by Swami Krishnananda
We look at the world only with our eyes, and judge things according to the report that is provided through the medium of the senses. All the information that we get of the world through the sense organs is therefore galvanised, and in many ways distorted. It is assumed that a person, as an individual, has to do something with this world. The business of life is, practically, an attempt to handle this world in some way – harness it, and utilise it for one’s own purpose.
Here is the essential point. We have to use the world for our purpose. Through scientific advancement and technological discoveries and inventions, we seem to be trying to use the world more and more for our own purposes. It is an object; it is a thing; it is a tool which has to be used for an externalised purpose – not for the benefit of the world, but for the benefit of another, who calls himself the human individual. Do we not mostly judge things in this manner? Everything has to be cast into the mould of our sensory and physical needs. We make remarks about things: It is like this, and it is like that. That remark is a judgment that we pass on the things in the world based on evidence provided by the sense organs, which are entirely unreliable on account of their impetuosity; and, due to this, the thinking mind or the consciousness that is aware is pulled out of its own roots. The activity of the sense organs plucks us, as it were, from ourselves, and throws us into the winds of the outside world. We are distressed from morning to evening on account of a loss of self that we undergo, even when we do not actually know what is happening to us.
Every perception is a movement of the self towards an object. The consciousness has to charge the mind with an intelligence that peeps through the sense organs and locates objects – the world in front – in a particular juxtaposed manner. So our conclusion that we know this thing – we know the world or we know whatever it is – is doubly conditioned, triply conditioned: firstly, by it having to pass through the mentation, the psychic organ, the antahkarana; secondly, by the mind having to think only through the sense organs; thirdly, by the sense organs having to visualise things as located in space and time. So there is a threefold defect in human perception which includes social relations and everything that we regard as ours, or not ours. Due to this purely personal judgment born of human sentiment, Arjuna turned the tables around and made an unexpected gesture of putting down his weapons: “I shall not embark upon this otherwise-well-praised adventure of a war with the Kurus.”
I hinted yesterday that the spiritual seeker mostly finds himself in this predicament when he cannot handle the world properly. In one condition of the mind, the world is an object of delight and enjoyment – as a property. In another condition of the mind, it looks like an obstacle from which the earlier we extricate ourselves, the better. We wish to free ourselves from all our entanglements in the world. But a third stage comes when the world reacts in an adverse manner upon the mind that has thought it to be a redundant tail, as it were, of its perception. Then it is that there is actually a humiliating coming down of the aspiring consciousness, and a last moment’s feeling that perhaps everything is over and nothing is possible. It appears that even the great Buddha had this experience the day before his enlightenment. It was all dark. There was no light on the horizon. After years of austerity, he was crawling on all fours due to the weakness of the body: “The tapas is over. I have achieved nothing.” There is a complete dejection of spirit.
This predominantly spiritual despondency of the spiritual seeker is also called yoga. The First Chapter, which is nothing but a description of the weeping of Arjuna, is called Visada Yoga – the yoga of the dejection of the spirit. This dejection is not a morbid, melancholy mood of the spiritual seeker. It is a healthy realisation of it not being individually possible to face this world of values, and the need felt for a higher assistance. It may be a Guru in someone’s case. It may be God Himself in another case. Therefore, in utter helplessness of not being able to know what actually is to be done, Arjuna asked what was his duty, duty par excellence: What was his duty in this world? This was the question of Arjuna which he couched in various styles of expression according to the tradition of the time.
The answer of Sri Krishna is that all this is a kind of blabber which an ignorant mind resorts to for self-justification, under the impression that ignorance is bliss. “Neither do you know what you are, nor do you know what the world is. How do you make judgments of this kind: I shall do, I shall not do? On what grounds do you make a statement that this has to be done and this should not be done? What is the rationale behind the ethics, morality, and the justification for any kind of action in this world? What is the ground on which you base your argument for embarking upon a particular project of this type or that type? Is it merely an impulse of the instinct, or the force of the sense organs, or the appetite of the biological organ? Or is it a well-reasoned-out structure that you philosophically constructed for the purpose of rising high into the spire of a spiritual conclusion? Neither do you know yourself, nor do you know the world, Arjuna; yet, you speak as if you are a wise person: prajna-vadams ca bhasase (2.11).”
This wisdom that Arjuna seemed to lack – due to which he wrongly judged the situation he was facing – is called sankyha, a well-known term in philosophical circles. “You lack sankhya- that is, the wisdom of life. This is your malady and, therefore, everything that you have said is just at sixes and sevens. It is all a medley of chaos. Your arguments were not couched in proper logical style, and conclusions were not drawn from valid premises. Your premise itself is wrong. The premise is nothing but the report of the sense organs and the demand of the instincts which is conditioned by love and hatred. From this you have to rise through sankhya.”
Sankhya is a philosophical doctrine which counts the categories which constitute this world. It is derived from the word ‘sankhya’ which means computerising, counting, calculating and methodologically come to a conclusion as to the number of principles that constitute this world. What is this building? We look at it, and it seems to be a mass indivisibly presented before us. But it is not an indivisible structure. It is made up of small constituents – brick and mortar, and steel and what not. The world is not as it appears to the eyes; it is a whitewash that we see, as the inside bricks and the cement are not visible to the outer perception. Sankhya goes deep into the categorisation of the principles of the universe, and starts its argument from the very consciousness that tries to make any investigation at all: Who is it that is trying to make an investigation into the nature of the world? Who is it that wants to know anything at all? It is me. Now, what kind of me is it?
Without going into further details of this complex subject, we may conclude that we are essentially consciousness. This consciousness is the chaitanya shakti or the chaitanya purusha, which is indivisibly present and not divisible under any circumstance. The Sankhya philosophy stands on the premise of an indivisible consciousness it calls purusha in its own terminology. The essence of the matter is that consciousness is indivisible, and it cannot be cut into pieces. There cannot be a fraction of consciousness, because any assumption of it being possible to divide consciousness into parts would imply the introduction of a consciousness even to know that such a division has been made. Consciousness has to be there even between the two parts, which is to say that consciousness is everywhere. This is the fundamental principle beyond which we cannot go, and deeper than which there is nothing. Sa kashtha sa paragatih – this is the end and the substance of all arguments, whether philosophical or empirical. But, Sankhya has a point in regard to our obstinate feeling that there is a world outside us. Even if a person is paranoiac and wrongly conceives things, and sees things which are not there, it is not enough if we simply dub the person as sick. A practical method has to be adopted in treating the mind and setting it right for the purpose of correct perception. So the world may be there in this manner or that manner; that is a different matter. Our perceptions may be wrong, and we may not be able to understand the world correctly – granted. But what is it that we are seeing in front of us?
Sankhya calls the objective character of perception as prakriti, and the subjective consciousness which perceives is called purusha. So the Sankhya divides reality into two phases or blocks of power – consciousness and matter, subject and object, purusha and prakriti. Experience is supposed to be engendered by a contact of consciousness with prakriti; purusha comes in contact with prakriti. It is very interesting to notice here that there can be contact between two dissimilar things. Consciousness is never an object; prakriti is never a subject. The contradiction between these two principles is obvious. How can we bring about a rapprochement between the subject and the object, which stand poles apart? How does the mind or the individual consciousness experience that a given thing is there or the world is there?
The analogy of the Sankhya is well known. Consciousness never becomes an object. It never actually enters the object. It appears to perceive as if there is some object – such as, a crystal that is perfectly pure looks as if it is coloured when a coloured object is brought near it. Pure crystal is colourless. It is resplendent pure light, as it were; and if a red flower, for instance, is brought near it, it will appear as if the whole crystal is red. It looks as if the crystal has become red. This analogy from Sankhya extends to the field of the explanation of human perception – how the world is seen as such by the individual consciousness. The world is never correctly known at any time, just as there is always a dissimilarity between the coloured flower and the crystal, notwithstanding the fact that the crystal has apparently assumed the character (redness) of the object. A red-hot iron rod looks like fire, not like iron. It is glowing, white heat, yet that glow which is white heat is the fire; and there is something there which is not the fire – namely, the iron rod. The impact of the heat on the iron rod is such that the rod has ceased to be there, practically, though it is there really. In a similar manner, objects assume a reality, as it were, though there is no reality in them; they are pure transitoriness.
The world is movement. It is a fluxation. It is a continuity of bits of force tending in some direction, and never does a single bit of matter rest in itself as an undivided something. Prakriti continuously changes its characteristics. It is a continuity that is a flow, consisting of three strands – namely, sattva, rajas and tamas. Like a wheel that moves when the car moves, there is a cyclic movement of prakriti through the gunas of sattva, rajas and tamas. Prakriti is not a solid object. There is no such thing as solid objects in this world; there is only fluxation. A person may appear on a screen, while the person is not really there at all. Thousands of small frames of film have moved with such rapidity that the movement could not be caught by the eye. The speed of the movement exceeds the capacity of the eye to perceive the individual frames, and so we see someone there and not the individual frames that have passed at the rate of about sixteen pictures in one second.
Likewise, we see that we are solid objects – the building is solid, the earth is solid, I am solid, you are solid – but the apparent solidity is just like the solidity of a person on the screen, while the person is not really there. It is a continuous rapid movement of frames that gives the illusion of a solid person standing there, the illusion arising on account of the incapacity of the eyes to catch the movement. High-frequency radio waves are moving right here, but our ears cannot hear them. The rapidity of the movement of the waves cannot be caught by the crudeness of the eardrums; therefore, even if television waves and radio waves are dashing upon us just now, we can see nothing and hear nothing.
Similiarly, consciousness makes a mistake even in the perception of prakriti, which is otherwise just a movement. And the apparent solidity or the stability of a particular object, which the consciousness takes for granted, is due to the consciousness itself entering into the fluxation, as it were, for the time being. And a limited piece of this large flux of matter stands apparently as this solid entity, the solidity actually coming from consciousness itself which is the real solidity, which is indivisible. Therefore, the world of perception as a solid thing is a total illusion.