The Philosophy of Religion
by Swami Krishnananda


Chapter 11: The Way of Reason

The Yoga of Understanding

Among the meditations that are possible, one set goes by the name of philosophical affirmations. The understanding expands itself to the dimension of a universal presence. Here, understanding is the same as meditation (Jnana yoga). To understand is to be, and to be is to understand. This does not mean the empirical intellect working through the complex of space and time, but a superior reason which overcomes these limitations, and is the presupposition, the very background of the phenomenal intellect conditioned by space, time and causation.

Meditations Establishing the Existence of God

The limitations to which the intellect of man is subject are known by a peculiar sense in him, to designate which there is no proper word in the language. It has been often held by philosophers that the intellect is limited, that the phenomenal understanding is conditioned. But who makes this statement? How does one become aware of the limitations of one's own self? How is it possible for anyone to be aware of the logical boundaries which the intellect can reach, unless there is something which transcends the intellect, and is capable of overstepping the limitations? In deep philosophical analysis, man outgrows himself, and works through a sense which cannot be equated with the psychic operations, whether intellectual, volitional or emotional. This higher reason is the pure, illuminated understanding, to be distinguished from the ordinary understanding confined to space, time and cause. It is a presupposition which can be inferred as being there and operating, but cannot be cognised by the mental faculties. The consciousness of finitude cannot itself be a part of the finite world. If the consciousness of finitude were also within the finite universe, there could not be any such thing as a consciousness of finitude. Man is aware that he is finite, and this awareness that enables him to cognise finitude is an indication of a superior element in him, which, perhaps, speaks in the language of the Infinite.

Apart from this interesting discovery, there is also the phenomenon of change that is daily observed in the world. Everything is transitional, momentary and passing. Philosophers have never been tired of telling us that the world is a phenomenon and not the finale of things. The recognition of the fact that the world is a passing show is the act of a superior faculty, which itself cannot pass with the passing changes. Change can be seen only by a changeless something. That which changes cannot itself recognise that it changes. The contingent nature of things, or the relative character of the world, presupposes the non-contingent, or the non-conditional. This reasoning is designated as argumentum contingentia mundi, the argument on the basis of the contingent nature of things.

It cannot be said that the world is self-subsistent, because that which is self-sufficient and self-contained cannot aspire for transcending itself in another nature. There cannot be movement of a thing which is self-perfect. Every action, every movement, and every urge to become another thing is to be equated with a sense of limitation felt in oneself. This urge within man, and the urge of a similar nature seen in all things, should indicate that nothing in the world is self-sufficient. Thus, the transitory nature of the world, and the restlessness characteristic of all things, should, again, be an indication of the goal of life being transcendent to things in the world, which are of the nature of an effect.

Every effect has a cause, and the nature of the effect is to move towards the cause. That the world is an effect is demonstrated by its daily movements, the very fact of the evolution of the universe. There cannot be evolution of anything, unless it is transitory and is characterised by a tendency to move to something which is beyond itself. That is why, again, it is held that the cause of the world cannot be within the world. The world is of the nature of a momentary effect; therefore the cause should be transcendent to it, which means to say that it should be outside the world – outside, not in the sense of a spatial separation from the world, but a logical precedence. God should be logically prior to the world which is the effect. When God is said to be transcendent and beyond the world, it does not mean that God is sitting above in the skies. God's creatorship is a logical presupposition, and not a spatial transcendence, or a location in some distant atmosphere.

There is also a feeling in everyone and everything to gather more and more of status to oneself. The status in which one finds oneself is always found to be insufficient. Everything grows, and everything has a tendency to grow, to increase, and to expand. Man asks for more and more of everything, and never gets satisfied with whatever is supplied to him. This asking for a 'more' should end in a culmination, which, too, indicates that this culmination should exist. There cannot be aspiration for a thing which is nowhere. If human aspirations have a meaning, what they suggest should also have a meaning. If we feel that our aspirations actually exist and that they are not merely apparitions, then that which they seek should be there as a reality, because thought cannot operate in non-existence.

The perfection that one sees in the world, the method with which Nature works, and the precision which one can see in the operation of all things, is regarded as the teleological argument for the existence of God. The exactness, the minutiae, and the perfection with which anything in Nature works is incomparable. The beautiful arrangement of the parts into the wholeness of Nature cannot be explained unless there is something which brings about this arrangement. The parts cannot be connected together into the pattern of a whole without a permeating presence bringing together all the parts into their completeness. One part cannot associate itself with another, because the one is different from the other. There cannot be any such thing as association of one thing with another thing in this world. There cannot be a coordination of one individual with another individual if some element does not operate as a cementing link between things. One finds that everywhere such an association is recognisable – in human beings, in animals, in plants, and even in inanimate structures. Everything tends towards everything else. This is what one observes everywhere. In the astronomical universe, there is the law of gravitation; in the social world, there is the law of organisation; in the mental world, there is the sanity of coherence in thought which hinges into a living whole the variety in mental functions. The principle of affection or love that one psychologically demonstrates in one's life is again an indication of the impossibility to exist without mutual relationship. How can there be relationship of anything unless there is a presupposition of that which transcends the distinctions obtaining between the parts or the individualities? This universal power of cohesion is termed God. The very existence of the universe in the way it works should be adequate demonstration of God's glory.

The fact that one is aware that someone or something is in front of oneself proves that God exists, because the awareness of the presence of an object by a subject is made possible by the functioning of a principle which operates beyond the limitations of the subject and the object.

The Ontological Argument and Its Presuppositions

There is a poignant question which many have raised as to the way in which philosophy can contemplate God. God has been defined as Existence, and He cannot be conceived in any other manner, because to attribute to God any other characteristic would be to transfer the transitory qualities of the world to Eternity. No one can clearly say what God is. To define Him would be to limit Him to the visible nature of the world. To say anything would be to define, and to define would be to limit. Every definition is a limitation of the object defined. It segregates the characteristics of a particular object from those which do not belong to it. But there are no qualities which do not belong to God. Everything is in Him, and He is the repository or the supreme abundance of anything that can be thought of in the mind. Definition fails here, because definition limits, and God is limitless. Thus, the ontological position of God's being becomes the supreme object of meditation by consciousness, which also has an ontological status.

The idea of God in man is a mystery. It cannot be explained how this idea arises, because human nature is limited to every kind of finitude. There is nothing that does not limit man. He is hemmed in physically, psychologically, socially, and politically, and is spatio-temporally conditioned. Under these circumstances, it is unthinkable that the idea of a transcendent being should occur to him. A totally brainwashed individual cannot go outside the limits of the prescribed conditions. But there is something struggling within man even in the midst of these handicaps, which asserts relentlessly the presence of something beyond him, and which cannot be equated with anything that is seen, or heard, or even thought normally. Though the presence cannot be defined, cannot be characterised in any specified way, there is some weird haunting which keeps everyone perpetually seeking through every desire, aspiration, or activity. Man tends to a larger and larger expansion of the area of his being through his vocations, through his thoughts, feelings and efforts, of every kind. There is only one thing that we seem to be endeavouring to achieve in life – viz., to expand the area of our existence. Dictators work hard; totalitarian governments try to impose themselves on other individuals subject to them. There is a desire to dominate over everything, a psychological fever which cannot brook any limitation imposed upon it by the existence of other finites external to it.

The idea of God is the idea of perfection, the idea of limitlessness, the idea of the infinite, the idea of the immortal and the eternal. These ideas cannot arise under the conditions of space, time and causal limitations, the world of births and deaths. It has to be inferred by a severe logic that man does not entirely belong to the phenomenal world. He is a citizen of two realms, perhaps, partly belonging to this world, and partly to another realm which is different in order. He is not involved in phenomena wholly. Hence phenomena do not satisfy him. Else, he would have been contented with the things of the world. But nothing satisfies him. Contentment is unknown to man. No one who was wholly contented was born into this world. Man departs with a discontent. Discontentment would be unimaginable if he were to be wholly involved in the world of Nature. The asking for the unlimited, which is the main impulse in everyone, this great asking or seeking, has to arise from a source and centre which cannot belong to this world.

This novel idea has become the subject of a variety of discussions in philosophical circles. The consequences following from this idea have managed to elude the grasp of commonsense. Such an idea as this cannot be an object of sense. It does not arise by the operations of the senses in respect of the world. We do not see things and then begin to entertain this idea, because there is nothing in the world which can evoke such an idea in the mind. Nothing seen can be regarded as a source of this idea. The idea should be a priori, as they call it; i.e., it must be inherent in man. The things of the world cannot contribute anything to the generation of this thought in the human mind. As this idea is associated with All-Being, the Being which comprehends all things, its affirmation becomes a conscious acceptance of the totality of existence. In scriptures like the Yoga-Vasishtha, a type of meditation of this kind is called Brahma-Bhavana, which is the assertion of absoluteness free from all relative associations.

Brahman is the Absolute, and one cannot meditate on Brahman, because it is inclusive of even the meditator himself. Man cannot meditate on God because God includes the human location. Thus, to endeavour to meditate on the omnipresence of God would be a simultaneous attempt to abolish one's own individual existence. When God is, man ceases to be. This is a subtle result that would insinuate itself into the effort at meditation on the supremacy of All-Being. God, thus, ceases to be an object of individual contemplation. God is the Supreme Subject which contemplates Itself as the All. One, generally, regards oneself as the subject, and what is contemplated upon as the object. But in the case of God, conceived in the true sense of the term, the meditating consciousness affiliates itself with the object in such an intimate manner that in this inward association of the meditator with the object of meditation it would appear that the object itself is in a state of meditation. In a heightened form of meditation in this way, the meditating spirit enters into the body of the object with such force that it dissolves itself in the object, as rivers melt down in the ocean. In a sense, it may be said that no one is meditating on God, because that someone is a part of God's all-comprehensive Being. Then, who would do the meditation? When one goes deep into this investigative spirit, it would be realised that it is a meditation with which God is bathing Himself. It is God becoming conscious of Himself, or the universe getting illumined into its own self-conscious attitude. One cannot distinguish between the universe and God in the ultimate sense. The distinction has arisen on account of our maintaining an individuality of our own as physical bodies, social units, psychological egos, etc.

The Yoga-Vasishtha tells us that the highest form of meditation is an inward affirmation of the cosmic presence of Brahman. This is what is known as Brahma-Abhyasa. The form which the mind takes in this meditation is known as Brahmakara-Vritti, the psychosis which assumes the form of the cosmic substance. An ordinary psychological operation is called Vishayakara-Vritti, or the object-oriented psyche. In Brahmakara-Vritti the object outside becomes a part of the Cosmic Subject. Here, the mind assumes the largest possible status of itself. Its dimension reaches the utmost logical limits. The mind cannot exist without an object before it. The existence of the mind is the existence of the object. In fact, the mind is only a name that is given to consciousness contemplating something outside itself. When consciousness is aware of an object, it is called mind. The mind cannot be there if the object is not there. What happens to the mind in meditation? It gets withdrawn into consciousness. The Vishayakara-Vritti, or the objectified consciousness, becomes universalised consciousness, which is Brahmakara-Vritti. Then it no more exists as a mental function. There is no operation of any kind, because all operations are forms of externalised awareness. It is consciousness assuming a cosmic form and affirming its status as such when Brahman becomes its content. Since, here, consciousness has no object outside it, there is no perceptional or epistemological activity. Consciousness is aware of itself, and in being aware of itself, it is aware of all things; and to be aware of all things is to be aware of itself (Tat-tvam-asi).

In this comprehensive attitude of consciousness, it becomes the very principle of intelligence pervading the whole universe. This supreme principle operating everywhere is what is designated as the Virat-Purusha, or the Universal Person. In the Bhagavadgita, there is a description of the Virat, when it is told that Lord Krishna assumed the cosmic form. This is the form which consciousness takes when it permeates and enters into every fibre of creation. The universe does not any more exist as a conglomeration of particulars or as objects of sense. It stands transfigured as a whole in the totality of cosmic subjectivity. This Total Subject envisaging the Total Object is known as Ishvara-consciousness, or God-Awareness, the original creative performance of the Almighty. One has to humbly try to induce into oneself this awareness in deep meditation. Meditation is our graduated participation in the consciousness of this enveloping fullness. It is achieved by degrees. The divine consciousness manifests itself in stages in the evolutionary processes of the universe. Even the little individual mind here, as a person, is a degree of that very consciousness. But here, in the case of man, it has descended to so low a state that it has identified itself with the physical form and is unable to feel its presence in other forms. The all-pervading consciousness has come down to the physical forms and has become individual bodies and objects. The lowest descent has taken such a morbid shape that it cannot recognise its kinship with the rest of the world. It has got tied up to the four walls of this tiny body and it cannot visualise itself in other such bodies. But, though it cannot consciously feel its presence in others, yet, subconsciously, or unconsciously, it is pulled towards other things, for it is, after all, present there at the invisible depths and centres of things. Consciousness cannot be destroyed; it is immortal and undividedly present. The unconscious pull exerted by its own presence in other things is the reason behind attractions, affections, loves and spirits of organisation in creation, from the lowest forms of the gyration of the atoms to the galaxies that spin through endless space.

These are some of the ways of philosophical meditation and rational enquiry. There are other types of meditation still, from which a few have been selected here as specimens of the attainments of reason, where all the faculties get gathered up into a single insight capable of an unparalleled togetherness of perception.

Stages of Knowledge

It is said in the Yoga-Vasishtha that in the earliest stage of knowledge there is an inward inclination for search after truth. The state of mind where this eagerness to search itself is not there cannot be regarded as one of any understanding. It is not believed that animals and plants have an inclination in the direction of a quest for truth. Self-consciousness, as it is available in the human level, is not supposed to be manifest in the lower kingdoms, the animal, the plant and the mineral. It is only at the human stage that discrimination is supposed to dawn, because self-consciousness is at the same time a capacity to discriminate and distinguish between what is proper and what is improper, and what is real and what is unreal. But it does not mean that every human being is in search of truth. When one speaks of a human being the reference is to the species. The anthropological study of mankind will reveal that it is not true that everyone belonging to the human species is in a uniform state of awareness. While all can be regarded as men, some are, in fact, animal-men. They think like animals, though they have two legs and they belong to the human species. The animal-man is perhaps the state of the Homo sapiens risen immediately above the animal level with traces of the animal still left, and at that stage man thinks like the beast with an intensity of selfishness gone to the extreme, with a desire to grab and destroy and consume and with no consideration for others absolutely. This is the lowest state in which man can be evaluated. But there are superior individuals who have risen above the animal level, yet are intensely selfish nevertheless, who may be good to anyone only if the other is good to them, but bad if the other is bad to them. They are men of the 'tit-for-tat' attitude, and, here, again, the turbidity of the mind persists. But man has to rise to the still higher level where he metes out only good to the other and cognises not the bad element. The good man is one who does good always, under every condition, and is not conditionally good. Beyond the good man is the saintly man, and still above, the Godman, whatever be our description of such a state of illumination.

It is only in the later stages of evolution that the spirit of search rises and fructifies in experience, firstly as a wish to be good. This is regarded as the first stage in knowledge. When man is not satisfied with the things of the world, when he begins to feel that there is something missing here, and that there ought to be a state of living superior to the earthly forms of life, and is eager to know what is behind this world, then he is in the first stage of knowledge (Subhechha).

When the enquiring spirit dawns, one does not merely rest with this spirit, he tries to work for its manifestation in practical life. One would run about here and there and try to find out how he can materialise this longing and make it a part of his living routine. Man, then, becomes a philosopher. A philosopher is in the second stage of knowledge (Vicharana). He employs his reasoning capacity and works through his logical acumen, trying to make sense out of this inward spirit of search for truth, and he utilises his whole life in study and analysis of the nature of things.

In the third stage, man becomes a truly spiritual seeker. He does not remain a professor of philosophy or an academic seeker in the metaphysical sense, but a seeker in the practical field. He begins to practise knowledge and does not remain merely in a state of searching for it. The mind is gradually thinned out of all its jarring elements and it recognises no value in life except a unitive insight into truth. Practice is the motto of the seeker. He does things, and is not content to imagine them. This is the third stage of knowledge where one starts actually doing things, because he has already risen above the state of conceptualisation, rational study and philosophising. The mind is thinned out of desires for the external (Tanumanasi).

The fourth stage of knowledge is supposed to be that state when there are flashes of the divine light appearing before the meditative consciousness like streaks of lightning (Sattvapatti). It is not a continued vision, but a passing state of exaltation. A flash does not continue for a long time. It manifests itself suddenly for a second and then vanishes as an intense beam of light. This is the fourth state of consciousness, regarded as the first stage of realisation.

The fourth stage of knowledge mentioned is considered to be the initial indication of God coming. The earlier three are only stages of search and practice. The fourth is the first encounter with the supramundane. The condition of this first stage of realisation or the fourth stage of knowledge is designated as the condition of the Brahmavit, or knower of reality, where one begins to see, actually, what is there, rather than merely think intellectually or imagine in the mind.

Then the fifth stage is described as a higher realm still, where on account of the immense joy one experiences beyond description, one is automatically detached from all objective contacts of sense (Asamsakti). One does not 'practise' renunciation here. One is spontaneously relieved of all longings in the same way as when one wakes up from dream there is no longing for the wealth of the dream world. There are no more realities outside, even as the objects of dream are no more realities to one who is awake.

In the sixth stage, the seeking soul becomes a Godman, a veritable divinity moving on earth, where the world is no more before him but the blaze of the all-enveloping creative spirit spread out in its splendour and glory. He sees the substance of the world and not merely the form and the name. He beholds the forms but as constituting a single interconnected whole. The veil of space and time is lifted. The conditioning factors, earlier known as space, time and cause, and the internal empirical relationships, get transcended. One enters into the heart of all things, the selfhood of every being. Light commingles with light. As a candle flame may join a candle flame, the self gets attuned to the Universal Self. Here it is not a beholding through the senses or even a thinking by the mind, but being, as such. The materiality of the world vanishes (Padarthabhavana). The world then shines as a radiance and as delight. Earlier it was iron; now it is gold. The world does not really vanish, but it has become now a different thing. It has no form; it is a mass of brilliance. The objectness of the objects has gone; the externality of things is no more; space and time do not exist; one does not 'see' things, for one has 'become' things. And, still, there is a higher communion.

The seventh stage is not a stage of beholding anything at all. There is no beholder any more. The seer is not dissociated from the seen. There is nothing to act as a bar or a distinguishing line between the subject and the object. The universe no more stands there as an object of experience, it is the Subject of All-Experience. Here, the Universal Spirit is what it is; none is there to know it, or experience it. It is experience pure. It is experience itself, not an experience of something. Nothing can be said about it, for there is none to say anything. This is the final attainment (Turiya).

The seventh stage is also called, sometimes, 'liberation while living' (Jivanmukti). The body may be there, but it is no more a body for the knower. What a liberated soul feels, no one else can understand. There is no standard by which one can judge that person. The state is beyond imagination. What happens to the soul in liberation, one has no means to measure or convey. The Goal of life is reached.