The Nature of the True Religious Life
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 5: Becoming Fit for Moksha

We noted yesterday that the religious spirit has an element of transcendence, inasmuch as it cannot be discovered in the objects of the world. Here is a very important point which should draw anyone’s attention. This feature of the religious ideal as a necessary transcendence, rather than an immediate presence, has given a novel touch to the religions of the world.

All that people do in the name of religion can be explained by this very important feature of the transcendence of the religious ideal. People take to asceticism; they leave homestead and chattel and all property. Every connection is severed, and the severest attempt is made to withdraw oneself from every visible phenomenon of the world. Religion has become synonymous with renunciation. It cannot but be that, because we have said the religious ideal is not in this world; therefore, renunciation is called for. Why is it called for? Because the things which attract us here are the things which cannot help us in the pursuit of the religious ideal.

This has a serious impact upon human life, and all the religions that are prevalent today have one uniform characteristic, namely, the abandonment of every type of contact with things in the world and an idealistic occupation with the religious goal, as proclaimed both by the reasoning of one’s own mind and the declaration of the scriptures of the religions.

There is this call for renunciation in some measure in the teachings of the ancient masters, the prophets and the writings available in the scriptures. But the nature of the human mind is such that it can pay attention only to one thing at a time, and not to more than one thing. While it is true that the religious ideal cannot be found in this world because of its universality, pervasiveness and, therefore, transcendence, it is not wholly true that it is not in this world. Here again is a great question before us which puts a check on our excessive enthusiasm in respect of what religions call the renunciate spirit or the ascetic ideal.

Think for yourself for a few minutes. If a thing is totally transcendent, beyond your reach, how could you ever reach it? The very acceptance of the transcendence of a particular being implies a total isolation of it from your present way of living. But who is it that is aspiring for the religious ideal? It is you, it is me, it is these people in the world who have been segregated by the logic of the religious pursuits as totally irreconcilable with the true nature of religion.

There is a double aspect of religion: transcendence and immanence. Inasmuch as it is an all-pervasive, invisible, permeating presence, and inasmuch as such a thing can never be seen in this world, it goes without saying that it is a transcendence. But there is the other side of it, which cannot be ignored. If it is wholly a transcendence, no one can realise it. Not only that, you cannot be even aware that it is transcendent. Your consciousness of the transcendence of the religious ideal presupposes a connection between your consciousness and this transcendence, so it is not literally transcendent as it may appear to the arid logic of the human intellect. This is, again, very important to note. If it had been only transcendent and nothing else – God has been a Creator above the world, never to be found in this world – you could not even know this fact because knowledge is a correspondence between seer and seen, knower and known, subject and object. The knowledge of the fact of the transcendence of an ideal implies the knowledge process operating between the subjective knower of this fact and the object which is this supposed transcendence.

Hence, in your knowledge of the fact of the transcendence of the religious ideal, it acts as an object of your knowledge because you know it. Anything that is a content of your knowledge can be regarded as an object of that knowledge. God is transcendent Creator above the seven heavens, and the goal of religion is beyond the ken of this world. This knowledge is there; we have come to this conclusion. But this knowledge then is a content of your subjective awareness; it is an object, and there cannot be a knowledge of the object, or anything for the matter of that, unless there is a knowledge process connecting the knower with the known. Hence, this so-called transcendent ideal is connected with you in some way even here on this material Earth. So we have to be a little cautious in being overenthusiastic in our religious calls in the name of renunciation.

You have seen ascetics barely wearing clothing, eating almost nothing, not sleeping, not speaking, having no physical contact with any human being, and living in deserts and forests and caves because the religious ideal is not here, it is in the heavens. While it is true that it is in the heavens, and nothing in this world can help us in this great pursuit – granted this is a fact, any amount of contact with the things of this world, organic or inorganic, will not help us in the realisation of the religious ideal – but this is not the whole truth. There is some hidden significance which we have missed in our analysis of this theme.

We are living in this world. We have a physical body, a mind, social relations, and all the concomitants of this apparatus of the psychophysical and psychosocial personality are with us. It is in this circumstance of an involvement in the body-mind complex that we are aspiring to be religious and to reach God as the final goal of our life. So here marks a halt to the ebullition of enthusiasm which would reject everything that is Earth and world, and hold on to a future ideal of the salvation of the spirit.

Together with the concept of the transcendence of the religious ideal, we have also a simultaneous notion that it is a future ideal, to be realised in the future – after some days, months and years. This is another peculiarity of our way of thinking. It is not in this world. It is transcendent; therefore, it is a future ideal. We cannot have it today. We have to work hard and put forth great effort.

Anything that is only in the future, but not in the present or the past, is segregated in the time process, and it becomes temporal. The eternity of its character is abolished by the futurity of its nature. That which is only in the future, that which is only in the present or only in the past, and not at all times, is what is called non-eternal, perishable. Then this great goal of religion would be a perishable ideal because of its being only in the future, and we cannot have it now, nor was it in the past. Thus, there is another mistake in our thinking. It is not wholly a future ideal. It appears to be in the future because of our involvement in the transitions and successions of events we call the time process. We cannot think eternity except in terms of the time process, and we cannot think of God except as a transcendent Creator. These are limitations of the human mind.

But it does not, and need not, necessarily follow that the fact is this. While one aspect of our thinking suggests the transcendence and the futurity of the ideal, another aspect will tell us that a future thing will be non-eternal, and a transcendent thing cannot be obtained. Hence, it is not in the future, and also it is not transcendent entirely. It has a connection with the present, and it was in the past, ushering us onwards.

The most important aspect here in this consideration is our relationship to the great ideal we are pursuing, call it the religious or the spiritual ideal. The study of scriptures and texts which glorify and magnify the creative aspect of the Supreme Being are likely to sweep us off our feet, and we may ignore the immediate needs of the circumstance in which we are placed. We are moving onward, no doubt, to the realisation of the spiritual ideal, but we are taking a step from the present moment, and we are not always in the future. We are not already there.

Inasmuch as the future has not been contacted, and we are in the present in this condition of human society and body-mind relations, together with the ideal of salvation which is moksha, as it is called in Sanskrit, we have also to take into consideration the appurtenances that are necessary to enable us to pursue this ideal. We may have to reach a destination some thousand kilometres away, and if we are thinking only of this destination and not the ways and means of reaching it, our conception would be too idealistic, minus all realistic elements.

Hence, the idea of moksha or the liberation of the soul, which is often identified with the religious or the spiritual ideal of all religions, yogas, etc., is related in a very inextricable manner with the immediate realities of life. Therefore, religion is in this world and it has to be in our own rooms, in this very hall, in this very body and mind, and it cannot be outside. If it is wholly outside, we are not intended for it. We have needs which are of a different nature from the aspiration for moksha. Can anyone say that it is only moksha that one wants, and nothing else? We have hunger, thirst, fatigue, illness, and there are countless relationships in this world with people outside and things in general.

The ascent of consciousness to the realisation of this ideal is a gradual disentanglement of consciousness from its involvements in its own lower stages. Every step in the direction of perfection is a positive growth of the spirit, as it were, an untying of various knots which have tethered us down to this Earth experience. If there are a hundred knots which tie us to this Earth, every knot has to be opened carefully. We cannot imagine that there is only one knot – hence, the great length of time that we may sometimes take in even understanding what we are supposed to do in this world.

Recall to your memory the great verse of the Bhagavadgita: Among the people in this world, one among a million may aspire for this ideal, and even among those who are really aspiring, one may succeed. All do not succeed, even as everyone who appears for an examination need not necessarily pass, though they have struggled hard.

The difficulty here is the ambivalent attitude of our mind which sinks between the Earth and the heavens, and takes excessive measures either of attachment to this world or complete detachment from the world. Now, religion is not an extreme attitude of consciousness. It is a balancing of it. We cannot either hate the world or love the world. We are not permitted to do either. We cannot say this is the den of Satan and go to the Sahara desert for finding God in the caves. This is not so. This is not a fact.

It is also not a fact that we can have this universal perfection in the limited particular objects in this world. You know how you are caught from both sides. This is what is called Morton’s Fork. It appears there was a Prime Minister of England, Morton, who was the Minister of King Henry VII. He was a very shrewd man. I am just telling you what is this Morton’s Fork: catching both sides. He was bent upon taxing people, collecting large taxes, and if he saw rich people, well dressed and living in a gaudy way, he would say, “You are well-to-do persons, so you have to pay tax. You have enough with you.”

But if he saw a poor wretched man with tattered clothes, he would say, “You are hiding your wealth. I know; I understand. You are putting on this appearance so that you may try to avoid tax. So pay tax.” So if you were rich you had to pay, and even if you were poor you had to pay because he said poverty is only an appearance. You are rich; you are avoiding tax by looking poor. And a rich man, of course, has to pay. So either way, you have to pay.

Similar is this peculiar religion before us. It catches us either way. It will not allow us to live in this world, and it will not permit us to abandon this world. This is also the difficulty in understanding the gospel of the Bhagavadgita. It is not so easy to understand what it says. It appears that sometimes it is emphasising certain aspects pertaining to this world, and at other times it looks as if it has no connection with this world and it is talking some great unreachable ideal of a transcendent nature.

The difficulty of Arjuna as portrayed in the first chapter of the Bhagavadgita is everyone’s difficulty – my difficulty, your difficulty, every seeker’s difficulty. It is an attitude of going to extremes. Go ahead, embark upon a battle, pursue everything in this world, and struggle to gain as much treasure from this world as possible. This is one extreme. The other extreme is, we want nothing from this world. Everything is transitory, transient, unreligious, unspiritual, ungodly, satanic, devilish, and so we hibernate into a mental condition of total dissociation of every kind of reality.

Now, when I use the word ‘reality’, again I have to tell you what actually we mean by this word. There are several definitions. That which is real is, in an ultra-logical manner, sometimes defined as that which persists in three periods of time: past, present and future. There is no such thing in this world; therefore, reality is not in this world, may be one conclusion. Satyatvaṁ bādha-rāhityaṁ (Panchadasi 3.29) says Vidyaranya in his great work Panchadasi: Non-contradiction is the test of reality. It should not be transcended, contradicted, negatived by any other thing or experience. And what is there in this would which cannot be contradicted, negatived or transcended? Everything is subject to this difficulty, so there is nothing ultimately real in this world. This is the definition of the ultimately real called paramarthika-satta in Sanskrit.

But there is another degree of reality called vyavaharika-satta. It is empirical reality. The reality of the workaday world – the reality, for instance, that you are sitting here and I am speaking – cannot be called an ultimate reality, but it has some reality, and what sort of reality it is will be known to you, each for one's own self. It is tentatively real as far as this particular framework of space and time continues; consequently, as long as we continue in this condition, this teaching of mine is valid. But if the whole space-time structure is to change and, therefore, our bodily and psychical structure also is to change simultaneously, then the entire circumstance changes, as it happens, for instance, when we wake up from dream.

Dream is a reality. We cannot call it unreal, because we have an experience. Every experience is real at the time of its being experienced; but we cannot call a dream ultimately real because it is contradicted by waking, and we have already said anything that is subject to contradiction cannot be called reality. Dream is transcended, contradicted and negatived by the waking condition, and therefore, we say that dream is not real. But when we are actually in that state, it is negatived waking, and we were passing through the vicissitudes of pains and pleasures even in dream as individuals of a particular type. You know very well how happy and how grieved you were in dream also. How could that be regarded as unreal?

The daily occurrences and the contacts in this empirical world come under what are called empirical reality, vyavaharika-satta; they have pragmatic value. It has a workable value, but not an ultimate value. Compared to the empirical reality or value of the waking world, dream is called pratibhasika-satta. These are all Sanskrit terms which you need not remember. Pratibhasika is apparent reality, dream. Vyavaharika is empirical reality, waking. And the Supreme Being is paramarthika, Absolute Reality. Now we are not in the state of the Absolute. This is well known to every one of us. We are in the states of pratibhasika and–vyavaharika, or to clinch the whole matter, we may forget the dream occurrence and say we are in a practical world of pragmatic relationships.

Now, the pursuit of the religious ideal, or the ascent to God, is a gradual lifting of your feet from the condition in which you are now. It is like passing from one class to another class in an educational institution, or as when you grow from childhood to adulthood, you get out of one condition and enter into another. When you have a test or an examination in a particular class in a school, you pass out of it and go to the next. When you go to the next higher state of study, the higher class, the lower one is not rejected. It has not been isolated, cut off, as unreal. It was real, and it is real even now when you are in a higher stage. The only thing is, you have overcome its limitations. You have transcended it, not rejected it.

Hence, we may bring to our memories again the renunciation that religious teachers expect us to embark upon. Asceticism, which is the characteristic of religion, is not a rejection of the world; it is a transcendence of the world. You have seen through and through the whole world and have no need for the world now, just as when you wake up from dream you have no need for the treasures of dream; but when you were in the dream, it was necessary. A dream sickness may require a dream medicine, and so on, so you cannot say it is unreal wholly. But now you have come to another degree of reality. Thus, the rise of the spirit in its movement towards the supreme perfection is an ascent from one degree to another degree of reality.

So renunciation, asceticism, vairagya, sannyasa, monasticism, or whatever be the name by which you call this attitude, mean certain insignia of your overcoming your dependence on things, and not being dependent and saying they are not real. That would be the ostrich attitude. An ascetic is not an ostrich who buries his head in the sand and says there is nothing outside him. You see the world outside. How do you say it is not there? But if you cannot see it, that is a different matter. You have really perfected yourself in renunciation. You have really renounced all the wealth of dream now because you have no concern with it, you are no more in need of it, it has no meaning for you; you have transcended it, and have come to a higher level of experience. Renunciation becomes complete only when you have overcome the world, and not rejected the world; otherwise, like a crocodile it will catch you one day or the other. Any desire that is unfulfilled is a dangerous weapon inside us which we are keeping secretly, as if it is not there. All our desires are the knots with which we are tied to this world.

Hence, the ancient masters, the teachers of yoga in India especially, conceived of a fourfold attitude called dharma, artha, kama, moksha. You cannot say only moksha, and nothing else. This is an extreme attitude of yours, extreme because you have forgotten you are in the vyavaharika-satta, or the empirical world, and the world is there before your eyes. You cannot say you are not seeing it. When you don’t see it, then the questions do not arise, just as when you do not see a dream you have to say nothing about it. Nobody goes on discussing about the dream world. It is just gone, finished, and we are in a different degree or level of reality.

But we are very much concerned with the world. We don’t just treat it as a dream. We are involved in it wholly, totally; therefore, because of the fact of our involvement in the network of the entire phenomena called the world, a rise into the next step in religion or spirituality would be not an individualised isolation of our body-mind complex from the network of the whole world, but a rising of the total situation itself. It is as if the whole world is rising when you are rising, because when you wake up from dream, the whole dream phenomena also has gone. It is not only one individual that has gone up into the waking condition and the dream friends are still there. Just imagine how interesting it is. You saw many people in dream. You saw mountains and rivers, and you had relationships with many things, and then you woke up. When you woke up, they also have woken up. There is no friend there in dream. You cannot say you have left them there in the dream and have come now alone to the waking world. Everything has come up totally, en masse.

This is the kind of thing that will happen when you rise to the next step in spirit. It is not only some individual slowly sitting in a corner and wrenching oneself from the world and going to godly regions. That is not possible, just as you cannot leave your friends in the dream world and come alone to the waking world. The friends also have to come. All things there get transmuted into a new value altogether in waking. Such a miracle takes place when you ascend to the higher nature of spirit – namely, the whole world comes with you. It has to come because you are not outside the world, nor the world is outside you. We have noted this in the earlier days. The world is not outside you. If it is not outside you, how can you leave it here and go to God? That is not possible.

There can sometimes be a great error in our renunciation spirit. We leave our homes and come to an ashram and think that we are renunciates. It is a great mistake, because the whole world will come with you wherever you go. You are inextricably connected with it, organically related to it, and the whole world has to come with you, even when you go to God. This is a mystery and a miracle. Man’s mind cannot easily understand what all this means. As you go higher and higher, you will find there are greater and greater mysteries to encounter. It is not a mathematical equation or a straight driving of the car on a beaten track; it is a zigzag path, and a very difficult thing to grasp.

The point is that the concept of moksha is involved in other associations of ours, which go by the name of dharma, artha and kama. I hope you know all these terms, and I need not dilate upon them very much. Anyhow, I will briefly mention what they mean and what their relation is to the moksha ideal or the ideal of the liberation of the soul.

We are not merely a soul. We are also a mind and a body. Can we keep the soul aside and the body somewhere, and the mind in a third place? It is not possible. So inasmuch as moksha is the freedom of the soul, we may think that we are concerned only with the soul and not with the mind, not with the body, not with its relations either. This is a mistake because at present we are a complex, and not merely pure spirit. We are involved spirit now, and not pure, unadulterated spirit. Hence, the ideal of pure unadulterated spirituality is inapplicable to an involved individual who is in body, who is in mind, who is in a family, who is in the world and involved in many things.

So we should call a spade a spade, as they say. You should know what your situation is in this world, and should not overestimate yourself as a great yogi. This is a great mistake. Nobody is a great yogi. It is very difficult to achieve that state. One has to be very humble here. It is better that you are humble and know where you stand, rather than imagine that you are on a high pedestal.

The relationship of the soul with the mind and body brings into relief the need for our involvement in what is called dharma, artha, kama. While moksha is the ideal of the spirit, there are ideals connected with the body and mind and its relationship outside. As I mentioned a few minutes before, we have to gradually withdraw ourselves from our associations, and renunciation is only that. There is a simultaneous action taking place when we rise into a higher level. The lower is overcome. Vairagya and abhyasa go together. Renunciation and practice are simultaneous activities. The moment we sit for the practice of a higher ideal, we are automatically withdrawn from the lower; therefore, vairagya goes with abhyasa, and abhyasa goes with vairagya.

Hence, in the pursuit of the moksha ideal we do not take only the soul, leaving the mind and the body here. The whole complex has to get transmuted. When you are thirsty you drink water, you don’t munch chappatis; when you are hungry you eat solid food and are not satisfied merely with liquids; when you are tired you want to lie down on the bed; and when you are ill you require medication. As different conditions of your personality call for different types of attention, the different layers of our individuality call for these outlooks known as dharma, artha, kama, moksha. So we are not only in a state of moksha, and it is not possible to pursue this ideal ignoring the bodily, the social, the psychological levels. We have physical needs, mental needs, intellectual needs, emotional needs and social needs.

This is why the great teachers have cautioned us that no need can be turned a deaf ear to. As it is often said, you cannot ask a creditor to go away. Nobody can tell a creditor that. He will not listen to what you say – “Get away! Get away, I have nothing to do with you.” Why should you not? He will say, “No, I have got something to do with you.” So you may say you have nothing to do with the world, but the world will say, “My dear friend, I have something to do with you. I am not going to leave you like that so easily.”

We should not be enemies of the world in our religious enthusiasms, nor should we cling to the world as a mother clings to the child. We should adopt a judicious attitude, as a judge in a court has a balanced attitude towards the two contending parties. He does not belong either to this party or that party; otherwise, there will be no judgment if a judge associates with a client.

Hence, samatvaṁ yoga ucyate (Gita 2.48), says the Bhagavadgita. Harmony is yoga, not excess, not extreme. Nātyaśnatas tu yogosti na caikāntam anaśnataḥ, na cātisvapnaśīlasya jāgrato naiva cārjuna; yuktāhāravihārasya yuktaceṣṭasya karmasu, yuktasvapnāvabodhasya yogo bhavati duḥkhahā (Gita 6.16-17). It says that you should be very harmonious, equilibrated and sensible in your work, in your rest, in your pursuits which are empirical and religious. In everything there should be a golden mean, a via media.

We are not wholly in God, as you know very well, and we are not wholly in the world also because one part of us pulls us above. That is why you have come here to listen to people speaking. But the other part pulls you back to the world, so you are midway between the world and God. Certain characteristics of the world are in us and certain characteristics of the spirit also may be in us. Due to the characteristics of the spirit in us we are praying, contemplating and looking up for that blessed day when God will embrace us. But as the world is also there calling us, we are hungry and thirsty and feeling wretched in many ways.

Thus exercising great wisdom, we have to strike a balance between the calls of life which are of the here and the hereafter; and, as I mentioned, you may already be aware of what this dharma, artha, kama, moksha means. Artha is the material ideal. All material needs come under artha. You cannot say that you have no material needs. You have, so you have to strike a balance with them also. Kama is the vital need, emotional desires, aesthetic, romantic desires. And dharma is the compulsive law that operates in such a way that you cannot come in conflict with anybody in the world. Not only in the world, in all the seven planes of existence you have to be set in harmony. The law of harmonious relationship of all individuals in all the planes of existence, including this physical one, is dharma. When these calls are listened to properly, when the debts that we owe to this world are paid fully and nothing is left out, we may become fit for moksha.