Swami Krishnananda Saraswati (1922-2001) was a highly respected philosophical writer, especially on metaphysics, psychology, and sociology.
When we contemplate ourselves and the world in which we are living, we are face to face with a demonstration that the powers that conduct the affairs of life do not seem to be under the control of any human being. The days and nights roll on, whether we want them or not. There are the seasons of the year, over which we have no say whatsoever. The rotation of planets, the blowing of the winds and the ways of nature seem to be totally unconcerned with our feelings, our emotions, our requirements and our needs, and our little joys and sorrows seem to be merely a meaningless phenomenon before these mighty operations.
The distance to which the world extends is astounding. The mind cannot even imagine how vast the universe is. We cannot conceive the distance between one star and another, though they all appear to be studded like gems in the blue sky when looked at with our naked eyes. The vastness of space is incalculable.
If there is a fly roaming about in England and another fly is here in India, that would be a great nearness of one fly to another in comparison with the distance they say is obtaining between one star and another. There is nothing to prevent them from colliding, but there is as little chance of a fly in England dashing against another fly in India, because of the enormous distance of vast space in which these mighty giants called stars rule in their own realms. They have their own laws and are larger than the Sun of our own solar system, as people tell us. The Sun is so mighty; the diameter of the Earth is about eight thousand miles, and the diameter of the Sun is more than eight lakhs of miles. Such a huge mass is pulling this little tiny dust of the Earth around itself, and we have nothing to say about all these things.
Why should the Earth be placed at this convenient distance? This great wonder that we call the Sun, beyond which a greater wonder cannot be imagined by our mind, and larger than which our eyes cannot see, is one of the many citizens in a large kingdom of similar and larger stars, which are suns in their own right in the nebular galaxies. These galaxies are infinite in number, one of them being what we call the Milky Way, in which we are. The Milky Way is not up above in the sky. We are in it. We are living within the jurisdiction of this Milky Way. Though we are in this room, sitting here in this hall, we are also on the Earth. That also is a fact at the same time. That we are living in a house does not preclude the fact that we are on the Earth. In a similar manner, we are in the Milky Way, a fact which cannot easily come before our mind’s perception.
Such is a great terrifying miracle before us, this vast thing we call nature – the world of the sky, the stars, the sun and the moon. More miraculous is our own body.
We breathe in and out. Like a bellows blowing in a goldsmith’s shop, pumping is going on inside our physical mechanism. Somebody is pushing the bellows in and out. The air is pumped out and is pumped in. How this continuous work is going on in the body we do not know because we are not doing it. We are not doing anything to contribute towards this breathing process. We cannot do any service to this essential performance in our own bodies. We cannot assist the heart in its own daily operations. We can rest when we are tired, but the heart cannot rest. It has not a single day’s leave from its performance. Right from the time we became living organisms, this centrality of operations began to work which became the heart, and no one has time even to think that there is a heart inside. We are busy people, and so busy that we cannot be aware that we have a heart, that it is working restlessly, indefatigably, without any contribution from our side, the so-called ‘we’ or ‘I’, as we refer to ourselves.
Similarly, at times not only do we have no control over the activities of the brain which are independently directed by cellular operations, but we cannot even know what we will think tomorrow. Such is the capacity we have over our own thoughts. Any thought can come at any time. A hell or a heaven can descend at any moment. It can be some event taking place over which we have no control, or a psychological catastrophe, an upheaval in our own psyche. A cyclone blowing within us can rise up like a storm and make us think and feel anything – the devil or God, whatever it be. “It happened. I do not know why ” people will say. But why should it happen if we do not know why?
It appears on a careful analysis that we are unable to find where we are actually placed. Do we have any status of our own? Have we really arrived at something independently valuable by itself? Has it a substantiality of its own? What are we? We are not the wind, the rain, the sun, the moon or the stars. We are not the earth, the fire, the air or the sky. We are not the trees or the mountains. We do not seem to be even the breath because if that were the case we would have arranged the process of breathing according to our convenience, when we want or do not want to do it, in any manner we like. We do not seem to be even that. If we were the heart, we would have arranged the working of the heart in such a manner that it will work indefinitely and never cease operating. We are not the heart because we have no say in the matter of its working. We are not the breath. We are not anything that is outside – not the river that is in flood, the ocean that is billowing with great velocity, the sun that is so hot, or the moon. We have nothing to do with them. We are different.
We seem to be different now from even the heart, the breath, and the digestive organs. We have nothing to say even in regard to what is happening within ourselves. What is the great independence, the freedom that we are said to possess and exercise? Yet alone the question of freedom, it becomes difficult to believe what sort of existence we are enjoying in this world – a predicament so precarious and uncertain to the core.
Even the span of our life is not in our hands. We did not come to this world because we wanted to come, deciding to come with an itinerary or a program. How we came and from where we do not know. We did not think and come, and we do not think and go also. The coming into this world was not in our hands, and the going from this world also is certainly not in our hands. How does it follow that our middle little life is totally in our hands? Who tells us that the great panorama of involvement we call life in this world is in our hands? If we did not come with our freedom and we do not go with our say in the matter – if we are totally under the subjection of something when we came and also when we go – how are we supposed to be totally free in the middle?
There seems to be an illusion placed before us. If neither, in the beginning, we were ourselves nor in the end are we going to be ourselves, we may not be that even in the middle. There may be a foolhardy panorama, a presentation, a picturesque illusion. Otherwise, there must be some substantiality in us, at least something over which we have some control. Let us think if there is anything in this world over which we can have total control: if it shall do and happen exactly as we say. Is there anything like that? It is difficult to find out any such thing. Even our own selves do not seem to be under our own control, as we have noted. Not even one atom will obey us wholly. It has its own say, and we cannot transform it into something else by the power of our discretion.
Tragedies that occur in human life often emphasize this fact. It is so. There is not a lot of sense or meaning in existence. It is all utter darkness and a black picture. Bereavements that shock the very heart of man, which are common occurrences in families and with which everyone is familiar, are certain avenues through which we can peep into the realities of life. These doors are always closed, so that we may not know what is inside Pandora ’s Box. But it can sometimes be opened, and it does get opened at the time of unthinkable losses, tragedies, bereavements, and agonies. At that time, life looks like death only. It appears that life is nothing but a mask that death is putting on in its dance in the form of this creation.
Tandava Nritya or the Rudra Tandava, the dance of destruction, is this world of creation which seems to be putting on the mask of life and existence, while it is a tendency to annihilation. In the language of modern science, it is called entropy, the exhaustion of power, where everything becomes cold, and death is the last word.