The Philosophical Foundations of the Religious Consciousness
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 6: The Logical and the Philosophical Stage

Religion began with the authority of the scripture and the prophet, and gradually moved in the direction of a substantiation of religious consciousness in literature,
with heroic poems like the epics, and the genealogical history of the religious teachers as we have it in the Puranas in India, and stabilised itself in the deeper involvements of the spirit of man in its inner relation to God as a Universal Being. Mysticism and internal worship became the culmination of religious experience. Here we have a complete picture of the procedural movement of religious consciousness, we may say, logically or historically. But the various phases through which human history passes present many more features of the human vision of things which waver between one excess and another excess, sometimes going to this extreme and sometimes going to that extreme, on account of the preponderance of the inner needs of the individual caused by conditions which may be political, sociological, geographical, or even by natural circumstances.

Modern times are known for an intensified form of the externalisation of human behaviour involved in technological, scientific and mechanised conceptions of life—that is to say, moving more and more outwardly, distancing oneself from one’s own self, recognising values of life not in one’s own self, but in that which is not one’s own self. Where are the values of life today? They are in machines, they are in money, they are in land and property, they are in national consciousness, they are in the preparation for warfare, and they are in the inward longing to conquer physical nature by an outward movement in space and time. All this indication of the modern-day mind is a counterblast, I may say, to the originally intended religious awareness that took for granted the existence of a God as the Creator of the world, and confirms the necessity to involve oneself in this consciousness of a God ruling over all things, making God-realisation the be-all and end-all of all things.

The word ‘God’ implied and included anything and everything. But these developments of today—which are a rationalisation of human thought, compelling every conclusion to be a necessary corollary of an inductive or a deductive process of argument, and insisting that whatever is real has to be capable of observation and experiment—turned the tables around. Empiricism took a vengeance, as it were, upon the religious aspiration of man, and today we are modernised technological seekers of a reality which has to be confirmed in its nature through observation and logical argument.

Religion had to defend itself against the onslaughts of the pressure exerted on the human mind by sensations and the need for purely sense-oriented methods of proof for the existence of any value that is ultimately final. The first blow came upon God Himself. The doubt was concerning the very meaning that we attach to a thing called God, or the Creative Principle of the universe.

Does God exist? Where are the proofs? All the proofs that people speak of, philosophically or rationalistically, are actually certain conclusions that are expected to be drawn from already assumed hypotheses. The logically thinking mind forgets the fact that hypotheses themselves are not proven facts, because something has to be taken as the basic fundamental assumption in order that we can argue on the basis of that assumption—either arguing from particulars to generals, or from generals to particulars.

Philosophers in all the religions of the world girded up their loins, and intricate metaphysical arguments and defensive processes were worked up in intricate ways, both in Western and Eastern circles. Yesterday I mentioned Saint Thomas Aquinas, who found it necessary to justify the Christian religion by philosophical methods and to advance proofs for the existence of God.

The philosophers’ methods for establishing the existence of God have been mostly classified into five major methods of thinking. What is the proof that something other than the world process really exists? The first argument is simple. It is called the argument from the contingent nature of things. We see that everything in the world is relative, conditioned, limited, finite in all ways, restless in its nature, and has a tendency in itself to overstep its limitations. There is nothing in the world, including human nature, which would not like to break through the finitude in which it is shackled. Is man satisfied with himself? There is no satisfaction. The absence of satisfaction with existing conditions is an inductively argued proposal for there being some state of affairs where finitude can be broken completely. If finitude is the final reality, there would be no consciousness of finitude. We cannot know that we are limited if limitation itself is the final truth. The idea that there is limitation, circumference, boundary, finitude, is a proof indicative enough of there being something that is beyond the boundary. Unless we are aware that there is something beyond the boundary, there would be no knowledge of there being such a thing called boundary. Finitude, limitation, and the changefulness of all things through the process of evolution, suggests that these changes—these ideas of finitude and the experience of limitations of every kind—are sufficient arguments to prove that there is something other than what is finite, other than what changes, other than what is limited. The contingency of all things in the world, right from the atom to the solar system, is a proof for the existence of that which is not involved in the process of nature.

The second argument is known as the henological argument. We ask for more and more things. Whatever we get is not satisfying. If we get something, we want more of it; if we get more of it, we want even more. Where will this ‘more’ end? Unless there is a final cessation of this asking for more, the very idea of asking for more does not have any sense. We cannot have only asking, without getting it. So, there must be a state of affairs where we are getting what we are asking for; and we are asking for more of things, endlessly. Finally there must be a cessation of this asking for more and more of things; and asking for more cannot end until there is an assuming of a limitless possession of every kind of value in the world. Until we reach the Infinite, the asking for more will not cease; therefore, a thing called the Infinite must exist. This is the henological argument.

But there are more famous arguments, such as the well-known ontological, cosmological and teleological arguments, which are the highlights of modern philosophy especially. The ontological argument is that which fixes itself on the nature of Existence itself. There is such a thing called Existence, and everything has to be. Existence is commonly present in everything that we regard as existing, but it is not an existence of this thing or that thing as a table exists, a chair exists, a mountain exists, the Sun exists, the Moon exists, I exist, you exist. The character of Existence seems to be a universally permeating principle, and it is not limited to any particular object. The generality of Existence is the proof of there being such a thing as a consciousness of the generality of Existence. Consciousness has to be there attending on this generality of Existence because if one is unaware of this Existence, it is as good as it not existing at all. So the generality that is attributable to all things should also be a content of consciousness. Therefore, general Existence should be attended with general Consciousness. This is the same as the Absolute Universal Consciousness. It has to be existing.

Apart from that, there is a consciousness in every person of such a thing called the Infinite. We can think of something endless; and the capacity in the human mind to contemplate that which has no boundaries is, again, attended with the consciousness of there being no such thing as boundary. Consciousness is attached to this possibility of there being no boundary to Existence. The boundless character of Existence is, here again, associated with the consciousness thereof. I am conscious of the existence of something which cannot have a boundary. This consciousness cannot stand apart from this boundaryless existence, because that which has no boundary cannot have a consciousness outside itself; and, vice versa, consciousness cannot be outside a boundaryless existence. That which is limitless can associate itself with consciousness only by the factor of identity. Tadatmyata: Consciousness and limitless Existence are identical. We say Sat-Chit: Existence is Consciousness. Therefore, the eternal Infinite, which is the same as Consciousness, must exist. This Pure Being has to be there ontologically—which means to say, finally.

The cosmological argument is the argument from effects to causes. Everything seems to be an effect that is coming from something else. A potter makes a pot, a carpenter makes a table, a mason builds a house, an architect raises a great structure; something happens on account of something else also happening at the same time. There has to be something causing the operation of things in the world. Neither the flow of the river, nor the rise of the Sun, nor the movement of air—no action of nature can be explained unless there is a cause behind it. It may be any kind of cause—physical, astronomical, cosmological, or whatever it be. That there is a cause behind effects is a proof that there must be a final cause for all the effects of the world taken together, because if the effects are scattered hither and thither pell-mell, without any organisation among themselves, there would be no world at all. There would be no universe; there would be a complete chaos.

The conception of a universe which is internally organised within itself is also associated with another conception: of all effects being connected with causes which finally have to merge into one cause only. Otherwise, if there were many final causes, there would be no relationship among them and, again, there would be a chaos of causes. This argument leads to the acceptance of a final cause which has to be universally comprehensive to include within itself every other relative cause. Such a cause has to be there, and it has to be associated with Consciousness. Again, God exists.

Another argument is the teleological argument, which makes out that there is an end and a purpose seen in all things. Purposeless movement is not seen in nature. We do not do anything at all without a purpose, whatever it may be. There is some meaning, some sense of the achievement that is to follow from what we do. The very evolution of the universe seems to be conditioned by a purpose, and we have already seen that there has been evolution from matter to plant, from plant to animal, and from animal to man. There is an apparently visible scheme recognisable in the working of things; and such a scheme—such order, such symmetry, such beautiful precision of working in nature—cannot be accounted for unless there is an intelligence guiding it. There is an architect of the cosmos, just as there is an architect of a huge building. And this architect is responsible for the system, the aesthetic beauty and the presentation in perfect symmetry and order that we see in this world. Such an architect has to be there, and if that architect is not to be accepted, the beauty, symmetry, system, precision and mathematical order that we see in the working of nature cannot be explained. God, therefore, has to exist, the philosophers argue.

There are varieties of philosophies, all arising from a gradational movement of consciousness from sense perception to Pure Consciousness. In India we had the Vaisheshika and Nyaya philosophies, which grounded themselves on pure reason only. They established that there should be a God because even if the world is supposed to be constituted of atoms, as the Vaisheshika and Nyaya hold, these atoms have to be arranged in a particular order, and there should be a juxtaposition of these atoms. One must become two, two must become three, etc., until they form a molecule, and then an organism, and then a large object—which process cannot be accounted for unless there is somebody who does it. There is, therefore, a Maker of all things who is above all things in the world, just as there cannot be a pot unless there is somebody who has made it.

The Vaisheshika and the Nyaya made the mistake of imagining that God exists beyond the world, extra-cosmically, as a potter exists outside the pot, and the carpenter exists outside the table. But can God also be like a carpenter or a potter, above the world? They thought that it has to be this way. God looks at the world from a distance and arranges things according to the needs of the time—as a good architect, a good carpenter, a good potter or a good engineer would organise things.

The difficulty with this concept is that a manifold substance called an atom cannot be accounted for unless there is a necessity to reduce the whole cosmos into a multiplicity of such a character as atoms. Where comes the necessity at all? If ultimately they have to be organised into a single organism and made one whole so that the world may look single, what is the purpose of dividing them into little bits and then wanting to organise them into a whole once again?

Apart from this difficulty, there is the difficulty of the relation between God and the world. What is the connection between the potter and the pot? There is absolutely no connection. The pot is made and the potter goes away somewhere, unconcerned with what is happening to the pot. Is the God of the universe like the potter? Does He create the world and then is not concerned with it? God seems to have a great concern. He does not merely create the world, He also sustains it. The sustaining principle that is associated with God, together with creativity, implies that He has a hand in the operation of the world. But the hand of God cannot reach the world if He is extra-cosmic—that is, unconnected with the universe. There is some kind of connection. If that connection is not to be accepted—if the two things, the world and the Creator, are totally different—then nothing in the world can reach God because of the disconnection of one from the other. Nor can God have anything to do with the world, because of the same disconnection between Him and the world.

Advanced thought proceeded further on in the direction of finding a simpler explanation for what is happening in the world. Finally it appears to us that there is no point in assuming that there are many things in the world, because all these so-called many things appear to be basically constituted of matter, atoms, molecules, or whatever we may call them. Even physical organisms are basically constituted of material substances. So why not just say that there is matter in the universe, instead of unnecessarily adding to the number of existent objects?

It was thought that it is enough for us to accept that there is only one thing in the whole world, and that is matter. The perception of matter is also a great question. Who perceives matter? When we say that all things are only matter, who is making the statement? Matter itself cannot say anything, because matter is a name that we give to unconscious existence—pure stability, brute existence. There must be an awareness of there being such a thing called matter. The awareness is the state which we call consciousness. This consciousness has to be differentiated from matter because if it is identical with matter, matter itself would be conscious, or consciousness itself would be the same as the essence of matter. The consciousness of there being such a thing called the material universe implies a duality: the seeing consciousness, and the seen object. This is the point made out in the Sankhya doctrine, which simplified the complicated arguments of the Vaisheshika and Nyaya. Instead of many realities to be controlled and organised by a God who is above the world, we have only two things: the seeing side, and the seen side—the consciousness that observes things, witnesses the phenomena, and then the phenomena themselves, which are material in their nature.

But, the Sankhya landed us in another difficulty. What is the relationship between consciousness and matter? Are they different? Naturally. If they are different, how do we explain the factor of consciousness being aware of the object that is in front of it? The consciousness of an object implies a relationship between the knowing consciousness and the object outside, as totally different things are not capable of blending themselves into a consciousness of unity. If the so-called material object is totally disconnected from consciousness, there would be no consciousness of the world at all. We would not know that there is matter. How do we know it? The material object has somehow or other become a content of our consciousness. It has involved itself in our consciousness, and it has become inseparable from consciousness.

This inseparability leads us to another conclusion. It is not true that there is a perceiving consciousness that is entirely cut off from the object; there is an underlying current of continuity between the perceiver and the perceived. The continuity between the perceiver and the perceived is itself not perceived, because if the continuity which is the process of perception also becomes an object of perception, there will be no object of perception. It will all melt down into a single Being-Consciousness. There is an intermediary link of a consciousness that is other than the consciousness of the subject and of the object. This is the acceptance of a transcendent element in consciousness containing within itself both the subjective side and the objective side, and at the same time rising beyond both. Here we have practically entered the field of what goes beyond the Sankhya and the Nyaya-Vaisheshika doctrines. It is the Vedanta system, which is founded finally on the Upanishads, the concluding quintessential part of the Veda Samhitas.

The Vedanta is a term that is used for a doctrine which accepts that God does not merely exist; God does not merely create and sustain and dissolve the world; God is the aim and summum bonum of all life. All philosophies which consider the realisation of God as the ultimate aim of life can be considered as Vedanta. It is not enough if we merely accept the existence of God as the maker of things, as the architect of the universe. He must have some hand in the operation of the things in the world, and we must have some connection with Him. He should be the fulfilment of all our longings. Only when God is the consummation of all the values that we can imagine in our life does He become the Ultimate Reality. Otherwise, God would be a relative reality, conditioned by the processes of space, time and objectivity, and we would be utilising God for the purpose of fulfilling a purpose which is other than God Himself.

Thus, the Vedanta doctrine is finally a doctrine of the preponderance of the God element in everything in the world. To sum up the conclusion, we live for God. The whole universe exists for God, and the process of evolution, so-called, is a movement towards God for the establishment of itself in God-consciousness.

The doctrines of Vedanta have been classified into various categories on account of deviations in the very concept of God Himself. The differences among religions in the world arise on account of the differences in the concept of God. I feel that if we had a uniform concept of God, there would be no difference among religious conceptions and the ways of social life based on religion.

What do we mean by ‘God’ when we say—accepted, of course—that God-realisation is the aim of life? Here we have umpteen conceptions of God, all differing one from the other on account of the emphasis laid by the sensations, by the intellect and, finally, by an act of intuition. God-conception can be sensorily oriented, intellectually oriented or intuitionally oriented.

A famous verse which is oft-quoted by people in connection with this difference in the concept of the nature of God is the answer which appears to have been given by Hanuman to Rama when Rama queried Hanuman as to who he is. Hanuman replied, it seems, dehabuddhyā tvaddāso’haṁ jīvabuddhyā tvadaṁśakaḥ, ātmabuddhyā tvamevāham iti me niścitā matiḥ: “You are asking me, Lord, who I am. If you regard me as a body, I am a your servant; if you consider me as a little consciousness, a jiva, I am a part of you; but if you think I am the Pure Spirit, I am yourself.”

The idea is, how do we contain in our minds the concept of God? We have the predilection to see things in terms of sense perception. Many things there are in the world, and the senses conclude that diversity is a fact of reality. So the organising principle, which is the final God-consciousness, has to account for this diversity, because our feeling justifies the existence of the multiplicity of things. Nothing in us tells us that all things are one. Everything seems to be different. Even the physiological organs are different, one from the other. The world is constituted of so many varieties of colours, sounds and touches that we cannot say that anything has any connection whatsoever with anything else. God-consciousness, or the concept of the Creative Principle, has to finally account for this duality. And that God transcends, and also acts as an immanent principle, is accepted.

It is the Vedanta doctrine that God is transcendent and immanent at the same time. Yet it is maintained, together with the acceptance of the transcendence and the immanence of God, that there is a need to accept the multiplicity of things. God permeates all things, as water permeates every thread of a cloth that is dipped into a bucket of water. When a unity of the movement of the water principle through every fibre of the cloth is acceptable, then the differences among the threads and the fibres has also to be accepted, at the same time. There is unity in diversity. The cloth, the fibres, the threads do not merge into a single water principle merely because they are permeated by the water principle. The unity of the principle of water that is everywhere, in every fibre of cloth, is somehow or other compatible with the cloth being independent of it.

The world is different from God. This is the Vaishnava dualistic concept of everything being different from everything else. The world is different from God, the individual jiva is also different from God, matter is different from God, one jiva is different from another jiva, and one part of matter is different from another part of matter. Molecules differ from one another; one molecule cannot be the same as another molecule. This dualistic concept of the world in all its multifarious varieties of conception in terms of the world went together with the idea that God is, finally, the aim of life. But what is meant by ‘the aim of life’? What do we do with this God who is somehow or other transcendent, together with His apparently being immanent?

The Madhva doctrine says that we can reach God, come in contact with God, in the same way as particles of rice and sesame contact each other when they are mixed together. If a quintal of sesame and a quintal of rice are mixed together, they are all together in a state of unity, but they are not actually united. Each grain is different from every other grain. Thus, the jiva may attain God in the same way as sesame attains rice and rice attains sesame; they will not be identical. Man can never become God. He is always a created substance. Man is the servant of God; he is a dasa, a humble follower of the decree of the Supreme Creator.

The doctrine of the perfect duality was not satisfying for long because it looked as if we cannot have an intimate relationship with God—another way of saying that we shall be always limited. Finitude is our doom, and we are damned forever to be in this shackle of existence of limitations of every kind, inwardly as well as outwardly. Then why do we have this aspiration for unlimitedness? How does this desire arise in us to become infinite, to become immortal? Immortality cannot be associated with any kind of relative existence. That which exists outside something as a localised object is perishable one day or the other because it is a visible thing. Yad drisyam tannasyam: Whatever is visible has to perish one day or the other. Therefore, it is necessary to bring about a further coordination and a harmonious relation among the particulars of the created world, with God as the Supreme One.

There is a unity of purpose between God and the world. They are organic to each other. They do not touch each other like sesame and rice, but like milk and water. Milk and water can combine, and we cannot know where the milk is and where the water is. Yet, water is water, and milk is milk. Similarly, the world is the world, and God is God; yet, there is an organic connection. We have a soul, and we have a body. We know very well that the soul cannot be identical with the body, and the body cannot be identical with the soul. Physically speaking, the body is material. It is unconscious in its essence, and is made to appear conscious on account of the entry of consciousness through the cells of the body. The body and consciousness are two different things. In a similar manner, God and the world are basically to be conceived as one in the same as, for all practical purposes, we consider our soul and body as one. When we eat, when we walk, when we speak, when we do anything whatsoever, we do not keep the body somewhere and the mind somewhere else. They are related to each other as if they are inseparable, though they are really not inseparable. This is the Sri Vaishnava concept of the Vishishtadvaita system, where oneness is conditioned by a kind of qualification. It is Advaita, no doubt, but Vishishtadvaita. It is an advaita, or a non-dual character of the world and jivas with God, with the qualification that they are really not one. It is an organisation where every member is one with every other member, without which there cannot be an organisation; yet, we know that no member is identical with any other member.

In a parliamentary session, in a national consciousness, the members sitting together to constitute a single body of an organisation all imply a single unity of existence. Nevertheless, every part is different from the other part. We can dismember the organisation, and all the organisations can be dissolved one day or the other if the parts separate themselves. Therefore, here again we have a difficulty. Is it organically explicable that the world is related to God in an externalised fashion and it exists externally outside God, as the body is in relation to the soul? Does the world perish as the body perishes? God can visualise the destruction of the world, as the soul can visualise the destruction of the body. Does the world exist at all, finally? If the world is perishable, nasvara, and it will not be there after some time, then there will be no creation whatsoever. God alone will be there.

The perishability of the things in the world, the fragility of everything that the world is made of, shows that its essential nature of fluxation cannot be identified organically, or in any sense whatsoever, with God, who is not a flux. The fluxation of things and the temporality of the world, in every way, would totally dissociate the world of relativity from God as if the world does not exist at all, because the destruction of the world would be the end of all things, and God alone would be there. Also, God must have been existing even before the creation of the world. This cannot be denied by any religious philosopher. Before the creation of the world, where was God? He was not in space, because there was no space; He was not in time, because there was no time; He was not in creation, because creation did not take place. He existed only in Himself. Therefore, God originally existed as God only, and not as something in terms of relation, which is created on account of the created universe. He is not omnipresent, He is not omniscient and He is not omnipotent, because these qualities are attributable to God in terms of what He has created afterwards; but prior to creation, He was Pure Existence.

Therefore, the unity which is God’s existence is highlighted further on in the philosophies, the seeds of which were sown by great thinkers like Gaudapada, and Acharya Sankara and his followers, who spoke in such diverse ways and put forth such multitudinous varieties of arguments that it has been very difficult for people to make out what the Advaita doctrine actually means. It is not a negation of the other values of life. The so-called Advaita of Sankara, for instance, does not refute Vishishtadvaita. It does not refute the Madhava doctrine of duality. It only considers that there is a gradation of the perception of the unity of things, and all these gradations are to be considered as degrees of reality, ultimately converging in a degreeless Universality.

The lower is not refuted by the higher. The lower is not negatived, and it cannot be regarded as untrue; it is true in its own way. Every experience is true as long as it is experienced. The truthfulness of an experience lies in the fact of it being experienced. If it is not there at all, we will not experience it. Therefore, the world exists conditionally. It is not an illusion as people think, like the horns of a hare or the tail of a human being. Such a kind of illusion or annihilation is not attributed to the world by Sankara either, though we may say that the world is totally absent in the existence of God. Because God is all, there cannot be any world in front of Him. This is an acosmic concept. ‘Acosmic’ means no cosmos. From the point of view of God Himself the world cannot be there, because otherwise He would be seeing a world as a dual counterpart in the form of an object in front of Him. The infinity of God would be stultified by the presence of a world in front of Him. Hence, from the point of view of God Himself, God only is. Therefore, there is no creation. But once we accept the fact of creation, there becomes a necessity to explain the degrees of the evolution of consciousness from the lowest perception through sense organs and intellect, until it reaches the intuitive grasp of the Absolute as one single Reality.

Thus, these are the tripartite concepts of Vedanta: Advaita, Vishishtadvaita, Dvaita. There are further modifications such as Suddhadvaita, Dvaitadvaita and Achintya-Bheda-Abheda, etc. Even the Vedanta types of Saivism and Saktism also have their own predilections. The philosophical point made out in these arguments is that the reason has to somehow come to the succour of the faith that is originally religion, because of the fear that religion can be completely wiped out from the world by materialistic doctrines that stand on argument, observation and scientific experiment, with sensory perception being given the uppermost value; and when the senses revolt against the reason and insight of the human being, there will be no spiritual value left.

This is the reason why religious organisations, religious philosophies and religious leaders arose. Prophets, teachers, saints and sages made it their mission to prove, even to the unbelieving senses and the intellection of modern man, that even the littlest thing in the world cannot be explained without first introducing into that little thing a principle of universality. Everything—even that which is wholly particularised, entirely finite, localised somewhere, unconnected with something else—cannot be explained except in terms of there being a universal organisation behind it. Otherwise, we cannot know that one thing is different from the other. The difference that we see between one thing and another thing is a consciousness which is not to be identified either with this thing or with that thing. The thing that knows that one thing is different from another thing does not belong to either this thing or that thing; it is a third thing altogether. Therefore, there is a universal principle of consciousness involved even in the perception of duality. Even when we say that duality is there, multiplicity is there, many things are there, we are unconsciously assuming that there is some transcendent element—because if this consciousness were not to be there, who will tell us that there are many things? The many things themselves cannot say that there are many things. There must be something which is not manifold, not differentiated, not dualistic, in order that the very concept of duality and manifoldness can be justified. Therefore, ultimately, Consciousness is the Reality. Chit is Supreme. God’s essence is Pure Consciousness. God knows Himself. And what does He know? He knows Himself as Knowledge only: pure Chit. Consciousness is not an attribute of something, nor is it a process of knowing something else. Consciousness is an ontological existence. It alone is, and nothing else can be.

These are some of the various facets of philosophical arguments. I have touched upon the features that are especially prevalent in India—that is, the Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Sankhya, Vedanta. I did not discuss the Mimamsa and the Yoga System here because they stand apart from these gradational arguments of the philosophical type, and we need not enter into these complications just now. Suffice it to say that religion has once again found that it is necessary for it to stand on a five-legged footstool, as it were: the authority of the scriptures and the prophets, the great epics and the Puranas, the Agamas and the Tantras, and the philosophies which are metaphysical in their nature.