Food for Thought|Jul 16, 2010 1:16 PM| by:

Askesis for Knowledge

The logical intelligence of man is a great obstacle for realising spiritual truths and in leading a religious life. This is because it is based on the truth of the material world and on the nature of the gross senses. Its foundation rests on the ways and forms of the external world and that is why the limits of this world determine the boundaries of the logical intelligence. In order to get at the spiritual truth, the support of yet another faculty is required. As the logical intelligence accepts a material impression as sufficient, so also the fundamental truth of spirituality needs to be accepted with a spontaneous and axiomatic faith. No fundamental truth in geometry admits of any proof; so also in life one has to begin with a few axioms and postulates and it is on these things that the proofs of all other things may be arranged and presented. What we see when we open our eyes is called the material world; similarly, seen with an inner vision, we find the spiritual world. The blind cannot see the material world but because of that it cannot be said that there is no material world; likewise one who has no inner vision cannot see the spiritual world, and because of that it cannot be said either that it is non-existent. Inner vision and outer sight – both these things are the spontaneous and natural faculties of man. However, because of the unforeseen turn of events and circumstances as well as the present system of education we find that the one [the inner] is not getting enough scope to blossom like the other [the outer]. That does not mean that the former is less true. But here lies the rub. The logical intelligence has become a dictator taking advantage of the situation; it has only tried to trample its allied faculty to death. That is why logical intelligence is unable to find the Self, to find God. It asks: where is your transcendent world? I can clearly explain all the mysteries of the creation with the help of the power of my gross senses!

But whether logical intelligence succeeds or not in explaining away all the mysteries of the creation, that does not in any measure prove the falsity of spirituality. That is why, the votaries of spirituality distinctly and unstintingly declare: naisha tarkena matirapaneya (this wisdom is not to be had by reasoning). That is why we see that logical intelligence has to expiate before the spiritual masters, its crown has to roll in dust when confronting them. As logical intelligence is usually a hindrance to spiritual life, spiritual seekers have, more often than not, viewed this faculty with reservation. They have even exhorted to cut it out and not to tread even on its shadow. The beginning of all the principal religions that exist in this world presents before us a very curious thing. It is the lowest rung of the society – those people who are not so advanced in educa­tion or intelligence – that the religious founders first brought under their control and it is with their partici­pation that they laid the foundation of their religious orders. The great masters came as though to uplift only the downtrodden of the society – downtrodden not from the standpoint of social status alone, but from the stand­point of knowledge and intelligence as well – and they could do their work only in collaboration with them. The field of action of Christ was in particular among the fishermen, among the destitute and the diseased. At the call of Mohammed it was the turbulent buccaneers of the Arabian deserts who first leaped in joy. When the Buddha came out to preach, those belonging to the lower stratum of the society rallied en masse around him. The same holds good for the smaller sects – all of them got and collected their followers not from the upper layer of society but from its lower one.

It is not difficult to explain this mystery – we have done it in the beginning. Firstly, those who belong to the higher strata of society, that is, those who test and select before accepting the truth and look for proofs after a good deal of reflection and reasoning, do not usually arrive at spiritual truths because they approach the truth with such a yardstick which can neither fit with it nor can it seize the whole or the essence of it. Their intelligence cast in such a rigidly fixed mould, works in such a stereotyped manner that nothing from outside, no new truth external to it gets any scope to enter there, to reflect itself there. The intelligence of those who do not belong to the upper strata of society has not turned so inert like the former: seeds of new truths can easily find space there and germinate as on soft soil. Their mind has not become hard and rigid and so it is very easy to mould it according to one’s will. The logical intelligence follows the beaten track in such a way, particularly in its aspect of external event or form that it does not care at all to attach any importance to any new truth unless the latter matches exactly with the former. Then, secondly, wherever there has been a surfeit of intellectual activity, the capacity of the life-force and that of the organs of action seem to have decreased there in an inverse ratio. As a consequence, it is very difficult to do anything great with the help of the intellectuals. While the intellectuals remain busy in making hair-splitting analysis of truth and falsehood, while they remain engrossed in making profound researches about what should or should not be done, a simple ordinary man will by then forge ahead in his field of work with a sincere faith. The lower classes of society have, if not anything else, vitality and dynamism and they feel somehow content clinging to the truth. They demonstrate the truth in such a living and vibrant manner that a thousand logicians with their heaps of proofs will not be able to do likewise even a hundredth part of it.

That is why we see a constant conflict from age to age between the logicians and the founders of new religions. Socrates had to fight continuously with the sophists, i.e., with the learned or the intellectuals – those who never wanted to get at the truth through a spontaneous realisation, through intuition or those whose inner beings did not receive the touch of Daemon or those who relied on logic – the framework of argumentation. Hence the disciples of Socrates consisted of the young men, the youth of Athens – whose brain was malleable, whose heart was tender, fresh and supple. We find Christ also combat­ing with the Scribes and Pharisees – we hear him say clearly in an intimidating tone: The wise will be confounded in their wisdom. Everywhere and in all ages we witness some­thing like this – the advent of great men is not for the wise and the intelligent, it is as if only to make the dumb eloquent or the lame cross the mountain.

Perhaps by this means their work had been greatly facilitated but it cannot be said that it did not give birth to any concomitant evil. Spiritual life or religious life has more often been embraced by those who are intensely gripped by emotion, by the vital passion or by the excite­ment of the heart – in other words, by the people of such a rung, such a class of society whose intelligence is not so vigorous and keen or has not got the scope to become so or in whom an intense and impure vital force or a severe influx of tamas or inertia has accumulated. That’s why we find that the people who have succeeded in pu­rifying, in changing this lower play of life and mind and in elevating it to the spiritual heights are far less in number than those who have degraded that spirituality and have submerged it in the inferior play of life and mind. We need not have to go very far for proof, we have instances galore at hand to show how religious sects, immediately after passing away of their founders, begin to decay and disappear. Such abrupt and tremendous deterioration does not take place in the field of human intellect as it does in the field of spirituality and religion. It is true that dry logical faculty is a hindrance to religious consciousness, to spiritual realisations; but, for that, we should not jump to conclusions that the absence of logical faculty is the best means for attaining spiritual truth. The logical faculty may be an obstacle, but the vital passion, the heart’s excitement also are an obstacle – it is not very easy to determine which one is a trifle greater or a trifle smaller.

In truth, for a solid foundation of spiritual life, a simple receptive mind and a vigorous vital are as much necessary as an alert intellect and a power of reflection. However, as it is necessary to purify the mind and the vital, so is there the necessity to purify the intellect also. As the mind and the vital cannot be discarded because of their being an obstacle, so the intellect too cannot be set aside. Rather it can also be said that the purification of the mind and the vital is achieved by the power of reflection of the intellect; not only that, it is by relying on a calm, composed and flawless intellect that the truth of spirituality can manifest in its purity. That is why so much stress has been laid in the Gita on the firmly settled wisdom – ‘sthita-prajna’. Of course, this ‘sthita-prajna and logical intelligence are not the same thing – but an essen­tial element of knowledge is reflection and reasoning, though they may not be the whole of it. If you want to rise above reflection and reasoning, that is well and good; but rejecting reflection and reasoning or regarding them always with a suspicious look or with apprehension are not the only means or signs of ascension.

A very interesting thing is more often discernible in the nature of spiritual seekers. The taste of spirituality comes first through an unquestionable feeling – a light, a faith and a joy surge up in the heart or in the mind of the seeker and, keeping this feeling alone in view, relying only upon it, the seeker forges ahead on the path of sadhana. The yardstick of his natural intelligence and reflection cannot, however, grasp that feeling; the normal logical intelligence will rather instil in him a sense of aversion towards it. Therefore, we want to keep what we have got in a state of joyful absorption and continue to be surrounded by that feeling alone; we do not want to dry up the joy of spiritual ecstasy that we have experienced previously in the scorching heat of reflection and reason­ing. Is it only for this reason that Nemai [Sri Chaitanya], the scholar, giving up all his erudition, got so much intoxicated with the spiritual rasa. Whatever may be the fact regarding Sri Chaitanya, we know very well what becomes of those who are not as strong as him, whose capacity is rather limited. We also find in those who do not literally shed a stream of tears in a state of rapt emotion that they have cried halt the moment they have experienced some kind of ecstasy and that they have remained absorbed in it considering it as their highest attainment. And those seekers, who have an urge for work coupled with an emotional impulse, have longed to realise it hurriedly in the outer world and life and have remained all too busy in building society in conformity with its mould considering it as the highest truth.

At the same time it should not be forgotten that in the spiritual world too there is a truth and a semblance of truth and that there is even falsehood. As the external senses deceive us, so do the inner senses. As our physical eyes wrongly show us that the sun moves and the earth remains stationary, so also spiritual experiences could be false, however clear and axiomatic they may seem to us. It is here that we require testing and selection, reflection and reasoning and an application of intelligence. We find very rarely in those who lead a religious life the presence of an unwavering askesis [tapasya], a wakeful straight­forwardness needed imperatively for an unflinching quest for truth. The votaries of ananda in spiritual life are as good as the votaries of physical enjoyment in outer life. There is no doubt that spirituality is a thing of intense ananda; but this ananda can be obtained by that person alone who with a calm regard and a cool head tests it on the touchstone of intelligence, heightening his experience of this ananda from level to level. If there is no clinging to truth or if there is no discerning mind controlling the enjoyment of pleasure or the lower activities, then a good amount of filth and dirt belonging to the impure material consciousness intrudes into the spiritual experience of that ananda or into any activity. A tiny spiritual realisation can bring in its trail far-flung imaginations and rosy hopes and desires of an easy-going life. And it is indeed for this reason that all the religious sects meet with the inevitable consequences to which they are prone.

In the realm of spirituality there are truths and higher truths and still higher truths – the more one aspires to higher levels of truth, not remaining caught in the lower level, the more one ascends to higher truths and reaches the essential nature of the Truth – the foundation of one’s mind, life and physical activities also becomes to the same extent true and solid. Otherwise, a small truth of the spiritual world beats a retreat easily before a big truth of the material world. As a matter of fact, there are only two pure truths: one is the sheer truth of Matter and the other the sheer truth of Spirit. Those who usually dabble in spiritual practice or in religious life do not attain any of these two truths, their endeavour follows a course which is in between: they play with a little bit of this world and a little bit of that world and by this hotchpotch they lose both the truths. He who moves keeping the intellect as a wakeful sentinel, piercing the truth with the instruments of knowledge will arrive at the ultimate truth and gain an absolute mastery over the ultimate material truth. Other­wise, his attainments, however great they may be, are bound to be transitory when he, losing his intelligence or his power of discrimination between truth and falsehood, stops short on the way.

Logical intelligence is fraught with defects but in spiritual practice as one proceeds on one’s way purifying and transforming other human faculties, so too one takes the help of logical intelligence only after purifying and transforming it. As Sri Ramakrishna used to say: ‘You need not be stupid in order to become a monk’ – indeed, the ordinary monks lack very much the sense of reality. It is sure and certain that he who does not have this sense of reality with regard to external things, will not have the sense regarding inner things as well. Logical intelligence if it does nothing else, at least tries to keep this sense of reality alive as it does not allow spiritual romance to run riot and strives to restrain it within certain limits. Of course, the logical intelligence that plays only with words, pulls and tugs at the name of the thing instead of the thing itself, becomes also devoid of the sense of reality. Such a logical intelligence is in fact a perversion of intelligence or a corrupt form of it and even there lies in it a hidden urge to evoke romanticism. This too is a form of imaginative faculty and hence it has also to be restrained and yoked to the pursuit of Truth.

The sadhana of spiritual emotion or bhakti may bring realisation but the sadhana of spiritual knowledge reveals the inner essence of this realisation, cleansing it from the dirt and dross and keeps the path open for having newer realisations. A kind of harmony between this emotion and knowledge is perhaps effected within those who are realised beings, who are the discoverers of new spiritual truths or the founders of new spiritual communities. But we, who come after them, who become their disciples and grand-disciples take up only their emotional aspects and try to absorb the whole thing realised by others – we tend to forget this simple fact that the realisation to which we cling without subjecting it to tests at every step, without refining it in the light of our knowledge and intelligence soon becomes lifeless and its force diminishes – it turns out to be a blind passion and gradually sinks down into our tamasic nature and finally vanishes.

Nolini Kanta Gupta

(Nolini Kanta Gupta was a revolutionary, linguist, scholar, critic, poet, philosopher and a man of deep spiritual realisation. Author of nearly 60 books he was a Trustee of Sri Aurobindo Ashram.)