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An Introduction to the Philosophy of Yoga
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 3: The Portals of Enquiry

We go back to where we stopped, viz, the ways in which we try to probe into reality. Obviously, we have three ways or three avenues of observation and we cannot think of a fourth method. We look outside and try to see what is there; we look inside and try to find out what is within us; also, often, we look up and wonder at what is above us. This has been the attitude of all investigators, whether in the field of science, philosophy or religion.

Fundamentally, we noticed that there is the usual objective approach of science which is remarkable for its achievements these days, and which almost goes about as a gospel. We have to see how far it has succeeded before we can enter into a contemplation of other methods and ways of approach. What is science doing? What is the way of the specialist in the field of observation and experiment? Whoever tries to discover truth by observation and experiment is a scientist, and we try to do that in our own humble way in our attitude to things in the world. We look at the world. All our business in life is objective, external and material for the most part. We see the oceans, we see the wind blowing and we see the stellar system; we see the five elements – Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Ether. What else can we see in the world? There was a time when our specialists in the field concluded that the world consists of the five elements, and we cannot see anything else. We are also acquainted with the advances made later on, further to these main observations of the five elements merely.

We have the great advancement of physical science, which has gone deep into the structure of matter, by which we mean all the five elements – Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Ether. All these constitute matter in its essentiality. Physics goes into the structure of matter. What is matter made of? Of what is it constituted? Primarily, we say matter is only five elements, but we have seen that further experiments are performed, and have noticed that this solid earth is porous, a well-known fact. The earth is not an indivisible mass. Water is porous; air is porous. Even fire is a continuity of processions of energy. So, none of these four visible elements is really the hard or impartite thing that it appears to be. All these are complex substances and not compounds. A compound is indivisible; a complex is divisible. These elements are divisible and are not an indivisible substance. This was discovered later on.

So, our original observation was not correct, viz., that there are solid elements. Now, if matter is divisible, into what is it divisible? 1t is divisible into molecules. These are the chemical substances. All these, including our own bodies, are reducible to certain chemical elements. There are only bundles of chemical molecules to which our bodies can be reduced and to which anything on the earth can be reduced. The molecules are chemical in their nature, but these chemicals are also constituted of finer particles called 'atoms'. They are more difficult to apprehend than the chemical substances. Scientists as well as philosophers have given varying opinion about the nature of atoms. There were people who thought that the Earth-atoms are different from the Water-atoms, and the Water-atoms are different from the Fire-atoms or the Air-atoms. We had in India at least some schools of thought which believed in the atomic structure of matter, but also held at the same time that the atoms vary one from the other. The Earth-atom is different from the Water-atom, etc. But this was not the finality of the discovery. We, today, are told, again and again, that there is no intrinsic difference between one atom and another atom. The so-called difference is not due to the inner structure of the atom but because of the arrangement of the constituents of the atom. So, Earth differs from Water, Water differs from Fire, etc., not because their atomic essentiality varies but because they are arranged in different patterns constitutionally.

But all this is what is known as classical physics. We may safely say, this is the physics which brought us down to the time which is a little later than what they call the Newtonian Era, when classical physics reached its climax and it was decided, once and for all, that matter is contained in space, space being regarded as a receptacle for the material contents. The great discovery that Newton made was the law of gravitation, the pull of the material parts in regard to one another due to the mass and the distance of these parts of matter.

But, we have come today to the twentieth century, beyond half of it, and people are dinning into our ears the greater discoveries of a strange picture that is before us of even the world of matter, of which even Newton would be surprised if he were to be alive today. There are not even atoms. There is only a continuity of energy, so that we cannot know where is earth, where is water, where is fire, where is air, where is ether. We are not here to discuss science, and mention is made of all these only as a kind of preliminary introduction to the ways in which science has been moving in a search for reality. Our interest in this regard is philosophical.

Where has it brought us finally? Where are we standing after all this discovery? Are we more informed about the nature of truth, today, than we were at the time when we were told that there are only five elements in their gross form? Are we better off today socially, philosophically, religiously, ethically, or spiritually, merely because of the fact that we have discovered a continuum of energy in the Universe instead of the gross five elements? The crux of the matter is something which eludes our grasp. We are not in search of what matter is constituted of. That is not our interest. It avails us of nothing, if we know what another possesses. You may possess anything, and what does it matter to me? Why should I go on enquiring into your property, your bank-balance, your relations in the world, etc.? What does it matter to me, whatever you are, unless there is some connection of these informations with my life which I am attempting to understand?

How are we benefited by these discoveries? If the world is a continuum of energy, what does it matter to us? Let that be. Are we better off? Well, we know well that we are in the same condition in our personal lives and social lives, in our aspirations and in our searches today, as our ancestors must have been centuries back. Where, then, is the difficulty? And it has somehow been missed. This is the defect of a purely scientific approach of the experimental type. The advantage of scientific discoveries has been a rapid technological development in this age. We have fast-moving aeroplanes and subtle submarines, and gadgets of every kind. All are discoveries, inventions made as a consequence of the knowledge that people have gained today of the components of matter. But, finally, it has kept us in a state of unhappiness and anxiety, because of the ostensible fact that our lives are not connected with these discoveries. There is, to put it in a more technical form, an epistemological gulf between the seer and the seen. The knowledge pattern remains the same today, as it was a few thousand years back. And what is the knowledge pattern we are referring to? The student has to be very attentive here, because this is a little novel theme and perhaps a little difficult to comprehend, because here is the essence of the whole problem.

Our life is inseparable from our experience. What we call life is nothing but experience, and this is important to remember. And experience, whatever be the nature of it, is inseparable from a consciousness of that experience. There is no experience without a consciousness of it. We are aware that we are undergoing a process or are in a state of experience. If the awareness is absent, we cannot be said to be in a state of any experience at all. To have no experience is to have no awareness of what is happening. Now, our life being identical with a conscious experience, and our search for reality being observational and experimental in the scientific fashion, we have to find out how the panorama of external nature, as it stands before us from the point of view of science, is connected with our personal life.

The world is as unmanageable today as it was many years back. Merely because we say that there is a continuum of energy in the universe, instead of the five elements, we have not bettered the things. It means the same thing, finally. Why is it the same thing, and why cannot there be a difference? Because our disconnection from the world remains today the same thing as it was before. Our sorrow is due to the dispossession of ourselves from things we call real or reality. We cannot control the earth or the water, the fire or the air. And the vast space outside is enough to take one's breath away.

Likewise, today, we cannot control the atoms or the electrons or the energies or the forces that be, because we are outside them. Our life, to repeat again, is a function of consciousness, and so long as our consciousness is not en-rapport with the reality that we are in search of, we are not in possession of that reality, and so long as we are not in possession of it, we have practically nothing to do with it. It is like a treasure that belongs to somebody else, about which we have only a theoretical information and with which there is, practically, no relationship. Our disconnection from reality - let us be contented just now with the scientific definition of reality as external objects, the world that we see – is also our weakness. Our strength enhances as we gain more and more control or possession of reality.

The more do we possess reality, the more is the power that we wield. And what is possession? To possess an object, to possess anything for the matter of that, is to be invariably connected with it, in an inseparable manner. We have a power over the limbs of our body. I am giving one example of what power means, and what power does not mean. I can lift my hand at my will; there is no difficulty about it. Even if the leg of the elephant is very heavy, the elephant can lift its leg. The elephant can lift its whole body, though even a hundred people cannot lift an elephant. Perhaps, I may not be able to lift your body, but you can lift your body. You may not be able to lift my body, but I can lift my body. What is this mystery? Wherefrom comes this strength by which I can lift my body and walk? The reason is that my consciousness is one with my reality, which is this body; it is not outside. But you cannot lift my body, nor can I lift your body, because your consciousness is disconnected from my body, and mine from yours. The analogy is simple, and clear enough.

The reason is that power is identical with the union of consciousness with its object. The content of consciousness should not be outside consciousness, if real power is to be there. As long as the content remains outside, consciousness loses control over it. So, no scientist can control the universe or have any reasonable or appreciable relationship with it, because the scientist remains a puppet in the hands of the powers which he has discovered and of which, he, now today, realises, is an inseparable part. But, with all these defects of science, it has awakened us to one important truth, that to know the world is to know our own selves. One would be surprised how science can teach this truth; yes, it has somehow stumbled upon this fact – by a chance, we may say.

We cannot know the universe unless we know ourselves. While this is true, the reverse also is true, at the same time. We cannot know ourselves truly, unless we know the whole universe. The one is the same as the other. Now, how does science lead us to this conclusion? The secret is the discovery of an indivisible continuum of nature, outside which no individual, nothing, can exist. The space-time continuum which scientists speak of today, in the relativity cosmos, is inclusive of yourself and myself and all things. We cannot stand outside it. We are an eddy in this ocean of force which is called the space-time continuum, and so, how can we know it unless we know ourselves, since we are a part of it? Also, it becomes more obvious on account of the fact that to know is to have an awareness of the fact; and awareness is an essentiality of our being. Our being and our consciousness of our being are the same; they are not two different things.

The moment we say that we exist, we imply we are conscious that we exist. The existence of things is inseparable from the consciousness of the existence of things. In as much as it has been decided that existence is a continuity, inseparable in its meaning, with no gulf whatsoever, to know the universe would be to have a consciousness of the universe. But in what manner? Not in the form of the consciousness of the world that we have today. I am having the consciousness of a mountain in front of me; that is not the consciousness we are referring to. As consciousness cannot be separated from the existence of things, and inasmuch as the existence of things has been identified with a continuity and a wholeness of process or energy, the revelation would imply a strange conclusion which will startle us beyond our wits.

It would imply that to know anything would be the same as to be cosmically conscious. We cannot know anything in this world, unless we are universally awakened. Neither can we know ourselves, nor can we know even a particle of sand on the bank of the river, unless we are omniscient. And what religion calls God is nothing but this state of consciousness, where knowledge is identical with being. This is not the subject of science or physics, but it has landed us in this conclusion willy-nilly, by a mathematical force of logical deduction. This is a great benefit that science has given us, with all the horrors that it has created on the other side due to its technological aberrations.

But, science is not over with this, for we have been thinking only of physics up to this time, and physics is not the whole of science. Students of science know that there is something more about it. There is what is called life. Living beings are different from inanimate matter. The world of physics and chemistry is different from the world of life or living beings. In addition to astronomy, physics and chemistry which deal mostly with inorganic matter, we have the science of biology which studies living organisms and tries to find out what life is.

Here, we have something of a very interesting nature to observe. What is biology? What is the study of life or living beings, and why is it called a science? It is a science because we identify science with the process of observation and experiment. And what is it that the biologists have observed and experimented with? The functions of life are their field, but one cannot observe life. I cannot see with my eyes the life in the people sitting in front of me. I can only see movements and symptoms of the presence of life. So, even biology, as a science, has been able to proceed only up to the point of observation of symptoms of the existence of life, but not life itself. We cannot see life with any apparatus or instrument.

But how do we know that living bodies are different from dead bodies, that a tree is different from a stone? We have this knowledge because there are certain indications of the presence of life in what we call living bodies. These indications are not present in what we know as matter. Here, again, is a defect in the process of science. We have already standardised the symptoms of life. Only if such-and-such a symptom is observable, we call it life. We have passed judgement like this. We have concluded that to regard a thing as living, it must have these characteristics. If they are not there, we regard that thing as inorganic. But this is a prejudice of the scientific method. This is its defect.

Why should we standardise the symptoms of life? This standardisation arises again and again on account of certain definitions which we form in our own minds. The mere discovery of certain movements in the world of matter cannot be equated with a discovery of the secret of life. The question has been put: How did life originate? This is an age-old question. Geologists and astronomers tell us that this earth has come from the Sun. It is practically accepted as a fact. It may be true. Once upon a time, there was no earth. The earth is a chip of the boiling mass of the Sun and, due to a whirling motion of the Sun, as some people think, or, due to a tremendous friction created in the body of the Sun on account of the proximity of another star passing near it, a piece was cut off from the Sun. This is the theory of the creation of this planet. There are two theories put forth, the one thinking that there was a digression of the movement of the Sun in a tremendous velocity on account of which a chip was cut off, and the other holding that a gravitational pull exerted by another star coming near the Sun cut off a portion of it, which ran off into empty space in a great speed, with boiling contents, fire in its essence. The fire cooled into liquid, which solidified itself into earth, gradually; this is the story.

But where is life? We cannot see living beings in this state of affairs where there is only fire and water or even inanimate earth. People tell us that life must have come from some other planet. Well, this looks like the old story of the wolf and the lamb. "If you have not disturbed the water, your grandfather must have done it." Our question is: How did life originate? Merely by saying that it has come from another planet, we have not answered the question. For, again, the question would be: How did life originate there? Then we would say that it has come from a third planet. No one can say how life came about. It is a mystery even today.

How can living beings originate from the hot masses of stars? There are cases of germs manufacturing themselves from stagnant water, insects coming out from a dung-hill, etc. How does this become possible? It is said that scorpions are born out of dung. This is one doctrine. Well, scorpions have life, and dung has no life. How can life come from non-life? So, biology has a dark screen in front of it finally, and the discovery of life, somehow, becomes an inference rather than an observation.

Many people think that biology is not an exact science, while physics and chemistry are exact sciences. Biology is not an exact science because some inference is involved in its processes, and it is not enough to have merely experiments and observations. But what is this inference? We go deep into biology. We should remember that we are discussing the objective approach of science to find out where it has taken us, and where it has made us to halt, and what are its shortcomings, and why it cannot help us finally.

In the same way as physics, chemistry and astronomy have landed us half-way, biology, too, seems to leave us somewhere in the middle and is unable to take us further, because the nature of life is inscrutable. We do not know what life means. When we say, "I am alive," what do we mean actually? Perhaps, we mean that we are moving. Can we say that a bullock cart is a living being because it is moving? Is a motor-car living? By 'life' we mean something different from mere motion.

It is a difficult thing to answer the question. What is life? When I say, "I am living, I am alive," I mean something quite different from a mere motion of the body. What is the essence of the biological research? Here, we somehow take a different turn of approach altogether and are forced to accept that life is a purposiveness in being; it is to be teleologically conscious. We are characterised by purposive movements and not merely aimless movements as in the case of a motor-car or a bullock cart, which can simply go anywhere and in any way. Our movements are purposive, directed, filled with an aim, and this is what is meant by teleological movement. Now, that this, also, is not a very satisfactory answer will be noted when we consider the issue further.

When I say, "I am living, because I have a purposive existence, and not merely an aimless motion," I have to explain what I mean by purposiveness. It is interesting to see how we go from step to step into greater difficulties. What do we mean by a purposive existence? It would mean, at least in outline, the consciousness of an aim in front of oneself. Now, again, we see where we are moving, dangerously. From science, where have we come? To be conscious that there is an aim before us is to be purposive. Life is, again, inseparable from a state of consciousness. And biology, also, takes us to the same thing on which physics landed us, in the end.

Somehow we cannot escape the dilemma of it being impossible for us to be without the principle of consciousness, in whatever we do, in whatever direction we move. The basic sciences – astronomy, physics, chemistry and biology – have a common thing to say, finally. In the end they tell us the same thing and by this proclamation of a truth, which is beyond their own jurisdiction, they, as sciences, are exceeding their limits. Science becomes philosophy.