All civilization is an application of Knowledge to Life, and all Knowledge is an attempt to solve the problems of life from different points of view. This is specially the aim of all Science, Philosophy, and Religion. But Science has proved to be a double-edged weapon, even more powerful to destroy than to create; Philosophy offers but a doubtful solution, and Religion is often lost in the mist of speculation, with little hold on the actualities of life.
Modern civilization presents a spectacle of power and waste, achievement and futility, with the Soul of Man starving in the midst of plenty around. Knowledge has meant not only pleasure and power but pain, not only activity and improvement but strife; and neither Science, nor Philosophy, nor all the great Religions of the world have been able to satisfy the hunger in the heart of Man. Can the Mahabharata, as a picture of all systems of Hindu Philosophy and Religion, offer a better solution than all of them?
This conflict in our mind today is the result of conflict between Science, Philosophy and Religion. The discoveries of Science appear to contradict the teachings of Religion, and Philosophy has attempted to reconcile them in vain and it is only when they can be reconciled that the heart of Man will be at peace and this conflict come to an end; but the question is, can they be reconciled?
The Sacred Books of the Hindus, from the Vedas to the Epic of the Mahabharata, are an attempt at such a reconciliation, and the problem was solved by the ancients as far as human knowledge, and experience can solve it and so, if this be true, a re-interpretation of the Mahabharata, as a picture of all systems of Hindu Philosophy and Religion, including as it does the substance of all Sacred Books, must have an abiding interest for all. It explains the problem of Life as it presented itself to the ancients in the past, as it presents itself to us today and as probably it will present itself to the future ages too. The inquiry of the ancients was both scientific and speculative, their quest both idealistic and practical; and, starting from the fundamental principles of Physics and Biology, they constructed their magnificent schemes of Philosophy, Metaphysics, and Religion, and directed them to the most practical of all ends the work-a-day life of the average man.
What then is this solution? The ancients Proceeded in their quest of Truth from the known to the unknown, and starting from the world of life around, examined all that it had to show, and then tried to construct their theories about the Unmanifest that lay beyond. They saw that there were five great creative energies in the universe, one unmanifest and four manifest. The four manifest energies are Heat, Electricity, and two forms of Magnetic energy, with north and south poles; while the unmanifest is higher than Heat, and appears like Electric energy of an extraordinary intensity, and may be called Super-electric. It is this that is transformed into Heat, which again is transformed into Electric energy, and the latter in its turn into Magnetic energy with its north and south poles. It is out of this that all forms of life, both organic and inorganic, evolve.
Further, they believed that, since there is one great Law for all forms of life in the universe, the tiniest Cell contains the same creative energies; and these in Man correspond to his Soul, Buddhi or the power of Reason, Mind, and the Senses of Knowledge and Action and so, in order to explain their idea in simple, yet popular form, they personified these creative energies and conceived of their gods in their light, and constructed their five great systems of Philosophy corresponding each to each, and the four great systems of Religion according to the range of their thought. All this has been explained in the first two Volumes.
But the question still remains, How does this solve the problem of life? The ancients believed that the central figure amidst all problems of life is Man. It is he who is haunted by doubts, and it is he who must be satisfied and so they held that the solution of the problem must be examined in relation to Man himself. Now Man consists of the five great creative energies of the universe, corresponding to which he has the Soul, Buddhi Mind, and the Senses of Knowledge and Action; and so the solution of the problem must be examined in the light of each of these, and then alone we can understand the whole.
All Knowledge is from the known to the unknown, and it is necessary to begin at the bottom of the scale. When we use our senses, we see the world of life around us, full of sorrow, suffering and death, and there is none who believes that he is happy. There is a measure of joy indeed, but it soon passes away, leaving the marks of pain deeper than before. We wish to be happy but are miserable, we wish to live but we die, and there is none but has some desire unfulfilled, some great yearning unsatisfied.
Nor does our quest end here. We see that our life is but a span between two unknowns, and we know not whence we came and whither we pass. Hence, while we must study and examine the known, we need to argue and speculate about the unknown, but systematically and logically, and on the analogy of what we see within and without us in the world. Even so we realize that the analysis of the material world is not the end, and there is something else that lies beyond.
Then, when we ask the question; who made the universe? Three answers appear: (1) that the universe is created by itself, and there is no other creator outside it; (2) that there is an outside creator, whom we may call God, who is higher than the universe, and all life is created by him: and (3) that God and the universe (Nature) unitedly create all forms of life, like man and woman in the world. The first two points of view are clear and unambiguous; but when we consider the relation of God and Nature in their joint creation, we might hold (1) that the share of God is more than that of Nature, or (2) that the two are equal, or (3) that the share of Nature is more than that of God. This gives us five points of view, corresponding to the five great creative energies of life in the universe and in Man; and it is on these that the five great systems of Hindu Philosophy are based. This has been explained in the previous Volume.
But the question is "What is God?" If we can argue only from the known to the unknown, how do we get the idea of God, who is beyond this universe and is said to create it? The real question, however, that troubles the human mind is not What is God? but Why do we think at all of God? If we were perfect, if we were happy, if we could do what we desired, live as long as we wished, we would not think of God or any other power higher than our own. We are compelled to think of a higher power or God because of our mortality, imperfections and unhappiness. We wish to live and we wish to be happy: and so we must agree that Life and Happiness are not only desirable but possible of attainment too; and so the Being who, we imagine, is supremely happy and lives forever, is God.
Then we might ask; what is it that makes us unhappy? We realize that it is Mutability or change, and it arises out of Action conceived in its widest significance. If all things were permanent, if nothing could change, in other words, if there were no Action of any kind, we would not feel miserable. It is because a person is young today and old tomorrow, rich today and poor tomorrow, alive today and dead tomorrow that we feel unhappy by reason of contrast and change. Thus we might argue that if there were a complete cessation of Activity or change, life would be happy. But all that we see around us is subject to activity or change; and so this cessation of activity can exist only outside this universe. Again, if such a thing is desirable, it should be possible to imagine that it exists; and so we get a further idea of God a Being who is perfectly happy, who is not subject to Action or change, and who is outside the ambit of this universe.
But life itself must come to an end with the cessation of activity or change, and yet we wish to live. How then can we be happy so long as we live? Or are we doomed to eternal unhappiness in life, and is death the only door of escape? How can that be? For we wish to live and be happy, and not die. Is it possible to imagine that we may live and yet be happy? For nothing else can satisfy the human mind.
We see that certain forms of activity, such as breathing, sleeping, waking, etc., performed in the ordinary course of nature, do not make us unhappy; and so if all our actions could be performed in this way, we would not feel unhappy at all. Again, we see that if we have no personal interest whatever in our actions, if we have only done our duty, if they are meant for the benefit of all, we do not mind whether we succeed or fail, and so do not feel unhappy. Thus we see that we can live and act in this world and yet be happy, only our actions should be performed without self-interest, in the natural course of life, or as a matter of duty, and for the benefit of all and this the ancients called Sacrifice. Whether or not it is possible for Man to attain to such perfection in Action, what is desirable can at least be imagined; and the Being who acts in perpetual Sacrifice and is perfectly happy, though living in the universe, is God.
Again, all Action is creative of some form of life; and even where it appears to destroy, it only creates another form of life and so we might say that God creates through Sacrifice.
Thus, we see that the idea of God is coextensive with the whole universe its mystery, grandeur and vastness, its splendour and might coupled with that of an all-pervading Law, a moral order, restraint, selflessness, and Good, which the ancients described in one word as Sacrifice. So long as we regard Nature, with all its glory and magnificence, as a blind and fortuitous power, we eliminate the idea of God; but when we associate with it the idea of Sacrifice, we transform it into God, who is both manifest and unmanifest, within and without, who is an embodiment of moral Law, characterized by restraint, selflessness, and universal Good. He creates through Sacrifice, he lives forever, and he is supremely happy. This is the ancient idea of God expressed in all systems of Religion.
But how does this solve the problem of life and harmonize the discoveries of Science with the teachings of Philosophy and Religion? We have observed that there are five great creative energies of life Super-electric energy, Heat, Electric energy, and Magnetic energy with its north and south poles. The ancients held that Magnetic energy is characteristic of Ether, which gives rise to four other elements; Air, Fire, Water, and Earth. It is these five elements that constitute matter, as we understand it. But they believed that all life is made manifest when a higher energy is transformed into a lower one; so that it is the Super-electric energy that is transformed into Heat, and the latter into Electric energy, which again is changed into Magnetic energy with its two poles. Thus what we call Matter, the manifestation of the five elements, is itself created out of Electric energy, the latter out of Heat, which again is a transformation of what is called Super-electric energy. This agrees with the conclusions of modern Science, and in a measure anticipates what has yet to be discovered. Ether is the first of the elements, and all matter at this stage is an Atom. Beyond this is Electric energy or the Electron. Beyond this, it will be found, is Heat; and what is beyond Heat will appear to be like Electric energy of an extraordinary intensity, which may be called Super-electric.
The ancients believed that each form of life is possessed of all these five great creative energies, and in Man they correspond to his Soul, Buddhi or the power of Reason, Mind, and the Senses of Knowledge and Action. Now, if we desire to construct a system of Philosophy and Religion based on the truths of Science, it must relate to all these five great creative energies of life; and this is what the ancients actually did.
We have explained that the ancient idea of God was Nature characterized by Sacrifice; and so all that is true of Nature must be equally true of God, and the only way to understand the truth of Life is to understand the Law of Nature, which is God. That Philosophy, that Religion alone, is true which is based on the truths of Nature and is in harmony with the idea of Sacrifice; it alone can last for it is based on the eternal verities of Life itself and then our conception of God becomes our ideal for Man, and the whole problem of life is solved. We wish to live and be happy, and we can do so by basing our conduct on the Law of Sacrifice, which is God.
We have observed that there are five great energies of life; and so, if we wish to examine the universe, we would do wisely to examine it from five different points of view in the light of the five great creative energies within and without us. The universe is so vast, and presents so varied a spectacle according to the different energies that come into play, that it is impossible to survey the whole, and it is more simple to examine it separately in the light of its five great energies, and then generalize as to the whole.
In this connection we have observed that there are five different ways in which we can examine the problem of life as created by Nature and God. We might hold (1) that it is created by God alone, or (2) by Nature alone, or by God and Nature combined, where (3) the share of God is more than that of Nature, or where (4) the two are equal, or where (5) the share of Nature is more than that of God.
Now there are five great creative energies in the universe, corresponding to which we have five forces in Man; and then we have five different ways of examining the problem of life as created by God. Or Nature or the two combined. Thus, if we could construct five systems of Philosophy, bearing on these five creative energies and five points of view in regard to God and Nature, we should be able to harmonize Science with Philosophy and Religion.
This is what the ancients have done in their great systems of Philosophy and Religion Sankhya, Nyaya, Vaiesika, Yoga, and Vedanta, and Jainism, Buddhism, Saivism, and Vaisnavism. If we examine the universe in the light of its south polar Magnetic energy or Atom in wave motion, the character of our Senses of Action, and the belief that it is Nature alone that creates, we get the Sankhya system of thought, Atheism, and the Digambara school of Jainism. If again, we examine it in the light of its north polar Magnetic energy or Atom in elliptical motion, the character of the Senses of Knowledge, and the belief that it is Nature who mainly creates and God is either a spectator of its work or has at best but a small share in it we get Nyaya, Agnosticism, the Svetambara school of Jainism, and the Hinayana school of Buddhism. Then, if we examine it in the light of its Electric energy or Electron, the character of the Mind, and the belief that God and Nature together create all life and with equal or almost equal share we get the Vaiesika, Dualism, the Mahayana school of Buddhism, and the Dvaita school of Saivism and Vaisnavism. Again, if we examine it in the light of its energy of Heat, the character of Buddhi, and the belief that it is God who is the chief creator of life and Nature is either a spectator of his work or has at best but a small share in it, we get Yoga, qualified Monism, and the Visistadvaita school of Saivism and Vaisnavism. Finally, if we examine it in the light of its Super-electric energy, the character of the soul, and the belief that it is God alone who creates, we get Vedanta, pure Monism of God, and the Advaita school of Vaisnavism.
Then it is necessary to connect together all these systems of thought, and that gives us the sixth system of Hindu Philosophy Purva Mimamsa, commonly believed to be an introduction to Vedanta, but really a connecting link between all systems and an introduction to all of them.
Similarly the worship of Sakti is a connecting link between all systems of Religion. This has been explained in the previous Volume.
We have seen that the only difference between Nature and God is that the former is conceived as a blind and fortuitous force, while the latter is characterized by Sacrifice, understood as creative power accompanied by moral Law, goodness, selflessness, impartiality, and self-restraint. We notice that it is Sacrifice that connects together all systems of thought. The Sankhya, by denying a place to God, denies all Sacrifice; Nyaya, by giving a small place to God, admits but a small measure of Sacrifice; the Vaisesika, by giving a larger place to God, admits a larger measure of Sacrifice; Yoga accepts it still more, while Vedanta, by holding that it is God alone who creates, accepts nothing but Sacrifice.
It is in this way that the ancients have examined the universe from different points of view, and conceived of the solution of the problem of life from different angles, giving us different ideals of conduct in the light of each, so that we might live and act and be happy at whatever stage of evolution and development we are.
But all Philosophy is an abstraction, an attempt to get at the essence of Truth in a mass of matter and life. But if it be really an expression of Truth, it must be related to the work-a-day life of the average man. It must make the abstract concrete again,, transform the universal into the individual, the ideal into the actual, and set it before us as a guide for daily practice. This can be done through all the materials of Art, Architecture and Sculpture, Painting, Music, and Poetry. In other words, Philosophy must be transformed into Religion, with all its pageantry of Art, imposing edifices and imagery, the mystery of colours and sounds, and the inspiration of Poetry, with all its beauty of form, sweetness of speech, variety and interest of narrative, personification and figures of speech, and above all sincerity and love of Truth. This too has been done by the ancients. After examining the five great systems of Philosophy separately, they combined them in sets of two and three according to their affinity and range, and constructed on them their four great systems of Religion Vaisnavism, Saivism, Buddhism, and Jainism, with Sakti worship as a connecting link between all. An account of this has been given in a previous Volume.
All the ancient Sacred Books of the Hindus are an attempt to embody the truths of Science in systems of Philosophy and Religion in different forms, referring them to the daily life of the average man. The gods of the Vedas personify the five great creative energies of life, separately and together, at different stages of their evolution; the Brahmanas express the same idea in terms of creative and selfless Action or Sacrifice: the Upanishads and the systems of Philosophy deal with the same subject more directly; and the Puranas and the Epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata represent them in Story form. They cover the whole range of human thought, from Physics to Metaphysics, from pure Monism of God to qualified Monism, Dualism, Agnosticism, and Atheism; and from the Soul of Man to his Buddhi, Mind, and the Senses of Knowledge and Action. Indeed, it would be difficult to conceive of anything outside this range, and this would explain the statement in the Mahabharata, "That which is in it, is elsewhere. That which does not occur here, occurs nowhere else."
But this was not a mere theory or abstract speculation; it was intended to bear on the life and conduct of the average man. All of us are not at the same stage of evolution and development. There are five great creative energies in Man, from the Soul to the Senses, and each of us has more of the one or the other specially defined. Many of us are at the stage of the Senses and see all things in their light; others are at the Mind stage and can think; some, however, are at the Buddhi stage, with doubts resolved and mind at peace; while a few are at the Soul stage, ever acting in a spirit of Sacrifice, undisturbed by change, and always happy at heart. Each of us can understand the problem of life in the light of his own character and the stage of his evolution and development; and the five systems of Philosophy and their corresponding Religions, bearing as they do on the five great creative energies of life, provide for each individual an ideal and a goal according to his peculiar point of view. The ultimate Truth is indeed one, conceived in the light of one God, one Nature, one Soul, and one Law of life, viz., Sacrifice; but we have to rise by stages to grasp this Truth. This is the peculiarly sublime character of the ancient systems of thought, giving to each individual an ideal according to his stage of development and yet comprehending the whole. They are not complete or rival systems, as some imagine, but different stages and different landmarks in our study of the problem of life, each leading to the other, until we attain to the ultimate Truth, and view all things in the light of God and the Soul, That is Vedanta, the essence and end of all Knowledge, even as the word implies, when we see all life as perpetual Sacrifice, and the whole universe eternally happy and good.