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The Philosophy of Life

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PART I: THE FOUNDATIONS OF PHILOSOPHY

Chapter 6: The Constitution of the Universe (Continued)

The Significance of the Causal Concept

Swami Sivananda accepts causation as a universal law. “No event can occur without having a positive and definite cause at the back of it. The breaking of war, the rise of a comet, the occurrence of an earthquake or a volcanic eruption, the breaking of an epidemic, thunder, lightning, floods, diseases in the body, fortune, misfortune,—all have definite causes behind them.” “There is no such thing as blind chance or accident. The cause is hidden or unknown if we are not able to trace out the cause of a particular accident.” “All the physical and mental forces in Nature obey this grand law of cause and effect. Law and the law-giver are one. Law and God are one. Nature and Nature’s laws are one.” “From the vibration of an electron to the revolution of a mighty planet, from the falling of a mango to the ground to the powerful willing of a Jnani or a Yogi, from the motion of a runner in the postal department to the movement of radio-waves in the subtle ether, from the transmitting of a telegraphic message to the telepathic communication of a Yogi in the thought-world, every event is the effect of some invisible force that works in happy concord and harmony with the law of cause and effect” (Practice of Karma-Yoga: pp. 62-63). “There is perfect continuity of life all throughout” (Ibid p. 71).

The concept of causation in the philosophy of Swami Sivananda can be formulated from an explanation of this subject offered in his commentary on the Brahmasutras. He holds, with Sankara, that the effect is non-different from the cause, and that the defects observed in the effects cannot affect the cause, even as the special features of a jar are not, when it is broken and resolved into the cause, taken into the cause. The world conceived of as an effect is not a changeless reality, and hence, when it is reabsorbed into its cause, viz., Brahman, the defects of the former are not taken over into the latter. Brahman is the Vivarta-Upadana (apparent material cause) of the world, and not its real cause, and so the qualities of the world cannot taint Brahman in any way. We see in the world that a magician conjuring up various phenomena is not affected by them even in the least. Further, all the characters of the world are not really absorbed into Brahman at the time of its dissolution. Certain characteristics of the individuals who have not attained liberation at the time of the dissolution of the world remain then in a potential state and provide the necessary cause for the subsequent creation of the world. The case is analogous to the state of waking following deep sleep. The potentiality for creation remains unseen in the condition of dissolution. The fact that particular effects are produced from particular causes, and not from things entirely dissimilar to them, shows that the effect is non-different from the cause and exists in the cause even before origination. Prior to its causation the effect is unmanifest in the cause. In creation the effect gets manifested. An effect which was non-existent in its cause cannot come into being. There is no entirely new creation, for all creation is a manifestation of what existed previously in a latent state. “The effect is not different from the cause. The effect, the world, is not different from the cause, Brahman. As the cause, Brahman is Ananda or bliss. There is reflection of bliss in the effect, the world. The essence of the world is the same as Brahman” (Secret of Self realisation: p. 96). “In this world, everything has a cause and an effect. The seed is the cause of the tree, and so on. How can there be cause and effect in Brahman which is the causeless Cause, which is self-existent, which is not an effect of anything?” (Ibid p. 75). “An effect does not exist apart from its cause. For instance, a pot does not exist apart from clay, its material cause. Similarly, this universe does not exist apart from Brahman, its material cause. It has no independent existence” (Self-Knowledge: p. 4).

The effect appears to us to proceed from the cause on account of a defect in our perception of the cause. There is nothing in the effect which is not contained in the cause, and even the spatial distance between the two is logically inadmissible. Such distinction is empirically made by the relative conditions of individual perception. If the effect is really non-existent in the cause, and if it is true that a new effect entirely different from the cause is capable of being produced, we cannot, even by an effort of imagination, conceive of its coming into being at all. No attempt on the part of an external agent can be of any avail in bringing forth an effect which is not at all the cause. Nothing can originate from nothing. Oil cannot be pressed out of sand by any amount of ingenuity or effort. There is an inseparable relation between cause and effect, and this can be intelligible only when the effect is understood as an unfoldment of the cause, and the cause as the latency of the effect.

The fact that the effect is non-different from the cause establishes the truth that the real is the cause and not the effect. The Chhandogya Upanishad declares that Brahman which is the ultimate cause is, alone, real, even as clay alone is real as the cause of all things that are made of it. As there is nothing but clay in a jar made of clay, so there is nothing but Brahman in this world. As the jar is not separate from the clay of which it is an appearance, so is the world non-different from Brahman on which it appears. From this it is also clear that a knowledge of the cause at once implies a knowledge of all its effects. When clay is known, all its effects also are known. When Brahman is known, the whole world is known. All modification is a play of speech, a mere name; the original substance alone is real. The Upanishad teaching leads to the conclusion that the name and the form of the effect are not in its cause, while the essential nature of the cause is in the effect. Only on the acceptance of the proposition that the effect is non-different from the cause can the passage of the Sruti—that with the knowledge of Brahman everything is known—have any meaning, for the knowledge of a cause cannot imply the knowledge of an effect which is different from it. Though all causes seen in the world have some other cause behind them, Brahman, which is the ultimate cause, has no other cause behind it, for the Sruti declares that the great Self is unborn and undecaying (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad: IV. 4. 25): Brahman is eternal being and not an effect of any cause.

The Evolution of Name and Form

Swami Sivananda delineates the Vedanta theory of the evolution of the universe in his Vedanta in Daily Life, Self Knowledge and First Lessons in Vedanta. The method adopted is deductive, for the story of evolution begins with the affirmation of Brahman and its Sakti or the eternal Power or self-expression as the ultimate cause of the universe. As there is a limited mind in the individual, there is an unlimited mind in the cosmos. This cosmic mind in its unmanifested state exists in a primordial cause of all things, called Mula-Prakriti, or simply Prakriti. Prakriti is the Sakti of Brahman. It is the state of the equilibrium of the essences constituting the universe. The universe remains in a latent state in Prakriti, which is the mother of all phenomena, visible and invisible. Prakriti is constituted of three metaphysical properties, called Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. Sattva is the state of equilibrium of intelligence, harmony of forces and freedom from want. In it there is no distraction whatsoever. There is no movement caused by the presence of any sense of imperfection. It may be compared to a clean glass or a mirror, not stained by any colour, through which the intelligence of the Absolute gets reflected, as it were. Sattva is purity and dynamic consciousness. Etymologically, Sattva is the state of being. It is, however, not perfect being but approximate to pure being. One who is in the state of Sattva enjoys the blessedness and bliss of Brahman.

Rajas is distraction, activity, movement, disturbance. There is vibration, motion, when there is a manifestation of Rajas. In Sattva there is equilibrium, and in Rajas there is objectivity, motion in its subtle form. Activity starts when Rajas begins to operate. This is the cause of division and separation of existence. The third property of Prakriti is Tamas. It is inertia, unconsciousness and fixity, where there is no manifestation of intelligence. There is an excess of the manifestation of Tamas in inanimate objects. A predominance of Tamas characterises the non-intelligent universe. It is manifest, in some degree, even in animate beings.

An object can be in three conditions: Sattva, Rajas and Tamas—harmony, activity or inertia. Usually, the human mind never enjoys a state of this primary Sattva. It is ever in a state of secondary Rajas or Tamas. The mind of man always functions objectively; it is either active or inactive. When it is active, it is in a state of Rajas; when it is inactive, it is fixed in Tamas. It is very difficult for one to conceive of absolute Sattva. Sometimes, in states of ecstasy, Sattva, like a flash of lightning, manifests itself in the human mind also. Whenever we are happy, there is an expression of Sattva in us. When there is merely a movement or vibration, which is the quality of Rajas, there can be no experience of happiness. Happiness can be manifest only in Sattva, in a state of the equilibrium of mind, and not in Rajas. Consciousness can be manifest in Rajas, but happiness requires a subtler medium for its expression. But through Tamas neither intelligence nor happiness can be made manifest. Joy, intelligence and existence are revealed in Sattva, intelligence and existence in Rajas and existence alone in Tamas. Even inanimate things are; they exist: the other two qualities are not visible in them.

Sattva, Rajas and Tamas are the ultimate stuff of which the Prakriti consists. The cosmic mind is a manifestation of Brahman in primary Sattva. Sattva, Rajas and Tamas are not qualities of Prakriti in the sense of qualities seen in things of the world. When we say, for example, ‘this cloth is blue,’ we mean that blueness is a quality of the particular piece of cloth. Here the quality and substance are two different things. Blueness does not constitute the cloth, nor does it form any part of the stuff of the cloth. It is not in this sense that Sattva, Rajas and Tamas are called properties of Prakriti. In the world we see that a quality inheres in a substance, and it cannot exist without a substance. But Sattva, Rajas and Tamas are not qualities inhering in Prakriti, as in a substance, but form the very existence of Prakriti. We may bring out the significance of these primeval modes by the analogy of a rope with three strands. The strands are entwined together to form the rope. The strands are not the qualities of the rope, but form the substance out of which the rope is made. The rope does not exist without the strands. It is in the sense of the relation of the three strands to the rope that Sattva, Rajas and Tamas are said to be properties of Prakriti. They are not its external attributes but its essence and existence. And all substances in the world are made up of these three modes by permutation and combination.

These primordial properties exist in the cosmic mind and the individual mind, which bear the relation of cause and effect, or original and reflection, respectively. In the cosmic mind they exist as free media manifesting Brahman in its infinitude. But in the individual they become the secondary media manifesting a distorted form of reality in the structures of personalities and their natures. The cosmic manifestation of Brahman in pure Sattva becomes the cosmic mind in its original form, unmanifested, as if in a state of cosmic sleep. This sleep is not, however, the unconscious sleep known to individuals. Rather, it is a sleep where consciousness does not lose itself in ignorance but retains its freshness and omniscience. When Brahman manifests itself in the property of cosmic Sattva, it assumes the form of the Creator, Preserver and Destroyer of the universe. This first manifestation of Brahman in cosmic Sattva is called Isvara. Isvara is different from Brahman in the sense that He is in relation to the universe, while Brahman is independent of all cosmic relations. Isvara is Brahman appearing as the immanent principle in all things. For practical purposes in spiritual Sadhana, this distinction between Isvara and Brahman need not be made. The distinction is essential only in a technical study of first principles. Brahman with the relations of the universe is Isvara and Isvara without such relations is Brahman.

Brahman is also manifest in cosmic Rajas. Now, this manifestation of reality in a dividing force becomes the origin of the appearance of the different individuals in the universe. In cosmic Sattva there is no division. Hence Isvara is omnipresent. But the individuals are localised, for, they are the results of the appearance of consciousness through Rajas, the force of individuation, division and separation of existence. And when this manifestation takes place in cosmic Tamas, the history is different. Here no consciousness is to be seen, not even individual consciousness. Only existence is felt, nothing more. Even this feeling of the existence of the cosmic Tamas belongs to other conscious beings, not to the Tamas itself. The stone does not know that it has no knowledge. It is we, human beings endowed with understanding, that say that it has no consciousness. In Tamas there is no joy, no intelligence, but only unconscious existence. The stone, however, is not a product of cosmic Tamas in its pure form; it is the result of the mixing up of its derivatives. This primary Tamas is very subtle, and has a supersensible existence.