Essays in Life and Eternity
by Swami Krishnananda


Chapter 2: The Universal and the Particular

Since Spirit is universal – because non-universality would make it perishable – the presence of the Spirit in anything is, in fact, the Universal Existence being immanent in the particular. Spirituality, or religion, a designation that has generally been applied to signify the higher values of life, consists, then, in the measure of awareness of the extent to which the Universal Principle inhabits locations of any kind. The human body, the family, the community, the province, the nation, or the world as a whole stands before us as an example of the operation of the Universal in different degrees of particularity. Human individuality, physically speaking, is all anatomy and physiology, a combination of physical and chemical properties cohering into the pattern of a whole, vitality pervading the whole system, so that the human being is not just bone and flesh and it transcends the diversity of the physical limbs. This is common knowledge, and it becomes clear when one investigates into the fact of man remaining a whole as a self-identical entity even if some limbs of the body are to be taken away by medical operation. Here is an immediately available instance of the consciousness of oneself transcending the particulars of the bodily limbs as a basic element of the universal rising above particularised parts. So is the case with the family, which is a name that is used to indicate an integrating awareness of a total whole of which the members of the family are inseparable parts. But the family can remain a whole even if some member thereof is to die. The family is a whole, whether the members are larger in number or smaller. The quantity of the particulars does not affect the quantitative integration of the whole. Thus also is the case with the wholeness and particularising aspects associated with a community, a part of a country or the nation as a whole. The national unity, which is a cultural inclusiveness, can stand by itself as an unaffected whole even if individual members constituting the whole are to increase or decrease by way of some special circumstance. Institutions, organisations, governments, are all, then, principles existing as a state of consciousness, an ideology above individualities, transcending them altogether in everything and even disregarding, often, the existence or non-existence of individuals. The Universal can exist even if none of the particulars exists. This is so because the Universal is an ideal and a consciousness that acts as an integrating cohesive force among particulars and itself does not need for its existence the existence of the particulars. We come back here to our earlier illustration, that the wholeness of a human individual can continue to be there even if some fifty per cent of the physical limbs of the body were not to be there. This unconsciously lands us, in the end, in the conviction that the Absolute can exist without the relative, and God can exist even if the world of creation were not to exist.

Philosophers, many a time, have found it difficult to imagine the existence of a universal independent of particulars. This difficulty arises because it is wrongly assumed that the universal is an abstraction, a conceptual generalisation arising from some common features seen in particulars, such as the universal principle of horseness seen to be present in each individual case of a horse. But the universal 'need not be a quality depending upon an isolated individual as a substance. The Universal is not like the greenness seen in all leaves or the redness seen in roses. That is to say, the universal is not a quality of a substance other than itself. Such a nominalism of outlook in the definition of the universal can arise only if one is completely oblivious of the fact that even the awareness of there being such things as particulars would not be possible unless there is a prior element of consciousness-grasp which knows all 1he particulars in a single act of attention, proving thereby that such a consciousness is larger in dimension than the particulars, is immanent in them, by which immanence it knows them, and is also transcendent to them due to which it is none of the particulars.

Our observations made above will suffice to illustrate the priority and antecedence of the universal to particulars of any kind. Here is a hint that any sort of exclusive interest in the particulars alone would be violative of the requirements of the health of the organism which is the whole, and this rule will apply to every level or degree of the manifestation of the universal through the entire series of the evolutionary ascent, right from the individual to the highest universal, namely, the Absolute.

The meditation of life, then, is the gradual establishment of wholeness in the midst of particulars, in every level, in every stage, in every degree of evolution. Grandly has it been proclaimed by the Bhagavadgita, in a majestic epic fashion, that the Universal, designated as Brahman, has hands and feet everywhere, has eyes, faces and heads everywhere, and it exists enveloping everything. It is the illuminator of all the sense-organs, but in itself it is none of them. It is the support behind all diversity, but it cannot be identified with anyone of these. It is the reality behind appearances. Being above substances and qualities, relations and modifications, it cannot be said to have any attributes; though no quality or attribute can subsist without it being there as the basic substratum. It is inside and outside all things; but it has itself no inside and outside. Being the foundation for all movement and activity, it cannot be characterised by any movement or activity. Being the very Seer and Knower, as the basic Subject, it cannot be seen, heard or even thought by the mind. Being endless and infinite, it is everywhere like a limitless expanse, but as the Self of everything nothing can be nearer than its presence. Among beings that are divided it may look divided as their substratum, but by itself it is not divided, as it is the very awareness behind all possible division. Everything is absorbed into it, everything is consumed into it, as it were, and it stands unparalleled as a blend of Eternity and infinity, as the Light of all lights, glorying in its radiance beyond the darkness of ignorance.