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Spiritual Import of Religious Festivals

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Appendix: The Purpose of Philosophy


A talk given on the 1st of February, 1979, while inaugurating the 24th Conference of the All-India Philosophical Congress, at the Sivananda Ashram.

On this auspicious occasion of holy Vasanta Panchami, I have the honour to welcome to this holy Ashram all the learned delegates of the Akhila Bharatiya Darsana Parishad. At this august moment, I invoke the grace of the Almighty upon you all for your health and long life, so that you may be blessed by the Divine Being for a more energetic endeavour in the direction of true pursuit of the Goal of all existence, which is the central theme of philosophical endeavour.

By way of a few inaugural words I have the privilege to present in a short outline what I feel from the bottom of my heart at the present moment.

This is a session, an Adhivesana, of the Akhila Bharatiya Darsana Parishad – An All-India Philosophical Congress – constituted by highly elevated spirits whose total being may be expected to be tuned to the great ideal of philosophy. We have philosophies of different kinds. We have a philosophy of physics, a philosophy of mathematics, and a philosophy of any art or science. When we speak of philosophy in this sense, we are referring to the rationale behind any particular technique of approach, art, or science or any branch of learning. But, as you would all appreciate, philosophy, in its true connotation, has been used in a special significance and not in the general sense of the rationale behind the arts and the sciences taken in an isolated manner. If we may endeavour to put the whole matter in one sentence, in our attempt to define philosophy, it may safely be said that philosophy is the reaction of the whole being of man to the whole of Reality. It is not merely intellectual function. It is not mere ratiocination. It is not activity of any particular aspect of the psychological organ. It is the whole being of man that is worked up into activity which is set in tune with the entire structure of Reality. This, in my opinion, is the function of philosophy. It investigates into the nature of phenomena by reference to ultimate causes and not merely to secondary causes or immediate causes.

The ultimate cause of any particular phenomenon has to be grasped in the context of its relevance to other phenomena as well. To appreciate the significance of any phenomenon in this world, one may have to give a definition, philosophically, of that particular phenomenon. Every logician or philosopher who is intent upon giving a definition to any event or phenomenon would have to face the situation of referring to other factors outside the particular phenomenon that is to be defined, just as you cannot define a red object unless you make reference to things other than red. The non-red automatically comes in, when we think of the red. 'A' cannot be defined unless you refer it to 'B'. Every definition has a relative significance. Definitions carry us beyond the area that we try to define. There is a transcendent element present in every particular phenomenon. This element is the urge or, in our academic language, we may say the nisus of that particular phenomenon. There is a root-essence present in every relative which urges it to transcend itself, outgrow its limitation, expand its dimensions and reach beyond itself, so that it craves to come in contact with other aspects of reality and other phenomena of nature, forcing us to come to a conclusion that there is a relativity of references in every event or every phenomenon. No definition is ultimate. We would find that we cannot give a final satisfactory definition of any concept or any given event or phenomenon. There is a reference of everything to everything else. Logic takes us beyond itself into a superlogical situation, where the inter-connection of phenomena compels us to widen our perspective or vision and grasp. We are confronted by the whole universe in its completeness, as it were, finally – a situation to which we are driven gradually, even if we are to understand a grain of sand merely. The particle of sand will take us beyond itself into the whole world itself, if we are consistent in our logical approach. Everything hangs on everything else, so that to understand anything independently would be a futile attempt.

I am reminded here of the few verses from the eighteenth chapter of the Bhagavadgita where Bhagavan Sri Krishna defines three types of knowledge. The lowest kind of knowledge is that which takes a particular finite entity as if it is everything. To consider any isolated object as the whole reality would be the lowest kind of knowledge. The higher knowledge is that which regards every finite as related to every other finite in this world. There is an inter-penetration of things, inter-relation of things, inter-connection of everything with everything else. This is a higher viewpoint, which is larger than the limited viewpoint which takes one finite object only as if it is everything, by which we cling to things by attachment. Attachment is due to the misconstruing of any particular object in this world, wresting it out of its relations with other things in the world, abstracting only certain characters foisted upon it relatively and the shutting off of all connections of that finite entity with other things in the world. This is the essence of attachment, where one is blind to the total relevance of that object to other things in the world and one is immersed in the form of the object and not the reality behind the object. But, when you go deeper a little bit into the substance of things, the structure or the components of a particular object, we are driven to the relationship of this object with other objects as is what has happened to modern science today. From the five elements – earth, water, fire, air and ether – we went to molecules, and from molecules we went to atoms. From atoms we now go deeper to structural elements which carry us further deep down into the abyss of the ocean of Universal Force.

Now, this is the tremendous object of philosophy. It is not this object or that object, this man or that man, this nation or that nation, this art or that science. But, it is the general judging principle behind all arts and sciences which synthesises every branch of learning. It is in this sense, perhaps, that it is called the Adhyatma Vidya – "Adhyatma vidya vidyanam". It is not one of the branches of learning, not one art among other arts, and not one science among other sciences. It is not even 'a philosophy' as people generally speak about it today. It is the basic determining factor behind the appearance of all values in the world, whether sociological, aesthetic or logical. Thus there is a necessity today to go deeper than the mere empirical definition of philosophy and take it in the true sense of the term as an art of life itself, the science of existence as a whole.

The question would arise, how philosophy can be related to life. My feeling is that philosophy is not going to be related to life. Philosophy is the name that we give to the way of living itself. They are not two different things. The system of living correctly in terms of our relationship to the ultimate Reality is philosophy. This is Jnana or wisdom and this is Darsana or true vision. We are not supposed merely to love philosophy as the etymology of the word would suggest. We have also to possess it. You may love many things but not possess the things. That does no good. And it is not merely a possession in the sense of grabbing of things external. It is an imbibition of a value into the very blood and veins of your personality, so that you become a living vehicle of philosophy itself. You are not a teacher of philosophy or a student of philosophy or a person endowed with a particular learning in a linguistic sense. The whole wisdom is throbbing through the bloodstream of your being. You live it, which means to say, knowledge has become Being. When knowledge is outside Being, when knowledge has no relevance to Reality, it becomes a mere profession, and there will be the mercenary attitude of a teacher who is dependent on mere empirical existence and not on Reality itself. Mostly, today we find that there is a gulf between Reality and knowledge. Sat and Chit are cut off one from the other. The great concluding message of Bharatiya Darsana is that Reality is Satchidananda. "Sattaiva bodhah, bodha eva satt":Existence is Consciousness; Consciousness is Existence. Knowledge is Being and, vice versa, Being is Knowledge. If I have a knowledge of a being which has no connection with that knowledge, it cannot be called real knowledge. Knowledge of Being is inseparable from Being itself. This is to draw a distinction between mere professing a knowledge and possessing it. The hour has come today when we have to live our Knowledge, and spread an aura among people, an aura that is shed by our own selves, like the light of the sun. Your being is your teaching. The way you live in this world, the adjustment that you make with the reality outside in your practical existence, is a greater teaching than the words that you speak. The integration of your personality is the test of the wisdom that you possess. If your personality is disintegrated within, if your psychological being is not in a state of alignment, if one is a psychopathic individual to speak in a psychoanalytic language, if the mind is diseased in a philosophical sense, though not medically, such a person cannot be called a philosopher. A philosopher is psychologically healthy. He is healthy because he is possessed of Reality within himself. The whole universal Reality is planted in himself, a significance which is brought out beautifully in a great teaching in the Chhandogya Upanishad which goes by the name of Vaisvanara Vidya. 'Vaisvanara' is called 'Atman' at the same time. The two words are really very significant and they are not used merely casually. The word 'Vaisvanara' signifies the universal aspect of Reality. Reality is not confined to any particular object. It is ubiquitous, present everywhere. But it is not present everywhere as the physical space outside, of which you are cognisant as an individual subject, as a percipient. The Vaisvanara definition of Reality as the omnipresent Being is not to be construed in the sense of a universal object to be perceived, cognised or known by an individual subject. To remove this misconception, the Upanishad also calls this Vaisvanara as the Atman, as the Knower also. So, this universal Being is also the Knower of that being. It is not X, Y, Z or A, B, C knowing that universal Vaisvanara. But the Atman-hood or the Selfhood, which is the characteristic of any percipient or knower, is not to be separated from this reality of the Vaisvanara, so that Vaisvanara is also the Atman and the Atman is Vaisvanara. In order that you may not mistake Reality for an object outside, the word Atman is used to signify its Subjectivity. Again, in order that you may not mistake this subjectivity for an individualistic existence, you are also told at the same time that it is not merely the Atman, but it is also Vaisvanara. It is the farthermost dimension of objective reality; at the same time it is the deepest subjectivity. So when you combine in a beautiful blend, in an integration, the deepest subjectivity of consciousness with the largest dimension of universality, you get what you call God or the Absolute. The attunement of your personality with this Reality is the wisdom that you possess. And philosophy is the art of directing our mind or reason towards the achievement of this great ideal which is what we usually call Moksha or the salvation of all mankind, of all creation. This is the glorious vision of philosophy. You are philosophers, you are blessed souls, divinities walking on earth. It is in this sense that great thinkers like Plato define philosophy. You are not merely teaching philosophy to students. You are communicating the wisdom of God. You are radiating the light of Reality, Truth or Satya, for the peace, well-being and solidarity of all beings in the world. You are, in a sense, makers of mankind. You are not merely teachers confined to classrooms, but, in a sense I may say, the destinies of mankind are in your hands, because of your dedication to Truth, which alone will succeed – "Satyameva jayate nanritam".

May I once again invoke the grace of the Almighty upon you all, so that your enlightened being may shed this light of Truth throughout mankind, and lead it along the right path of the pursuit of Reality for the blessedness not merely of one individual but of the whole humanity.