Hegel’s Concept of Absolute Universality
by Swami Krishnananda

(Spoken on March 30, 1997)

The origin of law has been discussed by thinkers such as Thomas Hobbs, Rousseau, John Locke, Plato, Aristotle, and others. Now, it may be true that the historical origin of law is based on a contract because Thomas Hobbs holds the view that every person is a wolf, and no one is better or worse than the other. In this condition of the law of nature in which people were living, ready to pounce upon one another’s neck, the wolves joined together, had a conference, and said, “This kind of unsafe existence is of no use. We should not live like this with such insecurity, so we shall have an agreement among ourselves.” Now the government starts.

What is the agreement? They selected one wolf. “You will be our ruler. We shall obey whatever you say. If we are on the right path, you may reward us; if we are wrong, you will punish us.” The wolf said, “You are so many in number, so how can I do anything for you?” Then they said, “We will give you a group of wolves. They will be the army and the police. With these wolves you can protect us, or you can punish us.” Thus, the law of human nature, administration, government started. This is the contract theory. Why did the necessity arise that there should be a law of self-restraint at all? Who put this idea into the mind of man?

Secondly, it is said that law is above the individual, but who made the law? It is a group of individuals. Especially in a democratic setup where parliament rules the country and makes the laws, the law can be changed. So though it may be true from one point of view that law is somewhat impersonal and the human being is personal, the impersonal is superior and stronger than the individual. But one point is forgotten: These individuals in a socialistic pattern of democratic setup who created a law among themselves can also undo the law. So this kind of law is no good.

The necessity for having a law at all arises not because of the contract, because the contract arose on account of a need. Now I am asking why the need arose. That is the beginning of real law. There is a cosmic arrangement of things which is the cohesion of the parts in a larger whole. The whole system of administration is centred in the necessity of the parts to cohere into the whole. This is taken up in the West by the great German philosopher Hegel. He supersedes Thomas Hobbes and other people because it is a metaphysical foundation of law, and with others it is an empirical and social pattern of law.

The necessity to survive is at the back of every kind of legal administration. I have to survive, and you have to survive. But in what manner do we want to survive – like wolves, like pigs? No. Survival should be with a value attached to it. Our desire to live comfortably, and for as long a time as possible, is coupled with another desire of a qualitative enhancement of this very existence. That is, there must be knowledge attached to this existence.

Survival is concerned only with existing, but we do not like to exist like a stone, a plant, a big beast, a cannibal, or a highly selfish individual. Even among human individuals there are varieties. There are cannibal individuals. Would anybody like to survive in that condition? But better than the cannibal is the tit-for-tat man. He will not eat you, but he will do the same thing to you as you do to him. He is a dangerous person. Better than that is the selfish man: If you give me, I will give you. If you do not give me, I will not give you. Higher than that is the really good man: Even if you do not give, I will give. Still higher is the saintly man who looks at you with the eye of God. Still higher is the Godman who thinks as the Absolute thinks.

Now, coming to the point, the survival instinct, which is the instinct for existence, is coupled with a simultaneous desire to enhance knowledge. Existence should go with knowledge. In our traditional parlance we say sat and chit should go together. We cannot have sat without chit or chit without sat. Consciousness minus existence is unthinkable. Consciousness must exist, and existence must not be minus consciousness. When sat and chit, existence and consciousness, combine, we feel that we have achieved our purpose.

Now, another question arises. What is the dimension of the existence we are asking for? Do we want to live only like an ordinary individual with a six-foot length and a two-and-a-half-foot width? No. No individual will be satisfied with that finite state of affairs because there is a fear of other such finite people who constitute the vast ocean of humanity, so there is an added desire of suzerainty over other people also: “Why should I be a little one among the many? I must be more important than others.” So arises the desire to rule, the desire for authority, for power, for control, for subjecting other people to one’s own jurisdiction.

The idea is, why should you want to subject other people and convert them into objects with yourself as a subject, and the other people as qualities with you as the substance? This is a highly philosophical subject. Everybody wants to be the pure subject and think that others must be qualities only. They are additions only, adjectives. You want to convert the whole world into an adjective of yourself, and you are the noun. Why does this desire arise? It is because basically your pure subjectivity, which is sat, is all-pervading. There is a universal surviving instinct in each person.

This basic hidden potential for an unlimited existence contradicts the existence of other people, so you want to defeat the very possibility of the existence of other people. This is done either by war and destruction, or by friendship so that they will not harm you and they will agree that you are a very great man. Either by love or by hatred you can subjugate other people. In hatred you violently put them down; in love they become subservient to you. For everything that you love, everything that you hate, there is a methodology to convert them into an adjective to yourself. The desire for universal existence is persisting everywhere.

Now, there is the desire to be non-finite. The desire to overcome the limits of finitude arises on account of a large space around us which defies every individual. Such a big thing is there, and we cannot control it. So we would like to subjugate not only human beings but even space. What is the meaning? We would like to be as wide as space. Though that is a tall desire, we will try to approximate ourselves to that desire by widening the jurisdiction of our property. The desire for property, land, money, etc., arises on account of a basic instinct to overcome dimension itself. Space is the instinct of dimension, so we want to be king of the village. The head man is very happy, or a minister of a state, or a prime minister, or a president; we would like to be king of the whole world if possible. It looks impossible, but the desire is there. If it could be, we would like it.

Even if one is granted the rulership of the whole world, there will be a desire to know what is above the Earth. People fly to the moon and Mars and so on. They want to abolish space and time. We do not like this conditioning of our existence by the time process because the time process is another name for subjection to death. Time kills, and space limits; neither of them is all right for us, so we want to overcome them.

Now we come to the point, which is Hegel’s concept of absolute universality. This is the only thing that everybody desires, and all law depends upon the law of universal dimensionless infinity and infinite knowledge, omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence. This is what we want. Omnipresence, omniscience, omnipotence – without this we cannot be happy. So until we reach God, we feel miserable. The whole point is this.

Ashramite: When I read in Swamiji’s book on desire, it is the first time I have heard that desire is an aspect of God.

Swamiji: It is actually a call from God, and it manifests itself as an object of desire. These objects are only the fingers of God operating.

Ashramite: From what Swamiji says, even the smallest desire is actually a miniature form of that highest desire.

Swamiji: Right. The whole universe is filled with God. Therefore, any operation is God’s operation, but due to the subjection to sense organs we externalise them and make ourselves feel that they are objects. There are no objects of sense. They are spatialised contortions of the very same omnipresent existence which makes us feel that God is outside and our object of desire is outside. It is not outside; it is not inside. It is everywhere. This is the whole point. So how will you make that which is everywhere your property? Desire has no meaning. Your desire can be fulfilled only if you possess that which is everywhere. Now, how is it possible, while that which is everywhere includes you also? Who is to possess what? So man is a fool, finally. He doesn’t understand anything. He requires a new education.