The Ascent of the Spirit
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 2: Principles for a Reconstruction of Human Aspiration

The suggestion, then, is that the aim of evolution is ultimately spiritual and the sense of the spiritual has to be comprehended in its proper significance. It is to be realised that there has to be a unifying blend of the fourfold Aim of Human Existence, viz., dharma, artha, kama and moksha; a coming together of the moral, the economic, the vital and the Infinite values in a concentrated focus of thought, speech and action. It is not infrequently that spirituality is regarded as ‘a phase’ of life, an aspect of human pursuits, and even an other-worldly aim, to be thought of at the fag-end of one’s life. Nothing can be a greater travesty of truth than this sort of erroneous thinking and evaluation. How can the Infinite value be relegated to an aspect, a phase of life, or an other-worldly concern? Does not the Infinite include all things—the other-worldly as well as the this-worldly, the transcendent as well as the temporal? Else, how could it be the Infinite? How, then, if spirituality is the process of the pursuit of the Infinite, can it be a segmented aspect of life? Would it not then embrace the whole of life within itself, and would not life itself be impossible without it? Yes; the spiritual value is not ‘a value’ but ‘the value’ of ‘all life’, without which life would lose its very meaning and be turned into an essenceless phantom.

It also follows from the concept of the Infinite that, if the Infinite value has to include the moral, the economic, and the vital values within itself, so that dharma, artha and kama get subsumed under moksha; then, the pursuit of morality, wealth and personal satisfaction in life has perforce to get included in the pursuit of moksha or liberation from the thraldom of life, i.e., the spiritual includes the temporal. The complaint of our communist friends and social-welfare workers against religion and spirituality, if there is any, is thus without any basis; for, it is founded on a misconception of the spiritual as well as the religious, which, latter, in fact, is but the outward expression of the spiritual. As it was pointed out, the human mind is not constituted in such a way as to enable it to comprehend this tremendous truth behind the drama of life, so that the human mind always complains against existing conditions and distrusts even the logically deducible consequences that could be reasonably inferred from the observation of the phenomenon called life. The great tragedy of human life has been the unwarranted isolation of the spiritual from the temporal and the consequent clinging to an over-emphasis of the material needs of this world, or to a supposed religious ideal confined to the other-world. It is due to a thorough-going misrepresentation of truth that we have among us materialists, atheists and hedonists on one side and the theoretically-idealistic religionists, priests and pontiffs on the other side, one contending with and opposed to the other and creating a scene of conflict in the world. There should be no wonder if either side gets frustrated in its pursuit because the demand of both the sides seems similar to the point involved in the humorous effort to keep half a hen for cooking and half for laying eggs.

Would people realise at least today that existence in the world cannot be bifurcated from the existence of the Central Aim of Life? Gathering the outcome of our thoughts expressed earlier, we may proceed further to the art and the enterprise of blending dharma, artha, kama and moksha into a single body of human aspiration. As was indicated, this is a difficult job, for, the mind is not accustomed to think in such an integral fashion. But it has to be done, and one cannot escape it, if life is to have any meaning and not be a mere desultory drifting from one objective to another, every moment of time.

Artha, or the material object of one’s pursuit, may be considered first, since it is this that seems to be the primary centre of life’s attraction in the immediately visible and tangible field of experience. The object is naturally the physical something that presents itself before a sense-organ—seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling or touching. It is impossible to have a proper notion of an object unless we have a correct apprehension of the structure of the senses themselves. Normally, it is supposed that the objects of the senses are variegatedly spread out in space and each sense grasps a particular object. It is also believed that the object is ‘outside’ the particular sense which apprehends it. Thus, two conceptions are involved in sense-perception, namely, that the objects are differently distributed outside in space and that they are external to the senses perceiving them. Without this twofold notion sense-contact and sense-satisfaction will lose their proper significance. It is on this stated assumption that the senses seem to be asking for their own respective comforts and pleasures. But their needs and askings of this kind automatically get grouped under what may be called the ‘vulgar view of life’, if it can be shown that the objects are neither variegated nor are they really external to the senses. Any satisfaction rooted in a misconception about it cannot continue for long, nor can it be considered a real necessity of life. A final investigation into the structure of things would not be within the range of the ‘vulgar thinking’ which goes hand-in-hand with the untutored assumption of the senses, but the purified reason coupled with a more acute observation will reveal that the truth of things is far removed from the sensory notions of the uneducated mind. We may say that our knowledge of things cannot be regarded as ultimately valid unless it becomes scientific in the correct sense of the term. It should be noted that an object is a concentrated group of characters brought together by factors with a universal implication. An object is only an outer form of the inner concrescence of forces which tie themselves into knots, as it were, into what we call as objects in space and time, and it is only the outer form that the senses can perceive, not the inner implication of this subtler activity that is going on within the structure of things beyond the ken of the senses. Physicists prefer to call objects as fields of force, rather than things or substances, by which what is meant is that an object is co-extensive with other objects, as a ripple in the ocean is substantially co-extensive with the entire body of the ocean. This fact is brought out in a more prominent manner in a famous verse of the Bhagavadgita where, in connection with a description of the way in which senses come in contact with objects, it declares that ‘properties’ move among ‘properties’ (gunah guneshu vartante). What this yoga text means hereby is that the ‘properties’ or ‘gunas’ of the Mother of all material formations known as prakriti, are equally present in the senses and their objects; or, in other words, the very same prakriti constituted of the forces of equilibrium, kinetics and dynamics (sattva, rajas and tamas) is present in the senses as well as the objects. What the substance is of the structure of the senses is also the substance of the structure of the objects, so that it cannot be said that the objects are external to the senses, just as there is no point in saying that the ocean is external to the waves upon it, though we may imagine that the waves have every right of imagining that the ocean is outside them. But how far this is from truth needs no iteration.

Moreover, it is not difficult to notice that everything in this world is made up of the five elements—Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Ether, - in a variety of permutations and combinations, wherein are included the objects of senses as well as our own bodies which are the receptacles of the senses. Even crudely speaking, what separates one object from another is space, and space, unfortunately, enters into the constitution of every object including our bodies. Where then comes externality of objects, the outsideness of things? If things are not outside, how can one pursue or long for them? kama, which is desire for objects, loses its ground when the structure of the objects is known to be inextricably woven into the pattern of one’s body and senses. That all this is not a part of the curriculum of our education in our institutions will only be an additional credit to the glory of our educational system, which leaves a student at sea the moment he comes out of his alma mater, in flying colours. Life begins to stare hard on one’s face when the educational course is completed. Truly, education seems to begin only then! The significance of artha and kama, the objects and the desire for them needs no large commentary to explain them in the light of the foregoing analysis. The objects and the desire for them, artha and kama, then seem to harass us only until we do not know dharma, or the Law of Truth.

Dharma, which is the name for the righteousness that is rooted in the make-up of all things in the universe, is the ruling factor that determines the significance and validity of both the existence of objects and one’s longing for them. This is why, perhaps, Bhagavan Sri Krishna mentions in the Gita that He, as the All-Pervading Presence, is kama or desire which is not opposed to dharma or righteousness. But that desire cannot be regarded as being in consonance with righteousness or the rule of Nature, which regards objects as sheerly ‘external’ to the senses, a proposition which has been ruled out in the Bhagavadgita itself while it announced that ‘properties’ move among ‘properties’. The Bhagavadgita also mentions, in its 18th Chapter, that the notion which regards a particular thing as if it is everything is to be considered as the worst type of understanding, or knowledge. Every form of desire is usually of this character in the sense that desire clings to a particular object taking it for the whole value of life or sometimes a group of objects regarding them as the entire aim of existence. Such a desire which is associated with the lowest type of understanding is what usually goes by the name of karna or longing for artha or object. This is definitely not in agreement with the principle of dharma which is rightly defined as that which holds all things together as a sort of universal gravitational centre (dharanat dharma iti ahuh).

It is hard to give a dictionary-definition of dharma or find an apt synonym for it in the English language; for, dharma is that all-pervasive cohesive principle, which keeps all things in a harmonious state of integration. Now, this harmony and integration is discoverable in every level of life. Physically, it is the energy which holds one’s body in unison and does not allow it to disintegrate; vitally, it is the force which keeps the prana moving in harmony with the body; mentally, it is the power which maintains the sanity of thought and keeps the psychological apparatus working in an orderly fashion and not allow it to run riot in a haphazard manner; morally, it is the urge which recognises as much value in others as in one’s own self and regards in them the proper status, which they are occupying in their own places; intellectually, it is the logical principle of coherence of judgment and correspondence of idea with fact. In the external universe, it acts as the force of gravitation, physically; as mutual reaction, chemically; as the principle of growth and sustenance, biologically; as cooperative enterprise, socially. Finally, it is the principle of the unity of the Self, spiritually.

 If the Divine Being can be found present in a desire that is in consonance with dharma, as the Bhagavadgita puts it in its 7th Chapter, then, naturally, no ordinary desire for objects of sense can be regarded as divine, for, it obtains the sanction of Divinity only when it is in agreement with the principle of dharma which, as we have seen, is so vast and comprehensive that, when it becomes the divinely acceptable feature in the human being, it ceases to be an over-mastering passion as in the case of mortal desires but becomes a suggestion for the recognition of the Infinite in all finite values of life.

This majestic vision of life, is manifest in human society as the order of varna and ashrama, two terms as difficult to understand as the word dharma. Usually, varna and ashrama are translated as the ‘caste system’ and the tradition of the ‘four orders’ of life. This forthright and offhand definition has led to many misconceptions about the significance of these phases of the methodology of life, so that varna, according to this interpretation, becomes a disrupting factor in life, most undesirable and pernicious, and ashrama a meaningless grandmother’s superstition of an antediluvian type. But, not so is the truth of the matter.

Varna does not mean ‘colour’ referring to the Aryan or the Dravidian difference of skin, nor indicating anything like the superior and the inferior in the social organisation of human beings. To think so would be a total misconstruing of fact. Varna is not a ‘colour’ visible to the eyes but a ‘degree’ conceivable by the mind; which means to say that by the term varna we are to understand the degrees of expression of dharma in human society in such a way that their coming together or coordination will sustain human society and existence. Though life is a continuous and single whole enshrining in its bosom knowledge, power, richness and energy, all together, it cannot be manifest in any particular human individual in such a comprehensive fashion unless he is a Superman (ati-manava). In ordinary human beings, such a blending, of the four factors is impossible. There is always a preponderance of either understanding, will, emotion or action, practically corresponding to these four factors contributory to the essential necessities of life, which cannot ignore any of these four aspects. Inasmuch as these factors of life’s growth and sustenance are diversely found preponderating in different individuals, it has been found necessary to cause a coordination of the different groups of individuals in whom there is a pre-eminence of these factors, separately. Just as the head cannot do the work of the legs, the eyes cannot hear and the ears cannot see, and so on, so that the perfection of the organism is maintained by a co-ordination of these limbs and organs of the body, human society is held together as a single growing and prospering organism by a coordination of those individuals in whom there is a predominant manifestation of the mentioned factors, severally. The question of ‘superior’ and ‘inferior’ among the individuals does not arise here, since the purpose is to help the growth of each and everyone towards a complete view of life and an achievement of the total value of life by each person, enabling each one, in this way, to participate in all the four values, the blending together of which alone can be regarded as complete fulfilment. The absence of anyone of these factors or values would point to a serious defect in the organism of human society and the individual. And happiness is nowhere to be found where perfection is absent. The psychic and spiritual personality of an individual seeks growth and expansion in the process of evolution, and this growing and intensifying process of life assumes a marked emphasis at a certain stage, in which condition the individual’s attitude to life puts on a distinct form of thought and conduct. These stages are what are known as the ashramas, and they are mainly four: the stage of the exuberance and energy of adolescence, which needs training and discipline and seeks learning and knowledge; the stage of outer activity and social relationship, wherein one fulfils the normal human desires and performs the expected duties as a unit of the wider society of people; the stage of greater maturity of thought, in which one detects the evanescence of temporal values and material possessions, and aspires to delve into the truth behind phenomena; the stage of illumination in which one lives a life of at-one-ment with the Ultimate Reality. The ‘stages’ are the ‘orders of life’ necessitated by the progressive emphasis which it receives in outward evolution.

Yoga has been defined as union with Reality, in its different degrees of manifestation, both within and without. Thus, by the fulfilment of one’s functions in life through the laws and disciplines of vama and ashrama, one moves gradually from the outer to the inner—from the external forms to the deeper meaning of things—and rises upward, from the gross to the subtle, and from the subtle to the ultimate essence of existence. The concepts of the four purusharthas—dharma, artha, kama and moksha; of the four varnas,-the classes of society wielding spiritual, political, economic and manual power; of the four ashramas—the stages of study and discipline; performance of duty, individually as well as socially; withdrawal from attachment to perishable things; and communion with the Supreme Reality; these sum up the total structure of life in its integrality, excluding nothing, and including everything in its most comprehensive gamut.

It was pointed out that this all-encompassing picture of life is difficult to visualise, at one stroke, and so the ancient adepts have instituted a threefold approach to this truth of life, viz., the envisagement of life through the concepts of the objective (adhibhuta), the subjective (adhyatma) and the super-normal Deity-aspect of Reality (adhidaiva) transcending both the objective and the subjective aspects of experience. Here, again, the proper way would be to move from the outward to the inward and then go to the upward; which means that we have to take into consideration, first of all, the physical and social reality outside, then study and discipline our individual life and personality, and finally go upward to the higher superintending controlling Power which would point to an ascent to one’s final Goal. In our capacity as contents of the physical world and parts of human society we would do well, initially, to conduct ourselves in such a way that we do not violate the laws of Nature outside and the rules of the community and society in which we live. The laws of health and hygiene and of ethics and morality in society are, thus, preliminary requisites in this grand evolutionary process of human aspiration. The five elements—Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Ether—have their own laws and principles of action which restrict our lives to their ways of working and demand of us an obedience to their constitutional functions. Purity of food, water and air, among other things, is called for in the maintenance of health. The alleviation of hunger and thirst and heat and cold, and protection from the excesses of Nature’s forces are the ‘creature comforts’ that anyone would need to live a life of reasonable ease. Without this minimum of aid, the very basis of one’s physical existence might become insecure. Over and above these minimum requisites, there is the call of society upon the individual, namely, loyalty and allegiance to its customs, manners and traditions, apart from a human behaviour and conduct in respect of others around oneself. Herein, the requirements of varna and ashrama get included, and, in addition, there is the need to observe the canons of not hurting others, being truthful with others, not appropriating the belongings of others, non-indulgence in the cravings of the senses beyond the limits permitted by the rules of health, and absence of greed in general. While these may be regarded as disciplines pertaining to one’s life in the ‘objective’ world (adhibhautika-prapancha), they have some relevance to one’s ‘subjective’ (adhyatmika) life, as well, since these outward disciplines of conduct greatly influence and reveal one’s inner character. Study of exalting literature, such as the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Bhagavadgita, and such other powerful revelations of higher wisdom, a life of simple living and high thinking, of servicefulness and austerity in one’s demeanour, are further regulative trainings in one’s personal or subjective life. Beyond the objective and the subjective levels, there is the transcendent (adhidaivika) Control exerted by the Omnipresent Almighty Being, through its ‘manifestations’, which are usually called ‘gods’ in religious parlance. These ‘gods’ have a hierarchy of their own, and they differ in their degree of the Almighty Power which they express through their forms of manifestation. To give a rough idea of what such a hierarchy would mean, we have, as we have already noted earlier, the gradations mentioned in the Taittiriya Upanishad, the realms of the Gandharva, Pitri, Deva, Indra, Brihaspati and Prajapati. These are names of wider and wider revelations of Reality in gradually increasing intensity, in its successive stages. The highest cosmical manifestations, however, are called virat, hiranyagarbha and isvara, meaning its physical, subtle and causal conditions. The Aim, ultimate, is the Absolute—Brahman.