Some of you will raise the question that if the ultimate reality is a conscious entity, then how do you account for unconscious entities. The answer that is given is that they are only appearances. Suppose twenty people tried to represent a sitting room. Some would take the posture of chairs; others would stand as lamps; others would take the garb of a table or a desk, and some of course would be human beings seated in the chairs. Everything in that room would really be a conscious entity; only the forms would differ. Some forms would appear as forms of dead things, as of a chair, others would appear as forms of living things, as of a man or a woman, but all would really be living beings. They say that everything in this universe, whether it be the most conscious human being, like a Christ or a Buddha, or the deadest of all things you could think of, like a grain of dust or a particle of stone everything differs only in form; behind these dead or living forms is the conscious entity. If you ask, Would not that consciousness find expression?’ no, if it chooses to remain hidden, if it wants to become a chair well, it will try not to appear as a moving or breathing chair. (From that idea has come the corollary idea that it is God who has, as a sort of game, taken all these infinite forms, living and nonliving.) Monists say that a person can actually reach a state of apprehension in which he will see this living God, this conscious Being, even in a dead thing, that is to say, even in material things. In other words, this conclusion of monistic Vedanta is proved by one’s own experience. If it were not proved, it would be a most drastic speculation and of little good to us.
One thing we cannot ignore: If a thing is not established in truth, it will not last. Because our relative existence is not established in truth, it is perishable; every moment it is changing, and through these momentary changes it is coming to that grand change called death decay and death. If you say that if it exists for a moment there must be at least a momentary foundation to it, yes, there is a momentary foundation. But it so happens that we are not concerned with, nor are we satisfied by, momentary existence. Some philosophers might tell you that you should be satisfied with one day’s existence or fifty years’ existence; why bother about permanence? But you must admit that your whole process of mind, whole motive for action, whole scheme of life is based on the idea that things are permanent. From one point of view you might say, No, we don’t want things to be permanent; that would be a horrible prospect. From another point of view, if things were not permanent you could not breathe for the next moment and could not plan for any day. Just consider that everything is momentary, perishable; let it enter into your mind. To put it crudely, suppose you knew that everyone were going to die tomorrow would you be able to live today? So I say, although we do recognize the perishableness of things, at the same time we assume that everything is permanent. And why do you think we make that assumption? Because we really are permanent; there really is a Being that is eternal.
I am trying to tell you that there is a quest within us for eternal truth or reality. You cannot explain it away; nor can you ignore it. All philosophy, all religion, all stable forms of existence, all recognition of ideals and pursuit of ideals even through strife and struggle, all those things presuppose that there is something eternal and permanent. If there were not, everything would become meaningless; all philosophizing and religious pursuit would be absolutely inane.
Modern people have taken this attitude: Let me live my present life well; the next life will take care of itself. No. You would not know how to live your present life well unless you had taken into consideration your whole life. You have to know what you are reaching for. Then in relation to that goal you determine every part of the process by which you reach it. What you do today should be determined by the ultimate goal of your existence. Fortunately, we have that feeling of permanence; we can never forget it.
Let me tell you a story from the Mahabhdrata. There was a great king who was considered to be the embodiment of the highest virtues. It is said that the God of Righteousness one day wanted to test him; so he took the form of a stork what a form to take! and he stood on the shore of a big lake. Now, this king and his four brothers were wandering in the forest, and they were very thirsty. The king said to his youngest brother, Go and see if you can find water. The youngest brother found a wonderful lake and there was this stork. He said, Stop, prince!’ You see, in those days birds and beasts and trees and gods and human beings all spoke the same language and understood one another. We have become too crass now. Well, the stork said, You must answer my questions, and if you cannot answer rightly I won’t permit you to drink this water. If you violate my words and drink this water, you will at once die. The prince was very thirsty; he thought, What is this nonsense from a bird!’ He drank a little water, and he fell down dead. Of course, he did not return with the water. So the next youngest brother was sent, and he also did the same thing. The four brothers came to the lake, drank a little water, and died. The eldest brother, the king, waited and waited. Hours passed, brothers didn’t return, nor water. So he began to search. He also came to the lake and found that ominous bird standing there. The stork said, King, you must not drink any water until you have answered my questions. If you answer my questions rightly, you can drink. I also promise that your brothers will come back to life. So the king said, O bird, ask these questions. The stork asked lots of questions, several scores of questions, and the king gave all the right answers. Several of these questions and their answers have become very famous; they are quoted in and out of season. And one of them I shall quote now: What is the greatest wonder, greatest surprise in this world?’ The king answered: Every day beings are dying and entering into the house of death, and all those who remain behind think they will remain permanently here. What can be more surprising than that?’