The Ascent of the Spirit
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 5: Render Unto Caesar the Things Which Are Caesar's, and Unto God the Things That are God's

It needs no mention that the striving for knowledge by means of education has a double function to perform, namely, to take note of the empirical facts and experiences of life on the one hand, and to be consistent with the demands of the absolute values on the other. Since the temporal values are inseparable from the metempirical, the laws of every realm have to be paid their due. “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” Though appearance cannot be identified with reality, it needs no saying that appearance bears some relation to reality. Thus, though all programmes and enterprises in life seem to be involved in the phenomena of transiency, it cannot be gainsaid that our efforts bear a relevance to the truth that we are aspiring for. The very acceptance of phenomenal experience simultaneously calls for the recognition of there being such a thing as reality. Our whims and fancies, hopes and aspirations, struggles and achievements must bear a connection, though remotely, to reality. The reflection is not the original, but the reflection indicates what the original would be like, even as a shadow is, after all, cast by a substance that is there. The human mind need not be in despair that its struggles are a mere pursuit of the will-o’-the-wisp. Our education, our knowledge, is wholly empirical, no doubt; but it cannot end with the mere empirical, it has a function to perform beyond itself, like the medicine administered to cure a disease.

The basic psychology behind education should be “not to disturb the degree of reality involved in any state of experience.” The Bhagavadgita exhorts: “The faith of the ignorant is not to be shaken” while the wise one performs the function of imparting knowledge to the ignorant. The standpoint of the student in any stage of education cannot be ignored, though it may be regarded as an inadequate standpoint in comparison with a higher level of knowledge. Education is similar to the artistic process of the blossoming of a flower-bud, gradually and beautifully. The bud is not to be opened suddenly by exerting any undue force; else, it would not be a blossom, but a broken structure serving no purpose. The teacher is always to be hidden behind the student, though he is with the student at all times. He is not to come to the forefront, either as a superior or an unpleasant ingredient among the constituents that go to form the feelings, aspirations and needs of the student at any particular level. The task of the teacher is indeed a very difficult one to perform. One who is untrained in the art of thinking through the minds of students would not be a successful teacher. The most immediate of realities is always to become the first concern, whether in the social, educational or philosophic field. The visible objects are concrete things and they are the only realities for the child. Hence comes the need for the kindergarten stage where object-lessons are imparted by the presentation of concrete examples. If these examples are pleasant forms of vision and audition, they would add to the success of the process of education. A discipline or training need not necessarily be bitter or unpleasant. It can also be sweet, lovable and delighting. The method of teaching is more a subject of psychology than anything else. For, it involves on the part of the teacher a knowledge of not only the purpose of education in its different stages but also of the differing methods that have to be applied in teaching in these varying stages. It may be said that, for all practical purposes, no stage of experience can be regarded as wholly false or utterly wrong but that it holds a particular degree of reality in its bosom. Every child is dear to its own mother, whoever she be and in whatever conditions she may find herself at any time.

From this consideration it would follow that the syllabi of studies chalked out in the present-day curricula of education are not totally out of point, for they bear relation to some stage or other of reality; but their mistake is that these stages are wholly confined to the field of sensory experience and do not touch even the fringe of what is beyond the empirical level. Though a lesser truth is also a necessary feature of truth, it should never be regarded as the whole truth. The subjects that are taught in the educational fields today are no doubt truths in their own limited ambits—in fact, every experience based on every perception is a phase of truth which cannot be denied at the time of its experience or perception—but since they are not the whole truth, they present unforeseen problems in the long run, which are at the background of the restlessness and the sense of insecurity crawling through the veins of the modern educated individual. The stress on the need for the lower truth should not mean either an ignorance or the neglect of the higher.

This investigation and study of the position of the human individual in the universe should direct him to the correct way of approach in launching upon the methodology of education. And what is life but a continuous process of educational training? One would realise oneself to be always a student if only there is to be an honest self-enquiry in the interest of the pursuit of truth, for truth alone triumphs. The present system of teaching adopted by the modern educational psychology is quite good, so far as it goes, but only so far as it goes. It is necessary, as we have observed, that the more stringent manifestations of reality should be taken into consideration first of all, with immediate priority. The social and the physical structure of one’s environment is obviously the foremost of such manifestations. One feels, by the very circumstances of the environment, that there is a world outside, there are mountains and rivers; sun, moon and stars; summer and winter and rains; which come periodically as seasons in the year; men and animals, people connected with us as relatives and those not so connected, etc. This is to give a crude picture of one’s notions concerning the astronomical world, the geographical features and the social relations with which one seems to be associated in some way, though not very distinctly present in one’s active consciousness. As these things are the immediately observed facts, their features would be naturally the first of subjects that have to be introduced into one’s studies, though in a very moderate form of a mere outline of information. We may call these the seeds of Astronomy, Geography, Sociology and Civics. These may include as a necessary consequence one’s moral obligations to the society of human beings and animals. And so, we enter the field of Ethics as an inseparable part of the studies, for the ethical rules cannot be isolated from social obligations in which one’s life is intertwined. There is then the natural development of the consciousness of one’s material needs and the ways of procuring the same, taking notice at the same time of such needs of other people also around oneself. Here we sow the seeds of Economics in its very basic formation. Up to this level of concern and procedure of studies, we may regard one’s education as fundamental and primary.

A more advanced outlook of life takes one to its involvements in its immediate connections with what is elaborately called the Political Structure of the country. One becomes conscious of the enforcers of law, visible as certain personalities considered as heads of the immediate environment of the community, the village, the district and even the still wider jurisdiction of the province. This knowledge and the relevance of this knowledge to one’s personal and social life combines in itself the elementary principles of the civic and political atmosphere in which one lives. This raises the question of the necessity to be properly informed about the nature of the Laws and regulations that govern one’s day-to-day existence, though these are not immediately visible in everyday life. Nonetheless, their influence upon one’s life may be tremendous like that of the rise of the sun every day, though people are not always conscious that the sun rises and sets daily. Further on, there comes also the need to know the manner in which these traditions have come down from the past by the exigencies of the time’s process and the nature of the events that have occurred in relation to people’s lives lived before us many years back, and this is the study of History. Allthese items of one’s basic education come together to form the Culture of the human nature in general, which is variedly to reveal itself in its manifestations as human thought, feeling and action. Here we come to the second stage of education; all which may be regarded as still elementary, meaning whereby not what is ‘inadequate’ but ‘fundamental’ as the most essential rock-bottom of the grand edifice of education.

Now we are to enter the third stage wherein we begin to feel the need also for certain other aspects of study, which present themselves as essentials in their own way, though they are not so essential as the unavoidable phases of education, detailed above, which were organically connected with one’s creature-existence itself. These needs of the third stage are sometimes called ‘diversions’ or ‘pleasure’ which are sought by the ‘emotions’ of human nature. These are the fine arts which contribute to bring a new type of delight to one’s personality through the visualisation of beauty. Beauty is something difficult to explain, but something which everyone knows and feels by actual perception of it in physical and mental life. Objects that are beautiful attract one’s attention and give a satisfaction even by their mere proximity, let alone the actual possession and enjoyment of them personally. Usually, beauty is regarded as a kind of perception evoked by a certain pattern of the arrangement in the form of the object which is called beautiful. Though the same object may not appear beautiful to all persons under the same conditions, and there is thus a subjective projection of beauty upon the objects of perception, there is nonetheless a general form of beauty which is acceptable and perceivable to every human being. These general forms of beauty may be categorised particularly under what are known as architecture, sculpture, painting, music, dance, drama and literature. An acquaintance with these sources of beauty would call for a study of these subjects, a branch of knowledge designated as Aesthetics.

With all this, we would be in a state of ignorance if we are not in a position to go further down into the causative factors requiring of us an investigation into and a study of subjects like aesthetics, together with all those things that precede such a need felt within. The love of beauty, whether visible as in architecture, sculpture and painting, audible as in music, or intelligible as in literature, is basically found to be an expression of a reaction set up by the human mind to the conditions of the world outside in terms of the peculiar relation it bears with these conditions. The human mind as the subject and the world outside as its object form the correlative counterparts complementary to each other, and we may say in a sense that when a round rod finds a round hole fitted to its insertion into it, there is the perception of beauty. Beauty, then, is the experience roused in oneself of a sense of completeness on the recognition of one’s exact counterpart in the outer world, whether this perception is sensory or intellectual. The perception of beauty turns out to be a psycho-physical condition subtly brought about by factors deeply underlying the correlation between the human mind as the subject and the world outside as the object. This interesting psychological truth would be seen to be the basis of even such apparently altruistic activities of human nature as the pursuit of human culture, the interest in the field of study as history, the need for law and regulation in society and the institutions—civic, social and political governance, etc. Man himself is the basis and the cause of all that he does, all that he needs and all that he thinks are the necessary values of life. In a word, man sees himself outside and studies himself, looking at himself as in a mirror under the erroneous notion that he is studying something thoroughly external and unconnected with himself, which misconception is the cause of the failure of modern educational systems in the realisation of the final aim of life.

Man, thus, comes to realise that a study of the scientific principles of Psycho-analysis becomes a further development in the curriculum of a true system of education that could be adopted with good as its result. The study of Psycho-analysis is fundamentally a study of the intrinsic urges of human nature, which, to a large extent, condition even the functioning of man’s rational powers. Western Psycho-analysts have thought that the basic urges of human nature are those of the instinct for food, the instinct for sex and the instinct for power. When these urges get defeated or frustrated by opposing forces, either due to the inadequacy of the proper means to fulfil them or due to the operation of the laws and rules framed by outer society, the mind sets up protective reactions known as ‘defense mechanisms’ and tries to fulfil itself either directly by obtaining the necessary ‘means’ even by unlawful ways, or by defying the operating rules and regulations outside by subtle devices of cunning, or indirectly by regression to the lower levels of satisfaction, by seeking the next best thing available immediately below the level of what is the main objective. If even the next best is not available, the mind can go down to the third level below, and so on, until, if all forms of approach become futile, the urges react upon themselves seeking satisfaction in their own selves, which condition is called mania or a psychopathic condition—a state of mental illness where one enjoys merely by imagination. The study of Psycho-analysis is very important since it is an ignorance of the workings of the human mind that is mostly responsible for the anxieties, worries and tensions that harass people everywhere. It is this ignorance that is at the background of people often projecting their own feelings upon other persons and things and, vice versa, assuming the character of other persons and things in themselves, all which cannot be regarded as a healthy state of mind. The Upanishads make mention of what they call ‘eshanas’, or instinctive cravings, namely, those of wealth, sex and fame, which may be said to correspond to the urges of self-preservation of the physical organism, of self-reproduction and the preservation of the ego, respectively. In the West, Jung, Freud and Adler have exclusively devoted themselves to the study of these primary drives of human nature. It is imperative that students of psychology and seekers on the spiritual path should be well-versed in the diagnosis of these natural urges of the human nature, in order not only to obviate the chances of getting subjugated by them but also to channelise them for a higher and more constructive purpose, as is the case with the rushing waters of the river which can be allowed to damage towns and villages or can be diverted ably for purposes of irrigation and agriculture, and such other useful ends. Human activities are not so impersonal and altruistic as they are made to appear, for a careful study of man reveals that all that he does is an outward manifestation of the needs he feels within due to the very nature of the manner in which his mind and body are made as a complex living organism. Though a person may think that he wills freely of his own choice, he cannot know why he wills at all in that particular way. This would cut the ground from under the feet of human freedom and open the gates to the existence of a Power which seems to be directing even the will of the individual.

The studies in Psycho-analysis are not complete in themselves in spite of the fact that they give the clue to the operation of subtle personal factors behind the vast objective activities of mankind; for, the reason behind the state of affairs which seems to be compelling man to work as well as evaluate things in terms of the direction and colour given by his own instincts, is something subtler and more pervasive than the workings of the instincts themselves. It is unfortunate that the Western psychological studies have not gone beyond what they call Depth-psychology, meaning thereby the psycho-analytic researches heralded by Freud, Adler and Jung, and propounded by their disciples and admirers. It is in the Upanishads and the yoga-Sutras of Patanjali that we have a profound discovery made, pointing out the rationale behind the manner in which the human instincts and urges act in the person as well as in the outer world. Behind Psycho-analysis is Psychology which covers a wider field than that envisaged by the former.

A very succinct and aphoristic maxim on the essentials of General Psychology has been given by Patanjali in the first chapter of his yoga-Sutras, wherein he states that right knowledge, wrong knowledge, doubt, sleep and memory are the ‘non-painful psychoses’ (aklishta-vrittis) of the mind, meaning thereby that these processes of the psychological organ are something unnatural to its essential nature. The nature of human perception is the cause of the way in which the human instincts operate, and what human perception is, is indicated in the aphorism stated above. The point involved here is that affections and emotions, loves, hatreds and all evaluations of life in general are relative to the conditions of one’s consciousness of objects. To take only the first part of this aphoristic enunciation of Patanjali, the process of man’s perception and inferential knowledge of objects is the consequence of a reciprocal action on the part of the subject and the object of knowledge. The instincts and urges, though they may be regarded as the subtle inner causative factors behind most of human actions and dispositions, have thus a still further cause behind them. And this deeper cause is the very structure of the knowledge-process itself. Inasmuch as this knowledge-process is a consequent product of a reciprocity obtaining between the subject and the object, it may be said that there is behind the operation of the urges and instincts of human nature, the power of the whole universe—a reason, perhaps, why the urges appear so involuntary, uncontrollable and impetuous in their functions—for the object of knowledge is nothing but the universe itself. The implication of the suggestion of Patanjali is to be had in greater detail in the vaster researches of the Vedanta philosophy. Patanjali is very short and does not explain what he seeks to indicate. The idea is that the whole mental process in its conscious, sub-conscious and unconscious levels is a complex involvement in the characteristics of both the subject and the object of knowledge, so that the studies in General Psychology extend beyond the mere conscious-operations of the mind. Conditions of loss of consciousness, such as sleep, are also included in these psychological studies. As a matter of fact, even psycho-pathology and parapsychology are not outside the purview of General Psychology in its proper meaning.