The Nature of the True Religious Life
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 3: The Relationship of God, the World, and the Individual

The foundations of religion lie deep in the awareness of the relation that subsists among the primary principles of God, the world and the individual. A study of these ultimate truths often goes by the name of philosophy, metaphysics, ontology, theology, and so forth. God, the world and the individual – these sum up the principle scaffolding structure of every kind of study, or any branch of learning, for the matter of that. And all social relations that give rise to studies which are usually called humanities also come under the relationships mentioned already, namely, the mutual relation of individuals.

The other day I brought your mind to a point where it could concentrate upon the possible character of the Ultimate Reality. What is meant by ‘Reality’? What is real? Great thinkers have bestowed enough thought on this question. Anything, any circumstance, any event or any phenomenon which has a tendency to transcend itself, to change itself, to transform itself or to undergo any kind of modification cannot be regarded as real in itself because self-satisfaction is a character of Reality, and the tendency to outgrow oneself, transcend oneself or move away from oneself is the opposite of it. You move from one place to another place because you are not satisfied with one place. If a particular point in space were all-in-all, complete in itself and self-satisfying, there would be no need even for motion. But nothing in the world rests without motion. Everything moves, everything changes, and everything gets transformed into some other condition.

The urge for self-transformation and movement naturally is a direction taken in a particular manner. All movement is in a direction, whatever be the nature of the direction. The tendency of any organism or any substance in the world is towards the achievement of a purpose. The purpose of the movement of the river is to reach the ocean. The purpose of the cellular activity of living organisms is to build themselves up into a superior self-supporting individuality which can adjust and adapt to the environment of the world. Likewise, there is a purpose, an aim or a destination before the mind’s eye of any kind of movement, consciously known or not known.

Since all transformation of any kind has to be regarded as a tendency to the achievement of a state where further transformation would not be necessary, logically we are led to the conclusion that nothing in the world can be called real because there is nothing in the world which does not change itself, transform itself, or tend towards something beyond itself. There is nothing in the world which has no desire of any kind. Even molecules and atoms seem to manifest a desire to reorganise themselves into a new pattern of molecules, etc. Every moment seems to be conditioned by a purpose, and this purpose is the Reality towards which transformation gets directed.

Though we cannot comprehend within our minds what Ultimate Reality can be, we can infer that such a thing has to be. It ought to be there if the processes of the world have to assume any meaning at all. Life loses sense and all significance and meaning if its movements and processes are not directed to a particular end or purpose. A sensible movement is a purposive movement. A purposeless movement cannot be regarded as significant in any manner. And what we call Reality is nothing but this purpose.

Now, this would also imply by way of a suggestion that Reality has degrees. How does it follow? It follows from the fact that every individual in the world cannot have a uniform consciousness or awareness of the purpose of life. It is true that everything has a purpose, and every person has an aim in view behind every kind of movement, activity or intention, but this purpose is not uniform in the intensity of its manifestation or the dimension of its comprehension. I have an aim in what I do, and you have an aim in what you do. It is very clear. Even if an ant is crawling on the floor, it moves in a direction with a purpose. If the wind blows and it rains, and the sun shines, there is some great purpose in these organic movements of nature. Granted. But my idea of my aim behind my activities every day, and your aims, and the ant’s aims, and the aims of atoms and molecules may not be uniform in their nature, notwithstanding the fact there is a direction of everything towards a purpose or an aim.

The dissimilarity in the structural pattern of the purposes envisaged by different individuals would imply that there are degrees in the consciousness of Reality. Whether there are really degrees in Reality, or we are only encountering it in this manner, is a different question which we will touch upon a little later. However, for the time being it appears that everyone in the world is not thinking of a common purpose, at least in the outer form in which it manifests itself. But there is a basic similarity in spite of a dissimilarity in detail. This gives us some hint as to the fundamental character of Reality.

The foundational similarity among the purposes envisaged by individuals is that there is a subtle longing in everyone and in everything for a perfection which knows no limitation. Though we cannot define Reality in adequate terms in our own language, we can accept this much: It has to be a state of perfection where no dissatisfaction or inadequacy of any kind can prevail. This much we have to concede, though we may not be able to say much else about it. A state of perfection is an achievement of every conceivable objective, a union with every type of aim the mind can conceive. It may be an infinite expansiveness in power, dominion and possessions, and an infinite expansion in time process, a deathless or an infinitely prolonged length of life, and a satisfaction which is of the most intense nature. We may confine ourselves at present to these three features, at least, of what we may call perfection.

If there is anything outside you which will limit your operations, to that extent you may say you are not perfect. Where there is a freedom given to you to have infinite operations and there is nothing to limit you, you may be said to be spatially infinite. Spatial limitation and temporal limitation are the basic limits set to your activities and your existence. The presence of space includes or implies the presence of persons and things other than yourself, so you look very small. You are just one individual among many others. You are terribly limited to this little body. Very finite you are, on account of the presence of other finites. The existence of other finites is a limitation put upon a particular finite. Also, the limitation of time imposed upon any finite object limits it durationally or temporally. There is death or destruction of every finite object.

Now, you would not like to be involved in these things if you are given utter freedom. You would wish not to be destroyed and not to be subjected to the abolition of your finitude by the hands of death; and you would also not wish to be limited by the presence of other persons, other individualities, other things in the world. This desire within the individual indicates again the nature of the purpose or aim towards which individualities are moving, a perfection which will try its best to break the boundaries of space and overcome the limitations of time.

Hence, a uniform character of all the purposes of all individuals, irrespective of their differences in detail, would be that state where space and time would be overcome. None of us can even imagine what it would be to exist in a state beyond space and time. Whatever be the extent to which you scratch your head, you will not be able to understand what it is to be beyond space or beyond time because nobody has gone beyond space, and no one has overcome the limitations of time.

But there is an urge within; there is a longing inside which refuses to restrict itself to the heavy limitations imposed upon it by space and time. This great purpose of the universe can be regarded as the Ultimate Reality of things. Religions call this Reality as God. In Sanskrit terminology in India, this great Reality is sometimes designated as Ishwara, the Supreme Substance, the Absolute, so called because there is nothing external to it. It is not related to anything else.

Every finite is related to every other finite by way of mutual action and reaction. Inasmuch as here is a state where relations of any kind are completely obviated on account of its transcendence of space and time, we call it the Absolute. It is so called because it is non-relative. The Absolute is a term that we use for a state of existence which is free from relations of every kind because of freedom from external contacts.

We are generally told by adepts in this lofty thinking that the Supreme Being is free from three kinds of limitation. There are three kinds of limitation, which are called in Sanskrit sajatiya bheda, vijatiya bheda and svagata bheda. Bheda means difference. There are three kinds of difference in the world. The first one is what is called sajatiya bheda. Jati means a class, a category, a species. Sajatiya means that which pertains to a species, a class or a category. So there is one kind of difference which pertains to class, category or species. What is meant by this?

All people belong to one species, called humanity. We are all human beings, but there is difference among ourselves, and this does not require any explanation. You all know how one person is different from another person, though all persons belong to one category only, one species of mankind or humankind. All trees belong to the category of trees, but one tree is not the same as another tree in every respect. So this is one kind of difference – a distinction that obtains within the individuals of one particular category. This does not obtain in the Absolute. This sajatiya bheda which we see in this world is not to be seen in the Supreme Being because the Absolute is not one individual belonging to a species.

The other difference is vijatiya bheda, the difference that obtains between one species and another species. Man is different from an animal, a human being is different from a plant, and so on and so forth. The distinction that obtains between one species and another, one category and another category, one class and another class of beings, is vijatiya bheda. This also does not obtain in the Absolute because there is nothing external to the Absolute.

The third kind of difference is called svagata bheda. Svagata means intrinsic difference. The right hand is different from the left hand, the head is different from the feet, the heart is different from the lungs, and so on. These are limbs of a particular individual. Parts of a single organism differ one from the other, notwithstanding the fact they belong to a single organism. So, differences that obtain among parts of a single organic body are called svagata bheda. This does not obtain in the Absolute because the Absolute has no internal parts. The Supreme Being has no internal difference, no external differentiation, and no distinction of class or category or species.

And it is that which persists in the past, present and future. What is Reality? Truth or Reality is that which is persistent uniformly in the past, present and future. As you know in this world there is nothing which can persist in a uniform manner in the past, present and future, it appears the world does not contain Reality. It would follow in some way that if the Supreme Being is of this nature as defined now, and you cannot see anything in this world which is of this nature, God has to be beyond the world.

The consequences of this concept of the transcendence of God as an extra-cosmic Creator beyond the world will be studied by us afterwards. This leads to the various religious philosophies of the country, of the whole world.

This much you may have to remember today as regards the nature of the Ultimate Reality; but there is a thing called the world. You can see it before your eyes. The world insists that its existence should be recognised. You cannot say “no” to it. The processes of nature compel you to accept its existence. There is a thing called the world outside you. Though deep philosophical analysis has led you to another conclusion that there is something beyond the world, yet there is a thing called the world. What is the connection between the world and this great Reality that you have studied by analysis just now?

In one sentence, I told you that often it appears that the Real is not in this world because of its Supreme non-exclusive character. If it is transcendent totally, it would bear no relation to the world. If that which is called Real is not to be visualised, seen or recognised in anything in this world which is subject to transformation, change and death, you cannot conceive of any kind of relationship between God and the world. If that is the case, you and I, involved in this world, cannot reach God. The aspiration for God would be a futile attempt because you have already decided that there is no connection between you and God. There are some philosophers who feel that this is the state of affairs, to which we shall revert again later on. This is frightening, and will put you out of balance in one second. If all our hopes are hopeless and all our desires are a cry in the wilderness, if all our activities are working in a dream and all our ambitions are a phantasm, man can go mad in one second.

But there is something implanted in man himself which does not believe that this is the final state of affairs. The aspiration within man is proof enough of the possibility of a permanent relationship between the world and Reality. No human being can rest contented with the conclusion that God is totally transcendent to the extent of a severance of relationship with the world. Whatever be your reason behind it, the heart will not permit it because the great root of human personality seems to feel that it has a relation to the Ultimate Being. Our aspirations, our desires, our activities, all the projects that we are undertaking in this world are a standing refutation of any conclusion to the effect that God is totally transcendent and unrelated to the world.

Here is an enigma. From one side, it looks that there is no connection between God and the world. From another side, it looks that without such relationship, our existence itself would be meaningless. So here we leave the question for the time being.

God and the world and the individual – yourself and myself and everything blessed – constitute the individualities or the contents of the world. What is the relationship between you and the world? This point I have already touched upon at the very outset on the first day itself when I brought you round to the way of thinking which leads us to the conclusion that the universe is an organism, a total whole, and not a house divided against itself. The cosmos is one integrated completeness, and therefore, all its contents including yourself, myself and all things have to be related to it in an integral fashion as limbs of the body or cells of our own organism. Your relationship to the world is organic, not mechanistic. You know the difference between mechanical relation and organic relation, about which also I mentioned some detail. A mechanistic relationship is the connection of parts to a whole, like the parts of a machine, a bulldozer, an airplane, wherein one part is not having any living connection with another part. A motor of any kind can be regarded as a mechanical structure with many parts involved in it, yet one part has no organic connection with another part; you can remove one part and replace it by another. Organic connection is an inseparable relationship, like the parts operating in a living body. Such is the relation of man to the universe.

From this point of view, it would appear that the world is not outside you. The fact that the world is not outside you will follow from the fact of your integral relationship to the universe. If it is not outside you, where is it then? Does it mean it is inside you? There are some people who say it is inside. It is not so. It is neither inside nor outside. And what it actually is, and where it is, you yourself will be able to understand by a few seconds of contemplation of the fact of your inseparability to its structure. The parts of your own body are neither outside nor inside; they are inseparable and integrally related.

The question of relation is the central point on which every philosophical discussion hangs, finally. The causal relation is the greatest of all relations – one thing causing another or giving rise to another or, for the matter of that, any kind of relation to any other thing. You will find that there is some peculiarity in the concept of relation. It is not so simple as it appears on the surface. Imagine that there are two things, A and B. You cannot imagine any sort of relationship between A and B unless A and B are two different things. If A is the same as B, the question of relationship does not arise. It is taken for granted that A and B are two different things and, therefore, you are trying to see a relationship between them. But if they are totally different, the question of relationship does not arise. You have already concluded there is no connection between A and B, and yet you are saying there should be a relation, so it is a self-contradictory statement.

We do not know what we are speaking when we say there is a relation between this and that. We make statements without sense. Yet, it has a deeper sense which escapes our notice, in the same way as we found ourselves in a great difficulty in understanding the relationship between God and the world. Yet, this difficulty can be solved by the employment of a proper apparatus of understanding.

The relationship of one thing to another thing, of one individual to another individual, and of all individuals to the world, and the world to God finally – all these relationships are of a similar nature in the sense that everything seems to be hanging on everything else, and one cannot be understood without the other.

How one thing is decided by another, or determined by another, you can know by an analysis you can conduct in regard to your own self. You become aware of the world outside after being sure that you exist first. For instance, when you wake up from sleep, you do not suddenly become aware of things outside, especially when you are in a very deep sleep. You will not even be able to know where the door is, or the window is. You will be trying to find the exit for the room. In such a state of affairs, you will not be suddenly aware of things outside. There is a total unconsciousness in sleep; and when you wake up, there is a slight and faint feeling that you exist.

When you arise from sleep tomorrow morning, try to analyse this circumstance. You will find that you will know nothing except that you are barely existent. You will not be even able to see your own clothing. Whether the clothes are on or not, you will not know. You will know this after a few moments. You will simply be aware that you are there as something indeterminate and indescribable. After a few minutes, you will know what you are: I am such and such. Then you will become aware of the presence of articles outside, that things exist outside you. There are walls, there is a door, there is a window, and somebody coming in front of you. At first you will not be able to recognise who is coming. Then after a few minutes you will know that it is so-and-so. The awareness of the presence of the world outside is a consequence that follows from the primary assurance of your existence. If I exist, the world also has to exist, because the world is only a name that we give to the atmosphere around us. A spatiotemporal environment around us is what we call the world, and inasmuch as we are here as finite individuals, we are also forced to feel the presence of other individuals located in a similar atmosphere. This is called the world. Now you can imagine how the presence of the world is connected with you, and you are also related to it in an inseparable manner.

But a third thing introduces itself after some time, which cannot be seen with the eyes. You see only yourself and the world; the third thing cannot be seen, but your reason will tell you a third thing should exist in order that you may be aware that the world is. How do you know that the world exists except by a mechanism of knowledge that operates between you and the world outside?

There is a process of awareness which connects you as an individual with the world which is the object of your awareness. This connecting link between you and the world is something invisible to the eyes, but its existence has to be postulated. Inasmuch as this is a relation that has to be there between every individual and its object, if you carefully think over it, you will realise that this is a universal necessity. This conscious relationship between the seer and the seen, yourself and the world, is a universal need to be accepted as the only factor that can explain how you become aware of the world at all. This universal relation, again, is that which we consider to be the Ultimate Reality of the world, a transcendent Being which is outside the purview of sensory activity and mental operation. It cannot be seen with the eyes for a reason you know very well, because it is the seer and not the seen. That which propels you to see cannot be seen with any organ of sensation, mentation or ratiocination. Yourself, the world and a transcendent Reality are thus integrally related – God, the world and the individual.

There was a great thinker called Ramanuja, one of the great philosophers of India, who established a great religious system called Vishishtadvaita – we need not worry about the meaning of this word – in which he considers this sort of relation obtaining among God, the world and the individual. The Supreme Being is God Himself, the Absolute, the Ultimate Substance which is the universal relation of all things, like the pervading intelligence in your own body. But you know your intelligence is not the same as the body. There is some sort of a difference. So, he concluded the world is not the same as God, yet it cannot be outside God, even as your body cannot be outside your consciousness. You cannot keep your body somewhere and your consciousness somewhere else. They go together. There is an intimate inseparable relationship between body and soul, your physical organism and your consciousness inside. Similar is the relationship between the world and the Supreme Being, said Ramanuja. The world is not the same as God because it is material in nature, unconscious, changing, transforming, subject to destruction. God is immortal. How can the one be the same as the other? You know very well that your intelligence is immortal, but the body is perishable. This analogy was extended to the ultimate cosmic principles, and Ramanuja concluded that the individuals, the jivas – yourself, myself and all others – also are parts of this cosmic body like the cells, as it were, of our body.

According to the doctrine of Ramanuja, God can be compared to the consciousness within us; the world is compared to the body which is inseparably connected to the consciousness within us, yet not identical with it; and our own selves, all things in this world as individuals, are compared to the cells in the body. The cells constitute the body; likewise, the individualities constitute the universe. They are dependent on God – wholly dependent, not identical with God. Here is the sum and substance of a great religious philosophy which Ramanuja propounded.

“But how could you imagine that a material thing could be dependent on consciousness?” said Madhva, for instance. He is another great religious thinker who would not reconcile himself to the truth propounded by Ramanuja that matter is hanging on consciousness, the world is dependent on God, and individuals are somehow or other inseparable from God’s being, though not identical. Madhva would not accept even this much. He thought that we have nothing in us which can compare us with God because we are finite, and God is infinite. We are subject to death; God is immortal. We know nothing practically; God knows everything. How can you say that there is any connection between you and Him? And the materiality of the universe precludes any kind of relationship with the supreme omniscient consciousness of God. So he established a doctrine which concludes that there is a total difference between God, world and the individual, and there is no connection between them. They are all absolutely independent, having no relationship of one with the other because of the structural differences in their existences.

“But such a total difference is not possible,” said Ramanuja, because you cannot say that something exists outside God. The positing of any existence outside God would limit God Himself. The omnipresence of God precludes the independent existence of other individuals, even the world itself. Hence, the Supreme Being should be one, all-in-all. Though it has to be acceded that the world and the individual are parts of Him, they are not totally different from Him, though we cannot say they are the same as He.

Here we have two great thinkers telling two different things, and these religious philosophies persist even today. Though not in every way, in some respects at least, the dogmas of Christianity have some semblance to the philosophy of Madhva – namely, the doctrine of the Father in heaven, the Son of God, the Holy Ghost, the doctrine of transubstantiation, the divinity of the sacrament, the possibility of eternal heaven and eternal damnation. Doctrines which are accepted by Christianity are also accepted by Madhva. In every detail they don’t agree, but in basic factors of this nature they seem to be in agreement that God is in heaven and the world is evil, from which you have to withdraw yourself by renunciation, and the world is a snare which will tempt you into ungodly activities. No man can serve two masters. You cannot be a servant of the world and also be a servant of God at the same time. God is God, Mammon is Mammon. This is what Christ taught, and any religious man would teach, holding the doctrine that the world is perishable, a field of temptations, and a bondage in every respect.

Many religious students, even many among us, are in this state mostly. We try to flee from the world as a snare, an object of temptation, a bondage. The world is bondage. That is why people try to get into monasteries, ashramas, temples. And, God is not in this world; therefore, to rise to the supreme heaven of the Absolute, God the Creator, Ishwara, Narayana, the Father in heaven, whoever He is, we have to reject the world with the power of renunciation. This is a religious doctrine which is prevalent not only in Christianity but also in Hinduism, and perhaps in all religions. It follows from this doctrine of the irreconcilability between the transiency, the cussedness, and the tempting character of the material world, and the immortal perfection of God.

So we have taken one step in our study of the philosophy of religion, which will take us further and further. And I request you all to make a note of all these things that I told you because I will be saying these things only once, and next time I will be proceeding further; hence, the request that you carefully attend to the processes of thinking and the arguments that will take you to a great conclusion which, in my opinion, will relieve you of all tensions once and for all, God willing.