The Ascent of the Spirit
by Swami Krishnananda


The ideal of humanity is spiritual. This is a thesis which cannot be set aside by any observant mind. Even where it appears to be the opposite for all practical observations, even in crass materialistic approaches of life, the movements are not really bereft of the spiritual sense, if we are to be psycho-analytically observant of the motive forces behind attitudes to life. Even the worst of men have a spiritual element hiddenly present, and the vicious movements which we observe in humanity in many a circle may sometimes confound us into a doubt as to whether the Spirit which is held to be Omnipresent can be the motive force behind these perpetrations. Yes, is the answer. Even the least of events has a hidden purpose and motive, though not visible outside but covertly present—the motive, which rightly or wrongly, by various types of meanderings in the desert of life, directs itself towards awakening into the consciousness of what it is really seeking. The errors of mankind are really the products of ignorance, and an ignorance of a fact cannot be equated with a denial of that fact. The absence of a palpable consciousness of the ideal of human life cannot be regarded as a violation of it root and branch, or a complete absence of it.

The movements of human nature in the world of space and time, in the society of people, and in the process of history, are motivated by subtle, deep impulses, and the target which they generally aim at may be physical, material, economic or social, quite the other side of what one would regard as Spirit, or the spiritual. But this apparent contradiction does not defeat the purpose. There is only a winding intricate process of human nature in its struggle to awaken itself to a consciousness of what its real needs are, and these processes of the various forms of struggle are the history of mankind right from creation up to this day. Whatever we have heard about mankind’s efforts and moves, whatever we regard as desirable or otherwise, whatever has caused us joy or pain—everything, excluding nothing, can be comprehended within the motivation which is a Single Universal Impulse.

The Universal Urge is really the Spiritual Impetus, and we need not use the word ‘spiritual’ to designate it, if we so wish. But an all-consuming impulse towards a Common Aim is what may be regarded as the spiritual aspiration or the basic urge of the individual nature. It may not be visible in the proper intensity or proportion at certain given levels of experience. But that an expected percentage of it is not visible on the surface is not a reason why one should not give it the credit it deserves. All that we are inside does not come to the surface of our conscious life, as we all very well know; yet we are that which is there ready to come to the surface of our mind one day or the other as the motivating force of our lives, whether in this life or in the lives to come. The urges of human nature are really universal in their comprehension; they are not individual, they are not even social in the sense in which we try to define society. Whatever be the desires of mankind, they are universal in their sweep: because they are present in every being—in me, in you and even in the inorganic levels of manifestation, in different forms and expression.

There is a struggle of every individual structure or pattern to communicate itself with other such centres of force, and it is this tendency within the individual patterns or structures to melt into the being of others that is the beginning of all spiritual aspiration. What is gravitation if not a spiritual urge? What is this force that pulls the earth round the sun if it is not spiritual? We may wonder how the force of gravitation can be spiritual, because it is known to be a physical phenomenon. But, it is all a question of nomenclature. We may call it physical, psychological, social, ethical, moral, or spiritual, as we like. The point is, what is it essentially? Why is there any pull at all—the pull of moral force, the pull of psychic contents, the pull of love and affection? What is it that pulls one thing towards another? Why is it that anything should gravitate towards some centre? What is the intention, what is the purpose, what is the motive and what is the secret behind this urge? If we dispassionately analyse the springs behind human nature, and the tendencies of anything and everything in the world, even in inorganic levels, we will find that there is a ‘feeling’, sometimes consciously manifest and at other times unconsciously present, for coming in contact with that which lies outside oneself and to appreciate the feelings and points-of-view of others, so that there is a desire for the commingling of points of view, and this urge, aspiration or feeling will not cease unless the Universal Point-of-View is reached. Whether this is known today or not, it is a different matter; because all human beings are not in the same stage of evolution. It is, therefore, unfair and pointless to expect everyone to be on the same level of understanding. If certain sections of humanity do not appear to be spiritual, it does not mean that they do not want spirituality. They are just unable to grasp the meaning behind their own aspirations, activities and motives in life. That they cannot understand what is the motive behind their activity or expectation is a point which need not be equated with what is regarded as the opposite of the spiritual need. There cannot be two ideals for mankind, ultimately. Whether one is in China or Peru, the basic ingredients of human nature do not change or differ. The ideal of mankind, the ideal of all beings, even subhuman, or superhuman, cannot be other than one, and it is the restlessness characterised by the presence of this urge that is the cause for all enterprises in life. The factory-goer, the labourer, the officer, whatever he is, people who sweat and toil for various apparently diversified motives in life, are all working for a common purpose—a purpose which is not clear to their minds at present. When we come to a level of understanding which is adequate to the purpose, we will be able to visualise the commonness that is present behind every attitude of every human being, even in an apparent disparity of purpose.

Human nature is variegated. It is not all men and women that are fully human beings. We have animal nature in human nature mixed up sometimes, or oftentimes, and it gets rarefied as evolution rises higher and higher. So we may safely say that even among human beings we have animal-men, even as we have selfish men, ordinary men, good men, saintly men and God-men. We cannot say that all are of the same type or grade, and it is impossible therefore for every human being to entertain the same attitude towards life or put forth the same kind of effort. What is the ideal of life of a cat or a mouse or a buffalo? Well, one may think they have no aims. It is just munching food and chewing the cud, and they have no other aim except to yield to the instincts which preponderate in them. But, nevertheless, the Spirit is not absent there in its essentiality; it is a sleeping condition of the Spirit. Often we have heard it said that the Spirit sleeps in matter, dreams in plants, thinks in animals and understands in human beings. But it has not fully awakened itself to a comprehensive self-awareness even in the human nature. There is a gamut of ascent further up from the human level, about which we are told much in such scriptures as the Upanishads. There is no end to the aspiration of a human being and no one can rest peacefully, whatever be the wealth one has or the power one wields in life, until the Universal-Point-of-View becomes a part and parcel of one’s practical life. This Point-of-View is called the Spiritual Outlook of Life.

Now, the Universal-Point-of-View that we are concerned with here need not necessarily be God’s Point-of-View, because the Highest Cosmic Spirit may not manifest itself immediately in an individual’s life, but the ideal cannot be ignored. The essence of spiritual life, or spirituality, is the ability on the part of a person to keep before the mind’s eye the ideal of universal harmony and universal existence, though it has not fully become a part of one’s life now. We may not be God-men, God-realisation might not have come as yet, but the ideal cannot be missed. The judgment of lower values and the meaning of practical existence in terms of the requirements of the higher spiritual ideals can also be regarded as a step towards spiritual life.

A spiritual life is that conduct or way of living and mode of thinking and understanding which enables one to interpret every situation in life—physical, social, ethical, political or psychological—from the point of view of the ideal that is above and is yet to be reached, notwithstanding the fact that it is a remote ideal in the future. The inability to interpret the practical affairs of life and the present state of existence in terms of the higher ideal immediately succeeding would make us incomplete human beings and keep us unhappy. It has only the animal nature that is incapacitated in this respect. The animals and even human beings who have the animal nature preponderating in them cannot interpret present situations from the point of view of the ideal that is transcendent to the present state. And once we are awakened to the capacity of being able to understand and interpret the lower in the light of the higher, then it is that we can be called real humans, for the superiority of humans over animals lies just in this special endowment. Merely because one walks with two legs, one need not necessarily be regarded as truly human. Unless there is the human nature, human character manifest in a person, there would not be any meaning in holding that person to be entirely human. Such persons may have the physical characters of humanity and one may include them, thus, in humanity, but psychologically they are still lower—anger, jealousy and violence are sufficient evidences. It is these people who cause frictions, tensions, battles and wars in the human world. The psychological awakening of the individual into what is called humanity or human nature is really the beginning of spiritual aspiration.

To conclude, I would like to point out that there cannot be anything wholly unspiritual anywhere, and there are no out-and-out non-spiritual beings in the world, and even those who hold, apparently, the opposite of the spiritual ideal, and work for the contrary of it, are wrongly working for it;the very same ideal. They are like blind men searching for light in the blaze of the sun. Everyone, fundamentally, struggles towards the same Goal, the same purpose, which today we call the spiritual ideal, though everyone might not have awakened himself to the status of a really aspiring humanity, and one’s mind might not have reached up to the purified condition of the ability to grasp the meaningfulness of the internal relationship and the interconnectedness of all things in creation, which fact, fortunately for us today, even physical science is trying to demonstrate, and master-physicists seem to be stumbling upon the philosophical and spiritual levels by sheer force of logic and observation, which is indeed to be regarded as a ray of hope for the future of mankind. It is possible that a time may come when people will be able to recognise the real meaning behind even their errors, attachments and aversions, and the reason behind the restlessness and unhappiness that seeps into their vitals, some time or the other, a phenomenon which no one can escape experiencing in life.

Thus, the coming to an awareness of what people regard as international existence, unity of mankind, or the brotherhood of humanity, which everyone speaks of and aspires for in various walks of life, through social welfare service, philanthropic activity, cultural conferences, and the like, should be a practicable aim, without doubt. I am sure, God is not dead, and if He is alive, it is impossible for mankind to go wrong always, though in the beginning it may appear that there is perhaps an erroneous movement of feelings on account of the insufficiency of the awakening of the Spirit which is the Ideal, which has already manifested itself fully in some, and is trying to impose itself like a healing recipe, in many ways, in everyone’s life. What we call Spiritual Awakening is the inward urge and tendency and capacity of the psychological pattern of individuals which is able to comprehend and realise in its compass the universal reference and relevance that is perforce present even in the least of motives and the lowest of actions. Victory awaits us all.