A- A+

Acharya Sankara's Fourfold Angle of Vision
by Swami Krishnananda

(Spoken on Sankaracharaya Jayanti, April 26, 1993)

Today happens to be the occasion of the advent of a great Master who illumined this country several centuries back. When I say he was a great Master, what I imply thereby is naturally that he was a person who had an insight into the nature of life itself. Acharya Sankara is a name well known in the field of philosophy, culture, education and religion. Principally he is known as a philosopher because what generally goes by the name of philosophy is the foundation laid for the development of all other arts and sciences in the world. Philosophy is the methodology of entering into the ultimate causes of things. It does not feel satisfied merely with a tentative empirical observation by experiment or any other method usually known as scientific. By observation through the eyes we can see certain things, but we cannot observe life. Nobody can see life. The most vital thing is life, as you all know, but you cannot know what it is.

We are living a life in this world. We can photograph everything, but we cannot photograph life. We can observe things through scientific apparatus, but we cannot see life. We have to investigate into the very essence of our problems if they are going to be solved. It is like the diagnosis of a medical condition, a sick patient being examined. The disease has to be cured at its very core.

Everyone sees this world in some way or the other, from one angle of vision or the other, from some viewpoint. But a philosopher sees the world from all viewpoints, not only from certain angles of vision. What are the viewpoints possible and available to us as far as our life is concerned? Acharya Sankara was one who envisioned life as a total presentation before us, and not as some object in front of us. Life is not in front of us as some object, because we are involved in it. As we, as people living life, are involved and included in life, it cannot be observed as we observe things in the world; therefore, no scientific method can be employed to know what life is. No empirical science is adequate for the purpose. That is to say, the sense organs are insufficient in this task of knowing what the ultimate fact of life is.

Life may be regarded as a kind of encounter. We face it every day. We call it a problem. Everybody says, “I have a great problem.” We have many problems. There is no one without some problem. But what is the problem? People have very little time to think deeply over these issues. Many people know that they have some illness, but they cannot easily say what illness it is that they are suffering from. They go to the doctor twenty times. Likewise, we go on crying that we have many difficulties, many problems. If you tell any person, “Make a list of all your problems instead of going on saying that you have problems,” you will find that they will never be able to make a list. You yourself will be floundering in trying to know what your problem is, though you know there is something like that. We are ignorant totally even in regard to that thing which seems to be harassing us every day and which we are facing, confronting.

When we philosophically, logically and consistently try to boil down all our questions of life, we will find that we generally face life from four different directions. It is not just something in front; it is from all sides. Very few people have time to think along these lines, as I mentioned, but if you read the works of this great Master, Acharya Sankara, if you read his commentaries on the great philosophical texts, you will see how deeply he has gone into this issue and prepared for you a ready-reckoner, as it were, for knowing life in what in modern terms is called a holistic vision of life. That is a total perception of life. We take things from all sides, and not only from certain sides.

What do you see when you wake up in the morning and open your eyes? You have the world of people in front of you and think, “Oh, now I have to go to the office, I have to go to the college, I have to go to the school, I have to go to the factory, I have to go to the shop.” All these ideas in the mind in the early morning are connected with people in the world. When you are facing life usually, in the ordinary sense of the term, you are actually facing people in front of you. It appears that our problems come from people and not from the trees, not from the buildings, not from the earth, not from the skies. Who is your problem? You are constrained to say: “I have to be cautious about people; I have to be cautious about my boss, my principal, my subordinates, my clerks, the employees, the shop, everybody – which means to say, people.” Are people in the world your problems? You have to say “yes” because who else can give you problems, trouble? You are not afraid of elephants and tigers. Elephants and tigers are more dangerous than human beings, as you know, but yet we are not thinking of these things in our life. We are afraid of people only. We guard ourselves with defence equipment not from elephants and tigers, not from snakes and scorpions, but from humanity. Is it not very intriguing that we have to protect ourselves from our own brethren?

Anyway, this is something very difficult to explain – intriguing, but nevertheless true. We are facing people. Humanity is in front of us. The world of people is something which we have to face every day, and the manner in which we adapt and adjust ourselves to the circumstance of the human environment around us is the issue of life. You may call it the problem of life, if you like. This is the only thing that we can think in our mind at present. As we are not sufficiently philosophical in our understanding of things, we cannot think more than this. Every day we are busy only with people, dealing with things connected with persons.

But life is not only facing people. There are other things in life than people, if you go deep into the matter. Here you will see how a philosopher thinks, as distinguished from an ordinary man's thinking. While it is true that you are mainly concerned with people in front of you, you are concerned with another thing also which is a more serious matter than the people around you: yourself. You are so much concerned with what you can do with other people, but do you know that you have to do something with yourself? Are only other people important? Are you not important?

Actually, you will find as a good psychologist that the sociology of humanity is an extension of the psychology of the human mind. Your reaction to people, which you call the problems of life, arises from your mind, from the manner in which your mind thinks and acts. So your problems are conditioned not merely by the existence of people outside, as you thought earlier; you will find now that it is conditioned by your own way of thinking. Your action and reaction, psychologically, principally, in respect of the environment called people outside, conditions your life much more than the way in which people seem to be reacting in regard to yourself. You are a very important person to yourself. You are more valuable to yourself than anything that you can think of in this world. When everything goes, you will not like that you should go. “Let buildings go, property go, job go, money go, the bank go – everything goes, but I should not go.” Do you not think like that? “Let everything go, but my breath should be there. That should not go.”

There is another aspect of the whole problem of life: the manner in which you understand yourself, which is more difficult a thing for you than to understand other people in any manner whatsoever. You are the most difficult thing in the world. You are the most difficult thing for yourself. You can understand everything; even the stars you can measure, but you cannot measure yourself. You can control lions as in a circus, but you cannot control your mind. It is a greater lion than anything else that you can see in the jungles.

So I mentioned two aspects of the problems of life. There are the people outside, which you see as the first thing of your observation, but now I'm telling you something more important, which is yourself. Your psychology determines the manner of your living in this world. How you are, what you are in your mind and intellect and ratiocination, will greatly determine the character of your life, the quality of your existence.

Now I will tell you a third thing, which is how a philosopher generally thinks. Even if you know something about yourself adequately, we may say – you are a good psychologist of the mind, you are good sociologist and you have understood people very well – still there is something you have not understood, without the knowledge of which the entire thing in the world will be in a state of utter confusion and chaos, namely, nature outside. The sun shines; the wind blows. It rains. There is the earth under your feet. Do you know how important these are? We are concerned with only humanity, including our own selves; okay, granted, but do you think there is something more important than humanity?

Astronomers are discussing the sunspots. Many of you might have heard what sunspots are. They appear to be facing the Earth once in twelve years or so, and now, at present, astronomers point out that the sunspots are working. They determine what is happening on the Earth, in this world. Even the prices of commodities in the market, their rise and fall, the fate of nations, the historical process of humanity – these things are determined by the action of the sunspots 93 million miles away from us. Do we ever think of these things? The moon conditions your mind, and the sun conditions your soul, says the deeper aspect of astronomy, a different subject altogether. One cyclone, one tornado is sufficient to tell you your strength. One earthquake is sufficient to tell you what you are. What control have you got over earthquakes, over the sun, over the moon, over the wind, over the rain, over drought, over flood? Do you know that these are realities, or they are unrealities? What have you to say about all these things?

Philosophy is a study of the realities of life, so you cannot exhaust reality like that merely by thinking one or two things in your family circumstance or in your office. Your life is not confined to your family and your office. There is something more about it. I mentioned society, the whole world and yourself, and now I'm telling you the whole nature, which is a tremendous thing before you. If you are unfriendly with people, they will tell you what you are; if you are unfriendly with yourself, your own psychophysical complex will tell you what you are; and if you are not friendly with nature, it can also tell you what you are. Now three things I have told you: society outside, yourself here, and nature, which is a tremendous reality, more real than all humanity put together. Natural laws can wipe out humanity in one second if they operate in a manner not conducive to the existence of life.

But there is another thing which puts a cap the on the head of philosophy, about which sometimes we think and many times we do not bother about it: the ultimate controlling power in the universe. We have very little time to think all these things. Everything is working systematically. The heart is working precisely even without you knowing it is working. Your breath is flowing systematically. Even when you are fast asleep, your heart is not sleeping, and the breathing process is not sleeping. The sun rises precisely at the exact moment of time, the seasons are perfectly in order, and everything is mathematically complete. How is it that this world looks so complete, perfect, systematic, complete and reliable? We do not think that the sun will fall on our head one day. It will never happen. We never believe that the sun will rise in the west someday; he will always be in the east. And you know when he rises. He will not come two hours late or two hours before. How it is that there is such a system in this world? 'Organism' is the name we give to an operation which is a perfect system, a vital, living system.

An organism is different from a mechanism. A machine also is a complete system. But yourself, myself, as human beings, are not mechanical systems; we are vital systems. That is why we call ourselves organisms. The whole world lives and works, it appears, as an organism, which gives us satisfaction. A machine cannot give you satisfaction. It is only a living thing that gives you satisfaction. If life is worth living, if it is satisfying to you and you would like to live in this world for as long a time as possible, it is clear to you that there is life in this world. And this life is pervaded in all things. It is an omnipresent vitality organising even the littlest atom; from the littlest atom up to the galaxies, it is controlling all things.

Logical deduction carried on in this manner will tell you that neither you can exist, nor human society can survive, nor nature can be explained unless there is a total controlling, determining intelligence in this cosmos. This controlling power cannot be a dead element. It is very intelligent. It is like a perfect architect. Everything is moving in the direction of an achievement of a goal which seems to be towards the achievement of greater and greater satisfaction.

Are you not working for the achievement of a purpose in life which seems to be ahead of you in the future? That purpose is supposed to be also moving towards greater and greater joy and happiness. Every day you work in order that tomorrow you may be more happy than today, and the day after tomorrow you will be still more happy than tomorrow. Endlessly you would like to go on like that, moving forward and forward for as long a time as possible in this world so that your dimension of existence, your dimension of joy, will go on expanding larger and larger, unto what limit? Endlessly. You would like to possess infinity itself. You would like to grasp eternity and make it your own. Would you like to do that? If it is possible, you will say, “Yes, I will do that.” You would like to have eternity and infinity in your hand, if possible. How does this idea arise in your mind unless it is practicable? An impossible thing cannot arise in your mind.

Without dilating too much on this subject I am clinching the matter, telling you that this great Master, Acharya Sankara, delved deep into this subject and said that you can grasp infinity and eternity because that is your aspiration, finally. In religious parlance we call it God-consciousness, God-realisation, achievement of utter perfection.

All the problems of life with which I began speaking can be brought together into a focus of a fourfold angle of vision: society, and your own individual psychology, nature, and God. They are not four different things, like four legs of a cow. They are like four quarters of a coin which are inside the coin but can be seen independently. The four quarters of a coin are inside the coin, not outside. They are logically present, but not mechanically present. In that way, the four issues I mentioned – society, the individual, the universe and God Almighty – are not four different things. They are four aspects of the vision of one single Reality, which is whatever you call it according to your predilection, your faith, your religion, your following, your concept of existence.

Most compassionate, most catholic in outlook, supra religious, not confined to any particular religious denomination is the thought of this great man who was born into this country, Acharya Sankara, whose birthday the country celebrates today on the fifth day of the bright half of the Shukla Panchami, as they call it in Sanskrit, of Vaishkha Masa. I have placed before you a few thoughts and ideas which you may find worthwhile pondering over because they are concerned with you, not with somebody else – with your welfare, which is a greater asset to you than anything else. God bless you.