Sri Aurobindo's - 'The Life Divine' - The Human Aspiration - Chapter I

Track Running The Human Aspiration - Track 005

In fact in the realm of philosophical thinking, a school of philosophical thinking, which simply says ‘what exists is only by virtue of its being perceived’. All that exists is existent by virtue of being perceived. If you don’t perceive it, there is no guarantee that it exists. There is one powerful school of philosophy in Buddhism for example, it’s a very great school which is called ‘Vigyanavada’, everything that exists, is only by virtue of it being perceived, if it is not perceived, seen or experienced, it does not exist. In any case it is the critical intelligence, what is the proof that it exists when you do not perceive it or nobody perceives it. There are, what are called ‘soloists’ in the west, who believe that you only see your perceptions. Whatever you see existing is nothing but your own perceptions.

There was one western philosopher in the recent times, who said, you are in a compartment in a train, which moves out of the platform, on the platform of course there are people, who see the train and who can also see the wheels on which the train is running, the moment it goes out of the platform and in the whole surrounding there is nobody to perceive. The passengers see only the compartments, what is the guarantee that the wheels are still continuing to exist. It may look absurd because we assume that it must be so. Is not it absurd to think that suddenly the wheels disappearing as soon as the platform is gone? But the critical philosophers say that there is a very good ground, to argue, it is called critical reflection. It is simply assume that it is so. It may not be so. This idea that it may not be so and it could not be so, there are reasons you can find out arguments for it, is the activity of critical reflection.

This is an extreme example, I gave you of assumptions, but there are many other examples of critical reflection. There is a very great book, written by a great philosopher called Emanuel Kant. It is called “Critique of Pure Reason’. He said at a certain stage of his life, whatever he was thinking was as if in a dogmatic slumber. He was sleeping and whatever he thought was thought, in a dogmatic manner. Until the kind of reflection that I gave you, awakened him, he didn’t take lightly this kind of a critical reflection, which I gave you just now. So he began to critically reflect, without assumptions, as to how we think. It was as it were trying to lift above your thinking process.

Already when you think, you are involved in the thinking process. You don’t even become aware that you are thinking it is as if you are in the train of thinking. To become aware of that you are thinking is itself a very great effort and then to be able to perceive the entire process of thinking, not only periodically and go back and perceive, but developing in your mind a kind of perception, which can stand behind everything that is seen as a process of reflection. How the whole intellect proceeds, how it reflects, how it thinks, the entire train of thinking, to be able to perceive it from outside, as if it were, not understanding but reflecting upon it and trying to see how the whole thinking process proceeds. That is why I use the word ‘critique of Pure Reason’. There is no book on Pure Reason which describes, how Pure Reason thinks. But it reflects on all the assumptions of thinking, questions all of them and asks whether any conclusions can be arrived at, or not. It does not say that conclusions must be arrived at, conclusions can be arrived at, or not, this is the entire process.

A true philosopher must have this ability to be able to go above the process of thinking, examine all the corners of thinking, examine the assumptions of thinking, assumptions of observation, assumptions of any kind and then to reflect and to arrive at a conclusion. This is what is called the purely philosophic method. A philosopher, therefore, assumes nothing, that is the fundamental characteristic of a philosopher. A scientist, a physicist assumes matter exists, biologist assumes that life exists, psychologist assumes that mind exists. A philosopher asks the question does matter exist, can matter exist, should it exist inevitably, necessarily and similarly the mind, does mind exist, should it exist necessarily. This free inquiry, free from all dogma, free from all assumptions this is the purity of philosophical reflection.

Scientists believe that this a good exercise but you cannot arrive at any conclusion, so it’s an amusement, an excursion. Your conclusions are not scientific, they are not knowledge, they are only speculations. They might even ask, they might even raise a question, whether real criticality is at all possible? They might grant that some criticality is always possible, you can question this dogma, or that dogma, this assumption or that assumption but to claim that all assumptions can be completely questioned, such a possibility they might even doubt. But even if you say: ‘Well! You are able to do it, you are super Kant, not only Kant, but, super Kant’, that is possible even then you can’t arrive at conclusions, it is not knowledge.

This method of critical reason is thoroughly used by Sri Aurobindo in ‘The Life Divine’. It is because of that reason that we can say ‘The Life Divine’ is a philosophical work. It accepts no dogmas, no assumptions, questions everything, allows you to question everything. It’s a real free inquiry. This is done with such perfection that you can say that technically speaking there is no flaw in the whole of ‘The Life Divine’, in regard to this spirit of free inquiry. Sri Aurobindo also would argue and agree that if a critical inquiry is useful, necessary, and this is what he is following actually, but there is a limitation of this critical inquiry, and this is a very important characteristic of ‘The Life Divine’, even of this critical inquiry there is a limitation.

Critical inquiry certainly should question all the assumptions, and if any assumption is presented as an assumption, it should be bombarded; it should be exploded, if it is only an assumption. But, Sri Aurobindo makes a distinction between assumptions which underlie sense observations and pure intellectual process of thinking, on the one hand, and the realm of superior experiences, not assumption, but superior experiences. 

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