Your Questions Answered
by Swami Krishnananda

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Chapter 30: Eastern and Western Thinking

American Visitor: To bring some of the Eastern mind, or intuition, in. And, I would like to hear what you think about what is important for me to remember when I am trying to teach Americans, Westerners, to think creatively.

SWAMIJI: Where are you teaching – in a college or school?

Visitor: Both. Small children and college – adults and children.

SWAMIJI: What are you teaching?

Visitor: I am actually teaching creative thinking. I teach the bright children, the gifted children.

SWAMIJI: Creative thinking?

Visitor: Yes.

SWAMIJI: Is it psychology?

Visitor: Some of it is psychology, but mostly creative thinking means how to be creative in your thinking.

SWAMIJI: But actually, it is a part of psychology only. You mean that you want them to drop their rationality?

Visitor: To fuse it with the intuitive.

SWAMIJI: Yes, you are right – not dropping, but fusing.

Visitor: Yes. Fusing.

SWAMIJI: It is a philosophical subject, almost.

Visitor: Yes.

SWAMIJI: It is the meeting of the East and the West in a comprehension of values. In a few minutes I cannot answer your question. It is a huge, world-shaking subject.

Visitor: I know; I know it is huge!

SWAMIJI: Are you studying anything on this subject? Have you got any book?

Visitor: I just finished writing a dissertation and I did research where I asked...

SWAMIJI: What is your dissertation?

Visitor: It is on the creative thinking processes of investors. Over the years I have studied different authors on creative thinking.

SWAMIJI: Now, what is the defect that you find in Western thinking?

Visitor: The defect? The defect is that they do not appreciate or use the intuitive mind. They do not use imagery or visualisation as thinking processes. They do not listen to the source of the universe or the within. Their body is separated from their mind, and their heart, and their emotions.

SWAMIJI: The body is separated from their mind and heart in every Westerner?

Visitor: No, not every Westerner – I hope not! But I am saying that in the elementary schools now...

SWAMIJI: The European way of thinking is, as they usually call it, empiricist.

Visitor: Yes.

SWAMIJI: It is based on sensory observation, and on inference based on that perception through the sense organs, believing in nothing that cannot be proved rationally. That is one of the traits of Western thought – believe nothing which cannot be established by rational investigation. And, it is also socially oriented, to a large extent; they think in terms of society, and individuals. The value of the individual and the society of individuals is not given up. In the Eastern side, the emphasis is on the universal principles of life. It is not just empiricist. It is also rational. Its emphasis is on the basic principles of all the values of life, which the East thinks is universal in its nature.

Western thinking deduces the universality of a thing by observation of particular instances. If many horses are there, there is a general universal principle called horseness, etc. The Universal does not exist by itself, according to Western thinking. It exists as a corollary followed from the observation of many particulars. In the East, the Universal precedes the particular, whereas in the West, the particular precedes the Universal. Here is the great difference between Western thinking and Eastern thinking. The fact is that the Universal is not derived from observation of particulars; the Universal can exist even without there being particulars.

We are going deep into philosophical realms, and I am not thinking of speaking too much to you on this subject. I can only suggest to you to read certain things where people have attempted to bring harmony between two types of thinking. I was wondering if you have been studying any book of this kind, where a blend has been effected between Eastern and Western thought.

Visitor: No, I have not.

SWAMIJI: You have not seen anywhere any such attempt?

Visitor: Somewhat, I can think of one educator in California. Her name is Barbara Clark. She attempts to weld the rational with the more intuitive, Eastern thinking.

SWAMIJI: Eastern thinking is not irrational.

Visitor: No, no! It is rational, plus intuitive.

SWAMIJI: Yes, it is based on intuitive perception.

Visitor: Yes.

SWAMIJI: Rationality cannot contradict intuitive perception, though its validity is accepted. Have you read any book on Eastern philosophy?

Visitor: What specifically? Educational, no.

SWAMIJI: What we are discussing is not an educational matter. It is something philosophical. Have you come in contact with any treatise on this subject?

Visitor: No, not specifically.

SWAMIJI: In order to know what it is that we are trying to know, we have to know what this universe is made of. You are living in a world, isn't it?

Visitor: Yes.

SWAMIJI: What is the stuff of this world? What is it made of? If you look at it from a larger dimension – the universe itself – what is the structure of the universe, which determines the structure of everything that is in the universe – you and I included? Everything that is in the universe is determined in every way by the structure of the wholeness to which all the particulars belong. So, first of all, you must know what this world is. What is this universe? Here is the beginning of philosophy.

There are umpteen answers to this question. The world is totally external to the individual, according to well-known Western thinking. The world is not touching you; it is external to you, so you are treating it as an object. You are the subject of the perception of an object, which is the world. So, you can handle it without affecting yourself, or your having anything to do with the world outside. The subject has nothing to contribute to the nature of the object. This is the modern scientific approach. The world of science considers the objects of the world as totally independent of the observer. Here, in India, in Eastern thought, the position is quite different. The world is not standing outside, because you are a part of the world, how then will you study the world? Are you studying your own self? You just think over the consequences of this kind of thinking. Are you concluding that the world is so totally outside you that it does not touch you at all? I think it cannot be said that it is like that.

Visitor: It is a big mistake.

SWAMIJI: The world influences you in a tremendous manner, and the influence must be understood – what kind of influence it is. There are two kinds of influence: mechanical and organic. An organic influence is something like the influence of the whole body on the limbs of the body. The mechanical is like a machine; the parts of the machine influence the structure of the machine. Likewise, you must consider how you are influencing the world. What is the relationship between you and the world? This subject comes to what you call epistemology, in philosophical circles. You are going into deep waters if you go on thinking like this.

You conclude finally that inasmuch as you cannot stand outside the world, you are the world. It will come to that. If you are the world, how will you handle the world? It must be handled in the manner in which you handle yourself. Now, I should not speak to you more. I should introduce you to some study, and you will see what a tremendous difference it makes in thinking. The study of the world would mean the study of yourself only. "Know thyself and be free," is the Oracle of Delphi.

Visitor: I am going there, after India.

SWAMIJI: I will see you tomorrow again. Hari Om.

Visitor: We ended with "Know thyself." And, the Western mind has an aversion, it seems, to "Know thyself."

SWAMIJI: It is because the Western mind does not know what the Self is. "Call a dog a bad name and then condemn it," is an old saying. If you want to criticise a person, find fault with that person first; then, criticise. A person who does not know what the Self is has no right to speak about it, so the Western mind cannot speak unless it defines what the Self is. They have a wrong notion about the Self Itself. What is the Self, according to Western thought? It is the purely physically bound psychological self. This is what they think; but this is a wrong definition. The Self is not sitting inside the body.

Visitor: The Self to the Western mind is also, oftentimes, just the cognition, the thinking process.

SWAMIJI: That shows the poverty of thinking. It is very unfortunate. This is not correct. The Self is not sitting inside the body. It is not in the cortex; It is not inside the brain. It is a consciousness, a principle of awareness. Now, why are you bringing this question to me? What relevance has it to your teaching of psychology?

Visitor: I am a teacher.

SWAMIJI: You need not bring the subject of Self to the students, because, perhaps, it is not a part of your curriculum.

Visitor: Oh yes, it is!

SWAMIJI: Why do you talk about the Self? Psychology does not require a Self. It is a study of mind and reason and emotion. It is a study of the psychic functions, and why do you worry about the Self? Let It be there, or let It not be there. What does It matter to us?

Visitor: Let It evolve, as It is?

SWAMIJI: Let the Self not be there at all. What does it matter? Why should there be a Self? Your mind and reason, emotions and psychic operations are there, and you are concerned with these. That is the human being, actually. What you call a human being is a conglomeration of psychological functions. And more than that, what do you find in a human being? What is there in a human being other than this body, and the psychological functions? So, here Western thought ends, and it does not want to say anything more than that, because anything more than that is not visible; it is not perceptible, it is not thinkable, and it is not necessary also for one's life.

What is of utility to life? There is a system of thinking called pragmatism, and utilitarianism. That which works well in life is real, and any other thing is irrelevant, and you can live a happy life without there being a Self. What is the good of thinking of the Self? There must be a point in it. How does the Self come into the picture at all, when you study psychology? There is no Self in psychology. There is only a mental operation. So, I am asking why you raised this question of Self, when It is not a part of your curriculum of studies?

Visitor: For the Western mind?

SWAMIJI: Yes.

Visitor: I am saying that It should be. It should be brought in.

SWAMIJI: Why should you? Suppose you do not bring It. In what way are you at a loss?

Visitor: What do you lose?

SWAMIJI: Yes. What do you lose? You can get along well even without It.

Visitor: Oh, you can get on well, supposedly.

SWAMIJI: Yes, yes. So, what is the problem? If you touch It, you will be in hot waters immediately.

Visitor: Yes. But for me as a teacher, doesn't It need to be touched?

SWAMIJI: You see, as a personal aspirant, an inquisitive seeker, or a lover of the Ultimate Reality, you may take It into consideration and try to find out what It is; but as a teacher of psychology, It is not necessary. If you are inquisitive, curious, and aspire for higher realities than what are available in this world; if you are not satisfied with anything visible in the world; if you feel that there is something more than this world, that all things are finite and perishable, and therefore, something must be there which is not subject to the process of time; if you seek an endless reality; if that aspiration is there for you, then the question of the Self comes in. But, are you pursuing that line, or are you satisfied as a psychology teacher?

Visitor: No. I am not a psychology teacher, but I think in teaching in general that people should come to a level of awareness, and dismantle the aversion to knowing thyself.

SWAMIJI: You must have some training in this Ashram. You have to undergo a course of studies here. This is not a subject for market-place discussion.

Visitor: No, I understand that.

SWAMIJI: This is a serious matter. It cannot be easily understood, but once you know what It is, you will never want anything else in the world.

Visitor: True.

SWAMIJI: You will be simply thrilled to know what It is.

Visitor: True. So to have a sense of the Self, my question is, as a teacher, how to develop it in children, and in others – in other teachers who teach teachers.

SWAMIJI: That is psychology. Again, you are coming to psychology. You can be a very good student and teacher of psychology without bringing in the Self. Actually, psychologists never talk of the Self. It does not exist, actually. It is a kind of illusion for psychologists. Like David Hume – have you heard of a philosopher called David Hume? And also Freud?

Visitor: Yes, I have.

SWAMIJI: They say that there is no such thing as the Self – It does not exist.

Visitor: Well, I would not agree with them.

SWAMIJI: And, if you agree with them, what do you lose? If you lose something, then that is a different matter. Many stalwart thinkers of the West hold this view (except a few, of course), that Self is a dubious, conceptual, and hallucinatory existence. Freud and such other people will say that it is an illusion: religion is an illusion, and so God, Self, everybody are bundled up with this illusion, and we can be happy without them. You can be happy without God, also. Why do you want a God? You ask Freud. He will tell you everything about these matters. Do you know Freud's psychology? What does he say about the Self? It does not exist!

Visitor: Yes. He is vacant.

SWAMIJI: You ask Freud whether he is existing. Ask him! I can ask Freud himself, "Are you existing or not? Or, somebody else is existing?"

Luciano: Swamiji, you said that life can be happy in the psychological sense, but experience shows that lives are not all happy.

SWAMIJI: Everybody is happy; who is not happy? Let me see. Who is not happy among these people seated here? They are all well; they have got breakfast and lunch and good sleep. They have got money. What is wrong with you? Tell me. Let anybody say something is wrong. You have a good job, good salary, good health, and you have got medical attendance; you can travel anywhere. You can have whatever you want. What is wrong with life?

Luciano: Nothing.

SWAMIJI: What is wrong with life? Everything is fine. This is what the gross Western mind says: All is well. But, all is not well!

American Visitor: True.

SWAMIJI: There is something at the back of it. You are dreaming that everything is well, and the Damocles Sword is hanging over your head, which is not anybody's concern; nobody bothers. Do you know of the Damocles Sword?

Visitor: Yes.

SWAMIJI: There is a Damocles Sword called death which can wipe out all values of life in one minute. All your glory, all your study, all your pomp and possession can be negatived in one second by somebody who is called Death. Where is Death sitting? I ask you a question, as a psychologist: Why should anybody die? What is the harm if nobody dies? Let all people be alive.

Visitor: There is a cycle.

SWAMIJI: Do you want people to die?

Visitor: They need to die. It's part of the natural cycle.

SWAMIJI: Now, do you believe in the existence of Nature?

Visitor: Oh, yes.

SWAMIJI: Are you subservient to Nature, or are you independent? You have no free choice? Are you a servant of Nature that you have to obey orders of Nature, and it will kill you, and you can be reborn, also? Are you a slave of Nature's laws, or have you some independence? Tell me. Who would like to be a slave of a law of somebody? Even in political circles, people seek independence. They do not like to be servants of the government. They want independence. Everybody strives for independence. How can you say that Nature is so very hard upon you that it would want to kill you one day? What kind of Nature have you? And, who created that monstrous Nature? Who is that dangerous person who created such a Nature which swallows up everybody? You have to answer these questions, and you cannot simply bypass them. These are the seeds of the beginning of philosophical thinking – questioning and questioning and questioning until you get the answer to every question.

Visitor: Yes.

SWAMIJI: I cannot talk to you much. I told you that you have to stay here for a long time and undergo a course, as it were; meanwhile, you can only make some studies, and they will solve fifty percent of your problem. I can give you some literature to study.

Visitor: Good. I'll do that.

SWAMIJI: These questions that you are raising and I am talking about are questions of life as a whole. It is not your problem or my problem, it is entire creation's problem. You cannot thrash it out in a minute, you should have time and patience enough, and desire enough to know it.

Visitor: Yes, I understand that.

SWAMIJI: Otherwise, if everything is well, be happy.

Visitor: I cannot stay, but I will leave my heart here with you. Thank you.