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The Relevance of Aurobindo
What is Truth? said Pilate confronted with a mighty messenger of the truth, not jesting surely, not in a spirit of shallow lightness, but turning away from the Christ with the impatience of the disillusioned soul for those who still use high words that have lost their meaning and believe in great ideals which the test of the event has proved to be fallacious.
What is truth, - this phantom so long pursued, so impossible to grasp firmly, - that a man young, beautiful, gifted, eloquent and admired should consent to be crucified for its sake?
Have not circumstance and event justified the half-pitying, half-sorrowful question of the Roman governor? The Messenger suffered on the cross, and what happened to the truth that was his message? The Christ himself foresaw, it has never been understood even by its professors.
For a hundred years it was a glorious mirage for which thousands of men and women willingly underwent imprisonment, torture and death in order that Christ's kingdom might come on earth and felicity possess the nation. But the kingdom that came was not Christ's; it was Constantine's, it was Hildebrand's, it was Alexander Borgia's.
For another thirteen centuries the message was - what? Has it not been the chief support of fanaticism, falsehood, cruelty and hypocrisy, the purveyor of selfish power, the key-stone of a society that was everything Christ had denounced?
Jesus died on the Cross, for the benefit, it would seem, of those who united to slay him, the Sadducee, atheist and high priest, the Pharisee, zealot or hypocrite and persecutor and the brutal, self-seeking, callous military Roman. Now in its last state, after such a lamentable career, Christ's truth stand finally rejected by the world's recent enlightenment as a hallucination or a superstition which sometimes helpfully, sometimes harmfully, amused the infancy of the human intellect.
This history is written in too pronounced characters to be the exact type of all messages that the world has received, but is it not in some sort a type of the fate of all truth?
What idea has stood successfully the test of a prolonged and pitiless enquiry? What ideal has stood successfully the test of time? Has not mankind been busy for the last fifty years and more denying almost all that it had formerly affirmed?
And now that under the name of rationalism or materialism the denial has shaped itself into some form of workable practical affirmation, mankind is again at the work of denying its denial and rearranging - but this time doubtless - its old affirmations. The scepticism of Pilate would therefore seem to have some excuse in a recurrent human experience.
Is there, indeed, such a thing as truth, - beyond of course that practical truth of persistent and material appearances by which we govern our lives, the truth of death, birth, hunger, sexuality, pain, pleasure, commerce, money-making, ease, discomfort, ambition, failure and success?
Has not indeed the loftiest of our philosophical systems declared all things here to be Maya? And if Maya is illusion, a deceit of the thinking consciousness, then indeed there can be not truth anywhere in the world except that indefinable Existence which we cannot comprehend and which, after all, Buddhism, not without logic and plausibility, setting it down as another and more generalised samskara, a false sensation of consciousness in the eternal Void, denies.
And yet man is so constituted that he must follow after truth whether it is attained or not; something in him secretly masterful, essential to his existence, forbids him to be satisfied with a falsehood; the moment it is perceived or even believed to be a falsehood, he rejects it and the thing begins to crumble.
If he persists in his rejection, it cannot last. Yesterday it was, today we see it tottering, tomorrow we shall look or it and find that it is no longer. It has passed back into Prakriti; it has dissolved into that of which it was made.
For sraddha is the condition of all existence in consciousness and that in which sraddha is denied, ceases to have existence, whether here or elsewhere, na caivamutra no iha. It is not, neither in this world nor in another.
We may not unreasonably infer from this importance and this imperative necessity that Truth does really exist and everything is not illusion. If then Truth is always escaping our hold and leaving us to disillusionment and derision, it may be because we have neither formed any clear conception of what Truth itself is nor taken hold of the right means by which it can be grasped.
Let us leave aside, for a while, Buddha's world of samskaras; let us put aside, packed away in an accessible corner of the brain, Shankara's gospel of Maya, and start instead from the old Vedantic beginnings, OM TAT SAT. That (Brahman) is the thing that Is, and sarvam khalvidam brahma, verily, all this, everything of which we are aware, is Brahman. It is at least possible that we may return from this inquiry with a deeper idea both of Samskaras and of Maya and may find that we have answered Pilate's question, discovering the nature and conditions of Truth.
I am speaking of the fundamental truth, the truth of things and not merely the fact about particulars or of particulars only as their knowledge forms a basis or a help to the discovery of fundamental truth.
The fact that a particular sort of contact makes me uncomfortable is nothing in itself except in so far as it throws light upon the general causes of pain; the nature, origin and purpose of pain is the fundamental truth that I seek about the sensational reaction to contact.
This law of pain, moreover, is not so fundamental as the truth about the nature, origin and purpose of sensation and contact themselves of which pain is a particularity, an example or a modification. This more fundamental truth becomes again itself particular when compared with the truth about the nature, origin and purpose of Existence of which sensation and contact are only particular circumstances.
In this we arrive at the one fundamental truth of all, and a little consideration will show that if we really and rightly know that, the rest ought and probably will reveal themselves at once and fall into their places. That being known, all is known.
Our ancestors perceived this truth of the fundamental unity of knowledge and sought to know Sat first, confident that Sat being known, the different tattvas, laws, aspects and particulars of Sat would more readily yield up their secret.
The moderns follow another thought which, also has a truth of its own. They think that since being is one, the knowledge of the particulars must lead to the knowledge of the fundamental unity and they begin therefore at the bottom and climb upwards, - a slow but, one might imagine, a safe method of procession.
"Little flower in the crannies", cries Tennyson addressing a pretty blossom in the wall in lines which make good thought but execrable poetry, "if I could but know what you are I should know what God and man is."
Undoubtedly the question is whether, without knowing God, we can really know the flower, - know it; and not merely its name and form or all the details of its name and form.
Rupa we can know and analyse by the aid of science, Nama by the aid of philosophy; but Swarupa?
It would seem that some third instrument is needed for that consummation of knowledge. The senses and reason, even though aided by microscopes and telescopes, cannot show it to us.
The form of That stands not in the ken of sight. Mind and speech are not permitted to lead us to it. Even the metaphysical logic of Shankara stops short of that final victory. This realisation in thought is not to be obtained by logic. All these various disabilities are due to one compelling cause; they are, because Sat, the truth of existence, Brahman, the reality of things which fills and supports their idea and form, is beyond the recognisable and analysable elements of idea and form. It is subtler even than elemental subtlety and therefore not to be deduced, induced, inferred or discovered by a reasoning which proceeds from a consideration of the elements of name and form and makes that its standard. This is a truth which even the greatest philosophers, Vedantic or un-Vedantic are apt to forget; but the Sruti insists on it always.
Nevertheless mankind has for some thousands of years been attempting obstinately and with passion to discover that Truth by the very means which the Sruti has forbidden. Such error is natural and inevitable to the human consciousness.
For the Angel in man is one who has descended out of light and bliss into this darkness, twilight and half-light here, the darkness of matter, the twilight of vital consciousness, the broken half-lights of the mind, and the master impulse of his nature is to yearn passionately towards the light from which he has fallen.
Unable to find it at once, too little dhira (calm and discerning) to perfect himself patiently, it is natural that he in his eagerness should grasp at beyond their capacity compel them to serve this his supreme object, - which is always to recover the perfect light and by that recovery to recover also what dwells only in the perfect light, - the perfect and unfailing bliss. From this abuse of the parts of knowledge have resulted three illegitimate human activities, of which Philosophy, Religion and Science have severally made themselves guilty, the disputatious metaphysical philosophy of the schools, the theology of the churches and the scientific philosophy of the laboratories.
Philosophy, Religion and Science have each their appointed field and dominion; each can help man in his great preoccupation, the attempt to know all that he can about Sat, about Brahman.
The business of Philosophy is to arrange logically the eternal modes of Sat, the business of Science is to arrange observantly and analytically the particular forms and movements of Sat. They are really necessary and ought to become so to each other; and, if they who recognised proper limitations and boundary marks could by their joint activity help man to his present attainable fullness; but by a sort of intellectual land hunger, they are perpetual invaders of each other's dominion, deny each other's positions and therefore remain unprofitably at war through human ages.
Finally, all three after illegitimately occupying each other's fields insist on snatching at a knowledge of which they are all equally incapable, - the essential nature of the world, the secret reality of Sat, the uttaman rahasyam of the Brahman. This error, this confusion, this sankara or illegitimate mixing of different nature and function is the curse of the Kali and from it arises much, if not most, of the difficulty we experience as a race in escaping from this misery and darkness into bliss and light. It is part and a great part of kalikalila, the chaos of the Kali.
India has always attempted, though not, since the confusion of Buddhism, with any success, if not to keep the three to their proper division of labour - which, with the general growth of ignorance became impossible - at least, always to maintain or re-establish, if disturbed, some harmony between them. Of this attempt the Gita is the standing monument and the most perfect example.
To see the confusion working in its untrammelled force, and it is only so, by isolating the disease from the modification of curative forces, that we can observe, diagnose and afterwards find its remedy, - we must go to the intellectual history of the European continent.
There have been, properly speaking , two critical periods in this history, the Graeco-Roman era of philosophic illumination previous to Christianity and the era of modern scientific illumination which is still unexhausted.
In the first we see the revolt of Philosophy (with Science concealed in her protecting embraces) against the usurpation of Religion. We find it, after achieving liberation, in its turn, denying Religion and usurping her sacred prerogative.
In the modern era we see Science this time emerged and adult, keeping Philosophy behind her, in revolt against Religion, first liberate herself, then deny Religion and usurp her prerogatives, then, or as part of this final process of conquest, turn, deny and strike down her lofty ally and usurp also her ancient territory.
For if Science has scorned and denied Religion, she has equally scorned and denied Metaphysics. If she has declared God to be a barbarous myth, a fiction of dreams and terrors and longings and denied us the right of communion with the Infinite, equally has she declared Metaphysics to be an aberration of the ideative faculty, a false extension of logic and denied our right to recognise any metaphysical existence or anything at all which cannot be judged by or inferred from the result of the test tube, the scalpel, the microscope and the telescope. Neither, however, has she herself hesitated to dogmatize about the essential nature of existence and the mutual relations of its general modes, matter, life, life, mind and spirit.
But for our immediate purpose it is only necessary to note the result in either of these eras of these tremendous usurpations.
The result of the usurpations of Philosophy was that mankind flung itself with an infinite sincerity, with a passionate sense of relief into the religion of an obscure Jewish sect and consented for a length of time which amazes us to every theological absurdity, even the most monstrous, so that it might once more be permitted to believe in something greater than earth and to have relations with God.
The old philosophical spirit was torn to pieces with Hypatia in the blood-stained streets of Alexandria. Theology usurped her place and discoursed blindly and foolishly on transubstantiation and consubstantiation and one knows not what other barren mysteries.
So far as philosophy was allowed an independent existence, she was compelled to do not her own work but the work of Science; so we find the schoolmen elaborately determining by logic and a priori word-fencing questions which could only be properly determined by observation and analysis.
For Theology, for Mediaeval Religion herself did not care for this field of knowledge; she had no need for scientific truths, just as the Jacobin Republic had no need of chemists; in fact she guillotined Science wherever its presence attracted her attention. But all injustice - and that means at bottom all denial of truth, of the satyam and rtam - brings about its own punishment or, as Religion would put it, God's visitation and vengeance.
Science liberated, given in her strenuous emergence the strength of the Titans, avenges herself today on her old oppressors, on Religion, on Philosophy, breaks their temples, scorns their gods and prophets and seeks to deprive them even of the right to existence. That was the result of the Graeco-Roman illumination.
And what will be the result of the scientific illumination, the modern enlightenment, the fiery triumph and ardent intellectual bigotry of the materialist? It is too early to foresee the final dénouement, but unformed lines of it show themselves, obscure masses arise. Mysticism is growing obscurely in strength as Science grew obscurely in strength in the Middle Ages. We see titanic and mystic figures striding out of the East, building themselves fortresses and points of departure, spreading among the half-intellectual, capturing even the intellectual - vague figures of Spiritualism, Mental Science, Psychical Research, Neo-Hinduism, Neo-Buddhism, Neo-Mahomedanism, Neo-Christianity. The priest of Isis, the adepts and illuminates of Gnosticism, denied their triumph by the intervention of St. Paul and the Pope, reborn into this latter age, claim now their satisfaction.
Already some outworks of materialism are giving way, the attack grows more insistent, the defence more uncertain, less proudly self-confident, though not less angry, contemptuous, bitter and intolerant; the invaders increase their adherents, extend the number of their strongholds. If no wider and higher truth intervenes, it would almost seem as if the old confusion in a new form might replace the new. Perhaps an Esoteric Society or a Spiritualist Circle of high Mediums will in a few centuries be laying down for us what we shall think about this world an the next, what particular relations with Gods will be permitted us, what Influences or Initiates we shall worship. Who knows? The fires of Smithfield may yet reblaze to save heretics from perdition.
These are not mere fantastic speculations. The history of humantiy and the peculiar capacities of that apparently incalculable and erratic thing, human nature, ought to warn us of their possibility or at least that they are not entirely impossible, in spite of the printing press, in spite of the clarities of Science.
No doubt with so many Schools and Academies, such spread of education, never again would enlightenment be dimmed and the worship of gods and ghosts would in the end amuse none but the vulgar. We must accept these things as possible and examine why they are possible.
This reaction is inevitable because Philosophy, though exceedingly high and luminous, tends to be exclusive and narrow and Science, though exceedingly patient, accurate and minute, tends to be limited, dry and purblind. They are both apt to be as dogmatic and intolerant in their own high way or in their own clear, dry way as Religion in her way which is not high but intense, not clear but enthusiastic; and they live on a plane of mentality on which humanity at large does not yet find itself at perfect ease, cannot live without a struggle and a difficulty in breathing.
They both demand from man that he shall sacrifice his heart and his imagination to his intellect, shall deny his full human nature and live coldly and dryly. You might just as well ask him to live without free breathing. The mental world in which we are asked to live, resembles what the life of humanity would be if the warmth of the sun had diminished, the earth were growing chill and its atmosphere were already too rarefied for our comfort.
It is no use saying that he ought to live in such an atmosphere, that it will improve his mental health and vigour. Perhaps he ought, though I do not think so, but he cannot. Or rather the individual may, - everything is possible to individual man, - but the race cannot.
The demand can never be allowed; for it is a denial of Nature, a violation of the great Mother, a displacement of her eternal facts by the aridities of logic; it is a refusal of the Truth of things, of the satyam, rtam, and if it is persisted in , it will bring its own revenges.
Philosophy and Science, if they are to help mankind without hurting it and themselves, must recognize that man is a complex being and his nature demands that every part of that complexity shall have its field of activity and every essential aspiration in him must be satisfied.
It is his nature and his destiny to be aptakama, satisfied in his desires, in the individual and in the race - though always in accordance with the satyam. the rtam, which is also the sukham and sundaram, not lawlessly and according to aberrations and caprices. It was the great virtue of the ancient Hinduism, before Buddhism upset its balance and other aberrations followed, that it recognised in principle at least this fundamental verity, did not deny what God insists upon but strove, it does not matter whether perfectly or imperfectly, to put everything in its place and create a natural harmony.