by Swami Krishnananda
There is an inveterate obsession in our minds which prevents us almost entirely from conceiving the goal of life as a practical reality. It remains mostly as a kind of concept and an idea, an ideal which is not easily reconcilable with the hard realities of the workaday world. It may be God Himself, but nevertheless He is only an idea and an ideal, a concept, an imagination, a possibility, a may-be or may-not-be. This suspicious outlook is not absent even in the most advanced persons, due to the strength of the senses, the power of the mind and the habit of the intellect in understanding things in a given fashion. We are discussing a subject called comparative philosophy; and, in this context, we would be benefited by bestowing a little thought on the conclusions arrived at by certain other thinkers also, apart from the Vedantic philosophers like Sankara with whom we are well acquainted and about whose thinking we have spoken enough.
There was a great man in Greece, called Plato. According to Paul Dyson, the world has produced only three philosophers: Plato, Kant and Sankara. There is some truth in what he says. There cannot be a greater philosopher than these three persons. I was thinking about this statementwhy does Dyson say this. Finally, I felt there is some truth in it, whatever it is.
The idea of the Ultimate Reality is the principal doctrine of Plato. I started by saying that we are living in a world of ideas when we live a spiritual lifewhen we behave religiously, conduct worship and mass, do prayers, do japa and even meditation. But there is a very uncomfortable consequence that follows the idea: that, after all, the Ultimate Reality is an idea.
Ideas are abstractions, notions, which are supposed to correspond to realities, and as long as ideas correspond to realities, they are valid. I have an idea that there is a building in front of me. This idea is a valid idea because it corresponds to the real existence of a building outside. Therefore, the validity of my idea depends upon the reality of the object which is in front of it. My idea itself has no reality. It is a borrowed reality. It hangs on the existence of something else outsidethe building. But, if the idea of the Ultimate Reality, or God, is to hang on the existence of another thing, God is not a real being.
This is a very subtle difficulty that may trouble the minds of even sincere seekers. Dont you think that the world is real? It is not merely real, it is very, very real, hard to the core, flint-like and no one can gainsay that it is. Perhaps, the world alone is. God is an idea that has been introduced into our minds by our ancestors, by our books, by our scriptures, by our professors, teachers and parents, and somehow we have been forced by the logic of these teachings to accept that there should be such a thing as an other-worldly existence. We have somehow reconciled ourselves with it: God must be there.
But, we are accepting the existence of God against our own will. We are hungry and thirsty, and this hunger and thirst of the body is more real than the idea of God. No one can say it is not so, whatever be our devotion to God. We are terribly angry, upset and very much attached to things, all of which cannot be explained in the light of the supreme existence of God. It is so even in the case of advanced seekers, sadhakas and sincere aspirants. This subject is a principal theme of Platos doctrine on the Ultimate Reality.
Socrates was a speaker, and he had many colleagues with whom he conducted conversations. Doubts arose in the minds of those colleagues. Ideas precede realities; this one sentence is the entire philosophy of Plato. The reality of the objective universe is subsequent to the idea of the universe. Here we have an echo of the great philosophy of Vedanta that Hiranyagarbha is prior to the cosmos of physical appearance.
The Panchadashi, the Upanishads and other systems of Vedantic thinking tell us that in Hiranyagarbha the world does not exist in a concrete form, as it appears. It is only an idea cosmically manifested by Ishvara, who is subtler than even the idea. Ishvara is only a possibility of the very idea that there should be such a thing called the universe. Hence, Ishvara would be subtler than even the idea which is Hiranyagarbha. Virat is supposed to be the animating consciousness behind this so-called physicality of creation.
Even in the Vedanta philosophy, all great men think alike; there is the same doctrine of the idea preceding concrete existence. But, we can never believe this. My idea that there is a desk in front of me cannot be said to be harder in its concreteness than the desk itself. I have an idea that there is a little table in front of me. Is the table more real, or is my idea that the table is there more real? Anyone with common sense will say that the idea is subsequent to the existence of the object called the table, and the idea does not precede the object. Because there is a table, we think that there is a table. We have an idea that there is an object, so the idea that there is an object is a consequence of the existence of the object. Therefore, God must be a subsequent, and not a precedent.
These questions arose before Socrates. How can we say that an idea is prior to the universe? How can there be an idea unless the universe exists? How can we have a thought about a thing unless the thing exists? How do we say that things are subsequent and ideas are precedent? If God is Supreme Consciousness, how could consciousness be prior to existence? Consciousness is always of something existing. If something is not there, then there cannot be consciousness. What is meant by saying merely consciousness, awareness, understanding, thinking, feeling? They cannot have any significance unless they are connected to a thing which is already there in existence.
This is the gross realistic doctrine of empirical philosophers, which was highlighted by British thinkers like Locke, Berkeley and Hume, but already anticipated, in a different fashion, by people like Plato and Aristotle. This is a very terrible problem before us, notwithstanding the fact that we are devotees of God and honest, religious thinkers.
The concreteness of the world and the reality of the things that we see with our eyes and contact with our senses cannot be abrogated merely by the notion that ideas are precedent. Ideas cannot be precedent as long as we are accustomed to thinking in the way we are thinking today. Here is a man coming. I am saying this. The man is there and, therefore, I have an idea that he is coming. If the man were not there, the idea could not be there. It is not that I think the man first and then the man comes. The man is there, and the idea comes afterwards. So, realism has this great forte behind it. There cannot be an idea unless an object already exists. God must be afterwards; the world is first. Here is materialism, which has a very strong ground. Consciousness cannot be there unless an object is there; so, what we call consciousness is only an exudation, a manifestation, a kind of effect from an already-existing material stuff. This is crude materialism, realismimpossible to face easily. We cannot answer these people. We will not be able to say anything about this matter. Ah, yes. There is something in it.
This problem is an indication of the state in which we are placedhow far we are advanced spiritually. Where is our spirituality? Where is our God-love and God-consciousness? Incidentally, this is not a joking matter or a humour. It is a very, very serious thing for us. Whatever be the study of our scriptures, we cannot get out of the idea that we are living in a very, very hard, flint-like, iron-like, steel-like world; and we can never accept that the idea of the world is in any way more real than the world.
But, Plato affirmed that ideas are more real than the world. The universals are precedent to the particulars. Horse-ness is prior to horse. It is very strange, indeed, to say this. Horse-ness is prior to horse. Table-ness is prior to table. Building-ness is before building. How can there be building-ness before the building came into being? How can there be horse-ness unless there is a horse? These questions were hurled at Socrates. We cannot easily answer these questions. We know very well that there cannot be horse-ness unless the horse is already there.
Mans mind is very poor. It is not wholly philosophical, and we cannot understand how there can be an idea of a thing unless the thing is already there. How can Gods consciousness be there if God is only consciousness minus the consciousness of something? We have been indoctrinated into this belief not merely in this life but throughout the lives that we have lived in earlier incarnations. The difficulty arises on account of the impressions created in our minds by hanging on objects of sense.
We have passed through many births. The little spiritual aspiration that we have is a late development in the process of our evolution. Let each one of us think: Since when are we thinking of God, and religion, and spirituality? Since how many years? Compared to these few years of our ardent adventure in the spiritual field, what is that long, long time which we have passed in other types of thinking? The heavy weight of the errors in our thoughts in our previous lives hangs on us so vehemently and powerfully that our little aspiration is submerged. Therefore, again and again we have suspicions in our minds; doubts are galore. Very great difficulties are there. Am I fit? Am I right? Is there some substance in it? Am I living in a foolish world, in a fools paradise? Nothing is coming. I have been meditating for years, and nothing is visible. Or, I may be hoodwinked even if there is some point in it. Or, all is a waste. These doubts can come, even to sincere seekers.
The idea of the world is not dependent upon the world; the world is dependent upon the idea. Berkeley said this in a crude form, but Plato affirmed it in a more philosophical fashion. We can never stomach this idea that consciousness is precedent to matter, though we have attempted to convince ourselves that consciousness is our essential reality by an analysis conducted of the three states of waking, dream and deep sleep. We have already understood this, to some extent. We have gone into the depths of our condition in deep sleep where we appear to exist only as Pure Consciousness, minus association with the body and mind. If we could exist as Pure Consciousness, minus the body and mind, in the state of deep sleep, that must have been what our stuff is. This so-called body of ours, this hard substance of contactual experience and the mind which thinks of it, are subsequent evolutes. If they were the ultimate realities that we are, they would have also persisted in deep sleep. But, we had no such experience there; we were bare, featureless, unobjectified Being-Consciousness only. This was what we learned in our earlier analysis of the condition of sleep.
What were we in deep sleep if not man, not woman, not human being, not body, not mind, not anything, not any object? What were we, then? A mere bare, impersonal, indefinite, undivided awareness is what we were. This consciousness that we were is the same as consciousness of being, inseparable from beingbeing inseparable from consciousness, concciousness inseparable from being.
This is the great conclusion of Vedanta philosophy. Being-Consciousness, Sat-Chit, was our essential naturenot body, not mind, not the world, not anything the senses can see or perceive. Then, wherefrom this body came? What is this body? What is this world? What are these brick buildings, and stony mountains, and flowing rivers, and the burning sun? What is all this? From where have they come? They are, also, ideas.
When Berkeley said that all the trees and mountains and heaven and earth are only ideas, later on Samuel Johnson, it seems, kicked a brick and said, I hereby refute Berkeley. Kicking a brick does not refute Berkeley. It is a very prosaic way of confronting him. There was a mistake in the thinking of Samuel Johnson. We cannot kick a building and say that we have refuted Berkeley, because Berkeley includes Johnson himself, not merely the brick, in his doctrine of ideas.
Electric repulsions can produce a sensation of hardness, as those of us who have had an electric shock may know. If we touch a live wire with high voltage flowing through it, we will have a sensation of terrible weight and solidity. Though nothing is there, we will feel as if a mountain is hanging on our hand. Anyone who had a shock knows what it is. How can this idea of the heavy weight of a mountain hanging on our hand be a sensation when there was nothing whatsoever except the fact that we touched a live wire?
Why go so far? Come to our own modern scientists. These solid objects, maybe of steel or granite, are constituted of electric energypure energy, electric energy; we may say, electricity itself. What is electricity? It cannot be seen. It has no weight; it has no dimension, no length, breadth or height. A thing which has no length, breadth or height is the raw material of heavy substances which have length, breadth and height. This indescribable continuum of force and motion has become atoms and molecules, and hard things like mountains and the solar system.