Chapter 7: The Theory of Knowledge
The analysis in the previous chapter would show that the "I", the Self, essentially is Existence-Consciousness-Bliss. This, apparently, brings forth the same old problem of the relationship between consciousness and matter, though in a different form. But such a problem arises because of the forgetfulness of the analysis already made, which showed that man is a representative selfhood of the Universal Being. Whatever is in the universe is in man also, and vice versa. Then, if the Self is Existence-Consciousness-Bliss, even so must be the universe. But, the problem may be tackled from the relational standpoint, also, which is how the human predicament envisages the values of life.
The materialist starts the analysis with the world. He takes the stance that matter exists. The Samkhya also asserts the same, though it calls matter by the name Prakriti. The existence of matter, or Prakriti, was an assumption which was not questioned at all, but was taken for granted. Again consciousness also cannot be denied. Thus, here, is the relational problem, which none could explain satisfactorily.
When the analysis starts from the self, the situation becomes slightly different. Here, no assumptions are made. It is already established that the self, which is the subject that is enquiring, being consciousness, is also existence, and, thus, undeniable. The existence of matter, the universe, is being questioned: "How do I know that matter exists?" This thorough logicality to the core is what leads to the final solution. "How do I know that anything other than myself exists at all?" This is nothing but asking how man knows the world, or, how knowledge is obtained. This is to knock at the doors of the Theory of Knowledge.
The knowledge of an object is said to involve three ingredients, known in Sanskrit as Pramatr, Pramana and Prameya. The word Pramatr means the perceiver, the cogniser, or the knower. Pramana is the process of knowing. Prameya is the end-result of the knowledge process - i.e., the object that is known. There is something or someone that knows; something that is known; and, also, there is a knowing process, acting as a connecting link between the knower and the known. This simple phenomenon of knowledge involving the knower, the object known, and the knowing process has roused great systems of philosophy of which the prominent phases are known as idealism and realism. These words are coined by Western thinkers, and they are not wholly applicable to the way of thinking in India, though the idealists and the realists, in a different sense, have been pre-eminent thinkers in the philosophical circles of India, also. We shall first consider the Western schools of thought and then proceed to the Indian system.
Rationalism and Empiricism: The Two Schools of Thought
Concerning the theory of knowledge, there are two prominent schools which go by the names of rationalism and empiricism: one holding the opinion that knowledge arises from within by the very nature of the reason of the individual; the other holding the opposite view that knowledge arises by the contact of the senses with objects, i.e., objects cause the knowledge. These two camps have held their stand for centuries and it was difficult to reconcile the two views – viz., does knowledge arise from within man himself spontaneously, or is it an effect produced by an occurrence in the phenomenal world? This subject has been a headache to philosophers both in the West and in the East, which difficulty seems to have arisen due to the concept of reality which each one stuck to, and the consequence of having based all analyses and studies on this conclusive notion about the nature of the ultimate reality itself.
As seen earlier, the doctrine of mechanistic materialism, which thinks that all reality is matter, cannot even dream that knowledge can arise spontaneously from the reason of man or the mind of the individual. Knowledge is an epiphenomenon, a secondary effect that is produced by a primary reality which is quite different from knowledge. Knowledge is not the nature of reality, because it is material in its essence. We have already observed earlier that there is some defect basically in this doctrine, because if matter, which is regarded as ultimately real, is to be all-in-all, and there is to be nothing outside it, there would not be an object of awareness for anyone. There would be nobody to know that matter exists, if it were the only reality. There is some subtle problem creeping into the root of the doctrine of utter materialism, which cannot accept the presence of anything outside matter. On the same grounds, therefore, the empiric doctrine that knowledge arises by the contact of the senses with objects outside, which has some association with materialism, though not wholly, cannot be regarded as entirely true, though there is some amount of truth in it, which we shall consider a little further on.
The human individual is a complex structure. It cannot be studied without one's getting into deep waters. The study of human nature or human individuality is like walking blindfolded on a beaten track. It is a zigzag path and a winding process of thinking because of the involvement of the structure of the personality of man in factors which elude the grasp of his own understanding. It cannot be said that any school of thought is wholly right or wholly wrong, because each one presents a facet or a feature, which is revealed when one's understanding is focussed on that particular aspect only. Man is never accustomed to think in a total manner. Such a thing is almost impossible for people. All thoughts are partial in most cases. We always take into consideration certain features of reality, certain aspects of an event; and an entire circumstance of any occurrence or event is beyond the reach of human understanding, because man himself is not a totality, he is a partiality. He is an abstraction from the total whole. Human individuality is a fragment as well as a shadow of an archetypal wholeness.
Here, one receives a lot of light from Eastern thinking. The philosophers of the Vedanta and the mystics of the Upanishads tell us that man is not made in such a way as to be able to wholly understand what reality is, the reason being that he is an abstraction, a partial extract from the totality which is reality.
Now, this being the case, the knowledge situation, which is being discussed under the subject of the theory of knowledge, becomes somewhat complicated to understand. It is not so easy as it appears. What is it that man knows, and who is he, first of all, that is the subject of the knowledge of things? By now we have a little idea of what individuality is. Man can be said to be anything, and any definition may apply to him. Hence, a stereotyped doctrine of the theory of knowledge is difficult to maintain. To stick to one's own guns and to say that rationalism is wholly right may not be an entirely acceptable procedure. Nor can empiricism be said to be wholly right. Both the doctrines stick to one aspect or feature of truth, and ignore the other ones.
Man Has Both Characteristics: The Rationalist and the Empiricist
The individual percipient belongs to the world in one way, and maintains an isolation from the world in another way. Man has a double characteristic in himself. He cannot isolate himself wholly from the universe. He, indeed, belongs to it. Yet, he maintains some sort of an individuality, and he cannot always feel that he is the same as the world. Man is like a bat, sometimes looking like an animal, and sometimes like a bird. He does not know what he really is. This bat-character in man is the reason for the conflict arising between the rationalist and the empiricist schools. As the subject, man has the prerogative and an inborn capacity to know. As the object, he has not got that knowledge; he has to receive that knowledge from outside. Man is a subject and an object, both at the same time. In his essential relationship with the universe, he is the subject, and to that extent he is free, also. By the way, this conflict between rationalism and empiricism has also bred another subsequent conflict between the doctrine of determinism and free will: "Are you bound or are you free?" The answer to this question is similar to the answer to the other question – whether rationalism is true or empiricism is true. There is some truth in both the statements. Man is free to some extent, no doubt, but he is bound also in some way. Everyone is a subject and also an object; this is the whole point. Here is the crux of the matter. As a subject, man is one thing; as an object, he is another thing. He looks at his own self as a thing when he considers himself as a body, as a segregated individual, and he loses the character of the subject at that time. Then it is that he feels the need for knowledge coming from outside.
And, it is not entirely true that he is outside the universe. This problem is interesting, indeed. We are inside the universe, as an inseparable part of it, and yet we do not seem to be that! We have to pay tax to two governments, because we seem to be citizens of two realms. And while we seem to be receiving support from two nationalities to which we appear to belong, we also seem to be rejected by both, because each one says: "You belong to the other." This is a very unhappy predicament. Man is unhappy; he is an essence of unhappiness, though he has the right to be eternally happy. Man is a mystery.
The rationalist character in man arises on account of the subjectivity that he is, and the empiricist character arises on account of the objectivity which, also, he is. As a part of the total universe, man is bound to participate in the nature of the universe. The being of the universe cannot be separated from an awareness of this being. Being is awareness, awareness is being; Existence is Consciousness, Sat is Chit. As a pure subject belonging to the universe, man has the capacity in him to be consciousness inseparable from being. So, the rationalists are right, here. Knowledge arises from within man, because his being is inseparable from consciousness. Here is the truth about rationalism, its fundamental thesis.
But, there is the other side of it. Man has somehow managed to wrest himself away from the connection that he has with the universe, and really stands outside it, as if the universe is looking at him as its object. Then, from that point of view, he is bereft of this prerogative of inborn knowledge, and he looks like a thing rather than a perceiving subject, and the law of gravitation acts upon him as it acts upon any physical body. The law of the physical universe tells upon him. The law of physics and astronomy applies to him wholly, when he becomes an object, when he is a body, when he is a thing, when he is outside the universe. As an individual located in a body, maintaining a segregation of himself, man is determined by the law of Nature, and has no freedom, whatsoever.
Yet, man has an inward connection with the pure subjectivity of the cosmos, and, therefore, he is free to that extent. One feels simultaneously that one is free and that one is bound; one is in hell and in heaven at the same time. The human being is a mortal, yet he is a god.
Before trying to learn something about what Eastern thought feels about this problem, one would do better to draw one's attention to the deeper analysis conducted by an eminent thinker, Immanuel Kant, usually called the Copernican revolution in philosophy. There were thinkers like Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz, who were confident that knowledge rises from 'within' only. They were the rationalists par excellence. The idea of the individual is so constituted that it could generate knowledge which pertains to being or reality. The others, such as Locke, Berkeley and Hume, the protagonists of the empiricist school, held the doctrine that knowledge does not so arise from within, though all the three differed from one another in the manner of their presentations.
One cannot just close one's eyes and rouse knowledge of the world from within one's reason. That arises by one's coming in contact with the things of the world. The senses receive impressions from the objects outside. These impressions are conveyed to the percipient through the sense organs and they are organised in a particular way into perceptions.
Immanuel Kant: Attempt to Bring Together Empiricism and Rationalism
Immanuel Kant tried to bring about a reconciliation between these two views of reality and knowledge. The rationalists are right, and the empiricists are also right in one way. The rationalists are wrong, and the empiricists are also wrong in another way: They are taking an extreme stand, and therefore they are not giving the entire picture of what is actually happening when man knows an object. It is true that without the contact of the senses with objects one cannot know anything in the world. But, it is also true that unless there is a receptive capacity in one's own self, which is of the essential character of knowledge, one would not be able to assimilate these sensations and organise them into perception, or knowledge.
There is a little difference between the analysis made in Western circles and the Eastern ones, so far as the inner components of the psyche are concerned. Mostly, Western psychologists confine themselves to the threefold classification of the psyche into understanding, willing and feeling. Though the psychological organ can be dissected into minute formations, these three attitudes of the mind in the process of knowledge may be regarded as the essential ones so far as the study of epistemology is concerned. The German philosopher Kant wrote three volumes, viz., The Critique of Pure Reason, The Critique of Practical Reason, and The Critique of Judgment, which are voluminous expositions of the implications that follow from a study of these three functions, understanding, willing and feeling. In the East, the focus on the mind has been of a different nature, though this threefold activity of the mind is accepted. The internal organ, which is called Antahkarana, is usually understood to perform four functions, on account of which it is called by four different names or designations - Manas, Buddhi, Chitta and Ahamkara. These are Sanskrit words correspondingly meaning the mind which thinks; the intellect which understands; the subconscious, which remembers or functions as memory of experience; and the ego, which arrogates all things to itself, and maintains perpetual self consciousness.
From the materialist standpoint, knowledge would be utterly impossible, because knowledge is not the nature of the object. The object is material; it is not conscious. Further, it is impossible to imagine how knowledge can be extracted from an object, and brought within the perceiver's mind so that he may know that the object is there. Even taking for granted that knowledge is located in the objects outside, how could it be transferred to the perceiver, and how could it become a part of his being? How could there be unity between the essentiality within man, the perceiving centrality, and the knowledge that has come from outside? Unless there is something akin to knowledge in one's own being, knowledge of things would be impossible. Total dissimilarities do not join together. There must be a similarity of character in order that there may be a union of things. Even if there is a union of the object with the subject in the rising of knowledge, there should be something in the object, and something in the subject, similar to what is known as knowledge.
The rationalists feel that knowledge is inborn in the human being. It is already within us; it has only to be brought out by certain means, and these means are the sensory activities or the empiric operations. Socrates held the view that all knowledge is within. The Greeks were fond of the great dictum, "Know Thyself." It is not necessary to probe into the nature of the object outside. Man has to know himself, and then he knows all things. To know one's own self is to have true knowledge. This is the essential forte of the rationalist doctrine.
Why does any difficulty arise? How is it that this problem of a conflict has arisen between two parties contending with each other? Can a deeper analysis be done to find out the source of this conflict itself? Why is it that one says this, and another says that as the final word? And; how is it that sometimes there is a feeling that both are right in some way, though neither seems to be wholly right?
The Process of Knowledge of Things after Sleep
The way we know that an object exists is the subject of epistemology. The process through which one is passing in an act of knowledge is an everyday experience of people. Only, no one appears to bestow sufficient attention on it. The process involves the functions which are cognitive, conative and affective. This will be clear when one studies the way in which one becomes aware of things after one wakes up from sleep. One has to be careful in this analysis of what one is passing through after waking. Mostly, there is no time to make such an analysis. How does one get up from deep sleep and then become conscious that there is a world outside? In sleep nothing is known; neither is there the awareness of one's own existence, nor the awareness of the existence of anybody else. When one is woken up from sleep, what is the type of awareness that one entertains immediately after waking? Is it an act of perception of the world outside? No, one is not suddenly aware of things. There is a bare, indeterminate consciousness. One is merely aware. One is half sleepy, and yet the sleep has gone. The weight of sleep is hanging over still, but the darkness of it is no more and the light which peeps through this cloud of unknowing, sleep, has awakened the person into a kind of consciousness which cannot be adequately described in language. It is not consciousness of anything. Perhaps, one does not even become conscious of one's own existence in a proper, definable manner. And in the next stage there is just self consciousness. One feels that one is. And even when one feels that one is, one is not very clear about things. There is an unclear notion about oneself. The duties, the worries and the anxieties of the world have not yet risen in a concrete form when one is aware that one exists, but yet one is not fully aware of the implications of this consciousness of one's existence.
Since everyone passes through this stage rapidly, no one is able to make an analysis of it properly. Like a picture in a moving show of portraits, one sees a rapid motion of the presentation, on account of which the details cannot be counted or even be visualised quickly. Nevertheless, they are shows of moving pieces or bits of portraits. Likewise, there is a rapid movement of experience through which everyone is passing after waking from sleep. One has not woken up fully; the walls are not seen, but something is visible as existing outside. The indeterminate awareness of the presence of things outside becomes later a determinate perception: this is a wall, this is a door, this is a window. This idea is a later consequence that follows from one's rising from sleep. All these things can take place in just one minute. Yet, within this one minute, one has passed through all these stages.
When this concrete knowledge of the nature of objects around is obtained, there is a modification of the mind, which Patanjali calls Aklishta-vritti, or a psychosis which is non-pain-giving - non-pain-giving in the sense that it is merely an awareness of the presence of the characteristic of an object, and nothing else is associated with it. But when an affective note, the emotional or the feeling aspect is associated with it, the awareness of the object becomes more accentuated: 'It is mine; this is not mine'. The feelings of like and dislike, or rather, love and hatred, get associated with the bare perception of the object. This is a further development. When one is aware of the existence of an object, it is not suddenly associated with love and hatred. But later on it becomes 'mine' or 'not mine'. For instance, one may see something standing in front of oneself. This is an indeterminate perception of the object. And when this perception, which is indeterminate, becomes more clear, one becomes aware that it is a man standing, it is not anything else. A consciousness of the fact that a human being is standing there is more concrete than the earlier bare consciousness. A mere awareness of the fact of a being standing need not necessarily get associated with love and hatred. But this Aklishta-vritti, or the mere perceptive act, or the knowledge of the existence of a human being in front, can suddenly transform itself into the consciousness of a person who is liked or hated – 'Oh, this is the person! Oh, when did you come? Please come; sit down.' One shakes hands if it is a dear friend. Or, if it is an abominable individual, he is hated from the bottom of the heart. One shuts up and shrinks away from that individual. This psychosis is called Klishta-vritti, according to Patanjali, a condition of the mind which is pain-giving – not like the earlier one which was non-pain-giving. A mere awareness of the presence of an object does not give pain. But when it is connected with specific feelings, it rouses sentiments of like and dislike. Then the attitude towards the object gets conditioned by this process of perception which is associated with the affective emphasis of like and dislike. Then it is not merely a looking at the wall. 'It is the wall or the building which belongs to me,' is something that follows from the mere act of perception of the existence of a wall.
There is a mysterious mixing up or a blend of the various functions of the psyche, the internal organ, when it becomes aware of an object. This affective perception of the object, or rather, the emotional cognition of an object, drives one into action, and activity proceeds as a result of perception which is of this nature or that nature. Something lying on the ground may be seen. And when it is seen clearly and the awareness that it is a snake arises, everyone knows what activities are stimulated within the system, merely because of the consciousness that it is a snake that is lying on the floor.
All activities can be regarded as a procession of reactions set up by a movement of the psyche in various ways, in accordance with the emphasis laid upon it by any particular phase of its function, cognitive, conative or affective, understanding, willing or feeling. But all these functions act so rapidly that one appears to be inseparable from the other. Everyone understands, wills and feels at the same time, as it were. 'I know that there is such a thing in front of me, and I feel something about it and I decide upon an action in regard to it at once.' This 'at once' is only a way of saying. It is not really an at-once action. It is a series of processes that has taken place within the mind. Thus, perception is not an impartial knowledge of things. It is a highly conditioned way of looking at things, and man is not seeing things as they really are. We live in a world of appearance. This is one aspect of the issue, a partial phase which describes how no one is living in a real world, but a world which is highly conditioned by the reactions one sets up in regard to the nature of things.
The Individual Is Conditioned by Space-Time, Quantity, Quality, Relation and Mode
There is another aspect which is the celebrated theme of The Critique of Pure Reason of Kant. The universe is a phenomenon, a tremendously conditioned process of not merely space and time, but something worse, the condition of knowing, to which the internal organ is subject. It is known very well that all objects are seen as they are in space and time. But why should it be that the awareness is forced to cognise objects only in space and time? Is it not indeed unpleasant to hear that anyone should be forced to do anything? Much worse, forced to know anything? Why should there be compulsion even to be aware of things in a prescribed manner? Why should it be that the objects are to look as if they are located in space and time only? Well, nobody can easily find an answer to this question. Man is brainwashed, as it were, so intensely and to such logical perfection that no one can think except in terms of space and time. Either a thing is in space and time, or no one can have any idea about anything. The conditioning principle behind all acts of perception through the senses is the space-time complex. One puts on ready-made spectacles when seeing things, and it is, thus, not a real seeing of things as they truly are in themselves. The spectacles are space and time. And, naturally, the nature of the object of perception will depend upon the type of spectacles that are used. If the glasses are changed, the things would appear different. Man has been provided with a pair of glasses, space and time, and no one can see anything except through these media. Also, no one can remove them and throw them away. These glasses are part and parcel of what the percipient is. They are sticking to man; nay, he is made of their very stuff! Man is a spatio-temporal phenomenon. Individuality is just that much. All this is evidently a very unsatisfactory state of affairs, agonising and annoying, that man should be in a concentration camp and that he should see things only in this way and not in any other way. We seem to be held up in a prison, and no one knows how we have got into this cell of bondage.
But the harassment is not over. It is not enough if man is punished only with this much. He has to be troubled further. There is something worse that is taking place within everyone, which points out that man is wholly wrong in believing that he is in a world of reality. There is nothing finally real in this world, and even if there be something real, somewhere, no one knows it. The reason is, on the one hand, the condition to which everyone is subject on account of the operation of space and time. If these spectacles were to be cast away and then one is to look at things, well, perhaps, they may appear in a different shape. But this is not to be. The worst thing that is happening is within oneself, in the internal organ, in the mind itself. It can think only in certain ways. Just as the senses can see only through space and time and in no other way, the mind can think only in certain given ways and in no other way. Everyone is, thus, doubly conditioned through the senses and also through the mind. What are these conditions to which the mind is subject and in terms of which alone it can think always? The psychological spectacles are quantity, quality, relation and modality, says Kant. This is a bare outline in a few sentences, which Kant expounds in some eight hundred pages.
The difficulty is that no one can know anything unless it is associated with the fourfold facets mentioned. A characteristic or a definition is always clubbed with a thing. Else, what it is cannot be known. Every object has certain defining features. These characteristics are what are called the qualities. And there are many characteristics which cannot be counted. There is colour, there is height, there is weight and there are umpteen things which can be associated with an object. This is what is called a definition. A particular object can be defined by naming it in terms of the qualities which are associated with its quantity, which is the object. Quantity and quality go together; they cannot be separated.
And, everything is related to something else. The very act of the recognition of the presence of an object is due to the relation that it has with something else, a thing which no one is able to cogitate upon. When one says, 'Here is a white wall,' does one think that he is making an innocent statement? No, the whiteness of the wall has become an object of perception because of there being non-white things around it. If there is no non-white, whiteness cannot be seen. So there is a relation of the white to the non-white, and there is an infinite series of these relations. Everything is hanging on something else, so that no one knows one thing unless the characteristics of another thing are assumed at the same time. This is another difficulty to which the mind is put in its knowledge of things so that nothing can be known isolatedly. 'A' cannot be known without knowing 'B', 'B' cannot be known without knowing 'C', and so on. So, no one knows where one is and what one is knowing. The objects which are assumed to be quantities and are defined by qualities are also known through relations which obtain among things. And every object exists in a condition, a situation, a circumstance, a state of affairs, which is called a mode. Everything is in some condition. A state of affairs in which anything is found is the mode of that particular object, the thing.
Thus, mainly, these are the four ways in which the mind can think, viz., quantity, quality, relation and mode. There is no other way of thinking. Even when one thinks of God, the Almighty, one can think only in terms of quantity, quality, relation and mode. So, Kant tells us, there is no such thing as the metaphysics of the existence of God. Such a thing is not possible, if by God is meant Reality as such. He goes to the extent of demolishing the very possibility of knowing the existence of such a thing as God by rational investigation, on account of this peculiarity in which one is placed, namely, the conditioning of oneself in space-time and the various other categories which restrict the operation of the mind. He has formulated a list of the categories of the understanding, together with space and time, which are the spectacles through which everyone sees or knows things in perception.
There is a third faculty, called reason, in man, regulating sensory operation, the functions of the understanding, and the assumptions of the intellect. Here, in his evaluation of the functions of reason, Kant is a little wrong, though he is pious in his intentions. He holds that the doctrine that God exists is only an assumption, and it cannot be anything more than an idea. The point is that reason itself is, again, an offshoot of the categories of the understanding. Then, what can reason argue about except things which are conditioned in this manner as mentioned already? If the argument, even about God Himself, is conditioned, how could one be sure that one is arguing about a real thing? Even God which is in one's mind is a part of the phenomenon of the universe of the categories. Everyone is in a world which is nothing but phenomena; and Reality, which he calls the 'Thing-in-Itself , cannot be known. No one can see it, because it is not an object of the thought or of the senses. It, thus, would seem to occupy a position which is assumed as a nail for the purpose of hanging this coat of the awareness of an object. It is an invisible nail that is somewhere, on which one has to fix the coat of knowledge. Why is it invisible? And how would knowledge be real if what it hangs on is only ideal? Visibility is the act of the senses and the mind, and the senses and the mind are conditioned in the way described. Hence, unconditioned things cannot be thought by the mind, and God is unconditioned, it is said. Unconditioned being cannot be comprehended by the conditioned mind. And there are but conditioned minds in this world. So, thinking God is an impossibility. And, if metaphysics is a description of the nature of Reality, such as the existence of God, it does not exist. Kant, here, forgets that it would not have been possible to know that things are phenomenal, but for the fact that the reason has in its bosom a noumenal root, which, actually, is what the adumbrated Thing-in-Itself is.
Will and Feeling Are Not Conditioned
Kant's theoretical arguments may look like agnosticism, because they strike a conclusive note that man cannot know Reality. The error committed by Kant in this way of argument can be seen if the nature of religious consciousness is studied, which he himself seems to have accepted a little later in his career. He wrote, further, two other books, called The Critique of Practical Reason and The Critique of Judgment. In The Critique of Pure Reason he demolishes all philosophy as a way of knowing Reality. But there is something in man which is not merely the mind which thinks. There is what is known as will, and also feeling. One's will decides that one should do the right, and the feeling affirms that there is something which is inscrutable in this universe. Whatever be the argument of the mind which is conditioned by the four categories, and whatever be the difficulty felt by the senses which are restricted to the operations of space and time, there is some other faculty in man, different from the senses, and different from the mind working under the heavy weight of the categories of the understanding, viz., will and feeling, whose existence cannot be abrogated wholly. The will is the deciding factor. No one works in this world as if moving in a world of ghosts, though the conditioned intellect tells us that we are in a world of chimeras. This analysis that man is conditioned in every way and he is in a world of phenomena leads to the conclusion that he is in a world of phantasms. But no one can be prepared to accept this position, and yet live. No one feels that he is looking at things which have no substance in them. If this had been the case, one cannot imagine what would be the state of people in the world. Men would not have existed even for three days continuously. There is another affirmation taking place within everyone together with the problem created by the categories. There is the ethical consciousness, or the urge towards righteousness, as it is generally called, which is supposed to be an act of the will. Man is somehow impelled to do the right and not the wrong.
Now, the urge towards righteousness seems to be a phenomenon occurring in man different from what is described earlier in terms of space and time or the categories of cognition. How is it that one is impelled to do the right and not the wrong? It cannot be said that this urge arises due to the operation of space and time; nor is it an outcome of the operation of the four limiting categories. It stands as something unique in itself. Something tells us that 'it has to be right', and 'it should not be wrong'. This categorical imperative, as Kant calls it, is an impulsion from within, which defies the arguments of the conditioned intellect and says that man has certain capacities different from the faculty which is limited in this manner and the senses which are also restricted in that way. The feeling, again, is something which plays a very important role in one's life. Perhaps, man lives due to his feelings rather than his understandings, or any other psychic function. Man decides upon a thing on account of a certain feeling in him; logic or no logic is a different matter. It does not appear that he is working in this world on account of a regular deduction that he is making every day through logical processes. Man does not seem to be tagged on to logic always. He confirms logically what he feels basically.
Here is something interesting about man's conduct in the world. The feeling is apparently the guiding factor in man. What is feeling? One is liable to accept that it is a deeper and more profound faculty than the logical intellect or the theological reason. Logic seems to be a poor and inadequate equipment which man is wielding, in the light of a more forceful urge within him called feeling, and when feeling begins to operate, logic fails. It is the feeling, a peculiar impulsion within one that takes the concrete form of desire, and when it becomes vehement, it turns into passion. When one is under the grip of an intense desire or a passion, no logic will work. Reason has nothing to say there, and it is thrown out like an unwanted instrument. It appears that one has certain urges within, which are not always amenable to philosophic argument. Two of them are mentioned, the urge towards righteousness, and the feeling about certain invisible factors operating in life which are not discoverable through logical means, – beauty and teleological meaning in the world being two of its phases.
Subjective Idealism and Objective Realism
The word idealism has originally arisen out of the word idea. It may appear that the word idea-ism is more appropriate here than idealism, if this meaning is to be the real interpretation of the term; for, idealism may also mean the holding of an ideal before oneself. What is idealism? The originators of this system of thinking in the West mostly laid emphasis on the idea of the knower or the percipient of the object, and by a sort of analysis concluded that the idea of the knower is the conditioning factor in the knowledge of any object. Unless one's idea adjusted itself to the object that is known, one would not be able to be aware that there is an object. Virtually, the object is just the 'idea' that there is the object.
The trouble actually arose when a thinker in England, John Locke, started an empiric analysis of the process of knowledge. Though Locke never intended to be an idealist – he was its strong opposite – he, unwittingly, dragged people into a mire of thought which ended in a drastic form of idealism. Locke was a realist, an empiricist, and his analysis led to the result that objects exist prior to the idea of objects in the process of knowledge. The objects have to exist first of all. If they do not exist, an idea of objects cannot arise in the mind. The thought process is subsequent to the existence of the object. This is the essential doctrine of realism. The objects are real; they are not in any way projected by the mind or the idea of the percipient. The theory which holds objects to be real in themselves, having their own status, and not getting influenced by the thinking process of the knower, is realism. But Locke's empiricism posited the characteristics of objects by defining them in two ways, viz., by the association of objects with what he called primary qualities, as well as secondary qualities. The contention of the realist is that the primary qualities truly belong to objects and they are independent of the knowing process. The idea of the knower of the object does not in any way affect the primary qualities which are inherent in the object. The primary qualities are, for instance, the length and breadth, or height, or the weight, or the geometrical dimension of the object, which cannot be changed by the idea of the perceiver. But there are also what are known as secondary qualities which are the projections of the mind of the thinking individual. The way in which objects, in which the primary qualities inhere, react upon the knower, the entire pattern of this reaction, is the origin of a new set of qualities known as secondary qualities. The green colour of a leaf, the red colour of a rose, etc., and similar qualities that are recognised to be present in objects by one's sense organs, are all secondary qualities. But, apart from these associated attributes known as secondary qualities, the objects have their own independent characteristics. This independence of the object is the essential feature of any argument of the realist. The objects are not created by the thinking process, though the secondary qualities may vary from one percipient to another. The colour of the object, for instance, may depend on the way in which the eyes function. A jaundiced eye will not see the colour of the objects properly. And if our eyes are constituted in a different manner, we would perhaps see objects in a different way. The structure of the sense organs has something to do with the perception of the secondary qualities in the objects. Actually they do not inhere in the objects; they are foisted upon them due to the peculiar way in which the sense organs operate. The objects are, thus, variegatedly perceived in terms of the secondary qualities. But objects have an independent existence of their own, with their primary qualities. This is the forte of the realist doctrine.
However, this very system of realistic thinking landed one in idealism, finally. There was an acute thinker called Berkeley who followed Locke, and went deeper into his implications, and argued out a totally unexpected conclusion. If the secondary qualities are not actually in the objects, how do we conclude that the primary qualities are present in them? Who has seen the primary qualities? They cannot be seen. They are merely assumed, theoretically. Whatever is seen, whatever is heard, whatever is sensed in any manner, is nothing but a conglomeration of secondary qualities. That the objects have primary qualities independent of the secondary qualities is merely an unfounded dogma, which is unwarranted. If the secondary qualities are the only things experienced and nothing else can be experienced by us, how do we know that there are unexperienced things like quantity, weight, dimension, etc.? Who told us that they exist at all? If they are known by us as being present there really, then we should be able to know things even beyond the secondary qualities. But the argument of the realist is that beyond the secondary qualities nothing can be seen, because we are limited to the operation of the sense organs, and beyond these activities of the senses we cannot go. So, there seems to be a contradiction in the realist argument. On the one hand, the realist says that no one can know more than the secondary qualities; and, on the other hand, he holds that there are primary qualities. How did he come to know that there are primary qualities? 'So, I conclude,' says Berkeley, 'that primary qualities do not exist.' They are only concoctions of the mind, and they exist in the same way as the secondary qualities exist. There is no such thing as a distinction to be drawn between the primary and the secondary qualities. Some qualities are there as perceived by us, and whether they are really there or not is a matter of doubt. The primary qualities also are an object of doubt. They are, perhaps, imagined by the mind. Objects may not exist in the way in which they are perceived by the senses.
Now, a doubt arises as to whether objects exist at all. Because, what are objects without their characteristics? Minus length, minus breadth, minus height, minus weight, minus quantity and quality, what is an object? What is called an object is only a heap of these characteristics, and these characteristics themselves are subject to serious doubt. No one knows whether qualities are really there. If they are not there, objects also are not there. Then what exists? Only 'my idea' exists. This is rank subjectivist attitude in idealism.
The world, perhaps, does not exist at all. The world is nothing but an arrangement of primary and secondary qualities which are imagined to be there, but which are, perhaps, not there. If primary qualities are assumed to be independent characteristics of the objects, why not also assume that the secondary qualities are also there really, independent of our perception? But it is known well that the secondary qualities vary from individual to individual, and even in the same individual under different conditions of the mind. If a person has a severe headache and his mind is reeling, he feels that the mountain is going round. There are many such illusions by which one is deceived, such as the mirage. Things are not there, but they appear to be there. Why should it not be thought that the primary qualities are also like the mirage, which are somehow or other imagined, but may not be there? If they are not there, the world is also not there. The implications of this suggestion are far reaching, because the doctrine shakes the very foundation of human thinking. Is man living in a real world or in an illusory phenomenon? The extreme form of idealism holds that the world does not exist.
Anything carried to the extreme is likely to lose the very point it is driving at. Truth seems to be in the middle, between two extremes. The knowledge process involved in the awareness of an object would not normally be possible unless there is something which is designated as the object. If it is not there at all, knowledge itself cannot be explained. If the world does not exist, there is no such thing as knowledge of anything. There cannot be a perception or knowing of anything, if nothing exists. How does it happen that man seems to be aware of something outside him, an external form? Whether the world is there or not is a different question. The point is: how is it that one is forced to believe that there is something external to consciousness? Man is not aware only of himself, but in addition to himself, he feels the presence of something else also, outside him. Even if that something be an appearance, it has managed to present itself before the knower as an 'outside' something, rather than a part of his own being. When he looks at things outside, when he sees the world, he does not feel that he is seeing his own self in some part. If man's ideas alone exist and the world in its form as objects does not exist, how does it follow that he feels as if there is an outside world?
Idealism amended itself when it went further, and Berkeley, who posited the doctrine of the existence only of ideas, himself had to change his notion about it when he could not easily answer the question as to why things appear as external even if they are illusory. The externality of the phenomenon of the world follows from the acceptance of the fact that even appearance is an external phenomenon. It is not something that is happening inside one's eyes, inside the ears or within the mind. The philosophy of idealism is so complicated that different theorists and doctrinaires in this field have held different opinions about its true meaning. Immanuel Kant considered this matter carefully and held that the externality of the phenomenon is due to the presence of space and time. If space and time were not to be there, perhaps, things would not appear to be outside. Though it is true that something has to be there in order to make the appearance itself possible, i.e., a Thing-in-Itself as he called it, one cannot know what that Thing-in-Itself is, because conditioned knowledge cannot reveal unconditioned existence. Berkeley accepted that God's Mind is the Cause.
The reason of man seems to have some potentiality to know beyond its own limitations. Though man is limited, yet he has some capacity within him to break this boundary of limitations. The very inference that he draws that something has to be there as the basis of even the Phenomenon of the world is an indication of his profounder capacities. The inferences that are drawn suggest that there are faculties within man which are superior to the ordinary empirical reason. One is drawn to the conclusion by the very force of one's own arguments that, while it is impossible to reject the theory that perhaps even the primary qualities do not exist and therefore the world of objects may not be there, yet, at the same time, a reasonability has to be expected in the arguments and one has to concede that the world cannot be contained entirely within the brain of any particular individual. It is not true that one individual is thinking the world, and the world cannot be there unless the mind of that individual works. Thus came about a modified form of idealism known as 'metaphysical idealism' which did not go to the extreme of thinking that only the idea of the individual is existent and nothing else outside it exists. It conceded the presence of something outside the individual mind as a perceiver, and thus agreed with the realist. But, that something which is the basis of the phenomenon of the world appearing as external cannot be a material object. This is a little intricacy that has been introduced into this new argument.
One cannot fully disagree with Berkeley, yet cannot fully agree with him, either. So is the position of the realist partially right. There cannot be a disagreement with Berkeley because it is possible that the primary qualities of the object are conditioned by the perceiving mind. But there is another aspect of it; the conditioning of the perceived object by the perceiving mind does not preclude the position that there is evidently something behind this phenomenon of perception. This subject has been elaborately discussed in the context of the Brahma Sutras by Acharya Sankara when he refuted the idealistic doctrine of Yogarchara Buddhism, which held that only ideas exist and that a real world does not exist outside. The obvious outcome is that if nothing exists outside, even the idea that nothing exists outside cannot arise. This is a subtle point that has to be noticed here. The argument is that nothing exists outside. But, the idea that nothing exists outside cannot arise unless something outside evokes such a notion. This was the point made out by vigorous realist and empiricist schools.
The difficulty cannot be easily overcome, because there is a pull in two directions by the reality that seems to be 'there', and the 'phenomenal' character of the world. It was noticed earlier that man belongs to phenomena and also to a noumenal reality. The human being partakes of two realms of experience. He is partly in the realm of the eternal, infinite something, and partly also in a world of passing shadows. This is perhaps the reason why he is caught by two camps from two different directions, the realist and the idealist. The idealistic feature is present in him and the realistic pressure is also there at the same time, in the same way as he is a rationalist and an empiricist, for two different reasons.
The metaphysical idealism referred to is an advanced form of idealism which holds that one cannot completely abrogate the belief that something outside is there. Something has to be there; else, one cannot be forced to feel that something is there at all. But that something, though it is presumably there, cannot be a material object. It cannot be material because it has to be known by a conscious principle. Matter cannot know itself. Matter is a name that is given to a particular circumstance bereft of self consciousness. Where consciousness is present, or awareness is there, it is called a subject, and not an object. If the objective world, the world of objects, is constituted of matter bereft of consciousness, it cannot become a content of anyone's consciousness. It is well known that like attracts like, and something that is totally dissimilar in character cannot be a content of the perceiving mind which is endowed with consciousness. Here, again, is another difficulty. How does one know a material world? There has to be some undercurrent of connection between the seen and the seer. If that were not to be there, knowledge would not be possible. If the world is wholly material in nature, nobody could know that it exists.
The Knowledge Process Explained
In the knowledge process there are three ingredients involved: Pramatr, Pramana and Prameya, – the knower, the process of knowing, and the object of knowledge. The knower, or the Pramatr, comes in contact with the Prameya, or the known object, through the medium called Pramana, or the knowing process. What does one mean by these three items, – the knower, the knowing process, and the known object? The knowing process is the illuminating link connecting the knower with the object that is known. It has to be an illuminating or illumined process, because knowledge is always illumination. It is a light which is of a peculiar nature, not like others as the sunlight. It is a movement of self consciousness.
With difficulty can one explain what consciousness is. The word is, no doubt, repeated by everyone as if it is very clear. We have to think that it is clear, because there is no other word which can explain it, and everyone knows what consciousness is. It does not call for a commentary on its essential nature. Everyone is aware that oneself is, and one need not ask for an explanation of what that phenomenon is: If the question, 'How do you know that you exist?' is raised, everyone would retort, 'I know that I exist', and no further questioning is necessary. It is just clear. This clarity of one's awareness that one exists is an illustration of what consciousness, or awareness, is, or has to be. If anybody wants to know what consciousness is, he has only to close his eyes for a few seconds, and feel how he knows that he is. This intriguing experience of one's knowing that he is, is consciousness operating. In this consciousness of one's being there is also the root of the urge to know that other things are also there, apart from oneself.
Some idea is already gained of the process of knowing things after one wakes up from sleep. There is, first of all, a self consciousness in everyone, the Pramatr-Chaitanya. Consciousness of the knower is called Pramatr-Chaitanya. Chaitanya is consciousness; Pramatr is the knower. The knowing consciousness of the knower as existing in himself, or itself, is Pramatr-Chaitanya. It moves in some particular manner, or rather, it appears as if it is moving. No one can fully be sure if it really moves. But it looks as if it is moving. This cautious proviso has to be added because it will be told sometimes that consciousness cannot move, and does not move, and need not move, because of its all-pervading nature. It is omnipresent and, so, to say that it moves would be an inaccurate statement. Yet, it looks as if it is moving, for a reason which is to account for the 'externality' of the world of objects.
There is a thing called mind within man. The mind is charged with consciousness, as a copper wire may be charged with electricity: The wire becomes live when it allows the movement of electric energy through it. Likewise, the mind becomes live, and one says 'the mind moves'. The mind knows in the same way as a wire is electricity. The wire is not electricity; even so, the mind is not consciousness. Yet, when one touches the wire, one receives a shock, because the force and the medium cannot be separated from each other. In the same way, we may say, the mind is consciousness. It is not consciousness in one way, and it is consciousness in another way. The process of the enlivening of the mind by the presence of consciousness within is the incentive given to the knowing process. It is as if life is induced into an inanimate object. The mind is an urge within to move outwardly. It is not a thing or a substance. It is a faculty which pushes everyone outside. There is a permanent impulse within everyone to move outside oneself, to go beyond the limitations of one's body, and man is more an object than a subject in the practical field of the world, a reason why he is so much concerned with things outside rather than his own self. Everyone's worries are about the world, and there is no other anxiety. This happens due to the strange impulse from within to move outside, to go out beyond oneself. The mind pushes itself beyond itself. And, so, when consciousness operates through the mind, it looks as if the consciousness is also drawn towards an external something. What moves actually is the mind and not consciousness. This movement of the mind attended with consciousness is called Pramana, or the knowing process.
The Vedanta psychology holds that the mind assumes the shape of its object. This form which the mind assumes is called a Vritti. A Vritti is a modification of the mind in terms of a particular object. When a form is known, or an object is contacted, the mind is supposed to envelop that object. This process of the enveloping of the object by the mind is called Vritti-Vyapti. Vyapti is pervasion. The pervasion by the mind of a particular location called the object is Vritti-Vyapti. However, it is not enough if the mind assumes merely the shape or the form of the object. One has to be aware that the object is there. This awareness that the object is there is due to the presence of consciousness in this moving process called the mind. The illumination of the presence of the form called the object is termed Phala-Vyapti. So, a twofold activity takes place when an object is known, viz., the mind pervades the form and the consciousness illumines the form. The knowledge of the object is actually the knowledge of a form. The form is made available to perception by the activity of the mind, and the awareness of it arises on account of the consciousness attending upon the mind.
The point is that the object cannot be wholly material. If it is to be material, consciousness cannot illumine it. Consciousness is qualitatively different from the object which is material, supposing that it is material. The Vedanta psychology holds that the object cannot be material because consciousness knows that the object is there, and it comes in contact with the object. This is possible only if it has some similarity with the object, which, again, makes one conclude that the principle of consciousness is somehow inherent in the object, also. This is a gradual deduction that is made from the premise that knowledge of the object is possible. The conclusion, therefore, is that consciousness is potentially inherent in the object. The Vedanta calls it Vishaya-Chaitanya, and not merely Vishaya. Vishaya is an object; Vishaya-Chaitanya is object-consciousness. Here, Vishaya-Chaitanya or object-consciousness does not mean consciousness 'of' the object, but object which is itself a phase of consciousness.
The studies done earlier must be remembered again, where it was concluded that consciousness is indivisible, and so it has to be infinite. If it is infinite, outside it nothing can be. The idea of infinitude implies that externality is anomalous. If consciousness is infinite, it has to be that, and it cannot be anything else. It cannot be finite, for the very knowledge of the finitude of consciousness would suggest the infinitude of it. It has to be infinite, and, therefore, external to it none can be; no object can exist outside consciousness.
Thus, what is called an object turns out to be a phase of consciousness. It is a formation of consciousness itself. The Self collides with the Self; the Atman comes in contact with the Atman. This is the reason why we love the things of the world. This is the view of Sage Yajnavalkya as propounded in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. There is so much love for things because one is seeing one's own Self in things. "Love thy neighbour as thyself," because thy neighbour is thy own Self. Else, why should anyone love one's neighbour? What has happened to man? The attraction that one feels for the objects of the world is caused by the presence of one's own universality hidden in the objects. Otherwise, nothing can attract anyone. How could anything that is totally outside us pull us in its direction? Could anyone have any dealing with a thing which has no relationship with oneself? One would not even know of its existence, what to speak of attraction.
The World Is a Flood of Consciousness
The knowledge process, which is the blending of the Pramatr and the Prameya through the Pramana, illustrates that the world is a veritable flood of consciousness. "Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma," says the Upanishad; the whole universe is the Absolute appearing as if it is external to itself. The objects of the world, the things that are before everyone, are facets of consciousness. God Himself is in front of man, as it were. The Purusha Sukta of the Veda tells us that all these things that are seen are the limbs of the One Purusha, the All-Being. Every atom, every ingredient, every location or point of objectivity is the head of the Cosmic Being. God alone is. The Absolute is the only reality. This is the conclusion that metaphysical idealism draws, which does not mean that external objects do not exist. Only, the objects are not isolated material entities. Things are not what they seem.
Modern science has tended to come to a similar conclusion. Extremes meet at the same point. The outermost probe of science has coincided with the innermost probe of the philosophers. The deepest self of man is identical with the outermost reality that is the universe. The Atman is Brahman. Thou art That; Tat Tvam Asi. Here is the metaphysical or, as it is sometimes called, the ontological conclusion of the epistemological predicament, the knowledge process. The process of knowledge has led to a grand discovery that there is One Being in the universe.
From philosophy one turns to religion. Philosophical analysis, through scientific investigation and epistemological enquiry, has led man to a pulsating feeling that God alone exists. This conviction is the beginning of true religion. And the various activities of the human being, his aspirations manifest in daily life in different forms, can be analysed into his basic urge to restlessly seek communion with That which is everywhere, though, to the perceptive and cognitive operations involved in utter externality, it seems to be nowhere.