The key to the solution of life's problems is the right determination of the goal and the way of life. Vedanta ascertains the goal and the way of life in view of what man really is. Man's plan of living depends on his idea of man. The search for the meaning of life ends with the finding of man's true nature and the process of its fulfillment.
The theme of the book is presented with arguments from the standpoint of common understanding and valid experience. I have also quoted the words of recognized authorities to corroborate the Vedantic view.
I am grateful to Mr. and Mrs. Richard L. Bergman, Mrs. Helen Smith (formerly teacher, Wagner College, Staten Island, N.Y.), and Dr. Huston Smith (Thomas J. Watson Professor of Religion and Adjunct Professor of Philosophy, Syracuse University, Syracuse, N.Y.) for reading the typescript of the book and making comments and emendations.
I am thankful to my Vedanta students who have helped me in different ways in bringing out the book. I very much appreciate the keen interest with which Mrs. Virginia Ward, a Vedanta student, has prepared the index.
I am indebted to all the authors and the publishers for permission to quote from their books. Their names with necessary information
are given in the footnote under each quotation.
The fundamental difference between man and what we call the lower orders of life is not in the physical form but in the psychical function. In human life the mind has reached a level at which it can think. Man not only sees, but reads and interprets things. He looks far beyond the senses. His knowledge is not confined within the domain of sense perception. The human mind has the capacity to probe the deepest secrets of nature and unravel the profound mysteries of life. Not only that, man can also regulate his life by his knowledge. The practical application of man's knowledge for the advancement of individual and social welfare is a characteristic feature of civilized life.
Much more important than sheer intellect is the moral sense of man. He is not a mere instrument of his instincts, as some psychologists hold. He can discriminate between right and wrong, true and false, noble and ignoble, good and pleasant. The instinctive urges are no doubt strong in man; but guided by reason, he can develop will power to control the natural impulses and pursue his chosen course. He has the choice of decision as well as the choice of action. He can dominate and direct the lower self by the higher self. This self-mastery constitutes the real nature of man. Man's advancement is proportionate to the development of this virtue.
Self-assertion and self-aggrandizement are the instinctive urges of animal life. Self-denial and self-sacrifice are the human attributes developed by moral culture. This distinguishes humanity from animality. Indeed, "humanity" is the distinctive mark of the human race as brutality is that of the beasts. In the animal kingdom life grows chiefly through rivalry and hostility in the struggle for existence. Those live who can subdue others. The fittest survive. On the human plane the scene changes. Mankind advances, as we see, through cooperation, self-abnegation, altruism. Man's worthiness rests on the fulfillment of his duties and obligations. Whenever this truth is
forgotten, human society faces dissension and disaster, with attendant misery.
In human life there is an ideal, a regulative principle, a philosophy. Man's outlook on life determines his way of life. To man the art of life is more important than mere living. A life devoid of meaning and purpose. is regarded as of little value. He who has no aim in life is like a breathing machine in human form. Man alone considers it glorious to sacrifice his life for the sake of the ideal. Such martyrdom immortalizes him. There have been martyrs in religion, in philosophy, in science, in nationalism. We revere them as heroes.
In man self-consciousness is much more developed than in other living beings. He is fully aware of himself as an individual distinct from the rest of the world. He can analyze his own being. He can distinguish the self from the not-self. He draws a distinction between the body and the mind, and knows that he has an outer as well as an inner life. He finds that his inner life is greater, deeper, and more glorious than the outer life. The physical body, however dominant and fascinating, forms but the exterior of his personality. The intellectual, moral, aesthetic, and spiritual aspects of life are the expressions of his inner consciousness.
One special privilege of human life is the power of self-expression. It has been rightly observed that nature begets, but man creates. Man not only has the ingenuity to invent but also the creative genius of the artist. He can give aesthetic expression to his ideas, thoughts, feelings, and imagination in varied fine arts, such as architecture, sculpture, painting, literature, music, and poetry. These works of art, more marvelous than the achievements of science, are the cherished treasures of man on earth. How poor mankind would have been without them! The cultural life of man begins with the development of the artistic ability. As long as man is concerned only with the bare necessities of life he cannot develop art. The production of art becomes possible when man emerges from the animal-like struggle for food and learns to idealize life.
However, there are human beings no better than animals. In fact, human brutes are worse than beasts. The practice of such devilry as
duplicity, hypocrisy, treachery, conspiracy, and tyranny that so often marks man's dealings with man is unknown to the animal world. The quadrupeds are incapable of such wickedness and meanness. Indeed, the poet has every reason to lament: "What man has made of man." Nevertheless, in judging man we should take as our examples the true types of humanity and not the degenerate groups of individuals, just as an apple tree is to be judged not by the unripe, rotten, or worm- eaten fruits that the tree may bear but by those that are well- developed and typical. There have been among men such spiritual giants as Krsna, Zoroaster, the Buddha, Lao Tzu, Christ; philosophers like Kapila, Vyasa, Socrates, Plato, Plotinus, Kant, Schopenhauer; poets like Valmiki, Homer, Virgil, Dante, Kalidas,
Shakespeare, Goethe, Wordsworth; artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Rembrandt; scientists like Archimedes, Aryabhatta, Galileo, Newton, Einstein; monarchs like Emperor Asoka, Harun Al Rasid, Alfred the Great, Akbar; seers and saints like Sukadeva, Sankaracarya, Saint Francis of Assisi, Meister Eckhart, Saint Rabia, Mirabai, and so forth - to mention just a few of the world's great personages known and unknown to history.
The crowning glory of human life is self-knowledge. Man can know himself as he really is. The body does not constitute his real self,
nor the mind, nor the combination of the body and the mind. His real self, the very basis of his ego, is a self-intelligent principle. It is the
knower of the body as well as of the mind. The mind cannot be self- intelligent, because the mind is known. There is something beyond
that watches the mind. The mind falls into the category of the object. It should not be identified with the subject, the knower. Intelligence is the essence of the knower, and not of the known. The self-intelligent entity behind the mind, which watches all physical and mental events, the only invariable factor in the human personality. It coordinates all physical and mental processes. It maintains the identity of man despite the incessant changefulness of the body and the mind. Unchanging, it witnesses all changes. Had it changed, it could not be the witness per se. We would have to posit another entity as the witness of this change. The witness cannot participate in the change it witnesses. The witness must be aloof from what is witnessed. The real witness, the ultimate knower, must therefore be changeless.
So the self of man is immutable. Being pure intelligence, it is self- evident. No one doubts his own existence. To him it is an axiomatic
truth. "That he is" is an established fact for him. He may doubt or deny the existence of everything else, even of God, but not his own.
Even in denying himself he has to affirm himself. Nothing can be affirmed or denied without presupposing the self-intelligent knower.
The self must be the first thing real. The existence or nonexistence of everything else rests on the reality of the self. It is therefore self-
existent. It existed before this body originated, it will continue to exist after the body drops and disintegrates.
The self is eternal. Anything that changes is a compound that is, made up of parts. As the self is changeless, it cannot be composite: it
must be simple and formless. Contrary to matter, it is self-shining, self-existent, immutable, free, pure, and blissful. It is the spiritual
basis of the phenomenal existence. The body cannot hold it, nor can the mind. It must be one with the Supreme Being.
Such is the self of man. But through mysterious ignorance he gets identified with the body and the mind and ascribes to himself all that
belong to them. Thus the unconditioned spirit becomes subject to all physical and mental conditions. As soon as man can realize his
distinctness from the psychophysical adjuncts and his oneness with the Supreme Being, he becomes free from all bondages. The
attainment of this Freedom is the highest goal of life. One can attain it even while living in the body. It is the ignorance of the true nature of the self which is the prime cause of bondage, and not the body nor the mind.
There have been great seers and saints in different climes and ages who have realized this Freedom and proclaimed it to be the Supreme End of life. So declares the Vedic seer of India, "I have realized this self-effulgent Supreme Being beyond darkness. By knowing Him alone one overcomes mortality. There is no other way out.") He who knows the Truth, becomes one with the Truth, because the Truth is his very self. You cannot objectify your own Self. You simply recognize the self. "The knower of Brahman becomes Brahman (the Supreme Being)," says the Mundaka Upanisad.? Why? Because "That thou art."!
Self-realization and God-realization are not two different experiences. In realizing the self we realize God. In realizing God we realize the self. The self and God are subjective and objective views of the same Reality, which is beyond relativity and is neither the subject nor the object. In the relative plane it is the Eternal Subject, the Soul of all souls. The direct approach to It is, therefore, through the self. This is why we seek God with closed eyes in the inmost depth of our being. In the words of Jesus Christ, "The Kingdom of God cometh not with observation; neither shall they say, Lo here! or, Lo there! for behold, the Kingdom of God is within you." Further, "God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth."> To all worshipers the instruction of the Hindu Tantras is: "Worship the Divine, being divine [by evoking the divine spirit within]."
The same inner approach was taught by the great German mystic Meister Eckhart, who lived from 1260 to 1328 A.D.
Your email address will not be published *
Send as free online greeting card
Email a Friend