Monday, March 14, 2011

The Logic of Spiritual Life

[Last month I wrote a couple posts trying to couch religion in reason—but this article by Swami Chinmayananda, called The Logic of Spiritual Life, I think does it better. Swami Chinmayananda is probably the greatest influence on my life, and the reason why I still think religion is worthwhile.]

Religion is not a bundle of superstitions to be fumigated at regular intervals with incense and candle sticks. Carefully analyzed, it is a definite science of life, giving a complete technique of practical living. By faithfully adhering to its precepts and following its practical suggestions, we can make ourselves happier and this world a better place to live in.

As the Equipment, so the Experience

Life is a series of experiences. The experiencer comes in contact with the world of objects and ekes out for himself pleasure or pain, joy or sorrow and failure or success. His reactions are dependent upon the quality and texture of his mind-intellectual equipment. There is an infinite variety in the texture and composition of the equipment and one gains the particular vision envisaged by it. Thus, the world provides different and distinct visions according to the individual who projects them.

Analysing a few examples, we find that to scientist, the world appears to be a field of magnificent phenomena—discovered and undiscovered—of great power and potentialities; to a peasant in a remote village, the same world is insignificant with nothing spectacular about it. Again, to a poet, the world is a manifestation of nature in luxurious and extravagant beauty, and he sees in it everywhere an expression of divinity. The same world is viewed by a pessimist as an inferno of misfortunes and tragedies. Hence, the objects remaining the same, the experiences differ from person to person, and their reactions will also differ, depending upon the constitution of their equipment.

The world, therefore, has no precise and clear-cut definition. The pattern changes as in a kaleidoscope, according to the individual vision. As for instance, a man wearing blue glasses see the world blue; upon changing them to green, he sees the world green. Realising this truth, the religious masters advised people to reform and reconstruct their inner instruments of experience so that the world can be interpreted by them in its true perspective.

Politician, Economist, and Scientist

Man, in his innocence, continues to believe in development and beautification of the external world more than in the rehabilitation of his inner personality. This has given rise to three types of workers who have been sincerely serving mankind, making this world a better place to live in. They are the economists, the politicians, ad the scientists.

The economists provide more wealth and material prosperity for people. The politicians deal with the people and improve the pattern of mutual and co-operative living. The scientists harness and tame nature for man to enjoy it. The economists, the politicians, and the scientists have achieved wonderful things in our own time, for our own happiness and for the happiness of the society.

People Still Unhappy

Now, if we were to meet these prophets of our age one by one, each would admit privately that his had been a waste of noble energies! Not that their plans, ideas and discoveries were in themselves glorious mistakes. The political visions and programmes are well based upon historical experiences of the past. The economic schemes and plans are indeed the fruits of great study and deep ponderings. The scientists, no doubt, have been very creative; they have wrest ed out of Nature many of her splendid secrets. But, they all cry, "We strive, but somehow we find we cannot bring blessings to the society, because the society in its present state is incapable of receiving the blessings we shower on them."

How does society become unfit for blessings? Why is it that people are still miserable in spite of such mighty intellects constantly working to make them happy? We will have to enquire a little more deeply to discover where exactly lies the seed of this ruinous disease.

People in today's society live ever in a state of tension, in a state of withering discord among themselves, each shattered within himself. Ever agitated and restless in their minds, ever unsatisfied with what is available in society and ever striving to cut the throats of one another, all of them always feel, in spite of all that they have, a sense of insecurity in life. Each one tries to build a wall of safety for himself with money, possessions, power, strength and social laws. Why this sad plight? Is there no escape, no remedy? Should life be ever a groping in the dark, a wasteland of strife with no reward of peace and true joy? Should there not be a full contentment of love and unreserved affection?

Where is the flaw?

When we analyse this question as true critics of life, not as pessimists judging society as doomed, but standing apartment as intelligent and kind critics, lovingly analysing life, we have to ask the question, "Where exactly is the flaw?" Vedanta, or the philosophy of India, roars, "Try not to understand the world as a separate entity, but try to understand it in relation with you. Since you alone are the object available for complete study, you can observe and fully investigate 'you-in-the-world'. Thus understand the world through you, rather than objectively looking at the world, ignoring yourself." This is quite right, as life is possible only when a person is in relationship with the world.

Let us for a moment consider what exactly the politician, the economist, and the scientist achieve for the world. Politicians order my relationship with the people around me; the economists regulate my relationship with the wealth in the country; and the scientists command my relationship with the phenomena that constitute the world about me. Thus, everywhere I am being educated on how to relate myself with the world, so that I may come to life harmoniously with the community around me.

World and Me

There are naturally two factors here—the world and me. The happenings around me and the nature of the world that lies about me are at present not directly under my control, but in case I can reorganise myself within myself and by myself, I may then gain a glorious and healthy harmony with the world in which I happen to live now. The scientists the economists and the politicians can only tell us the correct relationship with which we must live in the society with social wealth an phenomenal energies. But in all patters of relationships, we have to be healthy and intelligent in order to maintain the right relationship. If man is not rightly educated, however much the politicians, the scientists, and the economist must strive to bless the society, the society can never be blessed. It is thus clear that I am the one who keeps an intelligent relationship with the world around. If I don't keep an intelligent relationship with the world outside, I become a nuisance to the society. A lunatic does not know how to maintain a proper relationship with others; he makes himself unhappy and he makes everybody around him also unhappy.

Tune up the Personality

Therefore, the main emphasis of religion and philosophy is on the individual, to make him competent to face his environment. The spiritual scientists—the subjective scientists—strive to tune up and strengthen the personality of man, so that he may be competent in himself to face his own challenges in life.

When man comes in contact with the environment, then there arises in him his experience of joys and sorrows. The external environment keeps changing continually. It is, no doubt, to some extent controlled, regulated and improved upon by the material scientists, politicians and economists. But however conducive the political arrangement may be, whether it be socialistic or communistic, whether it be  capitalistic or democratic, in any condition of poverty or riches, it is you and I who have to face life individually. No economist or politician can take away from us our sorrows and tragedies. Happiness or unhappiness depends upon our interpretation of the world in which we are living. They may try to improve the world, they may try to adjust it beautifully, but after all, it is we who have to face our own challenges, not anyone else.

In this business of living, religion and philosophy say that each individual is compelled until death to face his own challenges. You may say that all of us belong to one society or one country, we are one race, and so on. Yet each person reacts differently to the same environment. Even in your own homes, as a father you have to face certain things yourself; you cannot share many of your problems even with your own wife; your wife has her own problems which she cannot share with you; your little baby lying between you two has its own private problems. If I am ill, the society may provide a beautiful hospital and the best of doctors to attend on me. All my friends may come and cheer me up. Still, I have to face my pain myself; no one else can do it for me.

Self-Improvement is Essential

How to improve the inner health of a person so that he becomes competent to meet his own challenges—this is the problem that philosophy tries to tackle; towards the same end, religion also tries to provide a field in which each can train himself to grow in knowledge and inner strength. As a technique of self-improvement, religion and philosophy provide certain exercises by which each individual's view of life becomes more ideal. When his view becomes thus elevated, his behaviour in the world also becomes correspondingly nobler.

Philosophy is never tired of repeating that life is an orchestra; it is not solo play. Each individual must, through education and self-effort, improve his own behaviour. No doubt, he must have his own goals in life, set by himself; at the same time, he must also learn to live harmoniously with others, bringing about an orchestration in his social behaviour. This orchestration has not been achieved to a great extent in the world so far, in spite of sincere efforts.

Master of Ceremonies

The politician who is talking aloud is certainly sincere. The industrialist who is trying his best to increase production is also sincere. The trade union leaders are also a sincere lot. Each one is sincere, but since each one is singing his won song, together it becomes a noisy clamour of disturbing discordant notes, rather than a harmonious melody of beauty. Therefore, there must be a Master of Ceremonies and he must serve as a conductor, and if the conductor conducts properly, all of them can fall into a synchronised harmony. He must order and regulate each individual's play, and thus generate the dynamism of togetherness, the beauty of togetherness. For this, each must sink his arrogance and implicitly follow the signs of the conductor.

Today, there is no harmony in life, nor is there synchronisation in its activities. This is because people do not have a synchronising ideal to look up to and act, regulating their own activities for the blessing of all. This synchronisation comes into our life when we provide ourselves with an inspiring ideal. The ideal in religion is Godhood; in philosophy it is called Self-realization. As long as this ideal is not discovered and accepted, each member will tug and pull and try to work only to fulfill his own little selfish desires. Naturally, all our programmes, even at their best, prove to be nothing but calamitous follies and stupendous failures.

Subjective Evolution

Therefore, to increase our happiness in life our religion demands the sublimation of our ego, sublimation of the individuality, the sense of the little ego, by lifting our vision to a higher standpoint.

This idea of bringing harmony in society through subjective evolution is not generally recognized by the materialists, who essentially follow the objective scientists. Objective scientists believe that the world creates man and causes his happiness. No doubt, external environments are necessary for political stability, material developments, scientific growth, and social justice in the world, but human happiness does not depend merely upon all these. If that were so, for anyone living in a palatial building, resting on its comfortable furniture in a costly and luxurious environment, there will never be any tears. Alas, nowadays it is in such places that you find maximum sorrow and tears. If the environment alone governments man's happiness, then there should not be any laughter or smile in our slums, and we know that this is not the case. So it is clear that a comfortable external situation alone is not sufficient. Man must learn to live in harmony with and enjoy the external circumstances.


  1. I had a couple comments, but they were trumped by questions about this passage:

    "As a technique of self-improvement, religion and philosophy provide certain exercises by which each individual's view of life becomes more ideal. When his view becomes thus elevated, his behaviour in the world also becomes correspondingly nobler."

    Perhaps you can answer what it means to have one's view of life become more "ideal". Does the author mean that there is a way to view life so that it appears more beautiful and wholesome? Is the way to do this to believe that other people are always acting in good faith? While this may make one feel better, it seems like a dangerously idealistic view. Such a view doesn't allow one to see instances where people are insincere as easily, opening oneself to being cheated and fooled, or simply oblivious. Isn't it better to see the world for what it truly is, and then work forward with a clear view?

  2. Yes to the first question, no to the second. "Ideal" doesn't mean pretending the world works ideally; ideal means having a goal, or ideal, to look up to. The higher the ideal (meaning, I think, the more selfless the ideal is), the more noble that person's life.