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