by Swami Krishnananda
Religion began with the authority of the scriptures and the prophets. It moved gradually in the direction of the substantiation of religious consciousness in literature, with heroic poems like the Epics and the genealogical history of the religious teachers as is found in the Puranas in India, and stabilised itself in the deeper involvements of the spirit of man in its inner relation to God as a Universal Being. Mysticism and internal worship became the culmination of religious experience. Here we have a complete picture of the procedural movement of religious consciousness, we may say, logically or historically. But, the various phases through which human history passes present many more features of the human vision of things which wavers between one excess and another excess – sometimes going to this extreme and sometimes going to that extreme – on account of the preponderance of the inner needs of the individual caused by conditions which may be political, sociological, geographical, or even by natural circumstances.
Modern times are famous for an intensified form of externalisation of human behaviour which is involved in technological, scientific and mechanised conceptions of life – that is to say, we are moving more and more outwardly, distancing oneself from one’s own self, recognising values of life not in one’s own self, but in that which is not one’s own self. Where are the values of life today? They are in machines; they are in money; they are in land and property; they are in national consciousness; they are in the preparation for warfare; and they are in the inward longing to conquer physical nature by an outward movement in space and time. All this indication of the modern-day mind is a counterblast, I may say, to the originally intended religious awareness that took for granted the existence of a God as the creator of the world and confirms the necessity to involve oneself in this consciousness of a God ruling over all things, making God-realisation the be-all and end-all of all things.
The word ‘God’ implied and included anything and everything. But these developments of today – which are a rationalisation of human thought, compelling every conclusion to be a necessary corollary of an inductive or a deductive process of argument, and insisting that whatever is real has to be capable of observation and experiment – turned the tables around. Empiricism took a vengeance, as it were, upon the religious aspiration of man, and today we are modernised technological seekers of a reality which has to be confirmed in its nature through observation and logical argument.
Religion had to defend itself against the onslaughts of the pressure exerted on the human mind by sensations and the need for purely sense-oriented methods of proof for the existence of any value that is ultimately final. The first blow came upon God Himself. The doubt was concerning the very meaning that we attach to a thing called God, or the creative principle of the universe.
Does God exist? Where are the proofs? All the proofs that people speak of, philosophically or rationalistically, are actually certain conclusions that are expected to be drawn from already-assumed hypotheses. The logically thinking mind forgets the fact that hypotheses themselves are not proven facts, because something has to be taken as the basic fundamental assumption in order that we can argue on the basis of that assumption – either arguing from particulars to generals, or from generals to particulars.
Philosophers in all the religions of the world girded up their loins, and intricate metaphysical arguments and defensive processes were created in both Western and Eastern circles. Yesterday I mentioned the saint Thomas Aquinas, who found it necessary to justify the Christian religion by philosophical methods and to advance proofs for the existence of God.
The philosophers’ methods for establishing the existence of God have been mostly classified into five major methods of thinking. What is the proof that something other than the world process really exists? The first argument is simple. It is called the argument from the contingent nature of things. We see that everything in the world is relative, conditioned, limited, finite in all ways, restless in its nature, and has a tendency in itself to overstep its limitations. There is nothing in the world – including human nature – which would not like to break through the finitude in which it is shackled. Is man satisfied with himself? There is no satisfaction.
The absence of satisfaction with existing conditions is an inductively argued proposal for there being some state of affairs where finitude can be broken completely. If finitude is the final reality, there would be no consciousness of finitude. We cannot know that we are limited if limitation itself is the final truth. The idea that there is limitation, circumference, boundary, finitude is proof of there being something that is beyond the boundary. Unless we are aware that there is something beyond the boundary, there would be no knowledge of there being such a thing called boundary. Finitude, limitation and the changefulness of all things through the process of evolution suggests that these changes – these ideas of finitude and experience of limitations of every kind – are sufficient arguments to prove that there is something other than what is finite, other than what changes, other than what is limited. The contingency of all things in the world – right from the atom to the solar system – is a proof for the existence of that which is not involved in the process of nature.
The second argument is known as the henological argument. We ask for more and more things. Whatever we get is not satisfying. If we get something, we want more of it; if we get more of it, we want even more. Where will this ‘more’ end? Unless there is a final cessation of this asking for more, the very idea of asking for more does not have any sense. We cannot have only asking without getting it. So, there must be a state of affairs where we are getting what we are asking for; and we are asking for more of things, endlessly. Finally there must be a cessation of this asking for more and more; and asking for more cannot end until there is a limitless possession of every kind of value in the world. Until we reach the Infinite, the asking for more will not cease; therefore, a thing called the Infinite must exist. This is the henological argument.
But there are more famous arguments, such as the well-known ontological, cosmological, and teleological arguments, which are the highlights of modern philosophy especially. The ontological argument is that which fixes itself on the nature of existence itself. There is such a thing called existence, and everything has to be. Existence is commonly present in everything that we regard as existing, but it is not an existence of this thing or that thing as a table exists, a chair exists, a mountain exists, the sun exists, the moon exists, I exist, you exist. Existence itself seems to be a universally permeating principle, and it is not limited to any particular object. The generality of existence is the proof of there being such a thing as a consciousness of the generality of existence. Consciousness has to be there attending on this generality of existence because if one is unaware of this existence, it is as good as it not existing at all. So the generality that is attributable to all things should also be a content of consciousness. Therefore, general existence should be attended with general consciousness. This is the same as the Absolute Universal Consciousness. It has to exist.
Apart from that, there is a consciousness in every person of such a thing called the Infinite. We can think of something endless; and the capacity in the human mind to contemplate that which has no boundaries is, again, attended with the consciousness of there being no such thing as boundary. Consciousness is attached to this possibility of there being no boundary to existence. The boundless character of existence is here again associated with the consciousness thereof.
I am conscious of the existence of something which cannot have a boundary. This consciousness cannot stand apart from this boundaryless existence, because that which has no boundary cannot have a consciousness outside itself; and, vice versa, consciousness cannot be outside a boundaryless existence. That which is limitless can associate itself with consciousness only by the factor of identity. Tadatmyata: consciousness and limitless existence are identical. We say sat-chit: existence is consciousness.
Therefore the eternal Infinite, which is the same as consciousness, must exist. This Pure Being has to be there ontologically – which means to say, finally, the cosmological argument is the argument from effects to causes. Everything seems to be an effect that is coming from something else. A potter makes a pot, a carpenter makes a table, a mason builds a house, an architect raises a great structure – something happens on account of something else also happening at the same time. There has to be something causing the operation of things in the world. Neither the flow of the river, nor the rise of the sun, nor the movement of air – no action of nature can be explained unless there is a cause behind it. It may be any kind of cause – physical, astronomical, cosmological, or whatever it be. That there is a cause behind effects is the proof that there must be a final cause for all the effects of the world taken together, because if the effects are scattered hither and thither without any organisation among themselves, there would be no world at all. There would be no universe; there would be a complete chaos.
The conception of a universe which is internally organised within itself is also associated with another conception of all effects being connected with causes which finally have to merge into one cause only. Otherwise, if there were many final causes, there would be no relationship among them and, again, there would be a chaos of causes. This argument leads to the acceptance of a final cause which has to be universally comprehensive to include within itself every other relative cause. Such a cause has to be there, and it has to be associated with consciousness. Again, God exists.
Another argument is the teleological argument, which makes out that there is an end and a purpose seen in all things. Purposeless movement is not seen in nature. We do not do anything at all without a purpose, whatever it may be. There is some meaning, some sense of the achievement that is to follow from what we do. The very evolution of the universe seems to be conditioned by a purpose, and we have seen that there has already been evolution from matter to plant, plant to animal, animal to man. There is an apparently visible scheme recognisable in the working of things; and such a scheme – such order, such symmetry, such beautiful precision of working in nature – cannot be accounted for unless there is an intelligence guiding it.
There is an architect of the cosmos, just as there is an architect of a huge building. And this architect is responsible for the system, the aesthetic beauty and the presentation in perfect symmetry and order that we see in this world. Such an architect has to be there, and if that architect is not to be accepted, the beauty, symmetry, system, precision and mathematical order that we see in the working of nature cannot be explained. God, therefore, has to exist, the philosophers argue.
There are varieties of philosophies, all arising from a gradational movement of consciousness from sense perception to Pure Consciousness. In India we have the Vaiseshika and Nyaya philosophies, which grounded themselves on pure reason only. They established that there should be a God because even if the world is supposed to be constituted of atoms, as the Vaisesika and Nyaya hold, these atoms have to be arranged in a particular order, and there should be juxtaposition of these atoms. Then one must become two, two must become three, etc., until they form a molecule, and then an organism, and then a large object – which process cannot be accounted for unless there is somebody who does it.
There is, therefore, a Maker of all things Who is above all things in the world – as there cannot be a pot unless there is somebody who has made it. But, the Vaisesika and the Nyaya made the mistake of imagining that God exists beyond the world, extra-cosmically – as a potter exists outside the pot, and the carpenter outside the table. But can God also be like that, like a carpenter or a potter, above the world? They thought that it has to be this way. God looks at the world from a distance and arranges things according to the needs of the time – as a good architect, a good carpenter, a good potter or a good engineer would organise things.
The difficulty with this concept is that a manifold substance, an atom, cannot be accounted for unless there is a necessity to reduce the whole cosmos into a multiplicity of such a character as atoms. From where comes this necessity at all? If ultimately they have to be organised into a single organism and made one whole so that the world may look single, what is the purpose of dividing them into little bits and then organising them once again into a whole?
Apart from this difficulty, there is the difficulty of the relation between God and the world. What is the connection between the potter and the pot? There is absolutely no connection. The pot is made and the potter goes away somewhere, unconcerned with what is happening to the pot. Is the God of the universe like the potter? Does He create the world and then is not concerned with it? God seems to have a great concern. He does not merely create the world; He sustains it.
The sustaining principle that is associated with God together with creativity implies that He has a hand in the operation of the world. But the hands of God cannot reach the world if He is extra-cosmic – that is, unconnected with the universe. There is some kind of connection. If that connection is not to be accepted – if the two things, the world and the Creator, are totally different – then nothing in the world can reach God because of the disconnection of one from the other. Nor can God have anything to do with the world, because of the same disconnection between Him and the world.
Advanced thought proceeded further on in the direction of finding a simpler explanation for what is happening in the world. Finally it appears to us that there is no point in assuming that there are many things in the world, because all these so-called many things appear to be basically constituted of matter, atoms, molecules or whatever we may call them. Even physical organisms are basically constituted of material substances. So, why not just say that there is matter in the universe instead of unnecessarily listing the existent objects?
It was thought that it is enough for us to accept that there is only one thing in the whole world, and that is matter. The perception of matter also is a great question. Who perceives matter? When we say that all things are only matter, who is making the statement? Matter itself cannot say anything because matter is the name we give to unconscious existence – pure stability, brute existence. There must be an awareness of there being such a thing called matter. The awareness is the state which we call consciousness. This consciousness has to be differentiated from matter because, if it is identical with matter, matter itself would be conscious, or consciousness itself would be the same as the essence of matter. The consciousness of there being such a thing called the material universe implies a duality: the seeing consciousness, and the seen object. This is the point made out in the Samkhya doctrine, which simplified the complicated arguments of the Vaiseshika and Nyaya. Instead of many realities to be controlled and organised by God who is above the world, we have only two things: the seeing side and the seen side – the consciousness that observes things, witnesses the phenomena, and then the phenomena itself which is material in its nature.
But, the Samkhya landed us in another difficulty. What is the relationship between consciousness and matter? Are they different? Naturally, if they are different, how do we explain the factor of consciousness being aware of the object that is in front of it? The consciousness of an object implies a relationship between the knowing consciousness and the object outside, as totally different things are not capable of blending themselves into a consciousness of unity. If the so-called material object is totally disconnected from consciousness, there would be no consciousness of the world at all. We would not know that there is matter. How do we know it? The material object has somehow or other become a content of our consciousness. It has involved itself in our consciousness, and it has become inseparable from consciousness.