We should ask ourselves this question. I spoke of a pervasive ignorance. You see how ignorant we are that we hold on to this stupid and foolish idea! Everything is in a flux. Body is in a flux; we have no control over it. Age comes, disease comes, death comes inevitably; yet our whole scheme of existence is based on the idea that everything will be permanent. There is this ignorance; but, you see, however ignorant the behaviour in which we indulge, we have a sense of permanence; there is this nagging feeling that we are seeking something eternal. All religions and all philosophies worthy of the name have tried to find this one permanent reality. That is one side of our pursuit: We have to pass through everything that is perishable, insubstantial, unreal; we have to reach the bedrock of that which never changes, the eternal.
But that pursuit does not always give complete satisfaction. Some people are born with a strong philosophical sense; they cannot ignore any value or any truth. If they find even a little fragment of truth, they cannot ignore it. Some people can ignore it; others cannot. So there is another pursuit. It would not be enough to find this eternal Being; you must also explain the existence of many souls, of body, of mind, of the physical world and of other kinds of worlds all of those things you want to account for, and all of them you trace to this one Being, this one eternal Reality. When you have done that, you may say that your quest for truth has ended; you have found that by knowing which everything else becomes known. Swami Vivekananda often used to quote that sentence from the Upanishads: kasmin nil bhagavo vijhate sarvam idam vijhatam bhavati 1 Sir, what is that by knowing which everything else becomes known?’ If you read the old books of Vedanta you will find that the age of the Upanishads was a glorious period when innumerable men and women set out on the journey of the Spirit, trying to find that by knowing which everything becomes known. That is the monistic quest.
Well, some of you might say, That’s awfully nice of these old philosophers, but not all of us have to make that quest. You might say that, but you know, you can’t escape it. A time comes when something within us wakes up and asks, What am I doing?’ Such questions come. Our idea in India is that the soul can go through only so much worldly experience and no more. It gets fed up with those things. Literally fed up. It no longer has any stomach for worldly experience; it turns away in disgust from everything in which the mind has been indulging. To every soul will come that day, that blessed day. From one point of view you might say it’s a most disastrous day; from another, I say it is a blessed day. And when that day comes, the quest for eternal Reality will become an obsession with you; you won’t be able to escape it.
What I am saying is that the pursuit of the monistic ideal with earnestness, or of any spiritual ideal, is not given at any time to everyone. Religion is not for everyone. Now, that’s a strange thing to say, because, generally, religious people want to say that religion is for everybody only, some people are a bit perverse; all that is required is just a little persuasion to make them see things rightly, then they will become religious. We don’t believe it. We believe that only when a person reaches a certain stage of evolution where small things don’t matter any more will he or she become religious. The soul says, I don’t want to be rich. What is there in that for me? I do not want things of the senses. There is nothing in them for me. I don’t care whether people call me famous or not. I don’t care for all those things. I care for the goodness of God. He is the source of infinite joy and sweetness and love, and I want to come close to Him and live close to Him. To worldly people that seems madness. To that person worldly people appear mad completely mad. And that is the true fact about religion. Yd nisa sarvabhutanam tasyam jagarti samyami 2 In that which all beings are as it were steeped in night, the night of ignorance, there the man of self-control is awake. No, religion is not for all, but it will be for everyone at one time or another. If you ask, Then why preach religion?’ this is why: Say someone has a little awakening within him; if you stimulate it, it can become stronger and better and larger. If you blow rightly at a spark of fire, you can make it burn brighter and brighter until it bursts into a real blaze. You can do that, but the spark must be there; the fire won’t burn until one has seen through this so-called reality. In other words, you could say that monism is a spiritual or philosophical view that will appeal only to people in whom there is a hunger for the one eternal Reality, which is the essence of everything that is and which is the sole explanation of everything. Let me explain this point.