The Ascent of the Spirit
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 8: The Crisis of Consciousness - II

The self-affirmative urge in the individual is too crafty to be contented merely with a simple act of affirmation itself. It manipulates itself and works its ways through a personal concrescence of form as well as a social relationship of attitude. The self-affirmative urge, usually called the ego, can assume demoniacal shapes when it gets into a frenzy of passion for ulfilling its cravings to affirm itself as vehemently as possible, in its own person as well as through its social relationships. People can become very indecent even in human society when it comes to a question of what they call their prestige or status, which is another name for the demand for recognition of oneself by others. When this recognition is not forthcoming, there is a violent reaction either by way of condemnation of others’ virtue and reputation or by a loud proclamation of one’s achievement and importance. Criticism of others is obviously a form of self-affirmation, a kind of worship of oneself as an individual segregated from others. To this fire fuel is added when one positively praises oneself and announces one’s position and importance in the face of the existence of other individuals like one’s own self. The love of name and fame, status and prestige, adulation and worship, is a devilish passion which can become more virulent than the sex-urge when it is given a long rope. But social ethics, a convenient creation of man by which he condemns what can be conveniently avoided and sanctions what he cannot avoid, naming it the code of morality and giving it even a touch of the divine ordinance of the Creator Himself, seems to have permitted the rapacious movements of the forms of self-adoration which, as has been pointed out, has the two sides of justifying oneself and condemning others. Self-justification and belittling others need not always take that open shape of any visible act of the individual; it works better by subtle inner attitudes which have become socially permissible as tact in dealing, etiquette of society, shrewdness of conduct and culture of behaviour. The devil becomes all the more powerful when it puts on the attire of a god, for here it is mistaken for what it is not. The extent of the immortality that is behind self-assertion of any kind, though it may not be visible to the eyes of the credulous populace, can be imagined by the intensity of the nature of the alienation of oneself from the Infinite that this attitude implies.

The self-affirmative urge originates in the causal body of the individual, operates through the subtle body and manifests itself through the gross body, so that the urge is a finished product of expert intelligence. This complex self-affirmation which is the psycho-physical individuality of the human being is not a simple isolated unit, merrily affirming itself in seclusion, in the closed room of self-complacency. Self-affirmation is vitally connected with the social instinct of the desire to receive approbation from outside, so that the act of self-affirmation is the immediate effect of a double productive process of personal aggrandisement of both the mind and the body to the greatest extent possible and at the same time a compulsive demand to receive confirmation of this assumed self-grandeur from other people in society. It has again many forms: to think that one’s thoughts, feelings and decisions are right and cannot be wrong; that those who contradict these thoughts, feelings and decisions are in the wrong; that the lofty feelings one has of one’s own self are logically justifiable and socially necessary; that one’s requirement of recognition from others is an obligatory act of justice due to oneself from society; that the various forms that self-affirmation may put on are really not acts of egoistic self-affirmation but virtuous activities contributory to one’s spiritual progress and to the unselfish service of others from oneself; and that the world has totally mistaken oneself and judged oneself wrongly in its disapproval of one’s conduct and action. How mysterious is human personality!

The Upanishad tells us that the immediate consequence of a fall from the Infinite is the finite feeling and the intense hunger within itself due to which it is said to have cried loudly that it needs sustenance. This hunger is nothing but that wondrously elusive instinct of ‘self-preservation’. The process of self-preservation does not simply mean an asking for physical food to appease the appetite of the stomach or water to quench the thirst of the throat: the urge for self-preservation is the asking for all the facilities necessary to maintain the psycho-physical organism, which includes the body, the mind and the ego. We have already considered adequately some of the characteristics of the human ego, especially. This is the function of the psychic part of the organism. The physical part asks for material food and drink. But the intention of it all is obviously a seeking for contributory factors to the sustenance of the individuality as a whole—in traditional language, of the entire complex of the panchakosas or the five vestures of the individuality, namely, the causal, intellectual, mental, vital and physical. This ‘total urge’ towards self-preservation is the cry of the individual for making good the loss that it has incurred in cutting itself off from the vital energy of the Infinite Substance. It struggles, weeps and tries to find ways and means of freedom from this unexpected agony that has befallen it suddenly as it were as a bolt from the blue. What can it do? It cannot return to the Infinite, though it is its deep and intense desire. It cannot so return, because this fall from the Infinite is supposed to be preceded by an ignorance of what has actually happened. Hence there is no chance of knowing the way back to that from which one has fallen. Else, there would have been a right-about-turn of the finite to the Infinite. This is made impossible by the ignorance that is mysteriously antecedent to all conscious effort. Hence the finite cannot return to the Infinite. It cannot, however, return to the true Infinite; it therefore finds a way to identify itself with a false infinite which it creates out of its own miscalculation and erroneous judgment. This false infinite is the asking for the largest magnitude of material possessions and for self-perpetuation in an infinite variety of efforts.

To clinch the whole position: the history of man’s fall is contained microscopically in the deep-rooted urge for hunger, self-assertion and sex. The first two are only phases of a single posture adopted towards self-preservation, the third one being an independent twist given to self-preservation through posterity by perpetuation of one’s species. As we have already noted above, the sex-urge is really a misnomer for what is really a super-individualistic pressure felt by the split parts of a single cell towards unification and self-perpetuation. Perhaps there is something still deeper in all this. The individual regards the whole universe as its object in a general way and, hence, it is quite understandable that the universe exerts a tremendous pressure on the individual calling for a unification of the universe and the individual. But this pressure is misunderstood and misinterpreted. It is regarded as a spatio-temporal intention to perpetuate the psycho-physical individuality, for it is easy to mistake this self-perpetuating urge for an achievement of objective immortality of the continuance of oneself through eternity. The eternal or the immortal is the same as consciousness, for consciousness alone can be such; it recovers itself now and then into a blinded feeling towards the necessity for manifesting eternity in its life and this blinded urge is what is known as sex-urge. The eternal which is the infinitude of existence inseparable from the infinitude of consciousness gets distorted through the individual which seeks an infinitude of one’s own forms through the procreation of children and a perpetuation of oneself through the false eternity of time by this very act. The hunger-urge, the self-affirmative urge and the sex-urge are the three ostensible fierce forms of an obstinate clinging to empirical life, for which the individual involved in empiricality cannot find a solution. The love of sex is not really a love between male and female, as it is usually supposed to be, but a camouflage of the urge for parenthood which necessitates self-expression through union of sexes.

The beauty that the sexes feel between each other is the glamour projected by this super-individual urge in the form of the sexes so that it may be safely said that sexual beauty which is visible to the male in the female and to the female in the male is the form of that lost identity of uni-sexuality which preceded the subsequent manifestation of the bi-sexual individuals. Then, what is sexual beauty? Does it really exist? Yes, it does, and it does not. It exists because it is seen; it does not exist because what is seen is not beauty but something else which is mistaken for what is known as beauty. The beauty of the sexes that is visible is the consequence of a similarity of vibration that takes place in the vital and physical organisms of the personality which gets pulled magnetically towards the opposite sex since it sees in the opposite sex not merely a person like oneself but a strange ‘meaning’ which is read into the body of the person, this meaning being the cause for the perception of beauty more than the person as such. This is very clearly observable in the fact that a youth is not sexually attracted towards a newly born baby or a centenarian. In fact the youth seeks only a youth and not anything else, because youth is the meaning that is sought by youth and beauty is mostly inseparable from youth. This would be a diagnosis of the cause whereby we discover that the sexual urge is the pressure of the species which is an ulterior motive behind the apparent attraction of the sexes, just as we say these days that students are made tools of revolutionary activities intended by tactful politicians whose purposes get fulfilled by the utilisation of students as stooges. This analysis of the sex-instinct does not, however, diminish the vehemency of its expression in personal life because while the analysis is ‘rational’, its expression is ‘affective’ working through the feelings which ordinarily do not go hand in hand with the understanding. Sexual characters are of two kinds: primary and secondary. The primary ones are respected mostly in primitive tribal life whereas modern civilisation goes after the secondary characters. The primary characters are those connected directly with the procreational act which is the main intention of the urge and which was naively given the primary importance in primitive civilisation. But modern man is more sophisticated and intentionally tries to hide the primary purpose of one’s sexual life and gives importance to the secondary sexual characters of the physical personality which are only external indications of the primary productive capacity of the individual in connection with procreation. This has made modern life more artificial, more removed from reality and so more unhappy, too. How could one hide fact and be at ease with oneself?

Self-preservation and self-reproduction are the spatio-temporal forms taken by the absolute character of the eternity of Consciousness. The ‘fall’ is a single act with the threefold downward pressure of psychic self-affirmation, physical self-affirmation and the urge for self-perpetuation. The threefold instinct acts simultaneously, only manifesting a particular phase at a particular time attended with favourable circumstances, so that the psycho-physical affirmation and the sex-urge, though they are present in the individual at all times hiddenly or expressedly, assume special emphasis under given conditions alone, even as a seed thrown into the soil germinates only when the conditions suited to its sprouting manifest themselves in course of time. Here is a crucial point which has to be taken notice of particularly by those who have dedicated their lives to tread the ‘path of return’ to the Absolute, on which subject a little dilation of understanding is called for.

The consciousness that has split itself into the knowing subject and the known object is linked together in its parts by a mediating feature which is known as the presiding deity (Devata) superintending over the individual’s functions in relation to their corresponding objects in the external world. Seekers of Truth, or students of yoga, have their own human weaknesses by which they quickly revert to giving a unjustifiable importance to the subjective feature of their personalities, not being able at the same time to keep a watch over the fact that their subjective personalities are inextricably interwoven with their objects as well as with the ‘presiding’ principles connecting them with the objects. This natural foible of human nature to be seen markedly even in advanced seekers and Yogis; becomes a cause for their fall from the aim which they have set before themselves originally, no doubt with a pious intention. But piety alone will not succeed in a world of impersonal forces. Good intentions are of course good enough, but the world is made up of such stuff that noble intentions alone will not cut ice with it. The world is not a friend of anyone in the sense of a father or a mother who would be expected to pardon even grave faults of their children, though sometimes it looks as if the world is often capable of being too lenient upon the behaviour of its contents. But this apparent affection of the world for its citizens is a mistaken view that one may take of the more sublime attitude of justice and fair play, not excluding the intention of goodness and kindness, which is discoverable in the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Which is more honourable: the mother’s love for her child or the judge’s love for his client? Has not the world relentlessly cast aside the sentimental affections of the public audience which craved the great men of history to be spared the pains of receiving its orders of exit from the grand scene of the role they were playing in the beautiful drama of human history? Where is an instance that one can cite in which the forces of cosmic history have showed sentimental pity over even the greatest of geniuses and the most beautiful souls that the world would like to adore in its hearts? Why should there be this travestied end of the magnificent performances of the heroes in the different fields of life? Is life a tragedy after all? Is there any such thing as love, friendship and perpetual cooperation between persons? Can history stand witness to any of these coveted ambitions of human emotion?

The answer seems to be simple enough. The universe is a vast arena of the work of powers which have the single aim of fulfilling the integrality of the structure of all creation: the ultimate indivisibility of the Absolute. The seeker of the Absolute, if he contents himself to remain merely in the human level of value-assessments, would prove himself to be an awful failure in his otherwise noble pursuits and praiseworthy attempts. The universe is not made up of personalities—men, women and children—or of things in the sense of objects that we would like to possess or avoid. The universe is differently made. It is not constituted of things or objects but of an urge or a tendency towards self-unification in the all-comprehensive infinitude of existence. More properly, we should say that the universe is a law that is operating rather than a thing that exists. And this law is like that of a State, which does dot regard its citizens as brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, but as subjects to its operation impersonally. Seekers who are endeavouring to direct their consciousness to the Absolute may miss this point and even, in sufficiently advanced stages of practice the subjective aspect of their being can gain an upper hand and put the cart before the horse, thus stultifying the main purpose in view. It is humanly impossible for anyone to bear in mind always the correlatedness of oneself with the outer atmosphere of the so-called persons and things around; it is always believed by instinct that the objects, whether persons or things, are to be ‘dealt with’ in some manner, that is, one always regards oneself as a totally isolated subject and thus it is that one comes a cropper in one’s attempt in any direction in one’s life. There seems to be failure everywhere without a hope of success anywhere, all because there is a basic misconstruing and misinterpretation of one’s relation to the objective world.

The subjective assessment of oneself is at the root of all troubles. One always refers to oneself as the ‘I’ and acts as such in all dealings. Unfortunately for this ‘I’, it does not really exist, for it is an upstart that has unwarrantedly arisen out of the confusion of characters between the subject and the object, just as a ‘nobody’ may suddenly become a leader of people when a state of anarchy prevails in the country. But the ‘I’ is merely a notion, it is not an existent something. It is a notion of there being some such a thing as a partitioned consciousness, the impossibility of which position has been already pointed out. But this false notion works by means of an artifice and enters the hearts of even Yogis, saints and sages so that not even a celestial can be said to be free from the notion of the ‘I’, the engenderer of all consequent errors and problems of life.

The notion of the ‘I’ not only posits an object of contemplation before itself but connects with this idea all the other corollaries that follow from this position, once it gains acceptance as validly established. The phenomenal urges of hunger, fame and sex can easily gain entry into this newly built mansion of even the ‘seeking’ soul which has somehow reconciled itself with the very view which it was originally its purpose to obviate and transcend. Consciousness which refuses itself to be segmented into parts of any kind sought freedom from the consequences of this fragmentation which it suffered from by means of resort to the practice of yoga and meditation on the Supreme Reality. But the fragmented consciousness does not so easily get freed from its basic notions which have originated from the accepted fact of there being such a fragmentation of itself. This interesting feature of the otherwise pious efforts of consciousness does not part company even with honestly dedicated seekers, this feature getting identified with their honesty itself! Thus it is that the love of name, fame and social recognition can become an organic part of the honesty of belief in one’s being really engaged in yoga and meditation of the great spiritual Reality, so that, that which is sought to be avoided has very intelligently managed to worm itself into the very aim that one is after. This is the manner in which other impulses also get themselves associated inseparably with the consciousness of the aspiration for ultimate freedom from the trammels and sufferings given rise to by a division in the divisionless consciousness. The impulses are many but as we have observed above they can be boiled down to the physical urge of hunger, the psychic urge for name and fame and the vital urge for sex. It is usually held that the desire for wealth is also a primary impulse. But on a careful examination of this question it will be seen that no one seeks wealth for its own sake: it is sought as an instrument of utilitarian value for the fulfilment of the major urges of hunger, social recognition and sex. One may feel surprised that such an enormous value of life as wealth should be suddenly reduced to the status of a simple working device of only three instincts. Yes; it will be seen that much of the importance that we give to the so-called valuable assets of the world is a child born of no parents but pretending to be an emperor’s heir-apparent. We can safely set aside the special significance of material wealth in the light of the fact that it has no meaning where society does not exist, that is, where the need for the mechanism of give-and-take does not arise. Even supposing that society is a self-existing something independent of the individual, its existence gets suffused into that of the individual since social values cannot be different from those associated with the needs of the human individual. And what are these needs? The instincts, the urges.