Religion and Social Values
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 3: The Reason for Birth and Death

Moksha is the great goal of life. This is the ringing message of every genius in any field who has gone to the depths of things. This is to say, freedom is the birthright of man. There is a struggle in and out for liberation, freedom, and shaking off every kind of bondage. There is nothing anyone needs in this world except freedom to the largest extent possible, and for the longest duration conceivable—freedom in society, freedom in political relationships, freedom from illness, freedom from ignorance and unknowing of every kind, and freedom from the fear of death.

Some of us may be under the notion that we are enjoying some sort of a freedom in life, such as the freedom of a rich man, the freedom of a powerful man, and the freedom of a healthy man. They are freedoms, no doubt, in some way. But just as a beautiful, rotund fruit looking healthy and delicious from the outside may have a secret worm eating it from inside, an outwardly robust individual may have a vital illness within the core of his system eating him from within gradually, slowly, though outwardly its presence is not even felt.

So, this freedom of a millionaire or an autocrat that we are enjoying is an apparent illusion of freedom. No despot, dictator or tyrannical ruler can imagine that he is really free. He is in danger. No strong, physically built individual can be confirmed in his opinion that he will not fall ill. And we know the fate of the rich man. He is most insecure. Restlessly he passes his nights.

Let us set aside all these visible difficulties. There is an invisible, secret problem before us: the unaccountability of death, which can snatch and which must snatch everyone. What a pitiable state of affairs in which we are living in this world!

There are two great mysteries before us. No one can say when he will have to leave this world, and no one can say where he will go after he leaves this world. What can be worse for anyone than this ignorance in which a person is thrust into a concentration camp, as it were, in this world? Even a concentration camp is better than a world of this type, where we do not know what will happen to us the next moment or where we will be destined in the future.

This ignorance defeats all complacency that we may have in respect of our achievements of any freedom in this world. It is like the beautiful body of an emperor that has lost its soul no longer has any significance. It is no more a prince, it is no more a king or an emperor; it is nothing whatsoever because its appearance has been deprived of the essence of what it was constituted to be.

Likewise, our formal freedoms, which are what we are after in our elections, in our business and in our general attitude in society, all these attitudes of ours are infected by a secret anguish which gnaws into us—that is, death. Yama taught the great mystery of life to the aspiring student Nachiketas. Yama teaches the mysteries. Death is the best teacher. No one can tell us what the world is made of except the phenomenon of death, because it reveals the inner mystery behind the outward form of the physical and social world. Freedom from this untoward event—death, which goes together with birth, and birth, which goes with death—is alone real freedom. When a person is subjected to such harassment in the form of this imprisonment and punishment in the form of the cycle of transmigration, where comes freedom in this world?

But man aspires for freedom only. He does not bother about birth and death. The fact that we are after a positive attainment of ultimate freedom, infinite and eternal in its nature, irrespective of the impending difficulty of birth and death, demonstrates that we are finally destined for this freedom. We are bound in a way—perhaps bound in every way here; yet, this is not the final word in the history of man.

In the Mahabharata, towards the end, there is the narrative that Yudhishthira bodily went to the celestial realm, with a dog behind him. He was eager to see his brothers and his queen rejoicing in the glory of paradise. Narada and some other sentinels were with him, slowly directing him. He was eagerly awaiting the vision of this glory of paradise where his brothers and queen were all seated as emperors. He could not see anything. He was being led from darkness to darkness, from lesser darkness to greater darkness, from a comfortably expressible atmosphere of breathing even normal oxygen to a stinking, rotten abyss. After some time he had to close his nose because there was stink from all sides. There was no light. It was all darkness—stink and darkness.

“Where are you taking me?” asked Yudhishthira to the Great Ones.

“We are taking you to the place where your brethren and your queen are.”

“Is this the way to the place where they are staying?”

“This is the way.”

He could not understand. His brain did not function. He felt it was no more tolerable. He was suffocated with the stink of the place, and he was walking on slippery ground, knowing not what was around him. Then only he heard a faint cry.

“Save us! Save us! Wait here for a few minutes. Don’t go.” This was the voice of his brother. It was Bhima’s voice, Arjuna’s voice, Draupati crying.

“What is all this?” cried out Yudhishthira to Narada and the others.

“Well, you wanted to see your relatives. They are here. This is the paradise, this is the heaven in which your brethren are,” said the celestials. “This is what they deserve. But your destination is different. Turn away from this place. This is not your place. You are destined for heaven, and they are destined for this for their own deeds. Return! Why do you stand here? We shall take you to the paradise of Indra, which is and which shall be your glory.”

Yudhishthira said, “What do you mean by asking me to return to paradise when my brothers and my queen are here in this stink? I will stand here as long as they are here.”

There was a lot of argument. “This attitude of yours is not proper. Whatever one deserves, one gets. This is what they deserve, and you deserve another thing. Go from here,” said the celestials.

Yudhishthira would not budge from that place. “No, I am here, and I shall not move from this place. I shall be where my brothers are, where my queen is.”

Suddenly the curtain lifted. It was all blazing light. The resplendence and the fragrance and perfume of the paradise were instantaneously there. He was surprised. “Am I seeing things properly?”

He found his own brothers and his queen seated in the highest glory of paradise. Yudhishthira asked, “What is this? Are you making me mad? What am I seeing? What was I seeing, where was I standing, and where am I now?”

The angels said, “These are things which you are not supposed to understand. You are still in a mortal body. You have come bodily to the heavens, and your affections and your aversions, which are common to human beings, are still with you. You are not thinking like a celestial. You are thinking like a mortal. Take a dip in this river.”

Yudhishthira took a bath, and suddenly he shone with a fire-like body, and he no more thought like Yudhishthira. It was a new outlook altogether, a new vision, a new understanding, freed from the loves and hatreds which are inseparable from mortal existence.

This is a story which, to some extent, also explains our condition. We are in hell. We may say that we are not in a stinking place. Yudhishthira was not able to breathe. He was in darkness; and it was an awful atmosphere in which he was. But we are not in that condition. We are happy. Here is the blazing sunlight. We have oxygen to breath. We have food to eat. What is wrong with us?

That we are totally ignorant of what has happened to us and what is happening to us, and we are not able to know that we are in this state of ignorance, can be said to be a worse state than the one in which Yudhishthira was. Yudhishthira was in a better state because he knew what was happening and where he was standing. He knew that it was a very undesirable, awful atmosphere. But we think this is paradise.

This is the bondage of man. Man’s bondage does not necessarily consist in absence of currency notes or any physical amenities, but in his incapacity to know where he is standing. Ignorance is bondage; knowledge is freedom. It is not gold and silver that can make us free, not authority over people that can make us free, and no accumulation of the different particulars of the world can make us free—because they are, in a way, comparable to a dreamland where we may rule like Ashoka, Alexander the Great or his grandfather, but it amounts to nothing finally. All the glory of the dream world is a dream indeed as long as the dream continues. It is worse than a bubble, because even a bubble has its own reality. We are here in the space-time and material complex of dream, completely under the control of a magic which deludes the whole personality, root and branch. And even our thinking is deluded. Reason operates in dream. And what reason? The dream reason operates. Such is our intellect, our scientific achievement, our rationality, our genius; it is a dream genius, dream poetry, dream art, dream achievement, dream wealth, and dream emperorship. All is wonderful. How wonderful it is to be an emperor in dream! But we know the substance out of which this experience is made.

Such is the experience out of which our world is made. “The world is made of such stuff as dreams are made of,” said Shakespeare. A great eternal truth: the world is made of such stuff as dreams are made of. What is the stuff that the world is made of in dream? Can you tell me it is made of wood or brick, iron, gold or silver? What is the substance out of which the world of dream is made? You have to think very deeply to give an answer to this question. Vainglorious, mirage-like, unsubstantial, hollow experience is the substantiality, solidity and permanency of the dream world. What a contradiction! It appears to be a permanent experience. We can rejoice. We have the great joys of life even in dream. We can rule Earth and heaven there. But there is no substance in that experience.

So we can have a substanceless experience also. We can be very comfortable in a world which has no substantiality behind it and, therefore, our comfort may be an unsubstantial comfort. It is like living in a fairyland where, like Aladdin with his magic lamp, we seem to be rubbing a lamp of the wonder of magic with the power of our empirical intellect and associations, and are glorying in the heaven of this world that we ourselves have created in our own minds. This is real bondage; and freedom from subjection to a compulsion to think in this manner is real freedom.

Great masters and adepts who have plumbed the depths of experience have compared this world to a dream world. It is difficult to believe that this world is a dream because it is substantial, tangible, visible, audible, and we can taste it and experience it in a concrete manner. But we can have a concrete, substantial, solid experience even without a concrete atmosphere being around us. The world of psychological experiences under hypnotic conditions, pressures of strain and mental agony, demonstrate that we are capable of living in a hard reality which has no internal substance.

Thus, freedom which is ultimate, which is called moksha or the liberation of the spirit of man, is considered as the goal of life. How do we know that this is the goal of life? We ourselves can know this. We need not go to a scripture to understand this or to any adept to be taught. Our own internal content will reveal what we are aspiring for.

We are, no doubt, in a miserable world and an unfortunate condition, yet we have a great strength within us. This strength is the power embedded in our mind to comprehend that the world is not final; there is a ‘beyond’ to this world. The finitude of our experiences and the limitations which cramp our movement in any direction point to the presence of an illimitable, boundless possibility beyond ourselves. The asking of man for freedom is actually an asking for infinite possession. It is not the freedom of the servant who serves a master; who too has some sort of freedom to receive his salary every month, a month’s leave once in a year, and a few hours of respite for his lunch or dinner or to have a little rest in his house. This is the freedom of a slave, of a servant.

This is not the freedom that we are expecting in this world. The freedom we want is not only to be totally free from every kind of shackle imposed upon us. We want to be free not merely from the presence of other people around, but even from the presence of anything around us. The very presence of anything outside us is a limitation upon us. There is always a need felt by us to adjust ourselves to the presence of something outside us. Thus, we are not entirely and wholly natural in our thinking, in our speech and in our behaviour when we are in the presence of other people. To some extent, we have to make an adjustment and concession, and live a sort of artificial life in the presence of others. While in the presence of others, we cannot think whatever we want to think, say whatever we want to say and behave in any way we like. This is a limitation.

Beyond this, there is the limitation of space and time which constricts our existence to this little body which is only six foot long and two and a half feet wide, and we cannot go outside this. Such little freedom is given to us. To move within the little ambit of our body is our freedom, and we have no liberty to touch anything outside us. The moment we attempt to interfere with anything that is outside this body, we require a government to control us; and social relationships and rules and regulations of every type begin to be felt as necessities in life on account of the artificiality in which one is compelled to live, in an atmosphere over which man has no control, which does not belong to him, and with which he is not really related.

Hence, while political bondage is bad, social and communal bondage is equally bad, and the compulsions of the instincts and the urges of the body and the mind are also very undesirable, the greatest bondage is the limitation to space and time. It is due to this that we are born and we die. Birth and death are not caused by the presence of other people around us. We are not born and we do not die because of our possession or non-possession of things. The final stroke of a physical annihilation of our personality is not brought about by our connections with our family members or the society of people, but with our connection to space and time.

It is space, time and causal relation which deal a death blow at our personality. The reason behind this phenomenon is, as mentioned earlier, that the universe does not behave in the way we behold it with our eyes or try to understand it with our mind. It is controlled by a law which is supernatural and beyond the comprehension of the logical intellect or the scientific understanding. What we call space and time—or, as people today say, space-time—is a mysterious complex in which we as individuals are involved. It is a network of relations. The space-time causal complex is a network of relations which surpasses the understanding of man. This network of relations cannot become the object of the understanding of man’s mind, because he himself is involved in these relations, just as a thread is involved in the network of a fabric or a piece of cloth. And just as a particular thread in a cloth cannot know the cloth unless it also knows itself simultaneously because of its inseparable relation to the entire structure of the cloth, in the same way, man cannot know that this is the case unless he knows himself and knows everything through himself and himself through everything.

This is the great difficulty before us. Here we seem to be entering into a field of a new type of education altogether, where to know oneself is to know all things and to know all things is to know oneself simultaneously. To know oneself is to know the whole universe, and vice versa. Thus, universal freedom and personal freedom mean one and the same thing because of the peculiar nature of the involvement of individuals in the space-time complex. Space and time are not outside us. We cannot see space, though we appear to be seeing it with our eyes. It is inwardly woven into the very fibre of our personality. There is space inside us also. Space is not outside anything, nor can it be said to be inside everything, because the very conception of a localised existence is impossible without the conception of space. What we call length, breadth and height is nothing but space defined in a particular manner. So when we say “I am occupying space”, we are not defining ourselves properly, because we are ourselves a configuration of space. The dimension of our body or personality is a local description of a point in space. And we are not merely in space—we are not only sitting here on this seat, in this hall—but also we are now at such and such time, on this day of the year, and so on. Therefore, we are in a locality of space and a point in time.

Hence, our involvement is not merely as a thread in a fabric or a piece of cloth, which is only to describe part of the mystery; we are also involved in a terrible illusion called the time process. No one can understand what time is. Time is not the movement of a watch or a clock. It is also not the recurrence of day and night. Even if the Sun were not to be there, there would be a time consciousness. Do we not feel there is time even in pitch darkness, when there is no light? So it is not wholly true that time is due to the revolution or the rotation of the Earth or the presence or the absence of light, like the light of the Sun. It is a mysterious way in which our mind itself works.

Time can ultimately be reduced to a state of consciousness of the succession of events in space. As space is involved in time and time is involved in space, we cannot know space unless we know space is now. So we have brought the time factor into our consciousness of space. “I am experiencing space now.” We are connecting the spatial extension to the time process in order to be aware that space is. And, we cannot be aware of time without space, because time is known by us as a succession of events which take place in an extension of space.

Thus, we are in a web of unintelligible relations, and being part and parcel of this network of relations, we are unable to know ourselves wholly, and are unable to know anything in this world. Outwardly we are ignorant; inwardly also we are ignoramuses. This is to say something about space and time.

But there is another difficulty of relationship, which ties us to the bondage of life. We are very happy when we see our friends and very grieved when we see our enemies. When a friend dies, we weep; and when an enemy dies, we say a good thing has happened. This is the manifestation of relationship. The whole of the life of man is nothing but an interpretation of relationship. Our possessions, our wealth, our family relations, and whatever we think is ourselves is nothing but a bundle of relations. Even that is unintelligible. We cannot know in what way a thing is connected with us. We have a piece of land and we say, “I am a landlord.” First of all, this land was there even before we were born. This is something we should not forget. So it is difficult to believe how it has become ours. Anyhow, we say, “It has been registered in my name.” What do we mean by ‘registration’? Nobody can understand what it is that we are thinking in our head when we say it has been registered. Again, some illusion is catching hold of our mind. By registration, we secretly mean that we have the consent of other people also in our imagining that this piece of land is ours. That is all that registration is. It means nothing else. Some person who is supposed to be representing other persons says it is our land. This is called registration in the District Registrar’s Office or Sub-registrar’s Office. There is nothing else in it.

The point is, the fact of other people accepting our notion that the land belongs to us does not explain the belonging of the land to us. The explanation has to come from the deep root—the grass roots—of the experience itself. In what way are we possessing this land? Is it under our grip? Are we holding it in our palm, carrying it on our head? It is difficult to say how it belongs to us. It belongs only in a peculiar movement of our head. A wave of the mind is concentrating itself on a consciousness of a relationship called possession. So land or no land, the joy of possession is only the consciousness of possession. If the consciousness is absent, the land may be there or may not be there, but it is not going to help us in any manner. We cannot eat this land. It cannot become part of our body. As a matter of fact, we cannot swallow any material which we regard as our possession.

In fact, possession is a concept; it is not a material occurrence. We cannot materially possess money, we cannot possess our wife and husband, we cannot possess children, we cannot possess anything. We can have no such connection except in a conceptual operation of our mind in a peculiar manner—whose essence we ourselves cannot understand. Here again we are in illusion, like the space-time complex.

The concept of relation is the essence of philosophical discussion. All philosophy of the East or the West is only a study of relationships—how one thing is related to another thing. The relationship of ‘A’ to ‘B’ is a distinction that is drawn between ‘A’ and ‘B’ together with a conception of the connection between ‘A’ and ‘B’. See how mysterious relationship is! If ‘A’ is connected to ‘B’, there should be a non-distinguishable connection between ‘A’ and ‘B’. If they are non-distinguishable, they become identical. If they are identical, there cannot be a relationship; and if they are really different, there cannot be a relationship. There is an illusion in the form of relationship. It does not exist, finally. But, it exists in the mind. Therefore, the mind is the maker of man, and the great gospel of the scriptures that the world is made up of mind, finally, has some sense.

Freedom from involvement in this space-time complex relationship is not possible. And why do we get into the clutches of birth and death? Now we come to the point. The world is evolving. The universe is in a state of process, and it is not stable on any permanent ground. It is moving, because the world is a name that we give to the externalisation of experience in space and time. And nature or God or anything that we regard as real is not an externalised something. It is a compact, integrated substance. It is Being—Pure Satta, as Sanskrit philosophers tell us—and division within this Pure Being is not conceivable.

The Ultimate Reality is indivisible; and the world is made up of divisible particles. Time is divided into minute bits of process, and space is again divided into minute bits of extension—and, therefore, the whole of the universe, constituted of its contents, is the opposite of Reality. The indivisible character of Reality is completely defeated in this divisible character of the world. The universe struggles to get back to this indivisibility of being. This effort of the universe to turn away from the divisibility in which it is caught, towards the indivisibility of its essentiality, is the process of evolution. As we are included in this process of movement, we are pushed onward with the world, together with its urge of movement, in the direction of the experience of indivisibility; and transformation takes place.

As we ascend further and further, move onward and onward, we have to put on newer and newer garments for the purpose of a newer and newer type of experience. Just as, if we want to see distant objects we use binoculars, if we want to see far-off things we use telescopes, and if we want to see very minute things we use a microscope, likewise, if we want to have an experience of a larger expanse of the indivisibility of things, we have to put on a new instrument of experience—which is a new body that we put on. With this body, we cannot have an insight into the inner structure of things—just as we cannot see the minute essentiality of things by looking at them with naked eyes. This is a gross instrument. This body, this mind, this intellect and any apparatus with which we are endowed at present are not subtle enough to gain entry into the inner structure of things. Therefore, the urge of the necessity to go inward towards the indivisibility of Reality compels us to cast off this instrument, as when we want to see a deeper reality we discard the old microscope and use a more powerful one.

Therefore, death is not a curse; it is a necessity under the circumstances. Death is comparable to the throwing off of this body. And birth is nothing but a consequence that follows the throwing off of the old microscope because it is not useful for the further adventure upon which we are embarking. The utilisation of a new instrument for the purpose on hand is the rebirth that we are taking.

Hence, death and birth of this body—or the process of metempsychosis, transmigration—is a continuous effort on the part of our inner core to cast off old instruments which are not useful for a higher purpose, and to utilise new instruments for gaining greater and greater insight into the higher realms of existence. No one can free oneself from these difficulties we call birth and death as long as one is finite. Birth and death are processes compelled upon the finitude of individuals, and this cycle ceases only when we cease to be finite. The urge of the finite towards the infinite is the reason behind the transformations we undergo through the processes called birth and death.

Thus, it is a cosmic need, a necessity under the circumstance in which the universe is working. No one can be free from this phenomenon because we are in the phenomenon of finitude. As long as there is something outside us, as long as there is space, as long as there is time, as long as we are one person related to other things outside us, as long as there is space-time causal relations, birth and death cannot be avoided.

But our struggle is towards the Infinite: to unite ourselves, in the state of yoga, to that Being of all beings, satya se satyam, where the finitude of our experience enters the infinitude of being, like rivers entering the ocean. Then, space-time relationship ceases. All our daily activities are also contributory factors to this great aim. What is the connection that seems to be there between this great, noble and sublime aspiration of the universe towards moksha and our little, tiny, brittle activities of day-to-day life? They are all groping in the dark in search of the exit from this world for a higher freedom. All our daily enterprises and works that we perform— whether we are a motorcar mechanic or a seller of vegetables and milk, a scooter driver or a clerk, whatever our occupation be—the sweat that we are shedding, the toil that we are undergoing, the work that we are doing, the suffering that we are passing through, the experiences of our life in any way are all little contributions that we unknowingly make to this great effort and purpose of the universe to achieve ultimate perfection.

Thus, there is nothing that we need in this world. We are asking for a thing of which we have no knowledge. Ignorantly we ask for that which is knowingly to be experienced. We are in a state of bondage because we are unconscious of the fact that we are unconscious of what is actually happening to us. The little joys and sorrows of life, the history of mankind, and the whole process of the cosmos are a great epic drama of the aspiration of the whole of creation for God-realisation.

As mentioned earlier, there is a great difficulty before us. All this is a grand aspiration, a great ideal before us, and we are throbbing and thrilled even to listen to these great possibilities which seem to be ahead of us. But we have little difficulties, little problems, little pulls which the Earth exerts upon us, to which I made reference yesterday. If you can succeed in reconciling this noble aspiration for the liberation of the spirit in God with the little duties of your life, you are a free man even here.

This is another subject, which is tantamount to a study of what usually goes as the practice of yoga. This has to be learned. Perhaps I have something to tell you about this technique that you have to employ from moment to moment in your daily life, by which you blend world and God together, and man and the Absolute walk together on the road as if they are friends going for a walk in the evening. This is a possibility. We shall have the opportunity to bestow contemplation on this noble subject.