The highest good which man ought to follow in life19 min read

We all have some conception of the highest good, but owing to paucity of our intellect or want of experience or want of right penetration into the problem, we make errors and what is temporal and transient we take to be the highest good of ourselves. Unless the highest good is achieved, we have to come back to the school of life again and again to acquire experience again and again, till we have devoted our being to the highest good and have found identity with it. While discussing this problem Emmanuel Kant lays down two conditions. He says that the highest good should be transcendent; secondly that it ought to be whole. It seems to be a contradiction, but the conceptions of Kant require a great deal of study before we can really understand them. When he says that it is the whole, he means that it is not a part of some other whole, but it is whole; and it is transcendent means it is above the limit of the intellect, of the feeling, and even of the flight of consciousness. And by these two tests you can know what is the highest good. This is the conception of Emmanuel Kant. From the point of view of metaphysics it is very true, and we need to study it very carefully. But I want to present this point of view from a limited sphere so that we can all study it, and then you can reconcile the statements which I make with the statements made by Emmanuel Kant. There are two things which we bring with us as soon as we see the light of the world. The child, the infant, comes into the world crying, and soon after tries to satisfy his hunger by coming closer to the breast of the good mother. He comes crying. It is a very significant fact and so much has been written by way of interpretation. Why do we come here crying?

Not that the child comes from the warm and secure realm of the womb of the mother into this cold world and therefore he comes crying. It is not so. You can put your own interpretation on it why the child comes crying. In this connection a fact comes to my mind. Frederick William of Prussia was lying dying in his bed. They sang a hymn. You know that Frederick, the so-called Great, was an agnostic, an atheist and the most selfish materialist with hardly any shred of real goodness and virtue in him, whatever Carlyle may say about him. Then in order to impress the world that the Emperor was dying in a great religious atmosphere, they sang the hymn, and the hymn was: “We come into the world naked, we leave the world naked”. Frederick William raised his head, and he said: “Oh, no, no, I’ll leave the world with my uniform on and not naked”. Now this is typical of man, when he leaves the world. He creates a web of his own world, wraps himself up in it and till the very last moment comes he thinks he is alright, but when the very last moment comes the veil is rent asunder and he finds that all his values in which he pinned his early faith were passing shadows and noting but shadows. The basic fact remains that firstly what man needs in this world is satisfaction of his hunger. It may be interpreted that the first thing that a man needs in the world is self-preservation. Hunger is another name for the need of self-preservation. If we only believe in this doctrine as it is stated, we fall into the quagmire of communism. Economic and economic and economic. Those asses cannot see anything beyond hunger and economic. But the Holy Philosophy goes a step further. As soon as the self-preservation of the little infant is satisfied, what does he want? What does he want? He wants two things. He wants the psychic influence of his mother called love. He wants to give love and he wants to receive love.

Without it he will be a zero in the world. A great American psychologist has said that the children who are brought up in extreme poverty under the direct care of their mother have a much better chance of a good life than those who are brought up in the care of nurses and others, and are deprived of the love of their mother. Then one of the greatest parts of the self-preservation of man is the demand to be loved and demand also to love. You will say: “It is quite alright, there is nothing very mysterious in it”. But there is something mysterious in it, because the hardest thing of life is to love wisely and to be loved wisely, to love wisely and to be loved wisely. Plato has devoted much space in his dialogues to it. Plotinus in his essay on beauty has enlarged upon the problem with great eloquence; and in our modern days also Professor Hocking has come to the same conclusion which I am putting before you. We must love, and we must be loved, but wisely, not foolishly. Foolish love means to care only for our own pleasure that we derive out of the object of our love. We cannot love a person as we love cold water in summer. As soon as we have taken a few sips we put away the glass, and we don’t care what happens to it, whether a tom-cat comes and knocks down the glass or it is evaporated under the heat of the sun. We are not concerned with it at all. But that is not love at all. It is said in the Holy Scripture, a sentence which perhaps you will remember: “The feet of love are on the ground”. “The feet of love are on the ground but the top is in the blue infinite heaven of Godhead” and this sentence sums up the wisdom of love. In fact, in certain schools of philosophy of Vaishnavism, love and wisdom are used synonymously. In the school of Shri Gauranga Chaitanya he uses the word wisdom, jnana, for love, bhakti, and vice versa. Therefore let us remember that the feet of love are on the ground, but the top lies high in the blue heaven of Godhead. A child starts his career of love by loving his parents, then playing with dolls, then playing with books, then playing with name, fame and reputation, and if he is wisely guided, his attention is drawn to the highest, and that highest is what Kant has called transcendent and whole. It is transcendent and it is whole. Kant is one of the first European philosophers to emphasise the word transcendent, and here he means what is called in Vedanta “A-van-manasa-gochara”, that which is beyond, beyond the mind and the speech, and that is called transcendent. There comes a time in the love of man when he tries to proceed higher and higher, crushing rung after rung of the ladder under his feet, rising higher and higher in unselfishness, in service, in self-dedication, in renunciation, which is the real meaning of love; the man touches the blue of infinity, and there he is absorbed in transcendence, the mind is left behind, the intellect is left behind, the feelings are left behind. What remains is as you listened to in the poem of Nazir which my daughter just read to you. What remained can be called only unconsciousness. Consciousness without a subject and without an object is the transcendence of life according to Kant and also according to the Holy Philosophy of Vedanta. Therefore, our whole preservation is not the limited self-preservation. No.

When I see a man and woman married, and when I see that they are, as they say, wrapped up only in themselves, there is no art for them, there is no high literature for them, there is no prayer and no devotion for them. The cuckoo sings in vain for them, their ears are deaf to the cries of the blackbird and the nightingale, they have wrapped themselves together. What is the result? They are digging a grave under their feet for both of them. Because they do not love wisely. Love means expansion of the heart, love means surrender of our self-interest, love means progress higher and higher, transcending names and forms, fame and emotions, and touching, what is called by Narad, the real prema. “Sa hasmai prema rupa”. That prema or that love is itself indefinable and all. Now this is the real secret of life.

It is also the secret not only of the individual life, but it is also the secret of the national life. One of the great miracles of history is why the Jew is alive today. No nation in the world has suffered so much, and so unjustly at the hands of fellow-men as the Jewish nation has done. If I were to describe even one thousandth part of the sufferings – your hair would stand on end and you would cry: “Stop, stop, we cannot bear it”. In spite of that great oppression, why is the Jew alive today? And why is he prospering? And why is he giving the benefit of art, literature, science, philosophy and inventions to the world, why, what is the reason? My friends, the reason is that though his feet are on the ground, his prophets have raised his head high to the infinite blue of the sky. Read his prayers on the Sabbath day. He read his prayers on other occasions. They pulsate with the life of infinity. They pulsate with absolutism. They have no narrowness at all of any kind; and it is this spirit that has preserved the Jew in spite of the extreme antagonism of the Church and of the advocates of economic theory and that will continue preserving it. Therefore those of you who want to study the subject should do so that little book which we translated I think about ten years ago or so called the Narad Sutras. The great and holy sage Narad of antiquity has written a classic on the art of love, and I have translated it, and the subject is dealt with in it. But to sum up the argument: real self-preservation means, not only economic preservation, but to live in the sphere of love and to create the sphere of love, progressing, progressing, higher and higher, higher and higher.

As Tennyson has said in one of his poems: “Let knowledge dwell from higher and higher, until it touches the peak of heaven”.

And knowledge and love are one and the same thing unless knowledge is based on love and love is based on knowledge, jnana and bhakti are one and the same. Lately I have given a little attention to the problem of devotion in the Advaita Vedanta, and while giving attention to it and by re-reading the holy commentaries of Shri Shankara, I have come to a settled conclusion about points which I knew, but they never occurred to me so definitely. Shri Shankara says that without Isvara, without devotion to Ishvara, knowledge is impossible. Deussen and many of the European Vedantists think “Oh well, only Shivohum, Shivohum is enough”. It is entirely wrong. The height of devotion – the height of spiritual wisdom is expressed by Holy Hanuman when Shri Rama one day asked him: ” O Hanuman, what do you think is the relation between you and me?” Hanuman said: “O Rama, if you ask this question from the point of view of my body and mind, then I am Thy servant”. The highest wisdom of man is to live in service of God, and as God abides in the heart of each and everybody, to live in the service of each and everybody, by art, literature, by propagating the Holy Truth and by a million other ways. “And, O Rama, if you ask me what is my relationship with you from the point of view of my individualised consciousness or Jivahood, then I am a fragment of yours”. The meaning is; a little spark of fire, though apparently very different from a great conflagration, can burst into a conflagration if properly attended to. A tiny spark can become a conflagration. It is said in the Mahabharat: “Don’t think that three things in the world are insignificant and don’t say ‘Oh well, just a little remains, and what are the three things?” The debt which you have to pay, sin and fire, crush them entirely.

It will burst into a conflagration. And so, Hanuman says: “O Ramachandra, individually I appear to be insignificant. My knowledge is very little. I know very little, I am Thy fragment, like a spark of divine fire, which can rise into a conflagration of the fullest divinity in the form of Truth absolute, fearlessness absolute and bliss absolute. “If you ask what is the relationship between you and me really, I am, O Rama, what Thou art”. Now these are the three stages of love. First of all, we offer our body and mind and our talents and our skill and our capacities that we have from the physical point of view to the service of man. The psychology of the West has taught me, as Shand has said, without the least hesitation and error, that man does not live for himself. Man has been created to live for others. Life is otherness. Life-force is love-force. There is no difference between life-force and love-force. And how wise was Dr. Sigmund Freud who gave the name to life-force the love-force, when he called it libido. And then, not only service like the Stoics, not like the followers of Zeno, but service in its higher sense, and the higher sense of service is to increase the flame of knowledge and consciousness in us all the time. The law of life is to expand, expand, expand. Expand in love, expand in service, expand in intelligence, expand in knowledge, expand.

And as soon as you cease to expand, you begin to fall down.

Nothing is stationary in life. These are the words of the Stoic master Zeno, but they are universal in their application. And therefore, not only should we give physical service but we should also give the service of our intelligence, of our soul, expand, and how does our intelligence expand?

By becoming a communist? That means by becoming an ass. It means to be loaded with the dung, dirt and dust of the self-seeking ruffians called the leaders of the Party who are out to sacrifice you for their own glorification. If you have not read, I ask you to read, the words of the great translator of Greek philosophers, broadcast two days ago over the radio and published in today’s Listener. Read these words and you will know that what we have been saying here is true. They are the words of Dr.Gilbert Murray, a name most outstanding in the world of letters, not only in this country, but over the whole world.

Is that expansion all? No. There is still something beyond expansion, and that something is the feeling of seeking identity with the whole. This is what Kant has meant by transcendence.

First, realise the wholeness of your being. Realize the wholeness of your being, and then throw it into the sphere of transcendence, Shivohum – I am Shiva.

Now this is, my friends, in short the law of life, this is the highest good, this is the summum bonum, and if we don’t practise it, we may enjoy the breezes for a short time, but the clouds are gathering on the horizon. Thunder is rumbling, and it is about to crash around us, and all our desires and ambitions will end in the jaws of death. I want this thought to sink into your heart. Therefore I wish you to practise a little bit of transcendence now.

What is meditation? Meditation is to lead your mind from the circle of limitations, of all the categories: name and form, energy, knowledge and ignorance, Lead it out of all the categories, and throw it into the vast expanse of pure consciousness which is without a subject, which is without an object, and about which you can say nothing positive that ‘it is this’. All you can say is: ‘Neti, neti, neti, not this, not this, not this.’ This practice is what we call dhyana or meditation.

I give you a short meditation to do now and to do whenever you want your mind to remain in this truth. Otherwise, we may boast of having travelled much, having had many holidays in a year, having attended many music halls; but in fact we have made no progress and our life is degenerating. As a man who wants to sail in a boat on the sea has to endow himself a compass, with a chart and with other nautical instruments wherewith he can make his journey smooth and progressive, so man too must endow his life with certain great qualities which make it worth more and more and still more.

To live must be to live intelligently. You cannot even play a game of chess just depending on chance. You have to study very carefully your own moves and you have to guess the moves of your opponent, and then you can play chess and perhaps you can succeed. If you want to sail you have to see that the boat is seaworthy; that the nautical instruments are well provided and that the provision on the ship is adequate and that the pilot is not given to drinking. If you see to all these things you stand a very great chance of completing your journey.

If you leave the things to chance, then what will happen?

Miserable failure. But unfortunately we become aware of failure too late in life. Man’s real eyes are opened on his death-bed, but it is too late for him to improve. Then he realizes, (Oh, what chances I have missed in life, what opportunities to exercise virtue I have wasted! How I have wasted my life on pleasure, on gossip and on other modes of living which do not add light to the soul!’.

The word light is a very revealing word. As in the outer world we cannot do without light, so in the inner world. Our mental, our intellectual, our emotional world, the world of aesthetic appreciation, and the world of inspiration and mystic experience also needs light. The light that we need is called wisdom _ jnanam. Wisdom is based on authority. Authority is based on tradition, and tradition is based on a desire to make new experiments in wisdom with fearlessness. Now this is the right way to live. In order to live in this way we have to exercise reasonable control over our life, and then we have to lead our life, our inner life, upward and upward and upward.

Kant has said that the most important part of man’s inner life is his will and that if will is correct all is correct. If the will is weak or is vacillating, the life goes wrong. I do not fully agree with the sage of Koenigsberg but there is certainly much truth in it. Further on he says that the personality of man consists of his self-consciousness and his will. These are the two important factors. Man first of all must know what he is, where he is, what he has to do, what he has not to do. That is a most important factor. And then he should exercise his will consciously to add improvement to the inner life from all directions. If a man is seen wasting his money, we feel sorry for him. We say too, ‘Oh, what a stupid man he is.’ Then suppose a man is wasting his opportunities. Suppose he is a student, and instead of devoting himself to his studies, to his books and to the lectures that he receives, he goes about visiting music halls and playing a mouth organ with a big glass of foaming beer in front of him. Again we will say, ‘Well, we are sorry for this fellow indeed; we are very sorry.’ But are we not comparable to such men that we leave our life to chance and we don’t take care of our will, of our self-expression and of the height of consciousness to which we must direct our life? In our own case we can say that we are not conscious of the need for progress,

But we can become very conscious. The Chinese sage Mencius has said: ‘Look up and see that you have nothing to be ashamed of.

Look down and see that you are not doing an act of injustice or malevolence to any fellowman.’ Well, these two indeed are very good maxims.

But then there are also laws, and we have to live according to law not only according to maxim. Maxims are individual and personal; law is universal, like the categorical imperatives of Kant. They are laws, they are not maxims. But the sayings of Sir John Falstaff are maxims; they are not law, and they may help and they may not help. We can make maxims to suit our convenience, but law we have to follow. We cannot make it. Now this leads up to what I have to say today particularly. The first thing is that we must devote a good bit of our time every day to keeping ourselves in tranquillity. Mind it! Tranquillity, not in a hurry: ‘Oh well, I have to catch a train, what does it matter whether I eat properly or not.’ No. In tranquillity.

Second, we make a proper use of our mind. If we do these two things, practise tranquillity and make a proper use of our mind, then we can live a successful life like the life of von Goethe, the man who introduced a new note in civilization, in art, in science, and changed the whole current of Renaissance from humanism into higher and higher spirituality. This is the type of life my friends which is open to you. You will have to do it, nobody else can do it for you. And unless you do it, at the time of death you will feel a great disaster and you’ll be very sorry. Then let us first of all practise inner tranquillity; not to be upset by the happenings of life. In order to acquire tranquillity you have to concentrate your mind on a great inner truth. And the greatest inner truth is ‘I’, ‘I’, ‘I’ _ even God is secondary; even virtue is secondary; even beauty is secondary, even wealth is secondary. The first thing is ‘I’, ‘I’, ‘I’. Here the Yoga comes and gives here very valuable advice: sit down in tranquillity and think that now you are going to do something most important. And that something is to make life worthwhile, to enrich your life with light.