The Vision of Life
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 4: Universal Vision

A more in-depth perception of life is the blending synthesis that has been achieved in ancient times in a concept known as the fourfold aim of human existence. The aspiration of the human soul cannot be equated with any kind of philosophy or objective evaluation—material, social or otherwise. The soul of man refuses to be equated with anything in this world though it has a connection, apparently, with all things in the world. Permeating all conceivable values of life, it also stands above all available values. The aims of human life have been summed up in a very well thought-out pattern of aspiration designated as dharma, artha, kama and moksha.

All values in life which are materially construed are known as artha. Anything that can be contacted through the sense organs is artha. Anything that can be possessed as a property is artha. Anything that is contributory to the satisfaction of physical needs is considered as a material value—this is artha. Artha is a Sanskrit word meaning an object of perception, a content of consciousness. That which is the end result of any kind of sensory activity is artha. Kama is the psychological value of human life. Dharma is the human value, which at the same time surpasses itself, reaching beyond itself in a superhuman grasp of a cosmic principle. An intelligent investigation into the structure of this pattern, namely the coming together of dharma, artha and kama, will reveal to us the profundity of this research and its final finding.

The spiritual value of life, we may say, is what generally people consider as moksha, a difficult term to properly understand in its linguistic form or even in its philosophical content. The evaluation of human life is actually, from this point of view, an evaluation of all life. When the human individual rises to the level of spiritual aspiration, the human ceases to be a limited individual social unit and becomes an embodiment of a call which is above all individual values or social relationships.

There is a many-sided envisagement of the requirements in life when it is understood from the point of view of the soul of the human individual. Our soul, or the soul that we are, is such a comprehensive experience—we can only call it experience for want of a better word—that it leaves nothing as an external possibility, nothing outside itself. The soul is all things and everything, though human understanding limited to a physical evaluation of things may wrongly imagine that the soul is within an individual, that it is something inside people.

What we call the soul is also known as the spirit that enlivens the personality and gives meaning to all life in general. Spirituality is the character of the spirit. It is the nature of the innermost essence of all living beings. It is that which gives meaning to any kind of aspiration, desire or engagement in any field of life. Though it is true that, at a particular level of experience, life is involved in physical matter, embodied in a physical personality, we as souls are also embodied in this visible form, this tabernacle. Giving concession to this extent of involvement of the soul in the physical body, we have also to give an equal concession to its physical requirements. It is the soul that needs, and nobody else has any need whatsoever. Any need, any call, any requirement, any desire, any aspiration, is the activity of the soul.

It is difficult to understand what we actually mean by the word ‘soul’, inasmuch as the meaning attached to it usually has been limited to its embodied relationships and it has never been considered from its own point of view. The soul cannot be known by anyone except the soul itself. No faculty other than that which can be identified by the soul itself can be said to be competent of knowing what the soul is. Any psychological operation or intellectual activity, even in its highest reaches, should be considered inadequate for the purpose. The comprehensiveness of the activity of the soul is inclusive in such a wide-stretched manner that there is nothing worthwhile in all life that can be excluded from its purview or the jurisdiction of its activity.

Actually, there are no distinctive features in life called material, psychological, human, etc. They are phases of the operation of a single vision of things, appearing to be distinct from one another on account of emphasis specially laid on one particular aspect or other. When we limit ourselves to the perception of only what is externally envisioned by the sense organs, we appear to be aware only of what can be called the material values of life because of the fact that the senses can contact only that which they regard as material. But granting that the materiality of whatever the senses contact is valid from its own level of manifestation, the demand of the sense organs in their contact with things they consider as material is not exhausted merely by a material evaluation of values. Even the sense organs cannot entirely be satisfied by material objects. If food that is material, whatever it be, is fed into the sense organs, even up to the point of surfeit and utter satiation, that still would not end the desire of the sense organs.

Thus the perception of the senses, which is basically material and objective, is not satisfying even to the senses themselves. That is to say, whatever is available to the sense organs is not going to satisfy them. But the satisfying character of objects available to the sense organs also points to a state which is beyond that particular level of satisfaction. Our craving for objects of sense is, of course, a call for a kind of happiness that we imagine to be derived from external material objects, but the dissatisfaction that follows from that satisfaction of the contact of the senses with objects is a pointer to a higher involvement.

Why are we dissatisfied even after we are satisfied with sensory contact? All the material in the world for which the senses crave as their diet has not left them satisfied. The artha which has been longed for, through an inward operation called kama, has brought to a standstill, to some extent, this operation of the psyche in the form of kama or desire, but it has left a lacuna at the same time—a lacuna of the nature of a total vacuum, in the end. After all satisfaction, after the fulfillment of every desire, the satiation of our kama by the acquirement of everything that is called artha; after this so-called fulfillment, the state in which we feel we are entirely filled to the brim with joy, after having attained this state of an overwhelming sense of completeness through sense contact of objects appearing to give satisfaction, we are left with an emptiness in ourselves.

The objects of the senses, the things that we long for through our kama or longing, sap our energy, suck our blood as it were, and leave us lifeless. In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad an interesting name has been given to the objects of sense, while another name has been given to the manner in which the sense organs operate in respect of their objects. The senses grab—their only intention is to catch, clutch objects of sense—and because of their habit of catching hold of anything that is available around them, the Upanishad calls this sense activity as ‘graha’. It is a kind of crocodile, as it were, which grabs with a tight grip anything that is presented before it. There is no end to the asking of the senses.

But the objects which the senses grab have also a strength of their own. Very interestingly, the Upanishad calls these objects ‘atigraha’, a greater catcher. If the senses tightly grasp the objects, the objects grasp the sense organs with a greater grasp. It is difficult to imagine why such a situation should arise at all, how it is that while we grab things, the objects, the things also seem to be willing to grab us in such a manner that they leave us almost dead. This is an undercurrent of activity that is taking place beneath the surface of the operation of the mind in its activity called desire for objects of sense—kama for artha.

The kama is the calling for the object. The artha is the object itself. While it is necessary that the call should be strong enough to evoke the movement of the object in its presence, the object also should have the capacity to fit into the nature of this call. The magnet should have the strength to pull iron filings into itself—the pull cannot be exerted on dry bamboo or straw. The magnetic attraction is felt only by certain elements such as iron. So, the object should be of a character that is commensurate with the nature of the operation of the sense organs. There should be a give and take policy between the senses and the objects. The two have to be en rapport with each other.

There seems to be a kind of internal relationship between ourselves as individual centres of satisfaction, kama or desire, and the objects outside. There is a reciprocal relationship between ourselves as desiring centres and the objects which constitute the world outside. This internal relationship of a reciprocal nature between the subjective side and the objective side is what makes it difficult for any particular individual to be entirely a possessor of any group of objects. This also makes it difficult for the capacity of the objects to entirely satisfy the sense organs. Neither can the objects entirely satisfy anyone, nor can anyone have complete control of all the objects in the world. This is so because of the fact that there is a non-individual background behind the individual percipient, and a non-objective character in the objects of the world. The objects are not merely objects, and the individual seeker, the desirer, is also not entirely individual. There is an unseen background behind both the desiring individual and the desired object. This makes the contact between the senses and the objects an inadequate operation, not up to the mark, and actually not promising the satisfaction that they hold up before the senses. The activity of the mind and senses in respect of objects, known as the artha, through the operation known as kama, will be a futile attempt in the end if something else is not there acting as a principle to bring them together into a framework of coherence.

The cementing principle does not leave the subjective side, on one side, and the objective side, on the other side, as unrelated elements. This principle that brings them together into a vital relationship is called dharma. It is another peculiar terminology whose meanings have been construed in a multitudinous variety of ways. The law of a thing is called dharma. The principle that is at the root of anything is dharma. The essence of a thing is called dharma. That which keeps the stability, maintains the stability of any particular localised thing is dharma. If we feel that we are a single self-identical individuality, it is due to the dharma that is operating within us. Any kind of law can be regarded as dharma. A law is that which maintains order and system. A disarray or chaos of any kind is prevented by the operation of dharma.

Automatic is the action of dharma—it is not some instrument that is wielded by someone. The world seems to be made up in such a way that it has a spontaneous character of maintaining its stability as completeness by itself. Dharma is the self-assertive character of the world, the whole universe, we may say, by which it maintains itself as a self-complete individuality. That which does not permit the universe to become chaotic, or things to be scattered in a disorderly manner, is called dharma. It is that principle that works in such a way that things are what they are, and anything is what it is, and a thing cannot be other than what it is. That stability of things to anything whatsoever is given by an unseen law which is called dharma.

Conflicts are avoided by dharma whenever it operates in any of its levels. There are degrees and varieties of the intensity in the action of the principle we call dharma. It acts mildly in certain stages, and very strongly and powerfully in some other stages. The intensity with which we feel that we are this body, the vehemence we manifest in the feeling or assertion that we are just this little person and nothing more than that—this vehemence is an instance of the intensity with which dharma can act in maintaining a sort of indivisibility in a given location, such as my individuality or yours.

But the power of cohesive action of dharma is not so intense in social relationships. The manner in which an individual asserts himself as being only that individual and nothing other than that is more intense in its self-affirmation than the manner in which he affirms himself as a unit in human society. We feel that we belong to a formation of bodies called human society, it is true, but we do not feel it as intensely as we feel the intensity in our own selves. The action of dharma, this force of cohesion in the maintenance of the individuality of a thing, is pre-eminently operative in comparison with the more modified and diluted forms of it in social relationships, affections and hatreds.

There is a bond established between things that act and react upon each other, either by way of like or of dislike. This power of action and reaction is also dharma acting. It brings about a relationship between two things, either by way of attraction or by way of repulsion. But this is an artificial way in which it acts, suggesting that any kind of social relationship—all relations that are externalised in nature, are not basic to the nature of things. Our aim in life is not any kind of makeshift arrangement with things we consider as existent outside, even in such forms of relationship as family, society, etc. There is a pull of transcendence imminently present even in social relationships, so that social relation is not all and everything.

Dharma is not merely a power that works in the material world by way of gravitation, etc.—it is something more than that. It acts as a biological cohesion in a living being, a psychological cohesion where there is reason and intellect operating, and, finally, a universal cohesion where the spirit acts directly. Dharma, therefore, is seen to be present in all levels of life. It is in the physical world, as mentioned by way of gravitation—the pull of bodies, whether it is in the level of life on earth or in the planetary realms or the galaxies. Even loves and hatreds, psychologically felt, are also a sort of gravitation, propelling or repelling as the case may be.

Any sensible coming together of particularities for the formation of an intelligent whole, whether it is on the material level, the biological level, the psychological level or the rational level, is dharma acting. Dharma is that which sustains; anything that protects, sustains, maintains and stabilises is dharma. It is a very intriguing operation taking place everywhere, and not available to the grasp of the sense organs. The interaction between the sense organs and objects, by way of this catching and greater catching mentioned, is indicative of there being something that is above both the individual that grasps and the object that is grasped. In fact, we tend to move towards objects and ask for things in the world not because the things have any individually ingrained inherent value in themselves, but because there is a call that we feel emanating from these visible forms outside, a call actually arising not from the things themselves but from something which is inherent in them, inherent in the objects, present in them and present also in the very perception of the objects.

This call for the cohesion of coming together, which is the love of life and the fear of death, is operating in a threefold manner—in the desire for things inwardly, in the pull of objects outwardly, and in the perception of things in a third fashion altogether. The knower, the known and the knowing process are the three phases in which this pull operates. What is this pull? It does not come either from only inside, or only outside, or just midway between inside and outside. It is a total pull coming from every corner. Actually, the love of life is not the love of life in this particular body only, though it appears to be that from an erroneous point of view. It also does not mean a love for objects outside—it is not a love for the possession of things. It is another love altogether which emanates from all corners, in all directions, transcending time and space, such that we may say love alone exists anywhere. People sometimes call God the centre of love, identifying love with God and God with love. There is some point in this assessment because it is a call of the Self for itself.

All this is to give a brief notion as to what dharma could be as a cementing factor between the objects which are the artha and the kama that calls for them. Dharma points to a freedom of the calling nature from the clutches of the objects, and also the impulsion of the call itself. We are bound in this world in a twofold way—by the pressure of the call for things arising from our own individualities, and also by the magnetic pull that is exerted by the objects themselves. To put it in the language of the Upanishads, they are atigrahas—greater catchers or grabbers.

We cannot actually know what is happening to us merely by thinking through the mind or rationally arguing in an empirical fashion through known logics of the world. What is happening to us? Why are things what they are? Why should the world be exactly as it is, visible or seen? Why is this creation made to appear before us in the manner it is? Why are we happy and why are we unhappy? Why do we want this and why do we not want that? Why there is a desire to live long and why do we fear death? What is the matter with us? Why this confused medley of adjustments and maladjustments in life, keeping us in a state of anxiety from moment to moment, no one knowing what is actually happening and no one knowing what one really needs in this world?

This great difficulty, this intense question that is raised about ourselves, namely, what life itself is—this question cannot be answered by anyone who raises this question, because the answer comes from a state of existence which is behind and beyond the state of affairs which evokes such questions. It is the wish that is inherent in every living being, basically uniform in its nature and arising from the deepest recesses of the being of anything; not capable of satisfaction through possession of things, artha; not being exhausted by the calls of the psyche called kama; not being able to be wholly satisfied even by subjection to the law called dharma—a call that is inexplicable, cannot be identified with either the action of law in the world or with the presence of things that are desirable, much less a desire for things. This inscrutable, unknowable, unimaginable, inexplicable, unanswerable position that life seems to be occupying is the great answer of life to the question of life—briefly, in an enigmatic manner, called moksha or freedom.

It is freedom that is at the back of the desire for the possession of artha or objects. We are subjected to a pressure which arises from our desiring nature in respect of things that the desire actually expects from the outside world. We are subjected to the pressure of these inward calls. This is not freedom. To be subject to an inward pressure in the form of a desire is more a slavery than an act of freedom. It is not that we are freely asking for things. We are not exercising freedom when we desire an object. We are exercising the opposite of it—subjection to the pressure of desire.

Even when the objects which the desires expect for their fulfillment are presented to us, we are subjected to another kind of pressure, namely, the endlessness of the objects that the desire is actually pointing itself to. The endlessness of the variety of things in the world is also a difficulty that is posed in having to find satisfaction even when the desired object is presented to the desiring individual. The whole ocean of objects is there in front of this desiring individual. There is, therefore, limitation on one side in the form of a pressure felt in the form of desire, kama, and on other side there is a greater difficulty in the form of a sea, as it were—a sea of objects appearing before the sense organs. On either side there is no question of voluntary action or freedom in the true sense of the term.

The real freedom that one is expecting from the satisfaction of sense objects is not coming forth because of the difficulties mentioned—the impulsion that is unending from inside and the unending expanse of the objects of the senses from outside. What is the solution? The solution is in the acceptance of the fact that freedom is the nature of life, and it is quite different from any kind of externalised achievement or psychological operation—it is freedom from the desire to contact anything at all. The freedom that we seem to be enjoying by coming in contact with things outside is not freedom. Freedom is the end of the desire itself. When we feel free because we have what we actually wanted, we are not actually free. We are free only when we feel that we need nothing. So the freedom of the soul is not in the acquisition of objects; rather freedom is in the state which needs no contact with objects.

How can freedom be identified with a state of affairs where there is no necessity to come in contact with anything at all? This is so because of the fact that the world is not constituted of objects. The nature of the world in which we are living is not actually externalised, but universalised. The world is the creation of God. We hear it said in the scriptures that the Lord Almighty has revealed Himself as this creation. God, who is all-in-all, all complete, inexhaustible infinity has manifested Himself as this cosmos.

Infinity has moved into the form of another alienated infinity, as it were, through a process which also is infinity itself. This great bundling up of infinities, one over the other, piling completion over completion in an inscrutable manner, is what is indicated by the great mantra of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad which proclaims: Purnam adah purnam idam purnat purnam udacyate; purnasya purnam adaya puram evavasisyate. The Full that is the Almighty, in an act that is Fullness in itself, produced a Fullness that is called the universe, so that the Creative Will, which is Full, does not in any way get diminished in its Fullness of content by the projection of another Fullness which is the universe or even its act of creation, the process of the manifestation of the universe—even that does not become in any way less than the Full.

The measure or the step that God seems to be taking in the creation of the universe is also completeness in itself. It is an inward self-fulfillment of the great completion and the grand fulfillment which is the aim of all existence; that is the meaning of this ‘Purnam adah purnam idam’ mantra. Such being the case, nothing that is partial, fragmented, or localised can satisfy any localised individual. Dharma, which is all inclusive in its action and tries to bring all things together for the purpose of a fulfillment of all things, is actually God working. Dharma is God Himself acting in the world. In the Vedas, a special term is used for the manner in which this law operates. ‘Rita’ is the term used—the cosmic law. In the Bhagavadgita this is designated by another term called ‘visarga’. The projection in a wholesale fashion of a Whole that is the universe, from a Whole that is the Creative Will, is the final meaning of the dharma of the universe—an eternity manifesting itself as inclusive temporality. Even time, which is segmented as the past, present and future, appearing to be limited because of the historical process through which it passes, is actually a completion in itself.

All creation is self-filled. This self-fulfillment, the necessity to assert a completion even in the littlest core of creation that is felt in direct experience, is the consequence of a universal present in all particulars. Even in the smallest creature we find a wholeness that is operating, a tendency to feel that it is all-in-all. A little crawling ant is not a fragment of life—it is a complete being, self sufficient, all-in-all, very happy, needing nothing outside itself. So is the minutest of creation, even an atom which tries to maintain its stability by an action around itself through the nucleus which is its core. This fulfillment is God reverberating through minute, more diluted forms of fulfillment, through the gradations of creation, until it reaches the lowest level called atomic existence, which also is fulfillment by itself.

The whole thing is completion, fulfillment—purnam, purnam. All is complete. Fragments are unknown. Even so-called isolated, neglected fragments of material values are also fulfillment in themselves. It is complete. This assertion of a sense of self-sufficiency and self- completeness in all things, though appearing to be minute in their quantum, is a reflection of the wholeness that is directly acting, eternally, in all things. The action of God is eternal action, even while it appears to be a temporally manouvered operation.

So, moksha is the soul, and dharma is the action of this universal soul. Satya, which is the eternal state of utter liberation or moksha, acts in this world as rita or the law of the cosmos. Embodied moksha is dharma. The soul of dharma is moksha, which, when it appears as something segmented in the subjective or objective side, appears as individual desire on one side and objects of senses on the other side. The total universality, which is God Almighty, Supreme Absolute—Brahman, we may call it—looks like an object, adhibhuta, externally conceived as the material universe, and adhyatma or the individual from the subjective side. The segmentation of this whole into the knowing side and the known side is the reason behind the desires of life. The action of dharma adumbrates that the desires so manifest from individual centres in the direction of objects outside is a misconstruing of things. Any kind of law in this world is a pointer to the inadequacy of the manner in which individuals act in relation to other individuals from their own point of view. Social law, political law, economic law, psychological law or any kind of institution of order or system is indicative of the fact of there being something inherent in the so-called fragments of individual isolated existence, of something which is more than the individual.

Life, in any of its formations, is just the assertion of the universal in the individual—a transcendence working through that which is acting, for all practical purposes, from one place only. Location in space and limitation in time is not all. This location is inexplicable unless it is defined in terms of other forms of location. You will see that no individual existence can be permitted finally. No one can survive unless there is a cooperation with other individuals, which means to say even the so-called asserted individual existence is really something beyond individual existence. This is why social formations are required —individuals love something more than themselves. It is impossible to be limited only to one’s own self. Such a thing is impossible. There will be a withering away of the individuality if an extreme affirmation of that individuality is maintained irrespective of its relationship with other individuals. The cooperative coming together of individuals, socially, is the affirmation of a larger-than-the-individual acting in the individual, namely a universal principle. Therefore social law is supposed to be more respectable than merely an individual law. The larger is the operation of this law, the more respectable it becomes, the more endurable it is and the more valid it is, until these operative laws, rising from the individual to larger dimensions, reach a climax where these laws comprehend every law altogether. The law stands as the only operative law, and nothing outside it can be there. It is a law that need not be amended at any time, because it is eternity masquerading in time.

The concept of the values of life—which is dharma, artha, kama and moksha—is a masterstroke of genius of the Indian soil particularly, which did not exclude from its consideration even the lowest calls of human nature, but was not satisfied with any of the calls of human nature. While all our desires are permissible in one way, none of the desires is finally permissible. While all that we need and call for, and every thought, every feeling, every vision of life is a permissible and valid evaluation of things from its own point of view, none of them is final. All phases of the vision of life are valid from their own points of view. Every religion is a right religion, a correct vision of things, and every faith is valid in its own way. Every vision is complete, every viewpoint has a validity of its own and anything that one thinks is a valid thinking—but it is an inadequate thinking.

Here is the necessity for charitableness, which we have to manifest in ourselves while affirming our own point of view. My point of view and your point of view and everyone’s point of view is a correct point of view, but none’s point of view is a whole point of view. There is something beyond any vision of things, though every vision of things is self-centred and appears to be complete from its own stage, level and operative angle. There is thus a necessity to live a cooperative life. The life that the world expects from us is not so much competitive as cooperative. Things in the world do not argue, one against the other. They do not compete in a business fashion, but agree to accept their own limitations, and also agree to expect the correlative aspects of their inadequacies from other things in the world, other people—from everything. Everyone is sacrosanct, everyone is holy, everyone is complete, and every human being is as valuable as any other human being. Everyone is equally valuable—there is no inferiority or superiority among people. Human life is a ubiquitous, equally distributed valuation of aspiration to exist, but no individual human life is complete in itself.

This is to sum up the viewpoint that is placed before us by the pattern called the fourfold purusharthasdharma, artha, kama and moksha. They are not four aims of existence; they are the fourfold vision of a single aim of existence. We are materially located in this body, we are psychologically operating through the mind, we are socially existing in the midst of people, and we are also vehicles of an eternity that is permanently acting for the fulfillment of itself in self-realisation.

So the artha that is the objective world, the kama that is the psychological asking, the dharma that wants to keep everything alive in a cohesive manner—all these are fingers operating in space and time of a non-temporal Eternity whose names are the objects of adoration in the religions of the world. Religions therefore are various roads that lead to this centre, the peak of eternal life—we call it moksha in our own language. But what moksha is, is something that still remains eluding to our mental grasp. Even after having said so much about it, it remains an inscrutable something. Whatever idea of liberation, freedom or moksha we may entertain in our minds, finally we will find it to be a wrong concept. It is impossible in our own psychological limitations to entertain a correct idea of what true freedom is, what eternal life is, or moksha is, or for the matter of that, what we are actually aspiring for at all, in the end, in our life. This requires great discipline, a peculiar training which is called sadhana marga, the path of spiritual practice, which makes us fit recipients of this eternal blessing that is flooding us from all sides—a call from a central parent, a father and mother to whose calls we are sensorily deaf and psychologically blunt, not sharp enough to receive its call. Spiritual life is not a philosophical theory, it is not a view of things, it is not even a religious ritual or performance—it is an actual living of the very soul of what we are in utter practise. It is living and not merely thinking.

The presentation of the fourfold facet of existence as dharma, artha, kama and moksha does not stand as four legs of an aspiration, but actually means the variety of fulfillment through the various degrees of our ascent in life to finally get fulfilled in a thing that we cannot think at the present moment through our feeble minds.