Alice in Wonderland
SRI SWAMI KRISHNANANDA
We have an inveterate obsession in our minds which prevents us almost entirely from conceiving the goal of life as a practical reality. For us, the goal mostly remains as a kind of concept and an idea, an ideal which is not easily reconcilable with the hard realities of the workaday a world. The goal may be God Himself, and nevertheless, He is only an idea an ideal, a concept, an imagination, a possibility, a may-be or may-not-be.
This suspicious outlook is not absent even in the most advanced persons due to the strength of the senses, the power of the mind, and the habit of the intellect in understanding things in a given fashion. We are discussing in these lessons a subject called Comparative Philosophy, and in this context, we would be benefited by bestowing a little thought on the conclusions arrived at by certain thinkers also, apart from Vedantic philosophers like Sankara, with whom we have a good acquaintance and about whose thinking we have spoken enough.
There was a great man called Plato in Greece. According to Paul Deussen, the whole world has produced only three philosophers-Plato, Kant and Sankara. There is some truth in what he says. There cannot be a greater philosopher than these three persons-Plato, Kant and Sankara-, says Paul Deussen. I was thinking about this statement. Why does he make this statement? Finally I felt that there is some truth in it, whatever it is.
The idea of the Ultimate Reality is the principal doctrine of Plato; and I started by saying that we are living in a world of ideas when we live a spiritual life, when we behave religiously, conduct worship and chant Mantras, do prayers, do Japa and even meditation; but there is a very uncomfortable consequence following the idea that, after all, the Reality is an idea.
Ideas are abstractions, notions which are supposed to correspond to realities, and as long as ideas correspond to realities, they are valid. I have an idea that there is a building in front of me. This idea is a valid idea, because it corresponds with the real existence of the building outside. So, the validity of my idea depends upon the reality of the object which is in front of it, but my idea itself has no reality. It is borrowed reality. It hangs on the existence of something else outside, in this case, the building. So, if the idea of the Ultimate Reality or God is to hang on the existence of another thing, God is not a real being. This is a very subtle difficulty that may trouble the minds of even sincere seekers. Don’t you think that the world is real? It is not merely real, it is very, very real, hard to the core, flint-like and no one can gainsay that it is. Perhaps that alone is.
God is an idea that has been introduced in our minds by our ancestors, by our books, by our scriptures, by our professors and our teachers and parents, and somehow, we have been forced by the logic of this teaching to believe there should be such a thing as an ‘other-worldly existence’ and we have somehow reconciled ourselves to it-God must be there. But we are accepting the existence of God against our own will. We are hungry and thirsty and this hunger and thirst of the body is more real than the idea of God. No one can say that it is not so, whatever be our devotion to God. This is so even in the case of advanced seekers and sincere Sadhaks (aspirants). This subject is the principal theme of Plato’s doctrine.
Ideas precede reality: this one sentence is the entire philosophy of Plato. The reality of the objective universe is subsequent to the idea of the universe. Here we have an echo of the great philosophy of Vedanta that the Hiranyagarbha (cosmic intelligence) is prior to the cosmos of physical appearance. The Panchadasi, The Upanishads and the other systems of Vedantic thinking tell us that in Hiranyagarbha the world does not exist in a concrete form as it appears, that is only an idea cosmically manifested by Isvara (God) who is even subtler than the idea. Isvara is only a possibility of the very idea that there should be a thing called the universe. So, Isvara is subtler than the idea which is Hiranyagarbha, and Virat is supposed to be the animating consciousness behind the so-called physicality of creation. So, even in the Vedantic Philosophy, there is the same doctrine of idea preceding concrete existence. But we can never believe this.
My idea that there is a desk in front of me cannot be said to be harder in its concreteness than the desk itself. I have an idea that there is a little table in front of me. Is the table more real or the idea that the table is there more real? Any man with common-sense will say that the idea is subsequent to the existence of the object called table and the idea is not preceding the object. Because there is a table, you think there is a table. You have an idea that there is an object. So, the idea that there is an object is the consequence of the existence of the object. So, the idea of God must be subsequent and not precedent.
These questions arose before Socrates. How can you say that idea is prior to the universe? How could there be an idea unless the universe exists? How can you have a thought about a thing unless the thing exists? How can you say that things are subsequent and ideas are precedent?
If God is supreme consciousness, how could consciousness be prior to existence? Consciousness is always of something. If the something is not there, there cannot be consciousness. What do you mean by merely saying consciousness, awareness, understanding, thinking, feeling? They cannot have any significance unless they are connected to a thing which is already there. This is the gross realistic doctrine of empirical philosophers which was highlighted by British thinkers like Locke, Berkeley and Hume, but already anticipated by people like Plato and Aristotle in a different fashion.
This is a very terrible problem before us. Notwithstanding the fact that we are devotees of God and honest religious thinkers, the concreteness of the world and the reality of the things we see with our eyes and contact with our senses cannot be abrogated merely by the notion that ideas are precedent. Ideas cannot be precedent as long as we are accustomed to thinking in the way we are thinking today. “Here is a man coming”: I am saying like this. This man is there; therefore I have an idea that he is coming. If the man was not there, the idea cannot be there. It is not the I think the man first than the man comes. The man is there and the idea comes afterwards.
So, realism has a great fort before it. There cannot be an idea unless an object exists already. So God must be afterwards and the world first. Here is materialism, which has a very strong ground. Consciousness cannot be there, unless the object is there. So, what you call consciousness is only an exudation, a manifestation, a kind of an already existing material stuff. Crude materialism, realism, is impossible to face easily. You cannot answer this question. You yourself will not be able to say anything in this matter; so you say there is something in it.
This problem is an indication of the state in which we are placed. How far are we advanced spiritually? Where is our spirituality, where is our God, love and God-consciousness? Incidentally, it is not a joking matter or a humor. It is a very, very serious thing for us. Whatever be the study of the scriptures, we cannot get out of the idea that we are living in a very, very hard, flint-like, iron-like, steel-like world; and we can never accept that the idea of the world is in any way more real than the world. But Plato affirms that the ideas are more real than the world. The universals are precedent to the particulars. Horse-ness is prior to the horse. Table-ness is prior to the table, buildingness is prior to the building. How could there be horse-ness before there is a horse? We cannot answer these questions easily. We know very well that there cannot be horse-ness unless the horse was already there. But man’s mind is very poor. It is not wholly philosophical and we cannot understand how there could be an idea of a thing unless the thing was already there. How could God’s consciousness be there if God is only Consciousness?
We have been indoctrinated in this belief not merely in this birth, but throughout the births we have lived through in earlier incarnations. The difficulty arises on account of the impressions created in our minds by hanging on to objects of sense through the many births we have passed through.
The little spiritual aspiration that we have is a late development in the process of evolution. Let each one of us think, “Since when am I thinking of God, religion and spirituality? Since how many years back?”. Compared to these few years of our ardent adventure in the spiritual field, what a long, long time we have passed in other types of thinking! The heavy weight of the errors in the thoughts of our previous lives hangs on us so vehemently and powerfully that our little aspiration is submerged. So, again and again we have suspicions in our minds. Doubts are galore. Very great difficulties are there. “Am I fit? Am I right? Is there any substance in it? Am I living in a foolish world, a fool’s paradise? Nothing is coming. I have been meditating for years, nothing is visible. I may be hoodwinked. Is there any point in it at all or is it all a waste?”. These doubts can come even to sincere seekers.
The idea of the world is not dependent upon the world. The world is dependent of the idea. In a crude form, Berkeley said this. But, in a more philosophical fashion, Plato affirmed it. We can never stomach this idea that consciousness is precedent to matter, though we have attempted to convince ourselves, in our previous discussions, that consciousness is our essential reality by an analysis conducted of the three states-waking, dream and deep sleep. We have already understood this to some extent. We have gone to the depths of our condition in deep sleep where we appear to exist only as pure consciousness minus body and mind in the state of deep sleep, that must have been what our stuff is. This so-called body of ours, this hard substance of contactual experience, and the mind which thinks of it, are subsequent evolutes; and if they were the ultimate realities that we are, they would not have perished in deep sleep also. But we had no experience of body or mind there. We were bare, featureless, unobjectified being, consciousness only. This is what we learnt in our earlier analysis of the condition of sleep. What were you in deep sleep? Not man, not woman, not human being, not body, not mind, not anything, not object. What were you then? A bare impersonal, indefinite, undivided awareness you were. So, this consciousness that you were is the same as consciousness of being-being inseparable from consciousness, consciousness inseparable from being.
This is the great conclusion of Vedanta philosophy-Being-Consciousness. Sat-Chit was your essential nature-not body, not mind, not anything that the senses perceive or conceive, not the world. Then, wherefrom this body came? What is this body? What is the world? What are these buildings and stony mountains and the flowing rivers and the burning sun? What is all this? From where have they come?
They are also ideas. When Berkeley said that all the trees, the mountains, the heaven and the earth were only ideas, Samuel Johnson, it seems, later on kicked a brick and said, “I hereby refute Berkeley.” Kicking a brick does not refute Berkeley. It is a very prosaic way of confronting this poor bishop. There was some mistake in the thinking of Samuel Johnson. You cannot kick a brick and say, “I have refuted Berkeley”, because Berkeley includes Johnson himself, not merely the brick, in his doctrine of ideas.
Electric repulsions can produce a sensation of hardness, as many of you, or some of you at least, must have experienced when you had an electric shock. If you touch a live wire with a heavy voltage flowing through it, you will have a sensation of terrible weight and solidity, though there is nothing there. You will feel a mountain hanging on your hand. Any of you who ever had a shock would know what it is. How could this idea of heavy weight of a hill hanging on your hand be a sensation when there was nothing whatsoever except the fact that you touched a live wire? Why go so far? Come to our modern scientists.
These solid objects-maybe of steel or granite-are constituted of electric energy inside. Pure energy, electric energy-we may say electricity itself. What is electricity? It cannot be seen, it has no weight, it has no dimensions, no length, breadth, or height. But it is the raw material of heavy substances which have length, breadth and height. This indescribable continuum of force and motion has become the atoms and molecules, hard things like the mountains and the solar system.
Go further still. The doctrine of relativity lands in a mere idea of the cosmos. The space-time stuff that they speak of as the ultimate substance is not a hard reality. Neither can space be called a hard reality like a table, nor time. But, researches into the substance of physics seem to conclude that the hardest realities like hills and rocks are constituted of configurations of the space-time continuum. We cannot understand what this space-time continuum is except that it is a mathematical heap of point-events in the brain of the scientist-and not a human scientist at that! Here, Berkeley rectifies himself when he says that the world is an idea, not of Mr. Berkeley, but of a larger being in whom all the individual ideas are also included. We again come to the Hiranyagarbha of Vedanta philosophy, though such words were not used by Berkeley or Plato. Plato used the words, “Idea of the good.” A strange definition of his. You may say, “Idea of God” if you like. It is not an idea of God, but the idea which is God. Actually, God is only an idea; not your idea, but an Idea as such, which is the cause of other ideas. The Yoga Vasishtha goes into great detail in explaining this point that the whole universe is mind. Not my mind, or your mind, but mind as such. Pure impersonal existence, of which our minds and thoughts and feelings and evolutions are ripples.
Read the great book of Samuel Alexander, “Space, Time and Deity”, which is the great exposition of the structure of the universe which is so hard and real in space-time only. Space-time is not a substance. It is not something tangible. You cannot touch it, you cannot see it, you cannot sense it, you cannot taste it, you cannot smell it. And a thing which cannot be sensed is not reality at all. But that is the reality!
It pinpoints, pressurises into a movement, a force. And space-time becomes motion, manifesting itself into the primary qualities of length, breadth and height. Remember length, breadth and height do not mean length, breadth and height of a substance. They have never come into being. These are difficult things to understand. Only a purely impersonal thinker or mathematician will be able to appreciate or understand. How can there be a conception of length, breadth and height unless objects are there?
But space-time is itself without dimensions. It has no dimensions. It is a four dimensional something-not a three dimensional substance. And we do not know what this four dimensional thing is. It is only an idea, a meaningless thing for us. It becomes primary qualities like length, breadth and height, etc. Geometrical partners are called primary qualities which manifest themselves as secondary qualities of colour, sound, taste, smell, etc. The world has not come into being yet. They are only Tanmatras (subtle undifferentiated root elements of matter)-Shabda (sound), Sparsa (touch), Rupa (form), Rasa (taste), Gandha (smell), says the Vedanta philosophy. These Tanmatras are not substances, but principles behind the objects which produce these sensations. They are not hard substances like earth, water, fire, air and ether; they are comparable to the secondary qualities of Aristotle and Plato and modern scientists.
Oh, what a wonder! We seem to be living in a dreamland like Alice in Wonderland. We are not living in a world as it appears. The primary qualities condensing themselves into secondary qualities of sensations, solidify themselves as it were into hard realities like heaviness that you feel when you get an electrical shock.
So, under these conclusions, it appears that the solidity and the substantiality of this physical world is comparable to the solidity and substantiality of the mountain that you felt weighing heavily in your hand when you had a heavy voltage shock. Does the world exist? No one knows.
Now, even your own body is of the same nature. This substantiality of the world which has been reduced practically into nothing but a sensation and an idea of a cosmic existence includes the very notion of our body also, so that we also go, the scientists also go into that conclusions. Sir Arthur Eddington said that no scientists can live in this world without going mad. Fortunately, he did not want to go mad, because, under these conclusions, no one can exist here for three minutes. Buddha said this. A really perceiving individual cannot exist in this world for three days. He will melt into nothing. But the fact that perception has not arisen is the reason why we are very happy here. So, ignorance is the cause of our very comfortable existence. Now this comparative study of Eastern conclusions with Western discoveries seems to make us feel that all great men are thinking alike- whether Plato or Aristotle, Kent or Hegel, Acharya Sankara or Vidyaranya Swami.
Ideas are therefore not ideas of things which are earlier than the ideas, just as space and time are not subsequent to what we call the objective world, but precedent to the objective world. It is the final conclusion of Sir James Jean, for instance, that God must be a mathematician. It is not a man thinking mathematical point, but mathematics itself. How can you only think mathematics, without a person thinking mathematics? He says it is a mathematical consciousness, highly abstract, purely impersonal, and the universe is nothing but conceptions of mathematical point-events.
Today we are in this world of modern physics. And what is Hiranyagarbha, what is Isvara, but there things in Sanskrit language? What is Shabda, Sparsa, Rupa, Rasa and Gandha but conceptual precedents of the hard things called earth, water, fire, air and ether including our physical bodies? We can imagine we have difficulties in meditation, why we cannot do Japa, why we cannot do prayer. We get angry for little things and we fly at the throat of another brother, because we are yet to be spiritual.
Religion has not yet entered us fully. We are playing jokes with God at least now. These deeper truths are not capable of easy entrance into our minds, because we are busybodies, very busy with bricks and mortar and vegetables and tea and coffee. These are greater realities to us than the supernal ideas that are the content of our religious and spiritual consciousness.
I brought those ideas before you to bring about a comparison between the greatest thinkers of the East like Acharya Sankara, the Rishis of the Upanishads, and Sri Krishna of the Bhagavad Gita and Western thinkers like Plato, Aristotle and Kant. They seem to be thinking alike. Only they seem to be thinking in different languages and giving different definitions.
So we are now face to face with the great reality, the God of the cosmos. We have passed through the analysis. We have conducted a study of the three stages of consciousness – waking, dream and deep sleep. We studied epistomological processes – the perception of the world, how we come in contact with things, and how we know that the world exists at all. This also we have concluded. Many of you may not remember it, but think over or see your diaries if you have noted anything down.
Now we are facing the third principle of the ultimate reality of the cosmos, call it the Absolute, call it Satchidananda, God, Isvara, Hiranyagarbha, Virat, whatever it is. Here, true religion begins. Real religion is an awareness of the presence of the Supreme Being. Therefore, it is well said that religion begins where intellect ends, where reasons fails. When religion begins controlling your life, you cease to be a mere intellectual or a scientist or a philosopher. You are no more a thinker, but a person who lives reality.
Religion is living reality and not merely thinking reality or academic analysing. All this is over already in our earlier lessons. We have thought enough philosophically, academically and hope we shall not touch this subject again. We shall enter into true religion which is God-consciousness itself in some proportion, in some measure, in a modicum.
To face God and to encounter Him in our actual life is to live religion. So, religion is not ringing a bell, waving a light, or chanting a Mantra. It is encountering God face to face. So, religion is superior to philosophy, if you understand religion in the true sense of the term. Religion is not Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism. It is the art of envisaging God-being.
Man melting, like ice vanishing before the blaze of the sun. That is religion. When the sun of God-consciousness rises, this substance called body-consciousness evaporates into an ethereal nothing. Gradually, we begin to approximate God-being. The life of religion is the way of gradual approximation to God-consciousness. Here, true love begins to preponderate in our lives. We do not merely think of God as philosophers or academicians or professors. We love God; and we cannot love a thing which is not really there. We cannot love a thing which is only an idea or a concept in our mind.
All love is an urge of the soul to contact that which it feels as a hard reality in front of itself. Every love is God-love finally and the final stuff of the universe may be said to be love.
I have been telling you sometimes that there is some secret meaning behind the last words in the Eleventh Chapter of the Gita where we are told that Bhakti is supreme. The Bhakti that Sri Krishna speaks of here is not ordinary obeisance to an idol. It is not a mass that you perform in the church. It is a melting of your being before the Absolute. Therefore Bhagavan Sri Krishna says, “Not charity, not philanthropy, not study, not austerity, is capable of bringing about this great vision that you had, Arjuna! Only by devotion can I be seen, contacted. Only by devotion am I capable of being known, seen and entered into”. These three words are used in the Bhagavad Gita at the end of the Eleventh Chapter – knowing, seeing, and entering. Arjuna knew and saw, but never entered into It. Therefore, he was the same Arjuna after the Bhagavad Gita also. He never merged into the Supreme Being.
Now, religion is knowing, seeing and entering into. Knowing is considered by such thinkers like Ramanuja, the great propounder of the Visishtadvaita philosophy, as inferior to devotion. I am now digressing a little bit from the point, into another thing altogether, which is also interesting.
Knowledge or Jnana is not equal to Bhakti, says Ramanuja, the great propounder of the doctrine and philosophy called Visishtadvaita. And Acharya Sankara says that Jnana is superior to Bhakti. It may appear that they are quarrelling. They have some emphasis laid on different aspects of the same question. Why does Bhagavan Sri Krishna say that nothing can make you fit to see the vision of God, to behold Him, except Bhakti? It would seem that He speaks like Ramanuja and not like Sankara. But they are only speaking in different languages the same thing. There is no contradiction between them. “Knowing, seeing and entering into” signifies the process of contacting God by degrees. There is, in the parlance of Vedanta, two types of knowledge – Paroksha Jnana and Aporkasha Jnana. Paroksha Jnana is direct knowledge. “God exists” is indirect knowledge. Now, we do not feel that we are inseparable from God’s being. That knowledge has not come to us. So we have not entered such a height of religious consciousness as to be convinced that we are inseparable from God’s existence. But we are convinced enough to feel that God exists.
At least the people seated here are perhaps convinced that God must be. He is. Circumstances compel us to feel confidently that God must be, that God is. But we have not gone to such an extent to feel that we are inseparable from Him. That is a little higher stage. We have known in an indirect way. Jnana has come, but darshana or vision of God has not come. We have not seen Virat in front of us, notwithstanding the fact that we are seeing Virat. This whole cosmos is that, but somehow we have segregated our personality from Virat consciousness. A cell in the body is seeing the body as if it is outside it.
The way in which we are seeing the universe now is something like the possibility of a particular organism, called the cell in the body, separating itself in motion – not really of course – from the bodily organism and looking at the body. What would be the condition or the experience of a cell in our own body notionally isolating itself from the organism to which it belongs and considering the body as a world outside it? You can imagine the stupidity of it. This is exactly what we are doing. We think that the world is outside us. We can fly into space, drive in a motor car on a road, because a peculiar notion has become a reality in our mind, that the world is outside us though we are a part of the world. So, the idea that the Virat is an of perception, that the world is external to us, is notional and not realistic. All our difficulties are notional in the end. They have no reality or substance in themselves. We are bound by our minds, our thoughts, our feelings and our willings. So when Acharya Sankara says that Jnana is superior and Ramanuja says that Bhakti is superior, they are saying the same thing.
By Bhakti, Ramanuja means that love of God which supersedes intellectual activity or a mere knowing that God exists. And when Sankara says that Jnana or knowledge is superior, he means knowledge which is identical with being and which is same as Para Bhakti or the love of God where the soul is in communion with the Being of God.
The highest devotion is the same as the highest knowledge. Jnana and Para Bhakti are the same. The Gauna Bhakti or secondary love of God, which is more ritualistic and more formal, is inferior. But Ramanuja’s Bhakti is the surging of the soul and the melting of personality in God-experience. It is to become mad with God-love as we hear in the case of Spinoza, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Mirabai and Tukaram. Their Bhakti was not simply love of God as that of churchmen or templemen. It is a kind of ecstasy in which the personality has lost itself in God-love and God-being. That is Jnana and that is Bhakti. So, there is no difference between Ramanuja and Sankara in the ultimate reaches. And Bhagavan Sri Krishna’s dictum is also of a similar character.
So now, when we are discussing the final point in our studies, we are gradually losing attachments to his obsessional notion that we are this little Mr. and Mrs. Body and that we are located in a part of the physical world called India or America, Japan or Russia. And we are slowly trying to become citizens of a larger dimension which is wider than this earth, perhaps larger than even the solar system and this physical cosmos.
When we enter into the true religious life, we become real children of God. Hari Om Tat Sat.