Essays on the Upanishads and Other Essays
A Souvenir released on Swami Krishnananda's 33rd Birthday
by Sri Swami Krishnananda
Modern Pseudo-Philosophic Theories Refuted
Religion is the name given to one's attitude of life based on the consciousness of the nature of one's relation to God. God is the deepest Truth of the universe, and Truth is one. If this definition of religion is to be accepted, there can be only one religion, and not many.
But it is not all that define religion in this manner. According to Whitehead, religion is what the individual does with his solitariness. Bertrand Russell has said that religion is a disease born of fear, and that it is religion that has brought all sufferings to humanity. In modern times various people have tried their best to substitute certain other views of life for religion. As a matter of fact, we should not call them religions; they are only certain views of life, certain attitudes to life, which people have developed on account of certain extraneous circumstances in which they were placed. These come from the depth of the soul. They come from the surface-mind, from superficial experience. As examples, I may cite some of these substitutes which have been brought forward by men of modern times.
Atheism or the naturalistic religion is one substitute for religion. Nature is considered to be all-in-all. She is the mother, and man is the son. Life, therefore, according to this view, is the relation between unconscious nature and conscious man. Bertrand Russell has admitted that it is a wonder how nature which is unconscious has produced a son, i.e., man, who is conscious. Evidently, there is a misconception here; for nature is not unconscious, though we may accept that man is produced by nature. If nature is unconscious, men also would be unconscious. That means that the universe would be blind. There would be no aspiration whatsoever in man. There would be no attitude to life, because there is no consciousness. The naturalistic attitude which is synonymous with atheism, because it denies the existence of God altogether, is a very poor substitute for real religion. Man cannot get on for ever with this attitude. When the body is healthy, when his circumstances are good, when there is no difficulty whatsoever in life, apparently, man, with an audacity, tries to deny the existence of a supernatural power. But suffering is the basis of religion; it is the precondition of all true knowledge. Unless one comes to the consciousness of a certain inadequacy in the conditions of life, unless one finds that something is wanting in one's consciousness, in one's experience, one will not reach the beyond; consciousness would not stretch towards God.
This kind of aspiration towards the ideal, which is not the actual, has been denied by another view of life which is called agnosticism. It is the brother of atheism. It holds that truth cannot be known; God cannot be known. There may be God—the agnostic does not deny God, but he says that religion is only an ideal which can never be realised. If religion is the relation of man to God, and if God cannot be known, religion is a phantasm. But this position of the agnostic is untenable on the very face of it. The agnostic says that Truth is not known. He is better than the atheist or the naturalist in this respect, at least, that he grants that there may be Truth, and there is Truth. But his only contention is that it cannot be known. So religion is futile.
Why is this position untenable? Because it is illogical. When the agnostic accepts that there is Truth, he implies in this statement the possibility of knowing
Truth. We cannot be conscious of a fact which is not contained in our consciousness. That which is outside our consciousness is not ours, and we cannot speak about it, cannot think of it, can never have any relation to it. What is Truth? Truth is that which is perfect. Truth is complete. It is without the difficulties, the imperfections, the wants and the inadequate conditions which characterise life That is Truth. Is it known? No. This is the answer of the agnostic. When we are conscious of our finitude, we are, at the same time, conscious of the existence of infinitude. We cannot know the existence of a boundary, unless we know that there is something beyond the boundary. We cannot know that we me suffering, unless we know there is a possibility of having another experience which is different from suffering. We cannot know that we are mortal, unless there is some state which is immortal. We cannot know that we are men, unless we know there are others, and that there is God, above. Therefore, the implication of agnosticism is religion, though from the outside it appears to be a mistake.
We find in life that there is an antithesis to every thesis. We can prove anything; we can disprove anything. This is the nature of the intellect, for the basis of the intellect is duality and imperfect knowledge. Something may be; it may not be. It may be like this; it may be like that. We are often left in a state of doubt as to the meaning and value of life.
This leads us to another view of life, which is called scepticism. Everything is doubted. God is doubted. The world is doubted. Experience itself is doubted. Our life ends in doubting. This is another substitute for religion. We do not know what is really right, and what is really wrong. With this attitude, how long can we live in this world? Evidently, there is one error in this attitude of the sceptic. His is a specious argument. He doubts everything, but does not doubt his own position. He is confident that what he thinks is true. Though he calls himself a sceptic, he is not sceptic about his own position. He goes beyond scepticism when he asserts that scepticism is the perfect substitute for religion. If doubting is doubted, we will become mad men. Truly, there is a doubter. He is the basis of religion. The doubter cannot be doubted. He is eternally conscious of himself. That doubter cannot be dispensed with as an unconscious being, because what is unconscious cannot even doubt. Therefore, scepticism, too, is a feeble apology for religion.
We have, in addition to these views of life, another which appears to be very good on the surface. It is called humanism. Let us be good; let us serve each other. Let us be ethical, moral. Let, us strive for human welfare. There is no need for God. This theory appears to be very good, because it accepts ethics, morality, goodness, service, etc. But there is one fundamental error here: there is no God, because there is no need for God! What is wrong with this view? It is this: Though the humanistic conception of life really implies the existence of a universal being, the humanists do not accept this. Why should we be ethical, moral, or serve each other? What harm is there if a person is not ethical, not moral, not good at all? What is the meaning of ethics, goodness, rectitude and uprightness? Can anyone define these principles? It is impossible to define these things unless one accepts a basis for these things. Ethics is based on metaphysics. Our attitude towards the world is based on something which is eternally existing. We can aspire to be good only when we know that we are thereby going to achieve something which is meaningful. Is goodness only a creation of man's mind? Is service merely a makeshift? It is not so. Ethics, morality, goodness, service, are certain forms or expressions of an inner conception, an inner feeling and aspiration. It is the righteousness of God that is expressed in this universe as virtue. Goodness is the law of the Eternal. It is not created by man. Morality is another name given to it. The perfection or the justice of God expresses itself in various forms through various individuals in this universe.
When we become conscious of this justice of God which permeates all individuals and determines the existence of all individuals, and when we live according to it, we are said to be good. We cannot be truly good unless we live in consonance with the Law of God. The good is a “categorical imperative”. It cannot be denied. The highest good is the Absolute. And even the relative good should always be in consonance with the law of the absolute good. The relative good is not the creation of man, it is the expression of the absolute good. It is God Himself appearing. Thus humanism also has to accept God, ultimately. We cannot get on in this life by merely saying, “Aspire for the greatest happiness of the greatest number.” What is the greatest happiness of the greatest number? We do not know. It may be said that it is what ordinarily man considers to be ideal happiness in society. But it is not so. When a person achieves that happiness, that good which he considers to be the aim of life now, he will find that there is something beyond it. As the Aitareya Aranyaka has said, man is never satisfied. If he obtains the whole earth, he will want to conquer the skies. Why this eternal hunger in man? Because he is essentially infinite. We cannot feed the Soul with finite food. It wants, more and more, until it realises itself. Infinite hunger can be satisfied only with infinite food. And what is it? It is the Self, Atman, Brahman, the Absolute. Without realising this, there can be no appeasing of this hunger. There will be dissatisfaction, because the infinite is not realised. We cannot be merely relatively good, relatively ethical, and then live a happy life. The relative is always in relation to something which is beyond itself, and which is not relative. The relational is always based on the non-relational. Therefore, even a good life has got another basis, God.
One may define God in any way one likes. Many of the differences among religions are on account of the different conceptions of God. But if one takes Him to be what He is, i.e., the one undying principle in this dying universe, which cannot be denied by anyone, and if one knows that one has a relation to it, one must accept that religion is one. Man is essentially immortal, because he is a part of existence which is immortal. If existence is not immortal, it will not be existence. Man can never conceive of the non-existence of himself. He will always feel that he is the witness of even the notion of the non-existence of himself. One cannot go beyond one's own consciousness. The eternal fact of religion is summed up in the three ideas of God, universe and soul. By accepting these three, and a relation among these three, some people in modern times have come forward with another view of life. It is the religion of belief in something and practice of something, though it may not be a fact, as such. There are some people who call themselves pragmatists. They endorse a view similar to this which holds that there is no such thing as absolute truth. All truth is relative. The criterion of truth depends on the value of its consequences. We can judge the nature of truth from the results it produces. God may not exist. But there is a great benefit in believing in God. Belief in God has a value in life. We need not worry ourselves as to whether God exists or not. But if we do not believe in God, we have troubles; and in order to avoid the troubles, let us believe in God. Let us believe in the unity of conscious existence, though it is not actualised in life. The existence of God, the unity of the world, and the permanence of the soul can be used as regulative ideas, ideas which regulate life, though they may not be realised as facts. This view also is erroneous. We cannot go on believing in an unreal phantom, and yet be happy. We cannot be happy by believing in something which our own mind has created. It is said that fictions also may sometimes bring happiness to us. But the fact is that the moment we realise they are fictions, they will not bring happiness to us. By holding the motto “Believe in God, worship Him, you will get happiness; but He may not exist,” we cannot be happy. Belief is always in relation to some reality. If we believe in a phantasm, knowing that it is a phantasm, our happiness derived thereby, also, will be a phantasm. This kind of happiness is not what we need. Religion is a truth. It cannot be a mere fancy or a creation of man's whims.
What Religion Is
Religion is a relation, a conscious relation, between man and his Overself. It is the aspiration to know one's Overself that determines the characteristic of religion. If there is one Truth, religion can only be one, though there may be many phases of it. In practical life, however, we can never have one religion. Temperaments of men differ. All people do not think in the same way. Though all people are human beings, they think and feel in different ways. They are brought up in different conditions. Their conceptions are different from one another. Therefore, it would be difficult for us to have one universal religion. What we can practise is tolerance. This is the thing possible in life. Some may know that religion is one, but with this knowledge they must develop tolerance. We have to consider all to be brothers. Universal brotherhood has its basis in universal Selfhood. Unless we accept universal Selfhood, we cannot have universal brotherhood. All social relations should have some super-social fact as their basis. Otherwise we can never realise our true ideals. We can have our own religion; the entire world need not have one established religion; but we have to tolerate other religions, knowing that religion is really one.
We should always have an ultimate background on which we can rest. The ideal never remains an ideal eternally. It can be realised. If an ideal is something which cannot be realised at all, it cannot be contained in our consciousness. The fact that we are able to conceive of a perfection shows that there is perfection. The fact that there is some urge in us to become infinite shows that it is possible for us to become infinite. The fact that we fear death shows that we are immortal. The fact that we aspire for unlimited consciousness shows that we can realise unlimited consciousness. This consciousness can be realised by living the universal religion. This religion is the religion of God, of Truth, which manifests itself in different human beings in different ways. We have many religions—not merely the well-known ones such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, etc.; each man has got a religion of his own. Each society has a view of life which it cherishes. Different sections of life have different forms of religion. But as parts are united in a whole, all these aspects of religion should be united in a common religion.
For this, a certain education is necessary. All people cannot be taught the universal religion. The masses form the majority in the world. The populace does not know the ultimate facts of life; and this populace rules the world. To teach it religion satisfactorily is difficult. The only thing that is practicable in this respect is to try to see that in life this universality of religion is asserted in as beautiful a way as possible, and that it approximates to the highest ideal as much as possible. We should assert and emphasise this religion in our own selves, first. When we act, when we speak, and when we think, we must always be conscious of this universality of ours. Those who know it, those who have experienced it directly, the saints and sages, will give others the necessary instructions on the practice of this religion. The saints are the torch-bearers of humanity; they will give the proper light. They will show by practice, by example, not merely by precept, how this universal religion can be asserted in life.
Religion is not merely a view, not merely an ideal or an abstract concept; it is the way of right action. It should be permeated by the consciousness of the One God. There is One Reality, One Truth, which is immortal, which never dies, which every man should accept if he is to have peace. It is impossible to conceive of absolute non-existence, absolute change, absolute chance, bereft of this Reality. The Supreme Being exists, because we exist. The fact that I exist shows that God exists. This is a fact, as the philosopher Descartes said long ago. I have got a consciousness of perfection, of infinitude. Whence has this consciousness come to me? It came from Me. I exist. Existence is true. Therefore, infinitude must exist. And existence must be consciousness, for the two are inseparable. With this consciousness of universal life, we must mould ourselves, our individual life, social life and national life. On the basis of this Infinite Consciousness, we should live. This is practice of real religion.