by Swami Krishnananda
In all studies concerning human knowledge it has been considered necessary to investigate into the very process of knowing so that we may be sure as to what extent we are correct in the knowledge that we seem to be possessing about things. Since we are the knowers of things it becomes, at the same time, essential to know something about our own selves. Though it is not easy to know oneself wholly, thoroughlyin a totally exhaustive mannerwithout reference to other things with which we are also connected, we have to start from somewhere; and it is not possible to start from everywhere at the same time.
The difficulty in all worthwhile philosophical studies is that we cannot start from any particular point of view, ignoring other possible points of view, because every situation that involves knowledge implies a relationship to various other factors without the knowledge of which, in an appreciable manner, we cannot know either ourselves or anything else. Yet since a beginning has to be made, the proper starting point would be a study of the mechanism of human nature which conditions the processes of knowingafter which, it will be essential to know what it is that we are knowing.
In the process of knowledge, there are three things involved: the knower, the process of knowledge, and the object that is known. The whole of experience is a threefold constitution of the structure of the knower, the process of knowing, and the nature of the object that is known. Hence, it was with some relevance that we commenced with a little bit of analysis of our psychological makeup in order that we may know how we begin to know things at all.
The way in which things are knownthe process of knowingis a complicated subject. It does not appear to be as simple as it seems to be on the surface, at a first view of things. Even the simple act of standing on two legs is not a simple act of a fiat of our will, as people with knowledge of the physical structure of the body will tell us. There is a cumulative action of the whole organism of the body cooperating in a most beautiful and harmonious mannermany muscular centres coming together to make us stand up on our two legs. We take such a simple, ordinary thing as standing on two legs for granted and cannot imagine that the whole body is aware when we project our will to get up and stand.
The process of knowing is more complicated than even the act of standing on two legs. And, even today, we cannot say that people have come to a definite conclusion as to what is really happening when we know things. After we gain some sort of an understanding, at least an outline of the way in which we are made as subjects of knowledge, we may have a comparative knowledge of the manner in which we come to know things. Then, we may have to go further on to know what it is that we are seeing with our eyesthe world of perception. This will take us further on, into the nature of the Ultimate Reality, to which everything seems to be directed in one way or other.
It is not a pointless life that we are living in the world. There seems to be some significance in all things. There is a purposefulness manifested even in the growth of a plant, the birth of a child, and even the movement of an electron. It does not seem that things are purposelessly acting, moving or behaving in the way that they do. The discovery of a purpose in the operation of things, a purpose in nature as a whole, will land us in the necessity to know what the final purpose of the universe is. This is an inquiry into the nature of the Supreme Reality.
Philosophers, whether of the East or the West, have mostly been concerned with only three things: God, world, and soulthe individual, the universe, and the Supreme Absolute. Here is the sum and substance of all metaphysical thinking, and every other detail is a ramification and an extended form of discussion arising from the positing of these three realities, which insist on being recognised.
There is no doubt that we are existing here. We are alive. I am. This consciousness of I am is an indubitable experience. We need not have to consult books to know that we exist. We do not have to raise questions before other people: Do I exist really, my dear friend? Never is such a question put, just as we do not have a doubt as to whether it is daytime or night time, as it is so obvious for any sensible person. While everything in the world can be a matter of doubt, there is one thing which we cannot doubt: that we exist. Thank God there is at least something which we cannot doubt, and which we need not doubt.
Why should we not doubt? There have been sceptics in the world. There are consistent sceptical thinkers and agnostics who either conclude that it is not possible to know what ultimately is, or they hold the doctrine that everything is dubious. The fallacy in the argument of downright scepticism is, again, very clear on the surface. Nobody can be a consistent sceptic. There is always a flaw in sceptical arguments because there is a justification on the part of the sceptic as to the indubitability of his arguments and the doubtless character of the doctrine of scepticism itself. This is a very strange way of arguing. That everything is doubtful is a statement which itself cannot be regarded as doubtful, so there is a doubtless base on which is founded all doubtful arguments and the whole structure of the philosophy of scepticism.
There have been thinkers in the East as well as in the West who were agnostics and sceptics. Ya eva hi nirakarta tad eva tasya svarupam. In this one sentence Acharya Sankara, in his commentary on the Brahma Sutras, refutes scepticism, root and branch. Whoever denies, does not deny himself. He denies everything except himself, because if the denier denies himself, the denial also is deniedand two negatives make a positive. Such a possibility is not acceptable. Nobody ever feels that he does not exist. Even the totally unconscious condition of sleep does not obliterate the consciousness of our having existed in sleep. We are able to remember that we did exist, even in swoon. By a process of memory and recollection, we can conclude that we did exist.
Now, the fact that we exist is a very important stronghold, a rock bottom on which we can build the edifice of our further analytical process. At least something is there to hold on to. If everything is going, if the ground itself is moving and is cracking, we cannot stand anywhere. But it does not appear that the ground is moving. All consciousness of movement is an acceptance of the existence of a reference which itself cannot be moving along with the act of moving.
The existence of what is called the knower is the beginning of all consistent thinkingrationally, scientifically or philosophically. There would be no science, no philosophy, nothing meaningful or significant in the world, if the very existence of the knower is doubtful. That would be like talking through the hat. Such a predicament is not acceptable and not tenable. Our conviction that we are seeing something real in front of us may be a doubtful affair, granted; but we cannot doubt that we are the source of this doubt in regard to the objects that we are doubting. The whole world may be an object of doubt, and we may not be sure whether we are seeing people seated in front of us. We may be in a state of delirium. We are sleepwalkers, perhaps. We may be not in our proper senses, and we may be in a state of seeing phantasms in front of us due to a peculiar split in the way of our thinking; all this may be granted, accepted, but we cannot go deeper than that. That a person is, is beyond logical ascertainment. It is not by logical argument that we know that we exist. There is no deduction or induction involved there. Something is and, therefore, something has to be. Thus, such a conclusion is arrived at.
Such kind of induction is not essential. Logical arguments are not essential to prove the existence of ones own self, because all logic proceeds from the fact of our accepting that we are. Every form of knowledge, logical or scientific, is an outcome of our having convincingly accepted that we indubitably exist. This is a very famous point and well-known ground that we have to take into consideration in every further state. We do existand, therefore, we have to take it as a certainty. We have a knowledge that we exist.
Now comes another point which we should not forget. That we exist is a doubtless position that we are assuming; but, this doubtless assuming of the fact of our being is nothing but an awareness that we are existing. As an unconsciousness cannot be associated with the conviction that one exists, it is a consciousness that is inseparably associated with the fact of our being there as such and suchas something.
So, look at this beautiful thing that is before us. We cannot deny our being, and we cannot deny the consciousness of our being, because the denying of the consciousness associated with being would also be to deny being. There is no being without consciousness. That would be a meaningless assertion. Hence, our consciousness of our being is a very important point to remember. Well, let us stop here and go no further.
There is something which is undoubtedly presenting itself before us: I am. This I am-ness in us is a consciousness of our being. The famous technical Sanskrit terms describing this position, Being associated with Consciousness, are Sat associated with Chit. For Being, or Existence, the Sanskrit word is Sat, or Satta; and Consciousness is Chit, or Chaitanya, as it is sometimes called. Sat-Chit is Being-Consciousness. They go together, but not as two friends walking hand in hand. Being and Consciousness, in the case of ones own knowing that one is, are not two different aspects of personality. Being and Consciousness are not two features; they do not represent two things. The word they, as a plural, is inapplicable in this compound being which is Awareness-Existence, Sat-Chit. Sat and Chit, or Being and Consciousness, are two words that we use to designate one single, indivisible compound. All words that we use here are inadequate to describe this position. It is neither a compound nor a coming together into a blend of two things. It is an indescribable Being-Consciousness, for which language is impotent, and therefore we use such terms as Being-Consciousness, Sat-Chit, etc. Language is intended to describe by means of characterising objects of perception, but this so-called Being-Consciousness is not an object of perception. It is a subject that is responsible for every kind of perception, so it cannot be logically defined.
Therefore, language is useless where it is a matter concerning Being-Consciousnessthat which is self-identical with ourselves. We do not require language to know our own selves. We require language to communicate with another person as an object of our perception, but we need not communicate anything to our own selves. The means of communication is not only absent but is ruled out completely, as there is no such thing as self-communication. We need not speak to ourselves. We need not have to communicate ideas to ourselves. We need not have to find a means of perceiving ourselves. We need not argue that we exist. Hence, every endeavour, from every direction, becomes redundant in the case of that which is self-certain, which we, ourselves, are: I am.
When we begin to come to such a conclusion, we do not seem to be exhausting all our problems of life. This is only the opening of a gate to a vista of the further difficulties that we are going to face in the matter of experience, which does not seem to get exhausted merely with self-experience in the way it presents itself to us as individuals. The I am-ness or the Self-Consciousness, the Being-Awareness of ourselves which we have concluded is an indubitable something, unfortunately happens to be a Self-Consciousness identified with a localised body. It is some XYZ sitting but ABC speaking about this position of the indubitable condition of I am.
So, a problem suddenly springs up from this acceptance of there being such a thing as Self-Consciousness, or Being-Awareness, identified with individual being. The idea of individuality implies space and time, so our knowledge that we are as individuals, or persons, or human beingsis limited by space and by the time process. We are therefore limited, self-conscious beings. We are finite individuals; and the consciousness of a finite being suddenly and simultaneously implies the consciousness of there being other finite centres of a similar character. The world that we see in front of us is a conglomeration of other finite centres like our own selves. The inviolable position of there being a world outside us arises on account of our knowing or being aware of ourselves as finite centres. There is an inscrutable intervention in our knowing that we are, by another inscrutable factor called space and time. Nobody can say what is space and what is time. It is, again, something that is taken for granted. We cannot explain what space is, nor can we say what time is. They are names that we give to conditions that limit our existence and consciousness. This so-called Sat-Chitthat we are, this Being-Consciousness that we seem to be, this I am-ness is conditioned by inscrutable factors known as space and time. They say these are the spectacles that we wear to know our experience. A pair of spectacles called space and time are worn by every Being-Consciousness that is individual. With these spectacles, we have a consciousness of objective experience. Space and time are the conditions of objectivity, externalisationthe projection of Being-Consciousness into what we call objects.
What we call the objective world is a vast presentation before our so-called Being-Consciousness by an action of space and time. If space were not to intervene in our consciousness that we are, the world would have been a different thing, perhaps. We cannot say what it would have been, minus space and time. We cannot imagine a condition minus space and time, because even the very thought that there could be a condition minus space and time is involved in space and time. So, man is utterly helpless in the matter of knowing things. Inasmuch as space and time are involved even in the attempt at knowing things about space and time, our ideologies are limited ones; and even our notion of a spaceless and timeless existence seems to be limited by space and time.
Thus, human knowledge is finite. No man can have infinite knowledge. We can never hope to be omniscient as long as our expectations, even the loftiest ones, are perforce limited to the operation of space and time. Space and time come together as a single brood to throw our consciousness out. And, in a way, we may define space as the condition of externality. It is hard for us to know what externality means, but we can surmise with a little bit of exercise of common sense that externality is the way in which our consciousness operates in terms of what it is notto which I made reference previously. We are involved in a consciousness of what we are not; and the only function of space-time is to compel us to be involved in that which we are not.