by Swami Krishnananda
There is a way of thinking called philosophical thinking, which is a little different from the ordinary way of thinking. What is the difference between philosophical thinking and the thinking we call ‘normal’ and ‘usual’ in our day-to-day life – the thinking of the office-goer, the thinking of the businessman, the thinking of the family man, the thinking of the busy man, and so on? How does our normal thinking differ from this peculiar way of thinking we call philosophical? What is the difference? If there is a difference, and evidently there is some, which is to be preferred? The ordinary, prosaic, man-of-the-street way of thinking, or the philosophic way of thinking – which is better? This can be known, if we know what the difference is between these two ways of thinking.
Previously, I mentioned that our thinking is almost entirely conditioned by sense perception. We think as we see, as we hear, and as we sense in any form whatsoever. Our mind is a kind of confirming authority over whatever information is given through the senses. The only thing that the mind seems to be doing is that it synthesises the various information received from the channels of the sense organs – eyes, ears, etc. The eyes see, but they cannot hear; the ears hear, but they cannot see. Each sense can do only one thing; it cannot do another thing.
A mind is necessary for some important reason, because without it there can be no coordination between seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, etc. Something is seeing, something is hearing; what is the connection? We feel that one and the same person can see, hear, touch, smell, and taste: “I am seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling and touching.” The eyes cannot say, “We are hearing.” The ears cannot say, “We are seeing.” How is it possible to bring together, into a blend of synthesis, these various sensations of seeing, hearing, etc.? That peculiar central operation inside, which not only receives all these reports of the senses at the same time, but harmonises them into a single cognition – that internal operation is the mind. It does not seem to be doing anything more than this. It does not seem that we are thinking in a more qualitative way than we are seeing, hearing, etc. The quality of thinking does not seem to be superior to the way of seeing or hearing. Our thinking is also mostly sensory.
But the system called philosophic thinking does not end here. A philosopher in the true sense of the term cannot be satisfied with any information that is given in this way. He will not wholly believe what he sees, nor will he entirely believe the reports of the other senses, nor will he be satisfied with this act of synthesis which the mind is doing in regard to the reports of the senses in an ordinary, usual, commonsense way. The philosophic mind is more than the ordinary empirical synthesising mind. This is why it is sometimes said that there is a lower mind and a higher mind. The lower mind does this work of gathering information and simply synthesising it into a central act of what is called perception and cognition. But there is another feature which the mind is capable of, but which is not usually exercised by the busy people in the world.
The activities of the senses are so rapid, so insistent, so vehement, so pressing and demanding, that the mind is continuously engaged in attending to these calls of the senses – like a telephone operator is kept continuously busy with unending calls from all sides. He cannot even think, so busy is he. The senses act in such rapidity and with such force that this peculiar feature of the mind which is engaged in synthesising these sense reports keeps it always busy, and there is no time to think anything else. This is the fate of the busy man of the world. There is no time to think, except in terms of what reactions are received by the senses in regard to the operations outside in the world of nature and society. The whole of our life is a kind of reaction to events taking place in nature and in human society. We seem to be doing very little independently; we are only reacting to what is happening outside insistently, perpetually. This is the ordinary man’s life. It is a very unhappy state of affairs, indeed, that we have to be always cautious that we do not fall down, and we cannot keep quiet because of the noises made by the senses and the necessity felt at the same time to listen to these noises and react in a proper manner.
This is precisely the reason why we are restless. If someone goes on pricking us with a needle or pulling our ears constantly, day in and day out, we will be conscious only of these pricks and the pulls, and we will have no time to think anything else except that we are being pricked and pulled, dragged, etc. Not that we are incapable of thinking in any other manner, but we will not be permitted to think because of the continuous pressure exerted upon the mind by events and circumstances of the outer world, of nature, and of society.
But this is a kind of illness, in a very important sense, that we have no freedom except to react to circumstances, and to be employed, as it were, in the act of attending to demands from outside. This state of affairs cannot be considered as real freedom. If we are forced to do something, do we call it a free act?
We may be running for two reasons. We may be a participant in a race, and we are running continuously for a long distance because we have taken part in the race and we want to win a prize. We may regard it as an act of freedom: “I am running because I want to run. I have enrolled myself as a candidate in this race. So, in this running, I am exercising my own free choice.” But suppose we are running because a hundred monkeys are pursuing us, a tiger is chasing us, an elephant is attacking us, and because we are chased from all sides by these wild animals we run for our life; do we call it a free act, though we are running in the same way as we ran in a race? Therefore, the action may be the same outwardly – in both cases it is running – but they are two different things altogether. In one case, we exercise a freedom. In another case, we are forced to run due to reasons beyond our control.
Now, our life normally, empirically – in the ordinary sense –cannot be considered really as an act of freedom. We have to eat because we are hungry; we have to drink because we are thirsty; we have to sleep because we are tired; and we have to do many other things of this type, because we are pressurised by conditions of life which are manifold in their character. These are matters for deep consideration. How is it that life should be made in this way? Why should there be a need to eat? Because there is hunger. There the answer is clear, and there is no need to put further questions. Everyone knows why one eats. But it is not enough for a philosopher to know that hunger is the reason behind eating. That is only an immediate cause, a visible reason, that we are placing before our mind to explain our act of eating. But why should there be hunger? This question can be put only by a philosopher. An ordinary man will not put such questions. Nobody will ask why there should be hunger, why there should be thirst. They will look like foolish questions. But to a philosophic mind, they are not foolish questions. A philosophic mind will never be satisfied unless the ultimate reason for a thing is known. ‘This’ happens because ‘that’ is there, and ‘that’ is there because of a third thing, a third thing is there because of a fourth thing. Now, where does this end, finally? Where does it end?
The ultimate cause alone can explain the lesser causes and effects of every type. We will never be satisfied unless we know the ultimate meaning of things. “Why all this?” “What is all this?” These questions come to our mind. “What is the matter?” We go on asking, but no answer comes. “Why do we do anything at all?” “Why should anyone do anything?” “What is the matter with people?” “Why are they so busy?” “Why do they run?” People run physically, as well as mentally. “What has happened to people?” “Why do they not keep quiet?” They cannot keep quiet because the pressures inwardly felt in the psyche, as well as felt from outside – from society and nature – compel them to be very vigilant and active, perpetually. These questions arise. They are a set of one type of question.
Children put questions sometimes: “Where does the sun go in the night? Nobody knows what has happened to the sun. We see him coming from the east and jumping down into some pit in the evening, but in the morning again we see him from the same place. How does he jump from the west to the east?” Children think that sun must be jumping in the night when they are fast asleep. One boy gave this answer. I asked him, “How does the sun again come from the east?” “He must be coming suddenly in the night when we are asleep, and so in the morning he is again starting his drama.” These are questions which occur to children’s minds: “Why does the sun not fall on our heads? There is no support in the sky. The stars, the moon and the sun are all hanging in empty space, without any support. Why do they not fall on our heads?” We may put such questions, and easy answers do not come: “From where have I come?” “Where was I before I came to this world?” “My father has died, my mother has died. I see so many people dying. Where have they gone?” These questions arise in our minds, and we cannot find an easy answer.
These are the difficulties of a philosophic mind. It cannot be easily satisfied with mere perceptions of things. We see a man dying, and the matter is over. He has gone. But the philosophic mind cannot be satisfied merely with seeing somebody going. “Where does he go?” “What happens to that person that has gone?” “From where has that person come?” “What is the reason why we cannot even know our own future the next moment?” “What is this big world around us?” “From where has it come?” “Who made it?” “Or has nobody made it, and it is just there as it was?” These questions require an answer. “Does the world exist as it is?” “Is it its own creator?” “Or does it have no creator?” “Has somebody made it?” “If somebody has made it, where is that somebody?” These are also some questions that occur to minds, and we cannot easily get an answer to these questions.
When we feel that we cannot receive answers to any important question in life, we feel miserable indeed. It is worse than being in a concentration camp. “What is going to happen to me?” “Where am I?” “And why am I here?” Oh! We cannot rest, we cannot sleep, and it is impossible for us to have a moment’s peace. Thus, a truly philosophic mind cannot rest in peace until it gets an ultimate irrefutable answer – not to one or two questions only, but to every question pertaining to every type of existence.
These are the philosophic minds, and you know the difference between a philosophic way of thinking and a commonsense way of thinking. Do you believe that it is necessary to know the reason behind things? Or will you be satisfied by merely reacting to phenomena or events that occur outside? Why is there a curiosity to know things? “What is there above?” “If I go up, what will I see?” “Suppose I soar high above, ten million kilometres above, what will I see?” “If I go further above, what will I see?” You will feel giddy in your head. No answer will come. “If I go down and down, what will I see?” We cannot say these are silly questions. These are things which will keep us agonised that there are things in life which we cannot understand.
Are there things which we cannot understand? If that is so, there must be a reason why we cannot understand. Again, the philosophic mind presses itself forward. “Why should I not know all things?” “Why am I kept in this ignorant condition that I cannot know anything, finally – though apparently, it appears all things are fine? I have a good house to live in, a soft bed to sleep on, and nice dishes to eat.” These are satisfactory things, no doubt, but a philosophic mind cannot be satisfied with a soft bed, a bungalow or any kind of physical comfort, because it knows that these cannot stand for long. They may not even be there the next day.