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 mind, you would not have tried to 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 these. 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. Even if anything happens 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 it is, therefore, in a way, related to distant things which are invisible to the eyes. As we are inhabitants on 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 the 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 an animal living with instincts. An 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 the well. When we are small children, we know nothing except our family members. This is my father, my mother, my brother and sister; that is all, and we are not concerned with anything else.

When you begin to get introduced into your relationship with the community outside, education starts. Education begins the moment you begin to realise that you are not confined only to the family – parents, brothers, sisters, etc. The art of conducting yourself harmoniously in relation to the community and the people outside the family may be said to be the beginning of education. You 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 you know only your little community. You are introduced into the larger background of the geography and the history of the place in which you are living. All those who have gone to schools and colleges know how you have studied; otherwise, you know only your little village, or just a part of it. Your comprehension expands in two ways. When you go to school and start your educational career, geographical and historical studies are primary. Go back to the old memories of your schooldays and imagine what you learnt at the very outset. I don’t think you studied physics, chemistry, mathematics at the very beginning. There were simpler things, but very important things – a description of the physical location of your own personality, the taluka, the district, the province. You are gradually introduced into a geography of your country. You do not study world geography so early. And then you are introduced into the historical antecedents of your life – this is India, this is America, this is Europe, this is this, this is that – and so many people lived before you. It is not only a few family members. You are 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. But this is the kindergarten form, as it were, of the educational career, the beginning or seed form.

As I commenced by saying, your relationships do not exhaust themselves merely with a human history which you may study in your 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 merely mean 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 having the impact of this force when you are crawling on the surface of the Earth like an ant? Who can say that this invisible force is not impinging upon you? Can you say that your life is controlled only by your family members or your historical personages, or even the geographical atmosphere?

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

Education is not merely studying things which you can see with your 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 you see as something visible to the eyes. You cannot see mathematics with the eyes, but you can conceive what it is. This conceptual learning which is mathematics is more valuable to your life than the gross things that you see with your eyes. You know very well how important mathematics is in life. This is one example I place before you to demonstrate 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. You can be logical and mathematical even with closed eyes; without seeing anything, without hearing anything, without having any physical contact with any object, you can be logical and mathematical. These conceptual sciences are, in a way, inferential sciences. You conclude that if two and two make four, the multiples also will be commensurate with this calculation. You cannot see this, but you can infer 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, our life is a bundle of relationships; it is not limited to our physical body. A little common sense will tell you that you exist in this world by coordinations, 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 with things outside in some way or the other. 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 a very simple thing, 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 like this, 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 at the bottom. 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 and the stars and the planets are hanging in space without any support – nothing at the bottom, nothing from above such as a chain that can pull them up. The support of these unsupported masses of matter – the sun, the moon, stars, planets – the support of all these 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 have gone and hit the sun, or the moon would have dashed against something else. There is an orderly constitutional laying down of principles behind the movement of not merely the constituents of this solar system, but the Milky Way and the galaxies and the nebulae and what not, in which astronomers tell us we are like a speck 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. And 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 the carpenter may say. The carpenter’s vision is very poor.

And that 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 of the masses of matter we call the planets, etc. It is merely a statement that the 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 you know the limits of your own knowledge, you realise that your education has been nothing, a husk. When problems arise before you, you cannot solve them. A certificate that you have from a college is not going to solve your difficulties. It is a piece of paper with a little ink splashed on it, and you cannot appease your hunger with that paper. And if a terrible confrontation is there in front of you, this little paper is not going to be of any help to you.

What is it that is going to help you, 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. 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 minds. 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 at any part of your body is known to the whole body. If a stone hits the toe of your foot, it is not only the toe that knows that this event has taken place. The whole body knows that a stone has been confronted by the toe. This analogy will explain your relationship to things.

The universe is your family. Calcutta, America, 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 belong merely to this Earth, even. 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. Now I know it is not so. Do I belong to this Earth? I thought I am only a citizen of a small village. 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 without medicine from a doctor 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 am falling 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 be after the world?

Don’t you think that you are protected by your family when you have any difficulty? If you are unable to get up from your bed, the mother comes, the father comes, the brother comes, the sister comes. Everybody comes: “My dear boy, what has happened to you? What can I do for you?” Don’t you 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 people are running to you? Because you belong to them. Like this, if you know that you belong to this world, why should the world not come to you?

I told you, 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 you to help: “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 poorling I was! What an idiotic life I was living up to this time, thinking that I am a little boy, little girl of this and that place, etc. Am I 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 three dimensions – of length, breadth and height only, 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 dream we cannot know what is waking.

In dream a teacher may come and give a lecture 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 you 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 truth. We can only infer the presence of a fourth dimension. In the dream world we can only infer that there is such a thing called waking. 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 the inference is not possible unless there is a syllogism; and for that, there should be a premise. Without a premise, there is no deduction. So you cannot infer anything, such as that there is a fourth dimension, etc., unless there is a premise to hang your arguments on. What is this premise? What is this indubitable referee which you can consult, and from which you can draw enlightenment to understand other things? Knowledge is an association of facts, and to make associations possible, there must be some background. You 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. You cannot have only flying without something that flies. So you cannot have associations, relationships, etc., without items which are related or associated. Likewise, you cannot have a comparison or an inference drawn 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 be thinking like this sometimes. 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 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 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 went on arguing thus.

In India, Acharya Sankara started arguing 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 doubter is different from the doubt. You cannot have only doubts without somebody who doubts just as, as I told you, you cannot have merely a flying process 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 also is 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. So 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 in France, and also of Sankaracharya. I believe all great men think alike, whether they belong to the East or the West. They belong to a different brotherhood altogether; they have no nationality.

This is something 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. 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 told you that you are not merely that. Similarly you are imagining 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 are passing 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. It follows, because you could be there dreaming without the body also. Very simple. In a few seconds, you realise that you are not the body by the analysis of the phenomenon of dream where you could be as a pure mind thinking without relationship to 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. Were you existing in sleep? Certainly. Did you exist in sleep? Yes. Was the body there? No. The mind? No. What were you then? Very strange! “I was in sleep; yes, of course. I did exist. But I did not exist as a body, and I did not exist as a mind also.” 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 telling that you are existing in sleep? But you are still sure that you slept. You told me yesterday, “I had a good sleep.” Who is telling this? Not the body. Do not say the body is saying this, because it was not there. Even the mind is not saying that, because the mind is not working. Who is saying that there was a good sleep yesterday night? Now go deep into this fact. You are a mystery.

These little people sitting in front of me are mysteries. They are not boys and girls. They are not these bodies, minds. They are not human beings, therefore. If you are not the body and not the mind as it could be known through this little analysis of waking and dream, you come to the conclusion that you are not human beings at all. Well, if to be a human being is to be associated with a mind and a body of this nature, if you are associated with a human body and a human way of thinking, you say, “I am 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 the human being himself. So in deep sleep you did not exist as a human being merely, and your essential nature, therefore, transcends humanity. This is another great mystery that is revealed about you.

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

I have now brought you to the conclusion that you are a mysterious something which is 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.