The Art of Total Thinking
by Swami Krishnananda

Chapter 2: Rising to a Philosophical Realm

Philosophy is a study of the implications of experience, and not merely an observation of experience. This is the difference between a philosophical mind and the prosaic outlook of the common man. An outward observation of the phenomenon of life presents not a very happy picture of the circumstances in which we are placed, and we seem to be utterly miserable in every way, apparently with no vision of a positive hope in the future. While this can be the conclusion of common observing empirical minds, we can go deeper into these very experiences and see if we can discover some precious jewel or pearl beneath the tempestuous waves of outward life which is presenting a picture of conflict and an apparent irreconcilability.

Philosophy becomes a difficult subject because here the understanding is required to go deep within the suggestions of its own observations and not be contented merely with the observations alone. Evidences are collected by a judge in a court, but a judgement is not merely a collection of the evidences. It is not a total or even a sifting of the various arguments of the advocates; it is a new meaning that is read into and behind the information outwardly gathered from the arguments of the advocates and the evidences available. The judgement is not merely a quantity weaned out from the existing evidences from the witnesses, etc., but a new observation altogether of a suggestiveness that is behind the evidences; therefore, the judgement is qualitatively different from all the evidences and arguments. Such is the nature of philosophy. It is not a collection of the outward meaning available from observation and experiment.

Thus, science differs from philosophy and philosophy differs from science. As a gathering of types of information from various kinds of observation and experiment is the function of science, we cannot say that the judgements of science are qualitatively different from the various factors of observed phenomena. But in a philosophical judgement, we are qualitatively rising above the observed evidences supplied to us through the senses and even the empirical understanding.

We are all acquainted with the word ‘understanding’, but the understanding of the meaning of this understanding is not competent enough to know the nature of what understanding is. We have a double personality in ourselves. We are two things at the same time: an aspect or a part of ourselves belonging to this world of visible phenomena, and another, perhaps a more important aspect, belonging to another world altogether. We are citizens of two worlds at once, though due to our weddedness through the activities of the senses to the functions of the empirical understanding, we seem to feel that we belong to one world only. When the understanding dives deep into its own bottom it will discover its own root fixed in a realm different from this world in which we are physically placed. If we belong only to this world and have no root anywhere else, nobody could be more unfortunate than we.

But I come back to the point of philosophy. It is a light that emanates from our own selves under given conditions which tells us that we seem to be more than what we appear to be. It is this presence of ours in a different realm from the one which is before our eyes that is the cause of our restlessness and dissatisfactions of various types. Dissatisfaction is itself an indication that we do not belong to this world. If we were citizens of this world only, there would be no resentment or dissatisfaction because a dissatisfaction of any type is suggestive of the possibility of removing the causes of dissatisfaction. We cannot be dissatisfied unless there is a possibility of attaining satisfaction.

Here we are entering into a field of philosophical analysis, which is not the way in which ordinarily people think. We cannot know what is wrong unless we know what is right. It is not possible to see only wrong and nothing else. But a prosaic mind will not know this secret behind the human mind’s functions. He will say the whole world is wretched, stupid. That is all he can say, and nothing else. This is how we generally define and complain about our experiences in life and our idea about things in the world. It is prosaic, unphilosophical, because one does not know the meaning of what one is speaking about. The detection of evil in the world is itself an indication of the fact that there should also be something other than what is evil. That we have a capacity within ourselves to detect evil and ugliness in this world should show that we also have a capacity within us to see something beyond evil and ugliness.

We, therefore, do not belong only to this world of sensory phenomena. If that were so, we could not know that this is phenomena at all. One who is involved in a phenomenon cannot know it is such. This is again a peculiar feature of philosophical analysis. We cannot know that there is death unless we are superior to the phenomenon of death. We cannot know there is anything passing unless there is something which is not passing on which we are standing. Hence, philosophy is a study of suggestions which are secretly embedded beneath the observed experiences and the phenomena of life.

But as pearls are hidden deep in the bowels of the ocean and are not floating on the surface, this endowment in every human being enabling him to analyse his own experiences is not on the surface of life. We are shells of individuals outwardly but we are treasures inside. We look like broken pieces of glass with no worth in ourselves if we see or look upon ourselves only as what we appear on the surface. But our hopes and aspirations, our anxieties for the future and our expectations for a better thing and a better day, and a subtle longing to be immortal if possible, is again a suggestiveness of a great possibility before us of a good day to come. Here we seem to be discovering an element in us which is not a property of this world.

We are not wholly citizens of this world; we are only partially inhabitants of this realm of the Earth. In a more important sense we seem to be belonging to somebody else, some other level of experience, some other order of reality, which is what keeps us restless in our lives and hoping for more and more expansiveness in our comprehension and happier days to come.

What are the implications, what are the suggestions which we can discover behind and beneath our tumultuous conflicts of outward life? There should be a coordinating principle, a feature that connects phenomena into a well-knit fabric of completeness. Though things appear totally different from one another, we are able to see that they are different from one another. Things are scattered in all directions with no apparent connection between or among themselves. One thing seems to have no relation to another thing. But we are able to know that one thing is not related to another thing. Here is a very important suggestion behind the working of our own minds. That there is chaos and conflict and irreconcilability is one thing, but that we are able to know that there is chaos and conflict and irreconcilability is another thing altogether. How are we capable of discovering the presence of chaos and irreconcilability and difference in things?

An individual, a person, or anyone who is one of the elements scattered into particularities, isolated from every other particular, cannot know that there are differences of this kind. One who is just one single element of a particular among the many others in the world cannot know that there are other particulars at all. If one particular individual can know that there are other particular individuals also, herein we have a suggestiveness which is deeper than the particularity of the so-called individual imagining that he is one among the many. We are not just one among the many. This is what we will discover when we go deep into our own individuality. We are one among the many, no doubt. We are many persons seated in this hall; each person is different from another person, and there is no apparent connection of one to the other. Each one is a particular by himself or herself.

Here is again an interesting light that shoots forth from this isolatedness of observation, a light which comprehends these particularities and knows that there are many individuals. The knowledge of the difference among various particularities cannot be a part of the particular feature. This is to think in a philosophical manner and to go into a causative realm lying behind the phenomenal isolations of the particular things of the world.

As philosophers will tell us, there is a noumenal uniting factor behind the differences of phenomenal particularities. Unless its presence is accepted, life would be inexplicable. The knowledge position itself would be unaccountable. It cannot know how you know anything at all. The knowledge of any object by any particular individual is again suggestive of the fact of the presence of a transcendent element which is neither the object that is perceived nor the one who sees. Here again we are entering into the field of philosophy. We do not usually think in this manner when we go to the kitchen for our tea or argue in a meeting, etc., which only shows that we are not always philosophers; we are only sometimes that, and not at all times. But if we can keep our mind fixed to this element of suggestiveness that is behind the appearances of particulars, we would be philosophers and not men of straw as we appear here at present.

There is, therefore, a force behind the visible phenomena which ties them together into some sort of an organisation and unified wholeness, and we are able to discover it with our own analytical understanding. I mentioned to you that our understanding itself has to be understood. This is the fact of philosophical analysis. It is not enough if understanding tries to understand objects. Philosophy begins when understanding starts understanding itself. It becomes an object of its own analysis. When it studies its own self it begins to discover that it has been entangled in things with which it is not really connected wholly, though partially related for certain tentative purposes.

The connection of our understanding with the particularities of the world is brought about by a strategic activity of the sense organs. The understanding is itself not diversified; it is a unifying principle within ourselves, but it appears to play second fiddle, as it were, to the observations of the senses and accept that the things perceived by the senses are exactly as they appear to the senses, and they are nothing more, nothing less. By association with undesirable elements, a good person also becomes a little bit contaminated, just as clean clothes will have a little touch of blackness if you enter the kitchen and come back. The analytic understanding is conditioned by the very same factors which makes things isolated from one another, and so our so-called understanding is today nothing but a part of the phenomenal world.

We are not living like sages or philosophers. We are completely divested of our heritage or legacy of our belonging to a noumenal realm. As the story goes, a prince may live among shepherds and imagine that he is a shepherd himself. Or as the other analogy goes, a lion cub may imagine that it is a sheep and bleat like sheep and lambs because it has been brought up in the midst of sheep. So we are lion cubs brought up in the midst of sheep, thinking we are also sheep and bleating like small lambs; but merely because we are living in the midst of sheep we have not been transformed into sheep. We are lions still, but the consciousness of one’s being a lion is obliterated on account of the association of itself with the atmosphere of the sheep, and so on. Likewise, the lion cub of our understanding has been brought up in the midst of the sheep of the senses, and everything that the sheep are fond of, the lion cub also seems to like. Not only like, it begins to make a sound like the sheep.

We think like idiots because of an idiocy of the senses; they have brought us down to the level of their own activities, and we have ceased to be conscious that we are citizens of that to which we really belong and from which we cannot be completely distanced. Therefore, we are often fed up with this world. Sometime, someday, we begin to feel an irksome atmosphere in our own hearts. “I have had enough of everything,” we say. How could such a statement be made? How is it possible that such a feeling should arise in our mind that everything is over and we have had a surfeit of all things? Who says this? Who makes this statement? Whose feeling is this?

This feeling of a sense of enough with things arising one day or the other in the life of everyone arises from a realm which is not empirical and does not belong to this world. The true man himself speaks when he sees a surfeit of all things and cannot be satisfied with anything here. Not the wealth of the whole world can satisfy him. A day comes when he shall start thinking like this. There are days when we feel that the world is full of richness and meaning and delicious objects worth coveting, possessing and enjoying. When we feel that there are tremendous meanings in the things of the world, we are living an empirical life of a lower understanding which has sold itself to the senses and their relationship with things. But when the day comes when we feel that there is nothing in this world that can satisfy us, the higher understanding begins to speak. So we have a phenomenal understanding and a noumenal understanding which rises above the nexus of causal relationship. Rarely does this light arise in us, and at that time we speak like sages and feel like masters, and are satisfied like superhuman individuals.

In the previous talk I gave you a picture of the phenomena of life. Today I am telling you that there is something behind these phenomena, due to the presence of which alone you could know that the phenomena of the world are of this nature. From pure empirical observation and a scientific attitude of the mathematical type we are to gradually rise to a philosophical realm where we are in the midst of conditioning factors which reign supreme over the isolated particulars of life and satisfy us that we are more than the mortal body and the pale mind that we are here. There is something superb about us, and the pursuit of this real essence within ourselves is the task of philosophy, the purpose of the spiritual pursuit of mankind.

The world, with all its vagaries and fantasies, seems to be governed by a purpose. There appears to be an organising force in the middle of the apparently chaotic historical movements of mankind as he thinks. If we study human history as schoolboys, we would not be able to discover any meaning behind it. Anything can happen any day. This appears to be the meaning of human history, and we do not know why things happen in the way they happen. Today something is, tomorrow something quite different happens with no connection whatsoever with the conditions prevailing on the previous day.

But a study of history is not merely a reading of the chronological events in the time process of mankind. A study of history in the philosophical sense is to go into the purposes behind the movements called history, and there we are in a field of philosophy of history rather than merely a chronology of events. History is not merely a story of events that took place in the passage of time. It is a study of the movements of the forces of nature which, with the several ups and downs of the outward form of history, seem to be somehow directing themselves to a purpose – as the movement of a river, for instance. If we merely observe the zigzag rushes of a river’s waters, we would not know where the water is trying to go. It has a purpose behind itself. It is an inclination from the higher level to the lower level, finally to reach the lowest of levels, which is its destination finally.

A mere observation of a bare isolated fact of a process will not give us an understanding of the meaning behind the process. Nothing in this world can be known by a study of its location as an isolated particular. Everything is connected with everything else in some way, and a study of history is therefore a study of a purpose behind the movement of history itself. This would bring us to a realm of an understanding which makes us witnesses of the phenomena rather than individuals involved in phenomena. We become judges and spectators of the phenomena of life, and not clients dragged into the court merely to furnish isolated evidences of observed phenomena. We become spectators of life and not elements involved in life when we become true philosophers. We begin to observe the various processes of life, and we begin to observe even our own selves in our lower features as involved among the particulars. A judge in a court is a man like anybody else. He is as much a human being as any client, any witness, or even a culprit. Everything is similar. You cannot photograph a judge and see something new in him which cannot be discovered in a person who has been brought to the court as an individual to be examined. But a judge is not an individual; it is a principle that operates. It is a kind of understanding that rises above the bodily existence of a judge and which is wider in its comprehension and perspective than all the particulars of evidences told by advocates, etc.

So are we, as spiritual seekers and philosophising individuals. Philosophers are also like other human beings. If we photograph a philosopher, he will look like any other person. But the philosopher is not a person who can be photographed by a camera. He is a principle of awareness, judgement, which rises above even his own bodily existence so that he will look upon himself as a witness of his own self as he becomes the witness of everybody else also. A student of philosophy and a spiritual seeker is not one among the other individuals. He looks upon himself as an individual no doubt, but when he looks upon himself as an individual he has gone above his individuality. I can see myself in two ways: as one who has been thrust into this body and can look upon myself only as a body as I see other bodies, or I can become a judge of things and see my personality as a body which is also one among the many things.

Hence, the philosophical understanding is not an intellectual understanding. It is not the psychophysical function of the individual that is called philosophical knowledge. It is a principle of observation which rises above the categorised empirical understanding which sees things outside and judges them but cannot judge its own self. The judgement of a philosophical nature is not an individual function of an understanding. It is a universalised operation. This requires a little subtle working of the hidden potentialities of our own mind. Difficult enough is this process because here the mind has to learn the art of diving beneath its own self and study itself as one of the objects to be observed and studied as any other thing in the world is. Therefore, we as individual subjects become objects of our own study, and we shed this identification of our understanding with the idea which goes with the senses and appears to be our so-called intellect.

Our studies in the educational field these days have become practically useless inasmuch as they are nothing but studies conducted by the empirical understanding and not by the higher court of light which has to study even this understanding itself. Knowledge has become a kind of descriptive information that we gather about the shape and location of objects outside the understanding itself, and not a purely philosophical wisdom. This is why educated persons today are not really happy persons. Socrates said that knowledge is virtue, but we see today that the man of knowledge is not necessarily a virtuous man. Knowledge is power. We see that a man of knowledge today is not necessarily a powerful man. We have heard it said that knowledge is happiness, and we find today that a man of knowledge is not necessarily a happy man. This only goes to prove that they have not got the knowledge which they are referring to in these definitions. We have only a shell and a crust and a husk of knowledge, and not the pith and the essence and the kernel of it, which is the treasure which we can gather by the operation of a higher reason within us which tells us that the world is as it appears. That which tells us that the world is a phenomenon full of sorrows, sufferings, conflicts and irreconcilabilities is a subtle ray of the higher knowledge, higher understanding, the deeper noumenal level peeping through the surface of the empirical understanding and telling us something noble and sublime occasionally in our life, though not always.

When we take to the practice of religion or what is called spirituality, or we may even call it yoga, we have to be doubly cautious as to what we are doing in our lives. We should not be under the impression it is a very easy task. We can be carried away by an outward impression that we are after a highly praiseworthy purpose known as religious pursuit or spiritual practice, but our religion and spirituality can be one of the appearances in this world. It can be just one item of the phenomena of this world of which our empirical understanding conducts a study and about which it can get satisfied and make everyone feel that one is religious and spiritual.

Most of our religions today are empirical religions. Much worse, they are only social organisations. They have very little of the real spiritual element behind them. It is so because of the fact that it is very hard for a person to work through the higher reason which can study the empirical understanding as an object thereof instead of studying the things of the world outside as its object. For us, an object of the understanding is the physical world of perception, the bodies of individuals. But we have to study our own mind itself as an object, and this is to go deeper than general psychology can teach us. Here it is that we enter the field of philosophy. And philosophy is nothing but the theoretical preparation for the higher pursuit we call religion or spirituality. When philosophy becomes a practical affair of day-to-day existence, it becomes religion. The two go together as the theoretical foundation and the practical implementation.

The study of philosophy, therefore, is an imperative for leading a truly religious life. Religion is not a social activity. It is not a political pursuit. It is an inward transformation of the very process of knowing and a qualitative enhancement of the structure of our inner being so that the more we become religious or spiritual, the more we belong to the higher integrating realm of the noumenon and the less we seem to belong to this world of phenomenon. This is another way to approach God stage by stage. We approximate ourselves to God-being when we become religious or spiritual. What is God but this very same integrating force I referred to a few minutes before? Wherever there is a power working in the interest of bringing together two conflicting parties, God is working. That is God which unites subject with object, myself with yourself, one thing with another thing, the seer with the seen, consciousness with the object, anything with anything else. And if we are able to recognise the presence of this force as a necessary element even in the understanding of the fact of there being isolated particulars, we have touched the borderland of God Himself. We have started living a godly life even this very moment when we are able to discover and appreciate that it is impossible even to know that there are two things unless there is a third thing which is neither this thing nor that thing. God is neither you nor me. It is a third thing altogether, to which both of us belong and of which we are necessary integral parts, in which we are subsumed, and through the thought of which we are able to think today, whose existence is our existence, whose understanding is our understanding, and whose value is our value.

A subtle philosophical analysis conducted in this precise manner will take us immediately to a most unexpected state of joy. At once, in one second, like a flash it will burst forth through the cloud of misconceptions. Philosophy is a great dear object, the dearest of the dear things in the world. It is not the learning that we acquire from academies; it is a light that we are able to shed around ourselves on account of the burning of this lamp or the flame of this hidden understanding which is able to understand the operations of even the outward understanding connected to the senses and the world. That is why true religious men and spiritual seekers work like laboratory research workers unconcerned with anything, concentrated on one thing as if the world does not exist for them at all. Many a time a philosopher is supposed to be a man dreaming of realms which are not of this world. Is not a research scholar in a laboratory a man of the other world? He does not know what is around him because he is seeing a new world altogether through his microscope or telescope. He is concentrated and absorbed to such an extent that he knows that his discoveries through the microscope or telescope will be able to sustain him even in this world of particulars. The higher conditions the lower and regulates the movements of everything that is lower.

Hence, every spiritual seeker or religious man is, in a sense, not a man of this world, though he is a man of this world because this world is only an expression of the other world; and as it is difficult to draw this subtle distinguishing line between the other world and this world, we are likely to come a cropper in our understanding of religion and spirituality itself, oftentimes relegating religion and spirituality to the other world as if it has no connection to the world in which we are living now. Yet, sometimes we make the mistake of completely ignoring the other world’s values and tethering ourselves to the empirical values of this world only. Either we are there or we are here. We are unable to bring the two together. This is the work of pure philosophy and religion proper. Spirituality in its true connotation is a life of godly inclusiveness which makes us utterly good. A philosopher is a good man because he is a godly man.