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The Philosophy of Religion
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 3: The Structure of the Universe

What Is Reality?

There are two aspects of experience – the real and the unreal; and everything can be divided into two camps – that which really is, and that which is an appearance. That which does not partake of the characteristics of reality is called appearance. One of the philosophers has defined reality as that which persists in the three periods of time, that which existed in the past, that which exists in the present, and that which shall exist in the future also, without any change. But, with our eyes, we have not seen any such thing. There is nothing in the world which will stand this kind of a test of indestructibility, unchangeability, and permanence. All the same, the inherent instinctive feeling of man that there exists such a reality, along with the urge to find a solution to the human predicament, motivates the search for reality, which, quite naturally and understandably, starts with the analysis of the immediately available human experience, which is the world.

The World Is Mechanistic in Nature

There is only the material world seen, and generally this is regarded as the reality. The world is the reality before man - the physical world of the five elements: earth, water, fire, air and ether. The philosophical and scientific minds analyse this fivefold elemental existence into several bits of components, which may be called chemical compounds. There was a time when it occurred to the minds of thinkers that the whole world of physical matter was constituted of certain basic elements. These elements constituted every bit of matter, whatever be the way in which matter expressed itself. It may be gold; it may be silver; it may be iron; it may be brick; or it may be a living body – that made no difference. All these are material in their nature, and they are basically constituted of certain chemical stuffs. The analysis went ahead through the passage of various centuries, and as the scientists approached closer, the basic substance began to recede from their perception. Every time it looked different; never could it be grasped by their hands. The molecules appeared like atoms, and the atoms looked like electrical charges. But, whatever be the name that they gave to the nature of the discovery that was made through scientific observation, there appeared to be something outside their ken, a stuff, or a substance, or a 'thing-in-itself', whose nature was not easy to describe in language.

The world, or the universe, under this definition of being constituted of basic physical molecules, was defined as mechanistic in its nature. A mechanism is a system of operation where the parts are mathematically connected to other parts, and their mutual operation in collaboration also is mathematically constituted. A huge robot, or any other kind of industrial mechanism, is an example before us. We can precisely say how the machine works by a study of its parts. The whole can be studied by a study of the parts. This led to materialist science, and behaviourist psychology.

Even the modern allopathic science of medicine is based on this mechanistic notion of the structure of the human body. Its protagonists regard the human body as a kind of machine, whose parts could be studied as the parts of a motor car are studied. Each part can be pulled apart, and nothing happens to the other parts. One part can be repaired, fitted into that structure, and the machine is complete. It appeared that they could pull out parts of the body without affecting the whole system, because a mechanistic conception of the universe takes its stand on the principle that the whole is not different from the parts. The whole is only a name that is given to the assemblage of parts. But, is it true? A question is raised by the mind itself. Is man merely an assemblage of parts? Can a human being be created by putting together some legs, noses, eyes, and ears? Is it true that nothing happens to the human being when the limbs are severed and scattered in different directions?

The mechanistic notion of the universe was confirmed scientifically and mathematically many years back by such thinkers as Newton and his follower Laplace, who thought that the whole astronomical universe is capable of interpretation, almost like the working of a clock – and everyone knows how a clock works. It has no life, yet it works. So, the whole universal action is a lifeless action, and bodily action is similar to that. If it appears that human beings have life, it is only an epiphenomenon, an exudation, a projection, a sort of appearance including even the intelligence and the mind; so they believed.

The Presence of Consciousness Needs Explanation

The behaviourist psychology, which is based on materialist science, holds the opinion that the mechanism of the body determines even the thoughts of the mind. This point may be considered from a purely logical angle of vision. There is what is called intelligence, which is an exudation of the body, a secretion of the brain, or a kind of phenomenon that is projected by the collocation of material forces. Well, it may be taken for granted that it is so. But, the fallacy is very easily discovered in this argument. No one will agree that his intelligence is the same as his body. Such instances as appreciation of beauty, or an adoption of an ethical conduct, etc., may be taken as commonplace examples of life. "This is beautiful": no one can say that his leg is making this remark, nor that his nose is admiring the beauty of an object, nor that even the limbs of the body put together are making this assertion. "This is a good gentleman"; "He is a highly moral individual": such statements as these do not seem to apply to the body, or the fingers, or the arms, or the tummy, or the back, or the bones, or the flesh, or the marrow of the individual. The morality of an individual, for instance, cannot be said to be the morality of the flesh, or the muscles, or the sinews. These ideas of values in life get abolished totally when the body or the material aspect alone is emphasised, and, worse than that, a difficulty arises of relating consciousness to matter.

Here is a serious logical problem. The relationship between two things has to be explained; here, the problem is of the relation between matter and consciousness. It is held under mechanised observations that intelligence proceeds from, or is exuded by, matter. This assertion would imply that the effect, which is intelligence, is already present in the cause, which is matter, because there cannot be an effect without a cause. Intelligence that proceeds from matter, consciousness that is the effect of matter, has to be present in matter which is the cause. If it is present, a question may arise, "Which part of matter is occupied by consciousness?" Matter is everywhere. The whole universe is matter, and nothing but that. Can it be said that some point of space or a locality of matter is intelligent, or is the whole of matter intelligent? No one can say that it is located in one place or only in a little area of matter, because matter is an indivisible substance which is spread throughout space. Infinity is the name of matter. Thus, if the effect, which is consciousness or intelligence, is to be embedded in the cause, which is matter, it has to be present everywhere.

This conclusion is amazing and startling. It needs a logical and systematic re-analysis. Matter is the cause of intelligence: that is the thesis. But matter is everywhere. Therefore, the effect, which is intelligence, also, has to be everywhere, wherever matter is. Thus, the first acceptance that one is forced into is the conclusion that consciousness is everywhere, and it cannot be in one place only, because it is granted that it is an effect of matter, and matter is everywhere. This implies matter and consciousness are everywhere simultaneously. How can this be possible? Even if this position is accepted, another difficulty arises, which is not easily solved: viz., the relationship between effect and cause. The material scientists have not considered these difficulties properly. They have jumped suddenly into a hasty conclusion. The difficulties are apparent.

The relationship between cause and effect is a difficult thing to understand. There can be an identity or a difference between two things. A can be the same as B, or A is not the same as B. There cannot be a third relationship between two things. If A is the same as B, it is useless to call it A; unnecessarily another name is given to it. But if A is not B, it has no connection with B. Hence, it bears no relation to it. Therefore, it cannot be an effect of the cause.

Consciousness cannot be an effect of matter if it does not bear any relationship to matter. Thus, the relationship, if it obtains at all, has to be one of identity or difference. If it is identical, materialism falls in one second. The whole matter which is the universe would be aglow with consciousness. But if it is different, it does not follow that consciousness is exuded by matter. It stands as a separate identity.

Materialism is a monistic philosophy. It is not a dualistic doctrine. It does not permit the existence of consciousness outside matter. The monistic attitude of the materialist fails on account of his inability to explain the relationship of consciousness to matter. He is faced with twin choices so as to stick to his monistic stand. He must accept that matter and consciousness are identical. For this, he is not prepared. Then, he must deny totally the existence of consciousness. This, again, he cannot do, because the argument of the materialist is not the argument of matter; it is not matter that is speaking, it is consciousness that is holding an opinion. So, he is forced to accept the presence of consciousness. But, then, its relationship to matter remains unexplained.

Samkhya, or Dualistic Philosophy

The monistic materialism of utter materiality lands us in a dualistic concept of matter and consciousness. The Samkhya philosophy also propounds the same theme. They maintain consciousness as a separate self-identical principle – a distinct being, Purusha, as they call it. It has no connection with Prakriti which is matter. People felt a difficulty of their own in identifying consciousness with matter. So they created a philosophy of their own called Samkhya – "I cannot be the same as the body, and the body cannot be the same as me; consciousness is not matter, matter is not consciousness; yet both exist; I can see the body, and I can see that I have intelligence, also. So, intelligence is different from matter; Purusha is different from Prakriti."

This may be considered as an advance. When two parties cannot reconcile themselves with each other in any way whatsoever, they say, "You mind your business, I mind my business." So, Purusha tells Prakriti, and Prakriti tells Purusha, "We mind our own businesses; we have no connection with each other; otherwise, we will come in conflict with each other, every day." Matter and consciousness fight with each other, but they would not want to continue this fight for ever. So, Samkhya came to make a truce of this war, and declared, "Peace, and no fight hereafter. Purusha is Purusha; Prakriti is Prakriti. Let them have their own positions, and have no connection with each other."

But this is a difficult thing, again. Two enemies are always enemies, even if they do not speak to each other. They will bear a grudge for ever. And, this system of duality, utterly isolating one camp from another, will not last for a long time. A difficulty arose, the truce was broken, and the two opponents would not occupy their own positions like that. Prakriti would not occupy its own position independent of Purusha, nor Purusha would exist independent of Prakriti. They clashed with each other. So, from one difficulty arose another difficulty. A problem cannot be solved by the introduction of another problem. But this is what has happened. The utter materialism of the monistic attitude to matter failed on account of the difficulty in explaining the position of consciousness in the universe. Samkhya, though it appeared as a solution, ended in nothing, like the formation of the League of Nations in days gone by, which did nothing, and ended in nothing finally. For the time being, it appeared that everything was in peace. But, that peace was broken by the confrontation of Purusha with Prakriti, and Prakriti with Purusha. They created a new genie, a kind of a goblin, as it were, viz., the individual Jiva, as they called, the mixture of Purusha and Prakriti, a little of consciousness and a little of matter, by an imaginary relationship brought about between the two principles.

The Doctrine of Samkhya Is basically not Different From Materialism

Samkhya is only a restatement of the same problem of the materialists. It is not a solution of the problem. They have only varnished the problem and put a little gild outside. But, inside, there is this iron core of the very same problem of materiality. It is surprising where the Samkhya has landed man. It has covered him, blindfolded him, made him a fool, as it were, and compelled him to think that everything is fine, while things are as bad as they were. Nothing is all right, everything has been in the same condition. The problem in the concept of materiality is the relationship between matter and consciousness. Now the relationship between Prakriti and Purusha needs explanation. What is the use of giving different names? The problem is the same. Previously what is called matter, is now called Pakriti; and what is earlier called consciousness is now called Purusha. A difference in terminology is not a solution to the problem. So, the doctrine of Samkhya is nothing but a materialistic doctrine itself, which has been reshaped by a camouflage of a so-called spirituality of Purusha, even as the materialistic science and philosophy conceded the existence of consciousness, but could not keep it aside, away from matter, nor could it bring it into the camp or the bosom of matter itself.

What is the relationship between Purusha and Prakriti? There is no relationship absolutely. There cannot be any relationship, because they are two utterly different elements. If they are utterly different, how does one know that they are different? Who tells that they are different things? Does Purusha say this, or does Prakriti say this? Who is making this statement that Purusha is different from Prakriti? It cannot be said that Prakriti is making this statement, because it is unconscious; nor can it be said that Purusha is making this statement, because it has no connection with Prakriti. It cannot even know that Prakriti exists. But, if it knows that Prakriti exists, it has established a relationship already; its independence has failed. And, if the establishment of relationship has taken place, the nature of this relationship between the two has to be explained, a difficulty which was initially envisaged in understanding or studying the materialistic philosophy. How difficult things are! The solution does not seem to be anywhere in sight.

Patanjali's Proposition

Well, there were geniuses who thought they solved this problem by the introduction of a cementing link between the two. This is what Patanjali has done, for instance, in his Yoga Sutras, though in his novel way. The Yoga of Patanjali is based on the metaphysics of Samkhya, but it differs from Samkhya in one important point. It was realised that it was not possible to get on with these two utterly different principles Purusha and Prakriti. The difficulty is obvious, as was mentioned. How could anyone think of these two things, unless there is a thinker of the two things? The person, the element, or the principle, that is aware of the existence of Prakriti on this side, and Purusha on the other, remains as a third thing altogether. Such a witnessing principle cannot belong to either Purusha, or to Prakriti. But the Samkhya says that there cannot be a third thing. For it, there are only two things. The Samkhya defeats itself by positing two utterly different principles.

The metaphysical aspect of Yoga as propounded by Patanjali, felt the difficulty, and, so, there was an introduction of a deity called Isvara in the Yoga philosophy. This word Isvara should not be associated with any devotional systems, or the God of the religions. Patanjali's Isvara is quite a different thing altogether. It is a pure 'deus ex machina', a contrivance that has been made necessary to explain the relationship between one thing and another. Patanjali had his own arguments for positing the existence of Isvara. It was felt that there cannot be only two parties in a case. If there are two camps opposing each other, who will decide the case? People do good, people do bad. There is a reaction set up to every action, good or bad. Now, who will dispense justice in the form of a nemesis that is set up by actions, good or bad? A client cannot be a judiciary. It cannot be Purusha; it cannot be Prakriti. There is a third element necessary, a judge in a court. This judge was introduced by Patanjali, and he called this judge Isvara.

Who willed originally, who laid down this law that one body of matter should pull another body of matter in a particular manner? Why should there be this law of gravitation at all? If Purusha can be independent of Prakriti and vice versa, one body of matter can also be independent of another body. Everything can be independent of, or different from, everything else. Why not? What is the difficulty? But, that does not seem to be the case. There is mutual action and reaction seen among bodies. It is called gravitation in the physical field, and something else in the social and psychological realms. This cannot be explained unless there is a third element which is the causative factor behind the two parties which sets up action on the one side, and reaction on the other side. One part sets up action, another part sets up reaction. There must be a connection between the two. Otherwise, there is no reaction of action. This is a fact that is observed in life. So, the third principle is called Isvara, in the language of the Yoga of Patanjali. We may call this central judiciary in the cosmos by any name we like.

This seems to be a tentative solution, but we will find that Patanjali has landed us in a problem again. It must be noted that the greatest problem of philosophy is the problem of 'relation'. If this cannot be explained, nothing is explained in life. Instead of solving the difficulty of explaining the relation between two things, Patanjali seems to create another problem of a need to find a relation between three things, Prakriti, Purusha and Isvara. How are they related to each other? Are they identical, or different? Now, again, the problem of identity and difference arises.

Philosophy seems to have failed. The analysis of the world leads us nowhere. The problems remain as problems, unanswered. Not a single question has been answered satisfactorily. That is where one stands, after a little bit of preliminary thought philosophically.