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An Analysis of Experience - The Portal of Enquiry

by Swami Krishnananda

To aspire for the higher, to yearn to know more, not to be satisfied with the first view of things, is a distinguishing characteristic of the developed human being. This aspiration arises from a careful observation and study of the nature of experience. Experience is a term used to denote the totality of the conditions of consciousness, in which it becomes aware of its contents. Experience is said to grow when one gains an increasing knowledge of the contents of one's consciousness. The grosser the contents and the more distant they are from the consciousness which apprehends them, the lesser is their knowledge which one is said to have, and the more meagre is the experience gained. Much is implied in our life, and this can be known only by the critical and reflective consciousness. Most of the individuals gain no access to the deeper implications of experience, because they are shackled in the network of relations that constitute the superficial shell of individuality and personality. Being confined to the realm of sense, they float on the surface of, and do not delve deep through, experience. Experience is not merely knowledge obtained through the senses. Sense-experience is a pointer to the existence of factors, which are more fundamental. Even ordinary mental experience cannot fathom the basic principles of life, for the knowledge received by the mind is only a synthetic product manufactured out of sense-experience. There is something greater and more essential, which is discovered by the trained faculty of understanding, freed from passions and prejudices. This enterprise of the study of the implications of experience is the main task of philosophy. Philosophy is the rational and systematic investigation and study of the truths comprehended in the wide range of experience.

Experience reveals the presence of a twofold factor constituting it; - truth and error. Truth is generally defined as the uncontradicted and the complete. And that which is not capable of being transcended by any other experience is considered to be the Ultimate Truth. That experience which, though it appears to be real at the time of its being a form or process of consciousness, is capable of being contradicted aid transcended by another experience is regarded as an error. It is not true, however, as it is testified in life, that all errors are of the same kind, or that they manifest the same degree of inconsistency with truth. An experience may be of an error, but it may be of a lesser or a greater error, i.e., of something which is less distant or more distant from truth. There are degrees of error, which means that there are degrees of truth. That which contains more of truth is a lesser error than that which contains less of truth. The different judgments which we make in our conscious states pertain to reality in its different degrees, which may be less or more in extent, in accordance with the richness of their contents. The lesser the truth in a judgment of experience, the more is the error that characterises it; and the greater the truth contained in the judgment, the lesser is the error present in it.

The Groundwork of Analysis

Knowledge of error implies the knowledge of truth and vice-versa. A correct understanding of the nature of erroneous perception requires a deep analysis and study of the nature of all our experiences. Experience, as it is in itself, is not fragmentary, but a whole. It is a coherent system of partial phases, pointing to the existence of an Absolute-Experience. The Absolute may be described as the reality which consists in the consciousness of not an isolated content or object, but of its own infinitude suffused with eternity. In this undifferentiated experience all those factors, which go by the name of objects, are existent as its very constitutive essence. This is the grand fullness or plenitude in which no trace of lack or want or imperfection of any kind can be found. In this experience error finds no place, for, here, no distinction can be made between the subject and the predicate of a judgment. In fact, there is no such thing as judgment in the Absolute, for every judgment presupposes a conscious relation based on a dualistic ground. All judgments are intellectual in their nature, and hence there can be no judgment without the isolation of content from consciousness. But as long as this isolation is capable of being made, there can be no experience of the Absolute. In the Absolute, all substantives and adjectives exist as inseparable and equally real and valuable elements, forming its very being.

A lesser truth is also a kind of error, though it may be a lesser or a greater error. Error really commences with the rise of the individual consciousness. The moment Pure Consciousness is disintegrated into a constitution of fragmentary experiences, one such experience which arrogates to itself all the value of a true conscious experience begins to consider the rest of the whole as an objectified content of its thought. The consequence of this error is the perception of the Absolute through the senses as a material universe of disconnected elements, changing in nature, capricious in behaviour, and regardless of the intentions and wishes of the individual. The universe appears to be heedless to our desires, because it follows the law of the Absolute, which works independently of the erroneous notions of the separated individuals. The universe never goes wrong, but the truth contained in the way in which it works is not visible and understandable to the separated consciousness, for this latter is imprisoned within the walls of its own limited constitution.

The individual begins to perceive the universe with the senses in a manner in which it does not really work. This is error. Error, therefore, belongs to the individual, and is not absolutely valid or existent. The values and natures superimposed by the individual on the external universe are really private contents of the former, and they do not belong to the universe as such. The universe in itself is characterless, above all values, non-instrumental, non-objective, non-changing, indivisible and inseparable from Reality. This fact, however, is not known to the individual, and it is this ignorance that breeds all mischief in one's private and public life.

Here is disclosed the secret of the chasm between realism and idealism, and also of the reconciliation of these two views. The universe, taken by itself, is independent of the caprices of individual, and hence realism is right in holding that the content of experience is independent of the consciousness of experience. But the values experienced in the universe, which affect and modify the individual consciousness, evoking organic reactions in the latter, are inherent in the latter itself; these do not belong to the universe, and so idealism is right in holding, as far as this fact is concerned, that the contents of consciousness are identical with consciousness. Both realism and idealism are, therefore, only partially right. The objects of the judgments of these theories are, however, raised beyond themselves in the Absolute, which is all objects, all subjects, all contents of consciousness, all processes of consciousness, all that realism holds as true, all that idealism holds as true, and yet, transcends everything.

Judgment of Experience

A judgment of truth is the result of the attempt of the individual to understand the nature of truth with the help of some qualifying adjuncts that are separated from the substance of the whole. As it has been already observed, the separation of substantives from adjectives in the universe is based on the erroneous notion that the individual is the centre of experience which others in the universe have to subserve, and to which they should be instruments intended to bring about in it the required state of satisfaction. The objective universe is considered by the individual to be a characteristic of or an adjective to itself. Existents are loosened from their essential nature and brought under the grips of the vibrant desire-filled individual. The universe becomes the predicate of the individual subject cognising it, and in this act of subjecting the universe to the state of being merely a predicate of the cognitive consciousness, a tremendous error is involved; for, by this, the universe is wrested out of itself, as it were, strangled, divested of the truth of self-existence and self-determinedness, and made to yield to the demands of the individual. The magnitude of this error will become clear when it is known that it is the Absolute, which is the very essence of existence and consciousness, that is thus stifled in the process of being made subservient to the agitative consciousness of the individual. No wonder that the individual suffers, for it commits a veritable suicide in estranging itself from the Absolute. The cart is made to drag the horse.

In every act of judgment, there is a separation of substance from its attribute, the subject from its predicate. Apart from the distinction made between the primary substance and its attribute, as explained above, there is also seen in life a distinction made between the secondary substance and its attribute. In the attribution of the universe to an individual experiencer, as an adjective, there is the instance of the distinction made between the primary substance and its attribute. In the attribution of a snake to the rope, silver to nacre, water to mirage, dream-objects to the dream-subject, etc., we have examples of the distinction made between the secondary substance and its attribute. The contents of erroneous perception in these two levels of experience constitute, respectively, empirical error and apparent error, the former obtaining in what goes by the name of correct perception in practical life, and the latter wrong perception, though even this latter passes for reality at the time of its being experienced.

In both these levels of erroneous perception, i.e., in empirical as well as apparent perception, a distinction between the substantive and adjective is made. Empirical erroneous perception may be called cosmic in nature, for it is common to all individuals, even in the state of the highest knowledge they are capable of having in the universe; but apparent erroneous perception is private, and is valid only to a specific individual. Apparent error is easily detected in daily life, - we recognise the rope in place of the snake, nacre in place of silver, desert in place of water, waking in place of dreaming; and in this process of the discovery of empirical truth we seem to have possession of right knowledge. But the fact, however, is different from this notion that we have of knowledge. It is extremely difficult to detect what has been termed here empirical error, i.e., the error that consists in the separation of the individual from the universe. The universe tries to wriggle out of the clutches of the individual, for the latter has no personal rights whatsoever in the scheme of existence. In this incessant battle between the Absolute and the individual, the former wins victory every time. The misery of the life and death of the individual is the process of its paying for the errors which it has committed, the process of undergoing punishment for its revolt against Reality.

Thus, even in the judgment of truth in empirical life, there is a transcendental error, which has to be detected and removed, if Ultimate Truth is to be discovered. The subject and the predicate should become one, the universe and the individual be reconciled and united in the bosom of the Absolute. Neither conception nor perception in the empirical realm can help us in a correct appreciation of truth. The reason is that both in conception and perception the substantive is separated from the adjective. Our judgments of truth are really errors in the absolute sense. No man can enter the gateway to Truth as long as he does not consciously shed belief in the reports of the senses. Individuality has to get absorbed into the constitutive essence of Being.

The error in our judgments of truth becomes clear when we understand that nothing in this universe is really segregated in nature. Things are not static entities existing by and for themselves, but forces which melt into each other, react upon each other, influence and determine each other, and thus cease to be themselves, but point to a higher unity where they are subsumed and dissolved, as though in a menstruum. In our attempt at knowing the substance in terms of certain isolated adjectives, we violate the law of oneness, of the interdependence and mutually determined character of the forces constituting the universe, and thus, in our judgments of truth, we know only appearances wrested out of their essential meaning and value. Any judgment which does not take into consideration all the factors which go to make up a particular form of an object of perception does not also know truth in its essentiality.

We in ordinary life consider an experience to embody truth when the predicate in that experience is harmonious with its subject. Now, this conception of harmony is indeed very complex. Roughly, we can distinguish between three kinds of harmony, - the apparent, the empirical and the transcendental. The predicate of a judgment in dream-perception may be harmonious with its subject, and so in dream we may have a judgment of an apparent truth, i.e., a truth which holds good in dream. But this is contradicted in waking life, for here our conception of harmony is quite different from that which we had in dream. In waking experience we are concerned with empirical truth, and not merely with the apparent truth of dream. The predicate of a subject in waking life may be harmonious with that subject to the extent we are capable of conceiving harmony in our minds. But the analysis of experience which we have made above shows that no judgment of empirical truth can have any reference to Ultimate Truth, for, when compared to the criterion of Absolute harmony, empirical harmony is self-discrepant and contradicts itself. The highest harmony is the Unity of Consciousness, where the subject and the predicate are not isolated from each other, where experience becomes identical with the existence of its universal content.

Where there is presence of duality, there is absence of true harmony. The highest harmony is the Absolute. We may have lesser harmonies, even as we have lesser truths and lesser errors corresponding to the various stages of the development of the individual in its evolution to the universal. In every given experience there is a particular conception of harmony and truth. It is negatived only in a higher experience. In the Absolute, the whole universe is contradicted in a transcendence of all objectivation. Error is absence of harmony, and it is the negative counterpart of empirical and apparent truth.

Truth is non-contradiction and coherence. Error is contradiction and discrepancy. Error makes its appearance when particular attributes are predicated of particular subjects. But when consciousness expands to infinitude, all predicates and all subjects exist in it in such balanced relations to one another that these relations themselves become actual existences and coalesce with other existences to form the Absolute. Our truths and errors stand transfigured in it.

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