India’s Ancient Culture
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 9: The Vision of Life which is the Culture of India

Reality has many sides, and these sides, arranged in a proper pattern, in the manner of the arrangement of material during the construction of a house, constitute what is called the individuality of the person. When we think, when we act, some of the sides of our personality begin to operate, and it is not that all the sides operate at the same time. We have facets of the physical personality, which we call this body, this embodiment of material substance. It is physiological, anatomical, and as good as any other material thing in the world.

Even the material body is not one uniform spread-out substance; we cannot say that our physical body, which is of course the grossest part of our personality, is a kind of even, harmonious arrangement. For instance, internal to the outer skin, we have the lungs and the heart, the alimentary canal, the circulatory system, and many other wondrous operations even in the physical body itself. That is to say, even the physical body is not to be taken for granted, as if it is very clear to our minds. The wonder of the physical mechanism surpasses human understanding. The way in which this body works is a miracle. It is a great wonder of the world. The manner in which the various external as well as internal limbs of the body collaborate for a purpose that they have before them is impossible of understanding. Billions of brain cells are there which are connected to various functions, not only of the body but even extra-physical phenomena.

The cells of the body, the cells of the brain, the structural components of any limb of the body, for the matter of that, is a miracle in the sense of how they voluntarily take upon themselves the responsibility of maintaining this personality, which is something we cannot understand. We do not operate the cells of the brain deliberately. We do not operate any limb of the body. They take care of themselves. There is an adjusting capacity among the limbs of the body for a purposiveness which is before them.

It is said that the cells in the brain are connected to every atom in the cosmos. A cosmic emporium, as it were, is deposited within the skull of the human being, and if all the cells of the body and all the internal structures of what we call the brain are to operate simultaneously, the entire cosmos will be revealed with a direct apprehension of even the minutest things. But most of them are completely closed as pigeon holes we cannot open. Only a few of them are open, and even those which are open are not actually able to rise up to the level of the frequency of the different layers of the cosmos, so that the available cellular functions of the brain are quantitatively as well as qualitatively deficient for the purpose of apprehending the inner component of the cosmos with which they are connected. This is something to say about the physical body itself.

More subtle than the physical body is our internal structure, the prana sarira, the vital body, and is connected with the cosmic energy system. Today we hear in the field of scientific exploration that the material of the universe can be converted into a continuum of energy, a continuum which defies the segregated presentation of the world available to us in terms of space and time. The scientific visualisation of this continuum of energy, to which the whole matter can be reduced, is non-spatial and non-temporal. Events in the world, they say, do not take place in space. That is to say, events have no location. But we see events taking place only in some place. We never see something taking place everywhere, in all space, in all time. This is only to say that we cannot know how events operate at all. The scientific findings in respect of the continuum to which the whole of matter can be reduced is that events in the world which appear to be historical and local are actually non-historical, non-local, which means to say they are non-spatial, and perhaps non-temporal also.

What do we mean by saying all these things? Events in the world are not in space, and they are not in time. If they are not in space and not in time, they are not in the world. But we see events taking place in the world. Something is happening in the streets of Rishikesh, and elsewhere something else is happening. Our frequency level of apprehension through the brain cells has come down to such a gross form that we see a totally different picture from what actually is taking place in the world. Non-local events look like local events, non-spatial operations look like spatial occurrences, and we see that everything is in time. A non-temporal thing cannot enter the brain. So much for the body and the vital system, the prana sarira.

If we go further, into the deeper level of our mental structure, we will be wonderstruck to realise how our mind is connected to cosmic mentality. Just as the physical body, the physical cells, the components of the body and the brain, etc., are connected to physical levels in all the realms of being, and the vital body is connected to the universal non-spatial, non-temporal continuum of energy, so also our mind is connected to the cosmic mind. If the cosmic mind were not to operate, we would not be able to think anything that is objective. If the mind which seems to be operating within our body, within our brain, within ourselves, were to be really within in the sense of a physical location, we would be subjectively conscious of what is happening within us, but objectively we would not know what is happening in the world. There is an objectivity of perception. For instance, we know there is something other than our mind. Do you believe that this wall is inside the brain, or it is a part of your own individual mental structure? The objectivity involved in mental perception is an indication that there is some field of operation which itself cannot be identified with the subjective mind.

For instance, I am seeing you sitting in front of me, and you are seeing me here, which is itself a very interesting phenomenon. The connection between me and you, the operation that is invisibly taking place between my location here and the location there where you are, is something which is worth considering. There is a kind of simultaneous action taking place at the time of the perception of an object. When I see you sitting in front of me, it is necessary to know how it is that I know you are sitting in front of me. You are physically away from me; physically you are not touching me, nor do I touch you. There is absolutely no connection between you and me. I am seeing you through the eyeballs, but the eyes are inside me, and you are not entering into my eyes. The mountains are so far away, and you can know that there is a mountain in front of you. The mountain has not entered the eyes. How do you know that there is a mountain? There is an invisible medium operating between the object of cognition and the subjective medium, which is the mind.

This universality of the cosmic mind is the reason why you cannot know that it is existing at all. You can see an object; you can know that there is something outside you, but you cannot know that there is a cosmic mind because objects are localised, there are in some place. They are external to the mind. That which is external to the mind can become an object of cognition by the mind, but the universal mind is not an object in that way. The universal mind is something in which the perceiving individual mind also is included. This is the reason why you cannot see anything that is universal in nature. You cannot see God, you cannot see heaven, you cannot see anything that is larger in dimension than the location of your mind. We are particularised individualities; therefore, the mind involved in this individuality will be able to apprehend only an object which is equally individual outside in space and in time.

That is to say finally that the mind, which is really involved in a cosmic operation, without which it could not be aware of even the objects of the world, is not a content of direct apprehension by the mind. The wonder of the physical body is there, the wonder of the vital organ is there, and the wonder of the mind is greater than the wonder of the vital system and body. There is another wonder, which is the spirit in us, what we call consciousness. Nobody can know what consciousness is. It is only a word which we read in books and hear of. It is that which is responsible for the knowledge of anything in this world. Therefore, no one can know consciousness. Consciousness knows everything, but who can know consciousness? Yenedam sarvaṁ vijānāti, taṁ kena vijānīyāt, vijñātāram are kena vijānīyād (B.U. 2.4.14) is the great proclamation of Sage Yajnavalkya, as we have it recorded in the Brihanaranyaka Upanishad. How can you know consciousness, inasmuch as it is the thing that knows everything? Who can know the knower? The knower of all things is consciousness; therefore, how can consciousness be converted into an object by anyone? In order to know consciousness, there must be somebody else to know it. That somebody would be consciousness. That is to say, no one can know the knower.

If no one can know the knower, how does one become aware of the existence of the knower? How do you know that you are existing? You know that the world exists, and people exist, and everything exists, because of the operation of the sense organs and the mind in the act of perception, inference, etc. You can prove that something exists or something does not exist by the logic of the perceptional process, but how do you know that you are existing? What is the proof that you are taking advantage of in the demonstration of your own existence? These days we ask for proof. We want proof for the existence of God, and there is a need to demonstrate the action of anything in the world. We are living in a world of verification, observation and experiment, etc. What kind of verification, experiment, can you conduct in regard to your own existence? Can you prove that you are existing?

Inasmuch as there is no conceivable proof in regard to your own existence, how would you, based on the hypothesis of your existence which itself cannot be proved, ask for a proof for other things? Does it mean that all logic is meant for other people only, and it is not applicable to you? You do not want to prove that you are existing. You think it is achieved. Then why should you not achieve everything else also? How is it that you are so generous to your own self and so hard upon others? It is like the humorous story of the mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law.

Mother-in-laws are mostly very hard on daughter-in-laws. They tease them and harass them very much because the mother-in-law is very jealous of a new entrant into the house taking hold of things in the house and achieving ownership, as it were. “Who is this stupid person who is coming and achieving ownership?” It seems one day a mother-in-law had gone for a bath in the river nearby. Her daughter-in-law was there in the house. A beggar came and said, “Ma, give some biksha.”

“Get out from this place!” the daughter-in-law said. “Get out. Nothing doing. Go!”

The man went. On the way he saw the mother-in-law coming after her bath. “From where are you coming?” she asked.

“Oh, I went to your house. Your daughter-in-law kicked me out. She wouldn’t give me anything,” said the beggar.

“Is it so? Who does she think she is? What right does she have to say anything like that? Does she think that she is the owner of the house? Come with me. I am the owner of the house. She has no right to say anything.”

The old man thought he would get something. When they returned to the house, the mother-in-law said, “Now I am telling you to quit this place, because I have the authority to say that. The daughter-in-law has no authority. You go from here. Go!”

This is something like our assuming every kind of generosity of logic in regard to our own existence. Even the most hard-core scientist who cannot accept anything other than through experiment, etc., bases his hypothesis on the existence of the world. The scientist believes that there is a thing called the world. He cannot prove that the world exists. Let alone the difficulty in proving the existence of your own self by logic, you cannot even prove that the world exists except for the fact that you are seeing it. But seeing it is not a proof. And so there are certain assumptions which are the hypothesis on which all logic and argumentation are based.

The idea of the Self, Pure Consciousness, which is responsible for every kind of logical deduction, induction, etc., cannot itself be proved. These are the wonders which we ourselves are. Physically we are so wonderful from the point of view of the anatomical and physical operations. Vitally we are wonderful in our relationship with the quantum of energy which pervades the whole cosmos, into which the whole of matter can be reduced. Mentally we are connected to the cosmic mind, and spiritually our Atman is the supreme knower of all things. Can you imagine the dignity of it? The human being is not a slave.

I began by saying that we have various sides of our personality. These are the sides, to put it briefly. We have a physical aspect, a vital aspect, a mental aspect, which includes the intellectual also, and a spiritual aspect. This is to say something about the internal components of our personality. But there is also the social aspect, which connects us with other people. The relationship of our personality with other individuals is what is called social relations. In spiritual life, in the field of yoga practice, we attempt a harmonious blending of all the sides of our nature gradually, stage by stage, from the lower to the higher.

The ascent in yoga is practically a kind of reversal process of the manner in which we have descended into this predicament physically and socially. The Yoga System of Patanjali especially has outlined an eightfold system of ascent – yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, samadhi – indicating thereby, or suggesting thereby, the way in which we have to ascend to the higher reaches of our being from the lowest category in which we are involved.

Our life is a great involvement, and many a time the involvements look like a mess heaped up one over the other. “Oh, I have got so many involvements,” people sometimes complain. “Many things to do.” Now what are these many things? As in the case of a medical diagnosis, as in the case of a scientific experiment, the so-called manyness, the muddles, and the so-called chaotic involvement, have to be dissected into the basic essentials. Even if a person has twenty illnesses, it is essential for the physician to know what these twenty types of manifestation of the illness are, how they have cropped up. A very careful investigation into our psychological involvement and social involvement has to be undertaken.

In yoga, there is no hurry. It is not that tomorrow everything has to be done and we have to ascend to heaven. “Slow and steady wins the race” is a good motto for the spiritual seeker. First of all, be sure that you have taken a firm step, even if it be only the first step. You should not take twenty steps only to retrograde, and retrace your steps afterwards by feeling that you have made a mistake. Take only one step at a time, and not many, but let that one step be so firm that you need not have to retrace it.

The involvements of the human personality in life’s processes are to be dissected piecemeal into the minutest quantum, and nothing should be left over. When this adventure is attempted, you will find that finally we have no assistance coming forth from anybody. You have to be your own masters in the end. Even if there is a Guru or a teacher or a master or a guidebook, they will be of assistance to you up to a particular point only. Beyond that, when you come to the core of your own personality which is so subtle, you have to stand on your own legs. The involvements of your personality in the world are so very subtle that every aspect of this subtlety cannot be found described in the textbooks, and your Guru is not expected go on telling you every day what your involvements are. Finally, you have to practise the art of self-help.

There are certain difficulties which a spiritual seeker faces, very peculiar to the person himself. Two spiritual seekers will not have all the same difficulties. Two individuals are two individuals. Because they are two individuals, they are different in the subtle makeup of their personalities and their problems. My problem is not identical with yours. In general, on the surface, of course there are certain uniform patterns of our involvement, but there are certain deep things which are special to our own selves. There are strengths and weaknesses in every human individual. It is not that you are completely armed enough to face all the encounters in the world. Such strength nobody has. Nor is it that you are nothing and you have no strength at all. There are adjustments and maladjustments which we make every day with the outer environment of society and nature, due to which we seem to be sometimes advancing and sometimes retrograding, or moving back. We are happy and unhappy, both at the same time. We are not unhappy the whole day, nor are we happy the whole day. At least for a moment in the day there is something irking, pricking like a needle, and making us feel troubled; but at other times we are a little free. The adjustments that the physical personality makes with the outer world are the sign of the health of the body. The maladjustments that it makes are the sign of ill health. Similar is the case with the other layers of personality: vital, mental, intellectual, and spiritual.

What are these adjustments and maladjustments? How are we to understand these, and take to them in right earnest? Here, the actual geographical map of the adventure of the journey will be given to you by the teacher only. Cosmological maps are there which are laid down before us by the scriptures. A cosmological map is a drawing of the procedure that nature has adopted in coming to this level of actual concrete perception, and by knowing it we will know how to retrace our steps back. The objects of the world look as if they are outside, disconnected from us, and we seem to be sitting here as if we are the observers of the world outside. When we look at the world outside, we feel it is at a distance. The distance that seems to be there between us and any object in the world is a creation of space. There is no distance in the universe, finally. That which is inseparably connected with the subjectivity of the observer may look like an externally placed object.

There is a humorous anecdote. Two trekkers went to the Alps. They were lost, and wanted to know which peak they were standing on. They opened a map. “Do you know where we are standing? Which is this peak? Do you know where we are?” asked one trekker.

“I will tell you. Look at that peak over there. There we are standing,” he said, pointing to a peak in the distance.

What is this? How can you say that you are standing on a thing that is so far away from you?

The mental structure of our personality is so constituted that it drives our consciousness out into the location of an outwardly placed spatiotemporal object. The sides, the phases, and the principles that constitute our personality are not so easy to understand. Yoga students many a time find it hard to go on with this practice for a long time because in the earlier stages everything looks very beautiful and fine, and later on they face a black curtain, a mountain is in front of them.

We have been discussing the inner content of the epics and the Puranas. With this introduction that I have told you about your own personality, I have to take you to the contents of the epics and the Puranas, which are heavy tomes that have gone into great detail of exposition on the involvement of every phase of your personality in relation to the cosmos. I would advise you to study the Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana especially, which is a textbook of cosmic history, the coming down of the human soul from the highest level of its Godhead state through its evolutionary descent. It gives every detail, not only of the process of your coming down to this earth as a physical entity, but also of the spiritual process of the retracing of your steps to Godhead.

The epics and the Puranas, especially the Mahabharata and the Bhagavata, would be your guide. In the Mahabharata, the philosophical sections are four. The Bhagavadgita, which occurs in the Bhishma Parva, is the central philosophical theme of the Mahabharata, and it also contains three other books which are philosophical.

In the Udyoga Parva of the Mahabharata, which is the Fifth Book, there is a conversation between Sanatkumara, the great sage, and Dhritarashtra. This conversation is metaphysical, and is called Sanatsujatiya. Dhritarashtra could not sleep due to various apprehensions in his mind as to the forthcoming events. As he was sleepless, he summoned his minister Vidura and said, “Friend, tell me something so that I may pass my night. I am not getting sleep.”

“I hope you are not one of those four culprits who do not get sleep,” said Vidura.

“Who are those people who do not get sleep?” Dhritarashtra asked.  

“A thief does not get sleep, a sick man cannot get sleep, a passionate man cannot get sleep, and he who wants to grab another’s property does not get sleep. I am sure you are not one of them,” replied Vidura.

But Dhritarashtra was awake. Then Vidura gave a large homily to Dhritarashtra on the ethical side of life, which goes by the name of Vidur Niti. Everybody should read this. It is a textbook of political science and sociology, ethics and morality.

“Something more must be known. I want to know something more,” said Dhritarashtra.

“I had a talk with the great sage Sanatkumara, who said finally that death is not an ultimate reality,” replied Vidura.

“Tell me something about it,” said Dhritarashtra.

“I cannot talk to you on this subject. I am not competent. Only a great master can speak to you,” said Vidura.

“Bring the master,” said Dhritarashtra.

Vidura thought of Sanatkumara, the son of Brahma, who immediately descended and spoke on the highest metaphysical reality, called Sanatsujatiya. This is one of the philosophical portions in the Mahabharata, occurring in the Udyoga Parva, which is the Fifth Book.

The second is the Bhagavadgita, of course, which occurs in the Bhishma Parva of the Mahabharata.

The third is Mokshadharma, which occurs in the Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata, which is the Twelfth Book. It is a very, very elaborate discourse given by Bhishma to Yudhisthira on every blessed thing. This Shanti Parva is the Twelfth Book of the Mahabharata, which has four sections. The first section is called Rajadharma, political science. Then there is Apadharma, the conduct which you have to adopt when you are in a great crisis. It is not the normal way of approach to things. When you are critically involved in death, as it were, and nothing is clear to your mind, in such conditions what are you supposed to do? That is called the dharma of social moments; we call it Apadharma in Sanskrit. The third section is Mokshadharma, a most elaborate lecture on spiritual and religious existence. And the last section is Dhanadharma, the virtue of charity, philanthropy, etc.

So Sanatsujatiya, Bhagavadgita, and Mokshadharma are the three great books, and the fourth one is the Anugita. It occurs in the Ashvamedha Parva of the Mahabharata. It has a little background. Arjuna and Sri Krishna were sitting on a lawn. Arjuna said, “Krishna, during the war you told me something when I was unable to take up arms. I want to hear it again because I have forgotten it.” He was referring to the Bhagavadgita.

Sri Krishna said, “I cannot repeat it. Once again it is not possible to say that.” Paraṁ hi brahma kathitaṁ yogayuktena tanmaya (Anugita 1.12): “I cannot recall that now. I was united with the Absolute at that time, and in that state of affairs I spoke to you. Now once again I cannot repeat it. Anyway, I will tell you something.” Then Sri Krishna told some stories to illustrate the same truth that he had told at the beginning of the war. That sequel, that tail end of teaching, as it were, which Bhagavan Sri Krishna gave to Arjuna, is called the Anugita.

Thus, the Mahabharata is a great treasure house of varieties of teachings, and these four treasures of knowledge in the Mahabharata, together with the entire Bhagavata, which every spiritual seeker should read for the purpose of knowing the intricacies of spiritual life, should be your vade mecum.

The Ramayana is of a different type. It does not give homilies. There are no lectures in the Ramayana as we have it in epics like the Harivamsha or the Mahabharata and the Puranas. What does the Ramayana say? It tells us how somebody behaved, and it is up to us to draw the lesson from that. So-and-so was in that condition, and in that condition so-and-so behaved in that manner. It is illustrative, rather than expository. That is the Ramayana. But the Mahabharata is not merely illustrative; it is also expository. So both these put together are a good guideline for us in our daily life.

Our subject is India’s ancient heritage. The heritage of India is a pattern of culture into whose essentials we dove briefly, in outline, during our earlier sessions, and if you have remembered everything that I told you, you would have realised the cultural pattern of India is rooted in an outlook of life which is its religion or dharma. Many people say this so-called Hinduism, the name that has been given to the outlook of life which is India’s basic foundation, this outlook of life, is also a way of life. The philosophy and religion of our country is not a teaching; it is a description of the way in which we have to conduct ourselves from day to day, from moment to moment. Philosophy is action. In our country, philosophy and religion become action, and the awareness of the procedure we have to adopt in this action is the philosophy thereof. Philosophy is the rational foundation of religion, and religion is the practical implementation of philosophy. I would like to call it the religion of life, the religion of humanity, and not any other ‘ism’ of a fundamentalist nature.

This culture, this religion, this philosophy is not compartmentalised. It is absorbent like a sponge, and not repellent like an iron ball. This culture is capable of reclaiming any faith, any cult, into itself, by a process of sublimation and transmutation. This culture is like a crystal with many facets, and every facet, though it differs from the others, is capable of reflecting the others also in its own self. A perfect man, or a superman, who is the ideal of this culture, is represented as the symbol of Man as such. A crystal-like superman reflects within himself the suggestiveness that we can recognise in any pattern or way of life of other individuals also.

The whole of humanity was reflected in Arjuna, for instance. He was the middleman who was considered by Sri Krishna as the best medium for the reception of the highest integrating knowledge. He was not an extreme like Bhima or Yudhisthira. Yudhisthira was an excessively virtuous man, virtue gone beyond limit. Bhima was the opposite of it. Any extreme is not the law of nature. The dos and don’ts gone to extremes are not the manner in which nature operates.

Therefore, the cultural pattern that is laid before us by these wondrous texts is what we can best call only as an outlook of life, a vision of life, on the basis of which, action is performed in this world. Our conduct and behaviour, and our encounter with anything in this world socially or naturally, is the outcome of the vision of life which is its culture, and in this vision we are supposed to bring into focus all the sides of our personality to which I made a reference just now. You must be a whole man first before your actions can be wholesome. Otherwise, your actions will be partial, and a total recompense cannot be expected from a partial action.

The action which is the highlighting principle in the Bhagavadgita, for instance, is such a total action that we are expected to perform. Only a total man can perform total action, and we are not total individuals even in our ordinary life. Our minds are wandering in different directions, and a holistic, Gestalt pattern of thought is not our method in daily encounter with things. There is only a partial way of thinking. The whole mind does not act at any time. That is why we love something and hate something, and we have prejudices of various types due to certain excessive emphasis laid on partial sides of our mind, to the neglect of other parts. The attractions and the repulsions in which we daily find ourselves involved are a trick played by certain excesses of emphasis we lay on parts of our psyche. This is the reason why we have overemphasis laid on certain things in the world, calling certain things as our own and other things as not ours. Friends and enemies do not exist in the world; they exist in our mind only. The mind focuses its attention from a partial view of its own structure on things outside, and we see a partial side of nature, the other side being completely blotted out.

For instance, we see green leaves. The leaves are neither green nor any other colour. The structure of the leaf is such that it is able to repel the other colours which are also in the sunlight, and it is able to absorb only one particular colour. Green stops every other possibility, and absorbs only one particular aspect of it, and so the leaf looks green. The real colour of the leaf can be seen only in pitch darkness. In pitch darkness there is no perception of colour, and yet that is the only time we can know what the colour of a thing is. All objects repel certain things, and absorb certain things, due to an inner peculiarity of their composition.

In a similar manner is the psyche of our personality. It repels certain things, and absorbs certain things, on account of a partial emphasis it lays on itself due to a split inherent within its own composition. The point is that the mind of a person never acts as a whole. Therefore, the whole of our personality does not come in contact with the world. Therefore, we see everything partially. We never like a thing; we like a thing very much.

Yoga absolves us from this peculiar malady in which our psyche is involved because of this split – a split which need not be merely one cut into two, but one cut into several pieces, so that we are fragments of personality scattered, as it were, in the region of perception and are seeing a multitude of variety, while actually our duty is to have an insight into the nature of things in an integrated way. Health is the integrated functioning of the physical body, and it is also the integrated functioning of the breathing process, sanity is the integrated functioning of the psyche, logic is the integrated functioning of the intellect, and superhuman power and knowledge is the integrated functioning of the spirit in us.

God bless you. Om Namo Narayanaya.