Author: P.Rajagopalachari(Published in "Principles of Sahaj Marg, Set I. Pages 56-64")
Man has been defined in various ways. He has been called a social animal. In a cosmic sense, he is a universe in himself when compared to an atom, and in turn is but an atom when compared to the universe. He is stated to stand mid-point between the atom and the universe. But a simple description could be that man is a complex of physical and emotional needs.
All living beings have needs which must be fulfilled if they are to survive. The basic needs are the very obvious ones such as food, shelter, protection from the environment, a mate, etc. When man existed at the level of the animal, the needs were basic to his existence and were comparatively easily fulfilled, even though his existence was, in what is usually called today, a primitive state. Nevertheless, primitive man would appear to have been a much happier and more contented person than modern man, perhaps for the very simple reason that there was no confusion in his appraisal of his needs, and therefore his approach to their satisfaction could be direct and immediate. Certainly primitive man did not have all the traumas, psychoses, neuroses and the whole gamut of psychological illnesses that appear to accompany human life throughout the span of its existence today.
How has it come about that simple primitive man could be happy in such adverse environmental conditions, while facing extreme conditions of life where every moment of survival was a victory over his environment and his foes, whereas modern man, with all the conveniences and appurtenances of life, a life which has been made so easy to live that very often the minimum of physical activity is all that is needed, and where almost everything that he needs is at hand, or can be easily acquired without much personal effort or danger-how is it that in such an existence we find man unable to live in peace either with himself or with his surroundings .
The aim of life, since the dawn of this century, appears to have become nothing less than an affluent existence made possible by the gigantic and incomparable advances in science, which in turn made possible revolutionary developments in technology. One of the great economists of the West has indeed termed modern society as the affluent society and paralleling this growth in affluence, we find a development below the surface of more misery than history would appear to indicate as prevalent in any past era. There were many dark periods in human history filled with much suffering arising out of lack of physical needs, strife, bigotry, but all these led or would appear to have led to nothing more than physical suffering. But the suffering today has been shifted in plane to the mental level, and the greatest suffering of the affluent is at this level. By comparison, the less developed societies of the Orient would appear to enjoy better mental health even today, though their physical levels of existence may very often appear shocking to the Western eye. What is the reason for this almost inexplicable state of affairs? I would venture to suggest that perhaps our needs and the way we approach the satisfaction of those needs is at least one factor contributing to the madness of modern existence.
There is a significant differentiation between needs and wants. Needs are legitimate, and man can legitimately expect such needs to be satisfied. Wants, on the other hand, are creations of man from his knowledge of the external world. Needs arise from inside whereas wants arise from outside. If needs were all that are to be fulfilled, people and governments would have a very easy time doing so. But it is precisely the ever-increasing wants of today's society and individuals that are found to be difficult and often well-nigh impossible of satisfaction. Indeed it would be correct to go a step further and say that today's orientation in society is towards enlarging wants and even towards creating more and more wants to keep the wheels of industry spinning. Our society may therefore be termed a society dedicated primarily to the creation of wants, which later it sets out to satisfy. Needs are limited, therefore easily satisfied, and once satisfied, man is at rest. Wants, on the other hand, have no limit, and each want satisfied gives rise to the next want based on the prior satisfaction of the earlier one.
Therefore, it is a vicious spiral mounting in its demands, and developing in the individual and society a frenzied craving for its satisfaction, but the goal ever recedes from the grasp of the individual. This is one of the main reasons for the psychological condition of today's individual. Society is after all composed of individuals and can reflect nothing but the sum total of individual attitudes and aspirations.
Analyzing our needs, the most apparent one of course is the physical need for food and shelter. Food must be such as will not only be palatable but also will refresh and add strength to the body. This is, or should be, the primary consideration. Naturally, the body has to be strengthened by opposing it to external forces of nature, and the simplest way is physical exercise. Therefore, there are two aspects to physical existence, one is the provision of fuel for the inside, and the other is the pitting of the body against the external world to develop its strength, ability and other associated physical characteristics.
At the mental level, applying the same formula, what the mind needs is food for its existence, and solid effort in overcoming mental obstacles for its development. Man must devote adequate time to the study of such literature as will enrich his mind, and the literature should be of such quality and quantity as to make him throw his entire mental equipment into the study of such works. Unfortunately today we find that what most people read is the lowest type of literature such as the yellow journals, cheap romances, gory criminal fiction and so on. That such minds do not develop at all beyond the juvenile level is therefore no surprise. The curricula of most educational institutions do not appear to take this into adequate consideration from the point of view of the needs of the student.
Thirdly, coming to the emotional level of man, here again what emotional sustenance man receives is very often of the wrong type. Love is one of the fundamental aspects of man's existence, and in the fulfillment of this very vital emotional need such irrelevant media as romantic literature, cinemas and casual liaisons are indulged in, discovering too late that none of these can satisfy the pent up emotion where what is needed is a steady and canalized outlet for the emotional power of man which rarely needs, physical expression. It is a well-recognized fact that the physical expression of love must succeed the mental development of love or emotional development of love. But in modern society things are topsy-turvy, with very tragic consequences. The latest manifestation of such an unfulfilled need is the fast spreading drug habit combined with, or preceded by, a loose set of moral values.
Perhaps I may add that, as far as the emotional life of man is concerned, religions were expected, in a very fundamental measure, to make available an object of adoration or love which could elevate human emotional life to sublime levels far above the ordinary human level. The present day mental condition of most people would appear to indicate that religions, too, have not been able to play their part. Here again what man solidly needs is something, which he can venerate and adore, but all that is offered in most religions is an idol or other representational form of the deity. And the only way he is taught of approaching such an object of adoration is the ritualistic way which is largely outmoded and which, to the mind of modern man, very often appears as mere child's play.
We all know that while the non-satisfaction of purely physical needs may at worst impair the physical organization in some way or the other, albeit not very seriously, the non-satisfaction of emotional needs is much more serious. In the field of emotion, love is dominant, supported by, and evoking in its turn, such sentiments as faith, hope, charity, courage, etc. If this basic emotional instinct is unfulfilled, such associated mental-physical complexes cannot manifest themselves. It is well known that where there is no love there can rarely be courage, and I would request you here not to confuse courage with sheer bravado or the front-line necessity to kill. Similarly, where there is no love, there can be no faith, charity or chastity and, therefore, existence devoid of love is an empty existence.
Love must grow and embrace more and more within its orbit of expression. Love for one's wife must enlarge into a deep love for the family resulting from such love. Familial love must grow to include neighbors, for, after all, if a neighbor is sick, notwithstanding the marvels of modern medicine, we are likely to be the next victims; if the neighbor is poor, his poverty affects us; if he is the victim of gangsters and hoodlum attacks, we are sure to feel the repercussions. So our neighbor's well being is a matter of immediate concern to us. Thus, slowly, as love matures, it must widen in scope until ultimately it envelops the entire universe within its sublime embrace. Spiritual Masters says that the only way of approaching the Ultimate is through love.
What we all need is a god, or if you prefer to call it so, a Universal Power or anything like that, but what we need is such an entity as we can approach with love and reverence. This would appear to be a spiritual need, higher than the other needs. Even an atheist would agree that there are times in his life when he has, perhaps unconsciously, cried out to God for succor, only proving that the need for God is universal in its prevalence. When we negate such a need, we do so artificially without knowledge of the frightful consequences of such repudiation. The time has, therefore, come to re-establish in our minds the truth that God is necessary to us, whether He is visible or invisible. Whether He can manifest himself or not is not the point. What He is must ever remain a mystery because what is known has no mystery about it, and only the unknown is mysterious.
As the old English proverb would have it, "Familiarity breeds contempt," and it is perhaps for this reason that God chooses to remain invisible and inaccessible! But this does not mean that God's existence and love cannot be experienced, God cannot be seen or known in the conventional sense, but His presence can be experienced if the approach is in the right way.How to bring God into our lives is the question. The first need of course is to recognize that we need Him. This paramount inner need, a universal need in the minds of all men everywhere, is inextinguishable. When we recognize this we are ready to accept spiritual help. We naturally look for spiritual schools, books and yoga centers. Yoga means union. The union is the ultimate union of man and his Creator, and no lesser union is implied. And This is the greatest need of man!