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The Mystery and Miracle of Our Existence
by Swami Krishnananda

(Spoken on June 30, 1985.)

When we contemplate ourselves and the world in which we are living, we are face to face with a demonstration that the powers that conduct the affairs of life do not seem to be under the control of any human being. The days and nights roll on, whether we want them or not. There are the seasons of the year, over which we have no say whatsoever. The rotation of planets, the blowing of the winds and the ways of nature seem to be totally unconcerned with our feelings, our emotions, our requirements and our needs, and our little joys and sorrows seem to be merely a meaningless phenomenon before these mighty operations.

The distance to which the whole world extends is astounding. The mind cannot even imagine how vast the universe is. We cannot conceive the distance between one star and another, though they all appear to be studded like gems in the blue sky when looked at with our naked eyes. The vastness of space is incalculable.

If there is a fly roaming about in England and another fly is here in India, that would be a great nearness of one fly to the other in comparison with the distance they say is obtaining between one star and another. There is nothing to prevent them from colliding, but there is as little chance of a fly in England dashing against another fly in India, because of the enormous distance of vast space in which these mighty giants called stars rule in their own realms with their own laws. They are larger than the Sun of our own solar system, as people tell us. The Sun is so mighty; the diameter of the Earth is about eight thousand miles, and the diameter of the Sun is more than eight lakhs of miles. Such a huge mass is pulling this tiny dust of the Earth around itself, and we have nothing to say about all these things. Why should the Earth be placed at this convenient distance? This great wonder that we call the Sun, beyond which a greater wonder cannot be imagined by our mind, and larger than which our eyes cannot see, is one of the many citizens in a large kingdom of similar and larger stars, which are suns in their own right in the nebular galaxies. These galaxies are infinite in number, one of them being what we call the Milky Way, in which we are. The Milky Way is not up above in the sky. We are in it. We are living within the jurisdiction of this Milky Way. Though we are in this room, sitting here in this hall, we are also on the Earth. That also is a fact at the same time. That we are living in a house does not preclude the fact that we are on the Earth. In a similar manner, we are in the Milky Way, a fact which cannot easily come before our mind's perception. Such is a great terrifying miracle before us, this vast thing we call nature, the world, the sky, the stars, the sun and the moon.

More miraculous is our own body. We breathe in and out. Like a bellows blowing in a goldsmith's shop, pumping is going on inside our physical mechanism. Somebody is pushing the bellows in and out. The air is pumped out and is pumped in. How this continuous work is going on in the body we do not know because we are not doing it. We are not doing anything to contribute towards this breathing process. We cannot do any service to this essential performance in our own bodies. We cannot assist the heart in its own daily operations. We can rest when we are tired, but the heart cannot rest. It has not a single day's leave from its performance. Right from the time we became living organisms, this centrality of operation began to work which became the heart, and no one has time even to think that there is a heart inside. We are busy people, and so busy that we cannot be aware that we have a heart, that it is working restlessly, indefatigably, without any contribution from our side, the so-called 'we' or 'I', as we refer to ourselves.

So much is a brief portrayal of the conditions of life in which we seem to be placed outwardly in this relentless world of forces which do not want to listen to us. These forces would like us to listen to everything that they say and do. They seem to be masters over us. The wind may blow at any time, in any direction. We cannot say, “Don't blow.” We have no say in the matter. We cannot create the rain, or stop it. Neither can we alter the day and night rotations. The ocean may rise up or not. It is left to its discretion.

Apart from these operations outside, we do not seem to have a say even in the operations in our own bodies. The automatic action of digestion is going on inside as if there are some servants working, duly paid for their work. Somebody is very busy. Many contributory assistants are ready to work for receiving this guest that we push in as the food that we eat, and he is honourably received and placed in the proper context and position, not thrown somewhere else. He is kept in the proper seat and attended in the manner required by these attendants. Where are they? Who has placed them, and why are they so very vigilant? Why are they so methodical and prompt in their actions? What for? And are we also existing simultaneously? We seem to be existing. We are very conscious of it. But what is our capacity, our power? We cannot interfere with our breathing, we cannot interfere with our digestion, and we cannot interfere with the blood circulation. Even the brain cells independently act. There is a mechanism in the form of cellular organisms very dexterously and shrewdly arranged with apertures and pigeonholes closed somewhere and opened somewhere according to the circumstances and needs of the hour. Who does this? We have no part to play even in the brain's action.

Not only do we have no control over the activities of the brain which are independently directed by cellular operations, but we cannot even know what we will think tomorrow. Such is the capacity we have over our own thoughts. Any thought can come at any time. A hell or a heaven can descend at any moment. It can be some event taking place outside over which we have no control, or a psychological catastrophe, an upheaval in our own psyche. A cyclone blowing within us can rise up like a storm and make us think and feel anything – the devil or God, whatever it be. “It happened. I do not know,” people will say. But why should it happen if we do not know?

It appears on a careful analysis that we are unable to find where we are actually placed. Do we have any status of our own? Are we really alive as something independently valuable by itself? Has it a substantiality of its own? What are we? We are not the wind, the rain, the sun, the moon or the stars. We are not the earth, the fire, the air or the sky. We are not the trees or the mountains. We do not seem to be even the breath because if that were the case we would have arranged the process of breathing according to our convenience, when we want or do not want to do it, in any manner we like. We do not seem to be even that. If we were the heart, we would have arranged the working of the heart in such a manner that it would work indefinitely and never cease operating. We are not the heart because we have no say in the matter of its working. We are not the breath. We are not anything that is outside – not the river that is in flood, the ocean that is billowing with great velocity, the sun that is so hot, or the moon. We have nothing to do with them. We are different.

We seem to be different now from even the heart, the breath, and the digestive organs. We have nothing to say even in regard to what is happening within ourselves. What is the great independence, the freedom that we are said to possess and exercise? Yet alone the question of freedom, it becomes difficult to believe what sort of existence we are enjoying in this world – a predicament so precarious and uncertain to the core.

Even the span of our life is not in our hands. We did not come to this world because we wanted to come, deciding to come with an itinerary or a program. How we came and from where, we do not know. We did not think and come, and we do not think and go. The coming into this world was not in our hands, and the going from this world also is certainly not in our hands. How does it follow that our middle little life is totally in our hands? Who tells us that the great panorama of involvement we call life in this world is in our hands? If we did not come with our freedom and we do not go with our say in the matter – if we are totally under subjection of something when we came and also when we go – how are we supposed to be totally free in the middle?

There seems to be an illusion placed before us. If neither in the beginning we were ourselves nor in the end are we going to be ourselves, we may not be that even in the middle. There may be a foolhardy panorama, a presentation, a picturesque illusion. Otherwise, there must be some substantiality in us, at least something over which we have some control. Let us think if there is anything in this world over which we can have total control: if it shall do and happen exactly as we say. Is there anything like that? It is difficult to find out any such thing. Even our own selves do not seem to be under our own control, as we have noted. Not even one atom will obey us wholly. It has its own say, and we cannot transform it into something else by the power of our discretion.

We are dazed when we think in this manner, dazed in a manner we ourselves cannot properly investigate into because we do not actually know the circumstances in which we are placed in this world, or whoever might have placed us.

There is an astounding and finally deciding factor in life which is always carefully brushed aside as a matter not for consideration at all, namely, the time for the departure of a person from this world. It does not seem to be a matter of concern for us. It is not of even the least concern for any person to think, “When is it that I shall have to quit this world?” This does not become part of a program of our life. This sort of consideration is not a part of our duty. We have other, greater duties which we consider as our deities or gods whom we worship every day.

But in our routines of consideration and performance in life, not only is this issue not receiving due recognition, it is not even present in the least important of items: the question of the time of the departure from this world. We are always accustomed to be satisfied within our own selves that this time of our exit from the world is as far away from us as the horizon. The horizon seems very, very distant indeed, and so far is the time of our exit from this world.

But is the horizon really far from us? Is it distant? It looks distant indeed because every day we see it. We can see the horizon even now, and it is far away. But is the horizon really far away? Or can we also believe that it is perhaps here? The horizon is also here at the very place where I am sitting. And this humorous analogy of the horizon being everywhere, not merely at a distant corner of the sky, as it appears, may clear up the cobweb before our mind's eye and tell us that death also is everywhere. Like the horizon not being as distant as it seems, our death is not really as distant as it appears. It is not even one inch away from us. Even if it is away from us by one inch, it is something tolerable and satisfying; but death is not merely at the elbow, it is nearer than the elbow. I again mention this daily occurrence of the horizon, which is just here. Wherever we go, the horizon is, and where the place is where we are seated, that is also the horizon; therefore, the time of exit can be any time.

If our deeds and performances, works and achievements are to be totally annihilated and destroyed root and branch by our departure from this world, and if this time of departure can be at any moment, it requires some explanation to prove the validity of anything that we do in this world. What value can we attach to anything at all if it is true that our performances are destroyed at the time of death? Our fear of dying is a demonstration of our belief that perhaps all values are annihilated at death. It is this fear that makes us resent the very idea of passing from this world. The greatest sorrow is the proximity of death, the event of passing and the necessity to be involved in it. Nothing can be worse than that. Death is the worst evil and the greatest horror.

Now, it is so and it appears to be so because it looks like an abolition of everything that is worthwhile in life, a negation of all things, including all belongings. Naturally, when we are not there, our belongings also are not there. Is this so? This is a question we may raise before ourselves. Are we going to quit at any moment? Human history and the daily events of life are visibly painted pictures before us of the possibilities, eventualities, and inviolable and unavoidable occurrences in which not merely others are involved, but anyone can be involved, and are perhaps destined to be involved. We have to go the way the others went. This fear is a crucial matter for consideration, namely, the chance of everything worthwhile being annihilated at the time of destruction of the body, our death which can come on us at any moment.

This is what we may call the phenomenal picture of life, and this is the only thing that is visible to our eyes. Whatever I have briefly mentioned to you is the only thing that we can conceive in our minds and see with our eyes. There seems to be nothing more. If this is all that we can see, and this is the only thing that is possible of our thoughts, then tragedy is the name of human life. There is no joy here because whatever we seem to be capable of thinking and perceiving with our eyes appears to be painted so dark with impossibility of approach and impossibility of even control that our life, which we usually call a process of living, actually looks like a process of dying. We are slowly preparing for our death rather than preparing for our better life.

Tragedies that occur in human life often emphasise this fact. It is so. There is not a jot of sense or meaning in existence. It is all utter darkness and a black picture. Bereavements that shock the very heart of man, which are common occurrences in families and with which everyone is familiar, are certain avenues through which we can peep into the realities of life. These doors are mostly closed, so that we may not know what is inside Pandora's box. But it can sometimes be opened, and it does get opened at the time of unthinkable losses, tragedies, bereavements and agonies. At that time, life looks like death only. It appears that life is nothing but a mask that death is putting on in its dance in the form of this creation. Death's dance, called the Tandava Nritya or the Rudra Tandava, the dance of destruction, is this world of creation which seems to be putting on the mask of life and existence, while it is a tendency to annihilation. In the language of modern science, it is called entropy, the exhaustion of power, where everything becomes cold and death.

There is something in us which keeps us hoping in spite of this tragic picture which the world is capable of painting before us and which is the only thing that it can tell us. There is not one man who can tell us good news. There is only some bitter poison that is injected into the ears, and some grief is the tale of the life of a person. Not one person in the world can tell a story of happiness. It is all darkness, all tragedy; it is all sinking, and it is a veritable dying. Even then, having seen this much of life practically with our own eyes, having lived in houses, in families, and in societies where this is a common phenomenon and there is not one smiling face, even if this is the phenomenon that we witness in life, there seems to be something telling us, “I shall be alive; the horizon is far off, not here, and tomorrow I shall be better.”

We seem to have discovered by a scrutiny of this kind that we do not seem to have even a little place to live in this world, and yet we seem to be affirming something as the 'I' or the 'we', that we shall be better tomorrow: “Tomorrow it shall not be worse. Death may be there. All may die; many have gone and I may go, but I shall not go tomorrow.” No one says, “Tomorrow I shall go.” Which man will say that? But what is the guarantee and the foundation for this belief that we shall not go tomorrow? A totally baseless, unscientific, illogical conclusion is the hope of life. If we can call hope an illogical, unscientific attitude, we cannot rely on it, because one cannot rely on a totally unscientific, baseless, illogical imagination, and our hope of a betterment for tomorrow seems to be such a feeling.

Yet, this hope keeps us breathing, living, as we say, and we seem to be existing because of this hope. If our conviction that tomorrow is to be a better day is completely ruled out and this shall not be a possibility – if it has been made clear from beginning to end, root and branch, that tomorrow is not going to be a better day, that it is going to be a worse day, and that it may be even worse than the worst, namely, a total annihilation – then a moment's existence is inconceivable. We cannot say that we can live even for a moment. Maybe it is due to considerations of this type that Gautama Buddha said that one cannot live in this world for three days continuously if the facts of life are to be placed before the eyes of a person entirely, clearly, and totally.

Thus, we people do not seem to have a location of our own in this world of total suzerainty of forces above us; it looks that we have no say in the matter of any kind of operation in nature, or even within our own selves. We do not seem to be existing in anything at all. We are nothings as far as our freedom is concerned. In spite of that, we assert that tomorrow shall be better and that we shall not be passing away tomorrow.

Now, what is this mystery? Who told us that we shall not pass tomorrow? We know very well that this is a foolish statement. An assertion that we shall be alive tomorrow morning is an utterly foolish statement because it may not have any basis, and yet that foolish statement keeps the person alive and sleeping well. One can sleep well tonight with this most meaningless conviction that tomorrow morning he shall be alive. Now, how can a totally meaningless thing keep us alive, which would mean that living also is a meaningless phenomenon? Āścaryavat paśyati, āścaryavad vadati (BG 2.29): The whole thing is a miracle and a wonder. Our life in this world and the structure of the world as a whole seems to be a miracle and a mystery rather than a clearly intelligible something. We can understand nothing, neither the world outside nor our own selves, and we are not supposed to understand it also. The whole point is this. This intriguing mystery tells us that we are alive and dead at the same time, a contradiction which is actually difficult to appreciate and understand. This thing which keeps us hoping with no foundation behind it is not supposed to be understood. It is not supposed to be probed into, and it cannot be analysed; it cannot be investigated because it stands by itself. It is sovereign supreme. This miracle is sovereign, the king of kings, and it is not expected to be probed into by anybody. No one can even look at it, and it is not possible even to think it.

Hence, this saga, this epoch of existence, looks like what we can only designate as a mystery, which is not an explanation of anything. To say that something is a mystery is not an explanation. It only means we cannot explain it. We cannot explain it because we are not supposed to explain it. The reason is that it is not an object of explanation. That is why we are told that it is a miracle, ascharyam; it is not capable of logical investigation, and it is not possible to observe it through experimentation and the analytical process of scientific methods.

What then is the final word, after having heard all these things? A consideration of issues of this type melts down all the tentacles of our attachments and relationships, and allows us to be what we are in our own selves. We have been involved in something other than what we are, which is the reason why we are able to understand neither ourselves nor anybody else. We noticed that we are not in a position to appreciate and understand the workings of the world outside, nor can we know our own selves. The reason is a mix-up of issues. Something of the world is involved in ourselves, and something of ourselves is involved in the world, so that we cannot wholly understand either the world or our own selves. An objective presentation in the form of a world phenomenon has entered our mind, and we have ourselves involved what we are in the phenomenon we call the world of perception. This is what acharyas call adhyasa, or mutual superimposition of characters. We neither belong to this side nor to that side. That means to say, we have no status of our own.

We do not seem to have any status of our own, as we have analysed just now. We have no place to sit here because we do not seem to belong either to ourselves or to others. If we are a total belonging of our own selves – I am me and I am what I am – then there would be no question of any kind of interaction or relevance with the world outside. Nor can we say we are totally what is outside, because we cannot be an outside something. We are what we are. This admixture of an outwardness of visibility, tangibility and sensibility with what we are in ourselves has created a situation of dubious existence, namely, we are partially transitory phenomena; therefore, we cannot understand either ourselves or anything that is related to us. But we seem to be partially another thing altogether, which is the mystery referred to and spoken of. Śrutvāpy enaṃ veda na caiva kaścit (BG 2.29): Even after hearing all this one hundred times, no one will be able to understand it. Śrutvāpy enaṃ veda na caiva kaścit.

What is this that keeps us alive in spite of the fact that it is not possible to live? That has to be examined, not in the manner of an examination by a scientist or an inspector, but by a self-examination – a self-examination which means an examination of a self which is truly the Self, not a self which is phenomenally involved. If that is the case, we will get a phenomenal conclusion of there being nothing possible finally.

The self has been conceived in three forms. In ancient style it is called gaunatman, mithyatman and mukhyatman. Up to this time we have been considering the nature of the gaunatman or the mithyatman, the first one being all the associations outside, persons and things, and the second one being this bodily involvement of ours, the so-called subjectivity which is also a phenomenon like the world outside. So neither the mithya nor the gauna – neither this subjective physical individuality, this so-called phenomenon of ourselves as it appears, nor the world outside – can be our true Self. Neither are we the true Self as we look to ourselves, nor is the world the true Self, not the subject or the object, not the gauna, not the mithya. But there is the mukhyatman, a primary Self which is masquerading, playing hide and seek, existing everywhere and appearing to be nowhere. That has to be contacted by no means whatsoever available in the world because the means available are actually phenomenal transiencies. Whether we call them our own subjective side or the objective side, neither of them can be of any utility. Nothing in the world outside or anything that is within us as a person can be of any utility here. There is another thing altogether. May that 'another thing' become the concern of every one of us. What that 'another thing' is, that which is neither ourselves nor others – what can that be? That keeps us restless because it wants us. That keeps us restless because we want it. May the meaning of this restlessness and want, this unending longing, find an explanation within itself.

As I mentioned, it is Self-examination, but not the examination of a self that is visible to the naked eyes as an object of the senses outside in the form of the world or as this body that is seen. Neither of these is the primary concern. There is another thing which requires both of these, and yet is neither of these. That is the miracle, the miracle of life. It is in this manner that we have to conduct the processes of our thoughts, lest we be involved in emotional psychic entanglements or objective associations, neither of which is the way of yoga. Yoga is union, not with this bodily individuality, not with the psyche, not with the feeling, not with the emotion, not with any operation that is going on physically or psychologically, not with the world of physical phenomena, but with that which is none of these – the primary Selfhood which pervades all things like a centre and yet appears to be nowhere. That has to be united with whatever we are. That union is the principal concern of yoga.