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The Nature of the True Religious Life
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 1: We are Mysterious Somethings

The Academy of Yoga and Vedanta has invited you for participating in a specific type of training, as you all know very well. When you applied for admission into this course, you had naturally an unintelligible feeling within that the way in which you are living in the world at present requires a streamlining and a reorientation. If this conviction or feeling were not to be there in your minds, you would not have come here. There was a sort of inadequacy and lacuna that you felt in the way in which you lived in the world, though it might not have always been clear to you what that lacuna was, and what it was that you were lacking.

Often we feel unhappy without knowing why we are unhappy. This is a phenomenon through which many people pass. Suddenly we are depressed, and we feel that something is wrong with us, or something is wrong elsewhere, though it is not easy to know what is wrong and why is it that we are in a mood of dissatisfaction. This is a psychological phenomenon that requires deep investigation because every experience and every event that takes place in the world is inseparably connected with our own being. We are affected by our experiences and the events of the world because of our relationship with them. If we are unconnected with things, nothing can affect us. If the wind blows, we are affected; if rain falls, we are affected; if somebody utters a word, we are affected. If anything happens even in a distant country, it may have some unique impact upon us. Practically there is nothing which cannot affect us. Even if something happens in a distant star which is some million light years away, the impact of this event may be felt by the Earth.

The Earth, which is this revolving planet on which we are living, is one among the many pilgrims journeying in vast space, which fact astronomers can tell us in some detail. The Earth has colleagues in the vast space, and therefore it is, in a way, related to distant things which are invisible to the eyes. As we are inhabitants of the Earth, how could it be possible that the distant stars are not affecting us?

What is it that cannot affect us? The vast space, and inscrutable time, seem to have something to say about every one of us. We have to slowly open our eyes to a new vista, or vision, of our relationship when we try to enter a school of education. We know very well how important education is. Else, we remain like animals, living instinctively. Education is an awakening to the facts of life to which we are oblivious, usually.

When we are born from the mother's womb, we come with no knowledge. Everything is dark, and some blind instincts such as hunger, sleep, etc., begin to operate. Our parents put us in school, saying that we require education. What do they mean by that? What is wrong with our stay in our own house? Why do we go to an educational institution? It is because the need is felt that an understanding of the intricate relationships that obtain between us and others should be available to us; otherwise, we live like frogs in a well. When we are small children, we know nothing except our family members. This is our father, our mother, our brother and sister; that is all, and we are not concerned with anything else.

When we begin to get introduced into our relationship with the community outside, education starts. Education begins the moment we begin to realise that we are not confined only to the family—parents, brothers, sisters, etc. The art of conducting ourselves harmoniously in relation to the community and to the people outside the family may be said to be the beginning of education. We know very well how important it is to be harmoniously coordinated with people outside the family also.

Then education expands. It is not enough if we know only our little community. We are introduced into the larger background of the geography and the history of the place in which we are living. Our comprehension expands in two ways. When we go to school and start our educational career, geographical and historical studies are primary. Go back to your school days and remember what you learnt at the very outset. I do not think you studied physics, chemistry and mathematics at the very beginning. There were simpler things, but very important things—a description of the physical location of your own personality: the area, the district, the province in which you live. You were gradually introduced into the geography of your country, and did not study world geography first. Then you were introduced into the historical antecedents of your life—this is India, this is America, this is Europe, etc. So many people lived before you, not only a few family members. You were awakened to a larger dimension of your relationship to people who were before you, and also to the area of land that is around you. This is the kindergarten form, as it were, of the educational career, the beginning or seed form.

As I commenced by saying, our relationships do not exhaust themselves merely with human history, which we may study in our schools and colleges, because the Earth does not contain only human beings. We already know very well that this Earth is inhabited by things other than humans. When I say “things other than humans”, I do not mean merely animals and plants. There are more things on Earth than humans, animals and plants. There are invisible things. Forces which compel the Earth to rotate on its axis and revolve around the Sun are invisible to the eyes. You can imagine the importance of this atmosphere in which you are living. What is it that compels the Earth to move? What is this motive force? Where is the dynamo that pushes it? If the Earth could be pushed with such vehemence by a power or a force that you cannot see with your eyes, can you say that you are not being impacted by this force when you are crawling like an ant on the surface of the Earth? Who can say that this invisible force is not impinging upon you? Can you say that your life is controlled by only your family members or historical personages, or even by the geographical atmosphere?

This little history of humanity, this geography, this family, these great things that are spoken of as world problems and world issues, look so small, petty, meaningless and laughable when we awaken ourselves to the presence of the terrible forces which can push the very Earth in a particular direction. And when the Earth can be pushed with such force, what about human history? Where are our great people, our Napoleons and Caesars? They go like a wisp of wind. They can be blown off like an ant. The great importance that we attach to the phenomenon of human processes in history looks meaningless before these giant forces which we cannot see with our eyes but can only infer by logical deduction.

Education is not merely studying things which we can see with our eyes. That is a gross form of education, but there is a subtle form, which is a study of inferences. For example, mathematics is not an object that we see as something visible to the eyes. We cannot see mathematics with our eyes, but we can conceive what it is. This conceptual learning which is mathematics is more valuable to our lives than the gross things that we see with our eyes. We know very well how important mathematics is in life. This is one example I place before you to indicate that conceptual things and invisible things may be more important than visible things.

Logic and mathematics are the principle sciences, but they are not connected with physical objects. We can be logical and mathematical even with closed eyes, without seeing anything, without hearing anything, without having any physical contact with any object. These conceptual sciences are, in a way, inferential sciences. We conclude that if two and two make four, the multiples will also be commensurate with this calculation. We cannot see this, but we can infer it from a certain logical deduction drawn by syllogism.

Likewise is the case with the powers that determine the life of things. To reiterate what I told you earlier, your life is a bundle of relationships; it is not limited to your physical body. A little common sense will tell you that you exist in this world by coordination, relationships and associations, etc., with other things in the world. Everything that you do, right from the morning to the evening, is nothing but an association that you establish, in some way or the other, with things outside. You cannot exist physically, independently, within your body. No one can exist without some sort of an atmospheric relationship. This atmosphere in which you are integrally placed—not mechanically placed, but very organically placed—is a very vast environment around you.

I can give a very humorous example to illustrate this. It is very simple, but it will open your eyes to some startling facts. There is a watch, and it is supported by something. What is it that supports this watch? This little desk, this small table is the support of this watch. What is it that supports this small table? This floor. If the floor were not there, the table would not be standing here, and the watch would not be in this position. What is it that supports the floor? The beams underneath. If the beams were removed, the whole floor would collapse. What is it that supports the beams? The walls underneath. What is it that supports the walls? The Earth at the bottom. What is it that supports the Earth? Now you have to think a little bit. How is it that the Earth does not drop down somewhere? Without any support, it is hanging in space.

Nothing can hang in space. It is unthinkable. The Sun and the Moon, the planets and the stars are hanging in space without any support—with nothing at the bottom, and nothing from above, such as a chain, that can pull them up. The support of all these masses of matter cannot be seen with the eyes. They are mutually related. One pulls the other; one determines the movement of the other. If a systematic logical or mathematical determination of the movement of the one by the other were not to be there, there would be a clash of planets. The Earth would go and hit the Sun, or the Moon would dash against something else. There is an orderly constitutional laying down of principles behind the movement of not merely the constituents of the Solar System, but also of the Milky Way, the galaxies, the nebulae, and so on, of which, as astronomers tell us, we are like specks of dust.

What is it that supports the Earth? The whole universe is supporting the Earth. The atmosphere of the cosmos is supporting the movement of the Earth. So what is it that supports this watch? Oh, you will be surprised. This little watch is being supported by the entire cosmos, not by this little desk, as a carpenter may say. A carpenter's vision is very poor. The knowledge of the geographer or the historian is a little wider. The astronomer knows much more, but even he knows little because it is not enough if we say that there is a cosmic interrelationship among the masses of matter we call the planets, etc. It is merely a statement which an astronomer makes, that there is such a relationship. But why should there be such a relationship? Who ordained that such a relationship should be there? Who made this law that the Sun should pull the Earth in a particular manner? Here we come to a stop. Our education tells us nothing further. We hold our breath in utter ignorance and awe, and are completely flabbergasted and put in a state of consternation. We realise that we are really ignorant, in spite of our education.

When we know the limits of our own knowledge, we realise that our education has been nothing, a husk. When problems arise before us, we cannot solve them. A certificate that we have from a college is not going to solve our difficulties. It is a piece of paper with a little ink splashed on it. We cannot appease our hunger with that paper; and if a terrible confrontation is there in front of us, this little paper is not going to be of any help to us. What is it that is going to help us, finally?

Here begins true knowledge, true education. Perhaps many of you must have felt there is something wrong with what you studied, and it is very inadequate. You are all educated persons, well-read people, but I do not think that you are happy. Something tells you this is not sufficient; there is something lacking, and you have not been able to find out what it is, so you thought someone will tell you. I believe you will find someone who will tell you what you lack, because you are not unbefriended persons. You do not lack support or help in this world. You are not helpless people.

Many times you may feel, “I am unwanted, helpless, a poor nothing. Who cares for me?” This kind of feeling may sometimes enter into your mind. But be certain, at least from this moment onwards, that you are not a helpless nobody. Every moment you are seen by somebody. Millions of eyes are looking at you, and everything that you do is known everywhere, just as any occurrence in any part of your body is known to the whole body. If a stone hits a toe of your foot, it is not only the toe that knows that this event has taken place. The whole body knows that the toe has been hit by a stone. This analogy will explain your relationship to things.

The universe is your family. Calcutta, New York—these are not your locations. This little example that I placed before you of the interrelationship of everything will reveal that you do not belong to a small nation, a country, a house, a parentage. Perhaps you do not even belong merely to this Earth. You should be happy to hear all this. “Oh, this is wonderful! I am not so poor and helpless as I appear. Do I belong to this universe, really? I thought I am only a citizen of Calcutta, Delhi or Bombay. I thought I am only a poor nobody living in a hut in Rishikesh. This is what I was thinking, and now I know it is not so. Do I belong to this Earth? I thought I am only a citizen of a small village or a big city. Now I am told I belong to this whole Earth. Wonderful! I am told something more. I am not only of this Earth, I belong to the Solar System.”

What a beautiful thing to hear! Your digestion will improve at once because you become so happy. “Is it so? Am I a friend of everybody? The Sun knows my existence. He will take care of me. How beautiful! If I fall sick, the whole world will come and help to relieve me of my illness. Doctors will run to me. Why should I run to doctors?” The world will be at your feet. Why should you run after the world?

Do you not think that you are protected by your family when you have any difficulty? If you are unable to get up from your bed, your mother comes, your father comes, your brother and sister come. Everybody comes: “My dear boy, what has happened to you? What can I do for you?” Do you not think that everybody in the family is concerned because you are not able to get up from the bed due to a little headache? Why is it so? Why is it that all your family members are running to you? It is because you belong to them. Similarly, if you know that you belong to this world, why should the world not come to you?

As I mentioned, you do not belong merely to this Earth; you belong to a larger atmosphere of the whole universe. All the citizens of the cosmos will run to help you: “My dear boy, what can I do for you?” If you hear these things, you will simply go mad. Your brain will cease to function. The joy which will inundate you will come in such a flood that you will not be able to open your mouth afterwards. “What a poor and idiotic life I was living up to this time, thinking that I am a little boy or a little girl, of this and that place, etc. I am eligible for support, protection and care from the forces of the universe, if the truth is that I am interrelated to all the forces—the cosmic rays and everything else.”

You are a citizen of realms which are invisible to the eyes. Modern physics says that this world is not a realm of three dimensions. We have been told this again and again, and this has been dinned into our ears, that this world is not a world of only three dimensions—of length, breadth and height, as it appears to our eyes. They say these three dimensions are only an illusion of a four-dimensional complex, which is the reality. Our brain has never been able to understand what this fourth dimension is, just as when we are dreaming we cannot know what is waking.

In dream a teacher may come and tell us there is such a thing called waking, but we will never understand what it is until we wake up. What is the use of going to a dream college and learning dream lessons from a dream professor in the dream world? Whatever he says has no relevance to reality because waking is something different from whatever is told and heard in the dream world. Such is the learning that we have. Whatever is told to us has no sense finally because all this knowledge is connected to this three-dimensional world which, we are told, is not the true world. It is not the true world, and what we learn from it is also not the truth. We can only infer the presence of a fourth dimension, just as in the dream world we can only infer that there is such a thing called the waking world, though we cannot see it with our eyes.

Finally, philosophy and all deeper studies appear to be inferences drawn by comparison with certain ultimate possibilities, because inference is not possible unless there is a syllogism; and for that, there should be a premise. Without a premise, there is no deduction. Therefore, we cannot infer anything—such as that there is a fourth dimension, etc.—unless there is a premise to hang our arguments on. What is this premise? What is this indubitable referee which we can consult, and from which we can draw enlightenment to understand other things? Knowledge is an association of facts, and to make associations possible, there must be some background. We cannot have only associations without a connecting link between the parts which are associated. When there is such a thing called flying, there must be something that flies. There cannot be only flying without something that flies. Similarly, we cannot have associations, relationships, etc., without items with which we are related or associated. Likewise, we cannot draw a comparison or an inference without some point of reference which will determine the conclusions to be drawn by these associations, logical arguments, etc.

Rene Descartes, a philosopher of France, argued like this in his book called Metaphysical Meditations. All philosophers think like this, and many of you may also sometimes think like this. “Everything seems to be doubtful and unclear. I cannot come to any definite conclusion about anything. This may be true or that may be true. This may be true or it may not be true. How can I be sure of anything? What is the guarantee that what I see with my eyes is true? I may be in an illusion. Who tells me that this is the truth? Who tells me whether I am in a real world or in a phantasmagoria? Am I waking or am I dreaming? Are my conclusions correct or are they not correct? Is there anything indubitable in this world? Is there anything which I cannot doubt, or is everything only a heap of doubts?” The philosopher Rene Descartes went on arguing thus.

In India, Acharya Sankara argued in this way when he wrote his introduction to the famous commentary on the Brahma Sutras. If everything can be a matter of doubt, naturally there must be someone who is doubting everything. The doubts are not the doubters. The doubt is different from the doubter. There cannot be only doubts without somebody who doubts—just as, as I mentioned, there cannot be merely the process of flying without something that flies.

Everything is doubtful, says the doubter. Now, can you doubt the fact that there is such a thing called doubt? Please listen to me very carefully. You can doubt everything, but you cannot doubt the fact that you are doubting. If you doubt that you are doubting, doubt does not exist; therefore, the fact that the doubter exists cannot be doubted. Everything can be doubted, but the existence of the doubter cannot be doubted. If the doubter is also doubted, there is no such thing called doubt. The whole thing is swept away.

“So there is something which is indubitable, a doubtless fact. The fact that I doubt cannot itself be doubted. This is a strong point for me,” said Rene Descartes. And Sankaracharya tells us in his commentary on the Brahma Sutras that the denier cannot deny himself. If the denier also denies himself together with all the things that he denies, the denial also goes; therefore, there is no such thing called denial. Therefore, the negator cannot be negated; the doubter cannot be doubted. There is some stronghold left for you in this doubtful world, and the stronghold is that you remain as a doubtless something.

What are you? “What do I mean by saying that I exist as a doubtless something? What is this I?” This was the analysis of Rene Descartes, and also of Sankaracharya. I believe all great men think alike, whether they belong to the East or to the West. They belong to a different brotherhood altogether; they have no nationality. Their thinking is very interesting: “I have come to confront something very valuable in my life. Perhaps there is a way of knowing what truth is. I have come to only one conclusion, finally, that though everything may be suspicious, doubtful and indeterminable, there is something which can be determined and cannot be doubted, and that is I myself. I cannot doubt that I am here. If I doubt that I am here, there must be somebody else to doubt that fact. So there is something behind, which does not allow any doubt to enter into its constitution. I am. This cannot be doubted.”

Who can doubt that he is? However much you may doubt everything, you cannot doubt that you exist. You know very well, “I am.” Well, everything may be doubtful, but that “I am” is not doubtful. It is very clear. But what is meant by “I am”? You imagined that you are the son or daughter of some father or mother, and now I have told you that you are not merely that. Similarly, you imagined that you are this six-foot body, and now you will realise that you are not that either. This is another truth that will be revealed to you. You are not really this six-foot frame; there is something else inside you.

There are stages which you pass through where the physical body is discounted and is not necessary. For example, when you are dreaming, the body is not there as an object of your perception. You can dream even without the body. Did you exist in dream? Yes. Was the body there? No. So can you exist without the body? Yes, it follows that you can exist without the body. So does it follow that you are the body? It follows that perhaps you are not the body because you could be dreaming without the body. It is very simple. In a few seconds—by the analysis of the phenomenon of dream where you could be as a pure mind thinking, without relationship to the body—you will realise that you are not the body. So, what is your conclusion now? “I have come to the conclusion that I can exist without the body and, therefore, I am not the body. It is very clear.”

Then what else are you? “Well, from the fact of dream, it amounts to saying that perhaps I am a mind that thinks, because in dream there is only a mind. I now realise that I am not the body because I could dream in the mind, through the mind, as a mind in dream without the body.”

But in deep sleep, where was the mind? It was not working. Did you exist in sleep? Yes. Was the body there? No. Was the mind there? No. What were you, then? Very strange! “I was in deep sleep, yes. Of course I did exist. But I did not exist as a body, and I also did not exist as a mind.” How could you know that you existed in sleep when you knew nothing in sleep? There was no body, no mind, nobody to think anything. Then who is saying that you are existing in sleep? But you are still sure that you slept. You say, “Last night I had a good sleep.” Who is saying this? Not the body. Do not say the body is saying this, because it was not there. Even the mind is not saying this, because the mind was not working. So who is saying that there was a good sleep last night? Go deep into this fact.

You are a mystery. You people sitting in front of me are mysteries. You are not boys and girls. You are not these bodies and minds. Therefore, you are not human beings. If you are not the body and not the mind, as can be known through this little analysis of waking and dream, you come to the conclusion that you are not a human being at all. Well, if to be a human being is to be associated with a mind and a body of this nature, then if you are associated with a human body and a human way of thinking, you say you are a human being. But in the state of deep sleep, you could exist without the association of the body and the mind; therefore, you could be without association with the nature of a human being. Because in deep sleep you did not exist as merely a human being, therefore your essential nature transcends humanity. This is another great mystery that is revealed about you.

Do not forget what I told you. I have told you a lot within these few minutes, and if you can remember these things with clarity of thought, perhaps I need not speak to you again. What I told you today is enough, but it will not remain in the mind. It will slip out of your minds the moment you go out the door. So be careful.

I have now brought you to the conclusion that you are mysterious somethings which are dissociated from the body and the mind. What it is, and what further conclusions follow from this interesting analysis, we shall refer to another time.