Essays in Life and Eternity
by Swami Krishnananda


PART IV: REGARDING JUSTICE, JUDGMENT AND HUMAN SOLIDARITY

Chapter 43: Concerning Inter-Philosophical Dialogue and International Understanding

Since ideals rule speech and action, it stands to reason that life is moulded by one's outlook of life, as things take the shape of the crucible into which they are cast. Mutual relation among people being an indispensable factor in personal as well as social life, mutual concern follows automatically as a consequence of this unavoidable structure of humanity. To have concern for another is to be able to appreciate the circumstances of the life of the other, and to share adequately in the conditions of life in general. The determining factors of life are also the deciding issues in the survival of humanity. In a mood of historical stress it may be held for a while that economic conditions determine the lives of people, but it is also apparent that there would be no economic conditions if there are no people involved in those conditions. It would be futile to identify the human being with material forces, an offshoot of which is the economic set-up made much of many a time under the exigencies of overweight on one side of the balance of social existence, brought about sometimes by peculiar historical and political conditions. It cannot be said that these stages in human history are the permanent values of life, because they pass away, giving way to newer conditions. But man, the human being, has an element of consistency not capable of being swept away so easily as the commonly observed procedure of the temporal march of world history. It does not mean that man lives only for food and drink, clothing and shelter, and even necessary physical security at its best, which are summed up broadly in the so-called economic conditions, though they are absolutely necessary aspects of physical existence. But is man only physical, a concatenation of material, the components of physical nature? Is mental peace identical with material possession or social status? The hopes of man do not give him rest, since the dimensions of his personality seem to cross the borders of material needs and social relations. Often his inner being seems to be looking up to the skies, the starry heavens, where he would like to seek his abode of a less articulated but more pressing satisfaction, of not only possession, but also the character of endurance. What is the length of the period of life of an economically secure person who has absolutely no complaint against prevailing conditions? The phenomenon of death is not a metaphor or a fairy-tale which well-established economic conditions can ignore and to which they can afford to pay scant respect. If 'sceptre and crown tumble down,' and king and beggar lick the same dust of the earth as the crowning glory that ends their lives, the vainglorious conclusion that military power, economic conditions and industrial advancement are the fruits of progress may have to be shed as early as possible.

The survival of humanity seems to be more in mutual understanding and feelingful appreciation than money or power, or anything of that kind. The question is: What are the conditions which would enable one person to appreciate another? Even Cain could not love Abel, and he told God that 'he is not his brother's keeper.' But if we are not our brothers' keepers, and if this analogy is a description of the fate of man, mutual love and regard would be less real than a chimera. The whole situation is that man is not merely a brother of another man whom he can keep or reject at his will, but every man is potentially more than a brother or a friend in the social sense. The permanency of values and conditions of life in general, which everyone hopes for, cannot be attributed to conditions of the physical body, for brotherly feeling is not a relation between masses of matter. That mental conditions and psychological circumstances rule life more than other obvious factors needs no special mention. Happiness is an intriguing and not easily describable fact of life, and it is difficult to know where it actually lies. Since external conditions are subject to natural changes, nothing in the world which is wholly external to man can be said to be the source of his happiness. Even one's body is not a reliable source of satisfaction, as it can pass away as anything else can pass away. If Nature as a whole is a process of transmutation, and history is a movement of ups and downs of the governing forces of all life, if the body itself is not a permanent associate, then where does happiness lie, for the sake of which it is that everything is endeavoured to be done and the world is so busy from creation onwards ? The indubitability of the presence of something that is more permanent than the visible world of persons and things is too obvious to need reiteration.

Concepts and ideas do not always arise from external occurrences. Modern science tells us that events do not take place in space, and so, perhaps, they do not also take place in time. The modern physical theory of the quantum, especially David Bohm's and John Bell's discovery of simultaneous action and unbroken wholeness in a non-spatial universe, has become an eye-opener recently to all dogmatism of local conditions deciding the values of life or the very meaning of existence. Ideas determine things, and they are more universal than the particular objects in the world. If our thoughts are a balance of coordinated ideas, and feelings commingle in a fraternity of mutual dependence, there would be a greater chance of our survival in the world, and better possibilities of recognising a deeper significance in our existence. We have these days Interfaith Conferences, Inter-cult Organisations, and Inter-religious dialogues undertaken and initiated by well-meaning persons with the purpose of knitting the world together into a fabric of enduring values and secure foundations. However, though cults, creeds and religions are important, and healthy international relations absolutely necessary, all these endeavours and the round-table talks thereon started with noble intentions have mostly been seen to end up with the same fears and reservations which motivated the very enterprise of the conferences. Mere intentions will not do; intentions should also yield the fructification of their purpose.

What is generally known as philosophy is the concept of the final ideal of life, which creeps through the veins of every mental mood, and it finally decides upon what one would like to say or do. There are certain questions of the following category:

  1. What is one's concept of the ultimate aim of life?
  2. What is the view held about the creation of the world?
  3. What is the idea about the true nature of man?
  4. What should be the relation between man and man?
  5. To what extent is the influence exerted in life by:
    1. Reliance on scripture.
    2. Belief in theological traditions.
    3. Concepts of ethics and morality.
    4. Rituals and ceremonies, festivals, diversions and holidays among communities of people?
  6. What is one's idea of a stable political government?
  7. What should be the pattern of an exemplary educational system?
  8. What is the influence exerted by language and the cultural background into which one is born?
  9. What is one's attitude towards other religions, cultures and ways of living?
  10. Why should one exist at all?

These are not merely philosophical questions, but the very bricks of the structure which one would like to build for life in the world.

Philosophy was always, and perhaps even now is, considered as being divided into the Western and the Eastern schools, so that one often speaks of Western philosophy and Eastern philosophy. It is indeed doubtful if 'the twain shall never meet'. The difference between the world views of Plato and Aristotle, between the rationalist block of Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz, and the empirical one of Locke, Berkeley and Hume, between Kant and Hegel, between idealism and realism, is not such an unbridgeable gap as it is unnecessarily made to appear. There can be inter-philosophical dialogue even among the Continental a-priorists and the British a-Posteriorists. It finally amounts to a question of being able to reconcile the two phases of a single fact. Plato's idealism, lifting the region of the archetypes above the world of sense, is not in any way different from Aristotle making a distinction between form and matter. The only point that we have to understand is that the archetypes are as much immanent in the sensory realm as Plato seems to have made them look transcendent; the same is the case with Aristotle's form and matter relation, because the form, while it is potential in matter, is also transcendent, without which feature there would not be the unfolding of form from matter through evolution into pure form, which is, in the end, identical with Plato's 'Idea of the Good.' The Prime Mover of Aristotle, the Unmoved Mover, as he calls it, is the same as the Supreme Idea of Plato. The difference is one of description, epigram, and style of presentation. The dualism of matter and mind that is attributed to Descartes may get mellowed down into a more appreciable inter-relation between them, if only we can go a little deeper into his 'Cogito ergo sum': 'I think, therefore, I am'. The 'I am' is the crucial issue. It would be difficult to believe that Descartes' thought objects to the mutual dependence of the world of matter and the deeper reservoir of consciousness from which the 'I' emanates as an offshoot. The internality of the mind is dependent on the externality of the world, and the externality of the world equally depends on the internality of the cognising mind. Spinoza makes it more clear when he takes the position of matter and mind being two wings of the bird of the Ultimate Substance, the two attributes of the Primary Existence. The windowless monads of Leibniz are saved from their concentration camps by their immortality which frees them from an apparent individualism characteristic of temporality in timeless Eternity, which alone can be immortal beyond time. Also, there would have been no Hegel but for a Kant, though they seem to be antitheses, as between agnosticism and the self-conviction of reason. The interdependence of the phenomenon and the noumenon in Kant's thought, whether known to himself or not, is the point from which Hegel raises his structure of the Absolute Reason, which is, in the end, the only noumenon, or the thing-in-itself. The consciousness of everything being phenomenal repudiates the view that one can know only phenomena. Later thinkers in the West, whether they are Hegelian idealists or Neo-realists, Pragmatists, or theologists have found it necessary to align themselves with the unavoidable necessity to find a common ground from which issues of life rise, and, if 'no man is an island,' no thought, too, can be an island. It is not just that in Carl Jung we have a blend of psychoanalytic thought overstepping the limits of Freud and Adler, but present psychoanalysis has tended to become unavoidably religious and spiritual, stepping over the subliminal layers of the mind, and even the collective unconscious or the common psychological ground of the species. Else, how does one explain the present-day tendency in the world to work for a more secure togetherness of world opinion and human value?

Insofar as the intrinsic relation between Western philosophic thought and the Eastern conception of life is concerned, it does not require much time to note that the foundational thought of Plato, for instance, centred around a Universal Idea, easily corresponds to the Brahman of the Vedanta system, his Demiurge is the Creative Hiranyagarbha, and his World-Soul is the Virat of the Upanishad and Vedanta ideal. The manner in which Plato's world of reality informs the world of opinion, as he describes it, is the same as , the all-pervading Ishvara determining and yet standing above the created beings, who become more and more a tendency to non-being as they descend downward into the realm of sense. The same analogy applies to Aristotle, with his doctrine of form as the soul of matter, which evolves into the Perfect Form, and the world is redeemed by God as things are pulled in the direction of a magnet. Aristotle's, fourfold classification of causation as the 'formal,' 'material,' 'efficient' and 'final,' 'does not in any way dissimilarly correspond to the degrees of reality corresponding to the Absolute (Paramarthika) and relative (Vyavaharika) standpoints envisaged by the philosopher Sankara. The doctrine of the universality of reason, which is the high watermark in Aristotle as well as in Plato, meets in conformity with the great reaches and the heights of rationality on which the Vedanta doctrine is founded. There is no need to go into the almost identical doctrine of Philo and Plotinus of Alexandria in the religious summits that they have reached, and in the manner Plotinus describes the vision of the One in terms of the experiences attributed to souls in Brahmaloka, where each is all and all is each, and everything is everywhere. The ontological argument of St. Anslem and Descartes, wrongly formulated and misunderstood by Kant, is reasonably a proper result that would follow from the affirmation of the 'Cogito ergo sum' of Descartes, if only it is to be interpreted as the Vedanta affirms the indubitability of the 'I' as something which no one can deny or suspect as being there and traces its deeper implications which may not be obvious. The 'henological' argument of St. Thomas Aquinas for the existence of God is the same as the outcome of the degrees of more and more of generalities (samanyas) supposed to reach their pinnacle in the Absolute-General of Brahman as held in the Vedanta. The other arguments for the existence of God adumbrated by St. Thomas are the same as those that one can find in the commentaries of Sankara. The epoch-making contributions of T. H. Green, F. H. Bradley and Bernard Bosanquet are the highest points that Western metaphysics has reached, which astoundingly embrace the Vedanta doctrine of universal existence ruling over the particulars and the specials of the world of experience, though couched specially in the philosophical logic peculiar to Western analytic thought. The trend of Western thought has been individualistic and empiricist, outwardly oriented, active, progressive, and characterised by an onward movement to more and more achievement, while Eastern thought has been considered to be universalist, idealistic, self-poised, perfectionist, emphasising being rather than becoming. This distinction often made, though not without substance, can be overcome in the same way as Continental rationalism and British empiricism can be brought together in a single forum. That geographical conditions and the impact of climate are partly responsible for Western activism and Eastern pacificism is more secondary as a cause than an essential element differentiating Western culture from the Eastern way of life. It is also not that the East is more religious and the West can afford to manage without an inward enthusiasm. The essence of the matter is that apart from geographical and historical circumstances and racial delimitations of behaviour, there is also the accepted view of a cyclic movement of culture which presents different phases in a succession of historical movement. Culture moved from the Babylonian, Assyrian and Egyptian region to Greece and Rome, to Europe, England and America. It is also held that the sun of culture moves from the East to the West. From India and China, which have been the repositories of the most ancient of cultures, culture moved westward to Persia and to the further Western points gradually, culminating in the present-day economic and power blocs of the world, too materialistic, to say the least, but incapable of standing on their legs for long, if it is true that matter has an inherent tendency to overcome externality in an internal search for the universal.

As observed above, present-day Inter-religious and Inter-faith enterprises should necessarily be also Inter-philosophical because of questions of the nature of the final achievement growing out of these efforts. Firstly, the concept of the ultimate purpose of life, though its very existence has been overshadowed by social conditions, has to be accepted as the primary determinant conditioning every effort of man in the world. No one will do anything for nothing. And what is the aim? The lesser aims, such as a comfortable life of economic and political security, may not cut ice before the more basic troubles of life which are not merely political or economic but are largely superphysical, and emanations from the very structure of the universe itself.

In all fairness and without any preconceived notion, it should be admitted that the all-embracing outlook of life, which under historical circumstances goes by the name of Hinduism, as a philosophy and religion of inclusiveness, takes into consideration life's different levels, not only the evolution of life by stages, but also the degrees of outlook in knowledge and experience. Today we have a question of the relation between science and religion, arising due to the assumption that the objectives of science and the aims of religion are irreconcilables. But Hinduism, if it is to be understood in the true spirit of its internal structure and without emphasising peripheral non-essentials, is fully awake to the levels of perception and knowledge available to the human individual. The epistemological background behind the philosophy of such a religion recognises the relative value of sense-perception and rational investigation, observation and experiment, as an acceptable avenue of knowledge, though it holds that direct intuition is the final test of absolutely valid knowledge. Science comes under the field of sense and reason, and Hinduism accepts the value and utility of the findings through these means of knowledge in practical life, provided that they do not contradict the ultimate value of all life, namely, the realisation of universality in direct experience. The manner in which this attitude of religion would affect the life of modern man should, thus, be clear and obvious; that is, the spirit of Hinduism is so accommodating that it does not reject the matter-of-fact value or the practical effectiveness of the findings of modern science. The most interesting outcome of this general outlook of Hinduism is that, in its concept of the degrees of reality, any degree, such as the relation of scientific findings to human life, is part of the total outlook of an integrated philosophy and religion. One should say that Hinduism as a religion and a philosophy introduces a new spirit of positivity and enthusiasm even into the field of physical science, rather than look upon it as something alien to itself.

Why do people differ from one another? This, again, is due to their narrow outlooks of the very purpose of life, which is wrongly limited to body, family, community, language, cultural background, tradition, or over-insistence on the revelatory character of religion. All this adds to the problem of the relationship of the way of living in the world with the idealistic concept of the final aim of existence, because it is seen that while the ideal would be expected to be one of uniformity and freedom from struggle, the world is involved in so much of an opposite character that to bring the two positions into a state of harmony a cosmological scheme may have to be clear before the mind, which unfortunately is not available to the stages in which modern ideologies of philosophy and religion stand in the varied stations of life. Indeed, it would be futile to expect such a uniformly acceptable cosmological scheme which would happily collate the disturbances of practical life with the unitariness and harmony of the ideal to be realised at the end. Though both in Greece and in India the supreme power of reason as a good ambassador of universal life has been recognised, since the degrees in which this reason manifests itself in man are several, one should not expect that all men should think in the same way the world over. The evolution of life is also the evolution of reason and spirit, and the multitudes, the varieties and differences which Nature spreads out in the process have shown that there are upper and lower limits of such degrees, and the world does not contain one thing only but many things. We can, therefore, have a comity of philosophies, religions, faiths, and national requirements, by a broad classification of the general groups of mankind into which they can be classified. But it cannot be that everyone in the world should be forced to think one thought only, whether in respect of the ultimate reality, the creation of the world, social customs and manners, governmental systems, ethics, morality, religion or philosophy. The greatness of man should then be in his capacity to accept that difference in viewpoint is unavoidable but that these differences are capable of being pyramid-like arranged into a structure of wholeness, even as the army will march as a single entity in spite of its being constituted of several levels of function, from the Field Marshal to the soldier on foot. The world has somehow managed to be a unity in variety due to the nature of the way of evolution. We have, perhaps, in these assurances answered the first four questions which were raised in a paragraph above. The remaining issues are such that they may suggest the following solutions:

While religion certainly relies on a scripture, a founder or a prophet, it is essential to note that it is man who has to understand the meaning of the scripture or the teachings of the prophets, for scriptures do not speak by themselves, and teachings do not drop from the skies. The teachings are articulated through the intelligence of man, and their import would be only to that extent as the extent of the inner capacity in man to contain their proclamations. A child, an untutored labourer, a trained specialist or a genius in handling the highest potentials of mind and reason would make out different meanings from the very same scripture or the dictations of the same founder or prophet; else how would we account for a score of apparently divergent understandings of the philosophy and religion of the same scripture or prophet by people, whether they are Hindu, Christian or Muslim? If the Prophet spoke a word, there are dozen different commentaries cropping up from his followers for understanding what was spoken, all which is the outcome of the basic difference in the very structure of human understanding, emotional need, and practical pressure in social life. It is said that either one behaves according to a decided opinion accepted by the majority, due to inability on one's part to decide things for oneself, or one stands above the social multitude and determines things by oneself, exceeding others, not as one person among many but as a principle of understanding capable of sifting and absorbing the views of others in a wider comprehension of the meaning of spiritual, cultural and social welfare. It is well known that man cannot survive by trying to destroy another man due to a disagreement in ideology, because the tendency to hate can act and react upon itself, and if allowed to grow indefinitely will point to the possibility of a universal destruction of value. That hate breeds hate is not merely a moral maxim, but a principle on which Nature works, because what is known as love is the expression of the coordinating activity of the internal composition of Nature in its varied expressions, however vast they may be. It, therefore, stands to reason that love of one's own physical existence to the exclusion of others should expand itself to love of family, community, province, nation, the world, and finally the very universe, of which all the lesser degrees are integrally subsumed parts.

What is good and what is not is not just one tenet that we can expect to form as a fruit dropped from a tree, but the point is a malleable circumstantial conduct which is to be adjusted in terms of the next higher stage of achievement, under the special conditions in which such a decision has to be made. The infinite should permit, indeed, infinite ways of approach, and, like the parable of the blind men and the elephant, life reveals itself as a kaleidoscopic presentation of a numberless variety emanating from a single unit. All this applies to every form of belief – religious, social, economic or political. These essays have been endeavouring to place before people some ideas by which one could collate principles that go to contribute in forming a sagacious system of cooperative existence in terms of its components such as education, cultural progress, economic equity, political administration, religious aspiration, and a philosophical foundation for the substantiation of one's very existence.

It is sometimes held in an over-democratic fashion that religion and politics should be kept apart, under the impression that political life is for the welfare of all and religious life may not be a uniform way of everyone's living. This conception of politics and religion is basically erroneous, because while it is true that religion interpreted wrongly as a family issue or a communal necessity may hinder the way of a peaceful life of people, it is to be remembered that this would be to call a dog a bad name and then try to hang it. Such dichotomous tendencies in a community should not be considered as a true religion, for religion is the aspiration of man for universal existence. How could political security and sound administration be possible without a universally applicable aim before the rationality at the back of the constitution of a governmental system? If politics is the body, religion is the soul of man. How would one keep the body and the soul in two different compartments? Religion is an inner directing principle of life as a whole on whose sanctions national government also have to found themselves if the country is to be not only outwardly secure but also inwardly satisfied and happy. There are no doubt national forms of government which try to make a particular form of religion the rock-bottom of political administration under compulsions of a certain militant religious leadership wanting to make the religion of an ethnic group or a geographical circumstance the religion of the whole world. Unsound as this attitude would be accepted to be even by the protagonists of such a creed, fanaticism which defies all reasonable definition assumes an ownership of wisdom denied to others who are relegated to the realm of the uncultured or even of a lower species in creation. The results of such erupting occurrences in human history are the well-known causes of clashes and wars both in word and deed. People can sometimes co-exists in an apparent state of harmony, not because they love each other equally, but because they fear each other equally. There can be peace born of goodwill or hatred when they mature into a considerable measure of force. The state or the world today as it stands at present may not be far removed from what appears to be the expected follow-up of a misreading of the relation between religious life and political government. While it is true that religion should not interfere with politics, since interference is always obstructive, it is also true that politics has no meaning without an aim before it, which is what is known as the religious ideal. Religion is the reaction of the whole of man in respect of the whole universe. To assume at the very outset that the world and God are two different things would be to strike at the root of there being any meaning at all either in the concept of God or in the possibility of any such thing as world welfare. A life which is without God and without a world to ground itself on would, indeed, be interesting.

To imagine that political government is different from the religious outlook and yet to govern a country on the on the basis of religious traditions or revelations would be to present a view of life which is neither here nor there. How could a thing which is different from another thing influence it, guide it or determine it. Religious fundamentalism, when it becomes the framer of a governmental constitution, may not be fully aware whether it is trying to import God into man, or man into God, drive the unseen into the realm of the seen, or take the seen to the unseen, a strange way of mixing up what is either difficult to understand or not in consonance with the needs of developing human nature. Such a view either wishes to limit the world to its view of God or limit God to its view of the world. On the other hand, a total estrangement of political life into a system of mechanised changes frequently required to be made in the nature of the national consciousness, and the consequent working out of it, would not know whereto it is moving and what it is trying to achieve.

All this is to say that life in the world is not so simple an affair as a temple-worship, a church-going or a bread-and-butter issue merely. Our eyes are not our only friends. Mostly our eyes mislead us and give us a wrong reading of things which they see with the spectacles organic to their structure. Philosophy is an endeavour to rectify the results of mere sense-perception and conclusions drawn on the basis of a mechanistic view of life that follows from the reports of the senses. Sense, reason and intuition form an ascending order in the educational process of right perception. Indian thought corroborates that scripture, reason and direct experience are mutually harmonious. The ladder of ascent from the different forms of the imperfections of the world to the perception which is the avowed aspiration of humanity should consist of elements inclusive not only of all the sides and phases of human nature, but also of the very nature of the universe. To look outward, to behold within, and to wonder at the above are the three channels through which the complete integration that is life attempts to know itself truly.