by Swami Krishnananda
It is a well-known fact that the process of meditation in the field of spiritual life is centralised in the attempt of consciousness to concentrate itself on Ultimate Reality. Here, in this connection, philosophical circles have been conducting deep researches into the possibility of Thought contacting Reality, and whether it is a possibility at all on account of the limitations to which psychological processes are naturally subject.
The seed of the controversy arose from the affirmation of the Greek philosopher, Plato, that Ideas are the Archetypes of things; that is, the forms of the objects visualised in sense perception and the objects which are the field of phenomena, are like shadows or copies of the Ideas which Plato affirmed as being universals. It was the insistence of Plato that the universal is prior to the particular, more real than the multiplicity of things, and that the Ideas are eternal while the objects of sense are perishable. Aristotle, his disciple, erroneously thought that Plato made a mistake in creating a division between eternity and time-process since the two realms fall apart from each other and eternity cannot invade the realm of phenomena. If this is the case, thought cannot contact reality, or as a consequence thereof, we may say that there is nothing in the world which can touch God by any means whatsoever. However, here Aristotle should be considered as gone wrong in the appreciation of Plato's foundational doctrine, because nowhere do we find Plato asserting that there is no connection between the eternal Ideas and the phenomenal objects of sense. The very fact of the objects being considered as shadows of the Ideas should give us a clue to the relationship between the Ideas and objects. There cannot be a shadow unless there is an original and the relationship between the two is obvious. This means to say that the faculties which are otherwise considered as phenomenal are not entirely distinct from the characteristic of the eternity of the Ideas, and are not organically dissociated from Reality, and the very aspiration for God arising from the heart of the human being should be proof enough to demonstrate that there is a vital relation between the phenomenal and the noumenal, the world and God.
In the medieval ages, Saint Anselm propounded the argument known as the Ontological Argument for the existence of God, making out thereby that the thought of God cannot arise in the mind of a human being unless the potentiality for God's Presence is already embedded in the human mind. Else, how does such an idea arise at all? As another great thinker has humorously said, the wonder is not whether God exists or God does not exist, but the wonder is that the tiny mind of the human being can conceive such a tremendous comprehensiveness called the Infinite. Saint Anselm's argument is that the concept of God is itself proof for the existence of God; otherwise there should be no reason why such an idea should arise at all in the mind of the human being. It is well-known that nothing can arise from nothing and hence the thought of God cannot arise from a vacuum or a totally dissimilar cause.
Rene Descartes, the famous French Philosopher, modified this argument of St. Anselm and followed a mathematically deductive process of reasoning in proving the existence of God. Descartes concluded that a finite mind cannot be expected to generate within itself an Infinite Thought. The Infinite cannot arise either from a finite source or from vacuum. The Infinite can arise from the Infinite only. Descartes concludes that God Himself must have planted the idea of the Infinite in the mind of the human being; else, there is no explanation as to how such a profound thought can arise in a mortal brain, limited to sensory perceptions. His well-argued confirmation of the existence of an eternal Self is something well-known in the history of philosophy. He carried on a process of doubting everything that the mind can think and could doubt even the existence of his own self, but the fact that there is doubting, cannot itself be doubted. Unless the doubter exists, the doubt by itself will have no meaning. We may doubt everything, God, world, individual and everything, but cannot doubt the validity of there being such a thing as doubt. The doubter cannot be doubted. Further it follows from this argument that the doubter must be a conscious being, since there is no such thing as unconscious doubting. The doubter is conscious existence, one feature inseparable from the other. The Self is Existence-Consciousness. It is from this potential certitude of Self and the mind that thinks on the basis of this Self, that we can deduce further on the concept of the Infinite. The eternal is in the heart of man. God exists, because the thought of God exists.
However, the most formidable refutation of the Ontological Argument comes from the German Philosopher, Immanuel Kant, who analyses this Argument threadbare and concludes that the Ontological Argument has no philosophical value. Kant's proposition is that the human mind can work only within phenomena and it cannot think noumena which transcend the boundaries of its capacity of knowledge. Hence, there is no such thing as Thinking God. Kant's contention is that the ideas of God, world and soul are just regulative features, which suffice to give a synthetic unity of apperception to the perceptual process through space and time and the conceptual process through the categories of understanding, namely, the obligation on the part of the mind of the human being to think only in terms of quantity, quality, relation, and modality. Since God is not a quantity, quality, relation or modality, the mind cannot think God. The Ontological Argument is hereby refuted. But, here, one can observe, Kant deeply errs in his conclusion.
The error of Kant consists in this: That the noumenon cannot be known, cannot be asserted by anything which is within phenomena. It is futile therefore to say that the noumenon cannot be known. If that were so, even such a statement cannot be made. The argument that noumenon cannot be known is self-defeating. The idea of the noumenon cannot arise if it has no connection with the idea at all, which, according to Kant, is within phenomena.
Hegel tries to rectify the deficiency in the argument of Kant that thought cannot contact reality. We have already noticed that Kant makes a mistake in confining all thought to phenomena and simultaneously asserting that the phenomenal thought cannot contact noumena. How does the idea of noumena arise in the phenomenal mind if the phenomenal mind cannot have even the idea of there being such a thing as the noumenon. Hegel turns the tables round by asserting that Kant's insistence on making a distinction between phenomenon and noumenon defeats his own philosophy. There cannot be a knowledge that two things are separated from each other unless there is a third thing which knows that they are different from each other. The categories, which Kant feels are restrictive, are not actually the categories of the human mind as Kant seems to think. On the one hand Kant says that understanding creates nature, on the other hand he says that understanding cannot contact the real. Now, whose understanding creates nature. Can any human being's mind achieve this feat? Is there anyone who with his mind can project a whole universe outside? Hegel argues that the understanding that Kant speaks of should be interpreted as cosmic understanding, the TOTAL MIND. This Total Mind is virtually the Mind of God. Thus, God alone can create nature. When the Ontological Argument asserts that thought is reality, it only means that Infinite Thought can contact Infinite Being. Hegel has brought God into the centrality of the thinking process. The Thought of God cannot be separated from God Himself. Universal Thought is the same as Universal Being. Indian philosophers explained this with the nomenclature that Sat is Chit, that is to say, Existence is Consciousness and Consciousness is Existence. Thus the ontological argument is reinstated by Hegel in the West and Acharya Shankara in the East.
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The main thrust of Krishnananda's article is, in his words, "St Anselm's argument is that the concept of God is itself proof for the existence of God." He says that this must be true because "nothing can arise from nothing". This is very easily refuted because a) it cannot be proven to be correct, and is therefore simply a statement of faith or belief, and b) it does not necessarily follow, in logic or in practice, that the existence of an idea means that that to which the idea refers has objective existence, e.g. I can have an idea of dragon or a phoenix, but neither of these exist objectively, though they may exist in the realm of ideas, as does say, Tolkein's Middle Earth or the various Buddhist worlds as described in some of the more grandiose sutras.
In the next paragraph Krishnananda uses Descartes' "Cogito ergo sum" to support the existence of a self which can doubt anything except the existence of the doubting. From this he infers the existence of a 'self'. Then he makes a big jump, again based on faith or belief rather than logic, to say that "The Self is Existence-Consciousness". In other words he brings in a fundamental Indian concept to bolster his argument without first establishing the premises for that concept beyond saying that Descartes' analysis of the self is proof that the 'Self' exists. He jumps from the small 's' self to the big 'S' self with the sort of pseudo quantum leap that is not permissible in philosophical reasoning. In any event, Descartes' analysis can easily be undermined by the 'neti-neti' or 'vichira' of jnana yoga, or an application of the Madyamika ialectic. And he ends this paragraph with a restatemant of the ontological proof: "God exists, because the thought of God exists."
He then moves to Kant, who in his "formidable refutation" of the ontological proof stated that we can can only know phenomena and that the noumenon cannot be known. Krishnananda refutes Kant by restating the ontological argument as if he has already 're-proved' it: "The error of Kant consists in this: That the noumenon cannot be known, cannot be asserted by anything which is within phenomena. It is futile therefore to say that the noumenon cannot be known. If that were so, even such a statement cannot be made." This is circular logic, based on the notion that his analysis of Descartes has 'proved' the ontological argument.
Krishnananda also appears to misquote Kant when he says that "Kant says that understanding creates nature." He then goes on to say, "Now, whose understanding creates nature? Can any human being's mind achieve this feat?" But Kant never said that. He said (quoted in Flew's Dictionary of Philosophy), "The order and regularity in objects, which we entitle nature, we ourselves introduce. The understanding is itself the lawgiver of nature." There is considerable difference between 'creator' (God) and 'lawgiver' (interpreter)!
Krishnananda also introduces in his defense of the ontological proof Hegel's concept of the "absolute mind" and equates it with the "Mind of God", stating that "Hegel has brought God into the centrality of the thinking process. The Thought of God cannot be separated from God Himself. Universal Thought is the same as Universal Being... Thus the ontological argument is reinstated by Hegel in the West..." Krishnananda makes several logical leaps, not the least being that of equating Hegel's idea of the absolute (the theoretical summation of dialectical reasoning) with the unconditioned Absolute (Brahman) of Indian thought. Even if it was, the thought of Brahman (a concept, however vast) is clearly not the 'Thought' of Brahman (the Sanscrit 'chit'), and we are left where we started with the ontological argument neither proven nor somehow 'reinstated' in Western philosophy; for Hegel's concept of the absolute remains just that: a concept. The finger pointing at the moon is not and can never be the moon itself. As for the ontological proof it may be worth quoting Frithjof Schuon on the subject:
"To be able to accept the ontological proof of God, which deduces from the existence of an innate concept the existence of the objective reality corresponding thereto, one must begin by realising that the truth does not depend on reasoning – obviously it is not reason that has created it... In every act of assent by the intellect there is an element which escapes the thinking process, rather as light and colour elude the grasp of geometry, which can, none the less, symbolise them indirectly and remotely. There is no such thing as "pure proof"; every proof presupposes the knowledge of certain data. The ontological proof, formulated by Saint Augustine and Saint Anselm, carries weight for the person who already has at his disposal some initial certainties, but it has no effect upon the willfully and systematically superficial mind... Some of the Scholastic philosophers were too Aristotelian to be able to accept the usefulness of the ontological proof; reason was considered by them as leading to a certainty that was in some way new, rather than to Platonic "reminiscence." (Logic and Transcendence, 1984, p.59)