by Swami Krishnananda
Philosophical enquiries are either inductive or deductive in their methods. Modern thinking, especially of the Western type, is mainly inductive in the sense that it deduces universal conclusions out of information gathered from isolated particulars. Experimentation and observation is the method of science and even modern critical philosophy. It is inductive because it does not come to conclusions except through particulars which are accessible to experiment and observation. This experiment may be sensory in the case of science or rational in the case of philosophy; however, the methodology is almost similar in either case. We have to see before we believe, or understand before we can accept. These are the trends of thinking these days in science and philosophy.
Ancient Indian thinking was mostly deductive. It was critical and rational, no doubt, but its criticism or its rationality would not go counter to direct experience. Thus in India, philosophy has been called darshana, or vision of Reality. It is not merely a critical analysis through the intellect of man, which they found inadequate to the purpose. It is not possible for the intellect to understand everything in the world. Though there is a great utility in the application of reason and intellect within a certain limit, beyond that limit it is not only not useful, but it can even mislead us.
Indian thinkers of ancient times the philosophers, the saints and the sages approached the question of Reality by a practical application of personal methods, through experience, and they convinced themselves that they were face to face with God, with Reality, with Truth, with things as they are within themselves. Their critical reason was of course there to corroborate their experience. Logic was not opposed to the vision of Reality. The deductive method follows the coming down to specifics from generals already experienced by insight by samadhi, by sakshatkara, by Realisation which is called immediate experience or non-mediate coming in contact with Reality, whereas sensory and even logical understanding is mediate, not immediate, in the sense that human instruments of knowledge cannot really come in contact with anything in the world.
If we are to understand contact in its true spirit, we can contact nothing by means of the senses or even by the mind. This great issue that man or anything that man has, either sensorily or rationally, cannot come down into contact with Reality as it is in itself is the great thesis of the German philosopher Immanuel Kant. He spent his life writing a book proving that human faculties are inadequate to the purpose of contacting Reality. We may ask why this is so. Why are we not equipped with adequate instruments to contact things as they are in themselves? The point which is very critically and largely expatiated upon by this philosopher is that we look at things with spectacles on our eyes, and the spectacles condition the nature of the perception. Whatever the nature of the glasses we put on, that would be the nature of the conclusions we arrive at by our visions.
The glasses which the rationality of man puts on are sensory as well as intellectual. We wear two types of glasses. The scientist also wears a set of glasses, and he cannot escape being conditioned by these spectacles namely, space and time. The scientist sees everything through space and time only, and he cannot escape this predicament. There is nothing which is not in space and time, and the scientist himself is involved in space and time. This is a defect in the sense that we cannot overcome the shackles to which we are subject by our very placement in the atmosphere of space and time. The philosopher fares no better because, though he is accustomed to a very critical analysis of things, he also wears certain mental spectacles in addition to being conditioned by space and time, because the mind cannot even think except in terms of space and time. While our senses are conditioned by space and time, the mind also is of the same category as far as cognition or perception is concerned because the mind cannot conceive what the senses do not perceive.
Further, there are additional difficulties of the mind of man, in addition to space and time. There are certain habits which are logical or psychological in their nature. We have certain logical habits we may call them psychological habits, if we like namely, anything that we can think in our mind has a quantity, is of some shape, some size, and it occupies some place. We cannot think of any object which does not occupy a place. Even if it is a pinpoint, it has a quantity, a dimension; it has a three-dimensional jurisdiction which it occupies. This is the habit of thinking of objects in terms of quantity. We cannot think anything without a quantity attached to it, however small be the measure of quantity that is associated thus. Secondly, we cannot conceive any object unless we relate it to something else. The definition of an object, psychologically the idea or notion of anything in our mind is possible only by comparing and contrasting the qualities of that object with other things. We say a crow is black because there are things in the world which are not black. If everything is black, we cannot know what is black. We cannot visualise the colour of a particular object unless we contrast it with other colours which do not belong to that particular object. Likewise, no quality of any particular object can be conceived in the mind except by comparison and contrast. So, there is a relativity involved in the conception of an object; an absolute object cannot be seen or conceived. Also, no object can be seen or conceived unless it has some quality, a character by which we can define it. Nothing that is indefinable can be conceived. This is another difficulty of the mind, namely, the necessity to define everything in terms of certain characteristics or qualities by comparing and contrasting, by way of relation with other things. So quantity is there, quality is there, and relation is there. We cannot think anything except in terms of these characteristics.
Kant mentions a fourth limitation, namely, the condition in which a particular object is. Everything is in some state, some condition, some situation, some circumstance; it cannot be without circumstance. We cannot think of objects except in this manner. These are the spectacles as conceived by Emmanuel Kant. How can we know what is there in the world, as it is in itself? The thing in itself, the world as it is, the Supreme Being or whatever we call the Reality as such, cannot be known by the human mind because on the one hand there is space and time, and on the other hand there are these psychological spectacles.
This is a great advance in critical thinking made in the history of Western philosophy. But there is something hidden behind Kant’s critical observations, which was noticed by his successors, such as Hegel. Kant uttered a great oracular statement which is valid for all times, which meaning was not clear even to himself because there was something unconsciously suggested or implied there. These suggestions were carried further into their metaphysical edifices by his great successors in Germany, England and America. These conclusions which were carried further in the critical field of philosophical studies in the West almost coincide with the great visions of Indian thinkers. Though not identical in every respect, they are almost ready to shake hands.
Now, these are certain problems which philosophers raise before their minds and, as I mentioned, the difficulties which Kant poses before us, including those that any other thinker of this type may raise, arise on account of following only the inductive method, under the impression that there is no way of knowing anything except in this way. But there are more things in heaven and earth than philosophy dreams of, said Shakespeare. Philosophy cannot dream of everything; there is something more than that. We ourselves are a great mystery. The philosopher himself is a mystery which he has to understand first, before he tries to understand the spectacles of the world outside him.
How do we know that we exist? Do we know it by any argument, inductively conducted? No logic is capable of proving or disproving our existence. It is a fact taken as it is. Here is a conviction in regard to ourselves which defies any logical approach. We would not like to be cast into the mould of logical thinking. We are above logic; logic proceeds from our minds, and we ourselves cannot be tools of logic. All proofs, philosophical or scientific, are emanations of something which itself cannot be proved. I mentioned the other day that the world being there in front of us is something that is taken as a hypothesis both by the scientist and the philosopher. Likewise, there is a greater hypothesis that we take for granted namely, that we exist. Do you know that you exist? Can you apply any method of knowledge to know this? No method of epistemological analysis the theory of knowledge can be applied to your existence. I exist, I am; there the matter ends. No further talking is permitted. I know that I am. How do I know that I am? This is an impertinent question because nobody would like this question to be raised. Why do you ask this question, whether I am? I am, and there the matter ends. I am, yes.
Now, I will digress a little further to another great thinker in the West, called Descartes. The question of ‘I am’ was taken up by him for consideration. While the position of our existence is something prior to thinking we ‘are’ and therefore we think, and this seems to be a correct way of approach to our own selves, Descartes came to the conclusion “I am, because I think”. Cogito ergusu: I think and therefore I am. We do not know why he resorted to this method of proof of his own existence, as thinking cannot be considered as a proof of one’s existence, while the other way round, one’s own existence is adequate explanation of every other activity. Our existence is an explanation of everything.
This existence was taken hold of as a principle subject, or object of study, by ancient Indian thinkers. Nobody can deny one’s own self. One’s doubts can be extended to anything in the world, but that doubt cannot be extended to one’s one self. We may doubt anything, but we cannot doubt that we are, because if we start doubting that we are, the validity of that doubting itself will require another precedent reality, whose existence we cannot doubt. So, nobody can go on doubting doubt itself. Thus, there is something which is indubitable.
This was the stand taken by Vedanta philosophers in the East. The existence of one’s own self True Being, as it is called is the basis of all proof, and unless this is taken for granted, we cannot be convinced of the existence of other things such as the world or objects or anything, for the matter of that. If we have a doubt regarding our own existence, we will have a doubt about everything else also about the world, and about anything that is connected with us. The conviction that the world is there as a solid reality in front of us, which we cannot gainsay under any circumstance, arises because we are sure that we are and, therefore, knowledge of the world proceeding from our own self is also something to be accepted as a value. We cannot doubt the fact that we see the world, because we do not doubt that we are here, and anything that is ours is very valuable to us. One loves one’s own self, as psychologists generally tell us. Because the self is a doubtless existence, everything that is connected to the self is also doubtless. And the whole world is connected to the self in one way in an important way, rather. The existence of the world is a conclusion we arrive at by means of a perception of it, through means of knowledge emanating from our own self, which is doubtless existence. This existence of ours is the rock bottom of Indian philosophy.
There are varieties of terminologies, definitions, descriptions being applied to this existence of one’s own self. What is meant by the ‘existence of one’s own self’? Now we are entering into certain discussions held among Indian thinkers. What is this existence of one’s own self, which is persistently intruding into our experience? Who am I? What is the self? Unless this is clear, nothing else can be clear to us. If I am not clear about my own self, how could I be clear about anything else connected with me? Even the whole world, even the concept of God Himself, everything, is finally hinging upon the character of the self the ‘me’ or the ‘I’, so-called.