, not only in these few days of the Sadhana Week but also the other days when you are at your home, in your business, in your office, and in your own vocations of life.

We should not be under the impression that everything is as fine as velvet. The world is not so soft a thing as it is made to appear before us. It is not always a flow of milk and honey. Sometimes it looks like that, but it is not always that. So within these few days let us conduct a further analysis to determine whether some jot of honey can be gathered in this wild desert of what is usually called samsara or this world. Is there an oasis in this desert, or is this only a dry desert without a drop of water to drink? Is there a hope for this hopeless man? And if there is a hope, what is it that he can expect in this world? What we can expect here and what we hope to achieve here shall be the themes of our discussion in the days to come.