by Swami Krishnananda
Religious awareness arises due to the recognition of a ‘beyond oneself’. There is something which makes everyone feel that no one is complete in one’s own self. The incompleteness of one’s personality and the mode of existence suggest that there should be something where the expected completeness would be realised.
The incomplete always considers the would-be completeness as an ‘ought’ or a ‘must’, rather than an ‘is’ or a present condition. The Beyond, which is inseparable from the acceptance of one’s limitations and finitude, always recedes further and further when we try to pursue it, like the horizon which seems to be far and beyond; and if we move in the direction of the horizon to reach it, we will find it has gone further onward, and we can never find it.
In religious and philosophical circles, the nature of this Beyond has been designated in different ways. Some philosophers have concluded that the Beyond will always be beyond, and it can never become an actual fact of present experience. The modus operandi of human perception is incompetent to reach that which is beyond its own possibilities. There is always an unknown content permeating the whole world—a distressing and disturbing presence because it cannot be denied that it exists, nor can one be sure that it can be really attained.
When we say, “Something is beyond me,” we have already accepted that we are incapable of contacting it. Philosophers and psychologists of religion have tried their best to explain this peculiar situation which is inexplicable and yet unavoidable. Something is there; otherwise, we would not feel dissatisfied. Where is that ‘something’? There are various arguments, called arguments for the existence of God, or we may say the existence of That which is the completeness of our finite existence. This great Beyond exists. It must exist; otherwise, it cannot beckon us, summon us, and keep us in tenterhooks. How do we conclude that there is a Beyond which is complete in itself? Very difficult is the answer to this question. This particular manner of thinking is called, especially in Western circles, the ontological argument. Ontology is the science of being. It is not the being of this thing or that thing, but Being-as-such—Pure Being.
People have not found a suitable word to describe the nature of this Being. In their eagerness to be very precise and not commit any mistake in defining it, they have sometimes attempted to condense this word ‘Being’ into ‘Be-ness’. ‘Be-ness’ is a strange word which has been coined by philosophers. It must be existing. It must be existing as a complete answer to the incomplete quest of the human individual. Completeness is a reality, because it exists.
The concept of this completeness involves the relationship between thought and reality. This is a moot point in the field of philosophy. Can thought contact reality? It has already been mentioned that present conditions of the psychological apparatus cannot contact the Beyond, because the apparatus of cognition and perception is limited to certain areas of operation, and it cannot transcend those areas. But another question arises. If it is impossible to even conceive what is beyond the possibility of human perception, how does this idea arise at all? This is a very serious question that was raised by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant. His whole book is a commentary on this theme. In the history of philosophy, people have been for him and against him.
He concludes that the idea of a Perfect Being, as he calls it, is an idea of reason. It is not to be identified with the area which is covered by human understanding or sensory perception. His book is divided into three parts: aesthetic, analytic, and logic, or the idea of reason. Kant’s contention is that the idea of reason is also conditioned by the limitations of the understanding, which is subject to certain categories.
Great is the mind of Kant; but something is missing in his investigations. Even the idea that there should be a Perfect Being should be explained in its content. His argument is that idea cannot be an existence. Idea only defines the external features of a possible existence, and a description of a thing is not the thing-in-itself. Nobody can contact anything directly because everything is cast in the mould of the perceptual and cognitional categories.
But here we have a rescuing factor coming from persons like Rene Descartes, a French philosopher. The idea of finitude is a summon to the idea of the Infinite. The consciousness of finitude is an indication of the possibility of exceeding the limits of finitude. The consciousness of there being a fence shows that there is something beyond the fence. Therefore, the idea of reason should not be regarded as merely a conjecture of the category-bound understanding. It is a different thing altogether.
Whether or not thought can contact reality is a question which Kant could not answer. He was more of an epistemologist than a metaphysician. His conclusion was that thought cannot contact reality. But Hegel went beyond it, and had no problems of this kind. Hegel said that the thing as it is in itself, which Kant considered as impossible of contact, is itself the source of the manifestation of the categories. You yourself are the thing-in-itself—what you may call Atman, in Indian philosophical circles.
That you cannot contact the thing as it is, is another way of saying that you cannot contact your own self. It is true that you cannot contact your own self, because there is no means of contact. The contact of oneself, by oneself, is not an epistemological phenomenon. It is something different altogether. To contact yourself, you do not require a means of knowledge, such as perception, inference, scripture, and other things. That thing which is objectively conceived as the thing itself as non-contactable happens to be the pure subject itself, which Kant calls the transcendental unity of apperception—not perception, but apperception.
The thing which cannot be contacted is transcended. When you call a thing transcendent, you mean that it is impossible of contact; but it happens to be your own self. All things in the world are near, but you are the most distant thing to your own self. You can catch anybody or anything, but you cannot catch yourself. The means of catching yourself is absent. You can use scientific technological instruments to contact the Moon, the stars, the Milky Way, nebulae, and so on, but where is the means of contacting your own self? Can you climb on your own shoulders? This subject has been the in-depth consideration of Indian philosophical thinkers, especially the Vedanta.
Kant and Hegel are the modern representations of something like Plato and Aristotle in ancient times. Both are engaged in a race of who will reach the destination first. Both are equally great; yet these two mammoths of philosophical profundity basically differ from one another, because what Kant considered as the categories of the understanding in a subjective fashion became the objective structure of the universe itself for Hegel. The categories mentioned by Kant in his analytic are not psychological apparatus. It is a metaphysical system. It is the nature of the Absolute itself. The manner in which Kant describes the categories of understanding is actually to be taken as the manner in which the Absolute operates within itself.
This is a great advance in thinking. There is some similarity between the in-depth considerations of Plato and the findings of Kant and Hegel. Plato is a complete philosopher. We can find everything in him, like the Upanishads. We may call him the Upanishad of the West. Everything, every subject, has been considered threadbare in one way or the other. This is why the great modern philosopher Alfred North Whitehead felt that the whole history of philosophy consists in footnotes to Plato. He has said everything, and nobody can say anything more than that. This can also be said in regard to Acharya Sankara’s philosophy in the Vedanta circle—that everything any Indian philosopher has said is a footnote to Acharya Sankara, if only we would try to understand what he has written.
The vast literature attributed to Acharya Sankara is incapable of easy grasping. The unknown content of the universe, the ‘beyond you’, is yourself. You yourself are the Beyond; you are beyond yourself. A similar reference can be found in the Bhagavadgita. Uddhared ātmanātmānaṁ: The self has to be raised by the Self. Here is the Bhagavadgita in half a sentence. The transcendental unity of apperception, which is the higher Self, should raise the empirical self, which is involved in the phenomenal categories.
Rene Descartes, a French philosopher, tells us the consciousness of finitude establishes the existence of the Infinite. We cannot be aware that we are limited unless we are simultaneously aware that there is something unlimited. The limited and the unlimited are not apart from each other by spatial or geometrical distance. The distance is only logical. They collide with each other, coincide with each other; they are two wings of the same bird, as it were. Therefore, the Infinite must exist.
If the Infinite does exist, what is its nature? Again we come to Descartes: “I think, therefore I am.” Cogito ergo sum. Or we may say, “I am, therefore I think.” Our thinking, or our being conscious of our finitude, is simultaneously associated with the possibility of transcending the finitude, which also is an object of consciousness. So, the consciousness of the Infinite must be existing. As consciousness cannot be a quality of the Infinite, describing it as an external phenomenon is not a whitewashing on the wall, but it is the substance of the wall itself. Thus, the nature of the Infinite is pure consciousness.
Consciousness and being cannot be separated from each other. When we say, “I am here,” we are actually saying, “I am conscious of my being here.” Our consciousness is not different from our being. Our being is our consciousness of our being. Sat is chit; chit is sat. Because it is the great freedom that we attain, it is also called bliss—ananda. Therefore, sat-chit-ananda is the Ultimate Reality.
Here we have an excursion through the fields of Kant, Hegel, Plato, Acharya Sankara, and Descartes—a great congregation of masters who have delved into the depths of reality. We now conclude that the idea of reason, which Kant dubs as phenomenal, as is the case with understanding, is the ambassador of the thing-in-itself.
The light of the Sun is an indication of the existence of the Sun. The idea does not arise from phenomenal categories, because anything that is phenomenal can never conceive that which is not phenomenal. There is a contradiction in the statement that the phenomenal categories cannot conceive the non-phenomenal noumenon. There is a non-phenomenal element present even in phenomena. God is in the world, though He is above the world.
This is a slight variation that I have made in connection with the ontological argument—a more descriptive form of it, as we have it in Saint Anselm, Rene Descartes and even Hegel in some way. God exists. The Infinite exists. The summoning of the Infinite is the call of the religious consciousness. We cannot rest quiet until we contact it.
There is another argument, known as the causal argument or the cosmological argument. Everything seems to be a process of conditioning, an effect. Anything that is in a process should have behind it a non-process, or a changelessness. The world is changing, and the concept of change involves the concept of that which does not change. When the railway train moves, it implies that the rails do not move. If the rails also start moving, there will be no movement at all. So, there cannot be change, transformation, phenomenality, fluxation or momentariness unless there is the opposite of it at the background. Therefore, there must be a cause.
Every cause has a cause behind it. If we reach the summit of this chain of causation, we will find that there is no end to it. The causal concept breaks down if there is no ultimate cause which itself cannot be considered as an effect of something else. This causeless cause may be called God—the Unmoved Mover, as Aristotle calls it. The effect, which is changing, proves the existence of a cause which is not changing. A thing that is contingent in its nature establishes the fact of a non-contingent existence.
The third argument is called the teleological argument—argument by the design, the perfection, and the order in which things are operating. We see that everything in nature moves perfectly, systematically, with mathematical precision. There is no chaos anywhere. Everything adjusts itself to another thing, like the large number of parts of a machine cooperating with one another to bring about the output of this mechanical process. Though the number of parts of the machine may be many, the end result is one, and centralised. The parts could not have worked in such harmony unless someone has arranged them in such a manner, as in the case of a watch, for instance. The watch works systematically in a perfect design, implying thereby that somebody’s mind hascreated the design of the watch—or nature as a whole, which operates systematically. This designer may be called the architect of the universe, the fashioner of all existence; call Him God.
There is another argument, called the henological argument, which was advanced by St. Thomas Aquinas, a medieval philosopher. The term ‘henological argument’ was coined by him. The concept of ‘more’ leads to the concept of ‘more and more’. As the causal concept leads us finally to a causeless cause, the concept of ‘more’ should lead us to a state where it is not necessary to move the ‘more’ further on. We say we want more and more of things. Any amount of benefit that is granted to us will still leave a ‘more’ behind it. Whatever be the salary that we get, even if it is a hundred million dollars a month, we would like to have even more than that. There is no limit for this ‘more’.