The Struggle for Perfection
by Swami Krishnananda


Human life may be regarded as a process of successive achievements, and every movement in this process is a step taken towards the actualisation of the ideal which beckons one to itself. All beings, whatever be in the cosmos, are comprehended by this single law – the law of a striving for higher achievements. In this struggle to achieve the higher, one realises pleasure. It is well said that man never is; he is always to be. We do not entirely live in the present. There is an element of the future in what we do, and we never confine ourselves to the present merely. This means to say that we identify ourselves, though in a covert manner, with an ideal to be achieved in the future, which, we hope, will bring us a larger satisfaction. If the future is not ingrained in the present, how could there be such a thing as hope? That we cannot keep quiet, that we always feel a duty before us, is enough indication that we are wound up with a future. It is also not true that we wholly live in the future, because the future cannot be contained in the consciousness of the present. Time cannot take a jump beyond the present, which is its core. We might hope for the future, but we cannot live in the future. Life is always a present.

If, then, it is impossible to have a 'real' satisfaction in the 'future', and if we cannot also live without a future, there would appear to be a tension, or contradiction, in our life. Life is a battle between the present and the future, between our affairs of today and our future hopes. The present and future cannot join in time, and yet there seems to be a superhuman element, transcending human understanding which somehow connects the two together. With all this, still, we know that the present and the future never come together. All this may look like a logical untenability, but logic is not all, and science is not everything. What, to us, seems a possibility, need not exhaust all wisdom. We cannot understand how it is possible to reconcile our present difficulty with our longings of the future. We seem to be wanting something which is not within our present perception, and feel happy about what we know not. Are we not foolish in trying to achieve the impossible? We seem to be fighting with time itself, which bifurcates the present from the future. And what we want is not bifurcation but union of the present and future. Our souls cry for that which cannot be given in time. There is something in us which time cannot explain, for it is not in time. The one which 'asks' is not human, and so the human mind cannot understand the significance of this epic war. Where does this asking for 'more' and 'more' end? It does not end in time, because there is no end to time, just as there is no end to the horizon. As we proceed towards the horizon, it recedes from us. Whatever be our effort to probe into the future, it cannot be successful, even if we are to live for a thousand years. Are we then to conclude that we are bound only to hope and struggle, but achieve nothing? Is this our fate – to suffer for no reason? Or, is there some meaning in life? Something in us voices that life has a significance, which makes us daily work so hard. A marvel indeed is human life!

What are we hoping to achieve then? Logically argued, the effort would appear to be a vain pursuit. If the life we have lived for so many years, so far, has not brought us anything worth the while, what is the guarantee that it is going to bring something in the future? This would be the result of an investigation of human life from the point of view of mind, psychology and logic. Though all this may be correct as far as it goes, something seems to be announcing another truth altogether, something which cannot reconcile itself with any of the above observations. A timeless Spirit seems to speak from within us. It defies time and we seem to be living a timeless existence. The difficulty in reconciling the present with the future is there only so long as we live in time. All that is in time is tantalising; it makes a promise which it never fulfils. The eternal seems to masquerade in time and we seem to have something in us more than what we appear to be to ourselves as well as to others. We are not mere humans, and our relations are not merely social. Our connections with others, our name, age, height, weight, etc., are not a real description of ourselves, because these have no relation to the eternal in us, which asks for what is not in time at all. We make artificial adjustments in our life to bring about a false satisfaction that our wish has been fulfilled, and that our future has been brought to the present. The realisation of a hope has a meaning when it identifies itself with the present, which is the nature of consciousness. People generally complain: "We have made so much sacrifice, but they have brought us no recompense. Then, what is the good of all this?"

But, this is one side of the picture. That our outer circumstances often look unattractive is a part of truth, and our wisdom does not consist in merely accepting this on its surface. The pains of life are due to the wrong adjustments we make between our inner personality and outer circumstances. We do make adjustments, but not always rightly. We may go wrong even in doing a right thing. Many of us do right things wrongly. Sacrifices alone are not sufficient; they should be done with wisdom. They should be performed not for any ulterior fruit but for that joy of the art of adjustment. Science may be a means to some end, but not art. Art is an end in itself. Self-adjustment is an art, and when carried to its perfection, it is called Yoga. Even in its initial stages, an all-round adjustment becomes Yoga. Even the very first step points to an eternal perfection, and so it transcends all learning – it is Yoga, says the Bhagavadgita.

We have to make this adjustment from the point of view of the timeless element in us. The wrong we do in life's adjustments is in not taking into consideration the superhuman element in us and thinking in terms only of the personality. It is not the body, the personality, that makes the sacrifice as this adjustment; but the 'I', which needs to be trained more than anything else in the conscious, subconscious and unconscious levels, in a sense deeper than what the psychologists generally understand. The timeless reality cannot be grasped through the apparatus of ordinary psychology, because all these instruments are temporal, while that being within is spiritual. The spiritual reality which is the 'I' is indistinguishable in its ultimate essence from other entities or beings. Though we differ from one another in bodies and in social circumstances, we have a kinship of feeling from the standpoint of our essential nature. The adjustment that we have to make, which is the art of the Yoga of the Bhagavadgita, so difficult to understand even with all our trained understanding, is nothing but the simple act of attunement of oneself to the universal environment, not from the standpoint of time, but the inner reality. It is an organic adjustment, not a mechanical dovetailing. While mechanical adjustment is what we generally do in the hope of obtaining pleasure, organic adjustment is Yoga. We often think that certain aspects of our personality can be hidden from people and only certain others can be projected outside and related to others, according to our desire. This is a mistake, and this is mechanical adjustment. There is a secret law which we forget – the law which connects our inner personalities with the inner personalities of others, even without our consciously knowing it. This inner act of spontaneous recognition is called 'prehension'. Prehension is a process by which we automatically relate ourselves to everything else in the cosmos. While apprehension is an outer act on the conscious level, prehension is deeper than even the subconscious function. There is no such thing as hiding things from other persons, because we are always related to others. When the prehensive activity within contradicts the apprehensive activity outside, there is a psychological tension.

We have an inner personality and also an outer one. We usually exhibit the outer and hide the inner. We make sacrifices by the outer personality. We may appear unselfish in our outer conduct, while there is selfishness in the inner attitude. We are thus at war within ourselves. The malady of human life is not only of outer society but also of each one of us, individually. We are mostly busy in studying others, but not ourselves. Our present-day system of education pertains to the study of outer phenomena but not the inner truth of things. We never become the subject of study; the subject always remains an 'object'! Unless right education of the integral type is provided, humanity's suffering will not end. There must be a sympathy between ourselves and the outer world, and between our inner and outer personalities.

This is Yoga – to establish peace in our relations with others as well as in our own selves. The system of Yoga is meant to effect this inner attunement by a graduated process of self-transcendence. There seems to be no other wrong with us than an ignorance which has led us to a maladjustment of values. We have to learn the art of seeking the proper thing in the proper manner. Life is a process of education in the art of this proper seeking, morally, psychologically, socially and spiritually. To be at peace with ourselves, with society and the universe, for ever, is to realise the eternal value which vitalises all existence. Towards this knowledge, may we proceed with diligence.