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The Methods of Vedantic Knowledge

 April 29, 2000

   Our aim is to arrive at a divine life for man. His center of life is the ego. It was originally created by Satchidananda. If this is the truth, we need to know their relation. Also, the process that governs their relation is important. The philosophy of "Divine Life' and its practice depend upon these two.

   We have arrived at a conception of a divine existence. We have acquired a knowledge of it. This divine existence exceeds the evidence of our senses. It pierces beyond the walls of the physical mind. Within these walls we can only conceive of the material world. We can also know its phenomena, because they are of physical consciousness. The senses can bring us evidence of their existence. The divine existence we speak of lies outside its scope. The facts of the physical world are brought to us as impressions by sensation. We can receive the same by imagination. Imagination is a faculty in us which can see the future in the present fact. Sri Aurobindo calls it imaginative variation. These facts also lend themselves to a process of deduction called ratiocination in logic. We get at a result not shown by physical facts. Pure reason is one such mental instrument we have.

   Human reason has a double action, mixed or dependent, pure or sovereign. Things of life have an appearance. This appearance is decided by their relations and uses. Also, the process of things gives facts a different appearance. A useful tool looks beautiful because it is useful. Here the ‘beauty' is seen because it is useful. Our circle of sensible experiences does vary the reality of facts. An excellently made revolver looking exceedingly beautiful appears dreadful when it is pointed at us. It takes the appearance as final law. It confines itself to the study of the phenomena, the very appearances.

   Things have a truth about them. But they have an appearance different from that truth. Reason is incapable of knowing the truth. On the surface of things is their becoming, their appearance. Reason can only know the appearances. Reason does not refuse our sensible experiences. But it does not take them to be final. It insists on going beyond. Behind the appearances lie some general, unalterable concepts. They attach to the reality. Reason insists on its right to reach the truth behind. It judges and works by that and that only. Reason can pass the appearance to touch the truth. That will enable him to arrive at the direct judgment. Concepts can thus be formed. It is really a perception of reason working in its own right. But it is capable of giving a false impression. One is free to know that the result is dependent on sensible experience while it is not true. This movement is legitimate and indispensable. Our normal experience covers only a small part of universal fact. Even in this small part, our instruments are defective. Defective instruments give us false weights and measures. But we must arrive at fuller conceptions of the truth of things. For that purpose, the defective instruments must be exceeded. They must be put away to a distance. Still the instruments can insist. We must deny their insistence. Our sense mind gives errors as truths. Reason can correct them. Of the many valuable powers of man, reason is one, perhaps the chief. Man is superior to the animals. It is reason that gives him that superiority.

   Our knowledge is physical. We can acquire metaphysical knowledge. We can arrive at it by using reason fully. But our being is integral. Metaphysical conceptions are clear but not full enough to satisfy our being. These conceptions are entirely satisfactory to pure reason. These conceptions are the very stuff of reason and its existence.  Our nature sees things through two eyes always. It views them doubly as idea and as fact. Fact is from sense experience. Idea is of the mind. Neither of them is complete. They become complete when it becomes a physical experience. We are after a truth. That truth is outside our normal experience. As the senses have a perception, reason too has a perception. That perception can seize the truth we are after. Therefore, another faculty is necessary. That faculty can meet the demands of our nature. Our field now is supraphysical. Ours is psychological experience. We can get that faculty only by an extension of psychological experience.

   In a sense, all our experience is psychological. Indian philosophy calls sense-mind as Manas. Our sense experience goes to the sense-mind and it is the latter that interprets the message. Therefore, all our experiences are psychological. Manas, say our philosophers, is the sixth sense. We can say it is the only sense. All the others, vision, hearing, touch, smell, and taste are specializations of the sense-mind. The sense-mind uses the senses as instruments. Still, the sense-mind can hear, see and touch without the aid of the sense organs. We have two ways of knowing. One is psychological experience. The other is understanding through reason. Both are capable of double action. One is mixed and dependent. The other is pure and sovereign. Generally, the mixed action is in outer experience. The pure action is inside. The first is object and the latter is subject. In the first we depend on the senses. The senses give their evidence, their forms and we accept them. In the latter, the awareness is direct. It is by a sort of identity. We understand our emotions thus. We become our emotions, we become anger. We know we exist. We need no proof for it. It is self-evident. That is by identity. That is the reality of things. All experience is by an identity. Only that it is secret. Its true character is hidden from us. This is so because we are not one with the world, we are separate. We have excluded ourselves. We consider the world as an object and ourselves as subject. As there is a separation, communication requires fresh organs. We have developed these organs. They are the sense organs. We had direct knowledge. It was through conscious identity. Now we seek indirect knowledge. It comes through physical contact. Mind understands them by sympathy. This is a limitation. Ego creates it. It is fundamental. This is an example of the way ego functions. Throughout, the ego has acted like this. The ego starts from original falsehood. It covers over the true truth by temporary falsehood. We take this as practical truth.

    We see how this nature of mental knowledge is organized. We also see similarly the sense knowledge. We now understand that we are limited. But now we see that that limitation is not true or necessary. This limitation is only due to a habit of the mind. That habit is the result of evolution. Mind depends on the eye to see, ear to hear. But it is not necessary for the mind to see through the eye or hear through the ear. It can see and hear directly. Mind got into this habit. Now mind believes it can see only through the eye and sound can come to it only through the ears. They are its relations with the outer material universe. When we want to know of the external world, we know it through the eyes and ears. It is an indirect knowledge through the sense organs. They give us only a small part of the knowledge about things or men. Senses can only know a small part and can convey to us only a small part of the whole knowledge. But this has become our dominant habit.

   The truth is mind can directly know things and men. It does not need the help of the sense organs. That is the natural power of the mind. Now it is dominated by its consent to be led by matter. This truth is best seen in hypnosis and similar other experiences. Our waking consciousness is not free in itself. It knows its direct power. It is under this habit of domination of matter. What remains is the balance. This balance is worked by life in evolution. As long as the mind is awake, it cannot exercise its freedom. So, they throw the mind into a state of sleep. Then the subliminal mind is liberated. It is the true mind. Then mind is free. Its sense is all sufficient. It can assert its true character. It then can apply to the objects freely. Then it is pure and sovereign. Now it is mixed and dependent. It is not possible for the mind to see while closing the eyes. Only it is difficult in the waking state. All those who have made some successful psychological experiments know this as a fact.

   Now we have five senses. Pure mind can develop other senses. We weigh things now. We can train our hands to know the weight of objects by taking them. Mind, by its own perception, knows the weight of the object. Touch only serves as a contact. We can use pure reason to understand what is beyond its scope. Here we use reason only as a first contact. So also, we can use sense-mind. The sense-mind uses sense experience not as an instrument of knowledge, but as a first contact. It can even be used to know what contradicts their evidence. This is not a surface phenomenon. It is not confined to outsides and the surface. It is possible to enter into the outside objects, their thoughts, feelings etc. The Manas can know the thoughts of other people. They need not tell us. Nor do we need to study their facial expressions, actions, or gestures. This is partial data. They can even mislead us. Our understanding will be right even if these data contradict. We can know them by using the inner senses. The environment is studied by our mental organisation. We can disregard it. Physical activity reflects the outer life and general action. These will not help. The sense powers will help. They are pure and subtle. These are all extensions of our faculty. The physical mind refuses to believe in them. It is unbelieving. It hesitates. To its habitual scheme, the sense powers are abnormal. They contradict our ordinary life and experience. We have no use for these sense powers for any action. Nor can we systematize them. They cannot become orderly or a set of useful instruments. When we want to enlarge our outer field, they are the necessary result. It can be done in so many ways, such as a scientific method or casual ill-ordered effect. Some people get it by an untaught effort.

   None of the above will serve our purpose. The Gita says, "beyond perception of the senses but seizable by the perceptions of reason," buddhigrahayam atindriyam. They give only a larger field and more effective means for the observation. The truth of things always escapes beyond the sense. The Universal existence has several sound rules. Here is one of them. If there are truths attainable by reason, somewhere in us there must be a means of arriving at them. We must verify them by our experience. That is the rule of the organism possessed of that reason. Our mentality has only one such means. We know of our existence. It is by awareness and a knowledge by identity. When extended, this gives us that faculty. Our self has its own contents. Our knowledge of it is based on self-awareness. This self-awareness is more or less conscient. It is more or less present to our conception. It can be given as a more general formula. Let us say the knowledge of contents is contained in the knowledge of the continent. We have the faculty of mental self-awareness. This can be extended. The Upanishads speak of Self beyond and outside us. It is the Atman or Brahman. The Atman has its own contents in the universe. That would enable us to possess the truths of Atman. We can experience them. Indian Vedanta bases itself on this possibility. It seeks the knowledge of the universe. It seeks the same through the knowledge of the Self.

   Vedanta knows of the nature of mental knowledge. Mind is capable of experience. Reason is capable of concepts. Even at their height, they are not the truths. It is not a knowledge of identity. It is not the supreme knowledge of self-identity. In truth, they are only reflections of mental identification. We have to go beyond mind and reason. Reason is only a mediator between the Above and Below. It is active in our waking consciousness. In our evolution upwards, we become the subconscient All. That evolution impels us towards the Superconscient. The ALL is one and the same. The subconscient and the Superconscient are two different formulations of the ALL. The master word of the subconscient is Life. The master word of the Superconscient is Light.  We seek knowledge that is consciousness.  In the subconscient it is involved in action. Action is the essence of Life. In the Superconscient, action reenters into light. Knowledge here is not involved in Light. But Light itself is involved in consciousness. Intuitional knowledge is common between them. Intuition means conscious or effective identity between what is known and what tries to know.  It is a state of common self-existence. Here the known and the knower are one through knowledge. In the subconscient, intuition manifests itself in the action. Action is effectivity. Knowledge is conscious identity. It is concealed in action partly or fully. In the Superconscient it is the opposite. Light is the law and the principle here. Intuition manifests itself without a mask. The true nature of intuition is knowledge. It emerges out of conscious identity. This identity gives it the effectivity of action. It accompanies the primary fact. It is its consequent. Reason and mind act between the subconscient and Superconscient. They act as intermediaries. Knowledge is imprisoned in the being. Reason and mind liberate the imprisoned knowledge. They restore to knowledge its essential primacy. Self-awareness is in the mind. It applies to continent and content. It applies to own self and other self. Thus self-awareness exalts itself to identity. Identity is self-manifest. Alongside, reason is converted into intuition. Intuition is self-luminous knowledge. Thus, mind fulfils itself in the supramental. This is the highest state of our knowledge.

   Ancient Vedanta built its conclusions on such understandings. Sri Aurobindo does not aim here at developing the Vedantic foundations of knowledge. He is concerned only with the principles of divine Life. He would like to develop them. Of course, Vedanta touches upon them. In that measure, He desires to speak about it. The best previous foundations for divine Life are here. We seek not to perpetuate the old, but to rebuild it. The old expression has to be replaced by a new expression to suit the new mentality. The old light has to merge with the new light. The Infinite is ever-changing. But we also know the ever-changing Infinite is also ever-changeless. The old treasure is our capital. Our commerce is with the new. We proceed from the old to the new.

   The apparent reality is a formation and a movement. Vedanta had experienced the fundamental Reality behind this appearance. The Vedantic view is arrived at by analysis. Their last concept is Sat Brahman. It is pure Existence. They say it is indefinable, infinite and absolute. It is obvious that this has nothing to do with our ordinary ideas or normal experience. Nothing in this experience warrants us to suppose Sat Brahman. We function through the senses and sense mind. Our sense-experience has no knowledge of pure existence or absolute existence. All that our sense-experience tells us of is form and movement. Forms exist. But forms are not pure. Forms are mixed, combined, aggregated, and relative. By going within, we get rid of form. But we cannot get rid of movement or change. We know of Existence. Existence is in Space and Time. It is an existence of motion and change. Motion in Space and Change in Time are the conditions. What is the idea of this existence? We find no discoverable reality of this existence. Some glimpse of Truth can be found, not in motion and change, but behind them. We find it in the phenomenon of self-awareness. We find there something immovable and immutable. It is beyond all life and death. It is also beyond all change and formation. This is a door on Reality. That Reality is a splendour of a truth. Sometimes it swings open, allowing a ray to touch us. It is a luminous intuition. We now live in the plane of self-mind. There is another play of consciousness. It is a play of Intuition. If we are strong and firm, we may hold on to the opening. It can be made a starting point for the great change.

   Let us examine ourselves carefully. We see Intuition is our first teacher. We live in our mental operations. Intuition stands behind them. It is veiled. Brilliant messages from the Unknown come to us through intuition. That is the beginning of higher knowledge. Reason comes afterwards. It benefits by the harvest. It is intuition that gives us the idea of something behind and beyond all that we know. This something always pursues man. It contradicts his lower reason. All his normal experiences are belied by that. His own perception is formless. Intuition impels him to formulate his formless perception. He does so in the more positive ideas of God, Immortality and Heaven. Man tries in so many other ways too, to explain to his mind the beyond. Intuition is as strong as Nature. It springs from her very soul. It cares nothing for the contradictions of reason. Nor does it recognize the denials of experience. It knows the Truth. Truth is what IS because IT is. Intuition comes from the Truth. It will not yield to Nature as Nature is an appearance. Intuition knows the Existent, more than Existence. That Existent is in us. It is the one point of light in us. Intuition proceeds from there. It is that point in us which opens the door, the door of self-awareness. Ancient Vedanta seized this message of Intuition. Vedanta formulated three great declarations of the Upanishads:  "I am He", Thou art That", "All this is Brahman, this Self is Brahman."

   Intuition, by its very nature, works behind the veil. It is active in his more unenlightened parts or less articulate parts. Our waking conscience is a narrow light. Our instruments are unable to receive the messages of intuition. Our nature demands the truth. But it demands in an ordered and articulated form. Intuition is unable to give us the truth in that form. Intuition gives us direct knowledge. It must become complete in time. We can receive any knowledge only on the surface. So, intuition should emerge on the surface. Intuition must take possession of the leading parts. Until intuition is thus organised, it will not serve its purpose. Our surface being does not go by intuition, but by reason. Our perceptions, thoughts, and actions are on the surface. The early Vedantic period was the age of Intuition. It gave place to the age of thinking, rational knowledge. Inspired scripture made room for metaphysical philosophy. Later, metaphysical philosophy gave place to mental science. Intuitive thought is a messenger of the superconscient. It is our highest faculty. Pure reason replaced it. It belongs to the middle heights of our being. Reason is a sort of deputy. Pure reason gave way to the senses.

At first, mixed action of the reason emerged. It lives on our plains and lower elevations. It does not exceed the horizons of experience. It is the experience of the physical mind and senses. Man also invents aids for them. This process seems like a descent. But it is really a circle of progress. In each case, the lower faculty is compelled to take up as much as it can assimilate. The higher gives to the lower. The lower reestablishes by its own methods. This attempt enriches the lower faculties. This is necessary. It is a succession. It attempts at separate assimilation. Without them, we would be dominated exclusively by a part. That way we would be unduly subjected. We would otherwise be separate in our field. Therefore, our development would be poor. With this, the balance is righted. A more complete harmony of our parts of knowledge is prepared.

   This succession is seen in the Upanishads. We see this also in the subsequent Indian philosophies. The sages of the Veda and Vedanta entirely relied upon intuition and spiritual experience. Scholars speak of great debates or discussions in the Upanishads. It is an error. Wherever there is a controversy, it is not by discussion or by dialectics or by logic that it proceeds. They compare intuition and experience. The less luminous gives place to the more luminous. The narrower, faultier, and the less essential yield to the more comprehensive, more perfect, the more essential. They ask, ‘What do you know?' not ‘What do you think?' Nowhere do we find in the Upanishads any trace of logical reasoning establishing Truths. They correct Intuition by more perfect Intuition. Logic has no place there.

   Human reason demands its own satisfaction. The age of rationalistic speculation began. The Indian philosophers respected the heritage. They adopted a double attitude towards the Truth they sought. They recognized the Sruti, the earlier results of Intuition. They called it inspired Revelation. It is an authority superior to Reason. Still, they started from Reason and tested the results. They accepted those results supported by the supreme authority. Metaphysics was a besetting sin to them. This is how they avoided it. Metaphysics battles in the clouds. It deals with words. Words are symbols. Philosophers treated words as imperative fact. The symbols must be scrutinized. They represent a sense. The words must constantly be referred to their sense. The philosophers speculated. They decided to keep close to the highest experience. Then they sought the consent of Reason and Intuition. Here Reason must subordinate itself. But its natural tendency is to be superior. In time, the sense of superiority won. Hence, conflicting schools arose. They all claimed to found themselves on the Veda. The Vedic texts became a weapon. Intuitive knowledge sees things in the whole. It sees the details as parts of the whole. Its tendency is towards synthesis and unity, the unity of knowledge. Reason proceeds on analysis. It divides and assembles the parts into a whole. Its assembled whole consists of opposites, anomalies, logical incompatibilities. Reason affirms some; it negates others. It chooses a logical system. It affirms what suits the system. The first intuitive knowledge had unity. Reason broke that up. Logicians discovered various devices, methods of interpretation and standards of varying value. They annulled inconvenient texts by logic. Their metaphysical freedom was supreme.

   The main conceptions of earliest Vedanta survived. Each philosophical system accepted certain parts. Efforts were made from time to time to recombine these conceptions. The old catholicity and unity were of the intuitional thought. Efforts were made to restore its image. Purusha, Atman or Sat Brahman, the pure Existent of the Upanishads survived in essentials.  They formed the background of all these schools. Often these conceptions were rationalized into an idea, sometimes into a psychological state. The inexpressible readily left its stamp unmistakably on all of them as an old burden. The Indian thought was always occupied with the issues that emerged out of these ideas. One is of nature and the other is of ego. Nature is the becoming of this Atman, the Being. Their question was, what was the relation between the Being and the Becoming. They considered ego to have been generated by the movement of Becoming. Others took the ego as the cause of the Becoming. In either case, how the ego can return to the Self, the Divinity, the Reality is another question of theirs.

story | by Dr. Radut