Today and tomorrow and in the next 3–4 days, even if I can do a little with you, you don’t need to be with me all the time because once you have started, it will be with you for all your life. I shall only begin with the first chapter and then see how far we can go forward. But even if you read the first chapter; you will have sense of completeness. So I wish to do the first chapter thoroughly, you might say almost every sentence I would like to study with you, so that what is being proposed in The Life Divine becomes intellectually convincing. And you will be able to decide for yourself, whether it is convincing or not, whether it gives you that knowledge of all physical facts and psychological facts and whether having studied all this, what is the significance of what you have to do, is satisfactorily, convincingly answered.
Let us begin with the first paragraph of this great work……..clean I will just read with you the first paragraph and then stop and then again start, and then again stop and then again start. The chapter I is entitled The Human Aspiration. I leave out the first two verses from Rig Veda; we shall read them later on.
“The earliest preoccupation of man in his awakened thoughts and, as it seems, his inevitable and ultimate preoccupation, – for it survives the longest periods of scepticism and returns after every banishment, – is also the highest which his thought can envisage. It manifests itself in the divination of Godhead, the impulse towards perfection, the search after pure Truth and unmixed Bliss, the sense of a secret immortality. The ancient dawns of human knowledge have left us their witness to this constant aspiration; today we see a humanity satiated but not satisfied by victorious analysis of the externalities of Nature preparing to return to its primeval longings. The earliest formula of Wisdom promises to be its last, – God, Light, Freedom, Immortality.”
As you will see this is a very complex statement and some students tell me, it is a baffling statement, an inaccessible statement, extremely difficult to penetrate into it, and I don’t debate this point but then we should strive to enter into it. Some of the most precious things are most difficult to enter into and therefore we must be very patient about knocking the door and we must be able to knock the door properly and ask ourselves, how to open the door. The very title which is given The Human Aspiration is itself a closed door. And we don’t know why Sri Aurobindo starts his greatest work with this formula – The Human Aspiration. There are many books on philosophy; and there are many ways in which philosophy has been approached in the history of thought. There is in modern days a style of philosophical writing, which is essentially what is called epistemological. Now this word epistemology is perhaps the most important word in the modern philosophical writings. So I must first explain to you the word epistemology.
Epistemology is an inquiry, into the definition of knowledge. What is knowledge? It’s an extremely important question because we speak of knowledge today in a very loose manner. We speak of knowledge society today. We have now a computer which is the push–button technology, by which you say knowledge is at your doors. We are told that we have been plunged today into a knowledge world, but we do not ask this question – what is knowledge? Epistemology is basically an inquiry into this question as to what is knowledge, and in that connection it is an inquiry into the means of knowledge, the methods by which we can arrive at what is called knowledge. And these means of knowledge competing among themselves, each one claiming that it gives the knowledge and examine the claims of these different means of knowledge and to determine what exactly is the knowledge, whether anyone of these claims is valid, can be upheld to be valid, and whether we can come to a conclusion finally and say – this is knowledge. There is for example what is called – sense knowledge, knowledge derived by senses, I open my eyes and the world is disclosed before me. So you might say, disclosure of the world by opening the eyes and my senses is a process of knowledge. Disclosure is the fundamental point, something is disclosed. How much is disclosed, is the second question, when I open my eyes I see all around me, it is disclosed, whether what is disclosed to my eyes, whether I put it to be really knowledge or not, is a question. Because I change my circumstance and I open my eyes and something else is disclosed before me. And again I ask the question, is that what is now disclosed is knowledge, was that which was disclosed earlier is that knowledge and there is no end of it, and ultimately what do I know? And when shall I say I have known? I know, is one state, I have known is another state, when can I say I have known? And then there are many degrees. I believe that I know, afterwards that belief is dispelled, so it was a mistake. How do I know it was a mistake, even that is a part of knowledge? And if I was mistaken earlier, what is the guarantee that I am not mistaken now. Even that which I now claim to be knowing, I know, that also could be dispelled. How do I know this is knowledge? So there is a belief, there is a state of doubt, means of dispelling a doubt and when the doubt is dispelled, the rise of another doubt, and another doubt and so on. When can I say, I have known. What is the distinction between belief and knowledge? What is the meaning of information as compared to knowledge? Is all information knowledge? Any disclosure, is it knowledge, any disclosure? And then there are many other words in the field of knowledge.
There are states in which I say: I am now illumined, not only I have known, I am illumined. So there is a state of illumination. There are certain states to which I say: hah! That is called wisdom, you not only know you are wise! And what is the difference between disclosure, information, knowledge, illumination, wisdom? And these distinctions are made and they are all before us, so many examples of it. There are experiences of wisdom, you can go to somebody and say ‘Ah! So wise.’ How do I know that is called wisdom? Means of knowledge – what are the different means of knowledge? Senses are the first means of knowledge, it is so said, is it really true? Senses are the first means of knowledge. Some say instinct is the first instrument of knowledge, not the senses – instinct.
What is instinct and what is sense? What is the difference between the two? Then we say reason is the means of knowledge, rationality is the means of knowledge and even rationality is of different kinds. There is a scientific rationality of which I spoke earlier, which concerns itself with the processes of things. There is ethical intelligence, ethical rationality, there is philosophical rationality, aesthetic rationality; there are different kinds of rationalities. What are these different kinds of rationalities?
Then there is what is called – intuition as the instrument of knowledge. What is the difference between reason and intuition? The difference between senses, sense–knowledge and intuitive knowledge, and even in the intuition there are many kinds of intuitions. There is revelation for example, the revelation as a means of knowledge, the inspiration as the means of knowledge, automatic discrimination as the means of knowledge, viveka, that is why Shankracharya wrote Vivekachudamani, – the crest jewel of discrimination.
If you examine all this is a very vast subject by itself – epistemology. And many great books of philosophy of today they centre round epistemology. It is claimed you will not be able to determine conclusively, unless first of all you determine what is knowledge, before you can claim I know. You have to say what is knowledge, you have to first of all examine this question. Before you say I know, you have to examine whether you can know at all. If you cannot know at all epistemologically, the whole question of philosophical endeavour finishes right at the beginning, which claims to arrive at conclusive conclusions, can give you unquestionable, incorrigible conclusions. If it is shown to you epistemologically that knowledge is impossible, then the whole claim of philosophy is finished at the very beginning. So it is claimed that first of all you discuss epistemology before you go to philosophy.
There are today in the world of philosophy many books which proclaim that philosophy is unjustified, philosophy is not an impossible task, right from the beginning, it is something in which you should not be engaged. Since you cannot know, what is the question of all this trouble that you are taking? It is in that context, in the highest possible contexts of philosophical endeavour of the contemporary mind, we now start the greatest philosophical work with this title The Human Aspiration. And when you think about it, you will find that the human aspiration is the essential, quintessential starting point of philosophical thought. That the best starting point of philosophical work is the human aspiration.
You must have seen earlier in my definition of philosophy, in which having defined many aspects of the philosophy, I laid importance on the word – significance. Philosophy is ultimately a search for significance. What is this search for significance? The search for significance is the search for meaning. There is in the human consciousness – a sense. When you look around whether it is by instinct, or by sense–perception, or by reason, or by intuition; most fundamental thing is, you are trying to find meaning. That is the most essential activity of a human consciousness. And if you ask further question, why human consciousness searches for meaning, it is because there is in the human being (this is the deepest point) there is in the human being, human being can be defined, in terms of aspiration. What is most fundamental in the human being, all search, all seeking, is seeking for significance. And all search for significance is inspired, is motivated, is pumped, is impelled by aspiration. If there is no aspiration of any kind at all, you are devoid of consciousness. Even animal, even a bird, instinctively it strives, and there is something fundamental in that striving. So the most essential thing that human being particularly is, has, aspiration. There is in the human being an aspiration; it is something that is incorrigible. The one thing that you cannot kill in a human being is aspiration. Whatever you do, you may have any kind of somersaults in the world, go about knocking everywhere, anywhere, anything, you will come back to this aspiration. It is the most essential, most, you might say, immortal thing, something that can’t be destroyed from human consciousness, is aspiration. It’s the very starting point of the search for meaning. And if philosophy is a search for meaning, a meaning of meaning you might say, the starting point is aspiration. Even the discussion about epistemology, whether we can know or not, what is belief, what is illumination, all that has significance only in terms of aspiration. So even epistemological questions which are now supposed to be the starting point of philosophy, even these questions have a prior starting point and that is aspiration. If one can determine what is human aspiration then everything will fall in its proper place.