The Ascent of the Spirit
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 16: The Aims of Human Existence - III

The secret of success is in the concept of the universal, and this is the crucial point in the adjustment of human thought. Inasmuch as Reality is a non-externalised organism with no object outside it and also as success is obviously the outcome of consonance with the nature of Reality, it follows that to achieve success in any direction in life, it is obligatory that the endeavour for success should be always in consonance with the demands of a non-externalised structure of thinking.

Whenever one starts thinking, the thought happens to be the one of an object, whether physical or conceptual. But it is always forgotten that the object of thought is a part of the organic structure of the universe, of which, very unfortunately, the thinker himself is a part. Great wonder, indeed! How can thought function, then, under such circumstances? This is the problem. But this is also the secret of success. For, success is the name that is given to the manifestation of the nature of Reality in one’s experience, whatever be the degree, extent or intensity of that manifestation. It can be mild or emphatic, partial or highly pronounced, visible or invisible, but of the form of an internal illumination or an external achievement.

And how is this success achieved, after all? By the tuning of thought with the universe, is the answer. And what does it mean? It means simply the bringing of the object of thought, whatever it be, in a togetherness which fuses its bodily structure and entire constitution with the total being of the subject, so that one can say either that the object is thinking the object or that the subject is thinking the subject, but not that the subject is thinking the object. The former method leads to success, the latter to failure. The reason is simple, for, the object thinking the object is another name for the subject thinking the subject, since the object is a subject from its own standpoint. But the moment the object is isolated from the subject and becomes an externalised content of the subject, it flees away from the clutches of the subject, as it were, for, then, the object is wrested from the organic nature of the universe, which is also the nature of Reality.

The whole of life is an effort of the spirit within to unite itself with the universe outside. This is so because the spirit is universal in nature and cannot rest peacefully even for a moment in the locality of a personal body. This is the reason why everything, everywhere, is in a state of restlessness, and all life is a scene of intense struggle for something of which one may not be always aware. This is a truth which a lay mind cannot fully understand and it requires some sort of a specialised training of the mind to come to an appreciable knowledge of this fact.

But the spirit within cannot become one with the universe outside, though this seems to be its intention; hence the struggle without any achievement. This is so because the spirit has no outside, and it would be futile to seek for a unity with anything that is really outside, though this something that is outside may be the entire universe itself. Those who know the art of yoga are able to detect this snag in the effort of the spirit within to come in union with anything outside by way of proximity, possession and enjoyment, all which is ultimately a meaningless wish and hope of the spirit within, for the reasons mentioned. Knowing this, adepts in yoga endeavour hard to fix the spirit within in a universality not which is without, not also which is merely within, but which it really ‘is’; which means to say that the spirit ceases to be something which is within, but itself becomes the universal which it was erroneously seeking as an outside something and with which it sought to get united by means of its instruments of action, namely the body, the senses and the ego. This yoga is humanly impossible to practise, but there is no other alternative. It is something like saying with the poet, in another context: “You are not to question why; you are but to do and die.”

But, and it is a difficult ‘but’ indeed, man is not destined to practise this kind of yoga, because the weaknesses of the body and the ego attempt to render fruitless even the first step that one may try to take in this noble and sublime direction. Then, what does the spirit within do? It cannot tread the path of true yoga mentioned above, for the reasons stated; but it also cannot rest peacefully in a localised body without coming in contact with the universal. Then it tries to search out certain milder alternatives in the form of a via media of approach in its attempt to unite itself with the universe outside. This via media or golden mean is what it attempts in trying to achieve that impossible unity with things outside, by what is known as social organisation. This achievement is something between true spirituality which is the ultimate aim of yoga and utter isolation in a bodily individuality with which no one can rest contented, again, for the reasons already mentioned.

The initial unit of a social organisation is the family and the group of intimate blood relations. The individual spirit feels tentatively satisfied with this artificial expansion it has created by externally connecting itself with the members of the family. This is a pleasant but a humorous solution of problems which are deep-rooted in the very nature of the spirit. But one knows very well that the family cannot survive if the community threatens it, and so one becomes a member of the community larger than a family. But the nation can threaten the community and the international atmosphere can threaten the nation also, and then one has no other go than to participate in a national membership or even an international membership such as that provided in the formation of a United Nations Organisation, and the like. It is quite obvious that this is not likely to be a successful attempt in the end, because the members of a social body, however large it may be, cannot unite one with the other, since bodies are the vehicles of the ego and the essence of egoism is repulsion of other egos, though for the time being it may look that one ego agrees with the other by a certain amount of sacrifice of its nature when it feels that its wishes cannot be fulfilled without such a surrender or acquiescence in the wishes of other egos also. All this is a mischievous drama, indeed, of the ego-ridden individuality. Though the drama is beautiful to witness, it has a mischief at the back of it, namely, human selfishness which will find its way out today or tomorrow, when circumstances become favourable. This is life.

There is another peculiar feature of social organisation which makes itself felt as necessary for social welfare, social progress and even personal advantage. But, it should not be forgotten that no organisation can have any sense in it if it has not got the ‘character’ of an ‘organisation’. Many people sitting together do not make a social body. A social body is that assemblage of individuals which represents some percentage, at least, of ‘universality’ in it, which is the nature of the spirit, which is indivisible being. The ability to reflect the character of the spirit, namely, symmetry of structure and perfect coordination in action, is precisely the ability to find oneself in others, when alone one can work for others. To find oneself in others does not mean getting oneself attached to the ‘otherness’ in others or enforcing the will of one’s own personality on others, but calls for a voluntary cooperative spirit manifest in different degrees, harmoniously, at the different levels of organisation, because an organisation has not only a horizontal expansiveness but also a vertical ascending nature, which is a reflection of the degrees of Ultimate Reality. When the character of the spirit is not, in this manner, adequately reflected in the external social organisation, the spirit within comes in conflict with it, and vice versa. This is what is called social tension and personal tension.

Now, to mention a word about what this organisation means, or what it ought to mean, in order that it may be compatible with the spirit that is universal. There should neither be any element or feature in the organisation which will either contradict or try to defeat the purpose of the spirit nor any element or feature which will affirm the reality of externals either by way of temptation or by way of opposition. Because all these elements and features are incompatible with the nature of the spirit. Such are, for example, any set of circumstances which can provide a free and easy outlet for the instincts for wealth, sex and fame, which are the main causes of personality-assertion and the disintegration of the ‘organisation’, quite other than the spiritual universality that is the great Aim of Life.

To allow anything to happen at any time in any manner will be to compel the seeking spirit to live in an atmosphere of uncertainty and insecurity and, because the spirit is perfect certainty and perfect security, it cannot live in peace in such an atmosphere. Here the intention behind the social body is defeated of its purpose. This purpose can be defeated by a subtle impervious individuality, nay, even egoism, that can manifest itself from the personalities that are supposed to constitute the social body. This undesirable character in the members of such a body can reveal itself not necessarily in an ostensible or clamorous way but can become a secretly annoying and irritating atmosphere to the spirit whose longings are obviously far removed from the mere formation of a social body or working through its media.
Also, it should be the wisdom of the framers of the social organisation to see that no undesirable feature of the types enumerated above is allowed to percolate into its structure even at the most initial of its stages, because small mistakes committed in ‘the beginning can assume large proportions and become awful confrontations after some time. And not to pay any attention to these aspects of social life, which has been accepted, after all, as only a tentative necessity, a necessary evil rather, would be to live in a fool’s paradise and allow the wrath of Nature or, may we say, the wrath of God, to take its course, when other means of advice and coercion fail. May we also remember that Nature is not ethical and moral in the sense of any human sentiment, a fact which can be seen in daily life, when it can be perfectly just and in order for a court of law to pass death-sentence even on a person who may be regarded as an indispensable by social sentiments and feelings, a good nature for the matter of that, or even a genius in some field of life. Justice is impersonal, and so is the law of Nature, and the law of God. Where the requisite amount of impersonality is absent, whether in an individual or in a social body, it can turn to be a menace, a Frankenstein’s monster, a creation which, instead of tending towards the universality of spirit, may become a serious handicap, a sorrow which can be worse than the condition in. which one would have found oneself even without forming a social set-up of any kind.

To sum up: Firstly, social life is not the ultimate aim of life, because the spirit which is the Ultimate Aim is not a social structure but Indivisible Being. Hence, no one can be really happy in a contrived atmosphere of such an invented instrument which is not a solution but only an alternative of escape from the main problem. Secondly, even the little meaning that is possibly discoverable in social life would be absent when the nature of the spirit which is universality, freedom, spontaneity and absence of compulsion are absent in it. Thirdly, social life is not merely a means of external security but of inward growth and expansion, and to allow elements and features to prevail in social life which would stultify the requisites for further progress into the true universality of Godhood would pain the spirit to such an extent that it would naturally recoil from such a set-up, in an agony which will perforce drive it to find the proper ways and means of functioning consciously on the way to the attainment of the only aim that there can be in life.

We may call this the story of the anguish of the spirit, or the epic of the soul’s struggle to reach the Absolute.