The Universal and the Boundless Infinite (April 2008, Shubhra Ketu Foundation, Delhi) - Audio

He has a sense that it is for him to decide whether he should act or he should not act, his sense of freedom. Fourthly, he has an access to universality while doing an action, and how do you say there’s universality in that perception, because Kant says that a categorical imperative which gives a command you ought to do this when you formulate it, it will formulate in terms of universality, act according to that law which can at the same time be applied universally, not only others, universally, why does he come to that kind of proposition? What is the specialty of that law, which I know individually. I come to know individually, a law, so a perception of a law, and I know it freely. What is that kind of individual?

Now there have been many criticisms of this doctrine, and I don't want to go into it. The fact is that these are statements made by Kant about individuals and Kant being what he was, he couldn't have made his statements without a tremendous amount of deliberation of the problem. He is not like any other ordinary thinker who, just for the sake of writing a particular essay, he will give out something. He’s the one in the whole tradition of in western philosophy, he’s one of the supreme masters of philosophical thought.

Why has it come to recognize these features of individual action? What is the connection between the individual and universal? What is the connection of the individual with a consciousness that is normative? What is the origin of normative consciousness? From where does it come and what is individuals connection with the normativeness? Why should the individual be connected with normativeness? These questions Kant himself has not raised. He has only stated, he had no time to raise these questions for us, because these are very difficult questions to answer.

Now what Sri Aurobindo has written on the individual is an answer to these questions: why should individual have a normative consciousness? This is also a question in Jainism. Jainism is fundamentally a moralistic theme. And Jains believe that only human beings can raise this question. There are many creatures but it is only the human being, the individual human being is such a human being that he can raise his normative questions and strive for it not only to raise the question but strive for normativeness, but why is it so? This is more metaphysical question. Why, as a psychological phenomenon, you can describe it that this is so, but the more fundamental question is metaphysical. I’m only giving example as to how Sri Aurobindo’s chapters, these three chapters, for example, can be appreciated better if these questions are present in the mind of the reader, if these are not present, much of what is written may seem to be irrelevant and you don't get the thread of the argument.

Now, this very question he raises in a later chapter called The Double Soul. There is a farther chapter which is called The Double Soul in Man, and then there is a farther chapter which is called the Eternal and Individual. Now these are the chapters all of them connected with the individual. So unless these chapters are read together in some kind of a sequence and with some kind of background, it is very difficult to understand them. So what you say is quite true that if you want to study it, you need some help and, as in the ancient times, this help had to come from somebody who had made a study.

So why that study is necessary, because Mother said you require 10 years also to prepare yourself for The Life Divine. This is the reason that, even to raise questions which are appropriate to The Life Divine, you require some background and these questions are to be asked, even the concept of what is universal. This also is a question which is not sufficiently answered in Indian philosophy. We have the concept of samanya and in nyaya, for example, there’s some discussion about samanya, also in Vaisheshika and this concept of samanya is also involved in the discussion on the subject of perception. Nyaya maintains that in any perception of the individual object, you see the universal. It is a part of perception. It’s not a part of thinking. In the case of Plato, perception of universal is a part played by the reason. In Nyaya it is directly perceived, the universal is perceived directly by the senses.

But what is universal? According to the latest thinking of logical positivist universal is a nonsense, at the most it is a concept of a class, universal is now translated to terms of class. It is only a logical trickery, whether you call it a class or you call it universal, basically it is something which you do not see. It is simply understood that a rose wherever you go in the universe, whether you go into the past or present or the future without the same form. How does it happen? Therefore it is called universal. But what is universal? It is only an inference, this is according to Socrates and Plato. It is only a inference, but what is universal in itself is difficult to define.

Sri Aurobindo defines universal as a boundless finite, a paradox, a self-contradiction, but a self-contradiction which is necessitated by the very concept. Even if you try to eliminate it from your thinking, it is bound to come. Boundless finite.. finite by its nature is limited, but to call it boundless is to deny the finitude but universal defined as boundless finite, then only you can grasp what is finite. What is a universal? Universal must be finite because it is distinguishable from the individual. Therefore, it must be finite in some way. It is different from transcendental, it must be finite in some way. Even if you try to see universal only in the physical terms, we have a big question mark today in the modern physics where the universe is expanding, if it is expanding, expanding into what? into something that already exists or something that does not exist, and if it does not exist, how does it expand into it? Does it come into existence at the same time? Intellectually, therefore, this whole idea of universal is so complex and so complicated, and yet Kant another people speak of universal law of action, and when you come to the precision you find it very difficult to define it.

This is only one question I am only raising and it has to be answered in a very great leisurely manner and we do not have as yet even ordinary equipment in terms of the development of human thought from the beginning to the present day, where you can deal with this question properly. So what you are saying, I am only trying to justify what you are saying that this Life Divine requires a very different kind of treatment, merely lecturing once or twice or three times, and thinking that now I have understood or that I’ve entered into it, this is very difficult. There are very serious questions.