The Philosophy of Life

By Sri Swami Krishnananda

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Beloved immortal Atman. Human life has been always considered very sacred because it is accepted that it has a very noble purpose to serve and it is directed towards the achievement of something sublime, though invisible today to mortal eyes.

Right from the time of the Vedas and the Upanishads we have been told it is the religion of man in general and not of any particular group of individuals, and moreover, that the grandeur of this religion lies in the fact that it is not confined merely to otherworldly affairs, as most people regard religion to be, but it is a science of life in general and in particular. It is an art of existence in its completest perfection, comprehending within itself all phases, aspects and strata of life, and therefore is applicable to every created human being, whatever his stage be, whatever his age, whatever

his temperament and whatever his predilection, because this religion has its destination in the perfecting of the individual in the cosmic, not by rejecting anything valuable in this world but by including and sublimating everything that is here in this world considered as valuable by us even today.

The mistake of the ordinary human being lies not in regarding the things of the world as valuable, but by regarding them as ultimately real and incapable of further transcendence. Truth is defined as that which is uncontradicable in the three periods of time. If something is contradicted by another experience – today we regard something as real and tomorrow we are likely to sublate it by another that may be regarded as real tomorrow – then naturally we cannot call today’s reality as the ultimately real. The ultimately real is that which cannot further be transcended and which shall exist in that pristine condition in all the three periods of time.

Thus, this religion of the immortal, the religion of the children of immortality, is fully in consonance with the law of nature, with the law of the human being, and with the law of God. The very purpose of this religion is to make the human individual to live a happy life here and to attain the spiritual blessedness and beatitude hereafter. Bhogaśca mokṣaśca karastha eva says an old adage: If you live life wisely, correctly, scientifically, and as an art, with true insight, then life will not become misery. It will become a pleasant progress towards perfection from one strata to another, from one step to another, from one stage to another.

Life becomes a sorrow because we have not got that understanding with which to adapt and adjust ourselves with the various circumstances in which we find ourselves at different times. Wisdom actually lies in this fact that we have been endowed with a special capacity by God with which we can adjust and adapt ourselves with every condition in life. Ignorance, to put it concisely, is this incapacity on the part of the human individual to adjust himself to circumstances, and a foolish endeavour to change conditions and circumstances in the world to suit his own convenience. But wisdom is the opposite of it. It is the recognition of truth in every speck of creation, the realisation that the eternal is present even in the temporal, the infinite in the finite, and therefore the finite has to adjust itself to the laws of the infinite, the part should be in consonance with the whole, and it is here that the salvation of the individual lies.

Spiritual insight is nothing but the realisation of this truth that the deepest acquisitions of the human being are not merely restricted to the body and the mind, but to something profound, or deeper and wider, though not easily visible to the ordinary eyes. There is a resplendent, transcendent and universal substratum behind all our experiences, which we have forgotten on account of our confinement to the body and the limited modes of thinking, and our freedom lies in the recognition of what we are essentially. That is why the central teaching of all philosophies in the West as well as in the East is to know thyself – atmanam vidhi. When you know yourself truly, you have known the whole creation because the whole creation is one substance appearing as manifold, and as your body is nothing but a part of this creation, naturally to understand it would be to understand the substance out of which the whole creation is made.

Therefore, it is up to every aspiring, seeking, and intelligent individual here to seek what is true as distinguished from the false, to aspire only for the good as differentiated from the pleasant, and to live the wise life of unism with nature, regarding nature not as an opponent or an enemy but as a real friend, not to be kicked aside as a devil but to be embraced as a loving mother and as a solacing support in every stage of our life.

It is God that appears as the universe, and therefore it is God that we see with our eyes when we wake up into the ordinary consciousness. But we are likely to regard the world as a material, changing phenomenon, not knowing that the underlying basis of the world is a spiritual unitary being. Religion is nothing but the practice of this law that the essence of existence is a spiritual entity not limited, confined or finite in any way, but universal, spiritual and immortal.

Can you conceive of anything immortal in this world? Have you seen anything infinite or eternal? These are only words to the ordinary human being. We can never conceive of any such thing here because they are not existent here, but we can infer the existence of the infinite, the eternal, the universal from the observation of the temporal, the limited and the finite. The world is in the position of an effect, and therefore it should have a cause. Naturally, you would accept that the cause should be at least as great as the effect, if not more. The world is so vast, creation is so immense; therefore the cause of this creation, of this universe, of this world should be at least as immense, as vast, as grand and magnificent as it is. But there is one special feature in this supreme effect of this cause which we call the universe: that the effect is changing in nature, while the cause is unchanging.

Now, it is not only unchanging but also spiritual, as contradistinguished from the material body and the world. You may put a question to me as to how I know it is spiritual. This again can be inferred from the fact of our own consciousness within. Does anyone regard his own personality as a mass of matter? Definitely not, because we are thinking beings, capable of knowing things, and naturally we cannot imagine that a mass of matter can think. Matter is considered to be inert and dead, and matter is in the position of a known object, not a knowing subject. Therefore we are the knowers of matter, so naturally we ourselves cannot be matter. We are intelligent beings observing the existence and operation of matter outside us. And considering the whole world as a material substance, naturally we would be observers of this world.

But how can there be a connecting link between a spiritual, intelligent being and matter, which is absolutely different in nature from this intelligent observer? We know very well the common law that like attracts like and opposites repel each other. If matter is to attract the attention of consciousness, as it is in the case of usual perception, naturally there should be something akin between consciousness and matter. Otherwise, there would not be that tremendous unceasing attraction subsisting between matter and consciousness.

Now, what is this connecting link which establishes a permanent relationship, as it were, between matter and consciousness? As the two principles in this world are merely matter and consciousness, the connecting link cannot be a third thing. It should be either consciousness or matter. Now, if we imagine the connecting link between matter and consciousness is matter alone, then this argument becomes a failure because the connecting link, which is matter, should have again another connecting link between itself and consciousness. The argument would end in an infinite regress leading to no conclusion. But on the other hand, if we imagine that consciousness is the connecting link between the perceiving consciousness and matter, then again the same difficulty arises because we have to imagine the nature of the relation between this second consciousness-posited attitude and the matter which is its object.

So if we regard the knowing subject and the known object as two different elements, consciousness and matter, then we can never establish a relation between them; therefore it is impossible to regard these two as ultimately differentiated principles. Then a third alternative would be to regard the entire thing as one mass of matter, as materialists hold today. Materialists say there is no such thing as consciousness because if it is there, we may not establish a relation between the two, and it is very easy to regard consciousness as merely an offshoot of matter. Just as fire is an offshoot of a matchstick, there are many who think that consciousness is an exudation of the material brain. Thus, we land ourselves in materialism, considering that matter alone is there and nothing else is there. Well, if we accept this hypothesis, then we ourselves are masses of matter, which fact we have already repudiated by the fact of our capability to think and to observe matter as an object. So we have to set aside this crude theory of crass materialism as inadequate for our purpose of the discovery of truth, and should have no other alternative than the only possible one, namely, to regard consciousness alone as the truth and nothing outside it can ever be ultimately real.

This is therefore the aim, the subject, the field of all philosophy and practice of religion; therefore, there should be no difference in the practice of religion, truly speaking. The apparent difference among religions today is the difference in nonessentials. The essentials, the fundamentals, cannot be different. I do not think that if all the great prophets and founders of religion sat together around one table they would quarrel among themselves. It is the followers of these teachers that quarrel among themselves, not the original founders, because the followers have not grasped the fundamental teachings of their teachers. They have only stuck to the nonessentials, the accrustations outside, and they are fighting with one another because of the apparent perception of diversity, the nonessentials.

Therefore, let man wake up today to the higher consciousness of that unitary life, not regarding himself as belonging to any particular religion – a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Jain, a Christian, a Muslim, and so on. Let there be no such appellation. They have only the religion of man, the religion of love, the religion of the heart, the religion of amity and understanding, and ultimately, the religion of the march of the soul to the Absolute. The soul does not belong to any religion; the Absolute does not belong to any religion, and therefore the path to this Absolute also cannot be restricted to any particular religion. So why should there be many religions? They exist on account of the differences in the attitudes, the temperaments of the followers. Well, let us accept the differences in the temperaments in the stages of evolution, but let us not think that these differences are final because if we mistakenly imagine these differences to be ultimate, final, it is because of this reason that we have misunderstanding among ourselves. If there should be peace in this world, if there should be love among the inhabitants of this Earth, then there should be no ultimate difference even in thinking and feeling, let alone in preaching and acting.

But man is what he is. It is very difficult to educate him. He always confines himself to his pet dogmas, traditions and socialistic circumstances, never having the leisure or the time to have that inner culture and education whereby to know that he belongs to a higher realm. We do not belong merely to this Earth. We have to forget this illusion. When we were born here on this Earth, we did not bring with us any religion, we did not bring any property with us, nor did we even know our parents. We were taught later about all this, and then we developed certain concepts in our minds based on the circumstances in which we were born.

Take, for example, the condition of yourself in some other realm. If you are prone to it by a dissociation of yourself from your body, which you call death, your concepts will be entirely different. You will regard some others as parents, relatives, friends, and so on, and your religion, the way of thinking and feeling and acting, will all be different. So your ways of living differ in accordance with the circumstances, the conditions in which you are placed. Why take these circumstances as final and confine your ways of thinking to them? You are not a slave of circumstances. You are not sewn into the conditions in which you are born. You have independence, freedom to think. Why not think as a citizen of the world as a whole, as a citizen of this whole of creation? Why confine yourself to a family, to a community, even to a country? You do not belong to any particular country. You are a spiritual, illumined soul in a sense, and your connections are established per force with something mightier, something vaster and something deeper than what you know.

So the education which man needs today is in this direction: to discover the ultimate good in him, the shreyas by which he shall attain his ultimate salvation and also help others in attaining this salvation. Also, at the same time, remember that religion is not an otherworldly affair. It is the science of life, as I mentioned already, and life is not restricted merely to another world. Salvation, moksha,liberation of the soul does not mean flying from one realm to another, but it is knowing the truth of things even in the realm in which you are placed. If all the realms of existence, all the planes of being are comprehended within one single, mighty Absolute, then naturally it can be realised in any strata of being, in any stage of life. And the salvation of the soul which so many religions preach is nothing but the opening of the inner eyes to the facts before us, and is not a flying of the body or even the mind or the soul from one region to another.

So there is no meaning in thinking that religion is an otherworldly affair. Religion, perhaps in its etymological sense, is the manner in which the soul is bound back to God, and God is not an otherworldly affair. Let us not, like children, imagine that God is sitting far away in seventh heaven as if He is remote and we cannot easily reach Him. He is imminent as much as He is transcendent. He is as vast as the cosmos, yet he is inside our own hearts and watches every thought and feeling of ours. So we can realise Him here and now, in this circumstance in which we are placed, in this condition of society wherein we are born, and it is not essential to change the conditions. The conditions have to be changed only in the mind. The mind has been confined to a set way of thinking, and therefore we have bondage here, which we call samsara. But there should be no such limited dogmatic ways of thinking and feeling. The mind should become more elastic and amiable so that it can enter into the truth of everything outside it also, feeling it as identical with its own being, not regarding the objects and the other people in this world as merely instruments in bringing about certain experiences within itself, but regarding them as sacred ends in themselves, as valuable as its own self, because it is God who appears as all these jivas, these individuals, and therefore the whole world in its strictest sense is an object of worship.

In the Srimad Bhagavata, Sri Krishna while instructing Uddhava says, “Worship, O Uddhava, everything in this creation as My manifestation.” Even the inanimate beings, even the ignorant, even the fallen are divine manifestations. If God is everywhere, naturally He cannot be outside them.

Therefore, your duty as a true spiritual aspirant is to recognise the divine being everywhere and in everything, and to move with folded hands, with humility and respect, with everything that you see with your eyes. God is everywhere, and you walk on the body of God, as it were, and you live, move and have your being in the being of God Itself. Therefore, there can be no occasion at any time in life for either sorrow within or dissatisfaction without.

There should be a persistent vigilant effort on the part of every one of us to wake up to this higher understanding and forget the old, dead past to which we have been tethered by ignorance, and rise up as heroes with a might which is unknown to us, and also help others in rising up to this level. This is the philosophy and the religion of man. This is the purpose for which we are all born here, and all other works, the duties that we perform in society today, are ancillaries to the performance of this highest duty of the realisation of the Almighty.

This realisation can, again, be realised here and now. It can be attained just at this very moment if only you have that honesty and sincerity of feeling. The process of this spiritual realisation is quickened in proportion to the intensity of the aspiration that you feel from within. If you yearn for that with all your being, sarvabhāvena bhārata (Gita 15.19) says Sri Krishna in the Gita, if you have that surrender with all your being – with body, mind and soul and speech together in one – then remember that you shall have that realisation now. Nothing can prevent you from realising that which is the innermost reality of yours. You are not going to possess something that is outside you; you are going to know what is inside you already, and therefore how can you feel any difficulty? The difficulty is only in the tearing the veil of ignorance in the mind, in dissociating the mind from its pet objects of desire, and making it know and feel honestly that there is something which is to be realised as the ultimately real.

It is difficult indeed to pursue this path of spirituality, to choose the good as distinguished from the pleasant, because of one fact: the patent truth that we have lived several lives in the past where we have always thought erroneously and we have hypnotised ourselves into the feeling that we are bodies, and that objects are necessary to satisfy us. It is our duty today to dehypnotise ourselves and rise to the level of the mighty hero by whom alone the truth can be realised and which is this ultimate goal of life.

Articles by Swami Krishnananda:

  1. Swami Krishnananda — The First Step in Meditation
  2. Swami Krishnananda — The Next Step in Meditation
  3. Swami Krishnananda — The Philosophy of Life
  4. Swami Krishnananda — The Gods and the Celestial Heavens