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The Philosophy of Religion
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 4: The Study of the Self from Physics To Metaphysics

Nobody can deny the existence of human society, without which day-to-day life itself is unimaginable. The universe is made more of unseen, invisible things than what one can even conceive of. It is not merely what appears to be there to the eyes. There is a mystery behind it to be unravelled. The pure materialists and even the Samkhya thinkers, however, ignore these invisible but vital factors. Thus, they fail, finally. Not only this; probably, the very approach and the stance taken by them is inadequate to the purpose. Their failure to arrive at any satisfactory conclusion in the study of the universe from a purely materialistic and mechanistic point of view suggests that an entirely new angle of vision is called for.

Gravitation Suggests an Organic Interconnectedness in the Universe

Generally, we have the feeling that matter is contained as a substance inside space. Very rarely does one feel that there is such a thing called time. Man is inviolably connected with the process of time. Yet, he thinks very little of it, but is acutely conscious of space. The dimensions of matter, which man identifies with the substances of the world, are due to the extensions of space. There is what is called distance, and that principle of distance is due to the existence of space. Man has an intuitional apperception of the characteristic of space, such that he does not bother much about its nature. He thinks that it is all clear. Everyone knows what space is - it is a kind of emptiness, we think, which contains every blessed thing. This was the original eighteenth or nineteenth century conclusion of even physics, which led to the notion that the universe of astronomy is an arrangement of material bodies which were formed out of the galaxies, and which constituted the solar system, the earth, the planets, etc.

However, it is not evidently easy to accept that bodies are scattered independently in space, as if they have no connection whatsoever among themselves. It is not that one mountain is here, another there; or one tree is here, and another there, without any connection between the two. If they were independent, there would be no gravitation at all. But even such bodies as planets are subject to this force of gravitation; what to speak of other things? There is an attraction of bodies in a mechanistic manner, as is usually held, conditioned by a mathematical formula. But, really, can the relation be purely mechanistic? How is it possible that there is such a pull among bodies, if there is no internal organic relation among themselves? This is a point that has been unearthed recently in modern physics. The presence of a pull known as gravitation implies, and should imply, an inward, or rather an invisible organic relation between one body and another, notwithstanding that there is a distance of some light years between them. Look at the distance between the sun and the earth, an unimaginable one. Yet the gravitational attraction of the solar orb is so intense that it can compel the planets to move round in their orbits, the spatial emptiness that is between them making no difference. It is, therefore, not true that space is emptiness because by emptiness or vacuum, generally, an absolute nothingness is meant. An absolute nothing cannot become a medium of movement of any force such as gravitation. There is a necessary movement of a connecting link in an invisible form so that gravitation becomes possible. How could the phenomenon of a total vacuum operating as a medium of action between bodies be explained? The principle of gravitation is a visible indication that matter is not located in one place. There is an organic interconnection between bodies. This is a deeper implication that comes to the surface when an attempt is made to understand the nature of space, and the relationship that obtains among bodies.

An affinity among bodies is what is called gravitation. When this force operates among human beings, it is bio-psychic affection. It can also be repulsion under certain circumstances. There is chemical affinity and also psychological affinity, all which seem to be working among human beings and even animals. It appears that Nature cannot manifest its purpose except by expressing the inner content of its constituents. In every movement of Nature, whether it is organic or inorganic, there seems to be a secret characteristic which reveals the interrelatedness of bodies.

Precise Working of Material Bodies: An Indication of Cosmic Intelligence

The deeper does one go into the world of matter, and the further does one move in the direction of space, the more is the insight one gains into the secret of the operation of Nature, the secret being an organic relation among bodies, which appears to be outwardly scattered in space. It is impossible humanly to imagine how the earth, for instance, can move along the same track which it was following for aeons up to this time, as if there is a set of rails laid down on its path in space. Man is used to thinking that things, like the planet earth, are inorganic, inanimate, incapable of thought, without eyes to see and minds to think. But the precision with which bodies work surpasses even the best mathematical imagination. Perhaps, man has invented the system of mathematics only on the observation of the way in which material bodies operate. We are not intending to refute the opinion of rationalists, like Kant, however, in connection with the grounds of mathematical intuition. It cannot be explained how such a precision can be possible at all, where the action of the mind is not even apparent. Though this is difficult to understand because of man's habit of thinking, probably, finally, he will have to come round to attribute an intellect or a reason to what goes as inanimate existence. The inward affinity that physical bodies reveal in their activities would sound as an implication of an organisation that they form among themselves. There is, perhaps, a cosmic society, even as man has his own little, small human society.

The social sense that human beings have is a peculiar phenomenon. As observed earlier, the notion of human society is a psychic network, which operates invisibly and subtly, connecting bodies or individuals into a form of organisation called human society. In the formation of this organisation, the bodies do not actually collide with one another. There is no physical contact, necessarily. One human being can be several miles away from others. Yet they can form a body. This shows that the system of organisation or mutual relationship has little to do with spatial distance. It is something different altogether.

If society is nothing but an organisation of inward affinities, as is the case with human society, one can very well agree that there is no way of explaining the intricate features behind the operation of Nature except by accepting that there is a society of cosmic substances. Is not the solar system thought to be one organisation? Certainly, so. But the distance that is there between one planet and another, or between the planets and the sun, or, as the astronomers point out, between the sun and the other galactical bodies, is vast, enormous! It is said that there are stars whose presence cannot be known even with the most powerful of telescopes. But their presence exerts an influence of a unique nature by means of emanation of rays, which, today, is recognised as a vital living influence. Thus, the acceptance of the possibility of a cosmic society leads to the acceptance of an intelligence behind it, from the observed fact of the precise working of the bodies. Else, why should dead matter behave so sensibly and purposively?

Man does not seem to be living merely by the operation of physical objects which are visible to the eyes. Perhaps, he is even more dependent on invisible influences than on visible things, and his life seems to be connected to factors which range far beyond human perception and conception.

This is why, today, philosophers have stumbled, somehow, on the acceptance of a process, rather than a location, of bodies. Earlier, it was thought that things existed, or things can exist, only within the boundaries of their bodies, and that they cannot have any relevance beyond their location. But, the concept of process melts down this boundary that is set to the bodies of substances, and bodies seem to flow into one another rather than maintain their isolated existences. There is always a craving within every body to become a part and parcel of another body. This is the principle of affection, the principle of love that is seen in Nature. It becomes more and more manifest as one rises to organic levels. This does not mean that it is absent in inorganic Nature, but merely that it is not visible to the naked eye.

Conclusions of Science: Man Is not Outside the Universe

What does the modern scientist say?

Matter has been dematerialised. Matter is no more considered to be a hard, solid substance. Man is gradually evaporating into thin air – so thin, so ethereal, and so fine that a time has come now when it is not possible to distinguish his own presence from the wider atmosphere of the universe. The observing scientist, or the philosopher, is inside the universe. This is important to remember. How can man look at the universe when he is a part of it? How can man study anything in this world? How can he make an analysis of any object, if he is not really outside it? From the fact of the conclusions that one arrives at through the consequences following from the law of gravitation, it follows that the universal structure cannot exclude the contents thereof. Man is not outside the universe. This should be a simple fact. If he is not outside the universe, how can he study the universe? Where comes the need, and the necessity, or even the possibility of his observing anything? Here is the crux of the whole situation. The problem that hangs like an iron curtain in front of the modern scientist is this difficulty of his inability to disentangle himself from the object of his observation. The great physicist Heisenberg discovered that he was involved in the very thing in which he was engaged. The body of the scientist is not outside the body that is to be observed. This is a kind of corollary that follows from the famous Theory of Relativity. The space-time-gravitation cosmos is one complex, or it may be called a compound, if you like. It is such a terrific phenomenon that one gets frightened even by thinking of it.

Study of the Self Is Imperative to the Study of the Universe

While studying the non-mathematical, or, rather, the super-mathematical nature of subatomic structures – this is the field of subatomic physics – the nuclear physics which has been studied in quantum mechanics and the Theory of Relativity, noticed that the force of gravitation, which ruled the world of space and time, had to be reconciled with. This great task, Einstein took upon himself, when he was working at the theory called the Unified Field Theory, wherein "this" is identified with "that" - tattvamasi – "That thou art!" – the famous doctrine of the Upanishad. The quantum mechanics of Max Planck may be said to be the study of the "thou" or the "this", the nuclear element, or the visible object, which is immediately present as an individual structure; and the "that" is the space-time continuum and the gravitation of the universe, which Einstein studied in his General Theory of Relativity. The Special Theory and the General Theory put together present a tremendous upheaval in the discovery of science. Man is forced to study the universe together with a study of his own self, because he is not outside the universe.

Inasmuch as man is not outside the universe, he is integral with it. He is a small universe in his own self. Whatever is in Nature should also be within him, and the system which is seen to operate within himself may be said to be the system that operates in external Nature also. So, Indian philosophers diverted the attention from the objective universe to the subjective individuality in order that the whole cosmos could be envisaged at one stroke.

There is an analogy in Indian logic called "sthalipulaka nyaya," the argument of the recognition of the boiling of rice in a pot. While boiling rice in a pot, if it is required to know whether the rice is fully cooked or not, one grain is squeezed; if it is seen to have been cooked, well, it may be concluded that the whole rice has been cooked, and every grain need not be individually inspected.

So is this analogy of the study of the cosmos by a study of man, as such. The study of man is the study of the universe. "Know thyself" is the oracle of Delphi; "Tattvamasi" is the proclamation of the Upanishad. That the knowledge of the self is the knowledge of the cosmos is a universally accepted doctrine of all philosophies and religions today.

Many a time, one is not able to understand how it is possible for one to know the universe when one is here as a separate individual. Where comes the connection between the knowledge of one's own self and the knowledge of the universe, or vice versa? The reason is simple. The universe is a complete organism, comparable to the human organism, so to say. A complete organism is a total Selfhood. The whole cosmos is an organism, and it is Selfhood in its nature. Its Selfhood can be compared to one's own selfhood, because it is inseparable from one, and one is inseparable from it. That is how man can, perhaps, try to understand it. The study of the universe is the study of the Self of the universe, and the study of the Self of the universe cannot preclude the study of one's own self. The knowledge of the universe is the knowledge of the perceiver of the universe, i.e., one's own self. If one knows one's own self, well, everything else also is known simultaneously, because man is the small, or the microcosmic specimen, of whatever constitutes Nature as a whole. One thing is the same as the other.

Perhaps, here, one gradually stumbles again upon the truth that the knowledge of God and the knowledge of the Self mean the same thing. They are not two different things. God is the name that is given to the Self of the cosmos, the vitality behind everything, the indivisible compound and the utter reality of the most inexplicable character behind and within the universe. The knowledge of the Self is the key to the knowledge of anything.

All philosophy, or any kind of investigation for that matter, commences with immediately available evidence. This is the method followed by logic, where, from the particulars one goes to the generals; i.e., from available information the implications therefrom are dug deep into, or, the other way, from the basic indubitable fact of being, all else is derived as a corollary. The fault of the materialists lay in this, that they misunderstood what the most immediate fact is. They took it to be the world that they see around. They ignored the most immediate thing, one's own existence. No one can doubt one's own invulnerable reality as the foundation for any thought or action.