by Swami Krishnananda
The conditions of life, whose basic characteristics I tried to expatiate upon on in the previous talk, would logically and necessarily direct us to a study and investigation into the causes of the experiences we are undergoing in life. Why should things be as they are? Why are we what we are today? And what could be the reason behind our inner impulsion to search and to quest for solutions of difficulties – obviating problems? And, what could be the reason behind our restlessness, our endless asking for endless things? What is the mystery of life? What is it that man is aspiring for? Towards what is the universe moving finally? What is the secret behind human history?
Are these questions capable of being answered? Whether or not they are capable of being answered under normal conditions, they have to be answered one day or the other. If they cannot be answered at all, they cannot arise in our minds. Totally impossible things do not occur to the minds of man. The occurrence of possibilities as ideas, or even merely concepts, should act as a great consolation to us that these possibilities have to be actualities under other conditions. In the present condition of our thinking and living, certain aspirations of ours may not appear to be capable of being fulfilled; but our asking is itself an answer to this asking. How could we ask for a thing which is impossible? Even if we want to catch the moon, if this asking is a sincere longing from within us, there should be some way, at least as a remote possibility, of contacting even such a distant object like the moon. Perhaps a human longing, surging from the heart, defies everything that can be called an impossibility. There is perhaps nothing impossible finally, under given conditions, though it may not look like that under existing circumstances.
If you remember the few words I spoke to you last time, you may perhaps have gathered that we, as human beings, live in two worlds at the same time – a world of actual experience, and another world of possible experience. There is something we are undergoing, and there is something else which is possible for us, and all our efforts are towards the actualisation of this so-called remote possibility. All the efforts of mankind, right from the beginning of history, should be considered as an unremitted effort for the materialisation of possible values – to bring the ideal into the real realm of experience. Here is the beginning of what we may call philosophical study or even the foundations of yoga practice, because yoga is based on a deep philosophical foundation. Our studies in this course will, therefore, comprise the systematic investigation into the very rock bottom of human experience, which is what is called philosophy, and the instruments of action that we may have to employ for the purpose of our expected achievement, which we may call a study of psychology, and the subject matter proper which seems to be in our minds, namely, the practice of yoga. What we call yoga practice is the fine fruit which has to be churned from this widespread tree of the total life of man – of everybody – arisen out of the root of a deep philosophical perspective of all existence.
To continue from where we left last time, the question that we posed before ourselves was, how do we know anything at all? How does anyone know that there is a world outside? And how is it that this inscrutable knowledge or perception of a thing called a world outside sits so tightly upon our minds that we have taken it for the whole of reality, and for us the reality is nothing but this world and our involvement in it? How come this predicament? Our involvement in the world arises on account of our giving a value to the world, which again is a consequence of our perception of the world as a truly existent something. How have we driven ourselves to the conviction that there is a world outside us? This has been taken by everyone as a hypothesis, and is something which is taken for granted.
The sceptical mind, the scientific outlook, which always seem to be very logical in its approach, is rooted finally in something which cannot itself be proved – namely, the world that is there outside us. We cannot prove that there is a world outside, while we expect everything else to be proved. How is it that we are compelled to accept the existence of something whose reality is not capable of logical proof? Here again we come to a dual aspect operating in our own nature – the logical and also the super-logical. While we are very logical and scientific, and even mathematical, in our outlook and enterprises in life, the very base of our conviction is itself not logical because there is no logic behind the existence of the world. It is there, and there the matter ends. We have to take it for what it is. But why should we be forced to accept the existence of a world as it appears to our eyes or our senses, while we want logic and mathematics for everything else?
This impulse from within us compelling us to accept the existence of a world outside as a reality, in itself arises out of a nature which is super-natural. There is something in us which is not merely natural, not merely logical or intellectual. We are not merely arithmetic, geometry, algebra, logic. There is something in us which is beyond all these methods we employ in conducting our enterprises in life. Man is not merely empirical; he is also trans-empirical. He is not exhausted in this world. He also belongs to some other realm; else, questions concerning the other world or something beyond this world cannot arise in the mind. These are conclusions that we deduce from the implications of certain experiences that we are passing through in this world.
Philosophy is a study of implications of experience, and thus it differs from science. Science is concerned only with sensory experience, which has to be corroborated by intellectual analysis, but philosophy is not merely a study of experience; it also deeply studies the suggestions that are imbedded beneath the experiences of mankind. There is something called ‘reading between the lines’. If we read only the lines, it is science; but if we are able to read between the lines and grasp what is implied, suggested and hidden, then we are philosophers. Now our perception or knowledge of the world – which we all take for granted that it is actually there – is to be studied. The question of how we know anything at all is the beginning of philosophy, and the answer to this question has come from various sources. The schools of philosophy, the systems of thought throughout the world, are man’s attempts to answer this question.
What is knowledge? What do we mean by knowing anything at all? What is our concept of the process of knowledge? When we say, “I know this,” what do we actually mean in our minds? “I know that there is a pillar in front of me.” When I make this statement, what do I actually mean? Can I explain myself in greater detail? The pillar is not me and I am not the pillar, but I know that there is a pillar in front of me. How do I know that there is a pillar, and what do I mean by ‘knowing’ that there is a pillar? This simple instance of the procedure of knowing a simple thing like a pillar in front of us, will answer the question of any type of knowledge of the whole universe itself. From one instance we can extend the conclusion to all instances that are practicable in life.
Knowledge of an object outside, whether it is a pillar or any human being – or anything, for the matter of that – is a very intriguing procedure. It is a very complicated process, and not as simple as it appears on the surface. We cannot define the word ‘knowledge’ by looking into dictionaries. Dictionaries give synonyms which perhaps tell us that knowing means being aware of, understanding, comprehending, being conscious of, apprehending. These may be our thesaurus ideas, dictionary meanings, all of which do not take us far. Whatever be the substitute of a word that we use to describe the process of knowing, the intriguing feature behind it remains forever.
We are not here only to know the dictionary meaning of the word ‘knowledge’. What is actually happening when we know an object? Such a philosophical procedure is something to which mankind is not accustomed. We are not used to thinking like this. We are not interested in these questions, because we can get on in life merely by imagining that there is something in front of us, whatever be the way in which we have come to this conclusion that there is something in front. Why unnecessarily go into answering difficult questions which do not concern us in practical life? This is the ordinary man’s approach. But a philosopher is not an ordinary man. He cannot be satisfied if he feels there is something which he cannot understand. Ignorance is a great sorrow. We do not like to be idiotic, and we never want to feel that there is something which we cannot know. We want to probe into it. There is a curiosity in the mind of man. There is a pressure from within us to know everything. We do not want there to be something that we do not know. It irks us, and we cannot sleep. What is it? “This is something I cannot understand. It must be known.” So we go exploring, investigating, and delving deep into things so that we can sleep well with the satisfaction that there is nothing which has defied our understanding. We do not wish to be defeated by the world; that is a sorrow to us. “I have been exploited, defeated, thrown out, and there is something which has been hidden from my view. This I do not want.” Nothing should be hidden from our mental vision, and we want to know everything. This is a philosopher’s attitude.
Now, about philosophy in general. By philosophy, I do not mean any particular school of thought. I mean a general philosophic attitude of the impulsion from within the human mind to know all existence at one stroke. From this point of view of the definition of philosophy as a general enterprise of mankind as a whole, the process of knowledge seems to be a kind of involvement of the knower with the object of knowledge. We are somehow involved in some way in that object, without which fact or feature, we cannot explain how an object is known at all. It may be a brick pillar or it may be the whole universe; whatever be that content of our knowledge, unless we are involved in the object in some intimate manner, we cannot know it. So knowledge of anything is an involvement in that thing which we know.
The word ‘involvement’ is something very interesting for us to investigate into. What do we mean by involvement? We seem to be moving from one difficulty to another difficulty. We know what involvement is. “I am very much involved in this,” we sometimes say. When we make a statement like this, we know what we mean. We are part and parcel of that in which we say we are involved. I am not totally outside that in which I am involved. “I am involved in this mess. I am involved in this situation. I am involved with this person, in this litigation, in this, in that.” When we say we are involved, we mean that particular content – that object, that circumstance, that person, that thing – has become part of our nature. That is what we mean by saying that we are involved in it, which means, again, that that particular thing in which we are involved is not an outside object entirely.
First of all, we began by saying that we know an object. Now we seem to be heading towards some strange conclusion that it cannot be entirely an object in the sense of a totally isolated thing from us; and if it had been a totally isolated thing, there would be no involvement, and if there is no involvement, there is no knowing it. So the fact of knowing a thing, having an involvement in it, necessitating an organic connection with it, shows that it is not really a totally separated object. Thus, the so-called object of our knowledge is not to be called an object literally. We may call it an object for practical purposes, but really it is not. The father and son are two different individuals. For all practical purposes, one is an object of the other in the sense that one can see the other, but the involvement of one in the other is such that in secret, personal, private life at home, they cannot treat each other as objects. Physically, they may look like objects of each other, but in many other ways they are not objects.
Human involvement, emotional involvement, intellectual involvement, social, political involvement, whatever be the involvement, is nothing but an organic entering into the very circumstance and existence of that thing, so that it is no more a thing, and anything that happens to that thing, happens to us. The world is revealed before us gradually as something which is not totally cut off from us. If it is totally cut off, we cannot be involved in it; we are not concerned with it. Why should I become concerned with that which has no relation to me in any way? We are very much concerned with the world, with every little bit of things. If that concern were not there, there would be no problem of existence. All problems of life, all issues arising out of life, are results of an unavoidable involvement in life, which is involvement in the world. Therefore, we cannot regard the world as something totally unconnected with us. It is part of us.