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

Track Running The Human Aspiration - Track 006

 Sri Aurobindo points out that above the world of intellectual inquiry, above the world of intellectual thought, there is a realm of experiences, not sense experience, sense experience is only limited to sense–organs. Sense experiences are only experiences dependent upon the sense organs, but that there are experiences which are supra–sensuous, this realm cannot be understood by intellectual process, whether it is scientific or critical.

Particularly, when you go to realms of experiences of the kind I spoke to you, the experience of over standing, when you go above altogether, not by a process of thinking, which is attempted in the process of critical thinking, you try to go above the object, try to seize it from above, but really you go above this field of abstract thought, in a concrete experience you grasp the object and know the object as it is, in which there is no possibility of an error, because it is directly perceived. Not thought over, not speculated over, there is no speculation about it, it is really known.

As Sri Aurobindo says there is an experience in which the knower and the known become one in the process of knowledge. When the knower and the known become one, there is no possibility of error. So, there is a super sensuous experience which cannot be brought under the ken of critical reflection. Critical reasoning cannot come into the picture: ‘Look! I am a judge of what can be known and what cannot be known’, ” in super–sensuous experience, because reason has no experience of it, reasoning by its very nature is speculative, it’s only an abstraction. It has no hold on the experience, so, how can it sit on the judgment and say: ‘Look! I can also judge, what I have never experienced’. It’s unfit to examine and yet even there, there is a room where critical reason can also be allowed to judge the supra–sensuous experience. But with the condition that critical reasoning has to be extremely humble, extremely polite, courteous, has to be very, very honest and admit at every step of its judgment, whether it is judging only on the basis of words and ideas or is able to respect whatever is the substance of experience which are expressed in words and ideas, a very honest reflective power is needed, ” that role can be given to critical reasoning.

In ‘The Life Divine’, you find room for this kind of critical reflection, even with regard to supra–sensuous experience but on the condition which I laid down just now. Critical reflection should know what it is, namely it is ideative in character, that it does not have a direct contact with the substantiality of experience that the only way in which it grasps any substantiality of experience is through words and ideas. Having understood this, keeping these limitations in the mind it can compare this supra–sensuous experience and that supra–sensuous experience, can even tell you whether this supra–sensuous experience is expressed properly or not. Whether they seem to be harmonious or not, they can be coordinated properly or not. Provided you do not give the final judgment that simply because they cannot be coordinated by me therefore, it must be false. If critical reflection takes up this role, then that is denied.

We come to this final conclusion regarding one of the aspects of ‘The Life Divine’. ‘The Life Divine’ takes the position that scientific process of knowledge as understood today, namely process of knowledge based upon sense experience is not the only method of knowledge. Philosophical method is very useful to go beyond the assumptions of science. There should be therefore, a full freedom and utility in questioning the assumptions of science. These assumptions when questioned should follow rigorous cannons of critical thought. I have not yet spoken of the cannons of critical thought because it’s a very vast subject; we shall see it, when we study ‘The Life Divine’ as a whole, in gradual time. You should rigorously follow the canons of critical thought and yet would not allow mere speculations coming up on you as knowledge.

Philosophical speculation is not knowledge. There Sri Aurobindo agrees with some of the modern trends where they do not accept that philosophy gives you knowledge, Sri Aurobindo agrees that philosophy does not give you knowledge but philosophy has a great utility in going beyond the domains of the assumptions of science. Finally, that critical reflection which ends in some kind of speculation, should be used as a ladder or a spring–board to go beyond the whole realm of thought, whole realm of intellectuality and try to understand supra–sensuous experiences, try to understand what can be called the science of supra–sensuous experiences, a new science, which maybe similar to the sensuous experiences and the science of supra–sensuous experience, but not entirely. You should not apply the same canons in regard to scientific knowledge, which are applied in the field of supra–sensuous experience. Yoga is a science; its own methods are not identical with the methods which are employed in the sensuous sciences. The critical reflection, the philosophical mind should be able to understand and grasp this. It may apply its critical judgment wherever it wants, so that all dogmas can be bombarded and this utility is of capital importance. But it should not therefore, take up the role of sitting upon judgments, sitting upon in judgment over the claims of supra–sensuous experiences of many kinds. Sri Aurobindo has spoken of the whole realm of supra–sensuous experiences and all supra–sensuous experiences are not of the same category, they do not carry the same kind of validity, but whatever the validity, degrees of probability or degrees of certainty, they cannot be determined by the critical reflection. They can be determined only by experiences.

Sri Aurobindo maintains that experience itself can be itself a judge of experience; you don’t need a rational faculty to judge an experience. It is true that reason can reflect upon experiences, it is possible, but apart from reason itself, judging an experience there is another faculty within the field of experience itself which can judge the experience without going to critical reflection. To the extent to which the critical reflection may be allowed a role in judging experiences and even supra–sensuous experiences is a question of a very sober, humble process which may be allowed, but never be allowed to have preponderance or sovereignty.

In one of the paragraphs of ‘The Life Divine’, where Sri Aurobindo is criticizing Shankara’s philosophy and there he says that all the arguments that have been leveled so far against the philosophy of Shankara are valid from the point of view of critical intelligence. And then he says, but in the field of spiritual experience, one single experience of the spirit can undo the whole edifice of the logic derived from sense experience and reflective thought. And therefore, Sri Aurobindo says that the claim of Shankara’s philosophy is based upon the experience of the immobile Brahman, is decisive. If critical intellect comes in and says: ‘oh! Such an experience is impossible’. This is arrogance of critical thought, how can critical thought say that immobile Brahman cannot be experienced. Sri Aurobindo says if that experience is the final experience, then whatever illogicality is in the philosophy of Shankara, we have to admit, Shankara’s philosophy as final, if the experience of Shankara is the only ultimate experience. Sri Aurobindo says, it is only because there are other supra–sensual experiences of equal validity or even of a superior validity, not judged by the critical intelligence, but judged by the supra–sensuous experience itself. It is because of that reason that you have to make a room for a perception which is different from the perception that Shankara presents. This is the structure of the argument, we must be able to understand the structure of the argument, how he structures. We shall go into it later on, when we take up Shankara’s philosophy itself, this was an introductory presentation. Tomorrow we shall go into further depth, if you so permit. Thank you. 

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