Appendix: To Thine Own Self Be True
(An extempore reply given to the Inter-Religious Dialogue Group held under the auspices of the Vatican, that conducted its sessions at Raipur (Dehradun), and visited and held a day's proceeding at the Sivananda Ashram on the 3rd of June, 1981.)
The Divine Life Society, with the large heart of Swami Sivananda at its back and its root, extends to you all a cordial welcome at this moment of a session of spirits which may be regarded as gathered for a common purpose.
I was delighted to listen to the definition of 'ashrama' given by our earlier speaker, as a place where a purposeful life is being led. I think this is the correct definition of an ashrama—a place where people live a purposeful life—which would suggest that most people do not live a purposeful life.
I do not know if I can say that religion is just this much, i.e., living of a purposeful life. There is, perhaps, no necessity to give any label to our various facets of treading this path, though people are usually accustomed to names and forms which they regard as necessary aids in living their lives. I mentioned the name of Swami Sivananda as a large heart, under whose banner and within the ambit of whose vast protection we had the opportunity of living here for several years. A few of us lived with him physically and we are witnesses to the superhuman gamut which, we can confidently say, he has traversed in the life of utter practicality, which he demonstrated before the public of the world. We, the humble followers of this great Master, have been taught to live a kind of life which has given us a deep satisfaction within ourselves. And, at least, some of us can vouchsafe this satisfaction which keeps us alive even with a life that can be materially regarded as one of non-possession. The religion, if you would like to call this way of life by this designation, which the great master Swami Sivananda taught us and endeavoured to teach to the world, is not a classified cult or a faith, segregated to a section of humanity or a geographical area. It was a comprehensive outlook which, in a togetherness of consciousness, envisaged the whole of humanity as a family. To repeat, once again, the same phrase quoted by our earlier speaker, it is: vasudhaiva kutumbakam, and religion was regarded as the way to God, perhaps life in God.
Now, we come to an interesting sidelight of this matter when we try to go a little deeper into this question of religion. Has religion failed, as some people would tell us today? Is religion being threatened, as we often hear it said in many quarters? May I confidently say that religion has not failed and it cannot fail. It cannot also be threatened because, if you would agree with me that religion is an outlook of consciousness, and not a coming together of social units for an empirical purpose, no one can threaten religion, because no one can threaten consciousness. One's social, physical and political existence can be threatened. But religion cannot be threatened, because it is not an empirical or phenomenal demonstration of externalised relationships. It is an attitude of what we are, and not an expression necessarily of what we do in our outward lives. So, if we can convince ourselves that religion is an attitude of consciousness, it automatically follows that it cannot be threatened by political forces or the vicissitudes through which the whole of society passes or even the changes which the individual undergoes. This is one aspect of the question which occurred to my mind. Religion cannot be threatened, and we need not be afraid of this possibility. Even if the physical existence of an individual or a social phenomenon may be threatened under certain given conditions, religious spirit cannot be threatened.
The other aspect which occurred to my mind is the way in which we have to entertain the concept of religion in our minds. How would you enshrine the spirit of religion in the mind of man? It has been told that religion is connected to God in some way. It is an outlook which roots itself in a law or a righteousness of the Kingdom of Heaven, a rita or a satya to speak in terms of the Veda. If religion is somehow or other vitally and organically related to the presence of God, certain other very interesting consequences will follow which may require our considerate attention. Every religion accepts that God is omnipresent, all-pervading and occupying all space and all time. The omnipresence of God would, therefore, at the same time suggest the omnipresence of the religious outlook, for religion is vitally connected to the presence of God. Now we, perhaps, tread a dangerous zone when we come to conclusions of this nature. When the omnipresence of God thus entails the omnipresence of the religious outlook, it would mean that the life of man is the life of religion, and the only purposeful or meaningful life can be no other than the life of religion.
But, we are here likely to be stimulated by another emotion or sentiment. What about our secular obligations and our social duties or political affiliations? Our affiliation to the world which is material demands our immediate attention, an attention which cannot easily be identified with a religious attitude. Man's mind seems to be made in such a way that it has determined to strike a gulf or even an imbalance between the life in God and the life of the world. Asceticism, in the form in which it has presented itself in religious circles, is an instance on hand. Ascetics are dubbed as otherworldly, antisocial individuals. Can religion be regarded as an anti-social phenomenon? If we are not going to define religion with our tongue in our cheeks, if we are to be consistent in our concept of religion and sincere in our approach to the call of religion, and not hypocrites, if we are logical in our thinking and would not like to bypass any particular stage of thought in this logical process of deduction of values, there is nothing to fear in life. The fear that God may not protect us in times of danger would produce the consequence of our dependence on social values as quite different from religious values, and here, we may perhaps see the seed of the notion that religion is an otherworldly affair and it is not a matter concerning this world.
Many religions, rightly or wrongly, knowingly or unknowingly, have given the impression that they are teaching an otherworldly gospel, which has roused the wrath of many socially-oriented thinkers who do not feel that the world of nature is an unreality to the extent that it demands a religious abnegation. I do not think that the prophets of religion, whether it is a Krishna or a Christ or a Mohammed, were responsible for creating this difficulty in our religious thinking. Most followers, whether of the gospel of Krishna or Christ or Mohammed or any other prophet, seem to be expressing the weakness that is characteristic of human nature and demonstrating that they cannot be up to the mark or the level of the prophet. While humility is a great virtue and it is quite obvious that no follower of the great prophet or the founder of a religion can be equal to that prophet, it would be unbecoming on the part of the followers of these prophets to interpret their teachings in a manner which could be tantamount to a reading of a quite different meaning of their original teachings. If religion is the way of life that is commensurate with the existence of the omnipresent God, religious wars are unthinkable and should be regarded as an unimaginable tragedy in the psychological life of man. How would you reconcile the inner impulse in man to move towards the omnipresent Almighty with the need he feels, simultaneously, to keep a knife under his armpit to guard himself against his own brother? How would a truly religious spirit try to reconcile this ambivalent attitude of the human being who guards himself against his own brother whom he is expected to love with all his heart, with all his soul! How would this reconciliation be effected?
Man cries hoarse that man should serve man, and humanity should work for humanity. Social service is the slogan of the modern day. But, it is man who is the source of fear for man. While we live apparently only to serve our brethren, as a necessary outcome of the true religious life, we seem to be working, at the same time, to be cautious of our brethren. We look at our neighbour with a wary eye and we are secretly prepared for any encounter with the very same humanity whom we are trying to serve as our own brothers. There is a psychological conflict in man's mind. There is a double dealing in the so-called religious man. And we may say, perhaps, he is not true to his own self. “To thine own Self be true,” perhaps sums up the gospel of religion. It is no use preaching, and it is no use trying the implementation of a project which can succumb finally to a small weakness in man's mind, which he has been guarding from the eye of observation, lest it should spoil his career. An open-mindedness, which is hundred per cent in its expression, is a hard thing to find in the world.
How many of us can touch our hearts and confidently say that we do believe in the power of God? Do we also not believe in that which is not God? Are there not non-Gods in this world, or do you say there is only God everywhere? Is it possible for us to assert that there is no other thing in this world than God? And, if a secret aspect of our psychic nature is not prepared to so openly proclaim that God only is and nothing else can be, is it true that we are also not secretly hanging on to something else which is anti-God, the anti-Christ, the non-spiritual? Or, are we in a position to declare again that there is no such thing as the unspiritual? Can religion say that even the worst evil is only a face of spirituality? We are hard-pressed even here. Our mouths will not open, the tongue will not move when it is asked to proclaim that even the worst evil is a manifestation of God. There is a Satan before us. How would you say that he is an expression of God? There is untruth, which is the opposite of truth; there is ugliness, which is the opposite of beauty; there is vice, which is the opposite of virtue; and there is unrighteousness or wickedness, which is the opposite of righteousness. Can you say they are identical in their nature? If they are not identical, have you got two Gods in this world? These are problems before us. I am not trying to solve any problem, which I do not regard as my vocation or within my capacity, but I am only trying to think aloud in respect of the difficulties that man is facing and which he is not prepared to solve honestly, because of a certain axe that he has to grind in a very secret manner.
One may be a religious man, another may be a person with a vocation of religion in an official manner, but all that will not cut ice before the hard realities of the world. The world before us is not so simple as to be neglected by our religious attitude. It has its own say, and it is a very hard substance before us. And we must be prepared, in a reasonable way, to pay our debts to this world; we may say the debt to the world of material forces. We often say that materialism is opposed to spirituality. Yes, here we are declaring a permanent existence of a dichotomy between God and anti-God. The old gulf between Purusha and Prakriti of the Sankhya comes in always. No religious savant has been able to get over this difficulty of not being able to answer this question whether there is something other than God. An academic answer is not a solution. Metaphysics is no help to us. Theory has not been able to appease the hunger of a starving stomach. We find that the world of matter has managed to assert its reality whatever be our intellectual affirmation of God's existence as a supreme Idealistic Being.
Very unfortunately, I have been placing only problems before the minds of people here. But unless we know what the diseases are, we cannot find a remedy. To diagnose deeply the depths of the illness of man, is not an unnecessary adventure. It is the purpose of a medical man. And we should not give a pill of religion and think that the malady is over. The pill-religion will not work, and it has not worked. We cannot swallow one tablet and think that God has come. It is a serious question before mankind as a whole. And we are happy at this hour that serious thinkers in this direction are gathered here to muster in forces of God, I should say, not merely social forces, because God alone can solve the problems of life. No man can succeed in this superhuman difficulty. God alone can save us. Man cannot save us. Arms, ammunitions, police and army are no help to us when we are in danger, because these are all human forces and contrivances. If we have any friend, it is God. If we have any support, it is God. And if there is anyone who can teach us or give a lesson, it is God. If our questions can be answered, God alone can answer them. A human friend cannot be competent to answer these questions.
So, a secret surrender of the human spirit to the Almighty Presence is the vital need of the hour, as I can think at this moment. We are afraid. We are afraid of everything today. Even the movement of a dry leaf frightens us. We do not know what it is aiming at. Fear is around us. We cannot sleep one peaceful night. And, guns and swords cannot help us here. It is the Spirit of God that can save us, and the implementation of the Spirit of God in our daily behaviour may be regarded as religion. I do not know what you call it—Christianity, Hinduism, Islam or Zen. I do not know what name you would like to give it.
I conclude with these few words that it is high time not to slumber or woolgather or imagine that milk and honey flow in this world. It cannot flow always. It is high time that we are honest to the true God. When our deepest spirit, the basic being of ours is en rapport with the Being of the cosmos, perhaps the millennium, Ramarajya or the Golden Age of Kritayuga descends. God reigning the world is not an impossibility. This is my humble conviction.