2.2 The Fundamental Problem

This sub-module is based on the teachings of Swami Dayananda.
Expand All Sections


In this sub-module we will try to understand the fundamental human problem step and step, and in the end see why pursuing Moksha or liberation is the only solution to this problem.

We will see:

1. Why a person makes a wrong judgement about himself or herself.
2. How the feeling of limitation arises from this misjudgement.
3. How the attempt to remove this sense of limitation by changing external situations is always unsuccessful.
4. How every gain through changing the external situation also involves a loss.
5. How the fundamental human problem is the sense of limitation and incompleteness, and is the motivation behind most human actions.
6. And finally why only pursuing Moksha, and not any action, can solve the fundamental human problem permanently.

The fundamental problem

1. The Sense of Limitation

Expand this section

The Case of Mistaken Identity

When you see an object and fail to recognize its true identity or nature, then you can take the object for something other than what it is. If you’re unaware of the existence of the object, then there is only ignorance, no misperception.

To illustrate this point here is an example:

One day walking along a deserted village road during twilight, I come across a dark shape besides the road. Mistaking the dark shape for a man hiding to rob me, I become alarmed and quickly change direction. I fail to perceive that the dark shape is actually a tree stump.

My perception of “something” besides the road gave me a point from which to make an error. Because I saw something and failed to recognize it for what it was, I had a basis for making a mistake about what was seen, and then acting on that misperception .

A short while later my short-sighted neighbour and his keen-eyed wife walked through the same road and had no problem.

My neighbour, because of his bad vision, failed to see the outline of the tree stump, and walked in total ignorance. Since he had no perception of the tree stump, he had no “scope” to make a mistake about it. His keen-eyed wife on the other hand clearly saw it for what it was.

So both went along happily; one in total ignorance of the existence of the object, and the other in clear knowledge of its nature.

Wrong Self Judgement

An animal has very little scope to commit an error about itself because its consciousness about itself as an individual is very limited. Its capacity for critical awareness for itself or others is limited.

A cow does not get depressed because it cannot give as much milk as the cow in the next stall. A cat does not dream of becoming a bulldog. A horse does not spend hours trying to fly.

Not having the kind of self-perception that would allow it to compare and judge itself, an animal does not have the basis to make a mistake about its nature. So an animal seems to have no basic confusion about itself.

But a human does have the capacity to commit such an error. Highly conscious, a human has a basis to make a mistake about himself or herself.

If in looking at himself, he does not recognize himself for what he is, he will make a judgement about himself that will be something other than what his true nature is.

The Sense of Limitation Arising from Wrong Judgement

One judgement we all make about ourselves is that “I am a limited person; I am incomplete.”

The evidence for this conclusion we make about ourselves can been seen in the amount of time, money and effort we put chasing after security (Artha) and pleasures (Kama).

Sometimes the desperation is so strong, wrong means are chosen to achieve these goals. Even if the means are legitimate, the importance towards Artha and Kama can be gleaned from everyone’s obsession towards their goals.

These goals become so important to us is because it is by achieving these goals that we hope to escape the feeling of inadequacy and become a complete person. The urge to be complete stems from seeing oneself as apparently incomplete.

All struggles in life are expressions of this urge to be complete.

So what is my true nature?

Whether I am complete or incomplete has to be determined. But till that time, the fact is I see myself as limited and an incomplete person.

Close this section

2. Trying to Remove Limitation through Change

Expand this section
In most situations I see myself as incomplete, lacking something. Whatever the circumstance, there is a sense of want. So I try to feel whole and complete by changing the situation.

A Young Man and his Family

There was a young man, happily married, with three children, a good career and a comfortable home. Nonetheless, he was not totally satisfied with his current situation. His children were quickly growing up and he was concerned about their future. He wanted to give them the best education possible, so he had to save more money.

He decided to take up a second job. The additional money the job brought, he invested into the stock market. He now felt less worried about his children’s college expenses but grew concerned about his health.

The second job brought in more strain. He noticed he was always tired and there was some shortness in his breath. He resolved to eat a more healthy diet and started going to the gym.

Consequently his health improved, but still there was a nagging sense of dissatisfaction. The stock market was behaving erratically and he grew concerned over his investment. He started questioning his decision to invest in the stock market.

On the family front he was spending less and less time with his children and his wife. The second job and his gym routine were taking up too much time. His wife was constantly complaining about not seeing him. He wanted to spend more time with his family. He needed to find a way to lessen his work load. And so it went on.

Not realizing the real issue was him and not the situations he found himself in, he continued to work to bring about a change in the circumstances which he hoped would allow him to feel whole and complete.

Close this section

3. Every Gain through Change also Involves a Loss

Expand this section
Every person in this world suffers from the feeling of limitation and incompleteness, and therefore they try to rid themselves of this inadequacy. And almost universally the solution is trying to change one’s current situation by acquiring more security (Artha) or pleasures (Kama).

However any gains made are not absolute. Every gain of security or pleasure through effort always involves a collateral loss. The gains obtained is offset by the time and effort spent, or some additional responsibility assumed.

For example, I buy a large, impressive house. The security and pleasure I gain from the new house is offset by the large amount of money I spent, the mortgage taken, the cleaning staff I need to employ, and the responsibility of maintenance and security.

All these things take something away from the feeling of comfort and completeness I sought when I decided to purchase the house in the first place.

Every gain from a change always involves a loss. Whenever I gain something by changing my current situation, there is an initial release from incompleteness, but I soon find that my original problem still remains.

The problem of incompleteness cannot be solved by gaining or discarding something. The actual reason for my pursuit of security (Artha) is freedom from the sense of limitation and incompleteness. But no gain or removal accomplishes that end.

So the human problem of incompleteness is never solved through security.

Close this section

4. Temporary Pleasures

Expand this section
Pursuit of pleasures (Kama) for the sake of completeness is no more successful than the pursuit of security.

The enjoyment of pleasure depends on a meeting of three constantly changing factors which are not under one’s control. Moments of pleasure require the availability of the object of pleasure, the mechanism or instrument for enjoying the object, and a proper frame of mind.

For e.g. I may have a desire to eat a fresh ripe peach, but no peaches may be available.

On the other hand, I was able to buy some peaches, but a sudden attack of flu prevents me from enjoying the taste.

The flu passes, I’m about to take a bite when someone informs me that my friend was involved in an accident. I suddenly lose all interest for the peach.

Pleasure is momentary because any of its contributing factors can and do change. So holding onto pleasure is like trying to hold on to wind.

Short term pleasures may give us temporary relief but they are not the solution if you want to feel whole and complete all the time.

Close this section

5. Recognizing the Fundamental Problem

Expand this section
From analyzing our life experiences we find that the basic motivation behind all our striving is the desire to be free of the feeling of limitation and incompleteness, to feel complete, comfortable, in all situations.

The fundamental human problem is to feel complete. The universally chosen solution is pursuit of security and pleasures to feel complete. The result is temporary relief but it does not end the sense of limitation and incompleteness.

The feeling of completeness that one gains on acquiring security (Artha) and pleasures (Kama) is momentary. So we have to struggle some more to gain more Artha and Kama. And this struggle never ends.

The Analysis of Experience

Having analyzed the worldly experiences achieved through effort, a mature person gains dispassion, discerns that the uncreated (limitlessness) cannot be produced by action. To know That (the uncreated limitlessness), he, with twigs in hand, should go to a teacher who is learned in the scriptures, and who is steadfast in the knowledge of himself.

Mundaka Upanishad

What this verse from Mundaka Upanishad is saying is that when a mature person analyses his life experience, he gain dispassion towards the results of his effort.

The onset of dispassion is the realization that acquiring Artha and Kama cannot solve the basic human problem. That Artha and Kama have not brought any lasting solution to his sense of incompleteness.

Although the problem has not been solved, the various life experiences have been useful in so far that they have allowed the person to discover the true nature of his problem. A real solution cannot be found unless the problem is seen for what it is.

The analysis of experiences is very important. It is through analyzing one’s experiences that one becomes mature.

It is by analyzing my past experiences that I find that I consistently see myself as an incomplete person. No matter what desires I have fulfilled, no matter what undesirable things I have discarded, the sense of limitation does no leave me.

In spite of all my various pleasures and security, I’m an unfulfilled person. When I see my experiences in this light, I become mature.

Maturity is not shown by seeking bigger and better experiences, but by analyzing one’s experiences and discovering the basic human problem: what one wants is to be a complete and limitless – and that experiences do not make one complete.

Close this section

6. The Sense of Limitation is Caused by Wrong Thinking

Expand this section
By analyzing my experiences I find the human problem cannot be solved by acquiring various things in the world, nor by renouncing worldly things. By action, I either gain something I do not have, or get rid of something I have.

Through either gain or loss, the discovery is the same: I am still incomplete.

If by gaining something or discarding something, I am still incomplete, then I should realize the problem is not with the objects I gained or discarded. The real problem is myself. Or more specifically the problem is with my thinking.

I am incomplete because I am incomplete. My incompleteness does not depend on any other factor other than myself.

Neither the pursuit of something, nor the renouncing of something, cures my incompleteness. One can see this clearly in one’s as well as others experiences.

So a mature person is one who, having analyzed their experiences, has discovered that the completeness they seeks cannot be gained through any effort. Regardless of their various experiences, they still find themselves to be incomplete.

They realize that what they are looking for is not a change in their situation, but a change in themselves. They want some change that will make them a complete person.

Close this section

7. The Search for Freedom (Moksha)

Expand this section
Moksha (Liberation) becomes relevant when one realizes that behind the human struggle to acquire more security (Artha) and pleasures (Kama) is the desire to feel complete, and no amount of security or pleasure can achieve that goal.

Moksha means freedom from incompleteness. When I appreciate that what I am really seeking is a solution for my incompleteness, a problem centred on myself, I become someone who becomes more aware of what he is looking for.

In Sanskrit, such a seeker is called a Mumukshu. A Mumukshu is one who desires freedom from all limitation. A Mumukshu knows that his pursuit of the first three Purusharthas (human goals – discussed in the previous sub-module) does not solve his problem.

His ethically guided, dharmic pursuit of Artha and Kama does not solve his incompleteness. He is then ready to directly seek completeness. This completeness is called Moksha or liberation, and since it is something seekers consider a thing to be “achieved”, it is listed as the fourth human goal, although liberation is not an “achievement” in the usual sense of the word.

Close this section


1. A human being highly conscious has the ability to make a wrong judgement about himself. And the most common misjudgement is: “I am a limited person; I am incomplete”.
2. Every person tries to remove this limitation by pursuing more security (Artha) and pleasures (Kama).
3. Every gain of security and pleasure involves a collateral loss. So even though there is a temporary release from the sense of limitation, the original problem soon returns.
4. So when a mature person analyses his experiences, he discovers that behind his pursuit of security and pleasure is a basic desire to be free from all insufficiency, to be free from incompleteness itself, a basic desire which no amount of security and pleasures fulfills.
5. This realization brings a certain dispassion towards security and pleasures. The mature person gains dispassion towards his former pursuits and is ready to seek liberation or Moksha directly.