14. The Concept of Life
A visitor from Italy: The youths in our country seem to have lost their soul, and, of course, long back they have lost God. We would like to have Mahatmas like you tell us why this is so. We have heard of Hinduism and talk about it in a vague way. What is the cause of their losing the soul? How can we bring it back to them? What is the concept of religion and how does it differ from the Western concept or coincide with it?
Swamiji: Many difficulties arise because of the inadequacy of understanding and the lack of a proper judgement of the nature of life itself. People in general have been taking things for granted. They only see the surface of things, and depend upon their sense perception. We look at the world and what the senses tell us as real. We take this as the final judgement of values. However, there is always a bifurcation, unfortunately, between one's self and the world. And therefore there is an attempt to extract from the world and abstract from it such factors and values which could be conducive to one's own happiness. People have been working for their happiness, satisfaction and comfort in one way on the other. Scientific effort, particularly of the West, has been directed towards alienating from Nature factors which are regarded to be contributory to human happiness. Now, this is a misconception, and perhaps also the reason behind the failure of modern science. Values alienated from Nature would not contribute to the happiness of mankind. I would not say that Western world view would remain so for ever. Now the Indian—Eastern—concept of life has been qualitatively different from the Western approach which considers Nature an external reality to be conquered and harnessed for the satisfaction of the human being.
The Indian concept is that life is not bifurcated into the objective and the subjective. In India, ever since the Vedic time, Nature is not considered an external reality from which we must extract treasures for our happiness or comfort. Nature is a friend and not an enemy, and therefore the question of conquering it does not arise. You do not conquer a friend. You attune yourself to the friend. Likewise, you set your character in harmony with the character of Nature. Thus, the concept in India, the East in general, is an approach to the universal character of the Ultimate Reality rather than the externalised transcendent or, in other words, the so-called theological concept. The basis of the fundamental concept of life in India has been what might be defined as integrality of existence; the universality of being; inclusiveness rather than exclusiveness; friendliness rather than enmity; harmony rather than dichotomy; spirituality rather than materiality or externality. This is the Indian viewpoint in a nutshell. Inasmuch as the human being, or any content of the world for that matter, is inseparable from Nature—a fact that follows automatically from the integrality of life—inasmuch as life is a single organic completeness, the duty of the human being is not to exploit Nature. The word 'exploitation' should not be used at all in connection with the purpose of life. The duty of the human being is not to extract anything from Nature, but to set one's self in tune with Nature. Here is the main point of departure, as I mentioned. You are not expected to exploit Nature for getting some pleasure out of it, because of the simple reason that you are not essentially outside Nature.
I can give only a gross example to make this point a little more clear. The physical body of the human being is constituted of five elements—earth, fire, water, air and ether. The outside world also is of the same five elements.
I am not trying to propound a deep philosophy of life, but am only trying to give a prosaic concept by way of this example. If the body is made of the five elements, and so is Nature, what makes you think that you are outside or apart from Nature? The substance of the body is the same as that in Nature. I repeat, you are not expected to borrow or in some way exploit or gather pleasure from Nature, because of the simple reason that you are not essentially outside Nature.
Even physically and grossly, it is impossible to imagine any kind of externality present in Nature. We are organically connected with life as a whole. There is an illusion presented by the senses when they externalise consciousness. There is one completeness in Nature, you and I included. What is it that you would extract out of Nature? Well, that is one point.
The other point that follows from this is that there is nothing to extract from outside. The question of achieving something in the future from the outside world does not arise. There is only the question of understanding and awakening to the fact that Nature is complete, and therefore you are also complete because of the very fact that you are one with Nature. Now, religion or spirituality is nothing but this hard task of awakening the consciousness to the comprehension of the integrality of existence.
You may ask me why it is called spirituality. It is because reality is the spirit. It is not matter. When we trace the concept of inseparability of the human being from Nature to its logical limit we also will be driven to the further conclusion that Nature cannot be regarded as an unconscious material substance. And your essential Nature is not material because you have intelligence which you are in essence. You know it very well.
Now, from where has this intelligence come? If it is a by-product of Nature, well, that consciousness which is regarded as a by-product must be inherent in Nature. You cannot have an effect from the cause when that effect is not in the cause. So the logical conclusion is that the whole of Nature is scintillating with consciousness. Since Nature is without an externality, as I mentioned, it is essentially consciousness. It follows then that the whole universe is intelligence and there is nothing but intelligence in the whole cosmos. This Supreme Intelligence outside which nothing can exist and beyond which nothing can be, external to which nothing is, is what you call God in religion, the Absolute in philosophy, and the spirit in all mystical sciences.So this is an outline, or an introduction to the answer to your question. What is the concept of religion and spirituality in India and how it differs from the Western concept and how it also is related. I hope I have made myself clear.