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Western Philosophy and Vedanta

by Swami Sivananda

EASTERN philosophy begins where Western philosophy ends. Western philosophy is not perfect as there is no proper foundation, as there is no real ethical basis. The scientist draws his conclusions from his observations and experiences of the wakeful state only. Hence they are not correct. True experiences include the experiences of the three states viz., waking, dreaming, and deep-sleep states. The Vedantin studies the three states. He gains more real knowledge from the deep-sleep state. He gets a clue for the existence of the fourth state or the state of Turiya from the deep-sleep state.

Reason is the faculty of reasoning. Reason is also the process of reasoning of Kant. Reason (Buddhi) represents the intellect of Vedantins. Buddhi or intellect comes under the fourfold Antahkarana or inner instrument, Manas, Buddhi, Chitta and Ahamkara. Mind (Manas) is one. It assumes the form of Buddhi, Chitta and Ahamkara according to the function it performs viz., Sankalpa, Vikalpa, determination, memory and self-arrogation. Intuition is a spiritual faculty. It is the eye of wisdom. Super-intuition is knowledge itself or Brahman.

Kant has admitted that there is something beyond reason, something which the reason cannot grasp and a transcendental something which transcends reason. That something is Brahman of the Upanishads. That something is the Immoral Self or Atman of the Vedantins. That something is the Paramam Gati or the highest goal of Gita. He has also admitted that the intellect is frail, finite, weak and impotent, as it is conditioned in time, space and causation, that it has its own limits incapable of directly knowing or realising that all-blissful Thing-in-itself which corresponds to Sat-Chit-Ananda Brahman of the Srutis.

Reason is a help and a hindrance. It is a help if it serves you in any way to attain the goal of life. It is a hindrance if it stands in your way of realising the Self. It is a help if it can make you understand the doctrine of Sankara that Brahma satyam jagat mithya Jivo Brahmaiva naparah i.e., Brahman or Self alone is real, this world is unreal. Jiva or individual soul is identical with Brahman or the Supreme Soul. It is hindrance if it makes you a worldly-minded, passionate and ignorant man. It is a help if it can make you constantly remember the Atman, if it can serve you to fix your mind on the imperishable soul, if it can help you to rise above the body-consciousness. It is a hindrance if it makes you forget your ideal and goal, if it makes you identify with the impure body and if it forces you to indulge in sensual pleasure. It is a help if it can goad you to do rigorous Tapas, vigorous meditation, practice of self-restraint and develop the sublime divine virtues that are enumerated in the 13th and 16th chapters of the Gita, Amanitvam (humility), Adambhitvam (unpretentiousness), etc., and Abhayam (fearlessness), Sattva Samshuddhi (cleanliness of life) and to reach the goal eventually by developing intuition or the eye of wisdom.

Intuition does not contradict reason but transcends reason. Intuition is the way to Brahma Jnana or knowledge of the Self attained through purity of heart and Nirvikalpa Samadhi brought about by constant, protracted and intense meditation on the attributeless, timeless, spaceless, brithless and deathless Self. Reason helps you to march to the door of intuition. Reason takes you to the threshold of intuition. Reason gives you the information that the experiences of this phenomenal world are unreal when compared with the true, everlasting experiences of Self-realisation (Atma Sakshatkara or Brahma Anubhuti). Reason tells you that there is a fourth state or Turiya which transcends the waking, dreaming and deep-sleep states, that one can attain immortality and eternal peace by attaining this state through meditation. You can clearly understand now that reason has its own definite utility. You should not ignore it altogether. You are in need of the help of reason in the beginning when you start the quest of Truth. You will have to discipline it properly and make it fit instrument for achieving your end. Then it will be your obedient and willing servant to carry out your behests.

Manas (mind) is said to be of two kinds, the pure and the impure. That which is associated with the thought of desire is the impure, while that which is without desire is the pure. To men, their mind alone is the cause of bondage or emancipation. That mind which is attracted by objects of senses tends to bondage while that which is not so attracted tends to emancipation. Now in as much as to a mind without a desire for sensual objects there is stated to be salvation, therefore an aspirant after emancipation should render his mind ever free from all longing after material objects. When a mind freed from the desires for objects and controlled in the heart attains the reality of Atman, then it is in the Supreme Seat. The mind should be controlled till that which arises in the heart perishes. This only is true wisdom.

According to the Upanishads, reason is of two kinds viz., pure reason (Vishuddha Buddhi or Suddha Manas) and impure reason (Viparita Buddhi or Ashuddha Manas). Impure reason is perverted intellect. It is a strong weapon of Maya or Avidya. It is surcharged with egoism, lust, delusion and other impurities. It forces you to mistake the impermanent, impure, pain-giving insentient body for the permanent, pure, all-blissful sentient Atman. Impure reason is turbid. It is under intoxication. The function of the impure reason is to make you worldly-minded. The function of the pure reason is to take you to the goal. Vichara or enquiry of the Self 'Who am I?' will arise in a man who is endowed with pure reason. The tendency of pure reason is to move towards the Atman. It has an upward pull. Impure reason has a downward pull. It hurls the man into the dark abyss of ignorance. Pure reason is a Daivi Sampath or divine wealth. Impure reason is Asuri Sampath or satanic wealth. Pure reason is filled with Sattva or purity. Impure reason is filled with Rajas and Tamas (passion and inertia or darkness). Pure reason is filled with pure tendencies or desires or Subha Vasanas; impure reason is filled with impure tendencies or desires (Asubha Vasanas.)

Theosophists also have classified 'reason' under two headings, viz., Suddha Manas or pure reason (the higher mind or intellect) and Kama Manas or instinctive mind (the lower mind or intellect). Kant also has made the same classification, pure reason and practical reason. He has given the name practical reason for the impure reason. Practical reason can help you to earn your bread and attain secular knowledge. Pure reason can help you to attain the inexhaustible spiritual wealth of Atman which no dacoits can rob and to drink the nectar of immortality, the ambrosia of the sages.

Bergson, the French philosopher, has gone a little further. He says, There is something more powerful than reason. You can know that something which is beyond the reach of reason and senses by the faculty of intuition.

In worldly experience also if you want to behold at night objects which are at a distance and which are subtle, you want a very powerful electric bulb but you can manage with a less powerful bulb in seeing objects that are gross and very near us. Even so this reason is a less powerful bulb. How can you explain the unfathomable regions of illimitable Atman with this small bulb? You need a very powerful bulb of infinite candle power to behold the splendours of this marvellous and mysterious Atman or Self. Intuition only can supply you this powerful bulb. With the powerful bulb of intuition you can behold the unseen, the unknown.

Vedanta is the highest philosophy. Vedanta is the most sublime philosophy. Vedanta is the Philosophy of philosophies. It throws scepticism, nihilism, agnosticism, pragmatism, realism, idealism, dynamism, positivism and all sorts of 'isms' to the back-ground. Vedanta is like the sun. The sum total of all these philosophies is like the light of a glow-worm. All these philosophies dwindle into an airy nothing before the magnificent Vedanta philosophy. All these 'isms' play with words and phrases. There is no essence. You will get the essence from Vedanta philosophy only. Vedanta philosophy only can give you entire satisfaction. Glory to Vedanta! Glory to the seers of the Upanishads! Glory to Vyasa and Sankara!

Vedanta is a bold philosophy indeed. One should possess a sharp, pure and subtle intellect to understand it and put it into practice. One should be equipped with the four means of salvation before he begins his study. He should sit under the feet of a realised sage, Brahma Srotri, Brahmanishtha. Then alone he can understand the depths of Vedanta.

How does Vedanta begin? It starts with the sublime enquiry of 'Who am I'? It rejects all these worthless empirical experiences ruthlessly, just as you reject the skin, seeds and fibres of fruits. It negates the five sheaths, three bodies and the three states and helps you to take the essence of Atman, to churn out the butter of Atman, just as you take the essence from the fruits or the pulp from the Munja grass. Mark how Vyasa begins his aphorisms or Sutras 'Athato Brahmajijnasa' Now, then, an enquiry into Brahman. 'Janmadyasya Yataha' Brahman is that from which this world has come out, in which it lives and into which it is involved during Pralaya. What a bold starting! This is the result of his infinite spiritual experience and Self-realisation. The whole knowledge is in the palm of his hand like an Amalaka fruit. There is no groping in the dark for him. There are no hypotheses, presuppositions, doubts, major and minor frenzies, unnecessary arguments, cavilling and wrangling for him.

May you all realise the import of Vedanta, the identity of the individual soul with the Supreme Soul! May you all realise the goal of Vedanta, the summum bonum of existence, the Self-realisation or attainment of knowledge of the Self and thus cross this terrible ocean of Samsara! May you all live in the Atman for ever!


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