The Contradictions of Being

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Introduction and Overview

Even as choice and responsibility are essential features of any moral conception of human life, they often present a paradox when the three aspects of the soul—pleasure, ability, and responsibility—are differentiated and what we enjoy becomes different from what we are capable of, and what we are capable of becomes different from our duty. The article discusses the resulting conflicts and how they are solved.

The Inner Contradiction in the Soul

The desires or choices of the soul are produced from the ananda of the soul, and they constitute the judgment of good. The sense of responsibility is produced from the sat of the soul, and it constitutes the judgment of right. The abilities of the soul are produced from chit and they constitute the judgment of truth or reality. The three aspects of the soul—sat, chit, and ananda—often conflict. Sometimes you want to fulfill your duties but you don’t have the ability. Sometimes you have the ability but it is not your duty. And sometimes you have the ability and it is your duty but you don’t enjoy it.

The inner conflicts in the soul have to be resolved; this is done through prioritizing. One of the three—sat, chit, or ananda—will become dominant and the others will be subordinated. However, different aspects may dominate at different times, thereby overturning the prioritization. Through this dominant-subordinate relation, the contradiction is temporarily solved; one aspect wins and the others then become subordinate. However, the conflict will likely return again at a later time.

Common examples of such conflicts are visible every day. For instance, sometimes desire rules over ability and opportunity—e.g. I can digest milk, and I have the opportunity to drink milk, but I hate milk; so, despite milk being available, and my ability to digest it, I’m not going to drink it. At other times, opportunity rules over desire and ability—e.g. I want to drink milk, and I have the ability to digest it, but I have no access to milk; therefore, my desire and ability are meaningless because the opportunity determines the final outcome. Finally, sometimes ability rules over opportunity and desire—e.g. I want to drink milk, and I have access to milk, but I have a bad stomach due to which I can’t digest milk; now, my desire and opportunity are futile because the final outcome is determined by my ability.

The State of Perfect Balance

When the three aspects of the soul are perfectly balanced, then what gives you pleasure is identical to what you are capable of, which is identical to your duty. The state of balance is called self-realization in which the soul is capable of fulfilling himself, has the duty to satisfy the self, and enjoys that product of that ability and duty. This is not very straightforward, as it might seem at first sight.

Imagine living alone in a forest where in order to eat food, you must be capable of cooking, and must cook for yourself every day. Some day you might be bored of eating the same thing; you may desire to eat something different but you might not be able to cook that food either because you don’t know how to make it, or the raw ingredients are not available. Now the inner balance is disturbed: you desire something that you are not able to cook. Or, you might get bored of cooking every day and want a break; the inner balance is disturbed: your sense of duty is conflicting with your enjoyment.

The State of Mutual Balance

When this sense of balance in the soul’s self-awareness is disturbed, typically, the soul will seek other souls. For instance, he might say: Today I don’t want to cook, can someone else cook for me? Or, that I want to eat something different, but I don’t know how to make it; can someone else make it? Now, the soul emerges out of his self-absorption because an inner conflict has been created, and to overcome this conflict, the soul needs to associate with other individuals. Typically, this would mean that he enters a society of individuals which is functionally divided into roles: each person doing their job.

He again finds a balance because he can now get the things he wanted through the relationships he has established in exchange for some other things he has to offer. His sense of duty is modified to include service to others, and as long as he is satisfied with the food he is getting there is no conflict.

The balanced state is easily regained if one can limit one’s desires to what is possible within the available situation, with the current capabilities. In effect, the sat or situation dominates, the chit or ability is applied within the situation, and ananda or pleasure is subordinate to that ability. This requires minimization of one’s desires, and subordinating them to whatever is available. Of course, the soul may enjoy using all his abilities and the chit now dominates; this chit now may want to change the situation or sat in order to find the most fulfilling environment for expressing one’s abilities to the fullest, and the happiness is subordinated to the primary aim of fulfilling one’s ability expression.

In this way, there are six possible dominant-subordinate relationships with three facets of the soul. In each case, a disturbance in the inner balance will drive one toward their destination where their inner balance is restored because the external situation is compatible with the inner state.

The State of Continual Change

This stability is predicated on the assumption that the priority between the three facets doesn’t change. But as we saw before, different aspects can dominate at different times. Sometimes you let your desires drive you to a new situation, sometimes you subordinate your desires to the situation, and sometimes you want to change the situation to fulfill your desires. Each such change involves an internal imbalance, and it drives the soul to change its relationships, abilities, and desires.

Apart from the fact that sat, chit, or ananda can dominate the other at different times, each of these three aspects has many subdivisions, and they can also become dominant and subordinate. The chit for instance, is six qualities of knowledge, power, beauty, wealth, fame, and renunciation; there are as many types of responsibilities (sat) as there are types of relationships; there are as many pleasures (ananda) as there are unique types of emotions. Each of these create further conflicts. You may not be sure if knowledge is always better than beauty, or power is more important than wealth. You may not be sure if you should always prioritize love over anger, or anger over love. And you may not necessarily know if it is always better to be a father and take responsibilities for your children, or you should also sometimes be a child and act unreasonably in relation to a father. Given all the possible internal contradictions, the soul can try to be everything—changing his or her state in order to resolve all the contradictions.

Stability and Instability in the Soul

It should be apparent that the prioritization between sat, chit, and ananda, and the subsequent prioritization between the various subdivisions of each, constitutes a choice. Stability in life means that you don’t change your priorities and choices; that particular form of choice and prioritization becomes your eternal personality, and you choose a personality in order to avoid instability.

The opposite of that choice is confusion. You don’t necessarily know what you want; you try different things, you don’t feel satisfied, and therefore you keep changing the prioritization and personality. The material world dominantly comprises this continual change where the soul is unaware of its true nature, and doesn’t know what to prioritize. Remember that this prioritization is unique to the soul; so there is no universal prescription for what kind of personality one must be. In that sense, the soul has to discover its true nature and identify the state in which he wants to be. Unless this choice is made, the soul remains conflicted among various alternatives. Sometimes he prefers one personality and at other times he wants something else. The material world represents this confusion about the true nature of the self: the soul goes from one situation to another, and is hence is never fully satisfied.

Clearly, if you prioritize sat over chit over ananda, you will seek a person who does the same. A person with different priorities will lead to conflicts. Similarly, if you prefer knowledge over beauty, someone else who prioritizes beauty over knowledge will cause a conflict. Thus, as the soul comes into contact with other beings—who are equally confused about their priorities—a myriad conflicts are created. The soul trying to solve its inner conflict becomes insensitive to the conflicts in others.

As a result, one person hurts another, and receives retribution, which then changes their personality, which leads to further confusion, internal conflict, which then drives more external conflict. In this way, the ignorance about the nature of the self leads to a cycle of conflict and change. The hallmark of the material world is that any internal conflict generally leads to external conflicts; indeed, even if you were stable in your understanding, someone else who is internally conflicted can trouble you.

The Resolution of Contradictions

The inner contradictions are resolved by prioritization—something is dominant, and something else is subordinate. The external contradictions are resolved by complementarity—when you want to be the seeker someone can be the sought, but if you decide to reverse the role, then you can find the complementary reversal. The stability of the external relationships depends on the internal stability, and the internal stability depends on identifying one’s true personality or prioritization.

The choice of prioritization creates internal consistency, but it leads to a sense of incompleteness. After all, you could have prioritized something else, been a different person, performed different kinds of actions, and enjoyed in different ways. However, since you have made a choice, you have precluded other choices. You have become a particular type of person, to the exclusion of other persons. What if you are not totally satisfied being one type of person, and you desire multiple personalities?

You may not be hurting others, and hence there are no consequences of your actions on others. However, your choices still have consequences: if you make a particular choice, you preclude the other choices. If you choose a particular persona, you preclude the other persona. Now you are driven not by internal inconsistency, but a sense of incompleteness: How can I make the other choices?

The Four Worlds of Personalities

We can thus see that in the material world a person is ignorant about their persona and hence shuffles between numerous personas one after another. He can discard the variety of personas and just decide to create a perfect balance in himself by being with himself. But if this is not too satisfying then he can identify a fixed personality in relation to other persons. The internal inconsistency is solved but an incompleteness exists, which the soul can solve by acquiring more than one persona; different personas are visible in different relationships, and you seem like a different person in each relation.

Vedic texts identify these situations as the material world, Brahman, Vaikunṭha, and Goloka, respectively. The material world constitutes the ignorance of one’s personality. In Brahman one attains a complete balance in the self. In Vaikunṭha one has a fixed persona, in relation to everyone. In Goloka the soul has many personas which are visible in different relationships to different souls. In each case, the soul seeks an answer to his inner conflicts—in changing their persona with the changing material situations, being a fixed person in relation to oneself in Brahman, being a fixed person in relation to all persons in Vaikunṭha, and being a different person in each of the different relations in Goloka.

The drivers can be either internal inconsistency or even a sense of inner incompleteness. As your sense of incompleteness grows, you acquire more personas, and express them via more relationships. But you could be totally satisfied with internal consistency and a specific universal persona.

Multiple Personalities in a Person

We normally think that each person has a unique personality, when the fact is that in the material world our personalities are changing continually—even in relation to the same person. Thus, sometimes you are polite with your friends and spouse, sometimes you laugh and please them, and at other times you are cold, rude, or detached from them. Similarly, a person may have multiple personas which are expressed in different relationships. Thus, you might be cold and detached with outsiders, but you might be warm and loving to people at home (or vice versa). You might be aggressive at the workplace, but submissive with your spouse (or vice versa). Modern personality theories don’t understand this fact very well. They conjure a universal persona for the person, disregarding subtle or manifest changes that occur with time, places, situations, relationships, and even specific other personalities.

Similarly, men express one kind of personality in the presence of other men, and a different personality to women. You may have one personality for friends, and another one for colleagues. You may have one persona with your parents, and another one with your siblings, or your children. By donning multiple personas and realizing them through different relations, you feel more complete. As long as you don’t change your persona in relation to the same person, they will find you consistent.

Consistency and Completeness

The material world is full of inconsistencies. We don’t necessarily know what person we truly want to be. Should I be the strong and angry person who conquers the world, or should I be the loving and caring person who nurtures the world? As you look at other people, you tend to change your mind. Similarly, as you meet with success and failure in your endeavors you change your mind. The material inconsistencies are created because we change our minds, and the other person—to whom we are in a relationship—hasn’t changed. We also compete with each other to take the other person’s role disrupting their existing relationships. Both of these situations create competition.

The position of Brahman removes this competition, because there is no one else other than the self. So you are not going to compete with yourself, try to disrupt yourself, or change in relation to yourself.

The position of Vaikunṭha brings cooperation. You are now with other persons, and your personality is well known to everyone. You take on a role—consistent with your universal persona—and relate to everyone according to that persona. Your personality doesn’t create competition because you are not changing your persona, and you are not trying to take over someone else’s position. Everyone is situated in their respective position, and they are able to live with mutual respect and cooperation.

The position of Goloka goes beyond cooperation; you realize that a universal persona is not enough and you desire multiple personas and then multiple relationships to realize these persona. Many of these personas are hidden until they are manifest in a new relationship. Or, the persona may be so unique to a relationship that it is only exposed to a particular individual and unknown to everyone else.

The competition of the material world, the consistency of Brahman, the cooperation of Vaikunṭha, and the completeness of Goloka are all possible features of the soul and can be understood by the soul. If and when the soul realizes his properties, these types of worlds become automatically visible.

Cite this article as:

Ashish Dalela, "The Contradictions of Being," in Shabda Journal, February 16, 2018,