Beyond the Known

Editorial, Prabuddha Bharata, Feb 2013

Humans, with their ingenuity and intelligence, behave sometimes like devas and at other times like asuras, and themselves have wondered at such an awful contradiction. One may find various causes, according to one’s beliefs, but the most credible explanation is that as a species rises higher, it encapsulates or embodies all the preceding evolutionary stages or characteristics it has risen from. A human being thus is a microcosm of the violent, yet remarkable, evolutionary history of life on Earth. Far from being shocked, this is an ennobling and humbling thought. Vedanta goes even further and shows a higher unity of all existence, as the Chhandogya Upanishad says: ‘The inferior ones get included in the krita (upper dice face) when it becomes a winner.

’Sri Ramakrishna describes what he saw in one of his visions: ‘He [God] revealed to me a huge reservoir with green scum. The wind moved a little of the scum and immediately the water became visible; but in the twinkling of an eye, scum from all sides came dancing in and again covered the water. He revealed to me that the water was like Satchidananda, and the scum like maya. On account of maya Satchidananda is not seen. Though now and then one may get a glimpse of It, again maya covers It.’

This vision explains, by analogy, how the mind takes over and covers the Reality. Knowledge is a characteristic of the mind, but almost all knowledge is belief. Each mind has innumerable beliefs, and people live and die with them. Generally, old beliefs are replaced by new ones, but some people like to retain the old ones and fight anything new. Beliefs are categorized as wrong, right, neutral, ridiculous, stupid, fanatical, and so on. This can be noticed by reading the contents and comments posted on any topic on the Internet. Beliefs are also considered as surmise, suspicion, opinion, and conviction. Beliefs rise from perception and memory along with external factors such as culture, values, duties, education, race, religion, and so on. Moreover, the three gunas of sattva, rajas, and tamas define the mind as well as the quality of beliefs. The Bhagavadgita says: ‘O Partha, that intellect is born of tamas which, being covered by darkness, considers vice as virtue, and verily perceives all things contrary to what they are.’

Scientists also have beliefs, but science as a discipline is constantly questioning old beliefs and coming up with new answers, which can again be modified through further research. Scientists say: ‘Knowing means nothing; testing that knowledge is everything.’ In daily life most minds access a shorthand summary of things instead of the whole data lying behind. This automatic response saves time and energy but can and does give rise to stunted beliefs, which are most of the times layered with imagination, half-knowledge, and confabulation. This power of beliefs is also subject to causality, as Swami Vivekananda shows: ‘A series of phenomena becomes associated with things in our mind in a sort of invariable order, so that whatever we perceive at any time is immediately referred to other facts in the mind.’ Thus one idea gives rise to a multitude of ideas, and we are forced to think accordingly.

When we see a beautiful flower, but with higher understanding, we can mentally see the inner structure, its processes, and the very materials of the flower. This is more liberating. Such mental liberation brings integrity and power to the mind. This is a sattvic mind. There was a time when the earth was considered young, flat, and at the centre of the universe. This was replaced by the higher liberating knowledge that the earth is very ancient, round, and is a tiny planet in one of billions of galaxies. Of course, there are people who use scientific data and come up with weird conclusions based on imagination, superstitions, language, inhibitions, likes, and dislikes. Many humans take this parallel journey that leads to nowhere. In their case the ‘scum’ lies thick and unmoving.

Intuition and inspiration also rise from the mind, giving place to higher knowledge. This is the essential creative side of the human mind, and it manifests in scientific thinking, problem solving, mathematics, and technology. This creative aspect of the mind is the engine that drives society and creates wealth through inventions, industries, and economies. It also gives rise to rational, logical, and scientific curiosity and is the cutting edge or the outer limits of the mind. The ordinary mind, weighed down by old beliefs, cocoons a person in the inner layers of the mind, the subconscious unthinking part. Wrong beliefs have to be broken, not pushed to other minds like we are ready to do. Religious beliefs, because of their hold on the mind, have to engage with new knowledge and not morph into an archaic system of morality, mythology, mystery, and incorrectness. In this case religion also must become free by replacing old beliefs with rational ones. Religion will then become modern and experiential and will bring great good to humankind. Sri Ramakrishna taught ‘so long as I live, so long do I learn’ and pressed us to ‘go forward’.

To come back to the main theme, the mind has the tendency to cover the Reality and distort it. This tendency in Vedanta is called avarana, covering, and vikshepa, projecting. And this occurs due to avidya, ignorance. Therefore, Vedanta says, we cannot know the Reality through the mind. That is, not through a mind dirtied and uncontrolled by beliefs, but the Reality can be known through the pure mind, for the pure mind and the Reality are one. The Reality, like the water of Satchidananda, is within us, and we have covered it with innumerable beliefs, which are like the ‘scum’ on the water.

One of the principal tenets of the Vedantic sadhana is manana, cogitation. It is using one’s intellect to discern by employing the methods of logic, observation, and reasoning to arrive at a conclusion about the Reality. When all doubts, contrary beliefs, and illusions are eradicated one then meditates on it. It is not simply gulping down data unthinkingly. Sri Ramakrishna did not appreciate unthinking people. He once said: ‘I can judge a man by his stick and umbrella. They must belong to that man who was here some time ago and swallowed a lot of my words without understanding them.’ He was always happy when Swamiji used to test him and his words. People glibly and wrongly believe that one has to take religion and supersensuous thoughts on the basis of faith. Religion is a science, and scientific methods are used to clear the ‘scum’ that covers and hides the Reality.

This Reality is not different from our souls. All our struggles through millions of years of evolution were leading us to realize this Truth. And when it happens the Narada Bhakti Sutra says: ‘The fathers (ancestors) rejoice, the devas dance in joy, and this earth gets a saviour.’

Source: Prabuddha Bharata, 2013 February

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