The Vision of Life
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 1: The Vision and Its Unfoldment

We have in our daily life rarely an occasion to be alone to our own selves and bestow adequate thought on the manner in which we conduct ourselves in the world, or the way in which we live at all. A spontaneous impulsion carries us through the day and the night, and all this goes under the designation of a reasoned-out procedure of a purposeful existence. But it is evident that there is not much of a rationality in this propulsion to living, whose pressure we feel every day, if only we can withdraw our minds into our own selves for a few minutes and investigate into the extent to which our daily conduct and activity are rational or reasoned procedures.

A habit that has been driven into us by the pressure of circumstances can adumbrate a light of reason in its own way, though a conscious direction is difficult to discover in its ways. Nevertheless, there is some sort of a principle that we seem to be adopting in our life, which is basically an emanation of the constitution of our own selves.

We do not apparently feel comfortable when we live a life which is contrary to what we actually are in ourselves, whether or not we have an adequate knowledge of what we ourselves are. What we are remains, however, as an irrefutable fact and persists in the affirmation of itself, though we do not in our conscious processes have an awareness of this automatic affirmation that is taking place within. The affirmation which is associated with the very existence of oneself is so basic to our nature that it does not call for any conscious consideration of it, a logical investigation into it; it does not demand a proof for its being there.

We live with a sort of prevision of what we want to achieve in the world. This vision need not necessarily be a highly sophisticated structure of intellectual deliberation. It is, again, a spontaneity that is characteristic of our nature, which is basically simple. We are a simple, indivisible element in our own selves. In our roots, we are not complicated. In common terms, we may say that we are more a kind of compound than a complex of structure involving different ingredients of composition. Our body may be composed of elements which are anatomical, physiological, but we ourselves in our essentiality are pure simplicity, which cannot be further reduced to a greater simplicity.

Inasmuch as this basic, indivisible, simple element seems to be what we really are, it spontaneously acts and reacts in respect of circumstances outside. This spontaneous reaction of our pure simplicity at the root of our being is actually the vision that we have about things, though it should not be identified with the laboured edifices of a logical structure as we have, for instance, in an engineering feat or an architectural mould.

The fact that we are basically simple and not a bundle of complicated elements will come to relief when conditions in life, circumstances prevailing, drive us into our own selves by a pressure which life can exert upon us, rarely though such a situation is encountered by us. Very few of us might have felt the pressure of life to such an extent as to compel us to retreat into our own selves entirely, and be totally what we are. Extreme types of tragedy, or anything that drives us to the corner, one way or the other, may be an illustration of the condition in which we may go into our own selves and feel that we need nothing except what we ourselves are.

But we cannot easily accept this position in our practical life, especially in modern life, inasmuch as we never go into our own selves. Mostly we are other than what we are. We have a business to perform, as we usually say, a lot of work that is to be done from morning to evening, which is just an engagement in conditions which are outer and extraneous to our own selves, and we get involved in this peculiar network of what we call the business of life, which is nothing but our peculiar entry into the interrelated atmosphere of a world that is many things to us—physical, social, political, and so on.

Every one of us, practically, has to be other than what we are and go out of our own self in order that we may be busy in the accepted sense of the term. Otherwise, what are we busy about? The business so-called is the involvement of ourself in that which is not ourself. This is shocking indeed to hear, that the glorious adventures of life we call our business are involvements of ourself in what we are not in our own self. We may not be happy to hear this; but, whether we be happy or nor, here is a fact, and this peculiar situation which casts us into the mould of an interrelated structure of the outer world, day in and day out, this predicament is the true life of the world which keeps us all anxious every moment.

Anxiety arises from the fact of our being in a condition which is estranged from the condition that is characteristic of our true nature. We are fear-stricken every day and we are immensely cautious about the conditions prevailing in the world. Why would we be so very anxious? The anxiety arises because our true being, which is simple knowing spontaneously through an instrument of knowledge which is other than the sense organs, is caught up in a mire of activity, compulsion and work, all which cannot be really associated with itself. If we are left alone to our own selves wholly, unconditionally, if we are free to our own selves, if this could be possible at any time, we would not be so eager to be busy in the world as we appear to be today and daub this scenery of involvements with the brush of a satisfaction that we seem to be deriving from our activities.

What satisfaction can we have, what peace of mind can we derive, what permanent acquisition can we expect by means of an involvement in a medley of conditions which force themselves upon us, willy-nilly, and in which state we have to lose ourself in a large percentage and become another thing altogether, artificially transferring our being to the being of another thing which we cannot identify with our own self? An estrangement is life, if by life we mean our extrovert involvement in the activities of nature, of society, or whatever it is that we call the world.

But, having said all this, we have to concede a little bit of credit to the simple root that we ourselves are, since, though outwardly we seem to be losing ourselves in the adventure of outward life, we cannot really lose ourselves. Losing oneself wholly and really is unthinkable. One cannot be other than what one is, though it appears as if we are doing nothing but that in our daily life. Every moment of time we get transferred to a condition that is not we. Yet, with all that, there is an irrefutable root which we are, that cannot condescend to get so transformed into something else that it ceases to be entirely.

We cannot wholly cease to be. Outwardly, we may appear to cease because of our emotional, volitional and social involvement, but it is superficial and does not touch our core. If the involvement, that is to say, if our entry into the world in the manner of a participation in things which are totally other than ourselves were wholly real, there would be no freedom for us. If our becoming other than what we are in the activities of life is a wholesale losing of ourselves, becoming servants of outer nature, if that were so, we would not be reasonable in expecting any kind of freedom in our life, and salvation would be far, far away, and unimaginable.

But the struggle of the individual to be free, the aspiration in man to achieve perfection and his resistless longing to break the boundaries of life in every way is an illustration of the strength of what man is basically. There is a tremendous power, an illimitable strength that is simmering like a jetting flame within us, wanting to burst forth into a conflagration of its real dimensions, which, of course, we are daily preventing from taking place due to the pressure of this bodily encasement and its physical associations.

This something that we are, whatever we may be, is the ‘I’ that beholds the world. The activity of the ‘I’ that has an awareness of the atmosphere in which it is placed is its Vision. There is a knowledge of what things there are around oneself. We see things, and then act. We think before we embark on any adventure, though many a time we are hasty in doing things; yet, even when we are overenthusiastic, suddenly, we would realise that there has been a previous consideration in some part of our own selves of the manner of engaging ourselves in this otherwise sudden action.

We are at the back of every action even if it be instantaneous, abrupt and unexpected, because even the most urgent of engagements is a process in time. We know time, we are aware of the process of time, and, therefore, we ourselves cannot be in time. Actions which are temporal, though they may be quick, instantaneous and sudden, are posterior to the being of our own selves, which is prior to every engagement, consideration, thought and vision, and which, therefore, is timeless.

Usually, our vision of things is physical and social. We have a little land and money, we have a house, we have a family—that is our main concern—property which is material, association which is social. The minimum of expectation of a person is only this much, and even when the expectation enlarges itself and becomes wider, it is a multiplication quantitatively of this little concept of one’s basic needs—land, house, family, material wealth to maintain oneself. Even if we were to conceive of our being lords of the whole earth, rulers of the world, it is just a larger expansion of this basic need we feel in ourselves. This is the unlettered vision of the crass, unburnished constitution of our outer personality which is physical, and associated socially in terms of what the body is made of and what its requirements are. The plunging of ourselves in this accepted tradition of wanting only these things, the force with which we enter into this water of life, the vehemence of this outward-oriented engagement is such that we cannot imagine that there can be a more modified vision of life, since mostly we go with the conviction that what we are is this body and what we need is just what the body demands. We can have no other need, though, occasionally, by the impact of natural conditions, we are driven to accept that our needs are perhaps more than merely the physical.

The history of human thought has recorded a long series of deliberations and considerations on the part of experts in this line, who took time to delve into the mystery of the manner in which we live, the way in which we conduct ourselves in respect of the world outside. These records that are available to us go by the name of the ‘Philosophies of Life’, which simply means conclusions arrived at in regard to the ultimate conditioning factors of whatever we are as we consider ourselves to be, and whatever be the manner in which we behave in an environment we call the world.

We live in a world. The meaning of the word ‘world’ appears to be so clear to us that we do not feel like thinking over its implications. This earth, this sky, the sun and the moon and the stars, these people—this is our world. This is one concept, one notion about the area that we occupy we call life, the world that is in our minds. But, actually, there is something more about what we call the world than this definition would provide us. The world may be not just a solid mass of matter we call the earth, or the stellar atmosphere; there is likely to be something more about life. Our understanding of life is our vision of life, and it varies in its intensity, its quality, its quantity, and its relation to the varieties of conditions circumscribed by such factors as, for instance, the anthropological, ethnic, geographical, historical, cultural, linguistic, religious, economic, social, and the like. We cannot uniformly set before ourselves a single perception of things valid for everyone under every condition, or every circumstance, since what we call a vision of things is a reaction of the thinking faculty, the consciousness in us, the life principle, from the state in which it is in the process of evolution. As we know that every living being cannot be expected to be in a uniform level of the evolutionary process, it will be futile to expect everyone to have a similar response to life, much less a common understanding of things.

Why go into the larger issue of all living beings, we may limit ourselves to human beings only for the time being, and even limiting our considerations to the life of humans, do we not see that there are varieties of humans? People are not the same, the quality of a person being the manner in which the person thinks and reacts psychologically to outer conditions and aspires for a higher condition.

In some rudimentary types of human life the aspiration of anything higher is so deeply buried that it may not be visible at all. It may be like a stone existing with no consciousness of a beyond, because even in plant life, in the vegetable kingdom, we see some sort of an asking, a reaching out beyond itself, though not as perspicaciously as in the human level. Plants try to reach beyond themselves and struggle to survive in the best possible manner even by exploitation of other kindred existences. The desire to survive in a manner surpassing the present condition is to be seen even in such incipient life forms as vegetable existence, plant life.

We find in the different levels of human nature a kind of vision which appears to be valid from its own point of view. The kind of vision that a person entertains or a set of people manifest in themselves would seem to be adequate to itself, and this adequacy prevents it from communicating with others in a harmonious or cooperative manner, because each one is adequate to one’s own self. The necessity to cooperate arises due to a sense of inadequacy felt in one’s own self. If we are wholly adequate, where comes the need for any consideration outside? If a particular concept of life is self-sufficient, and is so crude as to regard itself as a whole by itself, needing no connection with anything else, it becomes fanatic in its vision. The conflicts that we see in life and which we abhor so much appear to be practically unavoidable in some way, if we accept that there are levels in the evolutionary process and so a uniform vision of things would not be possible. This is because one level of evolution which is far removed from another level can, with difficulty, be able to coordinate itself with the others. The nearer we are to a different view, the greater is the possibility of our assimilating that view into our own lives and our being able to coordinate ourselves with that view so that we shall have a peaceful social life. But if we stick to our guns and if ‘my vision is far, far away from yours’ due to the lodgment of my view or your view in different sets of locations altogether, we would be like the north pole and the south pole that cannot meet each other. Social conflicts, or frictions of any kind in life, arise on account of a clash in the visions of life and the inability on the part of a particular concept or notion of things to get accommodated with another, merely because it feels that it is self-sufficient. Such a view is encased within its own cocoon and it can, with hardship, break that shell in which it is contained.

The lower we are in the level of evolution, the grosser is the vision of things, the more does it appear self-sufficient and enclose within itself a narrow philosophy of life. Human nature, by way of a gradual evolution of its own inner potentialities, reveals capabilities, within itself, of entertaining larger visions of life that include not only all the ingredients of an earlier stage of evolution but also manifest openly possibilities of a higher view with which it can easily accommodate itself by means of a faculty we call higher reason.

Reason is a peculiar instrument in us which not only feels competent to transmute all the lower elements of nature which it has transcended in evolution but also by the fact of logical inference is enabled to accommodate into its purview, or vision of things, even that area of life which it has not reached, which is presently outside itself but which it can know as a necessary part of its own area of action by inference, deduction, by drawing conclusions from given premises.

This conducting of a logical process, that is, inferring consequences from existing premises, is a prerogative of only a particular stage in evolution and is not available in all levels. We are told that such a systematic capacity to deduce consequences by way of inference from existing conditions is not available in subhuman species. There is some sort of logic we should accept even in plants and animals. They have a way of understanding things around them which generally goes by the name of an instinctive action; nevertheless, it is also a kind of logic. But the word ‘logic’ is a term that we use to designate a particular type of awareness, understanding and capacity to infer which we associate only with evolved human beings.

A true human being is not merely a biped; we cannot say that a person is entirely human merely because one has all the biological features of a specimen we call human personality. To be human is not to be merely anatomically human but to be capable of manifesting in oneself those qualities which we generally consider as human qualities. We have some idea of what a human quality is, apart from it being necessary for a true human being to regard other human beings also as human beings and to treat other human beings as one would treat one’s own self, because others are also human beings like one’s own self. In other words, apart from the fact of being able to give equal consideration to others as one gives to one’s own self, which is the least that one can expect from a true human being, there is something more in human beings in itself, apart from the social cooperation and consideration; that is, the logicality of approach. This is the higher human nature, which is the great blessing that human nature has received from providence in the process of gradual evolution.

We have in us a peculiar potentiality to accommodate ourselves to anything and everything, if only we would be able to exercise that blessing of faculty which we call higher reason in ourselves. Mostly we bury this higher reason in the mire of the clamour of instinctive demands which are prenatal, subhuman, animalistic, even vegetable in their nature. If we concede that life has evolved from lower levels to the higher state of human life, that there has been a rise of this tree of life from the seed of something that has been very incipient and crude, we should also accept that qualities of the seed can be seen in some measure in this grown-up pattern of the tree that is arisen from it, though we cannot see, of course, the seed in the tree. We see only the tree, the branches and the widespread manifestation of this tremendous thing that we call the grown-up tree, but the seed, which cannot be seen in the tree, makes itself felt in every fibre of the tree, which we have to accept by pure analysis.

In a similar manner our present state of life, which is human, cannot be said to be entirely free from the conditions that prevailed in the earlier stages from which it has evolved, and so our vision of things which is today of course human, expected to be human, can also be coloured many a time by the visions that are earlier, which appear to be self-sufficient, fanatic, crude and rudely animalistic. The presence of these incipient remnants of earlier levels from which we have risen into the human state today makes us sometimes behave in a manner which cannot be regarded as human. If remnants of the earlier states still persist in human life, that particular person in whom those remnants seem to be persisting cannot be regarded as wholly human—there is still something remaining of the earlier level. It is like a subtle illness persisting even in an apparent healthy condition of the body. “I am perfectly well,” someone says, but one may not be really well, as in a recess of the person there may be a little potentiality for the manifestation of an illness that was there earlier.

A true human being, therefore, is not that particular personality which carries within itself certain remnants of the previous levels which it has passed or transcended, because we cannot be always human, though sometimes we can be human. If the non-human elements which were in the subhuman stages persist in our present human condition, who is a true human being, then, who has a correct vision of things? A human being who is truly humane cannot have those characteristics which we usually associate with the earlier stages.

Fanaticism of any kind is totally alien to human nature, whether it is philosophical fanaticism, religious fanaticism, social fanaticism, family fanaticism, or communal fanaticism. Whatever be the nature of this instinct of adhering to one’s own position irrespective of the position that others may occupy—whatever be the nature of this assertion—it is still unwarranted in a human being.

As I mentioned, this peculiar instrument we call higher reason is a liaison, as it were, between our present human vision of things and the possibility of a different vision that it can envisage by an act of inference from the present prevailing condition. We cannot aspire for anything that is higher if this logical deduction is impossible for us, because aspiration is nothing but an asking for that which we do not have just now but we can have in the future. The possibility of achieving something in the future which we do not have at present can be accounted for only by the justifiability of the deductions that we make by way of inference from conditions prevailing now. This is the work of the higher reason, but the lower reason—there is something called a lower reason also, as you must have heard of—this peculiar thing we call the lower reason is just a faculty which rationalises the instinctive process. In psychoanalytical language we have a word called ‘rationalisation’, which is just the process by which we argue out in a so-called logical manner the conditions which are impressed upon us by instincts that are characteristic of a lower nature, that are subhuman.

But the higher reason is of a different type altogether. It aspires—it does not merely justify. It reaches out beyond itself into the possibilities of the achievement of things which are above, but which are only vaguely visualised by way of inference, logically but not practically. If any one of us is sure that any one of us is really human, then we would also know to what extent we have the capacity to argue out the possibilities of a future higher achievement from the premises prevailing today, just now, in our practical, human way of living.

The philosophical vision, the spiritual vision or the darshana view of life as we may put it, is the act of a higher reason. It is up to any one of us to look into our own self and ascertain the extent to which we are entirely human in our life. This is a purely private matter, which I know and you know and everyone knows. Because, as it was pointed out, it is not possible to be entirely human throughout the day if there is a possibility of the manifestation of that which we have already crossed and got over as an undesirable remnant of an irrational nature. The higher reason stands midway between the lower world and the higher world, we may say, between the world of sensory experience and the world of pure intuition. Higher reason, the pure reason, which is the faculty of correct judgment in human beings, is at the centre between the world which is visualised by the sense organs and the world which is directly contacted by non-sensory apprehension, which we call intuition.

We are supposed to be spiritual seekers, devotees of God, disciples of Gurus, followers of the great master Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj and saints and sages of that kind. Which means to say, we accept that we are truly human beings, because to consider oneself as a spiritual seeker is, at the same time, to accept that one is wholly human, since a person who is partially human cannot expect to be divine. There is no double promotion in the process of human evolution; there is always a graduated rise from the earlier stage to the next higher, but not a leap to three or four steps above.

As spiritual seekers that we consider ourselves to be, we should feel confident that the higher reason is operating in us. We are aware of the presence of something that is above this world. We have a vision which is not of this world. If this vision were not to be there, we would not be here in this ashram, coming from long distances, from different corners of the earth. Each one would have been totally satisfied with one’s little family, little house, shop, office, etc. None of us was wholly satisfied, that means to say the higher reason in every one of us has started working, and is telling us that we are more than what we appear to be.

The world is not exactly as it is presented to our sense organs; our vision is capable of and subject to a transcendence of itself. Our organ of knowledge, which is reason, visualises simultaneously, in its body of visioning, the lower which it has crossed and the higher that it has to achieve further. The reason mentioned is something like a body with two legs—it has one leg in the level that it has overcome, crossed, transcended, and it has another leg in a realm which it has not reached but it previsions, and which it envisages as a possibility of experience.

So human life is supposed to be a midway affair between the lower and the higher. Sometimes, sarcastically or poetically, whatever it be, we are told that we are both God and devil crossed at the same point. The devil in us is due to the presence of elements that are low, and the God in us is due to the prevision of that which is above us. But we are not devils, each one of us may be sure, because, as I felt and put before you just now, if we had a little of the element of devil in us, we would not have come to an ashram like this, and we would not have been aspiring for that which is above us. There is an element of divinity and godliness in every one of us, and we have taken the first step in the act of reaching out beyond ourselves through the pointing of the higher reason. We are heading along the lines of the journey towards the intuitional grasp of a vision that is totally integral, a world which is beyond the world.