by Swami Krishnananda
We were discussing the nature of knowledge. The manner in which we come to know that the world is there outside us is a very important matter, indeed, in the conduct of our life. Our reationship with things and our conduct in life depend upon the way in which we understand things. The process of the knowledge of things entirely determines the way in which we behave or deal with thingshence, the importance of the study of the very process of knowing. Its importance cannot be overestimated, because it is very clear that our dealings with things depend upon the way in which we know thingshence, the great significance accorded to the manner of knowing. Academicians, in their own jargon, tell us that this theme is called epistemology. Definitions and names apart, it is important to know the extent to which we can have an understanding of the world.
Previously I touched upon the difficulty in correctly knowing anything in this world. It appears that we cannot know anything at all in the way in which it actually is in itself, because of the fact that there are certain curtains hanging in front of us. There are certain spectacles we are putting on, through which we behold the world outside us. The very word outside is anathema to the true nature of things. Why do we say that we see the world outside? Who told us that it is outside? The obviousness of the fact that the world is outside us shows the obviousness of the difficulty in knowing things as they are. We have been so involved in the error of human knowledge that we have ourselves become a heap of error. Thus, the empirical percipient, the individual knower of things, is nothing but a heap of misconceptions. To say that the world is relative is to say very little about it. It is much worse than a mere relativity of things.
I mentioned in the previous session that space and time condition us in an overwhelming manner. These are the principal spectacles that we put on: space and time. Everything is seen as located in space and in time because of these spectacles. These spectacles cannot be removed and set aside. They form part and parcel of ourselves, and are more intimate than our own skin. Even our skin can be peeled off, but we cannot peel off space and time from our existence. Hence, it is impossible to know anything except as being situated in space and conditioned by timemore so because of the fact that the knower of things in space and time is also in space and time. It is not that somebody outside space and time is looking at things through space and time. The man has become the spectacles themselves. He is not putting on the spectacles; he is himself the spectacles. What a pity! One can imagine where man stands.
Here is the basic problem of knowledge. All knowledge is mediate, and not immediatemediate in the sense that it is a closeness of relationship between two terms of relation, the knower and the known. As the knower is different from the known, the question arises as to the way in which the knower can connect himself with the known. All knowledge is the relationship between the knower and the known; but, what is the meaning of relationship? Merely because we utter the word relationship, it does not make matters clear. That which connects the knower with the known may be said to be the relation between the knower and the known. But, what is it that connects the knower with the known?
The connecting link between the knower and the known is, evidently, not identical with either the knower or the known. It has to be something different. If the relation between the knower and the known is a part of the knower himself, then there could be no relation between the knower and the known. On the other hand, if the relation is a part and parcel of the known, then, also, there could be no relation between the knower and the known. Either way we are caught. But, if we say that the relation between the knower and the known is neither connected with the knower nor with the known, then, also, there cannot be an understanding of things.
I hope you understand the difficulty involved here. Neither can it be related to the knower, nor can it be related to the known, nor can it stand independently of both. Then, what is this relation between the knower and the known? Thus, there is an inscrutability about our knowledge of things. We do not know what we are seeing, and how we are seeing things at all. There is a muddle in the understanding of the individual in respect to anything whatsoever. Therefore, there is no such thing as right knowledge in the proper sense of the term. All knowledge is erroneous. We are in a phenomenal world. This is a world of phenomena.
Apart from the fact that the process of knowledge is conditioned by space and time and there is a terrible difficulty in knowing the relationship between the knower and the known, there is a kink in the mind of the knower himself, a contortion which delimits the very reasoning of the knower into certain patterns of understandingmoulds we call logic.
What is logic? It is a system of moulds into which the thinking process is cast; and we take for granted that this mould is the final thing. But, who told us that this is the final thing, that there cannot be any other way of knowing? This is a hypothesis on which we found every type of consciousness of existent things. The psychological conditions which are the limitations on the knowing process, plus space and time, make everything in this world almost impossible. We are in a state of despair in knowing anything. The knowledge process seems to conclude that we are in a relative and phenomenal world of unintelligible relations.
But every cloud has a silver lining. The very consciousness of this difficulty is a hope beaming forth as a ray of possibility in the deepest recesses of our own phenomenal individuality. Here, we are undertaking a process of self-analysis, an analysis of the very fact of our knowing that we are in a phenomenal world. The phenomenal and un-understandable quality of the world as a whole, as well as the relativity of things in general, act as a pointer to a higher possibility which is the hope of man.
The phenomena indicate that they are a phenomena of something which itself is not a phenomenon. When we say the world is an appearance or a phenomenon, we mean that it is an appearance of something which itself cannot be an appearance. There cannot be simply an appearance without there being something of which it is an appearance. When we say that something is erroneous, we arrive at this conclusion by comparing it with a standard which is not erroneous. Nothing can be known to be wrong unless there is something which is right. If there is only wrong, we cannot even know that it is wrong. So, the restlessness that the individual feels, the finitude which annoys us every moment of time, the limitations of which we are conscious, and the philosophical conclusion that the world is relative and phenomenal is the first step of the ascent of consciousness towards its higher reaches. There has to be a noumenon in order that there may be a phenomenon. Technical thinkers tell us that there is such a thing called the thing as it is in itself which, of course, cannot be known, because of the difficulties mentioned. But, here, an intriguing position is maintained by the philosophical thought when it holds that the thing as it is in itself cannot be known, because the idea that the thing as it is in itself cannot be known is an acceptance of the fact that it is known in some way.
The thing-in-itselfthat which is the noumenon, that which cannot be knownis known as that which cannot be known. This is how the mind, in an acrobatic feat of its own difficult processes in knowledgeeven in condemning itself as a totally inadequate instrument of knowing anythingraises and lifts itself above this difficulty by the very profundity or the latency which is behind this difficulty. The noumenon speaks. When a statement is made that the noumenon cannot be known, it is not the phenomenon that makes this declaration. The statement that the noumenon cannot be known is not made by the phenomenon, because the phenomenon cannot make a statement of that kind.
Thus, there is a depth in human nature which is beyond the reach of the mind and the reason; and the empirical processes of knowing are inadequate for the purpose on hand. Man cannot know himself by the endowments of reason, intellect, understanding, or even all the psychological operations put together. The potentiality of the human being is deeper than the psychological operations of the human being. That means to say that in our daily life now, we are not drawing from the deeper potentialities of ourselves. We are floating on our own surface, ignoring, neglecting, being unconscious of our own basic rootedness in something of which our phenomenal instruments of knowledge have no awareness. Thus, while a perception or sensory contact with things, in collaboration with the mind, the intellect and the reason cannot give us right knowledge, there seems to be some other way of knowing things as they aresome other means altogether different from the reason, the intellect or the mind.
Though we operate in our daily life only through the intellect and the reason, it is obvious that we have something in us which is deeper than, profounder than, superior to, the intellect and the reason. We have lost ourselves in forgetting ourselves; and in losing ourselves, we have lost the world also, because in the ignorance of our essential nature we have, also, the ignorance of the true nature of anything else in the world. We do not know ourselves and, therefore, we do not know the worldand vice versa.
This is a magnificent analysis made in Eastern scriptures like the Mandukya Upanishad, to which I made a reference earlier, and in certain other Upanishads. Deeper than the waking condition in which man usually operates, deeper than dream, deeper than deep sleep, there is the true man. The true man is not the waking man, the dreaming man or the sleeping man. There is a superman appearing as a man in the conditions of waking, dream and sleep. These three conditionswaking, dream and sleepare the relative operations of the finitude of the individual.
Our scriptures say that we are caught up in samsara. We hear it said many a time by admonishers that this is a world which is samsara, entanglement. Samsara means entanglement, involvement, unnecessary botheration. We have been involved in samsara, entangled in bondage, because of the fact that we cannot get out of this cycle of waking, dream and sleep. Either we are awake, or we are dreaming, or we are sleeping. What other condition have we? Is it a great freedom to be subject to these states, like puppets? But the revolution of these three states and the restlessness of these conditions prove that we are restless for another thing, on which we wish to rest ourselves finally.
There is a self in man that is deeper than the reason and the intellect and the psychological functions. The mind that thinks, the ego that arrogates, the intellect that understands, and the reason that argues, are not sufficient. What can they argue? What can the mind think, except that which is thus involved in the limitations mentioned?
The process of yoga is the process of diving deep into ones own self, which is also a simultaneous diving into the depths of anything else in the world. There is a parallel movement of consciousness in this delving deep into the waters of the cosmos. The subject that is the human individual is co-extensive with the object that is the universe; therefore, the depth of one thing is, also, the depth of the other thing. To know oneself is to know the world, and to know the world is to know oneself. Therefore, the great dictum Know thyself does not mean know oneself as a person. To know oneself as one really is, is to know anything in the world as it really is. Self-knowledge is world-knowledge, and world-knowledge is, also, self-knowledge. This is the great standpoint of yoga in its psychology, in its philosophy, and in its spiritual techniques.
The world is not before us, outside us, confronting us. It is a large body, of which we are a part. This is the reason why we are entangled in it in such a way that we cannot understand the way of involvement, the way in which we know things. As I pointed out just now, the difficulty in understanding our relationship with things arises because of our intriguing relationship with the world, which is not a relationship in the logical sense of the term. We are part and parcel of this body called the cosmos. That is the reason why we are, on the one hand, incapable of wresting ourselves from it and, on the other hand, unable to know anything about it.
This intriguing character of our knowledge of things arises because of our intriguing connection with the world. Here, we come to the cosmology of the world as a whole, which explains the process of creation. Philosophers, mystics and thinkers along these lines have attempted to understand the process of the evolution of thingshow things came aboutso that we may know where we stand at the present moment.